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A Letter to the Priests of the English Church,
Written in the Snow-storm of Jan. 18 & 19, 1881.

By W.J.E. Bennett, Priest,
Vicar of Frome-Selwood, Somerset.

London: The Church Printing Company, 1881.



I read in the "Standard" this morning, January 19, 1881, that "The great snow-storm of Jan. 18, 1881, will take its place among us as among the memorable events of meteorology;" and I said to myself, May it not be in like manner that the great crisis of the Church at this time may take its place among the memorable events of theology? for it was in the midst of this snow-storm to which the "Standard" alludes, when traffic in the metropolis was well-nigh stopped; when the sudden gusts of wind, blinding the eyes of man and horse, rendered motion almost impossible; when the doors of shops and offices of trade were closed; when unfortunate passengers, losing their way, were compelled to ask what street they were in, and which was the right and which was the left; when ships of all sizes were driven from their moorings, and, clashing against each other, or against the rocks, were being dashed to pieces--it was in the midst of this terrific snow-storm that twenty-four Priests of the English Church met together by appointment at the Westminster Palace Hotel at two o'clock p.m.

They met together for counsel with each other, and solemn deliberation as to what should be their duty in the present crisis of the Church.

The snow-storm raging without was a type (it seemed to me) of the storm raging within; for traffic in religion had been interrupted in many places; a false imprisonment had been made of three Priests, and they had been placed in common gaols, cut off from their people; and a sentence of deprivation had been passed upon another, by which he was cut off from his Priestly Offices and administering the Sacraments, and his goods confiscated to the law; and all this by an unlawful Judge, and an unconstitutional Court. It seemed a great storm. The eyes of the Church were all blinded by gusts of a terrific hurricane, driving hither and thither, so that men were losing sight of all truth--confused and bewildered in the arms of Erastus and Cæsar. The doors of Churches which had in the genial summer welcomed full congregations, worshipping God in the fulness of faith, were now shut against them, and the worshippers were turned adrift, not knowing whether to go.

The rulers of the people and of the Church--who might, perhaps, in other times have directed them aright--seemed to be themselves confounded and perplexed--amazed at their own work, not knowing which was their right hand, and which their left; which was the North, and which was the South. The hurricane of Erastus turned them to this side, and the driving sleet of Cæsar kept them frost-bound on that side, and the ship which they were attempting to steer was driven headlong on the rocks, and the crew perishing in the storm. There was nothing, as it seemed, left for it but to go to pieces and perish.

In type the snow-storm told us this.

We felt it keenly, we prayed, and asked counsel of God; and this was the result.

We thought that of any lifeboat could even yet save the ship, any light be held out for the wandering passengers who had lost their way, so as even now to return to it; any way by which the closed doors of mercy and love could be re-opened to the people, so as to return to their worship, it would be thus--to place before the pilots a true compass, in the place of the false one which hitherto they had been using; to throw overboard the idols which they had been worshipping--Erastus and Cæsar; and to go at once to the Fountainhead of all truth, and mind nothing else--namely, JESUS CHRIST.

We thought that there were two points of consideration before them by which they might even yet save the ship from splitting into two, and guide the crew aright. One was in retaining what was necessary for their safety, the other was in getting rid of what was tending to their destruction. The one was holding fast, the other was letting go. One was in things spiritual--THE PRAYER BOOK; the other was in things secular--the odious Act of Parliament called the "PUBLIC WORSHIP REGULATION ACT."

We said, let not the pilots go near the rock called the "Ornaments Rubric." Let them not even look at it, except to admire its beauty; but let them not venture a finger upon it to touch it. Woe betide them if they do, for in that case the ship will split, go down, and we shall perish. And as to the other, we thought it a mere piece of State-craft devised by cunning politicians for a party spirit; and now that it had proved itself altogether mischievous as well as spiteful, irreligious, and dirty, it had better be wiped out of the chart altogether, lest future mariners should steer by it and come to ruin, as so many others had done, and were doing now. This was what we thought, and counselling together under God, we drew up the following document:--

Memorial and Appeal of Priests of the Church of England to the Two Houses of Convocation of Canterbury, as adopted by a Private Meeting of Priests at the Westminster Palace Hotel, Tuesday, January 18, 1881.


That the imprisonment of three Priests of the Church of England, and the deprivation of a fourth, for refusal to acknowledge as lawful the authority of the Court inflicting these penalties, have forced upon the public mind the necessity of an answer to the question--Does the Court possess Constitutional Authority?

Your Memorialists submit that the Court, as at present constituted, cannot possess such authority; inasmuch as Parliament has created by its sole act, without the previous and formal joint consent of the Convocations of Canterbury and York, the new Judge in causes Ecclesiastical, with right of succession to the Deanery of Arches and the Chancellorship of York; and that therefore such Court lacks that joint authority from "this Church and Realm" which is required by the principles of the Reformation Settlement, restored in 1662: which joint authority, and none other, the Priest is pledged by his Ordination Vow to obey.

Your Memorialists submit further that, so far as respects matters of the Law Divine, the Jurisdiction of the Court above, by the decisions of which the Court below is bound, is not agreeable to any true and reasonable account of the Constitution in "Church and State."

Now, therefore, we, the undersigned, Priests of the Church of England, do hereby make our Appeal to the two Houses of the Convocation of Canterbury, which, with the two Houses of the Convocation of York, are "the Church of England by representation;" and humbly pray that no time be lost, and no endeavour spared to obtain redress of the wrong under which the Priests of the Church of England are now suffering; and such Constitution, under the Supremacy of the Crown, of Courts Spiritual, as would command the willing obedience of loyal Churchmen.


That, pending the Constitution of such Courts, no proceedings at law be allowed by the several Diocesans of the Province of Canterbury to be taken against the use of Ceremonies adopted under Sanction of the "Ornaments Rubric;" and that no attempt be entertained to repeal or to modify the "Ornaments Rubric."

And your Memorialists will ever pray.

Signed, by order of the Meeting,


N.B.--Convocation of Canterbury meets Tuesday, Feb. 8. It is therefore requested that signatures of Priests to the above be sent, as quickly as possible, to Archdeacon Denison, East Brent, Highbridge.

Archdeacon Denison will thankfully receive Contributions towards the expenses of Memorial and Appeal, printing, circulating, advertising &c. A few stamps with each signature will probably cover the expenses.

And now, to cease from figures of speech, let me urge upon those who have ever been, or are now my friends--Priests of the English Church--our duty in this great crisis.

Be not deceived. It is our last chance of preserving the Church of England as Catholic, our last chance of saving the old beloved Church of our country--the inheritances of Cosins, Andrewes, Laud, and Ken--from utter destruction.

1. The "Ornaments Rubric" is the great link which connects us in Divine Worship with the Churches of Antiquity, both East and West. If it be in any way tampered with, either by Bishops or by Convocation, that which it guards will at the same time be tampered with, and all that we hold dear, not in the Ritual, but in the Doctrines of the Blessed Sacrament, will go, first out of sight, and then out of faith. The English Church will then, ceasing to be Catholic, become no more than a Protestant Establishment.

2. The "Public Worship Regulation Act," consigning, as it does, the Priests of the Church to the private judgment, first of any three ill-disposes men in a congregation; and secondly, to the private judgment of any individual Bishop (as we have already seen), and thirdly, to the decrees of an unconstitutional Court, pronounced by a Judge appointed under an Act of Parliament oustide of the Church altogether, and without her bindings as to Articles, Creeds, or Canons--these three points being ipso facto contrary to justice, and contrary to our obligations of canonical obedience--if this Act of Parliament, from which all this mischief has arisen, be not in some way set aisd,e we cease to be a Catholic Church--we descend by a mere Parliamentary toleration to be one of the many sects around us, and are no more than a PROTESTANT ESTABLISHMENT.

Let us remind ourselves--and it does not need much vigilance to do so--that there are enemies roaming about from the North and from the South, whom we do not see; enemies in high quarters, whom naturally we should not suspect, who will spare no means to blind our eyes, and to lead our understandings astray form the main truth upon which a Church depends--not Cæsar, but God.

Cæsar is brought in first as a coadjutor, then as a protector, then as a defender, and he is made to look--with his House of Lords, and his dignities, and his privileged company, and his palaces, and his titles--as a great benefactor; but he turns out, as in the fable of the lion and the ass, to be an enemy and a destroyer.

Cæsar is at present the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister is the creature of the House of Commons, and the House of Commons is the voice of the people sitting there as representatives of England; but that representation holds within it a denial of the existence of God.

It is, then, but a poor piece of sophistry to bid us look upon this kind of Cæsar. See what he has done for us in the last few years, and is doing for us now. He consigns us to prison because we are honest; he deprives us of our possessions because we are true; he compels us (with the connivance of the Bishops) to forego our Ministerial powers in the teaching of our people, and puts us under an interdict, so that we may not administer the Sacraments to our congregations until he gives us leave! We are compelled to bow down before the golden image which this King has set up.

To regain our lost liberty; to assert our freedom, as Priests, from secular dominion in things spiritual; to restore due obedience to authority, now interrupted and well-nigh lost in confusion and dismay, is the simple object of our Memorial and Appeal.

It is made, constitutionally, to that Ecclesiastical body which alone we can recognize as the representative of the Church. It does not wish to depreciate our to defy the action of the secular power within its own domain; but it asserts that we do not intend to be directed, still less coerced, by any power save that which comes to the Church through our Blessed Lord Himself and His Apostles.

In such a case as this I think that we ought, as fellow-labourers in the Lord, to encourage each other, with St. Paul (notwithstanding the storm), to abide faithfully in the ship; so, as by united courage and by united patience, to save her. And to this end to put aside all minor points of difference; all points of littleness and jealousy; all points of etiquette and formality; all fear of consequences to ourselves personally; all points of friendship, or even love in our families; all points regarding "father or mother, or wife, or children, or even life itself," as we are bidden by our Blessed Lord to do, for the sake of


Therefore my supplication to you, my brother Priests, is to send your signatures of approval to Archdeacon Denison, or to me, or to some other of the twenty-four who met together in the snow-storm of Jan. 18, 1881.

I am, your affectionate Brother in the Lord,


Vicar of Frome, Somerset.

Let us Pray.

O God, Merciful Father, that despisest not the sighing of a contrite heart, nor the desire of such as be sorrowful; mercifully assist our prayers that we make before Thee in all our troubles and adversities, whensoever they oppress us; and graciously hear us, that those evils, which the craft and subtilty of the devil or man worketh against us, be brought to nought; and by the providence of Thy goodness they may be dispersed; that we Thy servants, being hurt by no persecutions, may evermore give thanks unto Thee in Thy Holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

O Lord, arise, help us, and deliver us for Thy Name's sake.

O God, we have heard with our ears, and our fathers have declared unto us, the noble works that Thou didst in their days, and in the old time before them.

O Lord, arise, help us, and deliver us for Thine honour.

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