Project Canterbury

State of the Colonial Church

By Francis Henry Dickinson

From The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, Vol. IV
(July 1850-June 1851), pages 252-259 (Jan. 1851), 293-300 (Feb. 1851), and 337-343 (March 1851).

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia

[252] Correspondence and Documents.


SIR,--The Colonial Church is perhaps that part of the English communion to which the eye turns at present with the most pleasure and comfort. Not that it is perfect, but that its wonderful growth seems to afford the surest ground for hope, under the difficulties and discouragements of the time.

When we look back to the first sickly attempt, nearly two centuries and a half ago, in Virginia, and to the languid growth, almost to our own days, it is delightful to remark the rapid expansion into twenty-three Dioceses with their eleven hundred Clergy. And the fact should not be without its weight, that it was the withdrawal of aid by the [252/253] English Government that first properly stimulated English piety, and this in turn the energy of our Colonists to carry on this great work, which has thus, in fact, grown out of independence and religious self-action. But while thankful for this amount of success, it does not become us either to boast or to grow secure. So rapid a growth requires great watchfulness and caution, lest we should carry over to the Colonies the imperfections of our own system, through a lazy unwillingness to discriminate, or a blind affection for all that is established.

Laws cannot be considered nakedly, apart from the system on which they are engrafted, or the habits, customs, and prepossessions of those subject to them. To transplant a certain portion of our laws, without modification, into another country, is to put new cloth on an old garment. The result will often be different from what was intended, and we shall fail to obtain the assimilation and harmony of one system.

Neither can we afford to rest on that antiquarian conservatism which ignores the present, and all foresight for the future, and slowly but surely makes evils into precedents. We must look facts in the face, and see what new things are wanted, what principles are good and suitable, what bad and to be rejected, and what local action is to be encouraged, and lastly, what natural tendencies there may be which we may take hold of and use; just as a parent does not strive to impart an artificial nature to his child, but sets himself to the more feasible, but much less ostentatious task, of strengthening or discouraging the different tendencies he observes in him.

In what I may have to trouble you with concerning the Colonial Church, I wish to be understood as making no accusations; that is not the proper function of your Journal, nor consistent with your wish and design--which is to encourage rather than to blame, and to promote that sympathy between Churchmen here and in the Colonies, which cannot fail to strengthen and improve both us and them. If in this spirit I am somewhat free-spoken, I can only hope, as I intend, to give no offence.

I propose, then, first, to glance at certain points of the state of the Church in the Colonies, and their corresponding dangers; and, secondly, to suggest, in a future letter, what appears to be a remedy for as many of them as we can hope to cure--in fact, a proper and satisfactory system of Church legislation.

The great difference between a closely packed and permanent state of society like our own, and a new one, thinly scattered over the country, where discordant elements have to settle down as they may, is obvious at first sight. The latter state, perhaps, affords more opportunities, but greater discouragements also. With us the clergy are allowed a kind of precedence over dissenting ministers, which their social position and education generally warrant. The pretensions of the Church are no novelty, and they are partly modified by circumstances, partly submitted to as matter of custom, with all the willingness with which Englishmen in general submit to that authority. But perhaps the most important reasons for submission are, that the great majority, of the more educated and influential classes [253/254] belong to it, and pay a decent attention to its services; and that though dissenters are numerous, no one form of dissent has any pretension to compare its numbers with those of the Church.

But, when it is remembered, that both among the more prosperous emigrants, and their children, there is far less of intellectual culture than in the same classes here; that the different bodies of dissent are stronger there, and that party spirit is the bane of Colonies, it is not to be wondered at, that the differences between Church and dissent are far more bitter than here, and break over all bounds of moderation. It follows, I think, from these very different relations with dissent, that particular care should be taken to prevent anything from being done by Churchmen that might seem to imply the desire of acquiring power over others, or of making the Church dominant. No one in a free country ought to complain that the most active, zealous and pious religionists make converts from among other bodies, so long as they confine themselves to persuasion merely; but it is not consistent with freedom, that any extraneous power or influence, far less any compulsion, should be employed for this purpose.

But I would rather direct attention to the internal affairs of the Church. Notwithstanding the multiplication of Clergy and Bishops, it is obvious that they must be few and far between, and that each must be left much to himself, without those opportunities for mutual counsel under difficulties which a walk to the next parish affords here.

Those who are in the whirl of active duties, with the performance of which on the whole their consciences are reasonably satisfied, are particularly apt to undervalue great and permanent principles, and are tempted to act (to use a vulgar expression) by the rule of thumb. Their own goodness, sense, and sagacity serve for the moment; and they forget how great at all times, but especially in the formation of a new society, is the importance of an early adoption of right principles, which is like folding the sheet from the very first in the right way, a folding which it never loses.

Doubtless they generally take the right course of themselves, but as it happens to them not unfrequently to observe that others who have more learning, have not tact or zeal, and therefore with much greater advantages succeed much worse than themselves, they mistake the reason of the failure, and undervalue system and learning altogether.

Mutual conference could hardly fail to correct this tendency, because it would bring the knowledge of the intelligent and the zeal of the devoted to combine and strengthen each other; but so long as the Clergy are isolated, there is but too much to tempt each to follow his own course, and each to think it the best possible, while he is by the misfortune of his position cut off from improvement.

To provide against all the evils of want of system, and to remedy relaxed discipline, the Colonial Church has hitherto had but one measure, and that certainly a most effective one,--the establishment of new Bishoprics. It is not to be wondered at, that a most marked improvement (perhaps on the whole the most remarkable one of our [254/255] day) has followed, that the Church has taken a new life, the ministry been extended, and the people warned.

But as in human affairs there is always evil mixed up with good, so the very extension of what is good brings evils in its train, and difficulties for us to cope with. The Clergy cannot be extended in numbers, and the laity made to think on religious matters, without a danger of party spirit--a danger perhaps increased by the latitude our Church professes to allow to private judgment, and by our national tendency to bow rather to right than to authority.

There arises at once a danger of a Bishop's party and an opposition, a High Church and a Low Church party; and this is much increased by the tendency of the human mind to meet error with an exaggeration of the truth denied, rather than by that golden mean which excitement misses, and quietness alone can arrive at, and which not unfrequently coldness reaches before zeal. Any doubt, therefore, as to the extent of the Bishop's authority, or any disposition to act without him, will thus be met by an exaggeration of the old rule of doing "nothing without the Bishop," of which we have here no notion; and this again begets its recoil, until there is danger that the pungent saying of Bishop Broughton's rebellious deacon may become true, that the Clergy are divided between the sycophants and the opponents of their Bishop.

Questions of discipline will arise, for which there is no certain provision. In former times the latent misconduct of an isolated Clergyman, after he had ruined the interests of the Church in his neighbourhood, might be made known to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and he be removed from its list; but now this will be a case for the Bishop to deal with, and, as is right, he will be called on to act at an earlier stage, when correction may be of use, or the fact be less certain. But what is he to do? His power of withdrawing the licence, if he does thus without assigning a reason, none can challenge; but this is a course of so arbitrary a character, that it cannot be generally adopted. It is not to be wondered at, nor much to be regretted, though it is truly an unpleasant feature, that the Clergy of a diocese, almost as distant as any from this country, should have maintained the family of one of their brethren, while he came to prosecute an appeal at Lambeth; not, I fear, from any peculiar desert of his, but because his danger was theirs. There was a remarkable expression attributed to Bishop Selwyn, in a recent report in the newspapers of the proceedings of the Canterbury Association, that he hoped to be able to make arrangements for divesting himself of his present absolute power. No one, who knows the Bishop of New Zealand, could suppose that he would give up anything properly belonging to his Episcopal authority. Circumstances have, however, made that authority practically absolute in the Colonies. Absolute power is a perilous thing, and a good man armed with it fears to use it. I believe the Episcopal authority would really be more effective if it were in each case restrained by the superior authority of a synod, and if in dealing with the Clergy, or with discipline generally, it took care to [255/256] carry with it, on all questions of fact, the assent of those who are themselves interested in the maintenance of discipline, and whose personal rights depend on its being exercised discreetly.

But who is sufficient for these things? As they stand at present, no sagacity on the part of a Bishop can secure him from misapprehension; vigour is wanted, yet it disgusts all to whom it is inconvenient. The more faithfully he does his duty, and the more the Church extends and prospers under his hands, the greater the difficulties become; and the consequent temptation to leave the more urgent and difficult questions alone, and to content himself with a sort of lazy show of activity, doing no more than is just necessary, leaving questions to settle themselves, and parties to fight out their own battles, and the Society at home to find out and redress as it can any malappropriation of its funds which must occasionally happen from the distance and variety of the places to which they are distributed.

In saying this, I mean to cast no censure on any of the Colonial Bishops; taken as a body, they are admirable men, and have shown vigour, fearlessness and tact that are above all praise. Neither do I blame their people, who have, on the whole, received them with an open-hearted kindness, that has been most gratifying; and not shown the disposition that might have been expected to carp at their authority or their acts. I presume only to blame the system, or rather want of system, that exists. It cannot but be, that a man placed in an exalted office, and with considerable funds at his disposal, and, therefore, great power, will have plots formed against him by the cunning and malicious. The change of policy also, which the multiplication of Dioceses demands of the Gospel Propagation Society, will add to the difficulties of the Bishops. In former times, when the Colonial Clergy were few in number, each had his stipend, and the whole number sent out from home could not be very much larger than the finances of the Society would warrant. Each Missionary had then, as he conceived, his income for life, and was contented; now, however, that the number of the Clergy is so greatly multiplied, it has become
necessary to make a bye-law, that each stipend shall in ordinary cases be given only for five years; and it is to be hoped that the time is not far distant when the Society may give its charity not by individuals, but by dioceses; not in stipends, but in grants; dependent, of course, on what the English Church may place at its disposal, but based on a comprehensive view of the wants of each Diocese, and the amount of local helpfulness which each Bishop may be able to report, and distributed, not by the Society itself,--necessarily ignorant and liable to be misinformed of local circumstances,--but by a local authority, to the most pressing and beneficial local objects. Nothing can be more unsafe, than that the Society should exercise any thing like jurisdiction. Principle and expediency alike demand, that it should nourish, not dependencies of its own, but daughter Churches, each complete in its own laws and discipline--most valuable supports to our own Church in her troubles, but ready and fit to act alone, and still pr serve with us essential unity, if any painful dispensation of Providence [256/257] should separate us politically. But, however excellent this new mode of distributing the charity of the English Church may be in theory, it is plain, that if it depends on one man--however excellent and, exalted--in each locality, it will not work. For it will only add the temptation of self-interest to all the others we have glanced at, which tend to clog the wheels of the ecclesiastical machine. And but too many may be expected to bring flattery or fear to bear on the unfortunate depositary of all this wealth. But once let the matter take this shape,--that the Bishop calls his people together and tells them that for this year the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel can give him only so much, and puts it to them: How can we best dispose of this grant? What shall I report to the Society? How shall I show, not merely that every shilling of the last grant has been paid to some one, but that it has been paid to the man and the place that most wanted it, and where most good may be done? What shall I do with the grant for the current year? What new places demand a share of it? Where can improvement be made?--the replies of such an assembly would exclude jobbing. No man would dare to attempt it; for the rest of the clergy, and if they failed, the laity) would put a stop to the outrage.

A good and cautious Bishop would find in such a meeting as this the best support for his own previously arranged designs, and he would know how to elicit from it opinions which no one would dare complain of, but which, if he had uttered them himself, in the first instance, would have exposed him to private animosity, to cabals, and very likely to general unpopularity.

By the aid of such a meeting, also, he would secure harmony between the laity and the clergy, using the one body against the other whenever any unpleasant feeling showed itself; and arming himself with the concurrence of both against any individual or vestry that might need coercion. With regard to the laity in particular, there is not a more valuable practical principle of Church government than the importance of securing their general assent, and making use of the educated and right-minded of them, who have influence each in his own locality, to act as a body against the less intelligent persons, not unfrequently almost dissenters, who delight to trouble a vestry.

I apprehend that it is practically impossible in these times to maintain discipline, or to exclude from the communion of the Church those who are not fairly members of it, either on account of heresy or evil life, unless the laity are made to combine in some orderly way in the legislative arrangements. It will not be forgotten that the attempt has been to a great degree given up here, and that even measures have been laid before Parliament under very high sanction, which provided for the improvement of "Church discipline" while the scope of them regarded the Clergy alone. Happily, this scandal is remedied. But still, the fear of priestly tyranny will effectually prevent anything being done by the Clergy only; and Parliament, if it could be trusted, would do nothing, from jealousy and want of time. In America where the laity are not represented by either mobs or parliaments of [257/258] a promiscuous nature, they are building up a system of discipline, with even too much zeal; the Convention of one of the Carolinas having made a canon, excluding from Church membership those who might attend races and other places of public amusement,--a regulation, as we well know, that would not be submitted to in any country of Europe. I understand that the General Convention has disallowed this rule, and of course acted wisely in doing so. It is far more gratifying to reflect on the provision which the constitution of our sister Church supplies for remedying the injudicious acts of its members, than to dwell on the blunder of the Diocesan Convention; and we may well envy the Churchmen of Carolina that zeal and that union between Clergy and laity which could devise and enact even so mistaken a development of energy as this. There is often far more life in irregular action than in torpid sluggishness.

But if the difficulties of tranquil times are likely to be so great as to need such very extensive changes, what must be the danger if troubles arise? And we have no right to be secure, and take it for granted that they will not come. Independently of the movement in the minds of religious men, which has perplexed the English Church during the last seventeen years and is continually forcing us to look to the bottom of new questions, and which will doubtless run its course in the Colonies as well as here, there is the great question of independence, which may at any time come up, and by cutting off the Clergy from their resources in England, place them in very great difficulties, or more likely deprive the Colonies of their services. Whether the difficulties be doctrinal or political, they call equally for such measures as may unite the Clergy to their Bishop, to each other, and to their flocks, so that they may not be rent asunder by dissensions and jealousies, as deep as those between different religions, and as strong as patriotism; and that their community may go through its troubles, united and sound, not split by schism like the Kirk of Scotland, nor plunged into difficulties such as those of the American Church in the war of Independence, from which a long period has been required to raise it. Both with a view to present strength and future dangers, it is equally desirable that the Colonial Clergy should give up all notion of being an Established Church. It is not easy to say in what the advantages of the Established Church here consist. What some men might think advantages, others would take as signs of degradation. Probably the prominent idea in the Colonies of an Establishment is, a Church endowed by the state. Now, if one watches at all the temper of the Colonial parliaments, the first thing that strikes one is, a general distrust and dislike of the Church, an unwillingness to grant her privileges, and a readiness to withdraw them. There is little use in inquiring at whose door the blame rests, unless we can remove the evil. For the future the Colonies will be governed, whether as dependencies of the British empire, or as independent, in all substantial respects according to their own will as expressed by their representatives. It is clear, therefore, that dependence on the mother country is no more than dependence on a [258/259] party here, who lack the ability to help their friends in the Colonies, and if they had the power, would frequently be tempted to sacrifice Colonial interests for the sake of home politics. Such dependence, also, of the Church on the mother country is generally sure to provoke the hostility of other bodies of Christians. And to all colonists who look on their new country with anything like love, it will bear also an antinational aspect. While the Church, then, cannot resign her claim over all baptized persons within her pale, and cannot, therefore, give any pledge that she will not seek proselytes, she must beware of seeking or accepting any powers or rights of an exclusive character, that may seem calculated to help her in her work. If her judicatures are acknowledged by the law to be courts, so also ought those of dissenting bodies. If she requires the power of summoning witnesses to her tribunal under legal penalties, this power ought also to be conceded to all Christian bodies that desire it. The affection of her members has always been found a better thing for the Church than civil rights or property, which are not worth the jealousy they excite. The Church has never flourished since, as it did in those days when the poor and needy were her riches, and her ministers were martyred. But without saying more about such days as those--days for which we, alas! are unworthy,--the Church had better now put aside her secular preeminence, and ask merely for common justice for such temporal sanction to her laws as is given, or may be given to those of other bodies of Christians, and for protection to her property, alike with other individuals and communions. And if these be denied her, she must go on her way patient and sorrowful, united, nevertheless, and strengthened by the discouragement. The Church must be in the main a voluntary Church, dependent on her own members, and not on extraneous power; and the Clergy must give up the dreams of rectories and an establishment, with its dignity, its glebes, and its reserves, and set themselves to win the hearts of their people.

But here, Sir, I must conclude, and reserve to a future opportunity what more I have to say on this subject, and particularly some remarks on the relation of the ecclesiastical law in England to that in the Colonies, and the aggravated inconveniences which our present mode of legislating for the Church inflicts on the Colonial Bishops and other Clergy.--I remain, sir, your obedient Servant, F. H. D.

[293] LETTER II.

SIR,--I suppose that, speaking generally, the principles of our ecclesiastical law accompany our church into its Colonial dioceses; but it does not seem to me to follow, that these principles, which we may agree ought to bind men's consciences, can therefore rightly be enforced by external discipline; the latter does not depend merely on principles, but on positive technical and local law.

I am not now dealing with those principles that are of the essence [293/294] of the Church, and which follow her wherever she goes, and without which she loses her very nature, nor yet with the private obligations of Clergymen. I readily allow that the Creeds, and the nature of the Church, and of the sacraments, are as binding on the Colonial Church as on us; and that the engagements of the Clergy to the Colonial Bishops, to accept and use the Prayer-Book, and other formularies of the Church, are as binding as those made to our own Bishops, nay, that they ordinarily accompany the Clergy all the world over.

All in fact that is, as it were, of Church common law, belonging essentially to the Catholic Church, and all that is of personal obligation, remains good in the Colonial Church, as it does here. But I apprehend that canons of discipline and practice are essentially local; they may be established, and may be changed. The diocese, moreover, may be bound by particular rules to the province, or the patriarchate, with regard to its right to change them; but I do not see how a new diocese can get its original canons, except by some act within itself. I speak doubtingly, and am ashamed to be obliged to do so; for the truth is, that our subserviency to the State, and our use for more than a century of no other means of legislation than Parliament, along with the slavish notions that prevailed among ecclesiastics in Tudor and Stuart times, have blotted out from among us the ancient ideas about the making and promulgating ecclesiastical laws. Of course I except from the above remarks such part of our present ecclesiastical administration as depends on Acts of Parliament--on this I will treat presently. Besides the disgrace of being a community governed by laws not made by itself, we have forgotten our own original principles, and in recovering the use of Synods we shall have not merely the difficulty to know how to act in them safely and reverently, but also to find out the nature of their decisions, and how they are to be promulgated. We all know that the acts of even a General Council draw their validity, not from a judicial decision merely of the questions submitted to it, but from subsequent Catholic consent to them as being lawfully deduced from, or taken out of Holy Scripture. What then is this consent? Not surely a tumultuary assent of the people, all the world over, but a decent and orderly assent, by provinces and dioceses, after due consideration of the decrees in legitimate assemblies. And the assembly, as it has power to assent, must also have power to call for a re-hearing, when (as it twice happened in the early Church) the Council, intended to be cumenical, had mistaken its duty and decided wrongly. Now, as diocesan assent is required to a new law, so I apprehend a new diocese must assent to the technical law, which it is desired should govern it, and this should be done by a Diocesan Synod.

The parliament of this country represents the people, the latter, therefore, cannot complain of what is done by their representatives; but it seems to me that in spiritual, as well as in colonial matters, where there is no delegation, the authority of parliament is in fact a tyranny;--not wholly an unbenevolent one in either case, I hope, but which may become so, and which therefore should urge the [294/295] Church to seek independent means of legislation, and the Colonies representation in parliament, as to imperial, and independence as to municipal questions. Now, whether this power of parliament concerns the Church or State, it is clearly the duty of the unrepresented subjects to submit so long as their conscience will allow them, and to seek all constitutional means, which happily in these times are large, to remove the tyranny.

It is not difficult to see by what process the Church has lost its ancient forms of ecclesiastical promulgation. First, the laws laid down by the Bishops and Clergy were assented to and enforced by Parliament; and the respective delegations of the Proctors, and the Knights and Burgesses in Convocation and Parliament, were made to supersede the diocesan synod, and they must be allowed to have been equal to it in authority, and much more convenient, in that they secured uniformity. The next step, however, is a fearful one,--Parliament acted alone without the Church. For a long time, however, the authority of the Bishops in the Upper House, the fact that the whole legislature consisted of Churchmen, and the general zeal for the interests of the Church, blinded us to the change; until the changes in society, and the alterations of exterior law admitting all to their proper rights in the civil legislature without respect of religion, at last opened the eyes of Churchmen to the situation in which they had unadvisedly placed themselves.

From the reasons indicated above, as well as from the changes that have become necessary, in a period of ecclesiastical revival like the present, it has happened that the greater part of English ecclesiastical law, as it affects the Clergy in their daily duties, is comprised in modern Acts of Parliament. These Acts do not always extend to the Colonies; they repeal each other and the old law. If it happens that an English Act, which does not extend to the Colonies, repeals one that does, the latter Act will probably remain in force in the Colonies, though it is repealed here. It is humiliating to the Church, embarrassing to the Bishops, and perplexing to the Clergy, that they should have to wander through the mazes of Acts of Parliament, and the refinements of the Courts, to find out what measures to take to maintain their discipline; how far they may safely proceed, and what dangers the just and righteous provisions of the law against private wrong may place in their path. Unfortunately for discipline, the great refuge among these perplexities is to do nothing; and the Bishop, after employing entreaty and menace, will frequently be constrained by common prudence to forbear from using the weighty powers of his office--suspension, deprivation, and excommunication.

Even should the doubts on the construction of Acts of Parliament be got over, there are other questions of great difficulty, both in their civil and ecclesiastical bearings, that interfere with the external jurisdiction of the Bishops. A great deal too much has been done, in an ecclesiastical sense, by the patents which the crown lawyers have inflicted on the Colonial Bishops, and great disgrace to our Church follows; but it has happened, that the framers of these documents have [295/296] been as ignorant of secular law as of spiritual, and they have done a good deal too much in this direction also. They have granted to the Bishops powers which the Crown could not bestow without the consent of Parliament, and which Parliament would not now grant without the consent of the Colonies; and the patents would seem to be in part invalid. If once a doubt is thrown on a part of such a document, it does not require much penetration to see, that it becomes a delicate thing to deal with it at all; and that the Bishop would be loth to use any of the powers contained in it, in a manner which, however necessary, would be inconvenient to others, for fear that these powers also might be disputed.

It must be observed also, that the same procedure holds good in the Colonies, as in England, to try whether a judicature recognised by the law has overstepped its proper functions, or neglects to perform them. As soon, therefore, as the Bishop holds his court, under the secular powers, which are very properly conferred on him by the Crown in his patent, and makes use of his rights, he becomes obnoxious to prohibition and mandamus. And it must ever be remembered that this procedure is not wrong in its nature, because the Queen and her representatives, the Governor and civil judicature of the Colony, are bound by natural right, no less than by the supremacy, to see that justice is done between all persons in all matters; and this is both most reasonable and most necessary, when the law is doubtful. By a miserable fatality, therefore, the restraining provisions of the law are both most just in themselves, and most likely to be applied in those cases where they will most completely paralyse the corrective discipline of the Church.

But if we look a little further than the mere correction of scandals among the Clergy, or even the evils and weaknesses of our own communion, and consider the general state, as to discipline, of the different Churches of the worId, we shall find nearly everywhere the same result proceeding from the same cause. The Church has generally relied on the State, instead of the affection of its members. The power of the State, and its affection for the Church, have been diminished, and the Church has sunk, along with legitimacy and arbitrary power, and has now neither the strength of the Executive nor the love of the people. There have, happily, been, during the last half century, many symptoms of that reaction which always follows on great facts; but such reaction must be slow, and discipline is as yet everywhere weak. Perhaps the lowest point of degradation was the period when the Pope excommunicated Napoleon, and the latter took no notice of the censure, except to imprison the Pope and the cardinal who had prepared the bull. In two countries only is anything like discipline now kept up, and even there not very effectively--in Presbyterian Scotland and our sister-Church of the United States; and in these the remains of strength are owing, I believe, to the rights that have been conceded to the laity. In the present state of the public mind of England and of Europe, it is but too plain that we cannot exclude those who are chargeable with heresy or evil life, from the communion of the Church, by any other means than private [296/297] expostulation, or by any public act draw the line between those who are fairly members of the Church and those who are not. For the present, the fear of priestly tyranny will be too strong; and whether that fear is expressed by mobs or by parliaments, the result will be the same. Any one of those in authority, who might be willing to suffer much for the Church, were the question of right and wrong plainly before him, cannot so easily stand against the disapproval of friends and neighbours, which is sure to be directed against him if he presume to revive discipline, and consequently he would have to act alone, with all men against him. It is our misfortune that our Bishops and judges are taken in detail, when any struggle occurs between Church and State, or between the authorities of the Church and public opinion. Our rulers have each to act for himself, amid all manner of suspicions of their motives and objects; and--according to their individual character--if strong, acquire an undue and dangerous personal influence, and, if weak, neglect their duty. We shall never have discipline again, on its proper footing, till the Bishops fall back on the good-will of their people, and afford them a legitimate opportunity of expressing their wishes, and of preventing legislation that causes them alarm.

But, while treating of the only mode possible, in these times, of separating between the Church and those who have no right to consider themselves members of it, we must not forget what an awful thing that separation is. Excommunication is not merely a censure of authority, nor a civil disqualification. It is intended to lead to repentance, as all other censures are; but how can this be, if the opinion of those by whom the criminal is surrounded do not concur with the sentence? The last resort for discipline ought to carry with it as much of the renunciation of converse of Christian people as the present divided state of society will permit. When it happens that an excommunicate still enjoys the respect of Churchmen, the fact implies a fearful fault somewhere, whether it be tyranny or rebellion, whether a deadness to religion, a want of confidence in the heads of the Church, or the first step in the formation of a new schism. And when a large body of the people openly express their dislike and distrust of the Bishops, the fact indicates a sickly state of Christianity, than which nothing can be more deplorable. If this arise from a tendency to irreligion or heresy among the people, it is the duty of the pastor to go steadily on his way, refusing to imitate those who, for fear of a multitude, gave up our Lord to be crucified. But differences and distrusts often arise from much smaller causes and, even when much aggravated, a great deal may be done by securing the aid of the better disposed to control the worst. Misunderstandings flow also not unfrequently from a real or supposed want of personal disinterestedness on the part of the authority.

The way to make the good out of society, and to repress the evil, is to face the latter boldly; to allow complaints to be made, and to answer them; or, if they are found to be reasonable, to punish the offender; to allow spite and narrow-mindedness to come out of their [297/298] hiding-places, to show themselves in their real shape and colour, and to disgust men, and to be replied to by persons of larger and more liberal mind. And, above all, when acts of discipline occur, and harsh measures are necessary, it is essential that they should be explained, and the first impressions on men's minds gained in favour of the honest application of necessary correction, and not in favour of the garbled account of personal injustice, which guilty cunning is too well able to dress up. And be it observed, that the habits of society, at present, exact this defence from the heads of the Church, and compel the publication in the newspapers of explanations and correspondence on all matters of interest. The misfortune is, that documents are laid before the world in a crude shape, for the evil-minded to use maliciously. What I desire is, that there should be an assembly able and disposed to deal with them in a different spirit, and to enlighten and guide public opinion.

There is, after all, no such means of governing as persuasion; there is nothing like verity; willing obedience will do more than is wanted, and unity throws the whole strength of "the body" on one wholesome object.

With one other topic I would conclude this portion of my subject. It is neither unlikely, nor in itself unreasonable, that the governor and Colonial parliament may claim the full powers exercised here over the Church by the Queen alone, or the Imperial Parliament. We see at once a difference between the cases, and are tempted to think the claim absurd. But it is not so. It may be said that there is obviously a difference between the time-honoured Parliament of England and the imitations of it, of recent origin, that have been established in the Colonies, and it seems unreal to apply the arguments that have been used to defend and palliate the power of our Parliament to a Colonial legislature. But it is nevertheless true, that such a Parliament as truly represents the Royal power and the will of the people of the Colony, as ours does here; and it is not consistent with loyalty to use depreciatory language respecting it. It is impossible to deny, that so long as they act within their proper functions, the Royal power resides in the Governor and his Parliament. We may hold, as Churchmen, that so far as this power protects the laity, or the whole community, from unjust acts, or unjust laws, it is perfectly right and wholesome, and that in so far as the mere State affects to give law to the Church, not as the temporal organ of the Church, but by its own inherent right, it is mere Erastianism. But it must be carefully remembered that this principle extends, not to the Colony merely, but to the mother country. And we, as well as they, have a duty, carefully to keep in mind these rather subtle distinctions, lest we either deny to the Government what lawfully belongs to it, or concede to it what our religion forbids.

But, unfortunately, we cannot be sure that others will see and respect these distinctions. The last four months have witnessed an apparent disposition to extend the Royal supremacy beyond the limits of the common law, and to assume that it has been created by statute, [298/299] and peculiarly affects the Establishment. Whereas, I believe it will be found on accurate investigation, that though large and peculiar powers are given to the Crown by statute, specially affecting the Church, and it only, these are quite separable from the ancient supremacy.

Certain words that Her Majesty has lately been advised to use from the Throne, are not to my mind free from ambiguity on this very important point. The words are, "Our Reformed Church, the Supreme Government of which, under God, is by law confided to me." If by "law" is here meant the common law, there can be but little objection to the expression, but the word "confided" rather seems to point to some positive statute, than to that elementary law founded on the nature of things, which the common law in this instance embodies; and this construction is strengthened by the context, which seems to imply, that this supremacy is peculiar to the Church. It can never be too much insisted on, that the Queen is supreme over all persons and in all causes. This supremacy, being of common law, existed before the Reformation, and extends now to all bodies within her dominions. The different degrees in which different bodies are protected, enabled, or restrained by law, may make great differences as to the mode by which the supremacy acts on them, and custom as well as the legislation attendant on the abolition of Papal authority in England may have distorted somewhat these differences, but the foundation of right is the same over all.

The distinction between the power of the Crown recognised by the common law, and those rights given to it over the Church of England, by concessions of the Clergy, and Acts of Parliament, should be kept clearly before our minds in this country, but it is even more essential in the Colonies. It will be obvious that the common-law rights should never be disputed; nothing can be so prejudicial to the Church, for its own interests, as to place itself above law and right, and externally nothing can result from such a struggle, but a most disastrous defeat. But with regard to the other class of rights the case is different; they can only accrue, in the case of the Colonies, from express enactment; and probably any attempts to enact them would be resisted, and in many cases would be resisted successfully. It does not follow that the Parliament of England would grant to Colonial Parliaments, or be content that they should assume, powers similar to what it has gained over the Church.

Whether the position of the Church of England has been permanently injured by recent events, time will show. If I am right in the view that I have expressed as to the powers of Colonial Governments and Parliaments, it were perhaps to be wished that the same extravagant assertions of authority were made everywhere. Those who are not alarmed at such things here, might perhaps be startled if the same claims were raised by the governors and other local authorities of all our fifty-three colonies, and they might thence be led to look more carefully at the real condition of the Church.

I suppose the Colonial Legislatures, on the whole, would be less [299/300] favourable to the Church than our own. There might, therefore, be a wholesome disposition, on the part of Colonial Churchmen, to resist encroachment; but I can hardly think anything more dangerous, than that they should be led to look to these legislatures for the protection which it is their duty to afford, since that protection would be given in even a more qualified and dangerous manner than the Parliament of the United Kingdom grants it, and would not fail to detach the laity from the Clergy, and establish that feud between them, which is at present, perhaps, the greatest danger of the English Church.

From this dangerous position of the Colonial Parliaments arises a most urgent reason that the bishops and Clergy should early consult the laity, and give them a voice in the making of ecclesiastical laws. They will speak better for themselves than the Parliament can speak for them. The business of the Church had better be transacted in an assembly of its own members, than in the face of a suspicious public, and before opponents who have a voice as well as they, who will turn what is said to ridicule and mischief, and yet grudge the time for a proper discussion of the state of the Church, while they embarrass her defenders by their presence, which imposes on the latter the incompatible duties of denouncing abuses, in order to reform them, and yet not laying open the wounds of the Church before her enemies.

Were the laity themselves entrusted with the functions which Parliament has so long performed in their behalf, the latter power would still protect the rest of the community from any legislative encroachments of Churchmen, and the law would still be open to all, whether Churchmen or dissenters, to protect them from private oppression under pretence of right.

As sure a safeguard would still exist as now, for the substantial interests of every one; and there would no longer be that perplexing union of different functions in the Legislature, and that assumed dominion over men's consciences which some attribute to the Crown, which keep principles in confusion, prevent a right appreciation of the true liberties of the Church, and drive some towards Ultramontane views, and others to Erastianism.

Having thus, in this and my former letter, sketched some of the evils and dangers of the present condition of our rapidly-growing Colonial Church, I must beg you, Sir, to allow me, in another, more fully to develop the remedy which I have here and there indicated.

Your obedient Servant, F. H. D.


SIR,--I have endeavoured in my two former letters to point out some of the evils and dangers attendant on the present development of the Colonial Church, as well as the uncertainties and difficulties of the Ecclesiastical law regarding it.

These evils and these difficulties are, I fear, to be met by no half measures,--they render necessary an entire reconstruction of the ecclesiastical society; in fact, to borrow the suggestion made by Mr. Gladstone during the last Session of Parliament, the Church must reconstitute itself on the principles of the mutual compact,--principles, as I endeavoured to show last month, which supply the [337/338] only sound and regular basis on which ecclesiastical order can be founded in newly-constituted dioceses. It would seem, also, from the declarations of the late Attorney-General, made in the same debates in which Mr. Gladstone brought forward his plan, that the laws restoring synods are, as I contended in my last letter, confined locally to England; and that no legal impediments exist to meetings at which the Bishop, his Clergy and the laity of his jurisdiction might establish and administer the Constitution of the Diocese.

What need we then to stand inquiring whether the Church is or is not established in each Colony?--what an establishment means?--whether this or that law be binding in the Colony?--or, how far the fundamental principles of the Church have been received by the State? Why should we not rather trust to those principles of freedom that have given the Government of England permanence amid revolutions, and strength whenever any real danger threatened? Why should not these principles be applied to ecclesiastical affairs? The great object to be had in view in managing a voluntary Church, or indeed any one, is to secure the most exact and permanent harmony between Bishops, Clergy, and people; so that the former should have the largest powers they can wholesomely exercise, and the latter support and cooperate with the former readily and heartily. I am sure that these great ends will best be secured, by giving satisfaction to the people, and governing according to their wishes as expressed by their own deputies--adopting, in fact, a Church Constitution similar to that in the United States.

A Bishop with tact, such as most of the Colonial Bishops possess, would find no difficulty in ordinary times, in managing such an assembly. Within certain limits, which he would generally be able to judge of beforehand, his will would be echoed by them, or rather, he would guide their deliberations in the direction he desired. Discipline, in its elementary forms, sufficient to meet scandals, whether among the Clergy or the laity, would be easily established. The more difficult questions would be discussed from time to time, without the acrimony of the closet and the pamphlet, and settled so soon as persuasion had done its proper work. There is great value also in a free vent for discontent, especially among a rude but hearty people. It is seen at once, whether a remedy can be applied or not, and if not, what is the reason; and either the fault is cured, or the discontent is found to be groundless. On the other hand, the evils of pent-up discontent, discouraging any healthy activity, injuring the spiritual life of individuals, and the growth of the body, are incalculable; and the extent of the evil is only seen at some time of excitement and weakness, when all sores are opened at once, and the malcontents combine to the greatest advantage, against their common mother.

The stated meetings of such an assembly would be most valuable occasions of mutual counsel for the Clergy, and of mutual instruction to many, both of them and of the laity, and would serve to bind the Church together in places where distance, and want of acquaintance with each other, makes it doubly needful. The Church also would [338/339] take its natural root in the soil, dependent without servility on its own people, and having a power existing in its centre able to put to shame those who with the ability possess not the will to aid. Many representations also, addressed to the Colonial Government or to the English Church, expressing the unanimous desire of a collective assembly of the Church in the Colony, would command attention; and even when divisions occur, the publicly stated views of the leaders of parties would throw light on the subject, and give opportunity for public opinion and authority here to mediate with great advantage.

There are many questions which cannot now be settled at all, or cannot be settled conveniently, which would arrange themselves if the Colonial Church had a legislature of its own. It cannot, for instance, be expected that the Colonies will always be content to receive Bishops from this country. At first, when the labour is great and the Church in its infancy, and there is an air of enterprise about it, from which most men would shrink, the Colonial Clergy are willing to hail as a father any English Clergyman, of rather more than average capacity, who is sent out to be their Bishop; and they ask no questions as to the mode of his appointment. But in a few years it will be quite otherwise; when the dioceses cease to be dependent for pecuniary aid upon the mother-Church, and come to be further subdivided, and successors to the present Bishops have to be appointed, the Church in the Colony will claim to exercise the right which all Churches once possessed of choosing their own pastor, and of having a voice as to their own internal arrangements. It is no answer to say that such claims are caused by discontent, or by the ambition of Clergy of the Diocese who wish to be Bishops. The discontent may be well founded. The private ambition I cannot praise, but I assert, that if the Clergy of a self-supporting Church desire to have one of their own body to be Bishop over them, from a sense of his peculiar fitness, they ought to have the power to choose him, and their desire is most laudable. It is easy to see what troubles and misunderstandings will arise from this source. A concession now made of the right of choice, to such an assembly as we have indicated, would doubtless be accompanied with a willing acceptance of a supervising authority in our chief pastors here, which, when jealousies had sprung up, would be denied, but which is most important to preserve the harmony and unity of the Anglican communion.

Both the wholesome administration of ecclesiastical law, and the welfare of the Church generally, demand that the different dioceses should not be treated as units, but that those which are contiguous should be united into provinces and governed as a whole. The Church of England has now four such groups of dioceses:--the four in the West Indies; the three in Canada, to which the Missionary Bishop in the centre of North America, and the three in the Colonies at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, might probably be joined; the four Bishops in India; and the six or seven in Australia and New Zealand. Each of these should have its general synod, formed like the general Convention in America.

[340] In framing such a system of Church Government as we have indicated, care must be taken that the principles on which it is based be not misunderstood. If the arguments in its favour are a good deal based on a consideration of the best mode of persuading men, and of obviating the more prominent evils of the voluntary system, it does not therefore follow that the right to govern the Church, still less the right to declare doctrine, resides with the people to whom belongs the power of the pocket. Neither can it be allowed that the Crown or the Parliament of the Colony have the power to constitute such an authority, though they may well require that in such grave matters nothing should be done without their sanction; and the assent of Parliament is always necessary to give outward and legal validity and a binding force, not in conscience but in temporal results, to the decrees of the Church. The true power resides in the Bishops and the Clergy who are called to share in their labours. No one can well object that power analogous to that of the English Convocation should reside in their hands, and it would be quite consistent with English ideas, that acts of both houses of convocation of the Colony, ratified by the colonial parliament, should bind both Clergy and laity in conscience as well as by external power. Where, then, is the objection to substituting the laity of the Church for the colonial parliament, and permitting them to debate questions along with the Clergy? Whatever power the parliament of the Colony possesses to prevent acts of the Church, which might trench on the rights of the whole community, would still reside in it without the slightest diminution. Whatever power it possesses to protect the laity, who are members of the Church, would be far more wholesomely exercised by the deputies of the laity themselves. The rule of fundamental importance, which reserves to the Bishops, Clergy, and laity respectively, a veto on all proceedings, would safely guard the great interests entrusted to the sacerdotal body from any encroachment. Thus much may suffice on the generally understood principles of the Church of England to justify the principle of the measure we propose. To those who desire to go higher, I would say, that not merely the influence of the laity was recognised in the primitive Church, when the frequent ordination of the elder laity would very much serve to depress their influence as a body, and to hinder the evils that have arisen from the priesthood being in modern times considered as a profession; but that the rights of the Crown to protect the laity have been acknowledged throughout western Europe, by all but the more ultra-montane adherents of the Pope; and that the most remarkable instances of the exercise of such a power have been gathered by Van Espen, out of the records of Brabant, which was administered, as it would appear from his statements, much like a modern English colony, by a governor and council; a local authority which acted without reference to the sovereign when absent, and which took the liberty of remonstrating strongly against his wishes, when they seemed inconsistent with the interests and peace of the duchy.

With regard to the mode in which such a legislature should be [340/341] created, I should think it ought to originate in a meeting of the Bishop and his Clergy, with or without the representatives of the laity; and that when they had matured their measures sufficiently in each diocese, that by common consent of the three orders the rules of the diocesan synod had been established, and measures for providing a provincial one prepared, they might then go to the provincial parliament to incorporate them, and to make their legislation binding on Churchmen in all civil respects: To go to the colonial legislature in the first instance, lays the plan open to the very grave objection that the professed Church legislature might seem to take its authority from the powers of this world, and not from those of the Church, and therefore this course is most undesirable. But if through doubts of the legal safety of such meetings as the late Attorney-general has proposed, or for any other reason, it is thought better to go to the colonial parliament in the first instance, the greatest care must be taken in framing the act to provide that it shall merely give that confirming character which we are willing to concede to it. This would probably be secured by limiting the act to a declaration, that any canons made by Bishop, Clergy, and people of the Diocese, or by Bishop, Clergy, and people of the province, respectively acting by their delegates, should be binding; that the Bishops should in the first instance make rules for the choosing of delegates, and for the place and time of meeting, and that afterwards all these things should be managed by common consent; that the provincial synod should have power superior to the diocesan; that nothing should be done without the consent of a majority of each order, and that the Bishop should have a veto on the acts of his diocesan synod; that the power shall extend to unite other dioceses, or to subdivide the existing ones, and to make all consequent arrangements; that all canons shall be laid before the Archbishop of Canterbury, and that he may disallow them within six months; that no canons shall have a prospective effect on persons who may renounce communion with the Church, or in any way interfere with the rights of those who are not members of it, or give the Church any power over them, or make it dominant. Such an act would probably not be open to objection from any quarter, and it would be necessary, if it be held that any law at present prohibits meetings of Churchmen with a view to legislation.

Your readers will not have failed to remark in your number for December, the very interesting proceedings of an Ecclesiastical Board convoked by the Bishop of BARBADOS, consisting of the rector and a Layman of each parish. Bishop Parry deserves, I submit, great credit for having been the first to move in the right direction, and there is an air of domestic unanimity about the proceedings of his board that speaks well for his people no less than for himself. I wish, however, that he had summoned all the Clergy of the island to his meetings. A single diocesan synod perhaps is impossible, where the diocese is a group of islands, and possibly either a different synod should be held for each island, or what is far better, there should be a Bishop for each. But, however this may be, the cure of souls, at least, if not residence within the limits of the island, would, I think, [341/342] more fitly give a right to be summoned to the meeting than the comparatively secular accident of having been inducted into a rectory. When the English convocations taxed the Clergy, there was a reason why those who had benefices, and were to be taxed, should alone choose proctors, but this function of Convocation has long been laid aside, and in reviving the liberties of the Church, we must not look to exclusions, but to broad principles of right. Certain movements have also taken place in the Diocese of Toronto; but the accounts are so conflicting, and so much heat has communicated itself to the disputants, that the subject is anything but a pleasant one; and the mind seems to dwell rather on a scene of colonial faction of the past, than on a vision of Christian peace for the future.

The Rev. Mr. Bettridge has re-published certain resolutions that were agreed to at a meeting of the Clergy many years back, at which the Bishop of Toronto presided, as at that time Archdeacon; and in which resolutions the system of the American Church was recommended for adoption, with some modifications. The Bishop is now taunted, somewhat hastily and unreasonably, as it seems to me, because he did not, immediately on his return from England, announce his intention of acting on the principles which he formerly affirmed; and causes are assigned for his unwillingness which it is most unpleasant to notice. It is said that he is unwilling to face his Clergy, because they would probably express an opinion hostile to him as to certain appropriations made to him by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, out of the Clergy Reserves. I will not enter into that question further than to say that I suspect the Bishop of Toronto of no unwillingness to face any man or body of men; and I think his unwillingness may be traced to other causes. I am by no means satisfied, however, that he may not still bring a plan forward, if he sees that his Clergy and people are prepared for it. There was an impression (I believe) when he left England in the autumn, that he was not averse to establishing a Church legislature; and I had hoped, when I first thought of troubling you on this subject, that a commencement would soon be made in Upper Canada. Unfortunately, our disuse of synods has continued so long, that the revival of them is an experiment surrounded by many dangers, both real and imaginary: and I think it hardly reasonable to censure the oldest of our Colonial Bishops, and the one who has the largest body of Clergy under his charge, and, therefore, the greatest responsibility, for not being the first to make such an experiment. It is therefore to be regretted that Mr. De Blaquière, immediately on the Bishop's return, questioned him on the subject, and obtained from him an unfavourable answer. This gentleman, as a member of the upper house of the Canadian Parliament, has laid before that assembly, in the early part of last year, an Act for establishing a Church Legislature, and dividing the Diocese; and it now stands over for further consideration. In your number for August, you gave an analysis of this measure, and commented pretty freely upon it. Certainly, in its first shape, it was open to many grave objections, but it has met with still more ill-natured criticism. The real object of the author of the measure is (I believe) to secure the [342/343] harmonious action of British Clergy and laity on right principles. And it is far more wise and Christian-like to join him in improving his measure, than to fasten on its faults--to assume that he is an opponent of the Bishop, and therefore disaffected to the Church, and of course to be denied a hearing. Such conduct may seem reasonable to a party, when directed against their opponent, but it is not the way in which the Church should be governed.

It is a gratifying circumstance, and, I cannot but hope, a prelude to better things, that the Bishop has, in a very excellent paper, announced his desire for a division of his Diocese, as soon as circumstances will permit; and his plan is nearly identical with that of Mr. De Blaquière. It were to be wished that means could be found at once for establishing the two or three new Bishoprics that are recommended, either by the application of local resources, the contributions of the people of Canada West, or by grants from the Gospel-Propagation Society. The wants and wishes of the colonies, the times, and the circumstances of the Church of England generally, alike point the way to a less expensive establishment of Colonial Bishops. Many among us are slow to see this necessity. I do not blame the conservatism that desires to see things still as they used to be, and to make the outward and worldly condition of the new Bishops similar to that of the old ones. But after all, I believe I am justified in saying that this conservatism and unwillingness to look facts in the face, and to suit our policy to the time, is not in reality chargeable on the Society or the Bishop, but on Her Majesty's Government.

Colonial Churchmen, as well as ourselves, should remember that in these days nothing is to be done with the Government but by importunity, and they should take their measures accordingly. I cannot, on the whole, blame the policy which makes the Colonies govern themselves, as far as possible: let Churchmen endeavour to secure the advantages of it. The Government at least will not be troubled with those dreams of an establishment, that are in the heads of some Churchmen, and which it will take much longer to eradicate than it will to persuade the authorities of the Colonial office that a smaller stipend may be allotted to a Bishop than they are now disposed to admit.

But whether with many Bishops or with few, with rich or with poor, I do not think the Church can prosper unless its affairs are conducted in a kindly and harmonious manner. Time was when the Bishops were really temporal lords, and the people submitted to them as such. But this system broke down. Power produced corruptions, and hence came discontent and resistance, first silent and secret, at last open and obstinate; and the Reformation made a large portion of Europe Presbyterian. If our Bishops stand upon authority merely, and do not influence opinion, their flocks will be divided and dwindle. For the most part the Colonial Bishops have begun most admirably. They will do well, I think, to gather public opinion, and guide it in some definite and synodical manner. That they may avert the evils which I have endeavoured to point out as surrounding their position, and gather around them large and united flocks, is the earnest prayer of your obedient Servant, F. H. D.

Project Canterbury