« AnteriorContinuar »
Such principle seeming undeniable, what is to be the measure of its application? It being granted, in limine, that the command of a bishop is paramount, either way, and assumed on the hypothesis that the law of rubrics is not absolate, where practically, and with the allowance of the church, relaxed, what is to be the determining standard? I fear, sir, that some of your readers will quarrel with my answer, and yet I see but one answer to give. I think it must be the feelings of the congregation. But note what is meant by feelings, and wbat by congregation. Of course, by feelings, I do not mean fancies ; nor by congregation, the assembly accidentally present at this or that time. I suppose the feelings to be deep and real, (I do not say just and true, I am not concerned with their nature, but with their degree,) and I suppose, also, the judges to be competent. But supposing the objections, however groundless, to be sincere and persevering; and supposing also the objectors to form a considerable majority of the supposed clergyman's regular flock, as distinct from stragglers aud interlopers, then I own I cannot see how a clergyman can justify it to his conscience to persevere in any obnoxious observance not absolutely commanded by living authority, still less with any which has the custom of the existing church of England against it, and perhaps, aster all, but an equivocal direction in its favour; how, I say, he is justified in such perseverance, after the unfavourable issue of a fair trial, and especially after the failure of decided, but temperate appeals to his people, whether in church or out of it, in support of the apparent "innovation."
Surely, if this principle had been more generally recognised and acted upon, we might have done more than we have towards securing peace, without compromising truth; and raised the dignity of church ceremonial, instead of bringing it into contempt. We should not have had all this miserable wrangling and baggling about candlesticks and faldstools, credence-tables and sedilia; thiogs undoubtedly most decorous, or even beautiful, in themselves; ministrative, in their proper places, to decency and order, nay, to what is still better, to solemnity and reverence, but where, by accident, ministrative only to strife and confusion, surely not worth contending for; and, at all events, not capable of being maintained upon grounds intelligible except to minds of a certain temper, of a temper which the whole course of things among us has long tended to outrage; which, perhaps, to a certain extent, “nascitur, non fit," or which, at any rate, is not to be implanted in a day, where not native, nor to be created, except through the prevailing influence, not of one or two details of external religion, but of a whole assemblage of facts and cir. cumstances-facts so palpable that they cannot be gainsaid-circumstances so impressive that they cannot be resisted.
The offertory, indeed, that greatest of actual offences, rests upon a somewhat different ground; because here a very important and acknowledged Christian principle is directly at stake. I may not agree with, indeed, I find it hard even to tolerate, the popular objections to an ornate church service, as distinct from a dull and homely one; but I can understand the temper which regards the constituents of such a service as " trifles.” But objections to the offertory are, of course, far more serious and alarming indications of the objectors' spiritual state, and I fear not a little symptomatic of our national pride and covetousness. For as far as can be made out, these objections, though couched in the plausible form of a resistance to innovation, ultimately resolve themselves into two most hateful, most antichristian, elements – viz., either, Ist, the dislike of giving alms; or 2ndly, what is in its way quite as bad, the dislike of being seen not to give them, when others do.
Again, there is, of course, more explicit rubrical grounds for urging the offertory than, e.g., the surplice. Still, surely, there is something rather strange in forcing an institution, of which the whole value depends upon the spontaneousness with which it is accepted! There is something self-contradictory, and almost grotesque, in collecting alms, Sunday after Sunday, from
VOL. XXVII.-February, 1845.
a reluctant auditory, after first solemnly pronouncing from the altar the apostolic commendation upon the “ cheerful giver." I cannot see, therefore, that, except where distinctly enjoined by authority, even this most beautiful, edifying, and catholic ordinance, can be consistently pressed against the decided and continuous objections of a congregation ; not, observe, because such objections can by any possibility be (and in this respect they are unlike those in the other case) of a religious, and hardly even of an innocent nature, but because, if a clergyman is so singularly unfortunate as to have spiritual charge of a flock who are utterly incapable of appreciating the blessedness of such a periodical opportunity of almsgiving under such circumstances, and who must needs argue that because they are allowed, therefore they are obliged, to give, and that (as no one questions) it is inconvenient to be always giving, then, I say, he must even, as it should seem, resign himself to his unhappy lot, and cast the onus of flinging away so high a privilege upon those to whom it appertains,“ seeing that they have put away" a means of grace, and “judged themselves unworthy of it."
The principle I have ventured to assert, involves, as a consequence, the strongest possible dislike of the attempts, now so popular, in favour of what is called a perfect uniformity in our church. Surely before we talk of uniformity, we must first secure unity! To have a front of uniformity without a heart of love, would be like concealing our natural face by a frightful mask. What is unnatural can never by possibility be becoming; and most unnatural surely would it be, that a mind so various as that of the church of England, should be represented to the world by an unchangeable exterior! Let us get rid of Calvinistic doctrine, and then it will be time to dispense with Calvinistic vestments. But who can wish to see candlesticks in conventicles, or to hear heterodoxy from a surplice? Surely, as our doctrine is within certain limits free, so likewise should our form of worship be pliant. I heartily wish, if I may say it with due respect, that the bishops might see their course to rule less and allow more; guarding, however, their permissions by any amount of qualification which their wisdom might suggest; and, of course, reserving to themselves the power of retracting such permissions, upon a failure, of which they might be the judges, in the conditions prescribed. Positive rules any way do seem, to an impartial spectator, most undesirable in the present state of things : they are sure to find either an unwilling clergy or unwilling congregations, or both. Better ever than impracticable rules are intelligible principles. And as to my brethren in the ministry, I really would (as one alive to their difficulties) implore them, in all earnestness and charity, to feel their way before they act—to sound, in the first place, the depths of their congregations: first, to clear their own views on what they recommend, for this is the step to satisfying others; to press nothing but what is essential against honest, persevering, prevalent objections, but, at the same time, to encounter idle criticisms with firmness and dignity, yet with moderation; with a firmness justified by the importance of the principles at stake, with a moderation dictated by a charitable regard to the disadvantageous, and therefore extenuating circumstances of the objectors; always, however, discriminating between the cavils of extraneous critics, (who can be no judges whatever of details without constant experience of the system which those details illustrate,) and, on the other hand, the conscientious scruples of regular members of the flock, who ought to be competent judges (length of time and clearness of teaching presumed) how far certain practices do or do not " minister to godly edifying," which, next to the glory of Almighty God, is, as I need not say, the great end of all external religion.
You will guess that, with these feelings, I for one heartily deprecate the meeting of bishops which certain newspapers seem so anxious to precipitate. The varieties of opinion which prevail in our church are evidently not confined to the lower clergy, and nothing could be more piteous than would be the public
exhibition of disunion in so dignified a quarter. But yet more than this. What corporate and collective authority could be claimed by such an assembly? Convocation we understand, and the voice of our own bishop we understand ; but whence this episcopal board ? What claim to obedience could be arrogated by the body of bishops as distinct from their claim as individuals? The bishops are but one estate of our ecclesiastical realm; and no edict of their body could be received as law, without the concurrence of the Lower House of Convocation, and the sanction of her Majesty as “ in all causes and over all persons, ecclesiastical and civil, within these her dominions supreme." And these are not days in which the clergy feel themselves justified in bending to equivocal authority. Our present bishops are happily not likely to interfere with doctripe; but who can answer for their successors : and who would not fear to concur in establishing a precedent which might hereafter be turned to the serious disadvantage of the church? If one set of bishops give up the offertory to popolar clamour, why may not another be in like manner induced to resign the Athanasian creed?
This proposal for an episcopal meeting having apparently no existence but in the hopes of certain dissatisfied parties, it is possible to speak thus strongly in deprecation of it, without implying the slightest disrespect towards the dignified persons who would compose it. I owe many apologies for the length of this communication. Should it be indulgently received, perhaps I might trouble you again in continuation of the same subject. I am, &c. Margaret-street, Dec. 20th, 1844.
THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY AND THE CHURCH. A Letter addressed to the Clergy and Laity of his Province, by William, Lord
Archbishop of Canterbury. For a considerable time my attention has been turned to the divisions in the charch, occasioned by differences of opinion with respect to the intention of certain rubrical directions in the Liturgy, and diversities of practice in the performance of divine service. These questions, relating to matters in themselves indifferent, but deriving importance from their connexion with the maintenance of uniformity and order in the solemn ministrations of the church, are rendered difficult by the ambiguity of the rubrics in some instances, and in all by the doubts which may arise as to the weight which should be allowed to general usage when it varies from the written law. It is partly on these accounts, and partly from uncertainty with respect to the extent of the powers committed to the archbishop of the province, in the preface to the Book of Common Prayer, for the resolution of doubts in regard to the contested points, that I have not felt myself justified in expressing an authoritative opinion upon questions occasionally submitted to me on these subjects. I was, indeed, willing to hope that these controversies, like many of much greater importance which have for a season disquieted the church, would be suffered to die away of themselves, when the arguments on both sides had been thoroughly sifted, from the good sense of the parties engaged in thein, and the general conviction of their unprofitableness. But having been disappointed in this expectation, and considering the tendency of continued agitation to weaken the sacred bonds of affection which ought to unite the clergy and laity a3 members of one body in Christ, I hold it a duty to come forward, in the
hope of allaying animosities, and putting a stop to dissensions which are shown by experience to be not only unedifying but mischievous. With this view I would call your attention to a few considerations, which, with persons who are desirous of peace, will, I trust, have their due weight.
It has long been observed that, in the performance of divine service in the generality of our parochial churches, there has been a deviation, in certain particulars, from the express directions of the rubric, and that, in some cases, a difference in respect to the sense of the rubric has led to a diversity in practice. In regard to such points, in themselves non-essential, the most conscientious clergymen have felt themselves justified in treading in the steps of their predecessors; and hence the irregularity (for all departure from rule is irregular) which seems, in some instances at least, to have existed from the beginning, became inveterate. There have, I apprehend, at all times been clergymen who have been distressed by this inconsistency; and of late years it has been regarded by many excellent men as irreconcileable with the obligations which they took upon themselves on their admission into holy orders. Under the influence of these scruples, they thought it right to adhere as closely as possible to the letter of the rubric in their ministration; whilst others of their brethren, not less conscientious, have been determined by considerations, in their estimation of great weight, to follow the usage which they found established in their respective churches. Under these circumstances a diversity of practice has arisen, which is not only inconsistent with the principle of uniformity maintained by the church, but is sometimes associated in the minds of the people with peculiarities of doctrine, and gives birth to suspicions and jealousies destructive of the confidence which should always subsist be. tween the flock and their pastor. To prevent the increase of an evil which might terminate in actual schisms was confessedly most desirable ; and the most effectual mode of accomplishing the object, it has been thought, would be found in general conformity to the rubric. Universal concurrence in this easy and obvious regulation would have combined the several advantages of securing compliance with the law of the church and the land, of putting a stop to unauthorized innovations, and of excluding party distinctions, in their character decidedly unchristian, from the public worship of God; and I cannot but regret that measures which, with a view to these good purposes, have been recommended by high authorities, should not have been received with unanimous acquiescence, as the means of restoring order and peace, without any departure from the principles of the church, or offence to the most scru. pulous conscience.
At the same time, I am sensible that those who object have much to allege in their justification. If the written law is against them, they plead an oppo. site usage, in parochial churches at least, reaching back, perhaps, to the time when the intention of the lawgiver was best understood, superseding its literal sense, and determining its real meaning; they appeal to the general consent of bishops, clergy, and laity, implied in the absence of any effectual interference during so long a period; they object to the sudden revival of rules, which in their opinion are obsolete, and still more to their rigid enforcement after so long a term of abeyance. In fairness to them we must allow that this dislike of alterations in the manner of worship to which they have been accustomed from their infancy, proceeding as it does from attachment to the ordinances of the church, ought not to be visited with unkindly censure ; and we can hardly be surprised at any change being regarded with suspicion when so many attempts have been made to introduce innovations which are really objectionable, and tend, as far as they go, to aller the character of our church. It must also be granted that the intention of the church is not always clearly discoverable from the language of the rubric, nor determinable with absolute certainty from the records of early practice. In such cases it may with some show of reason be said, that as the eminent men to whom the several revisions of the Liturgy were successively entrusted did not see the necessity of giving directions so precise as to insure a rigid conformity in every particular, we may be contented to acquiesce in slight deviations from rule, suggested by convenience, and sanctioned by long usage.
Now, whatever may be the force of the arguments on either side, a difference of opinion will, probably, always exist in regard to the contested points. But all parties will concur in regarding these points as of far less importance than the maintenance of that mutual confidence which, next to support from above, forms the main strength of the church, producing the harmonious co-operation of its several members, and disposing the people to look up with reverence to their pastor as their spiritual instructor and guide. In whatever degree, or by wbatever means, the tie of affection is loosened, a proportionate diminution will follow of that moral influence on which the efficiency of the clergyman's teaching will always depend.
The case, then, if fairly considered with reference to the existing dissensions, and the results to be expected from their continuance, will show the necessity of mutual forbearance to the peace and the honour, I may even say to the safety, of the church. The laity, it may be hoped, will see the propriety of respecting the consciences of such of the clergy as have held themselves bound to strict compliance with the express direction of the rubric, without regard to former disuse; and the clergy will perceive the expediency of not pressing too harshly or abruptly, the observance of laws which, having by themselves and their predecessors been long suffered to sleep, have now the appearance of novelty. I am fully alive to the importance of uniformity in the celebration of divine service; but I think it would be purchased too dearly at the expense of lasting divisions-a consequence which, I trust, will be averted by a suspension of the existing disputes. My hope of such an adjustment is grounded on the wisdom, temper, and piety which are engaged on both sides of the question. A settlement which would have the sanction of law is at the present moment impossible, and, were it possible, could hardly he attempted with hope of success, till the subsisting excitement has been allayed by time and reflection. But till that time shall arrive, our regard to the spiritual interests of our brethren ought surely to put a stop to contentions, which, besides the offence against charity, engage much time and ability which might be infinitely better applied, and which can afford pleasure to those only who bear ill-will to our church. The matters in controversy, considered in themselves, are not of vital importance; the service in our churches has in general been conducted in conformity to the Apostle's direction, with order and decency; and, whether performed with exact regard to the letter of the rubric, or with the variations established by general usage, will still be decent and orderly. I therefore entreat you to consider whether the peace of the church should be hazarded by prolonging an unprofitable controversy, at a time, more especially, when our energies are directed with such hope of success to the promotion of religion and morals, and when the clergy and laity are zealously engaged in united exertions for the erection and endowment of churches and schools, and for other pious and beneficial objects, in almost every part of the country.
What I would most earnestly recommend, for the present, is the discontinuance of any proceedings, in either direction, on the controverted questions. In churches where alterations have been introduced with general acquiescence, let things remain as they are; in those which retain the less accurate usage, Jet no risk of division be incurred by any attempt at change, till some final arrangement can be made, with the sanction of the proper authorities. In the case of churches where agitation prevails, and nothing has been definitely settled, it is not possible to lay down any general rule which may be applicable to all circumstances. But is it too much to hope that those who are zealous for the honour of God and the good of His Church, will show, by the temporary surrender of their private opinions, that they are equally zealous in the cause of peace and of charity?