During the Second World War, Winston Churchill was Britain’s Prime Minister. At the same time, William Temple was Archbishop of Canterbury. While Churchill led the country against Germany, Temple encouraged the British people to trust the Lord for their deliverance and strength. Like Churchill, Temple was a great leader, a gifted orator and a prolific writer. He was also a theologian and social activist.
Temple was born on 15th October 1881 in Exeter, Devon. He was educated at Rugby School and Balliol College, Oxford, from 1900 to 1904. He loved the music of Bach, the poetry of Browning, Shelley and Shakespeare. He was an avid reader and possessed a near-photographic memory.
He became president of the Oxford Union and after graduation, was a lecturer in Philosophy at Queen’s College, Oxford. He was a member of the Debating Society and was a skilled and balanced debater. Following his ordination in 1909, and priesting in 1910, Temple was headmaster of Repton School for four years. He married Frances Anson in 1916. They were childless.
From 1921-29 Temple was Bishop of Manchester. During this time, he was seen as a pioneer of the Ecumenical Movement and gradually became a national figure. In 1926 he urged the British government to seek a negotiated agreement to the General Strike.
Temple excelled as a moderator, a teacher and a preacher and his appointment as Archbishop of York (1929-40) was a popular one. His influence also led to the formation of the British Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. During the WW2 he jointly founded the Council of Christians and Jews to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice in Britain.
As Archbishop of Canterbury (1942-44) Temple became an outspoken advocate of social reform and became involved in the campaign against unemployment, poverty, and poor housing. He believed in the rights of all people, whether rich or poor, and was a leading force for social justice. He was grounded in the problems of the working man and in his book Christianity and Social Order (1942) he shared his vision for all to have access to healthcare, education and decent housing. His radical thinking and activism played a foundational role in the formation of the British Welfare State.
Temple died aged 63 at Westgate-on-Sea, Kent on 26th October 1944. He was the first Primate of All England to be cremated and his ashes were buried in the cloister garden of Canterbury Cathedral. He is the last Archbishop of Canterbury to have died while in office.
Feature image: William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1942, Philip de László, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Canterbury Cathedral, Wikimedia Commons, PD