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The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



THE matters which engaged the attention of the Union during the year were more numerous and of greater importance than any which had come before it at any corresponding period.

The Bishop of London (Tait), in answer to a question from the Marquis of Westmeath in the House of Lords, having stated that he strongly disapproved of certain ritual observances, and "that he was perfectly ready, for his own part, and he believed he might express a similar readiness on the part of his right reverend brethren, to promise his support to any measure introducing any alterations [in the Prayer Book] which would tend to remove this difficulty [viz., the great uncertainty introduced into the law by the affirmation of the Catholic interpretation of the Ornaments Rubric]," it was resolved to present a Memorial to the Bishop and to the Primate (Longley) on this subject, to lay a Petition before Parliament, and to appoint a Prayer Book Defence Committee. Two Memorials, to be signed respectively by clergy and lay communicants, were accordingly prepared for circulation and signature, in the following terms:--

Alteration of the Prayer Book.

We, the undersigned, clergy [or lay communicants] of the Church of England, respectfully object to any alteration being made in the Book of Common Prayer respecting the "ornaments of the Church, and of the ministers thereof," and the mode and manner of performing Divine Service " according to the use of the Church of England."

The actual number of signatures appended to the clerical Memorial was 2,995, and to the lay Memorial 36,008, of which 24,133 were those of men. But this by no means fully represented the weight of the movement initiated by E. C. U., which was supported by many independent petitions to Convocation, to the Primate, to individual Bishops, and to Parliament. Of these independent petitions 81, comprising 1,589 signatures, were entrusted to the E. 0. U. for presentation to the Primate. Thus the total number of petitioners represented by the E. C. U. amounted to 41,620, distributed between 3,097 clerical, and 38,523 lay signatories. These Memorials were presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace, on Saturday, Feb. 3, 1865, by a large and influential deputation of nearly 140 persons. Amongst those present were the Earls of Carnarvon and Devon, Sir Walter James, Bart., Hon. Colin Lindsay (President of E. C. U.), Sir Alfred Slade, Sir Charles Young, Bart., Professor Bentley, Messrs. J. D. Chambers (Recorder of Salisbury), G-. E. Street, R. Brett, the Dean of Chichester (Hook), Ven. Archdeacons Randall and Denison; the Revs, the Hon. R. laddell, W. U. Richards, M. W. Mayow, W. Wayland Joyce, T. W. Perry, &c. Amongst many others who were unable to attend were the Dean of York (Duncombe), Archdeacons Harris and Churton, Dr. Pusey, Dr. Irons, Revs. J. Keble, H. P. Liddon, the Duke of Newcastle, the Earl of Dartmouth, Lord Richard Cavendish, Sir Stephen Glynne, Bt., Gathorne Hardy, Esq., M.P., J. G. Hubbard, Esq.. M.P., and Professor Burrows. The Earl of Carnarvon presented the Petition to his Grace. In his reply, his Grace, whilst expressing his disapprobation of "the recently-introduced practices," and "the tone of defiance" which accompanied them, expressed his "determination never to consent to any alteration in any part of the Book of Common Prayer without the full concurrence of Convocation." It may be added that whilst the great bulk of the signatures were from the middle and lower classes, all ranks of life were fully represented--Peers, Members of the House of Commons, leading laymen, bankers, merchants, professional men, military and naval men, University and other students, mayors, magistrates, schoolmasters, clerks, churchwardens, tradesmen, farmers, mechanics, and parish clerics.

Another subject with which the Society had to deal was that of the position of assistant-curates. The inaugural Service of the Manchester Branch was held in September, 1865, at St. Stephen's, Manchester, by permission of the Rector (Huntington), who invited the Rev. H. D, Mhill, assistant-curate of St. Albau's, Cheetwood, to celebrate. The Rev. C. H. Whitehead, assistant-curate of St. Stephen's, did not take any part in the Service, but was present as a member of the congregation. A complaint was made to the Bishop of Manchester (Prince Lee) by some members of an influential section of the congregation, actively supported in the columns of the weekly newspaper, with respect to certain ritual acts on Mr. Nihill's part. A written complaint was signed by thirteen witnesses, one sentence of which only, descriptive of adoration and elevation of the chalice, was read to Mr. Nihill by the Bishop, who, however, subsequently informed Mr. Nihill, upon the latter's further enquiry, that another point involved was "the mixing of the water in the wine." Mr. Nihill was not formally licensed, on account of some legal difficulties connected with the parish of Manchester; but he had the Bishop's verbal licence. Without being heard in his defence, and without any formal trial of any kind, notwithstanding his plea that he had not, so far as he knew, offended against the laws ecclesiastical, and in spite of his assurance of perfect submission to the Bishop, Mr. Nihill's verbal licence was withdrawn, and he was served with a formal inhibition against exercising any ecclesiastical duties within the diocese. The assistant-curate of St. Stephen's, who had taken no part officially in the Service, and who had only been present as one of the congregation, was also summarily inhibited from officiating at St. Stephen's, with, however, a promise of being- licensed to some other district after a probation of six weeks. When, shortly afterwards, preferment in Scotland was offered to Mr. Nihill, the Bishop of Manchester refused to countersign the letters testimonial, which are absolutely required by the Scottish Church in the case of a presentee to a benefice. Mr. Nihill, deeming it his duty to forbear from obtaining the counter-signature of the Bishop of another diocese, who would at once have given it, or from accepting the invitation of other Bishops to work in their dioceses without letters testimonial, retired for a period from active work. The action of the Bishop of Manchester naturally excited a wide-spread feeling of indignation, and Branch after Branch sent up resolutions calling upon the Council to take action. The Council needed no incentive. An opinion was obtained from the Queen's Advocate (Sir Robert Phillimore), which, whilst conditionally denying the illegality of the acts specified, distinctly asserted that there was no redress to be obtained in either the civil or the ecclesiastical courts--an appeal to the Metropolitan (the only possible course) being inadvisable on the ground of the extreme uncertainty of the validity of the verbal licence. When, subsequently, the Bishop refused to countersign the letters testimonial, the Proctor of the Union was instructed to obtain an opinion from Mr. Coleridge as to the Bishop's right to refuse his counter-signature without cause assigned; whether a mandamus could not be obtained to compel such cause being shown; whether damages would be recoverable for personal injury; and, generally, as to the best course to be pursued. The opinion, with one partial exception, was unfavourable, and the Council were reluctantly compelled to accept the conclusion--independently urged upon them privately by a high legal authority--that no legal remedy could be employed. With a view, however, to bring the case into prominent notice, and, if possible, to provide a remedy for the future, an elaborate Report was prepared, in which the whole question of the position of assistant-curates was carefully considered; a Bill for submission to the legislature was drafted; and reasons for its adoption were laid before the four Archbishops. Their Graces, whilst admitting: "that there have been instances in which the power vested in Bishops has been arbitrarily exercised," were of opinion that greater evils would ensue were the Bishops deprived of their power. The Council therefore resolved to prepare a Memorial to Convocation, praying, them to consent to the introduction of such a measure as would afford reasonable security to assistant-curates.

The elaborate Report on "The Present Position of Assistant or Stipendiary Curates," which was adopted by the Council on January 4, 1866, vindicated the dignity of the clergy of the second order, as against the depreciating tone adopted by some of the Bishops towards them, and commented adversely upon the state of the law by which the Bishop had power to reject a spiritual person presented by an incumbent to a curacy, and that, too, without assigning any reason whatever. The following working principles were suggested as meeting the needs of the case:--

1. That in the absence of any canonical impediment, every Bishop should license any person nominated by an incumbent.

2. That if the Bishop be of opinion that any such impediment does exist, he should appoint a Commission of Inquiry, consisting of the Chancellor of the Diocese, the Dean of the Cathedral Church, the Archdeacon, or Rural Dean of the place wherein the parish is situated: and two other persons, lay or clerical: one to be nominated by the incumbent, and the other by the person from whom the licence is withheld.

3. That if the Commission, or a majority thereof, report favourably of the nominee of the incumbent, the Bishop shall be bound to license him; if unfavourably, the Bishop may refuse: subject, however, to an appeal to the Metropolitan, to be made within four weeks, which shall be final; saving that, if the alleged unfitness arise from any point of doctrine or ecclesiastical discipline, the nominee to have the same redress as a beneficed clergy, man.

It was further suggested that, inasmuch as a Bishop ought not to have the power of withdrawing the licence of any curate on his own mere motion, without the reasonable consent of the incumbent, an independent Commission should be issued, such as that proposed in the case of refusal by a Bishop to license, subject to an appeal to the Metropolitan. A draft Bill, comprising eight clauses, and based upon the principles stated above, was put forth by the Council.

The "Reasons for Amending the Laws respecting Assistant or Stipendiary Curates" were as follows:--

1. Because, when a person has entered into Holy Orders, he is necessarily debarred thenceforth from pursuing any secular calling whereby to maintain himself.

2. Because a person having been, after previous examination and proof of competency and orthodoxy, once admitted into Holy Orders, he has an inherent and moral right to exercise his ministry; and therefore it is unjust for a Bishop to refuse to license him unless some lawful impediment exists, such as proved immorality, or heterodoxy, or some other canonical offence.

3. Because it is contrary to primitive antiquity for a Bishop to deprive any spiritual person of his right to exercise his ministry without the Counsel of the Presbytery (or certain Representatives of the Presbytery), and without an appeal to the Metropolitan of the Province.

4. Because it is contrary to justice for a Bishop to withdraw the licence of a curate without the consent of his incumbent, unless there be prima facie grounds for apprehending collusion between them; in which case the Bishop should refer the matter to the Presbytery (or certain Representatives of the Presbytery) for their opinion, subject to an appeal to the Metropolitan.

5. Because it is an injustice to the incumbent to be deprived of the services of an assistant-curate in whom he has confidence, without previous investigation and proof of misconduct, or of some other canonical offence.

The Memorials to Convocation were drafted in the following terms;--


That the present position of the unbeneficed clergy of the Church of England appears to your Memorialists extremely unsatisfactory.

That in the opinion of your Memorialists, when an unbeneficed priest or deacon has been nominated to a curacy, the Bishop ought not to have the power of rejecting him until after a proper investigation by Commissioners into his life and doctrine, with the right of appeal to the Metropolitan of the Province.

That when an unbeneficed priest or deacon has been accepted and licenser (either verbally or in writing), the Bishop should have no power of withdrawing such licence against the consent of the incumbent, until after an investigation before Commissioners, with the right of appeal, as before, to the Metropolitan of the Province.

Your Memorialists would therefore pray your Right Reverend [or Reverend] House, to take into consideration the present anomalous position of the unbeneficed clergy, with a view to the sanctioning the introduction of such a measure as will ensure to them all reasonable security.

Notice of a motion to introduce into the House of Commons a Bill for legalizing marriage with a deceased wife's sister was given by Mr. T. Chambers on Feb. 10, 1866, and the Council at once prepared the following Petition to the House:--

Deceased Wife's Sister Bill.

That a Bill has been introduced into your Honourable House, intituled "A Bill to render legal marriage with a deceased wife's sister."

That your petitioners desire to represent to your Honourable House that marriage with a deceased wife's sister is forbidden by Holy Scripture and the laws of the Church, and that such marriages, being incestuous, must be prejudicial to the well-being of society.

Your petitioners, therefore, pray your Honourable House to reject the said Bill.

More than 5,000 signatures were attached to the Petition, which was duly presented in the House of Commons and referred to as a valuable expression of opinion by the mover of the amendment which secured the rejection of the Bill by a large majority.

The Rev. John Keble, Vicar of Hursley, and author of The Christian Year, died on Maundy Thursday. March 29, 1866. Mr. Keble was a member of the Council at the time of his death.

The Conscience Clause introduced by the Committee of Council on Education into the trust-deeds of schools, as a condition for receiving a grant, formed the subject of debate at the Ordinary Meeting in April, when the following resolution was carried unanimously:--

Conscience Clause in Church Schools.

Moved by the Rev. M. W. Mayow, and seconded by Mr. Palmer--

That it is the duty of Churchmen to make every effort to induce the Committee of Council not to enforce a Conscience Clause in any schools of the Church of England. That the enforcement of the Conscience Clause in any schools of the Church of England is an injustice and a breach of the principle on which grants are to be made to Church schools by the Committee of Council on Education.

This year the Union continued its efforts to secure a better observance of Good Friday and Ascension Day, and with manifest results. Reports from Branches testified especially to the great improvement visible in the way of keeping Good Friday, the increase of the number of churches open throughout the day, the specially appropriate services, and the increased congregations. Amongst other measures taken by the Council on this behalf may be mentioned the posting of 4,000 large bills; the placing of 3,000 smaller bills in shop-windows; the distribution of 100,000 hand-bills, during Holy Week, in the parks and other places of public resort; and the circulation of a tract, addressed to Dissenters, amongst the Dissenting Ministers of London. The Standing Committee of the S. P. C. K. was also approached, by certain members of the Council, with the result that a Memorial on the subject, addressed to the Primate, received an encouraging reply; and 10,000 tracts were gratuitously placed at the disposal of the local Branches of E. C. U. for distribution throughout the country.

The presentation of some hundreds of petitions to Parliament and Convocation--on such subjects as the Divorce Court; the increase of the Episcopate; the Final Court of Appeal; and non-interference with the rubrics--testified to the activity of the Union; whilst numerous other matters received prompt attention, issuing, when practicable, in action.

Three new departures in internal organization were initiated before the Annual Meeting--viz., (1) The creation of a Defence Fund, necessitated, as a measure of precaution, by the recent formation of the Church Association, expressly designed to suppress ritual and to silence doctrine, and at this time engaged in prosecuting inquiries to various churches, with a view to taking legal proceedings; (2) the proposal, subsequently ratified, to appoint an Organizing Secretary; and (3) the creation of a Reserve Fund. The scheme for a proposed Theological Library had remained for some months in abeyance, in consequence of the difficulty in procuring the services of a competent Honorary Secretary.

The Seventh Anniversary of the Union was celebrated on June 14, 1866. On that day, at an Ordinary Meeting previously held, Dr. Pusey was elected a member--"Proposer, Hon. C. Lindsay; Seconder, H. B. Pellew"--and at the Annual Meeting, on the same day, was elected a clerical member of Council. In moving the following resolution--

Prayer Book Defence.

That the Union desires to offer its heartfelt thanks to Almighty God for the success that has attended the operations of the E. C. U. in defence of the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer; and it would entreat all its members and associates earnestly to implore the Lord and Head of the Church to continue His gracious protection to the whole- Anglican Communion--

Dr. Pusey explained that his "slowness" in joining was not owing to any suspicion of the E. C. U., but was a consequence of his connection with a previous Association which he was obliged to quit, as "being somewhat revolutionary." Such partings were painful, and he therefore wished to see the E. C. U. tried before he ran the risk again. "The prudence and wisdom of the Chairman, and the proceedings of the Council, have entirely satisfied me upon that head, and I am most thankful to join your Association." In the course of his speech, Dr. Pusey explained the fears with regard to ritual which were entertained at the beginning of the movement--the fear lest "the externals might be taken at the expense of the internals"--the fear lest "the whole movement should become superficial"--the fear lest "the clergy should exercise anything that should seem like a tyranny," "by modelling the services of the congregations according to their own will, or reviving any sudden changes, or anything that should give an impression of priestly tyranny." There was, however, "no fear of superficialness now." Many, too, of the earlier difficulties had been removed. " What we then taught in words is now being taught in acts."

The Rev. W. Gresley, Vice-President, subsequently proposed, on behalf of the Council, the following resolution:--

Dr. Pusey's Eirenicon.

That this Union rejoices in the publication of Dr. Pusey's letter (the Eirenicon) to the author of The Christian Tear, and earnestly hopes and prays that God, in His own time and in His own way, will so dispose the hearts and minds of His people, that the sad divisions which now rend the seamless robe of Christ may be healed; and that the whole of Christendom may be reunited into one holy communion and fellowship, to the glory of our Lord God, and the salvation of the human race.

The meeting was rendered memorable by the excitement caused by the Rev. Archer Gurney's fervent and strongly expressed speech in favour of a modifying amendment which he proposed, and by the explanation which Dr. Pusey gave of the meaning and limits of the Eirenicon. Mr. Archer Gurney was convinced that, by adopting the motion, the Union would be committed "apparently to union with Borne on the basis of the Council of Trent." That was the meaning of the Eirenicon. The meeting vehemently expressed its dissent from Mr. Gurney's views, for whose amendment only three hands were held up, and gave Dr. Pusey a magnificent ovation when he rose to correct Mr. Gurney's misapprehension. Dr. Pusey defined his position as being, that "the Council of Trent, whatever its look may be, and our Articles, whatever their look may be, each could be so explained as to be reconcilable one with the other." He further stated that he went abroad, two or three times, in order to consult Bishops and theologians, and thus ascertain whether that which he hoped for was a dream or not. He had found that much which was popularly supposed in the Roman Church to be de fide was not de fide; and he had been assured, by a very eminent French ecclesiastic, that "if other matters are settled, the supremacy in itself"--i.e., as Dr. Pusey explained, "in the consequences involved"--"will make no difficulty." It "could easily be settled, in fact, by a Concordat."

During the session 16 new Branches were formed, raising the total to 63, whilst the ranks of the Society were increased by the accession of 1,001 new members.

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