THE REAL PRESENCE;
A LETTER TO
THE LORD BISHOP OF GLOUCESTER AND BRISTOL,
BY GEORGE ANTHONY DENISON, M.A.,
November 23, 1866.
MY DEAR LORD,
A FEW words will suffice to express what I have to say. I will not enlarge either upon the high respect and affectionate regard, or upon the deep pain, with which I say it.
Your late Sermon, preached in Bristol Cathedral, Sunday, November 4, 1866, has contributed powerfully to dispel an illusion which has taken some hold of the popular mind. The illusion that "Ritualism" is more a thing of pomp and ceremony, and love of display and decoration, than it is anything else: with nothing deep or earnest about it: that therefore it may be expected to go as it has come, and not leave much trace behind it.
This is the surface view of the matter: what the newspaper world are asked to believe, and do believe. It puts aside the very obvious consideration that it is hardly likely that men should peril position and name and repute; should incur obloquy and reproach and tumult, and alienation of friends, for a colour or a ceremony or a dress, if the colour and ceremony and dress mean nothing.
Now you have told us what they mean. I rejoice that you have done so, because nothing is more unworthy in itself, or more injurious in its effects, than to have things, which are an expression of the highest truths, dealt with as though they are only the fancies of a day, or the extravagances of weak or ardent minds.
You have identified "Ritualism" with belief in Doctrine. I have never regarded it, as I suppose most men have not, who have paused to think for themselves, in any other light.
What is the Doctrine so identified with "Ritualism?" The Doctrine of "The Real Presence." What do I mean by "The Real Presence?" I mean, The Real Presence of The Body and The Blood of CHRIST in The Blessed Sacrament, vouchsafed in the Consecration of the Elements by The Words of Institution. I mean that The Body and The Blood of CHRIST are "Really Present" in The Blessed Sacrament, by THE SPIRIT; "Present," not after a manner material or local but, after a manner Spiritual and Infinite, as belongeth to The Dispensation of THE SPIRIT: "Present" to be Worshipped, and to be received by all, unto life, or unto death.
But if you intend further, that, because every man who is a "Ritualist" is a believer in the Doctrine of "The Real Presence," every believer in the Doctrine of "The Real Presence" is a "Ritualist," this I take leave to deny.
For the Doctrine, I need hardly say that I hold it myself, and believe it to be the life of the Church of England. I was under prosecution four years because I hold it. The case went off upon a point of law. But, as was stated by the Court of Final Appeal in delivering Judgment, I was prepared then, as I am now, to maintain in every particular the Doctrine I had advanced as being The Doctrine of the Church of England. All the grounds for holding that Doctrine have long been made public.
But in one sense I am not a "Ritualist." That is to say, I am no advocate for the revival of vestments or rites long disusedwhich indeed is only a partial account of what is included under the term "Ritualism." I earnestly deprecate such revival, as matter of discretion, under the circumstances of the Church. For myself, I believe that I can teach the Doctrine better in a surplice and stole than I could in "the Vestments"without incense than with it; in the simple form and manner in which I have been used for more than thirty years to administer The LORD'S Supper, than in any other form or manner.
I bring no charge or imputation against those who think and act otherwise, believing as they do, and have great reason to believe, that they are simply obeying the law of their Church, and using means which they judge to be powerful aids in teaching her Doctrine. We have identically the same object and purpose before us, but, from a different constitution of mind, we use different means. I am at one with them in What they teach. I believe that they, as I do, hold It to be vital. I differ from them as to the way of teaching It; but I condemn their practice no more than I hope they condemn mine.
This, however, is not my point. My point is, (and it is here that my rejoicing ends, and my grief and misgiving begin,) that, having identified "Ritualism" (so called) with belief in the Doctrine of "The Real Presence," you proceed to infer that to adopt "Ritualism" is to be "disloyal" to The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and The Articles of Religion; that is, to The Church of England.
At this I am deeply grieved: First, because I, with many others who are not "Ritualists," are therein charged by no mean authority, charged very normally and solemnly, and quasi ex Cathedra, with "disloyalty" to the Church of England. For it is, I think, impossible to interpret the Sermon otherwise than as pronouncing that it is not "Ritualism," an exponent only of the Doctrine, but the Doctrine itself, which is primarily and principally in fault.
But, secondly, I grieve much more because I hold that there is nothing more dangerous to the wellbeing, yea, even to the true existence, of the Church of England than to throw her back upon negations, when through many and great difficulties she is striving and struggling upwards to vindicate for herself and for the world her own affirmative position: to give men, of the authority committed to her, something of her own wherewith to meet the claims and the pretensions and the subtleties of Rome.
The Church of England negatives Transubstantiation. So far it is well. But a Church cannot live upon negations; especially it cannot in the matter of The Holy Sacraments. What then does the Church
of England affirm? She affirms "Regeneration" in Holy Baptism. She does not teach or imply that "Regeneration" in Holy Baptism is dependent, in the adult any more than in the infant, upon the receiver. This were to go about to make two Baptisms. She affirms "The Real Presence" in The LORD'S Supper. She does not teach or imply that "The Real Presence" in The LORD'S Supper is dependent upon the receiver. This were to go about to make two Communions. This were to make The Blessed Sacraments things purely subjective; whereas all her teaching is, that they are, primarily, things objective. This were to resolve The Sacraments into acts of men instead of acts of GOD. This were to confuse between the Gift and the Blessing. This were to affirm that the Church of England is so cut off by the Reformation from all Catholic antiquity as to make it possible to be maintained that, to teach "The Real Presence," as vouchsafed upon The Words of Institution and upon these only, is to be "disloyal" to the Church of England? May GOD forbid, for the Church's and her children's and the World's sake! But if it be "disloyal," then it is alike "disloyal" to hold "Regeneration" in Holy Baptism; for The Doctrine of The Blessed Sacraments is, not two but, one. Does any one affirm then that to hold "Regeneration" in Holy Baptism is to be "disloyal" to the Church of England? Whence has come the difference? Has it not come from this, that English Churchmen have been for three centuries more intent upon negativing Rome than affirming England, and, of the two Sacranents, it is around The Sacrament of The LORD'S Supper that the strife has gathered with the Church of Rome.
Now it has been the craving of many earnest and loving hearts to exhibit The Doctrine of "The Real Presence," not a local and material but, a Spiritual and Heavenly Presence, in its strength and beauty, which has issued in "Ritualism.'' I know that the movement includes instances of what, at least, appears to be undue approximation to Rome: but this is only to say, that, like all other movements, religious or political, it has its excesses. Now the excesses of a movement do not represent its character. The character of the movement I believe to be what I have said it is. The Sermon has traced the effect to its cause, which it is a great service to have done. But, alas! it has done more. It has told us that effect and cause alike are "disloyalty " to the Church of England. At this point then, many who, like myself, are not "Ritualists," have no choice but to remonstrate and protest.
In the presence indeed of the cause, thus placed upon trial before the Church, the effect is as nothing. The real conflict has, as it seens, yet to come.
To sum up what I have said, with citations from the Sermon
You resolve "Ritualism" into "expression of belief and doctrine," p. 12. You point "especially" to the doctrine of "The Real Presence," ibid. You describe that doctrine as taught by the Church of England, and as taught by "Ritualists." The descriptions are both in the same sentence
1. "Not as soberly and inferentially defined in our Catechisn and Articles:"
2. "but as understood in a sense wholly unconditional, and in a manner (as often shown by plainly localized adoration) merging more and more into the materialistic," ibid.
You append to description No. 1 a note from Overall,  which, let me say, concerns only the rnanner of "The Presence." Now there is, I apprehend, no difference between us as to the manner.
But the question arising out of p. 12 of the Sermon is thisWhat is necessary to "The Real Presence?"
On the one hand it is taughtas I understand the Sermon to conveyas the Doctrine of the Church of England, that there is necessary to "The Real Presence" The Words of Institution, and the faith of the receiver.
On the other hand it is taughtas I teach myselfas the Doctrine of the Church of England, that there is necessary to "The Real Presence" The Words of Institution only.
It is hardly possible for two manners of teaching, in eadem materia, to be more opposed the one to the other.
You go on to say (pp. 12, 13,) "that there is consequently a clear desire to supplement the Prayer Book; to rehabilitate the principles of the Reformation; and to modify to some extent the ever-recurring reference to the personal and subjective faith of the individual Christian, which was the principle that our forefathers in CHRIST most solemnly vindicated for us, which they illustrated by their lives and teaching, and which they sealed with their blood."
I am unable to assent to these positions.
I say, that in maintaining it to be the Doctrine of the Church of England, that all that is necessary to "The Real Presence" is The Words of Institution; I do not supplement the Prayer Book, but do affirm its teaching, and that of the Articles of Religion: that I do not rehabilitate, but do affirm the principles of the Reformation: that I do not modify in any manner or degree the ever-recurring reference to the personal and subjective faith of the individual Christian: that it was not this principle only, but the far wider principle of The Faith Primitive and Catholic, including this with other principles, that our forefathers in CHRIST most solemnly vindicated for us, which they illustrated by their lives and teaching, and which they sealed with their blood.
Lastly, I cannot admit, that, if it be the case that Adoration in the Blessed Sacrament is by some "plainly localized,"by which I understand "addressed to a local Presence"the Doctrine, of which Adoration not "localized" is the sign and the expression, so much as approaches to "the materialistic."
Upon the point of Adoration, as upon the other particulars of The Real Presence, I defended myself before the Court at Bath. My defence remains unanswered, and, as I believe, unanswerable.
But, because I teach, as the Doctrine of the Church of England, "The Real Presence," as vouchsafed upon The Words of Institution only, and as in any other "sense wholly unconditional;" because I say that the Body and the Blood of CHRIST are "Really Present" in the Blessed Sacrament, by THE SPIRIT; "Present," not after a manner material or local but, after a manner Spiritual and Infinite, as belongeth to The Dispensation of THE SPIRIT; "Present" to be worshipped; and to be received by all, unto life, or unto death; I find myself numbered by one whom I respect and love with no common respect and love, numbered, together with many others of our brethren, among those who, holding "The Real Presence" as we hold It, but in some respects expressing their reverence and Adoration towards It as we do not, are said to be "not loyal" to The Church of England.
I cannot help recalling Wesley and his times. The lesson then and now is the same, under different aspects.
I could have wishedforgive me, my dear Lord, if I am presumptuous or unjust in saying this to youI could have wished that, in days when The Church of England is striving, as some say against hope, to overtake the masses of her population, every attempt of her sons and daughters to do their part in this great work, every attempt which is not clearly proved to be contrary to her Doctrine and her Discipline, were not only not discouraged, but welcomed, not only not regarded with suspicion, but, in all fatherly and brotherly trust and concord, bidden "GOD speed."
Believe me, my dear Lord,
Yours always most truly and faithfully,
GEORGE A. DENISON.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol.
 "Non modo corporali, crasso, terreno; per transubstantiationem, vel consubstantiationem, similiave rationis humanÊ commenta, sed modo mystico, coelesti, ac spirituali, ut recte in articulis nostris prÊscriptum est." Overall.
Having sent to the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol in a private letter what is here printed pp. 8, 9, 10, 11, beginning with "You resolve 'Ritualism,'" p. 8, down to "not loyal to The Church of England," p. 11, I have received from him the letter following.G. A. DENISON.
Clifton, Bristol, Nov. 20, 1866.
MY DEAR ARCHDEACON,
I hasten to acknowledge and thank you for your letter.
1. I learn from it that you are unable to assent to certain positions specified in your letter.
On these positions and your inability to assent thereto I must ask leave to make no comment, as nothing shall escape from me that might tend to bring Holy Mysteries upon the carpet of public, and perhaps newspaper, controversy.
All I can permit myself to say is, that your understanding of what my sermon conveys on the question to which you allude is not correct.
2. You allude to the judgment I felt is my duty to express in my recently published sermon.
On this head I have only to say that I do not presume to pass judgment on any one, least of all by implication on one so hearty and straightforward as yourself. My whole sermon plainly illustrates this statement.
I do, however, pass my judgent unflinchingly on the Movement as characterised in my sermon. Nay more; I am forced to reiterate the conviction, sensibly deepened since I preached the sermon, that the movement, especially under its developed ritualistic aspects, is tending to sub-introduce changes in our Formularies, is preparing the way silently for infringements on the literal and grammatical sense of our Articles, and, by consequence, is furthering the reversal of some of the leading principles of the Reformation.
You are quite at liberty to publish this letter, if you think fit; but allow me to say, that my share in a public correspondence on the solemn subjects adverted to must be limited to this present letter.
I remain, my dear Archdeacon,
Very sincerely yours,
C. J. GLOUCESTER AND BRISTOL.
Ven. Archdeacon Denison.