Dean Church

by D. C. Lathbury

The English Churchman's Library
London: A. R. Mowbray & Company, 1905

Transcribed by Dr. Elizabeth G. Melillo
AD 2004

Chapter X
Strife in the Church

Until now, the Dean of S. Paulís had taken no active part in the ecclesiastical conflict. The necessity of doing so was exceedingly distasteful to him, both because he saw much in the conduct of those whose cause he espoused that offended his finer sense, and because it involved a painful disagreement with Lord Blachford, his dear and intimate friend. But the Public Worship Regulation Bill seemed to him to make further hesitation impossible. "The truth is," he said, "in a battle you must fight," and when fighting became a duty, the Dean threw himself into the conflict with as much resolution as if he had once more been living in the eventful days of his Proctorship. He was equally hostile to the Bill in both its forms. The original project he could only regard with amazement. It was wonderful that the Archbishop should ever have asked Parliament for such vast powers. It was equally wonderful that he should have imagined that he was going to restore peace and uniformity by using them. But Church entered the battle with no love for the work and not much hope of success.

In a letter to his brother dated July, 1874, he draws a contrast between the position of the Church at the beginning of the year and at midsummer. In January she "stood for the strongest and most hopeful Church in Christendom." In July he could only say that "the ignorance of some, the pride of others, the suspicious injustice of even wise and good men have brought things to a pass when those who for fifty years have been steadily disbelieving in a break-up have come to look at it face to face." Possibly the fact that he found himself almost for the first time differing from Lord Blachford increased this sense of the acuteness of the crisis. Lord Blachford advised the acceptance of the new procedure created by the Act. He disliked the new court, but he thought it good enough to beat a ritualist with. In consideration of the work it was to do, he was willing to overlook its purely secular character and the "barefaced fiction" ñ the phrase is Liddonís ñ of which Lord Penzance took advantage in order to call himself "an ecclesiastical judge in the same sense that Sir R. Phillimore was." Lord Blachfordís divergence from the Dean meant the divergence of the Guardian also, and for the next nine years Church ceased to contribute to its columns. Lord Blachford always wrote strongly on any subject which interested him, and the impression which the paper, under his guidance, made on High Churchmen may be gathered from a letter of Liddonís in 1877: "The Guardian, as usual, goes in for pure and (so to put it) brutal Erastianism."

Churchís long separation from active affairs made him, however, a too-despondent observer of events. There is a curious contrast between his letter to his brother quoted above and one of Liddonís in the same month. "Of course," writes the latter," there is no reason for despondency. No legislature can really destroy a religious conviction, except by exterminating its holders. It is historically too late to do that, and we shall live to see the drowned Egyptians on the sea-shore even yet." Liddon indeed gauged the real value of House of Commons Protestantism with remarkable accuracy. "Numbers of people have been supporting the Bill in order to prove to their middle-class Protestant constituents that they wish to be doing something." That has been the temper of the House on more than one occasion since, and each time the fact that members have voted for a strong Bill has for the moment saved their credit with their supporters.

In his correspondence with Lord Blachford, Church naturally goes as far as he can towards agreement with his friend. He does not deny the many faults which were visible on the ritualist side, nor pretend that he agrees with the ritualist position at all points. "If it were a mere question of keeping order and restraining absurdity," he writes immediately after the passing of the Bill, "I should go along with you quite." He agrees that there is need for warnings against "effeminacy and excess." He is ready to admit "the fact of acceptance by the Church of State interference and control." "I am sufficiently prone to scepticism," he adds, "to doubt all absolute theories as to right on either side. It has always been a matter of arrangement according to circumstances and the force which each side had." But these qualifying considerations were not allowed to exercise any real influence on his ultimate course. That was determined by a feature in his character which is described by the Bishop of Oxford. "Patient as he was, he could be angry when need came; angry with a quiet and self-possessed intensity which made his anger very memorable. The sight of injustice, of strength or wealth presuming on its advantages, of insolence (a word that came from his lips with a peculiar ring and emphasis) ñ called out in him something like the passion that has made men patriots when their people were oppressed, something of that temper which will always make tyranny insecure and persecution hazardous. 1 "

Canon Scott Holland enables us to see exactly how this temper came out in the ritual controversies ñ controversies in themselves so unlike those in which he had taken a foremost part a generation earlier. "There was a sense in him of holding a fort against grim odds, which survived out of the perilous days, and which kept him on the watch lest the attack should swing back his wayÖ Little as he himself would find it to his taste to enter into the battle over rubrics and ceremonies, he recognised the necessity that threw the stress of the fight upon these points when once the theological Movement had passed out of Oxford quadrangles to the streets of crowded cities. His name, as much as any, forced those in authority to recognise that it was no affair of millinery or external ritual which they were labouring to repress." When we turn to the letters to Lord Blachford, with this description to guide us, we see it verified at every point. The ritual controversy involved more than the question of obedience to courts as interpreters of law. There was another question behind this one ñ "the question why the courts were created, how they have interpreted the law, what is the policy which the Governors of the Church have thought it necessary to pursue in respect to a party or set of opinions in the Church."

The Public Worship Regulation Act must be judged by its history as well as by its actual contents. And, when so judged, it proved to have the common vice of Bills of Attainder. It was an effort to put down an unpopular party ñ and that a party "which has as much to say for itself as any other in the Church, which has done good service to the Church and which, provoking as it has often been, has had more than parties in English controversy usually have to provoke them" ñ not by the ordinary process of law, but by a new law specially created for the purpose. And this special creation had the special disadvantage of being the work of panic-stricken partisans. "No one can doubt what a legislative settlement of the dispute would be at present. It would be Hanoverians legislating for Jacobites." In other letters, the Dean speaks even more plainly. He thinks that Churchmen have grave cause to complain of the way in which the law has been administered. When the ritualists have had common justice, "and not the judgements expressed by Lord Penzance on the motion of outsiders and the Church Association," it will be time enough to think of protesting against them. The Dean was not a man given to epithets. But the combined action of the Bishops, "frightened by a movement which they have not tried to understand or govern," the Archbishop, and the Law Courts seem to him to be not only exasperating and impolitic but "unjust, unconstitutional, and oppressive."

In 1877, his sense of the mischief which this state of things was doing made him doubt whether he ought not to give expression to it in some way more forcible than words. Ought he not to resign the Deanery? It was a question, he held, whether submission and waiting were as clear duties as most people imagined them. He was watching the deliberate pursuit of a policy which he thought "unjust, encroaching, and unconstitutional." Yet he himself was in a place of honour and emolument where he could do nothing, and where "silence and compliance" might be supposed to be prompted by private motives. He was troubled by no doubts about the English Church. "It has defects and anomalies in plenty, but so has every Church that I know of or ever heard of. And there is in it a vigour, a power of recovery, and an increasing value for what is good and true, which I see nowhere else." What he was doubtful about was not his duty to himself but his duty to the Church. "I am in great perplexity" ñ he writes to  the present bishop of Winchester 2, then Warden of Keble ñ " as to what I ought to do, remembering that the Church never gains by what looks like inconsistency and weak compliance by her ministers who have a considerable stake to lose." Public interests were the main thing he had to consider, and to them, "up to a certain point, a man is bound to sacrifice his character and reputation ñ every thing but his truth and honour." But, in this case, the actual difficulty lay in deciding what the public interests were. If the prosecutions went on, there would be only one remedy, "and that is something that will clear the air, even at the cost of some present sacrifice and trouble to the Church. With all the terrible losses of 1845, I am not sure that without them we should have done as well as we have. They awed people, and made them think; and gave time for the latent strength of the Church to grow quietly."

In 1880, something of the same feeling remained. The immediate want was still that an end should be put to prosecutions, and that the Bishops should "stand forward as the upholders of fair liberty." If they could not concede this "reasonable and generous toleration," they would have to "make up their mind to seeing men who are not ritualists refusing to share any longer the dishonour of an administration so partial and unjust." The chief difficulty all through lay with Archbishop Tait. He could not be brought to believe that quiet men, who were not ritualists, were in earnest and would not stand his policy. "With all his shrewdness, he does not know the English clergy," and he is told by "the newspapers and the clubs and people alikeÖ that he was the ëpeople of Englandí at his back, and none but a few malcontents and dreamers to deal with." If Church or anyone else approached him, he "would only think of putting us into difficulties, which it is easy enough to doÖ and would send us away satisfied that we are very unpractical people."

By this time, however, the charge of being unpractical was becoming less deserved. Church was now willing to leave the Privy Council where it was, so that it were recognised to be purely a secular court. But there must be a purely spiritual Court of Appeal on doctrine and discipline, and "I donít see what we can have but one of Bishops, either representative or as a bodyÖ Of course anyone can see the risk. But what else can we propose in principle?" At this point, the Dean contributed to the controversy one of his rare letters to the Times. In this, he first describes the "short and easy method of dealing with the ritualists" which found favour with the ecclesiastical authorities then, and has been the foundation of all similar attacks since, both in and out of Parliament. English clergymen are ministers of an Established Church. That is the assailantís first position, and it has the initial advantage that even a ritualist cannot deny it. But at this point a very large assumption has to be slipped in, in order to prepare the way for the inference that, being ministers of an Established Church, the clergy are bound, like any other public functionaries, to "submit to all that Parliament orders." This assumption is that an Established Church means a State Church, and that a State Church means a Church "deriving all its rights, duties, and powers from Parliament." If this assumption be denied ñ "if the Church be supposed to have an existence and powers of its own besides what the State gives it, to be something which the State can neither create nor destroy" ñ then the question becomes one of history, not of law. We have to inquire on what terms the union between the Church and the State was originally effected, and how far these terms "have been observed on either side." If the Church has nothing but what the State gives it, the popular view of the action of the clergy is quite intelligible. "Mutinous ecclesiastics and bad citizens are too light terms of condemnation for those who defy the law of England, and throw all the social order into confusion, which they are specially sworn and paid to maintain." But if this view is the true one, "it will follow that all that is found in the books of the greatest masters of religious teaching, in all churches and sects, about the nature of the Christian Church, is ranting nonsense." No doubt many people, from Sir William Harcourt downwards, have said with varying degrees of plainness, that this is just what the High Church case is. But they have never yet produced the evidence which their contention presupposes. They have brought forward all manner of instruments by which the State has claimed the right to regulate the Church, to define the relation in which it is to stand for the future to the Crown, to Parliament, to the Courts of Law. But we are still waiting for the production of the instrument by which the State created the Church, and in its absence High Churchmen, and, for the matter of that, many Low Churchmen also, will continue to hold that the Church of England is a State Church only in the sense that she has surrendered much of her liberty of action in return for privileges which have enabled her to do her proper work better. This is all that Establishment rightly means. That is all it means in Scotland, and all that it has meant till now in France. If it is to mean more in England, "I think it will follow" ñ this is the closing sentence of the Deanís letter ñ that three-fourths of the English clergy, if they are the men I take them to be, will say that such a State Church was not the Church which they believed themselves to be serving and defending, or a Church which it would be possible for them to accept."

This was written in December, 1880. By the end of the following month, the conviction thus expressed had received partial confirmation from the fact that a Memorial to the Archbishop in favour of toleration and forbearance in dealing with questions of ritual had been signed by more than two thousand clergy. That was not "three-fourths of the English clergy." But it was Churchís impression ñ and it was not his way to form impressions lightly ñ that this Memorial was largely signed for want of something stronger. "I have been surprised," he writes to Copeland, "at the extent to which indignation and alarm have penetrated among the clergy. I am quite sure that, if any man with a name had put forth a strong declaration, undertaking under no circumstances to recognise Lord Penzance or the rulings of the Privy Council, it would at once have attracted more and more enthusiastic signatures than our paper. There was a time, three weeks ago, when lifting a finger would almost have been a signal for revolt."3  And then follows a half-regretful doubt whether it would not have been better to let the current gather more strength before arresting it. "Our paper has averted that: whether we have been wise I do not know." Nor could he see what was to come of the Address. It might bring a Royal Commission, and at any rate no bishop would for the moment "be forward to employ Lord Penzance, except to scold and preach to drunker parsons," but the Archbishopís alarm would probably pass away, and while he was in office no reform of the courts was to be looked for. One of these forecasts quickly proved true. A Royal Commission to enquire into the constitution and working of the Ecclesiastical Courts was appointed only a few weeks later. The second ñ the fleeting character of the Archbishopís uneasiness at a state of things of the seriousness of which he had only now become aware ñ turned out to be less accurate. The Archbishopís alarm did not pass away, or rather it only did so to give place to a nobler feeling ñ that of genuine anxiety to leave a legacy of peace to the distracted Church. In the closing months of 1882, something like a truce of God was proclaimed, largely by Archbishop Taitís own action, and when he died, on the morning of Advent Sunday, there seemed a reasonable hope that the storm of ritual prosecution had spent its force.

But a good deal had happened between January, 1881, and December, 1882. At the beginning of the latter year, the Dean still saw but little hope of any improvement. The most pressing question at the moment was the continued imprisonment of Mr Green, of Miles Platting. In June, 1879, Lord Penzance had admonished him to discontinue certain alleged ritual offences, and, two months later, Mr Green had been inhibited for three months. In August, 1880, he was pronounced contumacious and in contempt, and on March 13, 1881, he was imprisoned. Unsuccessful efforts to set aside this decree were made in the Court of Queenís Bench, the Court of Appeal, and the House of Lords, but, at the beginning of 1882, Mr Green was still in Lancaster Castle. The Archbishop did not see his way to interfere unless Mr Green would make what amounted to a submission. To the Dean, this refusal seemed conclusive evidence of inability to understand that the time had come when an Archbishop of Canterbury must do either more or less than temporise with the ritualists. If they were what the Church Association declared them to be, they ought to be expelled from the Church of England at whatever risk and whatever their personal merits. If the Archbishop was not prepared to do this, he should let them alone. The issue, the Dean thought, had ceased to be one of obedience or disobedience on the part of a particular man. It had become a war between parties in which one party tried to extinguish the other, while that other defended itself as best it could. Mr Greenís unconditional release ought to satisfy his opponents, since he would have been punished for his ritualism more severely than many criminal offenders against the law.

Archbishop Tait, of course, looked at the matter in a different light. In 1874, the Legislature had decided to change the form of the old ecclesiastical jurisdiction. In this effort, the nation had shown itself to be thoroughly in accord with Parliament, and but for the free use of the episcopal veto prosecutions would have been greatly multiplied. The Bishops had prevented this in all except a very few cases, and it was a mistaken policy on the part of High Churchmen to call more attention than they could help to the few suits which the Bishops had been unable to stop. The point at which this common-sense reasoning broke down was that it took no account of the determination of High Churchmen to put up with nothing less than open and avowed recognition. A timid party with no strong grasp of its own convictions might be content to have its existence winked at. But the High Church party were neither timid nor uncertain of their position, and they were resolved that this position should be frankly accepted. That is a consummation from which they were very far away in 1882, and they have not fully attained to it even now. But a very important step was soon to be made in the desired direction, and that by the very Archbishop whose failure to see the need of it Church had so lately been lamenting.

1 - Life and Letters. Preface p. xxi.
2 - Dr Talbot
3 - Life and Letters, p. 287

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