Project Canterbury

The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



THE Union now moved its headquarters from Leicester Square to 11, Burleigh Street, Strand. This change was necessitated by the expansion of the business of the Union, which was also thus enabled to carry on its operations under the same roof with the "Church Press" and the Church Review, two most important creations of the Society.

Another effort was made, in good time, to prevent the desecration of Holy Week by the opening of theatres. The Archbishop of Canterbury and about one-half of the Episcopal Bench signed the Memorial prepared by the Union for presentation to the Lord Chamberlain. The Memorial was most influentially signed, and upwards of 1,400 signatures were appended. No effect, however, was produced on that high officer of the Crown.

The following resolution was entered on the minutes:--Royal Marriage Festivities in Lent.

That the Council of the English Church Union has heard with much concern that the marriage of the Prince of Wales is fixed to take place in the solemn season of Lent, and regrets that any reasons of State should be deemed sufficiently important to cause so ancient an usage of the Church as abstinence from marriage during Lent to be disregarded.

The steps which the President and Council took, during the influx of foreigners into the country during the Exhibition, for the prevention of foreign pastors, not in Holy Orders, officiating in churches, was, upon the whole, successful; for only one or two cases occurred, and these were in proprietary chapels.

The Rev. J. W. H. Molyneux, who was Incumbent of the parish of Sudbury, having been removed from his office of Chaplain by the Poor Law Board, at the instance of a Dissenting Board of Guardians, the Union, in order that the case might be brought before the Courts, made a grant of £50, and opened a special fund, which realised about £100 more. The Court of Queen's Bench, however, decided that the Poor Law Board had power to dismiss a Chaplain without assigning a cause, and the Court of Arches decided that the right of a parish priest to the exclusive cure of souls within his parish may be set aside, if the Poor Law Board think fit to direct that a Chaplain shall be appointed to officiate. Want of funds prevented an appeal being prosecuted. The following Petition to the House of Commons was adopted:--

Chaplains of Workhouses.

1. That by the Poor Law Amendment Act, passed in 1834, the Poor Law Commissioners were empowered, amongst other things, to direct the appointment of paid officers of unions formed under the Act, and to remove such paid officers, if deemed by the Commissioners unfit or incompetent to discharge the duties of their office.

2. That in a recent case brought before Her Majesty's Court of Queen's Bench, it was decided that the Chaplain of a workhouse was a paid officer within the Poor Law Amendment Act, removable by order of the Poor Law Board, without any cause being assigned except the mere pleasure of the Board.

3. That such decision seriously affects the position of all union Chaplains, and is calculated to destroy their independence and make them subservient to a lay tribunal, the members of whom are not necessarily in communion with the Church at all.

Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Honourable House would make such amendments in the Poor Law Act as would secure to union Chaplains the same independence of lay interference that is enjoyed by all licensed curates.

The assistance of the Society's honorary Proctor was obtained for one of the members of the Council, who, as a Master of Arts, and late Fellow of the University, believed himself to be wrongfully prejudiced by certain ordinances of the Royal Commission, which were designed to divert the endowments of Durham University, and destroy its character as a Church institution. As a result, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council advised Her Majesty not to sanction the obnoxious ordinances.

A very lengthy and statistical Petition was presented to Convocation on the subject of the Divorce Acts. The Petition pointed out the enormous increase of cases since the creation of the Court; the large number of undefended suits, giving strong ground for suspicion of collusion; and the encouragement to commit adultery in order to secure divorce. It concluded thus:--

The Divorce Acts.

Your Memorialists are so deeply impressed with the injuries inflicted upon the country by the present law of divorce, so far as regards dissolution a vinculo matrimonii, by its lessening in the public mind the sense of sanctity of marriage, by its direct and in. direct promotion of adultery, and by its stealthy introduction of a laxer morality into family life, that they earnestly pray your lord, ships to take into your grave consideration, and endeavour, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to devise measures for counteracting this great and crying evil.

The following resolution was adopted at the July Ordinary Meeting, 1862, in view of the Clergy Relief Bill:--

Indelibility of Holy Orders.

Moved by the Rev. T. W. Perry, and seconded by the Rev. W. H. Lyall--

That, in the opinion, of this Union, the Clergy Relief Bill, as amended by the Select Committee of the House of Commons, is highly objectionable on the following (among other) grounds:--

1. As ignoring the doctrine of the indelible character which Holy Orders confer.

2. As precipitating the declaration of a wish to abandon Holy Orders.

3. As tending to compel Nonconformity instead of merely removing civil disabilities, and protecting from certain ecclesiastical penalties those who desire to withdraw from the discharge of spiritual functions.

4. As not affording a locus poenitentiae to those who, being convinced of their error, may wish to resume the exercise of ministerial duties.

5. As encouraging laxity of principle in seeking Holy Orders. And therefore that the Bill in its present form ought not to be allowed to become law.

The following Petition was presented to the House of Lords on the subject of the

Increase of the Episcopate.

That whereas, owing to the vast increase in the population of England and Wales, which has more than doubled itself during the last half-century, the great increase in the number of clergy find parishes, the large number of children to whom annually the ordinance of Confirmation ought to be severally ministered, it is impossible for the present very limited number of Bishops to perform in any adequate manner the sacred functions of their office;

Your Petitioners would therefore humbly pray your Right Hon. House to sanction any well-considered scheme for increasing the Episcopate; and they would moreover pray that the Bishops of sees hereafter to be erected may not, so long as they continue Bishops of the said sees, have any seats in your Right. Hon. House; and that the spiritual and constitutional right of the Church to a voice in the election of Bishops be, in the case of the prelates of the sees here-after to be erected, recognised and avowed.

The Colenso Case.

The President and Council took a forward part in meeting the attack of the Bishop of Natal (Colenso) upon the veracity of the Pentateuch, and the divine authority of the Epistle to the Romans. The Church Review lent its aid to the Union by a severe criticism of the Bishop's heretical writings, and several articles on the subject, which appeared from time to time in the Review, were reprinted, at the instance of the Council, in consequence of the attention which they had attracted, in a separate form, and thereby secured an extended circulation. Extracts were also prepared, by a member of Council, from the Bishop's works, and contrasted with the formularies and Articles of the Church of England. The facilities afforded by the Church Press enabled this to be accomplished at a comparatively trifling cost; and copies were not only supplied to the members of both Houses of Convocation, but also forwarded to the ecclesiastical authorities of the province of Capetown, and of the diocese of Natal. The Council, at the same time, put itself, through the President, in communication with the Bishop (Gray), and also with high authorities in England. A case was also submitted for the opinion of the Queen's Advocate (Sir Robert Phillimore), who gave it as his decided conviction that Bishop Colenso was amenable to criminal proceedings under the jurisdiction of his Metropolitan, the Bishop of Capetown. Copies of this case and opinion were transmitted to the ecclesiastical authorities of the dioceses of Capetown and Natal. This action of the Union elicited a most grateful letter of thanks from the Metropolitan. Meanwhile, the Union prepared Memorials to both Houses of the Convocation of Canterbury, praying that they would proceed to a Synodical judgment on Bishop Colenso's books, and these Memorials, having been numerously and most influentially signed, were presented to Convocation on May 19, 1863.

The following is this important document:--

That your Petitioners have learned with much thankfulness that, at your last session, a Committee of the Lower House of Convocation was appointed to examine a book recently published, entitled, "The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua critically examined. Parts I. and II. By the Right Rev. John William Colenso, D.D., Lord Bishop of Natal," and to report whether any, and, if any, what opinions heretical or erroneous in doctrine are contained in the said book.

That your Petitioners are persuaded that the distinct voice of Convocation is urgently called for to vindicate the position of the Church of England, in connection with the publication of the said book by one of her Bishops; and they venture respectfully to suggest that a judgment in Synod cannot justly be held to clash with any action which may be taken in the ecclesiastical courts, in which some of your lordships may eventually be concerned; and for this reason--that proceedings in Synod and proceedings in court ecclesiastical are things essentially distinct and separate;--have not the same object in view, and do not seek to compass it by the same means; for whilst the duty and office of the Synod is to preserve the faith intact by dogmatic declaration;--to promulgate the Church's judgment in a matter of doctrine, irrespective of persons;--to be a warning voice against error or heresy as such, and especially if found within the Church's pale;--to mark the error or the sin, not to try the criminal;--the office of the ecclesiastical court is especially and essentially against the person of the writer, as an offender against the law of the Church;--the one condemning the book as an exposition of heresy, the other the man as a transgressor of his moral obligation; and, therefore, that even the possibility of some of your lordships being called upon to sit as judges in appeal, if so it be, in the case of the writer of the book in question, forms no reason why the Synod should not proceed to judgment upon the doctrine: and your Petitioners would venture, with deference, further to remind your Right Rev. House that this principle has been already practically admitted in the course pursued by so many of your Lordships in your remonstrance with Dr. Colenso on his present position, expressing, as you then did, your most unhesitating judgment that his teaching is so utterly irreconcilable with the doctrines and formularies of the Church of England as, by his own admission, as well as in the conviction of your lordships, to preclude him from the exercise of his office as a Bishop of the Church.

That your Petitioners, therefore, most earnestly entreat your Right Rev. House to proceed in due course to the pronunciation of a formal judgment by the Provincial Synod of Canterbury upon the teaching of the book in question.

A similar Petition was presented to the Lower House of Convocation, praying it to give its aid towards the obtaining of the same results.

At the Monthly Meeting on May 12,1863, the question of the relations between the E. C. U. and the Church Review was considered. In the first instance the Church Review was published as a monthly journal, under the charge and responsibility of the Council, who employed an editor to discharge those duties which it was not practicable for the Council, as a body, to perform. At the expiration of a year, the Union sanctioned the issue of the Review weekly; and, at the close of the second year, it was made more of a newspaper. The Review soon exercised a widely-felt influence; but no portion of the funds of the Union were at any time appropriated either to its establishment or maintenance. A special feature of the Review was that all notices and reports of the Society appeared in its pages, and it thus became a medium of communication between members of the Union. Some dissatisfaction was, however, expressed in 1863, at the responsibility which the Union, under these circumstances, incurred, as respects the proprietorship; it was also difficult to draw the line as to how far the Union was responsible for the views of the paper, although it was generally understood that, the Review being the organ of the Society, the members were responsible for its general, but not for its particular views. It was therefore resolved that the E.C.U. should cease to be the proprietors, but that the Church Review should continue to be the organ of communication of the Socity.

A Member of the Council of E. C. U., the Rev. E. Twells, of St. John's, Hammersmith, was this year raised to the episcopate as Bishop of the Orange River Free State.

At the Annual Meeting, at St. James's Hall, on June 16, 1863, the following resolution was adopted:--

The Duty of Unity.

Moved by the Bishop of the Orange River Free State, and seconded by Mr. R. Brett--

That, in the opinion of this meeting, it is the duty of Churchmen and Churchwomen to lay aside all differences on minor points not being de fide: and to unite with one heart and mind and will in the defence and maintenance, in unimpaired integrity, of the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England.

During the year, 620 persons joined the Union, bringing up the total to 1,431. Fourteen new Branches were formed. Total: 29 Local Branches.

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