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The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



IN accordance with a resolution passed at a Special Meeting on August 25, 1864, a report on the Court of Final Appeal was prepared and published. The leading features of the suggested amendment were as follows:--1. To allow the status of the present Court to remain, but to oblige the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to remit all questions of doctrine and discipline to the Bishops of the United Churches of England and Ireland, as a body, for their corporate opinion. 2. That opinion to be submitted to the Queen, together with the report of the Privy Council. 3. The function of the Judicial Committee to be confined to reporting whether the charge of false doctrine is proved or not.

At the Monthly Meeting on November 14, 1864, it was resolved, upon the motion of the Rev. W. Gresley,. seconded by the Rev. M. W. Mayow:--

The Court of Final Appeal.

That prompt measures be taken by the Union to endeavour to obtain an amendment of the Court of Final Appeal in ecclesiastical matters.

In accordance with this resolution Petitions were drafted as follows:--

To Convocation.

We, the undersigned members of the Church of England, being much aggrieved by the present anomalous state of the law in ecclesiastical causes, beg to lay our grievance before our Reverend [or Right Reverend] House.

A Book called "Essays and Reviews" has been published, containing, as we believe, many heretical opinions, and condemned as such by your Venerable Body. Nevertheless, two of the writers, being in Holy Orders, and having cure of souls, are, by the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal, retained in their office, and are at liberty, under the supposed sanction of the Church, to preach doctrines which have been declared heretical, and so mislead the people committed to their charge.

This anomalous position of affairs arises from the constitution of the present ecclesiastical courts, particularly, but not solely, the Court of Final Appeal.

There is no good reason to suppose that our temporal rulers desire to overrule the decisions of the Church in spiritual matters.

Rather their interest and wish would be to support the Church of which they are members in maintaining true doctrine and good discipline.

The present Court of Appeal is of very recent origin, and was not intended by its framers as a Court for the trial of doctrine, nor is it in any way calculated to perform such a function.

It has distinctly repudiated the notion that it is a Court for the decision of doctrine.

The virtual decision of doctrine has been forced upon it against its real design and constitution

And it has been proved to be inadequate to the task.

We therefore respectfully call upon your Reverend [or Right Reverend] House, as representative of the Church in this land, to take measures, in concurrence with the Queen and her Government, to rectify the existing anomaly.

The question is one of the gravest which can be imagined, affecting the very foundations of our faith, and the instruction of the people in the pure Word of God.

If it seem good, we would beg respectfully to submit to your Reverend [or Right Reverend] House to adopt the earliest practicable measures to obtain an amendment of the present law in respect to the trial of ecclesiastical causes when any question of doctrine may arise.

To the Houses of Lords and Commons.

That your Petitioners humbly call the attention of your Right Honourable [or Honourable] House to the present state of the law respecting the Courts of Final Appeal for Spiritual or ecclesiastical causes.

That your Petitioners feel aggrieved that questions concerning the doctrine and discipline of the Church should be finally determined by a secular court, the members of which, though eminent lawyers, yet are not by education or habits of mind specially qualified to deal with subjects requiring the deepest knowledge of theology and the Canon law.

That your Petitioners would represent to your Right Honourable [or Honourable] House that, according to the practice of the Primitive Church, and the provisions of the Canon law, all appeals from the lower ecclesiastical courts concerning doctrine and discipline should be finally determined by the authority of the Church, and not by that of the State.

That the constitution of this country recognises this principle when, in the 24th Henry VIII., cap. 12, it declares that all questions concerning the "law Divine" and of "spiritual learning" should be "interpreted, declared, and shewed" by the "spiritualty," even as all causes concerning "trial of property and goods" are determined by the judges of the temporalty.

Wherefore your Petitioners humbly pray that the present laws respecting ecclesiastical appeals may be so amended as that all causes brought before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, involving the doctrine, rites, ceremonies, and discipline of the Church, may henceforth be "declared, interpreted, and shewed" by the Bishops of the Church, assisted by theologians and others learned in the Ecclesiastical and Canon law.

A Declaration to the Archbishop.

We, the undersigned clergy and laity of the united Church of England and Ireland, desire to give expression of our dissatisfaction at the constitution of the present Court of Appeal for ecclesiastical causes, whereby questions of doctrine and discipline are decided without adequate reference to the spiritualty of the Realm.

A Petition to the House of Lords, presented by Lord Lyttelton, urging the need of an increase in the Episcopate, was very numerously signed.

At the Ordinary Meeting, on December 12, 1864, the general indignation excited in the public mind by the publication of some unusually painful details in connection with a recent divorce case, found expression in the following resolution:--

The Divorce Question.

Moved by the Rev. W. E. Wroth, and seconded by Mr. A. B. Cooke--

That this meeting is deeply impressed with the sense of the evil influences of the Divorce Court on the morality of the country, and requests the Council to take measures to cause a Bill to be brought into Parliament for the repeal of the objectionable parts of the Divorce Act.

A measure for the reform of the representation of the clergy in the Lower House of Convocation, and for the extension of the ecclesiastical franchise, having been introduced into the two Houses of Convocation, the President and Council prepared the following Memorial, which was numerously signed, and presented during the May Session. by the Bishop of Oxford in the Upper, and by the Rev. M. W. Mayow in the Lower House;--

Reform of Convocation.

That your Memorialists have learnt with great satisfaction that a measure is now before your Right Rev. [or Rev.] House, for the reform of the representation of the clergy in the Lower House of Convocation, and for the extension of the ecclesiastical franchise.

That your Memorialists would respectfully express their opinion that, in any such reform, provision should be made for the extension of the ecclesiastical franchise to all unbeneficed priests, being duly licensed by their respective ordinaries.

That in the opinion of your Memorialists the number of parochial proctors should be greatly increased, and should exceed the number of ex officio members and the representatives of the chapters in the Lower House of Convocation.

Wherefore your Memorialists would humbly pray your Right Rev. [or Rev.] House to take the aforesaid opinions into your favourable consideration.

It having been stated that the Crown was to be advised to grant a Licence to the two English Convocations to carry into effect a desired alteration in the 36th Canon, the Council memorialised the Archbishops to endeavour to secure, if possible, the adoption of the ancient, statutable, and correct form of issuing the writ and licence, which was in existence from 1534 until 1597, when the Royal Licences began to be strained, to the injury of the Church and the undue exaltation of the Regale. A recommendation to this effect was contained in the Report of the Committee on Canon Law, presented to the Upper House of Convocation on February 13, 1863. The Report in question was drawn up by a Committee consisting of six Bishops and six members of the Lower House, in consequence of an erroneous impression which prevailed to the effect that the Royal Licence only enabled Convocation to confer about the Canons, and that the Royal assent had to be given independently and subsequently--an idea which could only have arisen through inattention to the clear and express words of the Statute 25 Henry VIII., c. 19, and through forgetfulness of the fact that there is extant a licence of Queen Elizabeth in 1586 which completely sets the question at rest, being a nearly contemporaneous exposition of the statute, and, so far as is known, the first licence issued. The Report of Convocation stated that the following is the proper process of making and enacting a Canon:--

First, that the Convocation being lawfully assembled by the Archbishop in pursuance of the Queen's writ, should, after due deliberation, settle such form of words as Convocation might; think fit for enactment as a Canon. Secondly, that Convocation should petition her Majesty for her most Royal assent and licence to make, promulge, and execute the Canon so settled. Thirdly, the Convocation, having received her Majesty's most Royal assent and licence to make, promulge, and execute the Canon, may proceed to make, promulge, and execute the same in the ancient and accustomed manner. In view of the statute the Canon so made could be promulged as of full force, and would be capable of being put in execution accordingly, if not "contrarient or repugnant to the Queen's prerogative Royal, or to the customs, laws, or statutes of the realm." ("Chronicle of Convocation," 1863, p. 1120.)

The Memorial of the Council was acknowledged in encouraging terms.

An address of "heartfelt sympathy in all the troubles and anxieties" which he had undergone was presented to the Bishop of Capetown, at the conclusion of the appeal re Dr. Colenso v. the Bishop of Capetown. The Union congratulated his lordship at "the complete emancipation of the Colonial Church from all undue secular control," which seemed to be involved in the Judgment of the Judicial Committee; expressed their admiration of his lordship's "wisdom, firmness, and courage," shown "in a season of almost unexampled trial and difficulty"; and the hope that his lordship would, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, bring his good work to the best and happiest issue.

Amongst a few of the matters in which the Council took action were (1) the case of St. Gregory's, Norwich, where some ornaments of the Church had been illegally removed, some of which were subsequently replaced; (2) the Qualification for Offices Bill, against which a petition was presented to the House of Commons by the Hon. G. F. Boyle; (3) the unsatisfactory state of the Church in the Navy, without Episcopal supervision; (4) the authorization and encouragement of Evening Communions, in a circular issued to military chaplains by the Chaplain-General, who, notwithstanding the interposition of one of the Bishops, declined to make any alteration, and justified the practice by the peculiar circumstances of the case; (5) Good Friday desecration; (6) the better observance of Ascension Day; and (7) such various matters as the proposed alteration in clerical subscriptions, the treatment of the houseless poor under the Poor Law system, the Conscience Clause, the educational scheme propounded by Miss Burdett Coutts, and the election of Bishops.

As required by the new rules, the Council proceeded to establish an organ of communication between the members, associates, and themselves, entitled The Monthly Circular, which, later on, developed into The Church Union Gazette. The first steps were also taken to form a Theological Library in connection with the Union.

At the beginning of the year, in consequence of the resignation of the late secretary, Mr. Thomas Ramsay, who was elected in 1861, the Council elected Mr. Hope Johnstone as secretary, and Mr. W. H. Widdicombe, the secretary's clerk, as assistant-secretary.

At the Ordinary Meeting on November 14, 1864, the Rev. John Keble, Vicar of Hursley, was elected a member of the Council.

The Annual Meeting was held at Willis's Rooms on June 20, 1865. The resolutions adopted dealt entirely with the organisation of the Society.

During the year, 622 persons joined the Union, bringing up the total to 2,300, among whom were 24 Associate-Members, the first two having been elected in November, 1864. Twelve new Branches were formed. Total Branches, 47.

The continuous growth of the Society and its Branches rendered it necessary to introduce a further development into its organization; and this led to the formation of a scheme to enable Branches in each county to coalesce for special purposes in District Unions.

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