The Faculty Office has its origins in the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533. This Act transferred to the Archbishop of Canterbury the power to grant “all maner licences, dispensacions, faculties, composicions, delegacies, rescriptes, instrumentes or wrytynges have byn accustomed to be had at the see of Rome”. The Act created a new court – the Court of Faculties – and provided for the appointment of a Judge to preside over it. This jurisdiction was to be administered by the Archbishop’s “comissarye” assisted by a “clerke”. The issue of Special Marriage Licences and the appointment of Notaries Public were, before the Reformation, functions carried out by the Pope or the Papal Legates. For this reason, the functions under the Act are sometimes referred to as the “legatine powers”. The powers are more constitutional than ecclesiastical in the modern sense of that word.
The Seal of The Faculty Office
This seal is attached to the ‘faculties’ which the Faculty Office issues: Notarial faculties (the document which appoints a Notary), Special Marriage Licences and Lambeth Degrees. It has been used since the time of Archbishop Cranmer in the reign of Henry VIII.
On one side of the Seal is a representation of Moses lifting up the brazen serpent, with the motto ‘Mundus transit’ and the Arms of the See of Canterbury.
The reverse side shows a representation of Christ’s Crucifixion with St John. In Latin is a quotation from St John’s Gospel (Chapter 17 verse 3), which translates as: ‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’.
One side is thus symbolic of the other: ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up’ (St John’s Gospel, Chapter 3 verse 14).