Temple, William (1881-1944)

Archbishop of Canterbury, ecumenical statesman, missions advocate

Temple was born in Exeter, United Kingdom, son of the bishop of London who later became archbishop of Canterbury. Temple graduated from Oxford, then taught at Queen’s College, Oxford, and was ordained. He married Frances Anson in 1916. He was rector of St. James, Piccadilly, London, and canon of Westminster. He became bishop of Manchester in 1921, archbishop of York in 1929, and archbishop of Canterbury in 1942.

A leader in the Student Christian Movement, Temple served in 1910, at age 28, as a steward at the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference, where he ushered mission leaders to their seats. He grew to prominence in the world missionary movement, however, at the Jerusalem meeting of the International Missionary Council in 1928. The Jerusalem meeting, a very contentious gathering, is remembered more for its message than anything else, and the message was drafted by Temple and Robert E. Speer. Temple later told how he wrote the final summary one night while lying on his “tummy” on the floorboards of his tent so as to avoid the breeze at table level, which would have extinguished his candle. When their work was finished, Temple read the message to the conference. The key phrase was a ringing Christological affirmation: “Our message is Jesus Christ.” It repeated the statement from the 1927 Faith and Order Conference at Lausanne (in which Temple also participated): “The message of the Church to the world is and must always remain the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The very nature of the Gospel, the Jerusalem Message continued, “forbids us to say that it may be the right belief for some but not for others. Either it is true for all, or it is not true at all.” When Temple finished reading the message, W. R. Hogg reports, “the assembly was hushed.” The next morning, the message was unanimously approved. In 1938 Temple was elected chairman of the provisional committee of the World Council of Churches, then in the process of formation. Temple’s visions and commitment to the world Christian movement was memorably stated in his enthronement sermon at Canterbury in 1942, when he spoke of the “worldwide fellowship of Christians,” resulting from the missionary enterprise, as “the great new fact of our era.” When he died two years later, in his prime, the world church lost one of its greatest twentieth-century advocates of mission and unity.

Gerald H. Anderson, “Temple, William,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 661-62.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.



Temple, William. Mens Creatrix. London: Macmillan and Co., 1917.

_____. Christus Veritas. London: Macmillan, 1925.

_____. “A Statement of the Case for Evangelization.” In The Christian Life and Message in Relation to Non-Christian Systems: report of the Jerusalem meeting of the International Missionary Council, March 24th-April 8th, 1928. London: H. Milford; Oxford University Press, 1928.

_____. Nature, Man, and God. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1934.

_____. Christianity and Social Order. New York: Penguin Books, Inc., 1942.


Hogg, W. R. Ecumenical Foundations. New York: Harper, 1952. Pp. 137, 244-248.

Iremonger, F. A. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury: His Life and Letters. London; New York: Oxford University Press, 1948.