§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Lord Airedale asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Lord Airedale
My Lords, I am grateful for that very full Answer. If the noble Earl is suggesting that the Churches have to agree on this matter, is he not aware that there is nothing in the Easter Act that says that the Churches have to agree? Does the Minister agree that the Act says no more than that regard has to be had to any opinion which may be expressed by any Church or any Christian body? Surely the Minister will agree that that is a very long way from suggesting that the Churches have to agree?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, for considering that my Answer was full. I did, too. I thought it combined fact with brevity. The noble Lord is perfectly right. The Easter Act says that regard must be given to what the Churches say. This is a theological issue which transcends frontiers. We have naturally consulted the Churches. Basically, the Church of England does not wish to change without the agreement of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church does not wish to change without the agreement of the Orthodox Church. Hence the difficulty we are in.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
My Lords, is the Minister aware that as long ago as 1966 the Church Assembly of the Church of England, which was the predecessor of the General Synod, passed a resolution welcoming the introduction of a fixed date for Easter, preferably on the date which the 1928 Act provides? Will the Minister consider that this is a matter on which it is necessary to proceed, as the noble Earl has already indicated, by agreement between the Christian Churches on a worldwide basis and after adequate consultation?
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for letting us know of the view taken. I agree that we should go ahead provided that there is unity. Perhaps the right reverend Prelate will go back in time in considering the matter further. The First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea had as its timely goal, as one of the documents of the Greek Orthodox Church said, the bringing about of Christian unity through the common celebration of Easter. That was in AD 325, as no doubt the right reverend Prelate will remember. If he can persuade his brother bishops and other Churches to speed up a little then I believe that we shall be able to make the point which the right reverend Prelate has in mind.
§ Lord Parry
My Lords, as the voice of the right honourable the Lord Merthyr is temporarily not represented in this House and as all the questions so far have elicited replies from the Church of England and from the Catholic Church, perhaps a question on behalf of the non-conformist Church in Wales, from one who was born within the shadow of Merthyr's castle, might be appropriate. If there has been no progress since anno Domini 21, has there been any since Lord Merthyr last asked this question?
My Lords, the noble Lord was a couple of centuries out. It was anno Domini 325. The answer to the noble Lord's second question is, no.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, while admiring the demonstration which the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has given of the loyalty which a lost cause so often evokes, may I ask my noble friend whether he agrees that to seek to overrule the Christian Churches on the dates and arrangements for the celebration of the most sacred festival of the Christian year would shock and horrify a great many people?
My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. Good Friday and Easter Day are the most solemn dates in the Christian calendar. The view of the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland is that its members would not wish to move to a common or a fixed date without worldwide agreement.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, can my noble friend explain to me, a simple churchgoer, the existing formula which apparently has existed since AD 325? How is the feast of Easter fixed?
My Lords, that is not a very simple formula. Easter Day is the first Sunday after the full moon which happens upon or next after the 21st day of March. If the full moon happens upon a Sunday, Easter Day is the Sunday after. But the moon referred to is not the real moon of the heavens but a hypothetical moon on whose full the date of Easter depends. The lunations of this calendar moon consist of 29 and 30 days alternatively with certain necessary modifications to make the date of its full agree as nearly as possible with that of the real moon, which is known as the paschal full moon. In simple terms, Easter falls on one of 35 days between 22nd March and 25th April.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, in case my noble friend has possibly confused some Members of your Lordships' House, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, can help your Lordships by always asking his annual Question exactly the same number of days before Easter—
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Elton, who is a past master of the techniques of this 952 House, must realise that the normal form is to address his question to the Minister and not to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. But I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, will take account of what my noble friend said.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for drawing our attention to the Council of Nicaea but is he also aware of the Synod of Whitby in 664 at which a predecessor of mine, St. Wilfrid, as Abbot of Ripon persuaded the Church in Northumbria—and eventually the whole Church in these isles—to accept the Roman date? Does he not agree that it would be unwise to undo in the 20th century what was done in the 7th century?
My Lords, I am all for not undoing that. The important point is to try to get others to agree to continue with it.
§ Lord Airedale
My Lords, does the noble Earl care to remind the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that all history shows that it matters not when Easter is celebrated provided that it is celebrated?
My Lords, I am always happy to oblige the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. I shall be content to be a postbox on this occasion for the message which he wishes to convey to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter.