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Donald Coggan, 101st Archbishop of Canterbury

 Throughout his primacy, his wholesome humanity ran like a golden thread from start to finish of his ministry. "The joy of being a priest," Coggan once said, "is that your work never ends until they carry you out. Then another begins - that's elsewhere." - Baden Hickman, the Guardian

The 101st Archbishop of Canterbury was born in 1909, the youngest child of three born to a Highgate-based businessman, Cornish Arthur Coggan and his wife, Fannie Sarah.

Educated at Merchant Taylors school and St John's College Cambridge he lectured in Semitic languages and Literature at Manchester university before being prepared for ordination at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford. He served as a curate in Islington, north London before spending seven years as Professor of New Testament studies at the Toronto-based Wycliffe Hall. He returned to the UK in 1944 to become Principal of the London College of Divinity.

He was consecrated Bishop of Bradford in 1956 and appointed Archbishop of York in 1961, serving there for thirteen years. He election to the See of Canterbury in 1971, succession to Michael Ramsey brought a 65-year-old thinking evangelical into the post.

He was enthusiastic about mission and outreach, was an early supporter of the ordination of women to the priesthood and nurtured a desire to make ecumenical progress with other churches. He was, arguably, the first Archbishop of Canterbury to attempt to communicate en masse beyond the church; his Call to the Nation (1975) prompted 28,000 people to write letters in response to his vision for social change through a transformation of attitude and less personal selfishness.

His straightforward manner involved him in a breathtaking gesture in Rome in 1977 when, during a visit to Rome he called for full intercommunion between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church, taking his hosts completely by surprise.  

He hosted the 1978 Lambeth Conference and broke with tradition by convening it in Canterbury rather than London. Its perceived success owing much to his relaxed manner and personal interaction with many of the participants. His concern for those he had met on his travels across the Communion prompted him to establish the Personal Emergencies Fund to help clergy and their families facing medical emergencies. 

His interest in Biblical translation persisted in his ministry - he was actively involved in the preparation of new, clear and usable translations of biblical texts, including the New English Bible (1961) and the Revised English Bible (published in 1989).

His own publishing output saw over 20 books, most aimed at providing clear explanation and practical help for Christians and others.

His interest in mission took root in the National Initiative in Evangelism in the last year of his office.

He retired in 1980 and was created a life peer, taking the title Baron Coggan of Canterbury and Sissinghurst in the County of Kent. 

He died on 17th May 2000, aged 90, a memorial service being held for him in Winchester Cathedral. 

Detailed Biography

Frederick Donald Coggan (b 1909 - d 2000)

[Donald Coggan] The Most Revd & Rt Hon. Baron Coggan of Canterbury and of Sissinghurst in the County of Kent (created life peer 1980)
Son of (the late) Cornish Arthur Coggan, company director, by his wife, (the late) Fannie Sarah.

b. 9.10.1909 Highgate. Merchant Taylors. St Johns College Cambridge BA1931 MA193Professor of New Testament studies at the Toronto-based Wycliffe Hall, returning to the UK in 1944 to ta5. Wycliffe Hall Oxford 1934.

M 1935 m.1935 Jean (Braithwaite Strain), 2 daughters.


30.9.1934. p 1935 by +London.

Assistant Lecturer Semitic Languages & Literature Manchester University 1931-1934; C Islington St Mary 1934-1937; Professor of New testament Wycliffe College Toronto 1937-1944; Principal London College of Divinity 1944-1956 (& Macneil Professor of Biblical Exegesis 1952-1956); Examining Chaplain to +Lincoln 1946-1956 +Manchester 1951-1956 +Southwark 1954-1956 & +Chester 1955-1956; Proctor in Convocation (the fore-runner of the General Synod) for the London Diocese 1950-1956. Consecrated Bishop 1956; Bishop of Bradford 1956-1961 Select Preacher, Oxford University 1960-1961; Chairman Liturgical Commission 1960-1964; Chairman College of Preachers 1960-1980. Appointed Archbishop of York 1961 {enthroned on 13.9.1961}; Pro-Chancellor York University 1962-1974 & Hull University 1968-1974; President Soc for Old Testament Studies 1967-1968; Shaftesbury Lecturer 1973. Appointed Archbishop of Canterbury 1974; enthroned on 4.1.1975 in Canterbury Cathedral. Retired 25.1.1980 at the age of 70 having served over 5 years in post. 

His time as archbishop coincided with:  Elizabeth II 1952- » Prime Ministers » Wilson Lab 1974-76 » J Callaghan Lab 1976-79 » M Thatcher Con 1979-90 » Popes » Paul VI 1963-78 » John Paul I 1978 » John Paul II 1978- » Archbishops of York » S Blanch 1975-83 »

Following retirement:

Appointed Assistant Bishop Canterbury Diocese 1980-1988. Life Peer 1980; Royal Victorian Chain 1980; Privy Councillor 1961; Fellow of Kings College London 1975; BD1941 (Wycliffe College Toronto) DD1957 (Lambeth); 1st Life President of the Church Army 1981; President United Bible Societies; also Chairman Catechism Commission; Chairman Psalter Revision Commission.

Known Writings:

A People's Heritage 1944;

The Ministry of the Word 1945;

The Glory of God 1950;

Stewards of Grace 1958;

Five Makers of the New Testament

1962; Christian Priorities 1963;

The Prayers of the New Testament 1967;

Sinews of Faith 1969;

Word and World 1971;

Convictions 1975;

On Preaching 1978;

The Heart of the Christian Faith 1978;

The Name Above All Names 1981;

Sure Foundation 1981;

Mission to the World 1982;

Paul - Portrait of a Revolutionary 1984;

The Sacrament of the Word 1987;

Cuthbert Bardsley: bishop, evangelist, pastor 1989;

contributions to Theology (& others).

Notable for

1st to convene Lambeth Conference in Canterbury; oldest Archbishop on appointment since []; 2nd shortest serving Archbishop of modern times (after Temple)