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The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



The nomination of Dr. Temple to the See of Exeter caused the gravest concern. Dr. Pusey himself wrote:--"If this appointment is to take place under the sanction of the civil power, there will be nothing left but openly to contend, directly and immediately, for the dissolution of Church and State." At the time, the alarm was fully justified. Dr. Temple had contributed an essay to the volume entitled Essays and Reviews, a volume which had been condemned by the synodical judgment of the Convocation of Canterbury, as "containing teaching contrary to the doctrine received by the United Church of England and Ireland, in common with the whole Catholic Church of Christ." His own essay, indeed, was deemed to be the least objectionable part of the book, but Dr. Temple never withdrew it, nor did he express any disapproval of the opinions of his co-essayists.

The greatest activity was soon apparent throughout the Union, resolutions and protests, some addressed directly to Dr. Temple, pouring in from every quarter. A large and influential Committee was subsequently formed, to deal generally with the unsatisfactory method of appointing and electing Bishops, with the result that a Bill was drafted, in concert with a Committee of the Church Institution, with a view to its ultimate introduction in Parliament.

At the Ordinary Meeting on Feb. 15, an elaborate Report on the Wix and Purchas judgments in the Court of Arches was adopted. The cases of Sumner v. Wix and Elphinstone v. Purchas were adjudicated upon in the Arches Court of Canterbury on Feb. 3, 1870. Nearly every possible point of ritual was assailed, and it was very generally known that the suits were promoted or encouraged by the Church Association. In view of the principle laid down by the Privy Council in the Mackonochie case, and of the fact that the Judge of the Arches Court would be greatly restricted by the dicta of the Privy Council, the President and Council felt it would be hopeless to make any successful defence, and they accordingly decided not to assist in any defence which might be made. Mr. Wix and Mr. Purchas fully concurred in this view. Mr. Purchas did not appear before the Court, but Mr. Wix, who subsequently announced his intention of obeying the decree of the Judge, thought it right to defend himself. The Judge condemned no less than 29 points of ritual, including, amongst others, processions, altar-lights, incense, mixed chalice (the mixture being made during the service), elevation, genuflexions, the Agnus Dei, sign of the Cross, copes, albs, dalmatics, maniples, and metal Crucifix. He allowed the legality of cope, chasuble, biretta, wafer bread, mixed chalice (if mixed before the service), vases of flowers, and Eastward Position. In view of the inconsistency of the Privy Council in the judgments re Liddell v. Westerton in 1857, and Martin v. Mackonochie in 1868, and the possibility of the whole aspect of the question being varied upon appeal, the President and Council deemed it "safest at present to make no changes"; and whilst not desiring to "suggest or encourage a departure from that disposition to defer to legal decisions which is ordinarily characteristic of Englishmen, and especially of English Churchmen," they recognised the force of the plea of those who maintained that, if one party in the Church declined to accept the interpretation of the Privy Council on the Eastward Position, on the plea that this was only an obiter dictum, the other party might well claim to exercise a similar latitude of practice in respect to mere reasonings which declared an "inert" candle to be a lawful ornament, but a lighted taper an illegal ceremony. The promoter subsequently gave notice of appeal on the following points:--(1) The use of the mixed chalice, (2) the Eastward Position during the Consecration Prayer, (3) the use of wafer-bread, (4) the (so-called) provision of holy water, (5) the vestments, (6) the biretta, and (7) the costs, as to those points on which Mr. Purchas was not condemned. Meanwhile, Col. Elphinsbone, the nominal promoter of the suit, died; but it was intimated that an endeavour-would be made co obtain the consent of the Judicial Committee to the substitution of a new promoter.

The case of Sheppard v. Bennett was advanced a stage. It first came before the Judge of the Arches Court on the question of the discretion of the Judge to accept or refuse Letters of Bequest from the defendant's Bishop. The Letters of Bequest having been accepted, in accordance with the decision of the Judicial Committee, the admission of the Articles was moved on Oct. 26, 1869, and, on Oct. 30, the Judge directed the articles to be reformed by the omission of certain crude and indefensible expressions which appeared in the first edition of the pamphlet, but which were subsequently withdrawn, and others, suggested by Dr. Pusey, substituted in their stead. Mr. Bennett had written; (1) "The real, actual, and visible Presence of the Lord upon the altars of our churches," for which he substituted "the real, actual Presence of Our Lord, under the form of bread and wine, upon the altars of our churches;" and (2) "who myself adore, and teach the people to adore, the consecrated Elements, believing Christ to be in them," for which he substituted the words--"who myself adore, and teach the people to adore, Christ present in the Elements under the form of bread and wine." The italics here added will emphasise the changes.

From the Judge's direction the promoter appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, by whom the judgment of the Arches Court was affirmed on March 26, 1870; and on April 8 the cause was duly remitted to the Judge by Order in Council. Some delay ensued in consequence of an attempt to procure from the Bishop of Bath and Wells further Letters of Bequest for a fresh charge, and it was only on June 3, after the Judge in open Court had commented on the delay, and stated that it was the established practice of the Court to dismiss a suit when not conducted with all reasonable expedition, that the prosecution of the suit was resumed. The final hearing of the case on the merits took place on June 10, 17, and 18, and judgment was delivered on July 23.

In the conclusion of the Annual Report the President and Council, with evident reference to this case, impressively urged the necessity of "drawing together, in an intimate bond of union, such as this Society affords, that great mass of Churchmen who acknowledge the intense importance of the duty of preserving unimpaired the great verities of the Catholic faith."

The appointment of two Suffragan Bishops was received with satisfaction, and at the Ordinary Meeting on Feb. 15th it was resolved:--

Appointment of Suffragan Bishops.

Moved by the Rev. W. M. Mayow, and seconded by the Rev. E. T. West--That this Union, having in mind the urgent need of a large extension of the Episcopate and a sub-division of the existing Sees, desires to record its thankfulness that the Bishops of the Church have taken the first step in this direction by the appointment of Suffragans.

At the same time a Committee was appointed "for the purpose of furthering the reunion of the Greek and Anglican Churches."

On March 19 an address was presented to the Archbishop of Syra and Tenedos, then in England, on behalf of the E.C.U., at the Freemasons' Tavern. In the address, which was read by the President, "the need of reunion in the face of common dangers" was emphasized; the sentiment expressed that the visit of his Holiness was "a providential step towards that consummation"; and a hope conveyed that the friendly letter from the Patriarch of Constantinople to the Primate might "prove to be the beginning of a closer intercourse between us and that most venerable Orthodox Eastern Church of which he is the chief Hierarch." His Holiness replied in the most friendly terms, expressing his gratitude "for the sincere love and the reverence" which had been manifested to him during his sojourn in England. Above all, he had seen with joy "the earnestness, well-pleasing to God, with which your Society is unremittingly working for the accomplishment of that Divine word--'That all may be one' . . . . . and, in fine, I will leave nothing undone, beloved brothers in Christ, to bring to a happy accomplishment, so far as in me lies, the truly Evangelical and God-approved design which your Society is pursuing."

A Memorial on the subject of the Athanasian Creed was presented to the Archbishops, signed by upwards of 320 clergy and 1,000 lay communicants, in the following terms:--

The Athanasian Creed.

May it please your Graces--

We, the undersigned, beg to state that we understand y our Graces, by the public acknowledgments you have respectively made in reply to a petition for "relief" (so-called) to certain clergymen in the use of the Athanasian Creed, to invite a more general expression of opinion on a subject of such vital importance.

Of the proposals submitted to your Graces we are of opinion that either to use the Creed less frequently in the Church Service than at present, or to render its use in any case optional, or to omit the mis-termed damnatory clauses, would be fraught with danger to thee best interests of the Church.

Any of these expedients would be a grave injury to the maintenance of the dogmatic principle in the Church of England in its relation to the most central truths of faith, and a new and severe shock would be given to the confidence of many of her most attached members in her claim to teach unfalteringly the faith once delivered to the Saints.

If we do not suggest the insertion of an explanation of the real force of the most solemn warnings of the Creed, this is because we apprehend that every well-instructed Christian must understand them to apply only to those whom God knows to have enjoyed full opportunities for attaining faith in the perfect Truth, and to have deliberately rejected it.

In the interests of the future cohesion of the Church of England, we earnestly beg your Graces not to sanction any tampering with an essential portion of the Book of Common Prayer, in which, under God, we still recognize our most powerful bond of unity.

The exigencies of a limited time permitted only a brief period for circulating this Memorial, during which it was signed by influential Churchmen, and there was every reason to believe that the action of the President and Council was not without fruit.

Important Petitions and Memorials were also circulated and extensively signed for presentation to Parliament and Convocation. The Petition to the House of Commons on the Burials Bill ran thus:--

Burials Bill.

That your Petitioners desire to represent to your Honourable House, that from time immemorial churchyards and graveyards attached to the several churches and chapels, parochial or other, have been consecrated and set apart for the burial of the dead according to the rites of the Church of England, and none other.

Therefore, that to allow the performance within such churchyards or graveyards of any service other than that of the Church of England, would be a violation of principle, and an infringement of the rights of Churchmen.

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

Another Petition was presented to the House of Commons on the Education Bill, requesting Parliament, whilst making the most complete provision for the education of the country, "not to allow the liberty of religious teaching in elementary schools to be interfered with"--the provision for the withdrawal of children, by their parents, from any teaching objected to being accepted. The Petition also contained a prayer that existing schools "shall have a right to claim some fixed portion of such rate [viz., education-rate] towards providing for the cost of the children in their schools." The following is the Memorial to Convocation on the Present Aspect of the Ritual Question.

Your Memorialists are anxious to draw the attention of your Right Reverend House to the recent decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the Dean of Arches in interpreting the ritual law of the Church of England.

It appears to your Memorialists that those decisions are contradictory to one another, and in some points at least are contrary to long-established custom, so that any attempt to enforce them will be fraught with danger to the best interests of the Church of England.

They submit that the present time is peculiarly unfitted for endeavouring to compel a rigid uniformity, founded upon the hypothesis that the Prayer Book contains an exhaustive rule for the performance of Divine Service.

Your Memorialists are further anxious to state that, whilst they distinctly repudiate any desire of seeing an unaccustomed ritual imposed upon unwilling congregations, they protest against any legislation, or any interpretation of the law, that is not, if a principle of uniformity is adopted, to be enforced upon all alike.

In conclusion, your Memorialists would suggest that the basis of an agreement upon these matters may be found in the Report issued by a Committee of the Lower House of Convocation of Canterbury, upon the subject of ritual, in June, 1866; and they therefore pray your Right Reverend House, in accordance with the spirit of that Report, to resist any attempts that may be made to curtail existing liberties, and to preserve the latitude which has hitherto been enjoyed in matters of ritual, in generous consideration for the habits and feelings of different congregations.

Another lengthy Memorial was prepared, to be presented to Convocation at its next meeting, on the Court of Final Appeal, in which some of the principal causes of dissatisfaction with its present constitution were stated--e.g., that the representation of the spiritualty adds no real weight to its decisions, whilst giving an unreal appearance of spiritual authority; that the selection of each Court rests in the hands of the Ministry of the day; that the members are unversed in ecclesiastical law and practice; that the functions of the Court have been diverted from their original object of protecting an accused clerk from a possible miscarriage of justice in the ecclesiastical Courts, and have been invoked to punish those whom their ordinaries have thought not guilty of any ecclesiastical offence; that there is, consequently, a widespread and grave distrust, both of the competence and impartiality of the Court, tending to lessen its weight, and to bring the authority of the Crown into disrepute. It was therefore suggested that the Archbishops and Bishops should cease to be members of the Court; that appeals should only be entertained on the complaint of the defendant; and that assessors learned in ecclesiastical law and practice should be procured.

At the Ordinary Meeting on March 29, 1870, the Petition to Parliament on Education, summarised above, was approved, and the whole subject debated at length. At the close of the discussion, a long conversation arose on the subject of the Woodard Schools, and upon the suggestion of the Chairman (E. Brett, Esq.)--the President being detained by a severe domestic affliction--the meeting passed with hearty acclamation the following resolution:--

The Woodard Schools.

That the system of education originated by Mr. Woodard, and the schools he has established, deserve the hearty support of the E. C. U.

On Sept. 1,1869, it was officially announced that the President and Council had appointed Sir Charles L. Young, Bart., to the office of Secretary of the Union, and in May, 1870, the number of District Organizing Secretaries was increased to four, the Rev. E. C. L. Blenkinsopp (Rector of Springthorpe, Gainsborough), being appointed for the Midland district.

At the Annual Meeting on June 21, 1870, the following resolutions were adopted:--

Education Question.

Moved by Mr. J. G. Hubbard, and seconded by Canon Gregory--

That the Members of this Union, yielding to none in their desire for the education of the whole population of this country, would readily acquiesce in any necessary provisions for securing the liberty of parents to withdraw their children from teaching to which they object; but they are convinced that a time-table, affecting the whole course of school instruction, ought not, as a condition of grants, to be made subject to the approval of the Education Department; and, further, they protest against any attempt to interfere with distinct religious teaching, through Catechism or formularies, to those who desire to receive it.

Burials Bill.

Moved by Mr. Gambier Parry, and seconded by the Rev. the Hon. H. Douglas--

That the Bill now before Parliament to alter the Burial laws, and to permit within churchyards, consecrated and set apart for the use of the Church of England, the performance of rites other than those of that Church, is an infringement of the rights of the Church of Christ, and the admission of a principle which, if carried out to its conclusion, would throw open churches as well as churchyards to all the parishioners, whatever their creed or religious profession.

Deceased Wife's Sister Bill.

Moved by the Rev. the Hon. E. Liddell, and seconded by Mr. E. Brett--

That the proposed alteration of the law in order to legalise marriage with a deceased wife's sister demands the combined and strenuous opposition of all who are unwilling to see the lawfulness of every marriage within the prohibited degrees on the side of affinity discussed and admitted.

It was also resolved that the Memorial in reference to the Athanasian Creed, which, in the earlier part of the year, had been presented to the two Archbishops, should, be now put in circulation for general signature.

During the year 1,210 new members were enrolled and 17 new Branches formed.

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