Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

final severance as easy as possible. There are many who see in all the varied feelings-out after Church self-government, our synods and our conferences, and our other manifestations of Church aggregation, only exemplifications of those dim instincts and auguries which always presage the coming of the storm. Much may be said for such a view, but after all are we perfectly clear that it is so? Is it certain that there is nothing to be said on the other side? Are there no considerations which may at any rate make us pause before we close with such an answer to the question which we have now proposed to ourselves? Yes, there are some considerations, very often utterly overlooked, which it may be well for us briefly to entertain.

First, however, let us agree reverently to put aside those deep spiritual considerations which we can never avoid almost unconsciously interpolating in discussions on this subject. We mean those considerations which flow from a belief in the holy mission of the Church of England, not only to this nation, but, as it well may be in the sequel, to the whole Christian world. Such thoughts are edifying and inspiriting, and are thoughts, let it be said, which probably enter far more into the spiritual life and activities of the Church than a superficial thinker might be disposed to admit. Let us, however, put all these considerations aside, if only for this obvious reason, that it would be presumptuous indeed thus tacitly to imply that there can be no other relation of the Church to the State, in which the Church of England could more conduce to the honour and glory of God and the furtherance of our Redeemer's kingdom, than that under which now we are living. No one can safely mix up such considerations as these with the homely aspects of the subject which we have been maintaining in this article. We come then to those considerations which plain observation and the history of our own times suggest to us. And the first is this-that if the present connection of Church and State is really anomalous, so is a very great part of our English Constitution. That Constitution, as we know, has been silently changed and modified in many important features; but still how much of our Constitution remains unchanged! Nay more, how persistently and even successfully are anomalies, which really involve some difficulty and friction, maintained to this very hour! A very few years ago anyone would have said that any attempt seriously to defend the right of appeal to the House of Lords in the cases that up to that time had come before it, must necessarily be hopeless and quixotic. The spirit of the age, it would have been said, is utterly opposed to such an anomaly, and the sequel, it would have been said, will abundantly prove it. And yet the anomaly, in effect, remains, and remains too after it had seemed to have disappeared for ever. In spite of our liberalisms and progressiveness we are at heart, especially in reference to our older institutions, a singularly conservative community. And so probably, in the sequel, the nation will be found to

VOL. I.-No. 1.

F

be in reference to its Church. There is a deep and strong attachment to the Church of England in the hearts of the people, and year by year that attachment is becoming stronger and deeper. There is an anxiety, too, deep in the hearts of all thoughtful people, as to the whole religious aspects of the future, and that anxiety often unconsciously shows itself in the sort of conservatism of which we are speaking-a conservatism that thinly veils the real fear, that, if the Church of England were to be disestablished, such disruptions would follow, that all reasonable, vital, and peaceable religion would be permanently endangered. We do not for a moment say that it would be so, but we may certainly allude to the existence of the feeling as tending to help the common-sense principle of ultimately leaving what is tolerably well alone. Unite in thought this feeling and the increased attachment to the National Church which its recent work and energies have secured to it, and we may perhaps be disposed to admit that we have a consideration before us which cannot be hastily dismissed, and is not utterly deficient in validity.

"

But there is also a supplementary consideration to the one we are now noticing, which may deserve to be specified. And it is this--that the present time and, so far as we may dare to look into the European future, the next few years do not seem to be very favourable to the friends of disestablishment. For such a work, and especially for such a work as that of dealing with the National Church of this country, times are needed in which there are not any other great anxieties, and in which all the thoughts and energies of the nation can be entirely turned to their home work. And is there anyone who would be bold enough to say that he now certainly sees any such time in the immediate future? Suppose we fix our attention for a moment on four of the great conterminous nations of Europe that are sure to be occupying our present thoughts. Can we say that we see any very distinct prospect of quiet times speedily returning to us? The decadence and incipient disintegration of one of these nations, the insolvent ambition of another, the increasing racial incompatibilities of the third, and the selfish policy of the fourth that seems to find its best interests in keeping all things in suspense and insecuritythese political phenomena do not seem calculated to remove from Europe, for many a long day, that anxiety which is settling on it like a cloud, and from the dark folds of which this country can hardly hope absolutely to withdraw itself. It is thus far from improbable that no great amount of time will be available for ecclesiastical experiments; and time, in reference to institutions that may be deemed to be on their trial, but have within them real and developable life, is an element of incalculable importance.

But there is a much more important consideration than the mere contingencies we have just alluded to. There is the strong persuasion, to which the procedures and developments of the last few months have

added considerable force, that if the National Church were to be disestablished that sacerdotal spirit which is so intolerable to the mass of the people would become greatly increased. If, as we have hinted, that spirit is showing itself, not only in the extreme positions which have of late been taken against the royal supremacy, but even in the sort of latent approval with which many stand by and look on-if there really is this feeling, every person of common sense must see clearly enough that it would become much worse in a disestablished Church. Personal power over the souls of congregations would be felt to be more and more a necessity. The loss of the temporal status would have to be made up by a larger share of spiritual influence. The confessional, now for the most part discountenanced and disallowed, would then acquire influence and ascendency. It would be found to be a convenient agency for consolidating power, and would be used accordingly. The necessarily secluded nature of its operations would, with a very little management, keep it out of the cognisance and so out of the power of the wealthier Protestantism on which the new community would have necessarily to rely. The bishops, who would be a very different body from the present, would find no strong reason for checking such usages, or for doing more than regulating the growing sacerdotalism of their clergy. The antagonism with Dissent would be strong and abiding. Doctrine would be more sharply formulated, and the then central body, though it would be continually weakened by secessions, and held to a certain degree in check by a powerful and organised Protestantism (for there would soon be two Churches), would day by day become more unlike the wise, moderate, and tolerant Church of England of the present day. A superficial thinker might be disposed to set against all this the general state and animus of the Irish Church at the present time, but a moment's consideration is enough to remind us that the internal composition of the Church of England at the epoch of its disestablishment would be widely different, theologically and ecclesiastically, from what that of the Irish Church was at the time that Church was separated from the State. The Irish Church had in it no such well-defined parties as there are, and perhaps increasingly will be, in the Church of England, and it had, and it has, a powerful and dominant Church outside, which always keeps up the temperature of its Protestantism.

It is impossible to doubt that such thoughts as these have often floated before the minds of average Englishmen, and will continue to do so as time goes on. They will gradually settle into instincts and persuasions, and will so far silently modify public opinion that many who may at the present moment be rather disposed to disestablishment as a theory, will think twice before they definitely apply it to the Church of England, and ultimately, and in spite of all anomalies and anachronisms, will turn themselves to the more easy as well as

reasonable task of well-considered and constitutional reform. Our opinion then is that, in the sequel, the considerations we have mentioned, combined with many others which we have not time to specify-especially that suggested by the almost hopeless magnitude of the work-will so postpone what many may now think to be by the very nature of things inevitable, that disestablishment will remain always a probability, something that might at any time seem likely to happen, but yet something, so far as we can now judge from looking forward into the nearer future, that will still be indefinitely postponed.

III. We have now considered the three momentous questions in reference to the Church of England which seem more especially to require some sort of answer, and little remains to be added except a few concluding comments on what the general current of our thoughts has seemed to point to as the course of the Church of England in the future.

That the present is a time of grave anxiety cannot possibly be denied, and that it is hardly possible to forecast the issue of present struggles and troubles may be very readily admitted. There are, however, some indications of what it seems reasonable to expect, which we may shortly place before the reader.

The exact state of things is this-that a small but well-organised party in the Church, animated by a desire to return as far as possible to the pre-Reformation state of the Church-less only its vassalage to the Pope, and the worst of the abuses of that period-and to revert to all those Catholic usages which it alleges to be the heritage of the undivided Church, is now, under the pressure of adverse legal decisions, in a position not merely of antagonism, but of revolt. A clergyman has been imprisoned for contempt of court; a party organisation has passed practically sympathetic resolutions; another organisation, entitled, we believe, the Laymen's Association for the Restoration of Church Rights, has announced itself ready to contend for the free exercise of self-government in the Church of England; a third, bearing the wider title of the Society for the Maintenance of the Faith, has recently announced equal readiness to receive applications from 'oppressed congregations' for providing temporary chapels 'in which due performance of divine worship can be maintained,' and it has further shown the largeness of its heart, though not of its purse, by contributing two five-pound notes to the Defence Committee of a now unhappily notorious parish.

If we adopted such manifestations as these for the bases of our speculations, we should probably be inclined to say that we were now on the eve of a very serious rupture and ultimate secession. It might be thought that the action of the Nonjurors of two hundred years ago was about to be reproduced, or that the striking scene, when one spring day, some four-and-thirty years since, 400 ministers

left the assembly hall of a National Church, was in effect about to be repeated. This, however, there does not seem any sufficient reason to expect at the present time. The extreme party now in the Church of England is very different from either of those bodies which we have just alluded to. It has neither the high tone of the one nor the self-sacrificing determination of the other. It announces its intention of holding its preferment and state-sanctioned position till it is ejected from it by the action of the law; and it also not very obscurely intimates that it will use that time, and the organisations of which it will be still able to avail itself, in coalescing with Dissenters and distinct opponents of the National Church, so as to bring about the yet lingering disestablishment. We make no comments on such a policy, but simply do what such a policy suggests, and that is, keep clear of all people that can bring themselves so to act, and calmly prepare ourselves for a period of considerable disquietude. But we do not think that in the sequel it will amount to more than disquietude. Already, as we have mentioned, there are distinct indications of a sober reactionary feeling. Very many, we are distinctly persuaded, will, after the publication of the now pending decision, evince their willingness to return to old allegiance. Even if the decision be for the most part unfavourable to their hopes and wishes, we yet believe that, like honest Englishmen, they will bend to the law, more especially if a little tact and consideration be shown, as we may very reasonably believe it will be shown, by our bishops. If the matter be made to take the form not of menacing proceedings from three aggrieved parishioners, but of a sober call by the bishop to obey the now finally declared law, we believe-because we have not lost belief in the ultimate loyalty of many of this party-that obedience will be given, perhaps under protest, but still obedience; and, that being secured, the future will take care of itself.

Our difficulty in forecast is really as to what is to become of the irreconcilable minority. The most reasonable supposition seems, not that they will actually and boldly secede, but that they will melt into secession or be squeezed into it, declaring stoutly all the time that they are, and none other are, the true historic Church of England. At one time there seemed some probability of their uniting with the Old Catholics; but this, owing to the plan of the founding of a branch of the Old Catholics in this country having fallen through, appears to be now not very likely or manageable. However, it is but wasting time thus to speculate on the future of a body that will be too small ever to exercise any influence on the future of the Church. We heartily wish that we could honestly entertain the hope that these extreme men of whom we are speaking will remain in the Church; but the violence of their language, the bitterness of their invective against those in authority, and the really

« AnteriorContinua »