Project Canterbury

The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



ON July 23, 1870, the Dean of Arches delivered judgment in the Bennett case. This was indisputably one of the most learned and masterly judgments ever delivered in an ecclesiastical court, and was fortified with a mass of documentary evidence bearing on the Real Presence and Eucharistic Sacrifice. The learned Judge commented severely on the language employed by Mr. Bennett in the first edition of his pamphlet, as well as the ungracious way in which the retractation was made. The sentence ran thus:--

With respect to the second and corrected edition of his pamphlet, and the other work for which he is articled, I say that the Objective, Actual, and Real Presence, or the Spiritual, Real Presence, a Presence external to the act of the communicant, appears to me to be the doctrine which the formularies of our Church, duly considered and construed so as to be harmonious, intended to maintain.....With respect to the other charges--namely, those relating to Sacrifice and worship--I pronounce that Mr. Bennett has not exceeded the liberty which the law allows upon these subjects.

I make no order as to costs.

By a decree of suspension, dated 25 November, 1870, the Judicial Committee suspended Mr. Mackonochie for three months "from the discharge and execution of all the functions of his clerical office--that is to say, from preaching the Word of God and administering the Sacraments, and performing all other duties of such his clerical office," on the ground that he "had not obeyed" the monition dated 19 Jan., 1869--viz., "in not having abstained from the elevation of the paten during the Prayer of Consecration in the Order of the Administration )f the Holy Communion, and from prostrating himself oefore the consecrated elements during the Prayer of Consecration." Mr. Mackonochie pleaded that he had literally obeyed the monition; that neither paten nor cup had been elevated above the head during the Prayer of Consecration; and that he and his curates had only bowed, without bending the knee, at the part of the Prayer of Consecration where he had previously knelt. These statements were confirmed by the affidavits of the three assistant clergy, and by the affidavits of the two churchwardens and of one member of the choir. The Court, however, decided, upon the sworn evidence of the three paid informers--paid, as stated in the "Bill of Costs," at the rate of two guineas per diem--that "the officiating clergyman unconsciously and unintentionally elevated the wafer and the cup to the extent mentioned in the affidavits"; that "the posture [i.e., a "low bow"] assumed and maintained for some seconds by Mr. Mackonochie" was "a humble prostration of the body in reverence and adoration"; and that "the charge against Mr. Mackonochie of sanctioning prostration before the consecrated elements is therefore fully proved."

Not only was the deepest indignation excited by this treatment meted out to Mr. Mackonochie, but it was very generally felt that the limits of forbearance had been reached, when a purely civil Court proceeded to suspend a priest a sacris. Branch after Branch urged that Mr. Mackonochie should disregard the decree of suspension. The President and Council, later on, in the Annual Report, went so far as to say that "the authority" of the Judicial Committee was "one which, however its decisions may be complied with for the sake of expediency, cannot in foro conscientiae command the obedience or the assent of members of the Church," and further that "such interference is hard to bear, and it has long been borne patiently, but it seems now to be on the verge of reaching a point of oppression where resistance is more than justifiable, and obedience becomes almost impossible."

Mr. Mackonochie had, however, at once submitted to the suspension.

At the Ordinary Meeting on Dec. 13,1870, a Memorial to Mr. Mackonochie was adopted in the following terms:--

The Suspension of Mr. Mackonochie by the Privy Council.

We, the members of the English Church. Union, desire to express our deep concern at the distress and trouble which, through the recent sentence of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, has fallen upon the parish and church of St. Alban, of which you are the incumbent and pastor.

We protest in the most emphatic manner against your suspension, by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, from the exercise of those spiritual powers which were conferred upon you by the Divine authority of the Episcopate, and we pledge ourselves to use all possible means to recover for the Church of England that power of determining spiritual causes which is her inherent right.

The following addition, proposed by the Rev. Orby Shipley, and seconded by the Rev. E. L. Blenkinsopp, was rejected by 114 votes to 105:--

We earnestly beg of you (Mr. Mackonochie) never again to appear as a spiritual person before the same Court, and we pledge ourselves to support you to the utmost of our ability in taking the consequences-

A Memorial to Convocation was also circulated for signature, in which it was stated that a power has been gradually assumed by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, on behalf of the Crown, to try purely spiritual issues, and to give final decisions in questions of Faith and doctrine; that, as admitted by Bishop Blomfield and Lord Brougham, the Committee was "formed without the expectation of ecclesiastical questions being brought before it," and that "the contingency of doctrinal appeals came into no one's mind"; whereas "the said Court has recently proceeded to the extent of usurping spiritual authority by decreeing the suspension of a priest." Having stated these amongst other principles, the Memorial concluded--

"Now, therefore, we, your Petitioners, feel in conscience constrained to declare that we are unable, consistently with our duty to God and the Church, to acknowledge the authority in spiritual matters of the said Judicial Committee; and we humbly pray your lordships of the Upper, and the reverend the clergy of the Lower House, to shield the Church from the unconstitutional interference of the civil power in questions belonging to the spiritual jurisdiction."

The following resolution was adopted at the Ordinary Meeting on Feb. 13, 1871:--

Afternoon and Evening Communion.

Moved by the Rev. R. Rhodes Bristow, and seconded by the Rev. the Hon. H. Douglas--

That this meeting expresses its deep regret at the increasing number of churches throughout the country in which the Holy Communion is celebrated in the afternoon and evening, and requests the President and Council to take such steps as may seem to them expedient to bring an innovation unknown to any other branch of the Church Catholic before the attention of the Bishops.

On Feb. 24, 1871, the judgment of the Judicial Committee in the Purchas case was delivered. After the death of Colonel Elphinstone, the Judicial Committee, upon a petition to the Queen in Council, allowed Mr. Hebbert to revive the appeal by his substitution as a new promoter. This decision was given on July 14,1870, and the case was argued upon the merits on Nov. 18 and 19. Mr. Purchas, by letter, informed the Court that he could not afford to defend himself by counsel, and that the state of his health prevented him from arguing his own case. The Court delivered its judgment on Feb. 23, 1871, and reversed the decision of the Arches Court, in the defendant's favour, on all but two points--viz., the alleged provision of holy water, and the wearing or carrying a biretta. The principal points condemned were--(1) The Eucharistic vestments; (2) the Eastward Position; (3) wafer-bread; (4) mixed chalice. A Monition followed in due course. The result of the judgment was to ally a number of influential persons with the E. C. U., and hence resulted the famous "Remonstrance," which was signed by upwards of 5,000 of the clergy.

Certain "Strictures" on the judgment were also prepared, and copies sent to every Bishop, to all the Privy Councillors, and to every clergyman of the Church of England. These "Strictures" were of the greatest service in pointing out the historical and other errors of the judgment.

The terrible sacrilegious communion, in Henry VII.'s chapel at Westminster, of Mr. Vance Smith, a Unitarian, and a member of the New Testament Revision Committee, excited the most profound horror and indignation. A letter, dated June 29, 1870, was at once addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury by the President, on behalf of the E. C. U., respectfully seeking an assurance from the Archbishop that such a scandal could "in no degree claim the sanction of your Grace." The Archbishop replied that he had not been "consulted by the Ordinary of Westminster Abbey," but expressed the opinion: "I scarcely think it would have been right to repel, as you seem to desire, any individual who was willing so to join, and who had been thought fit to take part in the great religious work of revising the present version of the Holy Scriptures." The subject was discussed in the Upper House of Convocation on July 8. The language of the Bishops, no less than that of the Archbishop, was most unsatisfactory. Many of them practically defended the act; not one of those who were present at the sacrilegious act rose in his place, in Convocation, to denounce it. The defence was that it had been resolved to begin the work of revision with an administration of the Holy Communion. Notice was sent to all, and it was left to each to decide "whether he could conscientiously draw near to the Holy Table and join in the service by which our Lord and Master is adored." Such was his Grace's answer to the Memorial presented by Canon Carter, and bearing the signature of upwards of 1,500 of the clergy. His Grace added that he did "not understand the frame of mind which would lead a teacher of religion at once to protest against the Nicene Creed, and at the same time to join in a solemn service of which that creed and its doctrines form, from the beginning to the end of the service, so prominent a part." Nor could his Grace "understand anyone feeling it right to invite to our Communion Service a teacher of the Unitarian body which so protests." His Grace was, however, of opinion that "no such personal invitation was given."

On Sept. 4 the President forwarded to the Archbishop the following Memorial, signed by 3,060 lay communicants (men):--

The Sacrilegious Communion at Westminster Abbey.

We, the undersigned lay communicants, venture to address your Grace in reference to the recent celebration of Holy Communion in Westminster Abbey on the 22nd of June last.

Without entering into the circumstances of that service itself, we most earnestly trust that, your Grace may be pleased to take some stops to allay the deep feeling of pain and anxiety caused by the inference, which may be drawn from that service, that it is consistent with the mind and rules of the Church of England that Holy Communion should be knowingly administered to those who deliberately reject her authority and the doctrinal statements of her formularies.

At the Annual Meeting, on June 18, 1871, the three following resolutions were adopted:--

Church and State.

Proposed by Lord Eliot, and seconded by the Hon. H. Walpole, and carried as amended, upon the motion of Mr. Woodroffe, supported by Dr. Littledale--

That the continuance of the union of Church and State will be seriously endangered unless the inherent right of the Church of England, as a spiritual community, to declare and to determine all matters and things affecting her doctrine and discipline, as the same is set forth in the statute 24 Henry VIII., c. 12, and acted upon with more or less regularity from the days of the Heptarchy to the present time, be recognised by the State as one of the fundamental principles upon which that union has been based.

That a secular court, such as is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, assuming to interpret finally, and for the whole Church, points of doctrine, or of discipline and ritual involving doctrine, is already a breach of this principle, and threatens to lead to consequences which must end in the disestablishment of the Church.

That the enactment of any law pretending to bind the Church on matters touching doctrine, discipline, or ritual by the Sovereign and Parliament alone, without the consent of Convocation had and acknowledged, would be another, and even more serious, breach of this principle, which cannot but lead to the same national misfortune.

Parochial Councils Bill.

Proposed by Rev. E. S. Grindle, and seconded by the Rev. T. Outram Marshall--

That in the opinion of this Union it would be fraught with great danger to the peace of the Church to set on foot Parochial Councils with legal powers, and that instead thereof vigorous efforts should be made to restore a complete system of synodical action in every diocese in England.

Burials Bill (Petition to House of Lords). Proposed by Mr. E. Brett, and seconded by the Rev. F. H. Murray--

That your Petitioners desire to represent to your Right Hon.

The proposed Parochial Councils thus condemned by the Union were Councils of Parishioners, irrespective of their religious belief, to be appointed by Parliament for the control of the ecclesiastical and spiritual affairs of the parish. They had nothing in common with the "Parish Councils" created by Parliament in 1894.

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 for 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.

Lord Sandon's Parochial Councils Bill, under the specious guise of securing the co-operation of the laity, was in reality wholly contrary to ecclesiastical principles. In the first place, it proposed to make the parish priest the slave of the majority of the ratepayers, instead of the "overseer over the flock"; and, in the second place, it was an utterly impracticable measure. The President and Council were not slow also to point out that "the Bill under consideration is one of those important measures affecting the Church which have been originated in the secular Parliament without any regard to the constitutional rights of Convocation."

With respect to the Burials Bill, the President and Council, whilst seeing no objection to the interment of Dissenters without the Burial Service of the Church of England, felt strongly that the right to perform services other than those of the Church in her own consecrated ground could not be granted.

By adopting the Report in which these views were embodied, the Union accepted them as their own.

During the year 1,134 communicants joined the Union; four District Unions, eleven Branches, and seven Parochial Associations were formed.

It was also announced in the Annual Report that, on the recommendation of a Committee appointed to consider the subject, the system of Organising Secretaries had been reconstructed, and that from the 1st of August the number would be reduced to two, of whom the one would be resident in London, and the other in the country.

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