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The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



IN accordance with the authority given them to appoint an Organizing Secretary, the Council unanimously elected B. Rhodes Bristow, Esq., late Secretary of the Oxford Branch, to the office, the appointment to date from Sept. 29; and the Rev. Vernon Hutton, formerly Secretary of the Cambridgeshire Branch, accepted the office of Honorary Secretary to the Theological Library.

In consequence of the large increase of the business of the Union, it was found necessary to take the whole of the premises (with the exception of the third floor) at 11, Burleigh Street, into occupation, and consequently the tenancy of the Church Press Company came to an end on July 25.

The Bill for the abolition of Church Bates, introduced by the Government, received the active opposition of the Council, in co-operation with the Church Institution, and this joint action was materially strengthened by that of several Branches. But early in the session the subject of ritual became invested with unusual interest. Whilst the Report of the Committee of Convocation on Ritual was being awaited with some anxiety, an opinion, by eminent counsel--the Attorney-General (Sir Roundell Palmer), Sir Hugh M. Cairns, Q.C., Mr. Hellish, Q.C., and Mr. Barrow--purporting to have been given in behalf of "several Archbishops and Bishops," was suddenly published, wholly adverse to the points in question. The President and Council at once drew up a Memorial to Convocation in the following terms:--

The Ornaments Rubric, etc.

1. That your Memorialists have read with much concern an opinion obtained from eminent counsel, and purporting to be in behalf of "several Archbishops and Bishops of the United Church of England and Ireland," to the effect that the liturgical and ceremonial use of vestments, incense, and lights, in the Church of England, during the celebration of the Holy Communion, the use of wafer bread instead of common bread, the mixed cup, and the introduction of hymns before and after the Prayer of Consecration, &c., are unauthorised and illegal.

2. That your Memorialists, believing the said opinion to be erroneous, have themselves caused a case to be prepared for the opinion of eminent counsel.

3. That your Memorialists, believing "the ornaments of the Church and of the ministers thereof," as authorised by Parliament in the second year of King Edward VI., to be scriptural, primitive, canonical, and legal, it would, in their humble opinion, be a most serious grievance if the large and increasing number of communicant Churchmen, who approved of the ornaments aforesaid, should be prohibited or hindered from using the same.

4. Your Memorialists would therefore humbly pray your Right Reverend [or Reverend] House, that before deciding synodically, or otherwise, upon the several ritual points in dispute, your Right Reverend [or Reverend] House will deign to allow the undersigned to appear before your said House by counsel, or by some other competent and approved person or persons, and argue the premises. And your Memorialists will ever pray.

Signed on behalf of the Council,


These Memorials were presented by the Bishop of Oxford (Wilberforce) and Archdeacon Denison, respectively, to the two Houses, and received--in the Upper House, after discussion and some disparaging remarks by the Bishop of Ely (Browne, subsequently Bishop of Winchester), which were, however, repudiated by the Bishops of Oxford and Salisbury (Hamilton), the latter affirming that the E. C. U. included amongst its members some of the best men in the Church.

The case on behalf of the E. C. U. was prepared by the Rev. T. W. Perry, who, at the President's request, hastened from abroad, and devoted his great learning to a masterly presentation of the case. The case, thus prepared, was submitted to Her Majesty's Advocate (Sir.Robert Phillimore, Bart., Q.C.); Sir Fitzroy Kelly, Q.C. (subsequently the Lord Chief Baron); the Solicitor-General (Sir W. Bovill, Q.C., M.P., subsequently Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas); Mr. W. M. James, Q.C. (subsequently Lord Justice of Appeal); Dr. Deane, Q.C. (subsequently Vicar-General of the Province of Canterbury); Mr. J. D. Coleridge, Q.C., M.P. (subsequently Lord Chief Justice of England); Mr. C. G. Prideaux; Mr. J. Hannen (subsequently President of the Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty Division); and Professor Cutler (subsequently Professor of Law, King's College, London). Some delay took place in consequence of two of the counsel being unable immediately to give their attention to questions which, they deemed to be of too great importance to be hastily considered; but when published the opinion was felt to be of such singular weight, that not only was the charge respecting the vestments withdrawn from the ecclesiastical suit then in process of initiation, but a very strong impression was produced upon the general public, to the effect that "the Ritualists" were, after all, not without some reasonable grounds for their inculpated practices. [Counsel were unanimously in favour of the legality of the vestments; a majority pronounced for the legality of altar-lights and wafer-bread; opinions were equally balanced as to the mixed chalice, but two of the adverse opinions considered it arguable; all were adverse to the legality of censing persona and things in the course of the service.] The "Report of the Committee on Ritual" (Convocation) was of a character to cause some degree of satisfaction. It was adopted by the Lower House, and presented on June 29, 1866, to the Upper House, together with "the Judgment of the Lower House thereon." The Committee considered that the vestments prescribed in the Prayer Book of 1549, two altar lights, and incense "in a standing vessel, for the two-fold purpose of sweet fumigation and of serving as an expressive symbol," were "agreeable to the mind of the Church of England." Elevation of the elements after consecration was deemed to be inadmissible. Whilst abstaining from any statement that the presence of communicants without communicating is unlawful, they considered that this "should not be encouraged as an ordinary practice." As to the use of wafer-bread, whilst thinking "that the use of bread," such as is usual to be eaten, "is most in accordance with the mind of the Church of England," the Committee did not condemn the use of wafer-bread. The judgment of the Lower House of Convocation was thus summed up:--

That, with regard to the six points of ritual which have been specially discussed in the Report, the judgment of this House is as follows--

1. That the use in Parish Churches of the surplice is a sufficient compliance with the directions of the Church.

2. That, without pronouncing on the legality of the vestments prescribed in the First Book of King Edward the Sixth, or of altar lights, the House considers that they should not be introduced into any Parish Church without reference to the Bishop; and that a similar reference should be made with regard to the introduction of incense in the simpler manner described in the Report.

3. That the House expresses its entire disapproval of the practice of censing persons and things, and of all elevation of the elements after consecration; and considers that the presence of non-communicants, excepting in special cases, during the celebration of the Holy Communion, and the use of wafer-bread, are to be discouraged.

In a Report by the President and Council of the E. C. U. on these documents, satisfaction was expressed at the tone of the Committee's Report. They therefore acquiesced in the Report, and desired to be guided by its spirit, subject to certain comments on its construction and meaning. Whilst expressing a hope that members of the E. C. U. would do the same, they were careful to point out that the Report and judgment were to be regarded "not as dogmata, intended to define in perpetuity the law or usage of the Church of England but as being weighty opinions coming with great authority, and therefore calculated at least to be very serviceable at the present time." At the Ordinary Meeting on July 1C, 1866, the Report was adopted on the motion of the Hon. Colin Lindsay, President, seconded by Dr. Pusey.

On Feb. 13, 1867, the Upper House, having taken into consideration the Report and judgment of the Lower House, agreed to the following resolution:--

Resolved--That having taken into consideration the Report made to this House by the Lower House concerning certain ritual observances, we have concluded that, having regard to the dangers (1) of favouring errors deliberately rejected by the Church of England, and fostering a tendency to desert her communion; (2) of offending, even in things indifferent, devout worshippers in our churches, who have been long used to other modes of service, and thus of estranging many of the faithful laity; (3) of unnecessarily departing from uniformity; (4) of increasing the difficulties which prevent the return of separatists to our communion;--we convey to the Lower House our unanimous decision that, having respect to the considerations here recorded, and to the rubric concerning the service of the Church in the Book of Common Prayer, to wit--

"Forasmuch as nothing can be so plainly set forth but doubts may arise in the use and practice of the same, to appease all such diversity (if any arise), and for the resolution of all doubts concerning the manner how to understand, do, and execute the things contained in this Book, the parties that so doubt or diversely take anything shall always resort to the Bishop of the Diocese, who, by his discretion, shall take order for the quieting and appeasing of the same, so that the same order be not contrary to anything contained in this book: and if the Bishop of the Diocese be in doubt, then he may send for the resolution thereof to the Archbishop:"--

Our judgment is, that no alterations from long-sanctioned and usual ritual ought to be made in our churches until the sanction of the Bishop of the Diocese has been obtained thereto.

The terms of the resolution clearly threw no light upon the degree of acceptance, or otherwise, which the Upper House intended to proffer to the resolution of the Lower House. It might be argued, on the one hand, that the Upper House neither adopted the principles nor accepted the conclusions of the Lower House; on the other hand, it seemed to be implied that "alterations" were permissible with the sanction of the Bishop. The Lower House, therefore, with great prudence, rejected, by 34 to 28, the "Reasons" of the Upper House; negatived, by 33 to 20, a proposal to restore the passage touching "resort to the Bishop of the Diocese," quoted by the Upper House; adopted, by 47 to 3, only the words of the Bishops' judgment; and, in the issue, passed the following resolution, instead of giving the "concurrence" for which the Upper House had asked:--

That this House, having respect to the ritual observances treated of in the Report presented to this House on the 26th of June, 1866, do concur in the judgment of the Upper House--viz., That no alterations from long-sanctioned and usual ritual ought to be made in our churches until the sanction of the Bishop of the Diocese has been obtained thereto.

It being quite impossible, therefore, to ascertain the exact position of the subject in Convocation, five lengthy resolutions were put forth by the President and Council, and adopted at the Ordinary Meeting on April 21, 1867, upon the motion of Dr. Pusey, seconded by Dr. Meadows. The gist of the resolutions was that the Union accepted the resolution of Convocation, as interpreted by the Council--viz., that the intention was "not to suppress, but to regulate, in accordance with the Report and judgment of the Lower House, the 'ritual observances' discussed in that Report."

In this connection consultative meetings of clergy were held in London, with the result that an all but unanimous agreement was arrived at to suspend the use of the observances in question, so far as Convocation had expressed a decided disapproval.

A number of other important matters occupied the attention of the Union. A Petition to the House of Lords against Lord Shaftesbury's Vestments Bill was presented, with the signatures of some 10,000 communicants. An address was presented to the Bishop of Salisbury (Hamilton), signed by 3,000 clergy and communicants (men), including leading statesmen and ecclesiastics, thanking him for having boldly rebuked one of his clergy who had openly depraved the doctrine of the priesthood. A Petition was presented to the House of Lords on the subject of the increase of the Episcopate, and of the amendment of the mode of election--the latter point, moreover, being argued at length in a Memorial presented to the Prime Minister. Petitions to Parliament, and a Declaration to the Archbishop of Canterbury respecting the unsatisfactory constitution of the Court of Appeal, were circulated for signature. Action was taken in opposition to the scheme for the secularization of the Universities, and further petitions presented to the Houses of Convocation, praying them to take steps to redress the anomalous position of the unbeneficed clergy. The refusal of the Bishop of Durham (Baring) to confirm some thirty candidates, on the ground that they had not reached the age of fifteen, was dealt with by a respectful Memorial to the Bishop from the parents of the candidates; and upon his Lordship's repeated refusal to confirm, it was contemplated to take further steps, upon the opinion of the Queen's Advocate that the Bishop's action was unlawful. Uncontrollable circumstances, however, intervened.

The attention of the Union was also given to the Colonial Bishops' Bill, the Compulsory Abolition of Church Rates Bill, the alteration of the Poor Law, Good Friday observance, and many other subjects. Very many applications for counsel, protection, and advice were satisfactorily dealt with.

This year was notable, in the history of the Church, for the commencement of the suit against the Rev. A. H. Mackonochie for alleged ritual excesses at St. Alban's, Holborn.

At the Annual Meeting, July 19th, 1867, the following resolutions, amongst others, were adopted:--

Alteration of the Prayer Book.

Proposed by Dr. Pusey; seconded by Sir Edmund Lechmere, Bart., M.P.--

1. That, haying regard to the issuing of a Royal Commission on the Prayer Book, it is the opinion of the Union that it would be contrary to the principles of the Catholic Church, and the rights and liberties of the Church of England, and in contravention of the constitution of this kingdom, to effect any changes or alteration in the rubrics or any other portion of the Book of Common Prayer, or in the laws and ordinances of the Church, without the previous advice and consent of the Sacred Synod of this nation.

Mackonochie Case.

Proposed by the Hon. C. L. Wood; seconded by the Rev. M. W. Mayow--

2. That litigation having commenced against the Incumbent of St. Alban's, Holborn, on account of certain ritual practices alleged to be illegal, it is, in the opinion of this Union, the duty of Churchmen to contribute to the E. C. U. Defence Fund, in order that the arguments in favour of what is believed to be the law may be so presented to the Court as to enable it to pronounce a sound and righteous judgment.

In his speech Dr. Pusey toot the opportunity of repudiating the distinction which Lord Shaftesbury had drawn, in the House of Lords, between "the old Tractarian party" and "the Ritualists." He allowed that there was "a difference formerly, as a matter of judgment." Twenty-five years ago he and Dr. Newman were concerned in preventing a chasuble being worn, because they were afraid of sacred things becoming a matter of form, of congregations being divided, of the discussion becoming one of a mere question of externals. This was done as a matter of prudence: "in matters of faith there has not been the slightest difference. The sole practical question between us and the Ritualists was, that we taught through the ear, and they taught also through the eye.....But, however, I may say, persecution... has had the effect of drawing together those who before were taking their own separate line--we teaching orally, the Ritualists teaching by sight."

During the year 1,470 persons joined the Union; whilst 24 new Local Branches and two District Unions were formed.

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