Project Canterbury

The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



ON July 4, 1873, the Bishop of Durham (Baring) refused to license a curate to St. Oswald's, Durham, unless the Vicar, Dr. Dykes, would give a written promise that he would not require the curate (1) to wear coloured stoles; (2) to take part in or be present at the burning of incense; (3) to turn his back on the congregation during the celebration of Holy Communion. A case was stated for the opinion of counsel--the Attorney-General (Sir J. D. Coleridge), Dr. Stephens, and Mr. Bowen--and in consequence of their opinion, application was made to the Court of Queen's Bench for a rule calling upon the Bishop to show cause why a writ of mandamus should not issue against him. On Jan. 19, 1874, the Court, consisting of Mr. Justice Blackburn, Mr. Justice Quain, and Mr. Justice Archibald, decided that the Bishop had an absolute discretion as to licensing stipendiary curates, before the Subscription Act, 1865--the ninth section of which enacts that no other declaration or subscription than those required by the Act shall be required on or as a consequence of being licensed to a stipendiary curacy--and that the Act did not in any way interfere with that discretion.

The question of the position of curates was again raised by the harsh treatment of Archdeacon Denison by his Bishop (Lord Arthur Charles Hervey). A few of the Archdeacon's parishioners complained to the Bishop of certain ritualistic practices. The Bishop heard the complaint, and passed judgment on the case without any communication with the Archdeacon. When the latter refused to submit to the judgment, the Bishop withdrew the curate's licence. An appeal to the Archbishop, costing £600, which the Union helped to pay, was successful, and the licence was restored. Whereupon the Bishop refused to license a priest as curate, and at the age of 68, with three celebrations a week, the Archdeacon was left with a deacon for curate. The subject was taken in hand at the Ordinary Meeting on Dec. 16, 1873, when the following resolution was adopted:--

Licensed Curates.

That the following Memorial now in circulation to the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of "England on the subject of certain refusals to license curates be adopted by the Union.

The humble petition of the undersigned priests, deacons, and lay communicants of the Church of England,


That your Memorialists desire humbly to represent to your lordships that to create difficulties in the way of the work of our particular school in the Church as by law established, by annexing novel conditions to the licensing of curates, is not just nor equitable.

That to revoke the licence of a curate for an alleged offence in a parish church, instead of proceeding against the incumbent, is to invert the order of responsibility, and is a straining of power.

Your Memorialists therefore humbly pray your lordships to take these matters into your fatherly consideration.

With regard to the agitation against confession, which was stimulated by meetings held throughout the country, no direct action was taken by the President and Council, who confined themselves to the remark, in their December Report, "that if the practice of confession requires regulation (which some of the Bishops appear to think), those who are of that opinion would seem, to be substantially agreed with that portion of the recent petition to Convocation which has excited so much attention." The reference is to the famous petition to the Bishops for "licensed confessors." Any action by the E. C. U. would have been superfluous in view of the weighty Declaration, signed by such representative priests as, amongst others--29 in all--Canon Ashwell, Father Benson, Mr. Butler, Canon Carter, Archdeacon Churton, Archdeacon Denison, Canon King, Canon Liddon, Mr. Mackonochie, Mr. Medd, Dr. Pusey, and Mr. Randall.

In the preceding year it was known that a movement was on foot to initiate further prosecutions with a view to enforcing the Purchas judgment. In some cases the prompt and energetic steps taken by the President and Council rendered such prosecutions abortive; but in the current year it was announced that proceedings had been commenced against the Rev. C. Parnell, Vicar of St. Margaret's, Liverpool, and the Rev. John Edwards (who subsequently assumed the name of Baghot de la Bere), Vicar of Prestbury, near Cheltenham. In the Liverpool case, the Church was without any parish or district of its own, without endowment, and entirely supported by the free-will offerings of those who chose to worship there. There were no churchwardens; the congregation was drawn from all parts of Liverpool; and all the ornaments' of the church and of the minister had been given by the congregation, with the request that they might be used. The nominal prosecutor was a perfect stranger, who lived in a district of his own, where, in his own church, he could have had all the services for which he wished. Indeed, he had been present at St. Margaret's upon three occasions only.

In the Prestbury case, the Eucharistic lights were first lighted on Feb. 23, 1865, and the vestments, made and presented by the congregation, first worn on Sept. 7, 1868. The nominal prosecutor was not a communicant--not even during the first four years of Mr. Edwards's incumbency, before any changes were introduced. On the other hand, not only the congregation in particular, but the parishioners in general, were most affectionately attached to Mr. Edwards, and most indignantly resented the introduction of discord into a parish, which hitherto had been undisturbed by any friction between priest and people.

After mature consideration, the President and Council decided to undertake the defence of Mr. Parnell and Mr. Edwards, and to raise a "Special Defence Fund" for the purpose. Some division of opinion was occasioned in the Union upon the announcement of this decision, and the Cambridgeshire Branch in particular protested "that the interests of Catholic truth, as well as of consistency, are greatly compromised by a resolution to plead in causes spiritual before tribunals secular." It was argued, that it is contrary to the discipline of the Church that spiritual questions should be submitted to secular courts; that to plead before a court is necessarily to acknowledge its jurisdiction; that the present and future Courts of Appeal were essentially secular, and therefore spiritually incompetent; that it was the duty of Catholics not to recognise the competence or authority of even the so-called Ecclesiastical Courts, and therefore to abstain from pleading before them, inasmuch as these courts were now founded on Act of Parliament (3 & 4 Vict., c. 86), were bound by the decisions of the superior tribunals, and had become secularised by the allowance of appeal to the civil tribunal. On the other hand, it was urged that Mr. Parnell and Mr. Edwards had appealed to the E. C. U. for help; that the Judicial Committee, as a Court of Appeal, had been abolished, and that after November next its place would be taken by the New Supreme Court of Appeal; that the new tribunal, being a permanent court, was incapable of being packed for special cases; that it would consist of the most eminent lawyers of the day; that no Bishops would have seats on it, though they might be summoned as assessors to advise; that it was simply the State's Supreme Court for hearing appeals; that there was no inconsistency in appealing to it as a civil court, and in asking it to interfere in order to prevent injustice being done; and that, in view of the manifest blunders and contradictions of the Judicial Committee, a great opportunity was afforded of obtaining a reversal of previous decisions. The latter view prevailed, and at the Ordinary Meeting on Feb. 5, 1874, the following resolution, moved by Lord Limerick, and seconded by the Rev. T. W. Perry, was adopted by the Union:--

Special Defence Fund. The President and Council, understanding that it is intended to enforce against other clergymen, the decisions of the Privy Council in the Mackonochie and Purchas cases, have resolved to procure, if possible, a reversal of these decisions. They therefore confidently appeal to the members of the E. C. U. and others to assist them with such liberal contributions as this action on their part may require.

Subsequently, at the Annual Meeting on June 16, 1874, the following resolutions were carried unanimously:--

The Liverpool and Prestbury Prosecutions, and the Special Defence Fund.

Moved by Mr. E. Hornell, and seconded by the Rev. C. Parnell--

That the members of the E. C. U., assembled in their Annual Meeting, desire to express their hearty approval of the action of the President and Council in undertaking the defence of the incumbents and congregations of St. Margaret's, Liverpool, and St. Mary's, Prestbury, against the efforts which are being made to enforce in those churches the ruling of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in matters of ritual.

That the members of the E. C. U. learn with satisfaction that the appeal for a Defence Fund, made in accordance with the resolution adopted at the Ordinary Meeting of the Union held on Feb. 5, 1874, has met with a liberal response, and they commend it again to the hearty support of all Churchmen who wish to preserve the existing liberties of the Church of England, and that "pure worship and order which by God's grace" we "have inherited from the Primitive Church."

The contributions to the Defence Fund amounted, by June 17th, to £3,438 15s.

On April 20, 1874, the Archbishop of Canterbury (Tait) introduced into the House of Lords the Public Worship Regulation Bill, before the assembling of the new Convocation. But it soon ceased to be the Archbishop's Bill: it very soon became Lord Shaftesbury's Bill. At its introduction, it was announced that the object of the Bill was to "facilitate procedure," but an examination of its contents showed (as was afterwards avowed by the Prime Minister, under the pressure of political exigencies, and when it was evident that the Bill had secured a considerable measure of popularity in the country) that its sole object was "to put down ritualism." Some of the most mischievous provisions of the Bill were eliminated, owing, mainly, to the efforts of the Marquis of Bath, Earl Nelson, Earl Beauchamp, the Earl of Limerick, and others, before the Bill left the House of Lords--e.g., that a priest was to be held guilty of anything of which he was accused, if he did not, within eight days, deny the accusation; the provision that the Court was to consist of the Bishop and three other persons nominated by him; the provision that the Bishop, if he liked, might sit with closed doors; that any one parishioner should have the right of prosecution; that the Bishop's monition, right or wrong, should be obeyed, pendente lite.

The following Memorial was presented to both Houses of the Convocation of Canterbury--

Public Worship Regulation Act.

We, the undersigned, venture respectfully to submit to your House that a Bill has been introduced into the House of Lords by his Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, entitled the "Public Worship Regulation Bill," which not only affects the disciplinary administration of the laws ecclesiastical as regards the benefieed clergy, but also affects the rights of the laity.

Your Petitioners pray that your House will take the important questions raised in that Bill into your serious consideration before further proceedings are taken in Parliament, in order that a matter so gravely affecting the present administration of the law of the Church may be considered by both Houses of Convocation in each province; and that Parliament should not be called upon to legislate before the opinions of the clergy should be ascertained on a matter so vitally affecting their position.

The Memorial was presented in the Upper House by the Bishop of Peterborough (Magee), and in the Lower House by the Dean of St. Paul's (Church).

In consequence of a letter from the President, the Archbishop, on May 19, received an influential deputation, consisting of the President, Lord Limerick, Lord Devon, Lord Glasgow, Lord Nelson, J. A. Shaw-Stewart, Esq., L. A. Majendie, Esq., M.P., and the Revs. W. J. Butler, Canon T. T. Carter, C. F. Lowder, P. G. Medd, H. D. Mhill, and E. T. West.

It may be mentioned here that, on April 15, 1874, the Bishop of Exeter (Temple) gave judgment in the case of Archdeacon Philpotts v. the Dean and Canons of Exeter in the matter of the reredos erected in the cathedral. Two questions had been raised--(1) Whether the reredos could be legally erected without a faculty from the Bishop; (2) whether the images thereon, which were complained of, were contrary to the laws ecclesiastical. In accordance with the written opinion of his assessor, Mr. Justice Keating, the Bishop decided that it was contrary to the laws ecclesiastical to make any important alterations in the cathedral without a faculty from the Bishop, and that "the reredos, under the circumstances of its erection without a faculty, had been erected contrary to the laws ecclesiastical, and that the images upon it were also illegal and contrary to those laws." He therefore directed the Dean and Chapter to remove the "reredos with certain images thereon." The Dean and Chapter decided to appeal from this judgment to the Court of Arches.

At the Ordinary Meeting, on April 21, 1874, it was resolved, on the motion of Canon Gregory, seconded by the Rev. P. G. Medd:--

Sale of Next Presentations.

That the sale of "Next Presentations," being productive of great spiritual injury to the Church, ought to be altogether prohibited; and, further, that the statutes against Simony, having proved inadequate to restrain many abuses of Church patronage, require amendment and extension.

In the Annual Report the President and Council had occasion to congratulate the Union that the Deceased Wife's Sister and Burials Bills had not again been brought forward; that there was no possibility of the Public Worship Facilities Bill passing that session; and that the secularists had been eminently unsuccessful in carrying out their educational programme. They were of opinion that Messrs. Monk and Dickinson's Bill to alter the mode of consecration of Archbishops and Bishops should be vigorously opposed, inasmuch as, instead of restoring to the Church her just rights, it proposed entirely to abolish those rights.

During the year there were 1,069 accessions to the Union, the total number now amounting to 10,517; and one District Union, six Branches, and 13 Parochial Associations were formed.

This year the Union had to deplore the death of their lay Vice-President, Mr. Robert Brett.

The crowded and enthusiastic meeting, held at St. James's Hall on the occasion of the Anniversary of E. C. U. (June 15, 1874), and attended by delegates from all parts of the country, to protest against the passing of the P. W. E. Act, deserves record here.

The Chair was taken by the President of E. C. U., who read letters from Field-Marshal Sir Wm. Maynard Gomm, Constable of the Tower, and the Very Rev. the Dean of Chichester (Dr. Hook), expressing their fullest sympathy with the object of the meeting.

The following Resolutions were unanimously adopted, the speakers including Rev. Dr. Pusey, Rev. Canon Liddon, Rev. Berdmore Compton, and Rev. Dr. Irons, and the Ven. Archdeacon Denison:--


That this meeting does not hesitate to express its conviction that the historical, grammatical, and true interpretation of the Ornaments Rubric of the Book of Common Prayer is this--viz., that the ornaments and ritual prescribed by that rubric are those which, being previously in use in the Church of England, were not directly abrogated or modified in the second year of Edward VI. And though it admits the wise discretion and charity shown by the Church in not enforcing under existing circumstances the observance of the rubric in its integrity, it cannot, in the face of her resolve (as shown by the retention of that rubric at the revision of 1662) to maintain in principle, even with respect to externals, her own historical continuity with the pre-Reformation Church of England, accept the Purchas judgment as the law of the Church of England; or even, conflicting as it does with previous judgments of the same court, as a true and final exposition of the law of the realm.

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