Project Canterbury

The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



THE Dean of Arches upheld the Rev. Flavel Cook for repelling a Mr. Jenkins from Holy Communion, on the ground of heretical pravity, in denying the doctrine of eternal punishment, impugning passages in the Bible, and denying the personality of the devil. On appeal to the Privy Council the judgment was, however, reversed with costs, and Mr. Cook admonished to admit Mr. Jenkins to Communion. This Mr. Cook refused to do, and resigned his benefice. Whilst regretting the latter step, the President and Council sent Mr. Cook £100 towards his costs as a mark of their respect and sympathy.

On June 27, 1875, Mr. Mackonochie's suspension being-then in operation, the Bishop of London (Jackson) sent for the Rev. A. H. Stanton, Senior Curate of St. Alban's, Holborn and, informing him that he (the Bishop) was responsible for seeing that the services were conducted in accordance with the Purchas judgment, forbad the use of vestments, of wafers, and even of a stole. In consequence of this order, celebrations of the Holy Communion ceased, and the congregation attended celebrations at St. Vedast's, Foster Lane, Cheapside.

Mr. Mackonochie, the term of his suspension ended, resumed celebrations with a somewhat reduced ritual, but observing the six points.

On October 20, 1875, Mr. Marsters, churchwarden, of St. Margaret's, King's Lynn, was condemned in the Arches Court for having illegally removed a movable cross, placed by the Vicar on the altar-ledge without a faculty.

At the conclusion of the business of the Court on this day, the learned judge, Sir E. J. Phillimore, took his leave of the bar, on his appointment as one of the judges of the High Court of Justice under the new Judicature Act. He said that during the eight years he had held the office, it had been his arduous duty to adjudicate upon cases of grave and unusual importance to the Church. He had endeavoured to apply sound ecclesiastical principles to the cases, and had spared neither pains nor research.

"With this there closed the long succession of Deans of Arches, and the old Court of Arches came into the possession of the new Parliamentary Judge appointed under the P. W.R. Act.

The proceedings against the Rev. C. J. Ridsdale, Incumbent of St. Peter's, Folkestone, by three "aggrieved parishioners," were the first proceedings under the P. W. R. Act, the case being heard by Lord Penzance on Jan. 4, 1876, and two following days. There were twelve charges, but, having learned that Lord Penzance would not set aside the Purchas Judgment, only three points were defended--viz., (1) Celebration with only one communicant; (2) Crucifix upon the chancel screen; (3) the Stations of the Cross. The defence on the other points was reserved for the Final Court of Appeal. The Court pronounced for the complainants, with costs. Mr. Ridsdale, after consultation with his advisers, resolved to submit to the judgment of Lord Penzance, except as regards four points, upon which he determined to appeal--viz., (1) Eastward position; (2) vestments; (3) wafers; (4) mixed Chalice. Lord Penzance having refused to suspend his decree, and Mr. Ridsdale's ad interim appeal on this point having been rejected by the Privy Council, except so far as regarded the Crucifix on the screen, Mr. Ridsdale decided to suspend the celebration of the Holy Communion until the result of the appeal on the merits should be determined, and the congregation accordingly attended the celebrations at St. Michael's.

Mr. Ridsdale also addressed a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Tait), stating that, in appearing before Lord Penzance's Court, he desired "not to be misunderstood as recognising any spiritual character in the Court, but only a civil jurisdiction, capable, indeed, of commanding compliance under pains and penalties, but not of interpreting the law of the Church, so as to bind the consciences of Churchmen."

At the Ordinary Meeting on April 6, 1876, the President made a statement respecting the apparently divergent action of the Union in the cases of Mr. Ridsdale and Mr. Tooth. Some members of the Union were strongly opposed to argue any case involving spiritual matters before the existing courts; and, further, the idea had arisen that the E. C. U. was acting inconsistently, because a different line of conduct had been pursued in the two cases. The President said:--

Mr. Ridsdale expresses our desire to do all that in as lies, as loyal subjects of the Crown, to avoid a collision with the civil courts, and to obtain peace for the Church; Mr. Tooth our determination in purely spiritual matters, if the question is forced upon us, to recognise no authority or power except that which is exercised according to the provisions made by our Lord Jesus Christ for the government of His Church on earth. We go with Mr. Ridsdale before the courts, not to uncertain the law of the Church, but to defend it. And with Mr. Tooth we shall be, please God, prepared, if need be, to suffer for it.

The case of Coombe v. Edwards remained still sub judice. Mr. Parnell meanwhile resigned the Incumbency of St. Margaret's, Liverpool, for reasons wholly unconnected with the prosecution. The complaint against Mr. Edwards came before Lord Penzance on May 11, 1876, and, after hearing the evidence for the promoter, his lordship adjourned the case until the result of the appeal to the Judicial Committee, in the Ridsdale case, should be declared.

The Public Worship Facilities Bill was submitted to the various District Unions and Branches for their consideration, in accordance with a resolution passed at the Ordinary Meeting in April, 1875. The majority of the 90 Branches which reported on the subject were of opinion (1) that it was desirable that there should be power to license a clergyman to officiate in a parish against the will of the Incumbent; (2) that such power should be limited to the Bishop, subject to the report of a Commission; (3) that such power should be exercised upon the application of a certain number of communicants or parishioners; (4) that a clergyman so licensed should perform all offices for his congregation; (5) that the licensed clergyman should continue in office upon an avoidance of the living; (6) that further protection should be given to the ministers of conventional districts, and to clergymen officiating in particular buildings, under licence granted with the consent of former Incumbents; (7) that power of compelling an increase in the supply of the services and offices of the Church should be vested in the Bishop; (8) that relaxation should be made in the law as to the admission of persons, not living in the house, to a private oratory, voluntarily served by a priest living in the house.

In February, 1876, Mr. Osborne Morgan introduced the Burials Bills, but, owing to technical formalities which impeded its progress, it was abandoned, and a resolution, embodying its principles, was brought in, and defeated by a majority of 33. Meanwhile, the President and Council had taken vigorous action to circulate petitions against the Bill.

At the Ordinary Meeting on December 9, 1875, the following resolutions were adopted:--

Burials Bill.

Moved by Canon Ridley, and seconded by the Rev. the Hon. A. G. Douglas--

I. That the effort which is now being made to permit persons, not being ministers of the Church of England, to officiate in the consecrated graveyards of the Church of England, is a distinct invasion of the rights of the Church, and an indirect attempt at disestablishment; and that this Union exhorts the clergy and laity to use all means in their power to procure the rejection of any such measure.

II, That this Union is prepared to support any well-considered scheme for providing cemeteries out of the rates or public funds where no other burial-place than the churchyard exists.

Moved by Major Nutt, and seconded by Mr. Bellamy--

III. That the Council be requested to draw up a Memorial to Convocation, setting forth the importance of using the present opportunity for drawing general attention to the grievances connected with the state of the law relating to burial, to provide some remedy for the scandal involved in the burial of the bodies of open and notorious evil livers with the full rites of the Church.

It was also resolved that the following Memorial to the Prime Minister be issued for general signature:--

Protest against Mr. Osborne Morgan's Burials Bill. We, the undersigned, earnestly protest against Mr. Osborne Morgan's Bill, and also against any attempt to legalise in the churchyards or churches of the Church of England the use of any service at the burial of the dead not sanctioned by the said Church, or the officiating therein of any person not now authorized by law to do so, because such changes would be an invasion of the rights of the clergy and laity of the Church of England, and, further, would be subversive of her religious discipline.

This Memorial, signed by upwards of 11,370 persons, was presented by Colonel Matins, M.P., on the occasion of the deputation to the Prime Minister on Feb. 28, 1876.

The number of Petitions presented to the House of Lords was 865, with upwards of 41,250 signatures. Over 1,800 Petitions were presented to the House of Commons, with 94,000 signatures.

Every effort was made beforehand to secure the return of Churchmen, pledged to maintain definite religious instruction in schools, at the election to School Boards in November, 1876, and the following resolution was adopted at the Ordinary Meeting on Feb. 22, 1876:--

The Application of School Rates.

Moved by the Rev. Prebendary Irons, D.D., and seconded by Mr. E. Hornell--

That as Church-rates were abolished professedly from regard to the religious scruples of some upon whom they were levied it is inconsistent that a school-rate should be levied upon persons who conscientiously disapprove of the only religious teaching which can be given m the schools to the exclusive support of which such school-rate is applied. One mode of remedying the injustice now suffered would be the application of rates levied for educational purposes to all schools approved by the Education Department, on the same principle as existing grants are paid.

A Bill similar to the Amalgamation of Benefices Bill introduced in 1875 by the Bishop of Exeter (Temple) as a local measure, but introduced in 1876 as a general measure applicable to 12 cities and boroughs, passed the second reading, and was referred to a Select Committee. As, under its provisions, a parish might be united to another without the consent of the parishioners, all the churches in the united parishes, except one, be pulled down, and the materials and sites sold, the President and Council entered into communications with the Branches in the various places named in the schedules, and urged all members of the Union to oppose the measure.

In the Annual Report the President and Council embodied a very valuable "Brief Statement of Facts and Principles Affecting the Exercise of Spiritual Authority," which they commended to the careful attention of the members, though not themselves responsible for its preparation.

At the Annual Meeting on June 13, 1876, it was resolved:--

The Exercise of Spiritual Authority.

Moved by the Rev. the Hon. H. Douglas, and seconded by C. W. Wilshere, Esq.--

That the Statement of Facts and Principles Affecting the Exercise of Spiritual Authority, which is embodied in the Annual Report of the E. C. U., be printed separately as a pamphlet for circulation.

The following resolutions on the Increase of the Episcopate were also adopted:--

Increase of the Episcopate.

Moved by Col. Bagnall, and seconded by the Rev. B. W. Randall--

That a large increase of the Episcopate is necessary for the proper government of the Church in England and Wales, and would be the surest way of promoting increased vitality and harmony in the Church, inasmuch as it would facilitate the restoration of the ancient Diocesan Synods, and render a proper intercourse between a Bishop and the clergy and laity of his diocese more practicable than it is at present,

Moved by the Rev. H. R. Baker, and seconded by the Rev. R. C. Kirkpatrick--

That it is of the greatest importance at the present time that Churchmen should assert vigorously the right of the Church to obtain an increase in the numbers of her Bishops, as occasion may require; and that, in regard to the appointment to sees, the present system of election of Bishops by the Dean and Chapter of the cathedral church under the penalties of praemunire should be altered in favour of a system whereby the election would be free, and the Church (with a due regard to the rights of the Crown) have a real voice in the appointment of her chief pastors.

At the Evening Meeting, an elaborate and most important resolution, dealing with certain Church principles affecting the exercise of spiritual authority, with special reference to Lord Penzance's claim to be Dean of Arches, was adopted on the motion of Canon Carter, seconded by Dr. W. Gr. F. Phillimore, in a remarkably brilliant and incisive speech, and supported by the Revs. A. H. Mackonochie, W. J. Knox-Little, and Dr. Littledale, viz.:--

Encroachments by the State upon the Province of the Church.

That, having regard to the fact that the State, by determining the meaning of the Church's formularies, now practically pronounces on very grave and delicate questions of Christian doctrine and ritual; and that it is sought to enforce the interpretation of the Law Courts as the interpretations of the Church herself:

This Union, in obedience to the certain truth that Christ, as the Head of His Body the Church, is the only source of spiritual power, and that, therefore, no such power in that body can be exercised except by derivation and express commission from Him, hereby declares--

(1) That in all purely spiritual matters--e.g., the custody of the Faith, Administration of the Word and Sacraments, the regulation of Divine Worship, Ordination, Mission, Inhibition, Admonition, Suspension, and Excommunication--no decision that is not the free decision of the Church can be binding on the conscience.

(2) That the Church knows no other way of arriving at such decisions in matters purely spiritual, as apart from their temporalities, than in the first instance through her Bishops canonically administering her laws in their own dioceses, and in the last resort by means of her Synods.

During the year 2,038 persons joined the Union, bringing the total number on the books to 13,877. Five new District Unions, 22 Branches, and 19 Parochial Associations were formed. Total--District Unions, 28; Branches, 205; Parochial Associations, 66.

Sir Charles Young, Bart., having resigned the office of Secretary to the E. C. U., Lieut.-Colonel John Brathwaite Hardy (late Royal Artillery) was elected his successor, out of 107 candidates for the post, and entered upon his office on March 25, 1876.

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