Project Canterbury

The Future of the Church in England

A Letter to Their Graces the Archbishops of Canterbury & York

By the Rev. C. H. V. Pixell, M.A.
Vicar of St. Faith's, Stoke Newington.

London: W. Knott, 1903.

My Lord Archbishop,

I am sorry to trouble your Grace with this letter, but I feel constrained to do so.

I have had some eighteen years' experience of Church matters in London, and from having previously worked in other parts of England for several years at a time, and from having taken Missions, &c, during the last thirty years in almost every part of the country, I claim to have a fair knowledge of ecclesiastical matters throughout the two Provinces of Canterbury and York.

The force of what a man has to say depends very much upon the position which the writer himself holds in the ecclesiastical world, so it seems desirable that I should state I am a firm believer in the Anglican Church, and I believe, if fairly treated, she is the most likely part of the Church to influence for good the Anglo-Saxon race throughout the world. This feeling, apart from oaths and promises, has always caused me to oppose the introduction of Ultramontane cults and devotions, whether they be used by themselves or be incorporated into any of the Prayer Book offices. At the same time, I believe the Anglican Church in this country is the Divinely-appointed means of conveying to our countrymen the grace and power of the Sacraments; and that other religious bodies, whether [3/4] they be promoted by the Roman Church or by Protestant Dissent, are in actual, if not in wilful, schism.

In writing this letter I am trying to be brief, and your Grace must pardon me if on this account at times I appear to be brusque.

My object in writing is to ask your Grace whether you have considered what is likely to be the future state of Church matters in England--say in fifty years' time?

If I was a Gallican, I should have very little confidence in the future of the Roman Church in France, however firm my belief might be in Roman Catholicism generally. I grieve to say, as an Anglican, I am deeply concerned about the future of the Anglican Church in England. In our various Colonies and Dependencies the Anglican Church will flourish and spread abroad. All she requires is a fair field and no favour; but in England she gets no fair play from any quarter.

I suppose it is thought, because the Church of England is established, she may be thwarted and hindered at every turn.

May I respectfully ask your Grace to consider six hindrances from which the Church of England suffers?

I. That which comes from Parliament, which proceeds not from one, but from both of the two great political Parties. More Bishops are required to meet the needs of the growing population; Churchmen have subscribed the necessary funds, but Parliament throttles the necessary Bill. Take again the Education Act. The Kenyon-Slaney clause is an insult to the whole Church. Some few clergy have probably been very silly--but that is no reason why a National Church should be vilified and set at [4/5] naught. If the clergy generally had not a keen sense of their obligations to a higher Power, very few of them would darken their school doors again. If Parliament could learn, the folly of the "Passive Resisters" might teach it the mistake of forcing on a Bill which no one cares for, and which no person can thoroughly defend. At any rate, the clergy cannot be expected to use any moral influence in its behalf.

Judging from the election addresses of several would-be Members, Parliament is not likely to be become better, but worse; at any rate, certain gentlemen, both in and out of Parliament, would like to put the Bishops on one side, and rule the Church themselves!

II. The very presence of the Church of Rome in England necessitates her hostility to the Church of England. Rome is either in a false position or not. According to circumstances, she used to advance first one point and then another against Anglican Orders and Jurisdiction. The last Papal pronouncement has however put these aside in favour of one, which is that at the Reformation the Church of England intended to depart from the ancient Orders of the Church, and institute a brand-new Ministry. The absurdity of this contention is clearly manifested by referring to the Preface of the two Ordinals of Edward VI. Here is what they say: "It is evident unto all men diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient authors, that from the Apostles' time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ's Church--Bishops, Priests, and Deacons .... and therefore, to the intent these Orders should be continued and reverently used and esteemed in the Church of England; it is requisite that no [5/6] man (not being at this present time Bishop, Priest, nor Deacon) shall execute any of them, except he be called, tried, examined, and admitted according to the form hereafter following."

There is, notwithstanding all this, a certain leakage to the Church of Rome, but the great harm is, where one person goes over, ten are led thereby to become indifferent to all religion.

III. Again, the conscience of our Dissenting brethren requires them to attack everything that savours of the Church. They quite fail to recognise that the Church of England is a bulwark against the forces of Rome, and that her existence is a guarantee for religious toleration in this country. The established position of the Church is an incentive to their venom, and there is nothing they will not do or say to injure her.

Dissent as it becomes political ceases to be a religious power. It is quite true Dissenters will borrow anything from the Church which they think will pay.

There was a time when Organs and Harmoniums were looked upon as "the Devil's squeak-boxes;" when the Offertory, a Harvest Festival, or a ten days' Mission, were regarded as rank Popery; when the word Church was abhorrent to them; and now their various conventicles and chapels are called Churches. Painted sparrows are very like canaries, and many are taken in thereby.

Some 200 various sects exist in England--a perfect Babel of creeds or no creeds; but where would they be if they had to fight by themselves against the vast external power of Rome.

[7] IV. Another hindrance to the Church is furnished by a portion of the Low Church Party. There are devout souls in that Party who fail to realise much of the objective side of Christianity and the fulness of sacramental grace. I don't allude to these, but I refer to those who may be called fighting Evangelicals. These men defile whatever they touch. "It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest," and no doctrine or means of grace, however sacred, escapes their unhallowed touch.

V. I frankly admit that some few men who belong to the extreme party on the other side have done much harm to the Church. They have not only introduced some of the most objectionable Ultramontane cults, but they have done so in an underhand way.

One of the greatest troubles I have experienced in a ministry of some forty years, was to discover that an Assistant Priest, whom I had highly respected and fully trusted, had introduced certain practices and devotions behind my back which he could not have done before my face.

VI. I now come to a much more serious hindrance, viz. that which comes from the Bishops and those in authority. I know I am treading on very delicate ground, but I dare not keep silence: I trust, however, I may not lay myself open to the charge of being disrespectful. It seems to me that the first thing which those in authority have to determine is this--Is the Church of England part and parcel of the Holy Catholic Church, or is she not? If she is not, the sooner she is cut down the better. If she is, I think her Bishops would do well boldly to proclaim the same, and act and speak accordingly. Your Grace must be aware [7/8] how much more interest laymen take in Church matters than they did formerly, and how much better they are acquainted with matters connected with the history and doctrine and ritual of the Church. I think few of the Bishops would feel that the line they would have adopted, say fifty years ago, would be suitable under present circumstances. It would seem that a Bishop cannot be too definite in stating his own belief. I remember some years ago a Bishop who had the courage to do this in the House of Lords, and the memory of that Bishop is still loved and cherished by the faithful. I have worked myself under Bishops of very varying shades of opinion, and if I was asked under what kind of Bishop I would rather work, I think, with some rare exceptions, I should say under a devout Low Churchman. Of course we should not agree, but he would have the courage of his opinions, and I should know exactly where he stood.

If you come to Bishops who may be termed High Churchmen, you never know where they are. I remember one of these, who wrote a book which passed through many editions, in which he successfully shewed that the Eucharistic Vestments were legal, if not obligatory, but finding that some good folk in his diocese objected to their use, he spent the remainder of his life in vainly trying to prove that they were illegal. I believe most Churchmen feel, unless the Bishops in Parliament can defend the Church when she is attacked, they would be much better away; yet how few spoke and voted against the Public Worship Act; or against the Kenyon-Slaney Clause in the Education Act; or when members speak about the abolition of Mass and Confession, how seldom it is pointed out to them by the Episcopal Bench that they are talking sheer nonsense.

[9] I think myself, at the present-time, the word Mass is not a desirable term to use, but of course it is only a name; The Holy Communion, commonly called the Mass, is the expression used in the First Prayer Book of Edward VI., and if our would-be reformers are intent on abolishing this, there is nothing they would not destroy.

A good deal of pain and worry has been caused to Churchmen by the judgment, or opinion, or whatever it is called, that the two Primates gave some few years ago on the matter of Incense.

I daresay the case which was put before the Archbishops was a very learned one, but it was not the case which many who use Incense would have adopted. We are not careful to inquire when Incense was used in the Reformed Church, or why, like so many other laudable things (e.g. Daily Prayer and Communion) it was dropped for a time; but we should like to ask who had the audacity to order its discontinuance, and when and where was this done? The line the Reformers took was to abolish certain ceremonies which savoured of superstition, but not needlessly to depart from the use which prevailed abroad; and if in such a scriptural matter as Incense they had intended to forbid its use, they ought to have said so in the clearest and most positive terms. It is quite open to a National Church to vary many of its rites and ceremonies, but it may well be questioned how far a National Church could depart from the oecumenical, and, as many think, the divinely-appointed use of Incense. At any rate this unhappy affair has been the means of perverting some to Rome, and of preventing others from proceeding to Holy Orders in the Anglican Church; and this, not because they were necessarily accustomed to its use, but because [9/10] they could hardly believe in the Catholicity of a Church in which its use was seriously questioned.

I should like to point out by one example what lasting loss may accrue to a diocese by the timidity of its Bishop. In a certain diocese there was an endowed school, to which the clergy could send their daughters for a very trifling cost. This school was in extreme Low Church hands, but the clergy were very poor, and it was Hobson's choice with many of them. A well-to-do layman who had daughters growing up, one day called upon me, and said he would be prepared to take a certain house in my parish--furnish it, and endow it for a Girls' School, if I would act as Chaplain. He made however one proviso which was fatal to the scheme. The Bishop (who was a High Churchman) was Visitor of the Low or no-Church School, and my friend would only carry out the scheme if the Bishop would consent to be Visitor of the new proposed School. I had to write to the Bishop on the matter. His lordship refused to act as Visitor, saying "it was as much as his position was worth in the diocese to have his name coupled with mine." Of course, it will be inferred I was a very silly person--granted; but at any rate I shortly afterwards left the diocese--so did its would-be benefactor, and the Bishop died; but the children of High Churchmen are still being sent to this no-Church School!

In considering the future of the Anglican Church in this country, we have to face the increasing difficulty of obtaining candidates for Holy Orders. The Church Times for the current week says:--

"This matter is becoming serious. We have heard lately of two bright young Oxford men giving up all idea of taking Orders, on the ground that they do not care to [10/11] become subaltern officers in an army in which the generals have the knack of shooting officers whose lives are demanded by the enemy."

The great diminution of Clerical Incomes must have also an adverse influence. I know of many, many cases throughout the country of clerical poverty, and the dreadful straits to which many of the clergy, and especially those with families, are being driven.

In conclusion I would respectfully submit, if the present state of things is to continue, if the Church of England in England is to be treated unfairly in every possible way, if the Bishops continue to depend more on the secular than on the Divine power, matters must go from bad to worse; and I solemnly believe, whether the Church of England remains Established or not, in fifty years' time the Church of Rome will be the leading ecclesiastical power in this country.

I have the honour to be,

My Lord Archbishop,

Your obedient servant,


St. Faith's Vicarage,
Stoke Newington, N.

Michaelmas, 1903.

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