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 XI
The Truce of God

The first sign of any desire on the part of Archbishop Tait to reconsider the policy of 1874 is to be found in a speech at a Ruridecanal Conference at Westbere, in the Isle of Thanet, on December 14, 1881. "While," he said, "we have many and discordant attacks made on our present system of ecclesiastical legislature and judicature, no one that I am aware of has come forward, as representing those who are dissatisfied, to advocate a scheme of practicable reform such as appears likely to command the general assent of our clergy and laity… What I wish to commend to all who are agitated by recent events is this: that they should calmly ask themselves definitely what they want."

An amusing passage in the Archbishop’s diary, on December 26, gives some results of this invitation. "I have been receiving this week many suggestions in answer to what I said in Westbere Deanery. One says: ‘Restore the First Prayer Book of Edward VI, that is, in plain English, repeal all the Acts of Uniformity.’ Another says: ‘Abolish all existing courts, and establish courts of Bishops and clergy.’ And another: ‘Let Diocesan Synods decide all cases.’ ‘There is no use doing anything,’ says another, ‘till the Church appoints her Archbishops’ – whatever that may mean. ‘Follow,’ says another, ‘the wise example of the Scottish Episcopal Church, where everything is decided by a Synod of Bishops. Nothing can be more peaceable and harmonious, for did not this Synod contain that noble High Church divine, Bishop Forbes, and at the same time that eccentric Broad Churchman, Bishop Ewing?’ The writer forgets that the first of these divines was condemned and censured by this harmonious Synod, and that Bishop Ewing was perpetually harassed by threats of condemnation, from which nothing but his personal popularity and influence among the laity, especially in England, saved him." All these suggestions had the common fault of over-haste and over-definiteness. They started with the assumption that it was possible, and therefore right, to do something at once, and that the only obstacle in the way of such action was want of agreement as to what this something should be.

The Dean of S. Paul’s took a different line. The Memorial of January, 1881, boldly asked the Bishops to be content to do nothing. The policy "demanded alike by justice and the best interests of religion" was "a distinctly avowed policy of toleration and forbearance in dealing with questions of ritual." Either a "rigid observance of the rubrical law of the Church should be equally exacted from all parties; or it should no longer be exacted from one party alone." With a tolerant recognition of divergent ritual practice, a breathing-space would be secured, in which to approach the only real cure of present troubles, the construction of ecclesiastical courts which would "secure the conscientious obedience of clergymen who believe the constitution of the Church of Christ to be of Divine appointment, and who protest against the State’s encroachments upon rights assured to the Church of England by solemn Acts of Parliament."

This Memorial went far beyond an earlier document of the same character, which the Dean had, in person, presented to the Archbishop in 1874. That also was directed against the "enforcement of a rigid uniformity in the conduct of Divine worship," but it dwelt especially on the unwisdom of attempting this in regard to the Eastward position, and a "distinctive Eucharistic dress." The reason for singling out these two points was the uncertainty of recent interpretations of the rubrics. To any plain man, "standing before the table" meant standing with the back to the people; and the ornaments in use in the second year of Edward VI meant something more than the surplice. Until this obscurity could be cleared up, it was useless to expect that the law would be obeyed. No amount of judicial eminence will give conclusive force to a decision that black is white.

The six years that intervened between the two Declarations, and the experience of their opponents’ temper which the party attacked had gained, had shown the necessity of a wider toleration – a toleration which should cover all the questions in dispute, instead of stopping short at this or that diversity of practice. What the Church wanted was an interval of quiet in which to understand and adapt herself to the change she had undergone. The need of 1881 is the need of 1912. The interval of a generation has only emphasised the contention of the Memorial that the recognised toleration of even wide diversities of ceremonial is alone consistent with the well-being of the English Church at the present time. All else makes for disruption.

The indignation aroused in High Churchmen by the spectacle of the prolonged imprisonments which followed upon disobedience to Lord Penzance’s monitions was shared to be full by Church. But he never allowed it to blind him to the consequences that might easily follow upon a truce concluded in haste. At the end of December, 1881, there was some talk of Mr Green being let out if he would consent to go abroad for a time. The Dean was altogether opposed to any compromise which rested on an assumption that something was to be done which was not to appear in the formal record of the arrangement. Understandings, the Dean thought, were sure to lead to mistakes and entanglements. Mr Green’s release should be unconditional on both sides.

Imprisonment, however, was not the only penalty incurred by disobedience to Lord Penzance. It was merely an incidental accompaniment of the real penalty. Whether Mr Green remained in prison, or was taken out, the time would come when, under the Public Worship Regulation Act, he would be deprived of his benefice. And in this particular he did not stand alone. Three other holders of benefices were threatened with Deprivation for substantially the same offence. The prosecutions had never been much liked by the public, and there was no disposition to welcome any renewal of them. But there was equally little disposition to interfere with those which had run their natural course. In a short time, therefore, there would be four parishes in which a priest, invested by the bishop with the cure of the same souls, and, as High Churchmen held, not deprived of it by the laws ecclesiastical, would be confronted by an intruding priest wrongly invested by the bishop with the cure of the same souls. To the public this was an unimportant matter – a thing to be regretted, no doubt, but regretted only as the natural consequence of an unfortunate but unavoidable state of affairs. There were others, however, who looked a little deeper, and to them the danger of a schism seemed real and near. In these four parishes, there would be rival claimants to the cure of souls, each performing the duties of the parish priest. A section of High Churchmen would certainly feel bound to stand by the unlawfully deprived incumbent. They might regret that he had not resigned the benefice, and so prevented matters from coming to this pass; but this would not make the newly appointed vicar less an intruder. Such a situation as this would be full of dangers which could be neither foreseen nor guarded against – dangers to the spiritual efficiency of the Church of England, dangers to her position as an Establishment.

To the majority of High Churchmen, it was a matter of urgent importance that things should not be suffered to run to this length. The result of the prosecutions had been to give the formal victory to their authors. The ritual attacked had been pronounced illegal, and the condemned clergy would shortly be deprived. But the moral result of the prosecutions had been to discredit this method of enforcing the law as laid down by the Judicial Committee, and so – as there was no other method of enforcing it – to make the law thus laid down a dead letter. In these circumstances, the wise policy was to induce the four incumbents to resign their livings, and, as a preliminary, to ensure that their congregations should not suffer by their retirement. At this point, the Dean was able to give invaluable help. The Dean and Chapter of Saint Paul’s were the patrons of Saint Alban’s, Holborn, and they were willing to present Mr Suckling to the living in the event of its being left vacant by Mr Mackonochie, in the event of Mr Suckling’s resignation. The Chapter of S. Paul’s are entitled to their full share of praise for an arrangement which did so much to restore peace to the Church, and to avert greater dangers. But the action of the Chapter would hardly have carried the necessary weight, if there had not been at their head a man of Church’s exceptional qualifications.

Everybody knows the kind of objections which spring up when circumstances seem to demand from a committee an act of unusual courage, and the cumulative force which these objections exert over ordinary minds. The Bishop of London had to be brought to acquiesce in an arrangement by which the intention of an Act of Parliament was to be defeated, to institute a "contumacious" priest, and to sanction an exchange which would perpetuate an illegal ceremonial in two churches. Quite apart from the difficulty of persuading the Bishop to do these things, there was the difficulty of inducing a small body of clergymen to ask him to do them. Alike by position, by antecedents, and by character, Church was the one man who could approach the task with good hope of success. Resolution was needed, both to decide upon the line to be taken, and to ensure union in the Chapter which had to take it. Reputation and influence were needed to recommend that line to outsiders. Church had all these things, and, by virtue of them, the arrangement was put in train. Even then, however, it seemed quite possible that it might miscarry. The Bishop might have scruples about instituting either of the clergy concerned; the clergy concerned might have scruples about lending themselves to what some of their friends might, and did, regard as a colourable evasion of their ecclesiastical responsibilities.

Though to go on defending an untenable position is an offence against military law, "Hold the fort" is an injunction which cannot be disregarded without a sacrifice. In Mackonochie’s case, these scruples threatened for some time to wreck the whole scheme, and they found countenance and support among some of his friends. It is always a difficult matter to convince a sensitive conscience that the easiest course is the right one, Mackonochie’s character promised to make it additionally difficult. Happily the Archbishop’s view of the situation had by this time undergone a change. He had come to understand more clearly what the consequences of Deprivation might be, and, when the prospect was frankly faced, it was not one which the Chief Pastor of the Church of England could contemplate with a light heart. When the time came for him to intervene, he did so with an effect which no lesser authority could have produced. It was probably owing to him that the Bishop of London raised no objection to the exchange of benefices; it was certainly owing to him that Mackonochie, in the end, disregarded the remonstrance of his friends and his own scruples, and sent in his resignation of S. Alban’s.

All through this long and involved transaction, Church’s influence is plainly visible. It was he who gave its true importance to a matter which might have been put aside as interesting only to a few extreme partisans, and who realised that the issues involved concerned the foundation principle of the High Church party. To acquiesce in the jurisdiction of the Privy Council in spiritual things, to recognise it as in any sense a spiritual court, to admit that its decree ought to bind the consciences of the clergy, was tantamount to denying the Headship of Christ over His Church. If these theories were pressed, they could but break up the Church of England. That was a consequence which men who had no sympathy with High Church views might greatly wish to avert, and to make it easy for Mackonochie to anticipate Deprivation by resignation was to show how it could be averted.

The close of this year was to see another step on the Dean’s part towards unity near home. Keble’s funeral had impressed him with the differences between the Tractarians and the ritualists. Dr Pusey’s death was to draw together these two sections. One the 12th of December, a Solemn Requiem for Dr Pusey was held at S. Mary Magdalene’s, Munster Square – the first, I believe, of a type of service which, under the influence alike of Christian piety and human affection, has now become exceedingly common. The Dean consented to preach the sermon, and the details of the ceremonial were submitted to him by Lord Halifax, then Mr Charles Wood, in the course of those frequent interviews which the arrangement of Mackonochie’s exchange rendered necessary. Even if no record remained of these meetings, it might be said with absolute confidence that the Dean would never have consented to take this prominent part in a perfectly novel service unless he had made himself thoroughly acquainted with its character. Church was no more a ritualist in 1882 than he had been thirty years before. But he had an unsurpassed faculty of discrimination between what was essential and what was unimportant, and his historical sense had taught him the inevitable ruin that awaits those who cannot lay aside minor differences in presence of a common foe. In the end, the sermon was not preached, as the cold and fog of December, added to the fatigue of a long sermon as Select Preacher at Oxford, had forced the Dean to give up all his engagements. But it is one of those cases in which the announcement was as good as the fulfilment.

This same year saw the renewal of the Dean’s contributions to the Guardian. They had been discontinued when the ritual difficulty became acute, owing to the difference of opinion between him and Lord Blachford as to the line to be taken in regard to them. From this time the Dean again wrote articles and reviews, and he was constantly consulted on ecclesiastical matters as they arose. Indeed, from the summer of 1883 to the early winter of 1890, the volumes of the Guardian form the best record of his opinions on the various controversies in which Churchmen were interested. 1

The "truce of God" was twice broken in the Dean’s lifetime – in 1887 by the Bell Cox case, in 1889 by the prosecution of the Bishop of Lincoln. The former "greatly disturbed and distressed" him. It was an undefended case, and the judgement decided nothing fresh in the way of ritual. But as it came in a time of profound quiet, and resulted in the imprisonment of the defendant for contempt of Lord Penzance’s court, it excited more indignation than the earlier cases. In this indignation the Dean fully shared. "This Bell Cox case," he writes to Archbishop Benson, "has come home to my sense of justice far more strongly than any of the previous imprisonments. They were in the thick of battle, and of hot blood. This comes after all has cooled down." Nor was it the wantonness of the prosecution alone that touched him. It was the change in the general situation not in England only, but in Christendom. Every year, the Dean felt, brought new and formidable dangers to all religion. In England the old orthodoxy, the orthodoxy that Bishops and Heads of Houses had thought to preserve by worrying Newman out of the Church of England, had in a great measure disappeared. No part of the Christian Creed was safe from attack. Dignified clergy of the Church could "make open questions of the Personality of God, and the fact of the Resurrection, and the promise of immortality." The Dean had no desire to see these things put down by courts of law. But they could only be suffered to go unnoticed under cover, and as part, of a general policy of toleration. The just proportion of ecclesiastical offences would be altogether lost sight of if those who denied these great doctrines were left free to take their own course, while Mr Bell Cox went to prison "for having lighted candles and mixing water with the wine."

No one who has read a line of Church’s writing can suppose him to be careless about obedience, or ignorant of the function and value of law. The restoration of law, he writes, is the thing that "everybody ought to try for." But then it must be law "used for legitimate purposes, to put down real mischief, not to worry and disturb things which in a Church like ours ought to be left free." The Evangelical party had been the aggressive party for nearly forty years, and, if anything was to be done in the way of initiation of toleration, it was they who would have to begin. "The Bishop of Liverpool" 2 surely is as obnoxious to all High Churchmen as the Bishop of Lincoln 3 can be to any Low; yet he has not been attacked… Will they let us have as much ‘liberty of prophesying’ and liberty of worship as the Bishop of Liverpool claims without legal interference?"

The reason why the Evangelical party could not grant what was asked of them was the strength of their tail – "the difficulty of all parties, from Corcyra to the Jacobins and the Parnellites." The prosecutions were viewed with little favour by the great body of Low Churchmen, partly because the ritualists were obviously gaining, not losing, by these repeated attacks; and partly from a genuine dislike to see men, many of whom they respected and liked, subjected to these recurrent annoyances. No doubt the High Church party had its own tail, and its own difficulties arising from the action of that tail. But the High Church tail did not, while the Low Church tail did, want to worry other people; and this distinction saved the High Church party from disaster as well as from discredit. Except in rare moments of excitement, such as those which attended the passing of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act and the Public Worship Regulation Act, the English people are indifferent and consequently tolerant. Unfortunately, these occasional departures from their customary attitude sometimes leave consequences behind them that do not so soon disappear. In the case of the Bishop of Lincoln, however, these fears proved to be unfounded. Archbishop Benson’s Judgement, justifying a moderate ritualism, was given in the closing month of the Dean’s life, and it brought him "the last flash of happiness before the end." "It is the most courageous thing," he said, "that has come from Lambeth for the last two hundred years."


1 – It will not, I hope, be impertinent if I add here a fragment of personal history. When I was offered the editorship of the Guardian, in the spring of 1883, I went to arrange matters with Lord Blachford, who was then the managing proprietor, and since Mr Mountague Bernard’s death had been the real, though not the nominal, editor. As to the political line to be taken, we were in substantial agreement, but when the conversation turned to ecclesiastical questions, I, being quite ignorant of the recent history of the paper, thought it enough to say that on these matters I proposed to be guided by the Dean of S. Paul’s. At this Lord Blachford gave a long whistle, and then said, "I see you don’t know that for some years past the Dean and I have been divided on those questions." After this we were both silent, and I supposed that the negotiation was at an end. In a minute or two, however, Lord Blachford said, "Very well, then I suppose we must let that pass," and the appointment was made. He had evidently come to the conclusion that the line the Guardian had taken in the ritual controversy could not longer be maintained.

2 – Dr Ryle

3 – Dr King

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