The recent news about Rev. Dr. Walter Smith of the General Assembly reportedly declining a baronetcy brings to light the historical tendency of some Anglican clergymen to have reservations about accepting titles of dignity from the State. This practice can be traced back to the founders of three peerages – Normanton, Limerick, and O’Neill – who were all clerics.
The first Earl of Normanton, who served as the Archbishop of Dublin, held a prominent position within the religious community, yet he was hesitant to accept a title granted by the State. Similarly, the first Earl of Limerick was the Bishop of Killaloe, a position of significant religious authority. Despite his status, he too had concerns about accepting a title from the government. Lastly, the first Lord O’Neill, Rev. Edward Chichester, was once the vicar of a poor parish in Dublin. As a representative of a humble congregation, he may have questioned the morality of accepting an honor from the State.
These examples demonstrate that historically, some Anglican clerics have faced a dilemma in reconciling their religious duties and principles with the acceptance of State-bestowed honors. Such reticence underscores the complex relationship between religious faith and secular recognition, as well as the potential concerns about the intersection of church and state. By choosing to decline these honors, these clergymen displayed their commitment to preserving the sanctity of their religious roles and maintaining the separation of church and state.
Nottingham Evening Post – Tuesday 13 February 1900