A Lambeth degree is an academic degree conferred by the Archbishop of Canterbury under the authority of the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533 (25 Hen VIII c 21) (Eng) as successor of the papal legate in England. The degrees conferred most commonly are DD (Doctor of Divinity), DCL (Doctor of Civil Law), DLitt (Doctor of Letters), DMus (Doctor of Music), DM (Doctor of Medicine), BD (Bachelor of Divinity) and MA (Master of Arts). The relatively modern degree of MLitt (Master of Letters) has been conferred in recent years. The degrees awarded (and their letters) are dependent on which of the two ancient universities, Oxford or Cambridge, the archbishop chooses as his model. This is also tied with the nature of the academic dress used as well.
Nature of the degrees
The continued authority of the archbishop to confer degrees is recognised in accordance with section 216(1) of the Education Reform Act 1988 by the Education (Recognised Bodies) (England) Order 2010. There are two types of degrees awarded, those for the recognition of service to the church and those for which an examination is required.
Though the first type of degree is similar to an honorary degree they are legally substantive degrees and are awarded only to those individuals deemed to have met the requirements for the degree in some way. They are, in a sense, awarded in recognition of prior learning or experience but also serve as a form of church honours system. The extent of a person's learning is taken into account when it is being decided what degree should be conferred. An eminent and much-published scholar may be considered suitable for a doctorate, an experienced cleric or lay minister may be awarded the MA and a senior figure with some published work may be considered for the BD. For some time in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries new diocesan bishops traditionally received the DD on appointment; but since 1961 this has not been the custom and all awards are made on an individual basis.
Because they are substantive degrees, holders of Lambeth doctorates are able to use the title "Doctor", for example as "Dr John Smith", without the restrictions on this which sometimes apply to honorary degrees. The Latin designation of Canterbury, Cantuar, is used to explain the origin of the degree, e.g. "John Smith DD (Cantuar)" in the case of a Doctor of Divinity.
Degrees and diplomas
The degrees for which examination is required fall under the ambit of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Examination in Theology (“Lambeth degree”). There are two grades, the STh and the MA. The first is the Lambeth Diploma of Student in Theology (STh). The Lambeth Diploma was established in 1905 to provide a means of scholarly theological study and to encourage women to study theology. It was originally for women only and only since 1944 has it been for men also. It may be conducted by examination (part one in three biblical studies subjects, part two in four doctrine and optional subjects) or, since 1913, by a 30,000-40,000 words thesis for suitably qualified candidates (originally with a theology degree but, since 1969, other suitable theological qualifications).
Whether by examination or by thesis a candidate must pass, or be exempted from, a paper in New Testament Greek. The standard is that of an honours degree. Successful candidates may join an association of Lambeth diploma holders. Most awards are now by thesis alone.
Master of Arts by thesis
A limited number of candidates with good theology qualifications may apply for a Lambeth Master of Arts degree by thesis, with the period of registration being usually between two and five years. Theses are limited to a maximum of 50,000 words, excluding the bibliography and bibliographic references, and a 1000 word abstract. The degree is styled MA Lambeth or MA Cantuar or (much more rarely) MA Canterbury. There may be no more than thirty candidates on the books at any one time.
MA examinations were introduced by Archbishop Tait in the late nineteenth century, but were brought to an end in the early part of the twentieth century by Archbishop Davidson. The MA degree was reinstated by Archbishop Runcie at the request of the Lambeth Diploma Committee to meet a need to provide for the possibility for theological study at a more advanced level than that offered by the diploma. The first award of the new degree was in 1993.
Candidates must have at least a second class first division honours degree in theology or a subject related to the proposed thesis topic or, alternatively, a STh with distinction or another equivalent qualification. Applications are considered twice yearly by a committee appointed by the archbishop. Applicants are then interviewed by the director or a nominated member of the committee. The thesis is written under the direction of a supervisor appointed by the committee. It is examined by at least two examiners and the degree of MA awarded if the candidate's work is approved by both examiners and endorsed by the committee.
Degrees by examination are awarded by the archbishop at an annual service in the chapel at Lambeth Palace - held separately from the service for the more "honorary" Lambeth degrees.
Applicants must be able to take the oath of allegiance, so must be subjects of the British monarch, either of the United Kingdom or of the overseas realms. They are not subject to a formal religious test, but non-conformists may not be admitted. The committee rejected the application for enrolment of the Reverend Andrew Brown, a Unitarian minister, in 2001 as the Unitarians do not acknowledge the divinity of Christ. Brown was a former rock star with a first class honours degree in theology from Oxford and is minister of the Unitarian Church in Cambridge.
Expansion of the programme
On 11 September 2007 the Archbishop of Canterbury announced a new higher degree programme as an expansion of the Archbishop’s Examination in Theology. Applications for PhD and MPhil degrees in theology have been accepted from early 2008 with the first awards of the new MPhil degrees anticipated in 2012 and doctorates shortly afterwards. The MA will be phased out, but the STh would continue. However, in 2009 it was decided to also phase out the STh, and focus entirely on the new research degrees.
As with many degrees from elsewhere, holders of a Lambeth degree are entitled to wear academic dress. However, the academic dress worn is not unique, original or exclusive. The tradition is to wear the academic dress of the institution from which the archbishop graduated and this has always been either Oxford or Cambridge. George Carey is not an Oxford or Cambridge graduate (he is a London graduate) but followed tradition and chose Oxford dress. The then Vice-Chancellor of London University, Graham Zellick, attempted to see if London University academicals could be used but his attempt proved fruitless. It is uncertain whether robes from a university other than Oxford or Cambridge can be used when the archbishop is not an Oxford or Cambridge graduate.
There has been talk of whether holders of Lambeth degrees should have distinctive academic dress and some Lambeth degree holders have designed their own dress to wear, for example, Dr Turpin who commissioned an Oxford and Cambridge hybrid DMus robe.
However, the STh (Lambeth Diploma) has a distinctive academic dress. The hood is of black stuff of full Cambridge shape with the lining divided horizontally. The lower half is of light blue silk and the upper half is of white silk, so that the lining appears white over blue when worn. This is an unusual pattern for academic hoods in the UK so some STh hoods have been made of black stuff of full Cambridge shape, lined with mid-blue silk, and the cowl faced with eight inches of white silk. The gown is of the London BA pattern but with blue cords and buttons on the sleeves.
- Archbishop's Awards and Examinations
- Transactions of the Burgon Society: Vol. 7
- Transactions of the Burgon Society: Vol. 5
- Theological Colleges: Their Hoods and Histories; Nicholas Groves; pub. Burgon Society (2004)
- Noel Cox, "Dispensation, Privileges, and the Conferment of Graduate Status: With Special Reference to Lambeth Degrees" (2002-2003) 18(1) Journal of Law and Religion 249-274
- Noel Cox, "Lambeth Degree Academical Dress" (2005) 5 Transactions of the Burgon Society 64-75
- Marjorie Thresher, A venture of faith: history of the Lambeth diploma, 1905-1984 (STh Association, London, 1989)