Michael John Darcy Roberts
Doctor of Philosophy, Faculty of Modern History, Jesus College, Oxford University, (1974)
There has been a great deal of research into Victorian religious ideas and organisations carried out in recent years. However, the research tends to focus on areas in which evidence is most manageable – that is, on denominations and sects which have a relatively limited and well-defined membership, or, if the Church of Ireland is concerned, on the activities of the professional full-time representatives of the Church, the clergy. In choosing to study the role of the laity in the Church of England, I have attempted to extend the circle of research a little further from the centre towards which it ordinarily tends to contract.
The notion of a lay role is, however, at its most vague and ambiguous in the Church of England. The vagueness has always been apparent and is the unavoidable characteristic of a religious organisation which has an historical claim to be considered a ‘National Church’. But the ambiguity, to a great extent, is a nineteenth-century development, the result of the gradual separation of Church from State and of religious standards of belief and behaviour from secular ones.