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The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



THE Appeal in the Exeter Reredos Case came before the Court of Arches on July 3, 1874, when the Court decided that it had jurisdiction to hear the case, the defendant having argued that the appeal should have been sent to the Official Principal, not to the Archbishop in person or his Vicar-Genera1, On August 6, judgment was given on the merits, and the sentence of the Bishop, ordering the removal of the Reredos, was reversed. The case was then taken on appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, who gave judgment on Feb. 25, 1875, affirming the decree of the Dean of Arches in regard to the legality of the Reredos and the figures thereon. The Reredos therefore was allowed to remain in the Cathedral, a result on which the President and Council tendered their congratulations to the Dean and Chapter.

This year the Public Worship Regulation Act was passed. It endured many vicissitudes, and underwent many alterations in its passage through Parliament, so much so that the only leading feature of the Bill, as introduced, which survived, was that of separating offences connected with the conduct of Divine Service from the general class of ecclesiastical offences, and the creation of a special tribunal and procedure. The Lower House of Canterbury reported against the Bill. Lord Shaftesbury succeeded in substantially carrying a set of amendments, which ousted all the more important provisions of the original Bill.

The secret history of the second reading in the Commons deserves a permanent record in these pages. It was originally made public by Archdeacon Denison, in "Notes of my Life," and the Archdeacon vouches that he heard it, "one afternoon at Plymouth, October, 1876, from the lips of the man to whom the Archbishop of Canterbury (Tait) told it." It is as follows--

"The morning of the day of second reading," said the Archbishop, "I got a note from the Prime Minister [Mr. Disraeli] to say that Government could not let the Bill go on."

"What did you do?" I said.

"I got into a Hansom cab, and went to Sir William Harcourt. I knew that a great many Conservatives would not lose the Bill if they could help it; and that, if Sir William and his men know what the position was, they and these Conservatives together were strong enough to make the Minister alter his hand. So I got into n cab, and went to Sir William Harcourt. At 4 p.m. the Minister went to the House, having left his Cabinet with the understanding that he was going to do as stated in his letter to me, and, we must suppose, thinking so himself. But when he got into the House, he saw at once that the coalition was there in strength; changed his hand, made his speech, and the second reading was carried."

"Well," I said, "Archbishop, rather strong for the Archbishop of Canterbury, that coup of yours, about Hansom cab and Sir William Harcourt."

"Oh," he said, "if I hadn't done it the Bill was lost."

During the Meeting of the Church Congress at Brighton, in October, 1874, special meetings of the clergy and laity were held, at which the following resolutions were agreed to:--The Constitutional Rights of Convocation with reference to Civil Legislation in Spiritual Matters. That inasmuch as Convocation is "the Church of England by representation," we desire to express our solemn conviction that no action in spiritual matters affecting the Church can be legitimately taken by Parliament without the previous recommendation and subsequent assent of Convocation.

Revision, of the Prayer Book.

That, in the revision or explanation of the rubrics now under consideration of Convocation, the integrity of the Prayer Book as it is now should be maintained, according to the settlement of 1662.

"Upon this, the President and Council circulated the following Petition to Convocation among the members of the Union, and a large number of other Churchmen, urging them to obtain the signatures of communicants:--

We, the undersigned [clergy or lay communicants] of the Church of England, earnestly pray that your [.........] House, in its deliberations under the Royal Letters of Business, will maintain the integrity of the Book of Common Prayer as settled in 1662; and, further, that, in any explanations which you may deem it needful to propose touching the rubrics of the said Book, provision be made for the retention of such ornaments of the Church and of the ministers thereof as were prescribed by and used under the Prayer Book of 1549, and which your Petitioners humbly represent are, in their judgment, lawful under the present Act of Uniformity. At the same time, your Petitioners strongly deprecate the enforcement of things which have been long in abeyance upon unwilling clergy and congregations.

The Petition was presented to the Upper House by the Bishop of Lincoln (Wordsworth), and to the Lower House by Canon Gregory, in April, 1874, signed by 3,860 clergy, and 71,250 lay communicants--total, 75,110. Many other similar Petitions were likewise presented, bringing the grand total up to 78,659 signatures. Commenting upon these Petitions and the Church Association's Memorial to the Archbishops and Bishops, against the legalisation of Vestments and the Eastward Position, the Guardian pointed out, that whilst "Protestant feeling" in 1851 was represented by 320,000 signatures, it now had sunk to less than 147,000 in 1875. On the other hand, the E. C. U. figures had risen from less than 42,000 in 1866--the Petition against alteration of the Ornaments Rubric--to 78,600 in 1875. The Guardian further alluded to the fact that the E. C. U. signatures were those of communicants, whilst the Church Association signatures represented "all sorts and conditions of men." In addition to the E. C. U. Petition, another, signed by 10,000 men communicants, was presented to the Upper House, praying that "the Bishops will protect those priests who use the Eucharistic vestments." The Guardian very pertinently asked: "Will the Bishops venture to 'alienate' those 10,000 laymen from themselves in order not to offend the twenty-four lords and twenty-eight ladies (Right Hon. and Hon.), "et hoc gemis omne," who signed the Church Association Petition"?

In connection with the same subject, the following resolutions were passed at the Ordinary Meeting on Dec. 10,1874:--

Ecclesiastical Legislation, and the integrity of the Prayer Book.

Moved by the Rev. Prebendary Irons, D.D., and seconded by the Rev. Dr. Sanderson--

(1) That no legislation affecting the spiritual interests of the Church of England is constitutional without the recommendation and concurrence of Convocation.

(2) That in the revision or explanation of the rubrics now under consideration of Convocation, the present Prayer Boob, as settled in 1662, should be maintained in its integrity.

On Nov. 24, 1874, the Liverpool case came before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, upon an appeal from the decision of the Vicar-General of the Northern Province, who had admitted a number of articles charging Mr. Parnell with sundry illegal practices. Mr. Parnell objected to the articles, on the ground that some, which pleaded a description of his acts "as matters of ceremony and ritual," were embarrassing and prejudicial, and others disclosed no ecclesiastical offence. Without calling counsel for the respondent, the Court dismissed the appeal with costs.

In the month of June, 1874, the All Saints' (Margaret Street) Declaration was published, in which, after pointing out that Convocation was in abeyance when the Clergy Discipline Act (1840) was passed, but is not now in abeyance, the Declaration insisted that the question of ceremonial and ritual now in dispute should be considered by Convocation; and urged that long-disused customs should only be re-introduced where other simpler services were provided. This Declaration was circulated by the E. C. U., and was signed by upwards of 3,500 clergy.

On Dec. 7,1874, the Dean of Arches delivered judgment in the second Mackonochie suit. Mr. Mackonochie was charged with acts done by him (1) as to the lawfulness of which no judicial sentence had as yet been pronounced, (2) as to the lawfulness of which the Court of Arches had pronounced judgment in the case of Elphinstone v. Purchas, (3) as to the lawfulness of which the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council had given judgment in the case of Hebbert v. Purchas. The various points involved were--lighted candles connected with the Communion Table; lighted candles carried about and lifted up by attendants; elevation of the consecrated elements "in an unauthorised manner"; processions, in alb and cope, with biretta on the head, lighted candles, a crucifix and banners accompanying; saying of the Agnus Dei; sign of the Cross; kissing the service book; wafers; vestments; and eastward position. The Judge decided that the charge of elevation was "not substantiated by adequate evidence," and was of opinion that "the minister crossing himself as a matter of private devotion" was not illegal, but that a legal offence was proved "so far as making the sign of the Cross to the congregation is concerned." On all other points the judgment was adverse; and the Judge refused to hear an argument from counsel for the defendant as to the lawfulness of eastward position, wafer-bread, and vestments, the illegality of these points having been previously settled by the Judicial Committee. The Judge animadverted upon the fact that the proceedings were brought by a non-parishioner, who, in a few months' time, under the provisions of the P. W. R. Act, then to be in operation, would be, on the ground of his being a non-parishioner, disqualified to be a prosecutor. The sentence of the Court was "suspension ab officio for six weeks," with costs, save in those incident to the charge of undue elevation, which was not proved.

Prom this decision Mr. Mackonochie appealed, but in May, 1875, addressed a letter to the Archbishop, stating the reason which had induced him to withdraw the appeal. He explained that he had expected that the appeal would "be heard by the new Court of Appeal," and that he "should not otherwise have appealed at all." The constitution of the new Court gave "hope, of an impartial administration of justice," although it had "no more valid spiritual jurisdiction in spiritual causes than the present"; the decision in the spiritual court "was given by that court without consenting to hear the arguments of counsel, in obedience to the previous ruling of a secular tribunal"; and the appeal he contemplated was fully justified under the circumstances "which constituted an appeal tanquam ab abusu." The President and Council, in the Annual Report, stated: "The delay of the Judicature Act left Mr. Mackonochie no choice but to withdraw his appeal, which else must have been argued before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council: he has done this with the entire approval of the President and Council." They added that "in giving notice of appeal, in order that the case might have the advantage of being argued before the new Supreme Court, it was never intended to admit that this Court, any more than the old Court, possessed any claim to spiritual jurisdiction."

The Owston case, in which a Wesleyan minister desired to place on a tombstone, to be erected in a churchyard to the memory of his child, the title "Reverend" as applying to himself, came before the President and Council, upon the application of the Vicar, who had declined to allow the inscription, and had been supported by the Bishop of the diocese (Wordsworth, of Lincoln). The case was submitted to counsel for opinion, and subsequently brought before the Consistory Court of the diocese, and the Court of Arches, in both which Courts the faculty for the tombstone was refused.

On the subject of the Public Worship Facilities Bill, the following resolution was unanimously adopted at the Ordinary Meeting on April 13, 1875:--

Public Worship Facilities Bill.

Moved by the Rev. T. Hancock, and seconded by the Rev. Dr. Marshall, Rectorof St. John Baptist's. Manchester--

That the President and Council be requested to take into consideration the question whether, under the existing circumstance of the Church of England, it is desirable that the Parochial System should be supplemented by some such means as are proposed in Sir Salt's Public Worship Facilities Bill, or by any other means which may be suggested in amendment thereof; and that the Council be further requested to gather the opinions of the various Brandies of the Union on this question by means of a paper of questions to be sent round, together with a Report from the Council, for the consideration of the Local Branches and District Unions.

The Allocution of the Bishops, issued on March 1, 1875, in which their lordships spoke of the "serious alienation" between the clergy and laity, "the refusal" of the clergy "to obey legitimate authority," and the spread of "doctrines" and "practices" repugnant to the teaching of Holy Scripture and to the principles of the Church, was severely criticised in the Annual Report, the President and Council adopting as their own the "opinion" of the Bishop of Salisbury (Moberly), that the address of his episcopal brethren was "unlikely to do good, and not unlikely to do harm," and the "judgment" of the Bishop of Durham (Baring), that the document was not merely "useless," but even "mischievous."

The Archbishop of Canterbury (Tait) attempted to enforce a monition upon the Vicar of St. Peter's, Folkestone, ordering the removal of the "Stations of the Cross" from the walls of the church. The E. C. U. came to the assistance of the churchwardens, who had refused to comply with the order. Thereupon his Grace directed his Secretary, Mr. Lee, to prosecute the churchwardens in the Consistory Court of the diocese. Dr. Tristram, as Assessor to the Archbishop in his Diocesan Court, overruled the technical objection alleged by the churchwardens, that Mr. Lee, the promoter, was a non-parishioner, and had no interest in the matter. The churchwardens then appealed to the Court of Arches--i.e., from the Archbishop as Bishop of the diocese, to the Archbishop as Metropolitan of the Province. The Dean of Arches reversed Dr. Tristram's judgment, and condemned the Archbishop's Secretary in costs. Thereupon his Grace directed his Secretary to appeal from his own Provincial Court to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The appeal came on for hearing on June 25, 1874, when, after hearing counsel, the Judicial Committee rejected the appeal with costs, thus confirming the important judgment of the Dean of Arches, that a promoter must be a parishioner, or in some way show that he has an interest in the matter.

At the Annual Meeting on June 15, 1875, it was resolved:--

Revision of Irish Prayer Book.

Moved by the Earl of Devon, and seconded by the Rev. Prebendary Irons, D.D.--

That this Union hereby remonstrates against the course which is being pursued in the Irish Church body with regard to the revision of the Prayer Book, and especially in reference to the Athanasian Creed, as being most dangerous to the maintenance of Catholic doctrine and discipline, and so imperilling the intercommunion of the English and Irish Churches.

It was also resolved:--

The "Six Points."

Moved by the Rev. Canon Carter, and seconded by Mr. Barchard--

That, without intending to put all the following points on the same ground, nor wishing to go beyond what recognised Anglican authorities warrant as to their use, the English Church Union is of opinion that, in order to bring about a generally satisfactory settlement of the present ritual controversy in the Church of England there should be no prohibition of the following usages when desired by clergy and congregations--viz.: (a) The eastward position; (b) the vestments; (c) the lights; (d) the mixed chalice; (e) unleavened bread; (f) incense.

In consequence of the large increase in the work of the Union, it was found necessary to give up the premises at 11, Burleigh Street, Strand, which had been the headquarters of the Union for thirteen years, and to take a lease of the first and second floors of 35, Wellington Street, Strand.

The Tract Committee, which has done such good service by selecting and compiling pamphlets and leaflets upon Church questions, was constituted this year.

As many as 2,860 persons joined the Union during the year the total number of members amounting to 12,602. One new District Union, 16 Branches, and 12 Parochial Associations were formed, bringing up the Sal to 23, 186, and 47 respectively, in addition to the Church Unions of Scotland, Bombay, and Calcutta, in union with the E. C. U.

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