First Among Equals: a new book on Scottish Episcopal bishops


Edward Luscombe and Stuart Donald have between them produced a book under this title, which is subtitled 'Bishops who have held the Office of Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church from 1704 to 2012'.

The Scottish Episcopal Church is unique in the Anglican Communion in having the office of Primus – properly Primus inter Pares, first among equals. The bishop who holds this office has been elected by his fellow-bishops but has no jurisdiction in any diocese other than his own. His role extends only to convening and presiding over meetings of the bishops, and subsequently of the synods of the church.

After a chapter which gives a brief history of the stages by which the office of Primus came about and the ecclesiastical and political influences which had a bearing on this, the authors provide sketches of the men who have held this office. All thirty-three are covered from Alexander Rose, Bishop of Edinburgh, who became the first Primus in 1704, to the current holder, David Chillingworth, Bishop of Saint Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, who was elected in 2009.

It is noted that there have been significant changes over the three centuries. In the first half every Primus had been born and educated a Scot, but only a minority of the nineteen who have held this office since 1857 were so. Forms of address have varied from the simple 'the Reverend' of the earliest days to that which is now employed of “Most Reverend”. Lifestyle and accom- modation has also changed over the years from simplicity to lavish to functional. Inevitably the representations shown of the earlier office-bearers are from paintings, but photo- graphic images depict those from the end of the 19th century onwards.

It is abundantly clear from the vignettes of all who have been Primus that they have been wide and varied in their knowledge, skill and accomplishments. Some have been treated perhaps with a greater degree of kindness, but all have contributed to the life of the Scottish Episcopal Church in a significant way over the past 300 years. Inevitably what has gone on in the wider world has had an influence on how they have variously discharged their responsibilities.

Although in the agreements and canons of the church the primus may solely convene and preside, in fact this books shows that they have had a wider and deeper impact on the internal affairs of the Scottish Church as well as on society, the Church and the world at large. The authors state that their intention is “to preserve for future generations some record of the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church who have held the office of primus.”

In this 141 page volume they have done precisely that and gathered together insight, anecdote and record which would have otherwise been too widely dispersed for most people to access. It is well worth reading. Copies of this book may be obtained from Stuart Donald, 5 Bloomfield Place, Aberdeen, AB10 6AG; telephone 01224 574520. The price is £10, plus £1.25 for postage.

Categories: Publications