Project Canterbury

The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



THE first step taken by the President and Council was to petition against the "Office of Judge in the Admiralty, Divorce, and Probate Courts' Bill," which proposed to enable the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint one or more of the judges of these Courts to sit as judge or judges in the Court of Arches; with the further provision, that should the Archbishop appoint all three, they might, by sitting together, constitute a "full court."

The announcement of the appointment of a Royal Commission on Ritual had excited the gravest apprehensions, and the President and Council at once did all in their power, not without some measure of success, to ensure that the class of Churchmen whose liberties were supposed to be threatened should have at least some representatives on the Commission. Upon the formal announcement of the constitution of the Commission, a resolution was forwarded expressing the opinion that the "Report of the Lower House of Convocation of Canterbury provided a fair basis for an adjustment of existing difficulties about vestments and other ornaments." Besides this, two Memorials were presented to the Commission--one, upon its formation, justifying several of the usages which were likely to come under consideration, and urging the examination of competent authorities--the other, at a later period, reminding the Commissioners of the important Memorial, signed by 40,000 communicants, and presented to the Primate in Feb., 1866, objecting to any alteration in the Ornaments Rubric, and of the similar Memorial presented to the House of Lords Ivy Lord Redesdale, on the occasion of the introduction of Lord Shaftesbury's Bill.

At a Special Meeting, held at Freemasons' Tavern, on Nov. 20, 1867, to consider the first Report of the Royal Commission on Ritual, the following resolution, proposed by Dr. Pusey and seconded by Mr. J. N. Bagnall, was adopted:--

First Report of the Royal Commission on Ritual.

(1) That, while holding that the vestments cannot be deemed essential to the validity of the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament, and ought not to be introduced by the clergy without the good-will of their congregations, this Union, nevertheless, believes it to be of the greatest moment to the cause of unity, to the promotion of the true faith, and to the dignity of the worship of the Most High, that all the Catholic laws and customs of the Church of England be maintained in their full integrity; and further, that any proposed alteration of existing laws by Parliament, or any proposed declaration purporting to limit the scope and meaning of existing rubrics and canons, or any proposed enactment for increasing the coercive power and authority of the ordinary, ought, in the opinion of this Union, to be resisted by Churchmen to the fullest extent of their power. (2) And that the above resolution be forwarded to the Royal Commission, by the order of, and signed by, the President and other officers of the Union, and of District Unions and Local Branches.

On the previous day a remarkable meeting was held at St. James's Hall, to protest against rubrical alterations, Earl Nelson in the chair. All the resources of the E. C. U. were placed at the disposal of Archdeacon Denison (the promoter), and a magnificent demonstration by nearly 3,000 men was the result. A Memorial, eventually signed by nearly 13,000 communicants, was adopted, addressed to the Royal Commissioners, in which it was maintained that the use of "high ceremonial" is part of the law of the Church of England, as testified to, moreover, by the interpretation of the Privy Council in the case of Liddell v. Westerton; that the revival of ceremonial which has been long in abeyance would not be effected without due regard for the feelings of the congregation, and the legal rights of the ordinary; but that to impose any other restraint upon such revival was most inexpedient, as requiring ex post facto legislation, and involving the further evil consequence of narrowing the basis of the Church of England.

A multitude of grave matters speedily demanded the attention of the Union, causing the record of the year to be remarkable beyond all others since the formation of the Union. The enumeration of the most important will show the enormous amount of work transacted. Such were the proceedings of the Royal Commission on Ritual; Bills in Parliament; the Lambeth Conference; the St. Alban's (Holborn) prosecution; the Voysey scandal, the reform of Convocation; the attempt to impugn the right of the clergy to marriage fees; a scheme for promoting a series of Lectures on Church subjects throughout the country; the establishment of an Ecclesiastical Trust; the extraordinary Address to Army Chaplains, and their general treatment by the Chaplain-General; disturbances during Divine Service; the position of Assistant-Curates; and the legal rights of Bishops in regard to the consecration of churches.

Prompt action was taken when it was understood that an attempt was being made to induce the Lambeth Conference to recognise the Scandinavian Churches. A resolution respectfully deprecating such recognition was duly presented, and a copy of Dr. Pusey's Preface to the "Sermons on Reunion" was sent to every Bishop who was likely to attend the Conference.

The Ordinary Meeting on Dec. 13, 1867, was invested with special interest by the presence of the Metropolitan of South Africa (Gray), accompanied by the Bishop of Orange River State (Twells). On the motion of the Rev. the Hon. H. Douglas, seconded by Mr. Shaw Stewart, it was resolved:--

The Colenso Case.

That this Union deeply sympathises with the Most Rev. the Metropolitan of South Africa and his comprovincial Bishops in the troubles they have had to endure in the defence of the faith in the diocese of Natal; and would strongly impress upon all Churchmen and Churchwomen the urgent necessity of providing adequate means for the support of an Orthodox Bishop in that distracted diocese.

On March 1, 1868, three Memorials were forwarded by the President to the Houses of Convocation. The first was signed by upwards of 600 clergy and laity, residing chiefly in the diocese of London, praying that immediate steps might be taken "for the formal recognition by the Convocation of this Province of both the deposition and excommunication of Dr. Colenso," and that "all sanction and encouragement" might be given "to the early consecration of a Bishop to take charge of the afflicted Church in Natal, which has now been for four years as a flock deprived of its chief Shepherd." The second Memorial was signed by the President, on behalf of the Council, on the same subject, into the details of which it entered more fully. The third Memorial drew attention to a statement contained in a letter from the Bishop of London (Tait) to the Bishop of Capetown (Gray) (Jan. 20, 1868)--viz., "That many Bishops hold that his (Dr. Colenso's) see is not vacant"; and to another statement in another letter (Feb. 6, 1868), in which his lordship said, "I cannot say I am not in communion with Bishop Colenso till I am convinced, which I am not at present, that the proceedings taken against him, which resulted in your pronouncing him excommunicate, are valid." With these the Memorial contrasted other statements, in a contrary sense, made by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Longley), and, in view of these conflicting statements, prayed that the position of the Church of England might be made clear. The action of the Lower House was entirely satisfactory, an articulus cleri being adopted, by a large majority, praying the Upper House to accept as valid the excommunication of Dr. Colenso, as well as the spiritual validity of the Bishop of Capetown's solemn act of deposition. The Upper House, however, postponed any decision until after the report of a Committee, appointed for that purpose, respecting certain difficulties alleged by the Bishops of London (Tait) and St. David's (Thirlwall), should have been received. Upon this, the President and Council prepared a long and elaborate statement, in which the force of various Acts of Parliament, relating to the temporal results of excommunication, was fully discussed, and proof given that there was no foundation for the statement that "civil penalties would follow." Communications were also addressed to several Bishops; a Memorial to the Upper House of Convocation, which received some thousands of signatures, was widely circulated; and a declaration renouncing communion with Dr. Colenso was sent to the Primate. The Declaration and Memorial were in the following terms:--

To his Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England, and Metropolitan.

May it please your Grace,

We, the undersigned clergy and lay communicants of the Church of England, having in mind that Dr. Colenso has denied that largo portions of the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, has charged our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ with error, and has denied that He is the proper object of Christian worship, hereby solemnly declare that we renounce all Christian communion with Dr. Colenso until such time as he repents of these his errors.

The Declaration received 20,150 signatures.

To his Grace the President, and their Lordships the Bishops, of the Province of Canterbury in Convocation assembled.

We, the undersigned clergy (or lay communicants) of the Church of England, feel deeply aggrieved that there should be any further delay on the part of the Church of England in accepting the spiritual validity of the sentence of deposition and excommunication pronounced upon Dr. Colenso by the Right Rev. Metropolitan of South Africa.

We believe that such delay is fraught with most serious evils, and tends to encourage the spread of scepticism and infidelity. We moreover believe that a continued postponement on the part of your Right Rev. House to accept the said sentence of deposition and excommunication will compromise the orthodoxy of the Church of England, and will consequently be dangerous to her unity and peace.

We therefore pray your Right Rev. House to accept formally and synodically the sentence of deposition and excommunication pronounced upon the said Dr. Colenso, and to declare that he is not in communion with the Church of England.

The Memorial received 14,800 signatures.

At the Ordinary Meeting on March 17, 1868, resolutions in the sense of the Memorial were adopted, and the opinion of the Union definitely expressed to the effect that nothing short of a synodical act, renouncing communion with Dr. Colenso, would meet the exigencies of the situation. This opinion took form in the following resolution:--

Synodical renunciation of Communion with Dr. Colenso.

Moved by the Rev. Orby Shipley, and seconded by Mr. Octavius Leefe--

That the present state of the Church in Natal is a grievous and intolerable scandal, affecting not merely the Province of South Africa, but the whole Anglican Communion, and in the opinion of this meeting a synodical act of the Upper House of Convocation of the Province of Canterbury renouncing the communion of Dr Colenso is imperatively demanded.

A copy of this resolution was sent to every Bishop of the Church of England.

In the case of the Voysey scandal, which was occasioned by the publication of certain sermons by an incumbent in the diocese of York, in which the inspiration of Holy Scripture, the doctrines of original sin, of the Divinity of our Lord, of eternal punishment, and of other verities of the Christian Faith were denied in unqualified terms, the Union, while adhering to its strictly defensive position, felt it to be its duty to urge the Archbishop of York (Thomson) to take proceedings against Mr. Voysey in his Consistorial Court. Memorials to the Convocations of Canterbury and York were prepared, and presented by the Bishop of Salisbury (Hamilton) and Canon Woodford (subsequently Bishop of Ely), and by the Bishop of Chester (Jacobson) and Archdeacon Churton, to the Upper and Lower Houses of the two Convocations respectively.

The need of a reform in the existing system of the representation of clergy in the Convocations of Canterbury and York, which had been brought before the Lower House, was insisted on in the following Memorial presented to the Lower House of the Province of Canterbury:--

Reform of Convocation.

That, in the opinion of your Memorialists, some steps ought to be taken towards effecting a reform in the representation of the clergy before the dissolution of the present Convocations of Canterbury and York.

That your Memorialists think that no reform in the said representation of the clergy can be deemed satisfactory, unless the number of the proctors for the parochial clergy be largely increased. That your Memorialists are of opinion that unbeneficed priests of the Church of England ought to have a vote in the election of proctors.

Your Memorialists therefore pray your Reverend House to take immediate steps to effect such a reform.

The judgment of Sir Robert Phillimore in the cases of Martin v. Mackonochie, and Flamank v. Simpson, in the Arches Court, was less favourable than had been anticipated, but its importance lay in this--that the learned Judge explicitly recognised the legal, historical, and theological identity of the Church of England, both before and after the Reformation. Five principal points were involved--viz., (1) the altar lights; (2) incense; (3) the mixed chalice; (4) elevation of the Sacrament; (5) kneeling during the Prayer of Consecration. The judgment allowed the altar-lights; disallowed the ceremonial use of incense; the mixing of the chalice during the service; and the elevation of the Sacrament above the head. The "kneeling" was declared to be a matter within the Bishop's discretion, if an "error" at all. In these suits the entire conduct of the proceedings was undertaken by the Union.

At the Ordinary Meeting, on April 21, 1868, the announcement of the resignation of the President, the Hon. Colin Lindsay, was received with profound regret. Mr. Lindsay wrote:--

It is with deep regret I am compelled to resign the office of President of the Union. For many months I have been more or less suffering from indisposition, and a sudden attack of illness some days ago has rendered me unfit for any further exertion on behalf of your Society. My medical adviser has informed me that if I continue my present work serious results may follow. Under these circumstances, and also having regard to the duty I owe to my own family, I am forced to place in your hands the post I have held so long.

The Standing Orders were at once suspended, and upon the motion of Mr. Pellew, seconded by the Earl of Limerick, the following resolution was carried:--

Resignation of the President.

That the members of the E. C. U. hereby express their great regret at the cause which compels their late President to resign the post so long and efficiently filled by him; and in offering this public testimony of their appreciation of his services, they hope his life may long be preserved, and his valuable labours continued to the glory of God and the defence of the doctrines and liberties of the Church of England.

The Chairman of the Meeting (Rev. M. W. Mayow) then announced that the Council, acting under the rule which provided for the temporary filling up of a vacancy in the officers of the Society, had unanimously and duly elected the Hon. Charles Lindley Wood to serve the office of President of the E. C. U. At the Annual Meeting, on June 16, Mr. Wood was unanimously elected President by the Society, an office which he has discharged from that day to this, of late years under the title of Viscount Halifax. At the Ordinary Meeting already referred to a resolution was passed urgently calling for additional contributions to the Defence Fund, in view of the fact that the Church Association had raised £50,000 for purposes of attack, and that appeals had been lodged by the promoters in the cases of Martin v. Mackonochie and Flamank v. Simpson.

The second Report of the Royal Commission on Ritual was discussed at the Annual Meeting. In their Report the Commissioners proposed "to restrain all variations from established usage in respect to the use of lighted candles and incense in the public services of the Church." With a view to providing a "speedy and inexpensive remedy" for aggrieved parishioners, the Commissioners proposed (1) that the use of the Church of England and Ireland for the last 300 years should be deemed to be the law of the Church with regard to vestments, lights, and incense; (2) that aggrieved parishioners might make formal application to the Bishop in camera, by whom, the immediate discontinuance of any variation should be summarily enforced. An appeal was to lie to the Archbishop in camera, whose decision should be final, save in cases in which the decision might be open to question on legal grounds, under which circumstances, a case might be stated for the decision of the Archbishop's Court, without pleading or evidence, with the right of appeal to the Queen in Council. To avoid frivolous applications, the right of application to the Bishop was to be restricted to one or more of the Wardens, or at least five resident householders, declaring themselves to be members of the Church of England, the number five, however, being reduced to at least three where the population should be less than one thousand. One third of the Commissioners dissented from the Report, and the dissentients were just those members who were most competent to express a weighty judgment. Mr. Gambier Parry and the Rev. James Skinner cut the report to pieces in singularly incisive speeches, and a lengthy resolution was adopted, in which the Union," while expressing its absolute repudiation of any desire to force unaccustomed ceremonial on unwilling congregations, and its wish to meet in a spirit of conciliation and good will any suggestions arising from the conscientious objections of others," declared that it "regards with the gravest concern the recommendations" of the majority of the Commissioners ....."believing that the principle upon which they were founded would in past times have prevented reforms now universally acquiesced in, and in the present would inevitably produce disorganization and strife throughout the country." The resolution also denounced the Report as one-sided, unjust, oppressive, and inexpedient.

The following resolution, in connection with the proposed disestablishment and disendowment of the Irish Church, was carried unanimously after a long debate, on the motion of Dr. Pusey, seconded by J. G. Talbot, Esq.:--

Disestablishment and Disendowment in Ireland.

That this Union desires to protest against the secularization of he ecclesiastical revenues of Ireland, and the diversion of religious endowments to other than religious purposes.

Fears were expressed that the existence of the Society might be imperilled by a resolution dealing with a matter which involved political considerations, no less than the question of the appoval or disapproval of the principle of disestablishment; but it was effectively pointed out that the resolution was limited to a protest against the secularization of ecclesiastical funds, and the President declared that "he as President of the Society, must disavow any approval of the principles of establishment or disestablishment."

Another important motion was adopted in the following terms:--

The Mackonochie Case.

Moved by Mr. J. Johnstone Bevan, and seconded by Mr. J. A. Shaw-Stewart--

That, in the opinion of this meeting, it is the duty of all members of the Union to make every possible exertion to raise the funds that are required for the case of Martin v. Mackouochie, &c., and those which will be necessary to defend the decision of the Arches Court before the Privy Council.

The great increase in the general business of the Society necessitated the creation of a separate department in the Office, presided over by an Accountant; the appointment of an Assistant-Secretary, and an increase in the staff of clerks. These arrangements necessitated the division into offices of the rooms at Burleigh Street, in which the Ordinary Meetings had been previously held, and the transference of these meetings to the Freemasons' Tavern.

The announcement was made, with much regret, that the Rev. E. Rhodes Bristow, to whose zeal and ability the Union was so greatly indebted, was about to retire from the office of Organizing Secretary, in consequence of the stress of additional clerical duties.

During the year 2,099 new members were elected, and one District Union, 25 local Branches, and two Associations in Union formed, bringing up the total number to three District Unions, 100 Branches, and four Associations in Union.

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