It is the 14th of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm your guest host, Sam Leanza Ortiz.
When selecting today’s topic, I hesitated in focusing on a man both Jonathan Swift and King James II referred to as “dull.”
But, often in the dull and the ordinary, we find a steadfastness, a faithfulness, and so today, we look at the life and service of Thomas Tenison, whose career reached its peak at the office of archbishop of Canterbury in a fascinating time of English history.
Tenison was born in 1636 to a family of clerical stock as civil war raged in England. He studied at the Norwich school to prepare for Corpus Christi College at Cambridge, where he would be privately ordained in 1659.
The Anglican church had disestablished in the Interregnum that followed the death of King Charles I in 1648 and many of its practices were banned under the Puritan Commonwealth.
When King Charles II returned to the throne in 1660, Tenison continued to serve Cambridge, occasionally as the only cleric in town as plague devastated the region.
Biographers of Tenison note how devoted he was to his pastoral duties, making regular visitations to his flock as a rector, always preferring to perform his duties in person rather than deputize. Later, as archbishop, he continued to take his responsibilities seriously, regularly visiting parishes and confirming clergymen.
In the 1670s and 1680s, a spirit of pietism swept over particular Anglicans and Lutherans who devoted themselves to earnest prayer, Bible study, and good works on top of the normal liturgical obligations.
A significant part of this pious streak in the Anglican church was societal reform, often mediated through charitable projects designed to combat vice. This picked up significantly in the wake of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and 1689 as Protestantism found a champion in the new English monarchs, William and Mary.
Tenison was ahead of this trend as he established at least three charity schools for poor children in his parishes, at St. Martin’s in the Fields, at St. James, along with a girls’ school in Lambeth. He also established London’s first public library in 1684.
Ten years later, when his friend and colleague, John Tillotson, a popular archbishop of Canterbury, died, Tenison was Tillotson’s first choice of successor. Tenison assumed his duties in early 1695 and was the first primate since the Reformation to be installed in person in Canterbury.
(Side-note: a primate in the Church of England is the head bishop within a particular province. Today’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby oversees the worldwide communion of the Anglican church, in which 42 primates preside over its various provinces.)
He took on the role of primate with gusto, cleaning up clerical abuses, from simony and non-residence.
Perhaps his most notable role was in the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, a chartered society dedicated to Anglican missions across the globe. Founded by a fellow churchman, Thomas Bray, in 1701, the organization began as a sly way to woo dissenting groups back into the church's fold.
When this mission failed, the SPG focused instead on the indigenous peoples in the British colonies and trading posts from the Americas to the Indian subcontinent.
Not only was he an active participant at society meetings, but Tenison also vetted missionaries himself before granting their licenses. Today, the SPG continues its work under the banner of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.
Tenison played an essential role in maintaining England's stance as a Protestant nation. He crowned the last of the Stuarts, Queen Anne, in 1702 and then secured the "Protestant Succession" of the House of Hanover when he crowned King George I in 1714.
Tenison struggled with physical ailments in his final year, including the gout that had limited his mobility for nearly a decade. He mustered the strength to condemn the Jacobite uprising in the summer of 1715. The dull archbishop would die a few months later, on this day, the fourteenth of December.
The last word for today comes from the book of Hebrews, the fourth chapter:
“Since then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
This show has been produced by Christopher Gillespie.
This show has been written and read by Sam Leanza Ortiz, filling in for a man whose favorite primates include capuchins, the slow loris, and the lemurs from Madagascar, that’s Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.