« AnteriorContinua »
terial neglect is certain to involve, these cases, thus left unremedied, injure the Church in its outward aspects. They demonstrate, in the first place, by a distinct example, a grave defect; they supply illustrations to the opponents of the existing Church system; and, more mischievously still, they furnish the extreme party in the Church with a form of complaint which is perfectly fair and reasonable. If,' it is said, we Ritualists, who give our whole life and energies to our responsible work, are to be dealt with by Acts of Parliament, and to be harried by aggrieved parishioners, is it not monstrous that these cases of ministerial neglect are to be allowed to go unpunished; and ought a Church system that tolerates such injustice to be maintained or defended by any faithful servant of Jesus Christ?' Such complaints are increasing, and are finding a response in the hearts of sober and right-minded Churchmen. They supply no argument, in the case of those who make the complaint, for a toleration of other practices known and declared to be illegal, but they do supply very potent reasons for an amendment of the existing law. We do not ourselves particularly admire either the spiritual temper or the practices of those who are called Ritualists, but this we do not hesitate to say, that one case of plain apathy and neglect does more real harm, not only to the National Church, but to the whole Church of Christ, than the follies and excesses of a dozen Ritualists. The evil, however, is fairly remediable, and, under the general head of Church discipline, may form the subject of discussion, if not of actual legislation, this present year.
2. In reference then to our first question, we see that a fairly hopeful answer can be given. Does this remark equally apply to the second of the three questions on which we are now commenting? That question is briefly this: Are the present temper of the clergy and the state and conflict of existing parties in the Church such that they countervail, or more than countervail, the tendencies for good which we noticed at the beginning of this article? If the first question was grave, this is still more so, because there do seem to be some indications of the spread of a sacerdotalism and of the stealthy progress of a priestly assumption which have ever been and ever will be intolerable to the general mind and feeling of the country. To think that any change is coming over Englishmen on this subject, because a handful of ecclesiastical laymen are found ready to maintain these assumptions, or because a little toleration is extended to extreme men for their works' sake, is to cherish delusions of the most dangerous nature. If there really is any gravitation in the rank and file of the High Church party to sacerdotal theories--if there is, as is sometimes asserted, a tendency to caste-separation and to the assertion of order-privileges, then we must verily fear for the maintenance of the National Church.
On this subject it is very hard to obtain evidence or to form any
very certain opinion. It is ever extremely difficult for any one, however experienced, to form a correct judgment on the general feelings of a large party in any community, and still more so when that party is very loose in its general organisation, and includes many shades and gradations of opinion. As far as the evidence goes which the Church papers of the day supply to us, and their columns of unwise and often mischievous correspondence may seem to suggest, it might be said that this feeling is spreading in the general body of the High Church party, and that a distinct disposition to stand upon spiritual prerogatives is to be traced in many quarters. Some manifestations of this spirit might have been observed in the innumerable local discussions of the burial question last year and the year preceding. Too much stress, however, must not be laid on the feelings manifested in these discussions. The expressions were by no means those of one party. The great bulk of the clergy, and indeed of Churchmen generally, took the same line. The matter was regarded as one of aggression, and as the advancement of claims which would soon be pressed much further, and to an extent which, it was considered, menaced the very existence of a National Church. We cannot, therefore, very fairly allude to these debates as either showing any serious spirit of intolerance, or as supplying evidence of the existence, to any great extent, of the subtle and dangerous principle which we are now considering.
Nor can we really derive much, one way or other, from the Church newspapers. The National Church is extremely unfortunate in reference to her representation by the press. The two larger parties in the Church are adequately represented by party papers; but the sober, moderate, and now silently increasing central body of the Church is so wholly unrepresented that we do not wonder that at the last Church Congress the need of a really high-class Church paper, which should guide and not follow current opinion, was represented as one of the greatest needs of the present time. Such a paper, if appearing at least three times a week, and dealing with ecclesiastical questions in a candid and impartial spirit, admitting but little correspondence, and helping its readers to form calm and equitable judgments, would do more for the well-being and permanence of the National Church than any procedure or combination of procedures that could possibly be specified. We are, however, it would seem, very far from the realisation of any such proposal. Party
The practice of continuing the 'silly season,' in the form of correspondence, throughout the year is now becoming positively prejudicial. Party spirit is more fanned and fed by these irresponsible communications than by any other form of published utterances. That the communications are frequently very foolish does not prevent their being read and even approved of. Party spirit has but little of wisdom or penetration. It would be well if the good example of the English Churchman were more generally followed, and the best current articles on Church matters from leading papers substituted for this undesirable correspondence.
spirit and party interests are, we fear, as yet far too strong to permit the hope that such a paper could become a mercantile success. We have therefore to fall back on such material as we have.
If we draw our inferences from what thus comes before us, it is not easy to resist the idea that an exclusive spirit is beginning to show itself in the clerical order generally. There seems a growing tendency to stand upon order-privileges, and to vindicate a kind of autonomy in matters spiritual and ecclesiastical, which cannot be regarded by any sober and constitutional Churchman without the gravest anxiety. If such a spirit as this increases, and obtains anything like an ascendency in the Church, the final issue is certain and not very remote. If there is any one principle that is utterly and entirely out of harmony with our own times, and utterly unendurable to the large body of the laity, it is the general principle, whether it be designated as clerical assumption or sacerdotalism, or by whatever name it may be known, on which we are now commenting. The only hopeful indications we can observe of countervailing tendencies are to be found in the general attitude of the bishops and their relations to the laity, and perhaps still more in the increasing manifestations of the existence, or perhaps rather emergence, of a moderate central party which probably will become the ultimate arbiter of the destinies of the National Church.
In spite, then, of some uneasy feelings that there is a spirit now at work which is inimical to the permanence of the union of Church and State, we cannot fairly say that it has as yet very seriously shown itself, except in the extreme section of the High Church party, and we think even now that we can discern some signs of reconsideration and reaction.
When we come to the allied question of the parties in the Church, their hostilities, and the disintegrating effect they are certainly producing in the present relations of the National Church to the State and the country, it is not very easy to assume a particularly cheerful tone. There are now, speaking roughly, four parties in the Church of England: the New High Church party, with their definite counterReformation policy, their recently developed opposition to the royal supremacy, their distinct advocacy of a rubrical revision on the lines of the First Prayer Book of Edward the Sixth; their resolution (to use the words of one of their most reasonable exponents) to aim at nothing less than the restoration of truer relations between Church and State' (whatever those may be), and meanwhile to extend 'cordial sympathy to each one resisting what he believes to be (the italics are ours) the unconstitutional aggression of the civil power.' First, then, we have this party, which, without any breach of charity, may be considered to be the main source of our present troubles. Next we have two historical parties, the Old High Church party and the Low Church party, both well represented, both loyal to the
National Church, but each with a long heritage of antagonisms, and with some not inconsiderable accessions to it from recent controversies. Lastly, we have a small and loosely organised party, but of considerable intelligence and ability, which is commonly known by the name of the Broad Church party. This party occupies but little prominence in existing controversies, and does little or nothing to embitter the discussion of ritual difficulties. It is, for the most part, a quiet supporter of the present union of Church and State, on the very intelligible ground, from its own point of view, that (to use the language of one of its members) the religious expression of the community can thus be controlled and guided by the State,' or, in other words, a greater amount of doctrinal freedom more effectually secured. Though such reasons are very far from palatable to the High Church party, as yet but little antagonism is called out. It is between the extremes of the High and the Low Church parties that party spirit is mainly showing itself, and that too in words and acts of very culpable bitterness. When, for example, our Reformers are denounced as a set of miscreants; when clergy cannot cooperate in the broadest spiritual work, or even pray together in the same room; when alms-bags (as we learn recently from a bishop's letter) are the receptacle for cuttings from scurrilous newspapers; when prayers are offered up in churches for a clergyman who has defied the law; when a responsible speaker charges the State with dictating to bishops the usurpation of the cure of souls, and leaflets are disseminated announcing that the Church and the State are now in deadly conflict as to which shall rule consciences and enforce obedience in spiritual things; and when, lastly, a so-called Church society denies to any court which is bound to frame its decision in accordance with the highest court in the land the possession of any spiritual authority whatever, we must acknowledge with sorrow and humiliation not only that party spirit of the worst kind is now prevailing in the Church, but that good sense and even sanity itself are taking leave of the minds of many of our clergy under the pressure of present excitement.
When we thus contemplate the state of parties, it cannot be disguised that very grave fears may be reasonably entertained whether all this folly and violence may not hurry us onward to some serious catastrophe, and offer to the enemies of the National Church an opportunity of which they will not be slow to take a very disastrous advantage. Still even here some hope may be entertained. Independently of all that we have said of the silent formation of a large central party in the Church, and the gradual emergence of a party of sobriety and good sense, which will really in the sequel hold the balance, we may fairly say that we sincerely believe that, ere very long, many even of this New High Church party will become ashamed of their violence. There are some symptoms in the more recent meetings of the society to which we have
just alluded that at least a lucid interval is returning, of which Christian good humour and moderation may still make a profitable use. There is also a vitally important case yet remaining undecided, and the issue of this even the most intemperate will hardly refuse to wait for. That case may not, after all, terminate so very hopelessly to High Church interests as may be generally assumed. Judges even of the Supreme Court are not the less wise and true well-wishers of the National Church; and though we do not for one moment believe that the decision will be otherwise than framed on considerations of the purest equity, yet it is not difficult to conceive, at such a crisis as the present, that the form of expression in which the decision will be formulated will be wise, convincing, and conciliatory. If so-and it would be doing dishonour to the court to think it could be otherwiseall those who are now doubting whether more has not been said and done than the circumstances required, will silently join the party of reason and order, and may even help to bring about on both sides a better understanding.
We are thus, in reference to the party spirit now so painfully apparent, not wholly without the hope that we may perhaps have already seen the worst of it. But, it must be confessed, the future is still very clouded and full of anxiety.
3. The third question is of a somewhat different and more general nature, but again one which no careful observer of our own times can attempt to consider and to answer without many a feeling of inward doubt and misgiving. The question is, whether the present relations of Church and State are not anachronistic, and such as time itself, especially at the rate at which all things now are moving, must, even speedily, change. If the Pope himself has been disestablished, is it very likely that a Church which one of the Pope's predecessors to a great extent helped to replant, will escape the general movement? Of course there is the very obvious answer that this same Church has passed through the Reformation, has been the subject of many reasonable compromises, and has tended in its onward course to assimilate many popular elements. This may be true, but we still feel the question very far from adequately answered. The question that forces itself upon us and must be answered is this:-Is there, or is there not, a steady stream of tendencies which, independently of all the other difficulties to which we have alluded, seems pointing distinctly to a separation of the spiritual from the civil and secular, and to a severance of bonds, which, however beneficial they may have been to both sides, are now becoming antiquated and out of all harmony with the spirit of the age? And if so, is it not after all a mere affair of time, and of time, let us add, which is receiving many accelerations?
To such a question there are very many who return, without a moment's hesitation, a directly affirmative answer, and practically occupy themselves in silently making preparations for rendering the