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Handbooks of English Church Expansion

South Africa

By A. Hamilton Baynes

London and Oxford: A. R. Mowbray, 1908.

Appendix B. Letter of Bishop Cotterill to Archbishop Tait

IN the Life of Archbishop Tait by the present Archbishop of Canterbury (vol. i, p. 370 et seq. it will be seen that in the year 1866 Dr. Tait, then Bishop of London, wrote a circular letter to all the dignitaries of the Colonial Church asking their opinion on four points connected with the relations of the Mother Church and her Colonial daughters. The present Archbishop has kindly allowed me to consult the replies to these questions. The answer of Bishop Cotterill of Grahamstown adds considerable force to the argument which I have advanced in the text against the practicability of that solution of the problem which Lord Romilly suggested in his famous judgement, viz., that Colonial Churchmen should simply subscribe to the law of the Church of England en bloc, and renounce all self-government.

[206] Bishop Cotterill writes:--"To form any correct judgement of these questions it is necessary to understand, what many English Churchmen, looking at them from their own standing point, and with experience formed under totally different circumstances, wholly misapprehend--the peculiar condition, requirements, and functions of the English Church in the colonies, as distinguished from those of the Established Church in England. I speak, of course, primarily of the Church in this colony: but in these things it does not seem to differ materially from the Church in other colonies, except where, as in the East and West Indies, the Church has something of the nature of an establishment. Generally, then, the ecclesiastical law of England, not only has no force here--in the Cape Colony, indeed, all the laws of England have, by treaty, no force--but if it had, it would for the most part be quite inapplicable. In England it relates to matters which law itself determines. The division of parishes, the status and rights of the clergy, the limitation of their duties, their appointment to cures and the conditions under which they hold them, the tenure and use of Church property, the offices and duties of churchwardens, and other lay offices, the [206/207] qualifications and rights of parishioners, are matters in which the State there makes full and distinct provision, and the Sovereign's ecclesiastical law is applicable to them. Here, on the contrary, no provision is made by law; it must be made, unless each Bishop should act on his own private judgement, by the mutual consent and co-operation of all parties in the Church, through Diocesan and other Synods. And in adapting English laws and usages to our circumstances, however desirous we may be of adhering strictly to English precedents, and retaining, so to speak, the very atmosphere of the Mother Church, yet not merely from the fact of its being the Established Church of the nation, whilst we are not, but also from the different laws, customs, habits, and very climate of the country, there must be considerable deviations from the original standard. Much allowance, also, must be made for the different temperament and feelings of men brought up under political institutions and associations widely differing from those which still exist in England, and yet more widely from those which did exist, when much of the English ecclesiastical system was framed. . . . But not only in such matters, but also in the more important one of the public [207/208] prayer and services of our Church, we must adapt the English rule to our own condition. Both the express command of an Apostle, and the very spirit of our liturgy itself demands this introduction of special prayers for the Government of the colony; and to suppose that, under all circumstances, in all different countries and climates, our duty to the Church of England obliges us strictly to adhere to the letter of her instructions would indeed be a serious impediment to the true development of our Church system throughout the British Empire. There must be freedom within certain limits, if we are to be a living and vigorous body, and not a stiffened and helpless corpse. I would mention as matters falling within my own experience, for which modification in our Church services are required here--the Government of the colony; our missions among the heathen--in which considerable deviations from the rule of the Church of England are necessary--and the relations of the Church and its members towards the heathen and catechumens; frequent droughts, for which the prayers in our liturgy are often unsuitable and insufficient: visitations of locusts, sickness among the cattle, blight of the crops, etc.; and, lastly, though [208/209] certainly not of less importance, the question of the use of the Burial Service by a clergyman, in a country in which there is no National Church, and whose inhabitants are not assumed by the law of the land to be members of the Church or Christians at all. I have mentioned these various points, as sufficient indications that, as regards discipline, the Colonial Churches must have some organization of their own, not identical with that of the Church of England, however intimately related to it, and closely connected with it. And it is certain that two systems, that of a legalized organization, such as that of the Established Church of England, and that which is formed by mutual consent in regard to matters of Church discipline, cannot work together in the colonies."

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