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The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



THE decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the case of Long v. the Bishop of Capetown, in which it was laid down that the Bishop of Capetown had no coercive jurisdiction, either by virtue of his Royal Letters Patent, or the "Acts and Constitutions" of the Synod held by him in January, 1857, or of any Synod held, or to be held in accordance with the rules laid down by that Synod, received the immediate attention of the Council, as bearing directly upon the Colenso case. An elaborate and exhaustive Report on the Judgment was at once submitted for the opinion of the Queen's Advocate (Sir Robert Phillimore). The opinion affirmed, beyond all doubt, the power of the Metropolitan of Capetown to bring Bishop Colenso to trial before a tribunal composed of himself and his suffragans. A further Report, respecting the most advisable course of proceeding in the matter, founded upon the case and opinion, was subsequently drawn up, and, together with the case and opinion, transmitted to the ecclesiastical authorities of the dioceses of Capetown, Grahamstown, and Natal. It was suggested that the Provincial Synod should deal only with the Bishop's deposition, without seeking to touch the temporalities; and this view was found to commend itself to the judgment of the Metropolitan of Capetown and his Synod. Dr. Colenso was synodically deposed on December 16, 1863, and at the Ordinary Meeting on February 15,1864, the following resolution, moved by Mr. E. Brett, and seconded by Mr. A. D. Sprange, was adopted by the Union:--

Deposition of Dr. Colenso.

That this meeting desires to express its sincere satisfaction at the termination of the case of the Bishop of Natal by the judgment of the Metropolitan and Synod of Capetown, which, while it vindicates the doctrine and discipline of the Church, places its exercise beyond the reach of interference by courts of secular jurisdiction, and presents a vote of grateful thanks to the Bishop of Capetown for his noble efforts to vindicate the rights and authority of the Church.

Two of the writers in "Essays and Reviews," having been prosecuted in the Ecclesiastical Courts, which passed upon them a partially penal sentence, appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. On February 8, 1864, after several months' deliberation, their Lordships gave judgment. The case was heard before the Archbishop of Canterbury (Longley), the Lord Chancellor (Westbury), the Archbishop of York (Thomson), the Bishop of London(Tait), Lord Cranworth, Lord Chelmsford, and Lord Kingsdown, who, in their judgment, reversed the decision of the Court below, in the appeal cases of Williams v. the Lord Bishop of Salisbury (Hamilton), and Wilson v. Fendall.

At the Monthly Meeting on February 15, 1864, the following resolution, moved by the Rev. W. Gresley, and seconded by the Rev. Dr. Biber, was adopted:--

Essays and Reviews.

That the reversal of the judgment of the Court of Arches in the cases of Williams, appellant, v. the Lord Bishop of Salisbury, respondent, and Wilson, appellant, v. Fendall, respondent, by the Judicial Committee of Privy Council, proves that the time has arrived for the Church to claim her constitutional rights in the adjudication of cases involving her doctrine and discipline; and that it is the duty of all Churchmen to unite for the purpose of procuring an alteration of the present state of the law.

The following Memorial to the Convocations of Canterbury and York was subsequently circulated for signature:--

That the book called "Essays and Reviews" does, in the opinion of the undersigned, and as they believe in the opinion of the members of the Church of England almost universally, contain matter contrary to the truth of Christ's religion, and subversive of the faith.

That their lordships the Bishops collectively have declared the said book to be unsound and dangerous, and have refrained from a synodical condemnation of it only on the ground that legal proceedings were then pending.

That two of the principal writers of the said book, being beneficed clergymen, have been prosecuted before the existing ecclesiastical tribunals with a view to their being debarred from the exercise of their official influence as authorised teachers for the continued dissemination of their pernicious doctrine.

That the Court has refused to sanction their removal, and they are still at liberty, notwithstanding the clearly expressed voice of the Church, to subvert her doctrines under colour of her authority.

The undersigned beg respectfully to submit to your Right Reverend House that there has been a manifest miscarriage of justice, owing to the present unconstitutional mode of determining finally all such questions of false doctrine as may from time to time arise.

They therefore desire most strongly to appeal to your Right Reverend House that immediate steps be taken to devise some-remedy for the present obvious defect of the law for the protection of the doctrine and discipline of the Church from those of the clergy who may impugn or infringe the same; and particularly that the Court of ultimate appeal may be so reconstituted that the Church may lie enabled, as in former times, to exercise her jurisdiction, independently of the control of secular courts.

The President and Council again brought before the Primate of All England the grave scandal of the opening of the London theatres in Holy Week. His Grace received a deputation on August 6,1863, when a Memorial, signed by about 1,500 persons, including fifteen of the Bishops, many other Church dignitaries, several peers, and members of the House of Commons, as well as a large number of clergy and influential laity, was presented. His Grace, who earnestly sympathised with the deputation, undertook to communicate with the Lord Chamberlain; but, notwithstanding the earnest appeal of the Primate, Lord Sydney,, whilst professing to feel "no want of respect for the holy season in question, nor for the religious feelings of the numerous and influential body of memorialists," declined to accede to the request, on the ground that he could not "consistently with justice reimpose upon the whole metropolitan theatrical profession restrictions which are imposed upon no other class of the community in London or in any of the other towns of Great Britain and Ireland."

A lengthy address was presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury respecting intercommunion between the Churches of England and Scandinavia. The address respectfully submitted as a basis for such intercommunion the following points of fundamental importance--viz., "the acceptance, first, of the Bible as the inspired Word of God; secondly, of the Catholic Creeds; thirdly, of the two great Sacraments of the Gospel, and other ordinances of Apostolic authority; and, fourthly, the recognition of the Apostolic Succession of the Episcopate." It was also suggested that, through his Grace's intervention, the lost Apostolic Succession might be restored to Denmark, and that the Danish Government would be not unlikely to favour such a proposal if made by the spiritual authorities in that country.

Action was again taken in furtherance of the increase of the Episcopate. The longer Petition which, in the previous session, was presented to the House of Lords (by Lord Brougham) was again presented to their Lordships, as well as to Convocation; whilst the shorter petition to Parliament was also re-adopted, with the omission of the clause which prayed that the Bishops of new sees (to be formed) might not have seats in the House of Lords, and with the addition of the following clause:--"And they would moreover pray your Right Honourable House that the spiritual and constitutional right of the Church to a voice in the election of Bishops be--in the case, at least, of the prelates of sees hereafter to be erected--recognised and allowed."

The following Petition to the House of Lords on the Divorce question was adopted at the Monthly Meeting on December 15, 1863:--

The Law of Divorce.

That your petitioners believe that the present law of divorce is antagonistic to the law of God, and most injurious to the morality of the country.

That the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage has ever been held by the Christian Church; and in each marriage celebrated' in the Church of England the priest is directed to join the right hands of the man and woman together, saying, "Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder."

That the allowance of the severance of the marriage tie by the law of the land has been attended by very evil consequences, the great increase in the number of the petitions for dissolution of marriage, based on adultery committed since the passing of the Divorce Act in 1857, plainly showing that the facilities for obtaining divorce have directly tended to encourage the commission of the sin of adultery.

That there is every reason to believe that cases of collusion arc very common, since out of 445 which were tried up to the return dated July 30, 1861, divorces were granted in 416, and refused only in 29; 315 cases having been undefended.

That temptation is given to unscrupulous persons by the present law to bring false accusations with a view of extorting money.

That the permission now given for the (so-called) re-marriage of the guilty persons is opposed to the fundamental principle of justice and morality, that no one should be allowed to take advantage of his own wrong-doing; and recent experience fully confirms the testimony of Lord Erskine "that thirty years' practice at the bar convinced him that the intermarriage of offenders tends to the commission of the offence."

That for these and other reasons your petitioners beg your Honourable House to take the state of the law as it now stands into your serious consideration, with a view to the repeal of all those portions of the Act which allow of divorce a vinculo matrimonii, of the re-marriage of persons so divorced.

That they would specially call the immediate attention of your Honourable House to the fact that permission given to the guilty persons to marry is a direct premium upon sin.

The question of Free and Open Churches was discussed at the Monthly Meetings on December 15, 1863, and January 18, 1864, when the following resolutions, moved
by Mr. E. Brett, and seconded by the Rev. Dr. Biber, were adopted:--

Free and Open Churches.

1. That it is a fundamental principle of the Gospel that no distinction should be made in the House of God between rich and poor.

2. That it is another fundamental principle of the Gospel that the ministers of religion should be provided with a decent maintenance, sufficient to enable them to devote themselves wholly to the duties of their sacred calling.

3. That disregard of both these principles has proved most injurious to the cause of religion, and continues to be a great hindrance to the Church of England fulfilling her mission as a National Church.

4. That with a view to free the Church from the reproach of making an invidious distinction between rich and poor, and trafficking in her operations of worship, as well as from the reproach of subjecting her clergy to all the evils and inconveniences resulting from an inadequate provision for their maintenance, it is desirable that measures should be devised for raising funds supplementary to the existing endowments of the Church, applicable to places where such endowments and other resources are insufficient.

5. That such measures ought not to be limited to individual congregations, but ought to extend over the whole Church, and be made part of her regular diocesan organization.

6. That the appropriation of a properly defined proportion of the weekly offertory, to be universally revived for this among other purposes, to a Diocesan Church Sustentation Fund, with a view to the provision or augmentation of clerical incomes throughout the diocese, and if the amounts collected shall admit of it, of permanent endowments, should form a prominent feature in such measures.

7. That the duty of devising and carrying into effect such measures devolves--under consultation with the ecclesiastical authorities--in an especial manner upon the laity of the Church and that the lay members of the English Church Union and its branches be invited to use their best endeavours for promoting, in the dioceses in which they severally reside, the formation of provisional committees having for their object to organize Diocesan Church Sustentation Funds.

8. That a copy of the foregoing resolutions be transmitted to the Archbishops and Bishops and the Lower Houses of Convocation of the Provinces of Canterbury and York, with a humble request to the Most Rev. and Right Rev. Prelates, that they may be pleased to give their sanction to the formation of such committees in their respective dioceses, and in their collective capacities to initiate in Convocation and in Parliament such legislative changes as may be required to give full effect to the objects contemplated by such Church Funds, and especially to provide, by means of them, a permanent substitute for pew-rents.

A Petition was also presented to Parliament for the removal of the disabilities under which the Scottish clergy labour in England, and which cast a slur upon the undoubted validity of Scottish orders. A Bill was introduced into the House of Lords by the Duke of Buccleuch to remove such disabilities.

The Royal Commission, appointed for the purpose of revising the present form of clerical subscription, was approached by the President and Council, who urged that no change should be recommended under which the present safeguards might be relaxed.

Other matters dealt with were Prayer Book revision) the abolition of Tests in the University of Oxford, the Church Building Acts Amendment Bill, the objectionable minutes of the Committee of Council on Education, and the raising of a fund to defray the heavy expenses incurred in the trials of Bishop Colenso (by the Bishop of Capetown and his Comprovincial Bishops) and of the Essayists and Reviewers.

The Church Review having been transferred to the Church Press Company, as proprietors, by a resolution passed at the monthly meeting on May 12, 1863, it was understood that the Union was in no way responsible for the views of that newspaper But, in consequence of inaccurate statements in the public press, and of the desire of some members for a clear statement on the subject, the President and Council reported to the Union--

The Relations of the E. C. U. and "Church Review"

That the Church Review is the organ of communication of the English Church Union, and that the members and associates of the Union are neither directly nor indirectly responsible for any opinion that may from time to time be expressed in the Church Review aforesaid.

The development of the Union necessitated a revision of the Rules, which was effected during the year.

A decision of the Council that it was inexpedient for their Secretary to hold the laborious and responsible post of Editor of the Church Review, now that the duties of the Secretary had so greatly increased, led incidentally to Mr. Ramsay's retirement from the post of Secretary, which, in conjunction with that of Editor of the Church Review, he had hitherto held. The Council desired to secure the entire services of their Secretary at an adequate remuneration; but the financial condition of the Society left them no alternative but reluctantly to accept Mr. Ramsay's resignation.

Another member of the Union was raised to the episcopate this year, the Rev. Addington K. P. Venables, an active member of the Oxford Branch, having been elected to the Bishopric of Nassau.

Three letters appeared in the Church Review of June 4 and 11, 1864, from the Rev. James Skinner, the Rev. William Gresley (Vice-President), and the Rev. Dr. Biber. Mr. Skinner thought that the Union was becoming "unwieldy and unmanageable"; that it had become "a debating club for the ventilation of private opinions"; that the General Meetings were too frequent, and did "not fairly represent the whole body." He urged that "the whole of the active work of the Union should be committed to" an Executive Council of twenty-eight persons. Mr. Gresley complained that there was "an endeavour to make a Society which was formed for the purpose of defending the Church of England an instrument for promoting peculiar views of Ritual." He added:--"If it be decided to make the advocacy of extreme ritual a principle of the Union, I do not feel that it would be consistent in me to continue in my present office." Dr. Biber took somewhat the same line as Mr. Gresley, complaining, moreover, that the dominant party regarded opposition to grave attacks upon the Church's faith as "a matter of policy or expediency," in certain cases. Dr. Biber also announced his withdrawal from the Union.

In consequence of these letters the President, on behalf of the Council, read the following statement at the Annual Meeting on June 13, 1864:--

The E. C. U. and Extreme Ritual.

1. That neither the Council nor the Union has ever expressed any opinion upon, much less advocated, any views whatever of ritual; and, moreover, has never contemplated adopting this subject as an object or principle of the Society, further than by using its influence to maintain that liberty of action which is legally accorded to both clergy and laity by the Prayer Book and the Canons of the Church of England.

2. That the only way in which the Council can suppose that the Union may have been considered as identifying itself with any ritual opinions was by the publication of the " Suggestions for the Dua Observance of the Rubrics and other Directions of the Book of Common Prayer" in "The Kalendar of the English Church Union" for 1863; and that as regards these the following note was appended to them:--"The Editor wishes it to be distinctly understood that these 'Suggestions' are not to be considered as emanating from the English Church Union, or from the Council, or from the Kalendar Committee. The Council being well aware that differences of opinion do exist regarding the true interpretation of some of the Rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer, it was thought undesirable to put forth, as by the authority of the Union, any' Suggestions' of its own which might compromise the position of some of its members." That these "Suggestions" were omitted from the Kalendar of 1864 in order to remove any possible ground of complaint that they seemed to be, at least indirectly, sanctioned by the Union; and that,, further, the Council had decided to recommend the Union not in future to publish any Kalendar at all.

The Council must decline to comment upon the letter of Dr. Biber, published in the same number of the Church Review [viz., as Mr. Gresley's].

At the Annual Meeting the new rules were confirmed, and it was announced that the property of the Union in "The Kalendar of the English Church" had been transferred to the Church Press Company. The rest of the business was purely formal, the debate on the confirmation of the new rules occupying most of the time.

During the year 375 persons joined the Union, and 132 were removed for various reasons, including death, non-payment of subscriptions, &c., bringing up the total to 1,674. Six new Branches were formed. Total: 35 Local Branches.

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