Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

There are, of course, cases in which it is wise to leave things alone, and to let errors and follies work themselves out, in the belief that they will pass away all the sooner, if they want the stimulus of opposition and condemnation. But there are two or three very plain reasons which appear to forbid a laissez faire policy in this instance.

The first is, as it seems to me, this—that in the eyes of plain men, especially among the laity, it tends to throw a natural suspicion on the good faith of the clergy. We have all of us made the wellknown declaration, 'I assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer; and in Public Prayer and the administration of the Sacraments I will use the form in the said book prescribed, and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority. It is not necessary to inquire whether it is right or wrong, wise or unwise, to require this declaration from the clergy as a condition for Ordination. We are only concerned with the fact that it has been solemnly made by all, as applying to the whole of their ministerial action, and that on the faith of it they hold their positions of pastoral authority. Now, when in matters which are important and significant, licence is assumed either to take from or add to the Prayer Book in our public Service, it is natural and inevitable that men of other vocations in life should ask with some wonder, and even indignation, how we clergy can honestly depart from this deliberate and solemn undertaking. I own myself quite unable to supply a satisfactory answer, or even to understand the frame of mind, which, in men of high character and earnestness, allows the disregard of a most serious obligation, taken solemnly before God and man. But, whatever may be our own opinion on this question in itself, there is one thing of which we may be quite certain, that it is infinitely dangerous to have even the shadow of suspicion thrown on the good faith of the clergy, and even the slightest occasion given to their enemies to descant on the tendency to explain away plain obligations, which they are pleased to impute to theologians.

Next, because these things inflict an unquestionable grievance upon the worshippers in our churches—especially the laity, who are constitutionally helpless in this matter—a grievance, be it remembered, in respect of which the rights even of an insignificant minority ought to be held sacred, when they are based upon authoritative ground. Men come to church-and our churches are open to all, parishioners and non-parishioners alike-expecting, and having a right to expect, that they will be called upon to join in a form of worship which they know, in which they can join conscientiously, and which the large majority at least greatly love. It is a serious wrong to them to find that this form of worship is departed from by unauthorised additions or mutilations, and that thus one of the chief benefits to them of Liturgical service is taken away. I am quite

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

aware that there are laymen who delight in these new developments,

who are inclined to encourage and even press the officiating clergy ces to venture upon them, and who are hyper-clerical in their exaltation

of clerical autocracy, so long as it asserts itself in the way that they desire. But these are certainly no typical specimens of the general tone of opinion and feeling in the great body of the laity. How much the wrong done to that great body is felt by thoughtful and attached Churchmen, I do not think that the clergy are sufficiently

aware. I observe that recently excuse for violent and unseemly omnis interruption has been made, on the ground of the helplessness of the

laity under what they feel to be an injustice, and the inability or pe unwillingness of constituted authority to redress it. Thousands,

who would not accept that excuse for a moment, nevertheless feel seriously the wrong itself. At present some stay away, some grumble, some acquiesce in despair. But the time may come when their discontent will make itself formidably evident.

Lastly, because it is a serious danger to Church unity, strongly accentuating the divergence between parties and schools of opinion in our Church. That these differences in idea and practice will always exist is obvious; it is truly urged that their existence is a sign of intelligence and interest and general vitality. That, if they do exist, they will manifest themselves, as in the teaching, so in the ritual and ceremonial of our churches, is equally certain. I, for one, welcome all freedom of lawful variation, and would gladly see our Church law modified so as to enlarge that freedom on some points. I wish, for example, that under our Act of Uniformity Amendment Act the liberty to use Occasional Services under the sanction of the Ordinary had not been limited by restriction to the words of the Bible and Prayer Book. But, after all, there must be some limit to variation, some evidence of substantial agreement, some counterbalancing force of unity. That force surely we shall best find in the common use of our Prayer Book, as at once a standard of doctrine and a standard of worship, and an embodiment of the continuity of our actual Church history. Of course we must see that, like all other earthly things, this uniformity in worship has its drawbacks and its difficulties. But we must take the thing as a whole; and I believe that, so taken, it has been of infinite value in the past, in preserving the unity of our Church and the continuity of Church thought and life, both in times of controversy, and still more in times of deadness. I believe that now, more than anything else, it keeps us together in the only sound way, because it lays the foundation for us of common truth, and builds on it something, at least, of unity, something of concord. But let it be tampered with -I care not in what direction-let men take licence to omit what they dislike, and to add to it whatever they think ought to be there, and I confess that I have the gravest anxiety for Church unity, as

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

5 ܬܥ ܐܝܐ;

ܝ ܗ ܟ

well as for really Catholic and Apostolic truth. The process of a disunion, which may lead to disruption, is as yet only beginning; but it is beginning, and who can say where it will stop ?

For these three plain reasons-not the only reasons which might be adduced, but reasons which seem to me to be almost beyond controversy—this habit of unlicensed variation appears to be a serious danger. They induce much doubt, as I have said, whether it can be dealt with by simply letting it alone, in hope that it will wear itself out. If there is risk in over-interference, there is at least as much risk in the policy of drifting on.

(3) But what is the remedy ? The question is hard to answer. But to dwell on a grievance, and to protest against an evil, are useless, and may

be in effect worse than useless, unless we make some effort to find out a remedy. My chief desire, as I have said, is not to give my own opinion, but to set people thinking seriously in this direction for themselves. Still it may not be wrong to submit some practical suggestions on the matter.

First, then, it seems clear that here, as usual, a practice which is growing up in many churches, and especially in churches of energy and vitality, must indicate a real need, which ought to be carefully examined and directly met. We do want some right liberty of variation, within limits not too narrow but clearly defined, and under some such direction of central authority as shall temper individual vagary and arbitrary self-will. It is hard to see how we can have it satisfactorily except by modification of our present Church law, or how such modification can be secured except through some representative action of the Church as a whole.

I venture therefore to think that the scheme brought forward some time ago in Convocation by the Bishop of Winchester-reviring, with some modifications, proposals previously made—was clearly a step in the right direction. I cannot but regret that its most important element was rejected by the Lower House. It is not the first time that excessive conservatism has played into the hands of anarchy.

It would have dealt with two needs: first, the need of Occasional Services, which shall have legal authority, in place of those which we now use, as I believe, in contravention of law; next, the need of a power of modification of rubrics which are virtually obsolete, and of relaxation of those which are too rigid in theory, and are accordingly disobeyed in practice. It proposed to deal with these by self-government of the Church, as represented in her constituted assemblies, leaving to Parliament its unquestionable right to veto them by address to the Crown, if they either contravened the law of the land, or violated the individual rights of its citizens.

In both points it seemed to me then, and seems still, that it exactly met the needs of the time. It dealt with an urgent necessity; and it did so by assertion of an important principle. On the necessity I need say no more than I have already said. But the principle of self-government of the Church is, I must hold, the most important of all principles for assertion at this moment. I believe that it is the inherent right of the Church. But I believe also that it is the truest interest of the nation : for, if the Church is of any service to the higher national life, that service must be increased in value by increase to the Church of freedom, and so of vitality and efficiency. The example of Scotland proves unmistakably that it is in no way inconsistent with Establishment. The study of history shows that it is accordant with the true meaning of our old English traditions. The function assigned to Parliament, as distinct from that which it exercised when it was an assembly of Churchmen, mainly Church laymen, is exactly accordant with its own changed character and constitution.

It is no doubt true that our present constitutional Church machinery is seriously defective. Our Convocations must be reformed before they can be true representations of the clergy; and this reform is, I think, near at hand, although not as near as I hoped not long ago.

But behind this lies an infinitely more important matter, on which we must recognise that there is much difference of opinion. No representation of the Church will be recognised by the nation, and to my mind no representation ought to be recognised which does not include the representation of the laity, not as an unauthoritative appendage, but as-after the practice of all the other Churches of the Anglican Communion and of the Established Church in Scotland-a co-ordinate and integral part of the authoritative Church Assembly. It was by joint action under the Crown of the clergy in their Convocations and of the Church laity in Parliament that our Prayer Book was established in 1662; it is only by the same joint action of clergy and laity that it can be rightly modified. Our colonial Parliaments, I have observed, readily recognise and aid the desires of the Church Synods, which speak in the name of the whole Church. To the resolutions of merely clerical assemblies, however excellent in their way, they would not listen for a moment. I believe that the great mother of Parliaments would in this matter act as her daughters act.

I fear, therefore, that the Bishop of Winchester's scheme, even if it had been accepted by Convocation, would not have much chance of practical acceptance till these preliminary questions had been settled. The latter is, I know, complicated by the fact of Establishment. But, in spite of what is commonly urged on this subject, I cannot see that it is incompatible with Establishment in theory, and (as I have said) the example of Scotland shows that it is not incompatible in practice if only Churchmen will be in earnest about it. own part, I believe that, if rightly carried out, it would be not a

Vol. XLIII— No. 256

For my

3 R

preparation for Disestablishment, but the best safeguard against that tremendous national disaster.

Still, as I have said, the scheme was a step in the right direction. It may at least show us the ideal which we should have before us. In respect of the subject at present under consideration, a regulated liberty, within wide and yet definite limits, is the best remedy-perhaps the only remedy-against license, which, as usual, entails something of tyranny over others.

But until this is secured-and I fear it is not likely to be secured speedily-what are we to do to meet the present distress? How shall we carry out our usual English maxim, 'Let law be altered if necessary, but, till it is altered, let it be obeyed'?

(4) Now I will frankly own that I hold it to be an evil that Church law cannot effectively vindicate itself when it is openly set aside. There is wisdom, no doubt, in the maxim De minimis non curat lex. In trivial matters it is, as we all know, often better to put up with irregularity rather than appeal to the rigour of the law. But ritual questions, although they turn apparently upon mere externals, are not always trivial. There would not be on both sides so deep an interest in them if they were. The question in France between the White flag and the Tricolour was not a question of the colour of a few yards of bunting, but a question of essential principle, on which the destinies of a great nation turned. It is true that, even where such matters of principle are in question, no one would wish to invoke the decision of law if it could be rightly avoided; no one would lightly coerce or threaten conscience however he might think it misguided. But an ultima ratio there must be, and in that extreme case it is a serious evil that we have no Final Court of Appeal, which could generally command unhesitating obedience, and which, in case of disobedience, would be supported, instead of being opposed, by public opinion in enforcing its decrees. I deeply regret that the unwearied and valuable labours of the Ecclesiastical Courts Commission some fourteen years ago hare borne no fruit whatever; I wish that to the question publicly put to those who are most dissatisfied with the Judicial Committee, praying them to say what kind of tribunal they would acknowledge and obey, some adequate reply had been given. Even the Lambeth Judgment, unexceptionable as it is in respect of ecclesiastical authority, and in itself by universal agreement wise and temperate and masterly, does not seem to me to have been so fully obeyed as to become really an Eirenicon to the Church. Practically now no Church law can be enforced. It is, I think, a very grave responsibility to take advantage of this condition of things, with the knowledge that public opinion, or rather public sentiment, will protect law-breaking from painful consequences. Only in the extremest cases can disobedience be justified, and then it ought to be ventured

« AnteriorContinuar »