Inferior Office?: A History of Deacons in the Church of England

By Francis Young

An illuminating study of an often overlooked order of the clergy, tracing the role of the Anglican diaconate from the Reformation and looking at its future.

ISBN: 9780227174883


In spite of the centrality of the threefold orders of bishop, priest and deacon to Anglicanism, deacons have been virtually invisible in the contemporary Church of England. Inferior Office? is the first complete history of this neglected portion of the clergy, tracing the church’s changing theology of the diaconate from the Ordinal of 1550 to the present day. Francis Young skilfully overturns the widely held belief that before the twentieth century, the diaconate was merely a brief and nominal period of probation for priests, revealing how it became an integral part of the Elizabethan defence of conformity and exploring the diverse range of ministries assumed by lifelong deacons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Lifelong deacons often belonged to a marginalised ‘lower class’ of the clergy that has since been forgotten, an oversight of considerable importance to the wider social history of the clergy that is corrected in this volume.

Inferior Office? tells the story of persistent calls for the revival of a distinctive diaconate within the Victorian Church of England and situates the institution of deaconesses and later revival of the distinctive diaconate for women, as well as subsequent developments, within their wider historical context. Set against this backdrop, Young presents a balanced case both for and against the further development of a distinctive diaconate today, offering much for further discussion and debate amongst clergy of the Church of England and all those with an interest in the rich tapestry of its history.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 218

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Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Francis Young (PhD) is a historian and teacher who lives and works in Ely, Cambridgeshire. He is the author of several books, including A History of the Bishop’s Palace at Ely: Prelates and Prisoners (Ely Society, 2012) and English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829 (Ashgate, 2013).


Deacons in the Church of England: A Timeline of Events


1. Deacons and the English Reformation, 1550-1642
2. Deacons from Restoration to Reform, 1660-1832
3. The Victorian Call for Deacons, 1839-1901
4. Deacons in the Twentieth Century
5. Deacons in the Church of England Today


Appendix A
Appendix B


Endorsements and Reviews

Francis Young’s meticulous scholarship and expert grasp of his subject make Inferior Office? a valuable missing piece for understanding how ministry in the Church of England has developed since the Reformation. It is original, beautifully written, and compelling in its proposals for the role a permanent diaconate might play in the twenty-first century church.
Bridget Nichols, Lay Chaplain to the Bishop of Ely

Francis Young’s book is a welcome antidote to the generally impoverished view of the diaconate that has prevailed in the Church of England in recent years. It is a timely and significant contribution to the Church of England’s understanding of the order of deacons within her threefold ministry, and will be a valuable and informative tool for those charged with the restructuring of the allocation of church resources in the 21st century.
Dr Serenhedd James, Hon Research Fellow of St Stephen’s House, Oxford

Young’s scholarship adds much to our understanding of the diaconate within the threefold ministry in the Church of England.
Stephen Platten, in Theology, Vol 119 (2)

This erudite book makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the history of the diaconate in the Church of England from the Reformation to the present day.
Gloria Cadman, in The Reader, Vol 115, No 2