LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS.
My dear Mr. Richards,
You have recently preached a sermon at All Saints' Church, which was supposed by many persons to blame the practice of non-communicants remaining in church during the Celebration of the Sacrament, and to blame of course those clergymen who recommend such a practice:--and by some persons it was supposed that your sermon referred to myself, as they came away with the distinct impression that you had alluded in it to "churches in this immediate neighbourhood;" an allusion however which you have since denied having made.
Under these circumstances I wrote to you, as you know, inviting you to a fair and friendly discussion of the subject, as one of general interest in the Church. I asked you first whether you thought it wrong for any one, except those who were about to [1/2] communicate, to remain in church during the celebration of the Sacrament: and you told me in reply, that while you deprecated the presence of some persons, you "advocated those who were communicants remaining," but you thought it necessary to give them certain cautions at the same time about doing so:--you said also that "the Church of England allowed all to remain; there was nothing to hinder their remaining, and if they made it a special time for prayer and intercession it must be good."
I then asked you--as you advocated the presence of some persons in this way, but deprecated the presence of others--to tell me "how you would draw the line between those who should and those who should not thus remain?"--whether it would be "by your own private, personal feeling about each individual, or by some plain external rule, which every one might judge of for themselves, such, e. g., as whether they fulfilled the Church's own requirement of communicating 'three times a-year at least,' &c."
And here, of course, you entirely broke down, as I knew you must do:--for there are but three such lines which can be drawn;--and of these you had set aside the first, by allowing the presence of some non-communicants; the second you would not accept: and the third, which is the Church of England's own rule, you openly denounced.
The three lines which might thus be drawn are these:--
First. A person might say, "None but those who [2/3] intend to receive the Sacrament ought to be present at its celebration." This, it must be owned, is a very definite and intelligible line to draw; but it is not the rule of the Church of England, as you know, nor has it ever been the rule, I believe, of any portion of the Catholic Church, in any age, or in any place r moreover, its practical adoption amongst ourselves has led to the setting aside of the Sacrament from its place of honour as the chief act of the Church's public worship; it has led to its being degraded into a mere after-piece, and stripped of every outward circumstance of worship, till at last, neglected and forgotten, it has dwindled down, never seen and rarely heard of by the majority of the people, who have come to suppose that the Sacrament is only meant for the sick and dying, and for a very few others perhaps,--instead of its being looked upon as the ordinary and universal pledge of God's love in Christ, offered to all persons who are not living in "open and notorious" sin, and who can themselves with a good conscience partake of it.
Secondly. A person might say, "None but those who fulfil the Church's own requirement of communicating 'three times a-year at least,' ought to be present at the celebration of the Sacrament." This also would be a definite, and I think a very reasonable line to draw; for it might be fairly and truly said, that if the Church does contemplate the presence of the whole congregation throughout the entire service, it does so on the supposition that its [3/4] other rules are complied with as well as this, and that all children therefore are Baptized, and all adults are communicants: it might be truly said that to plead the Church's rubrical directions as a warrant for remaining throughout the Communion Service, and at the same time to neglect the Church's rubrical direction about communicating, would be inconsistent and absurd. Such a line as this would, I suppose, be a very right and proper one to draw; but then such a line, if it is to be drawn, must be drawn authoritatively by the Church itself, and not imposed by individual ministers of the Church: and you know that, as a matter of fact, the Church of England has not drawn this line, and therefore neither you nor I, nor any other clergyman would be at liberty to impose it.
Thirdly. We come at last to the Church's own rule, which is, that the whole congregation shall continue to the end of the service, to be dismissed with the blessing, after the Prayer for the Church Militant, when there is no celebration of the Sacrament, and after the 'Gloria in Excelsis' when there is.
Now it is of no use to try and evade the plain truth in this matter. This is unquestionably and beyond all controversy the rule of the Church of England, whatever we may say or think about it: and in this theory of its public worship the Church of England is borne out by the theory and by the practice also of the whole Catholic Church of the present day throughout the world. Moreover, the Church of England has not, by this rule, left itself without the [4/5] power of excluding from its highest worship any one whom it might think necessary to exclude, should some extreme case arise; for it has provided by a rubric that "briefs, citations, and excommunications" shall be read after the Nicene Creed; so that if "excommunications" were thought desirable in any extreme and improbable case of disorder, and were actually to be read then, the persons thus "excommunicate" would no doubt be required to leave the church, at such time and in such manner as might be directed in the form of "excommunication" itself. [This was done lately at a church in the north of Italy. Though the custom there was, of course, (as in all churches of the Roman Communion) to allow every one to remain till the end of the service,--yet on this special occasion the service was suspended till the person "excommunicated" had withdrawn. I cannot now refer to the date and place of this; but I am pretty sure that any one who would search the Guardian newspaper for the last eight or nine years, under the head of "foreign intelligence," would meet with the case I name.]
These three then are, I think, three definite lines which might be drawn in this matter. But you have, unfortunately, repudiated each one of them. You have repudiated the first; for you distinctly "advocate" some persons being present without always communicating. You have repudiated the second; for when I suggested it to you in my letter, you said in reply,--"there are cases in which I should discourage persons who communicated three times [5/6] a-year from being present at other times without receiving." Arid the third, which is the Church of England's own rule, you openly denounce!
And what is it that you yourself would offer as a rule instead? I can discover none whatever in your letters; that is to say, nothing tangible and definite; hut only your own private opinion, about the supposed benefit or injury which might accrue to individuals, based, as this opinion must necessarily be, on your own knowledge of their spiritual state.
You say that you "deprecate persons remaining as id ere spectators only, never having communicated, and having no intention to prepare themselves for Holy Communion." Certainly, every one would deprecate such a state of things as this;--but, I think, we ought to do a good deal more than deprecate it. We ought to tell people again and again that the Sacraments are "generally necessary to salvation;" that the Church requires all its members to communicate "three times a-year at least;" that those who are not communicants are not in the way of salvation; and that it is all the rules of the Church--its rule about communicating, as well as its rules about worship--that they are called upon to observe. If people observe the Church's directions only in part, surely we ought not to set ourselves against what they do, but urge them to add to this what they have hitherto left-undone: if people show sufficient interest in the Church's chief worship, to wish to be present habitually at it, one would rather lead them on to supply [6/7] what is still deficient in them, namely, actual communion, than impose a rule of exclusion upon them which the Church of England does not warrant our imposing. Teach the whole Church system consistently, dwelling most on those parts which are most neglected, and it will be seen to be harmonious with itself; one rule will be found to correct and support another; but teach only a part of it, and that part will necessarily seem to be inconclusive and inconvenient.
Again you say that you "think it would be hurtful if persons substituted the remaining without receiving for Sacramental Communion." But does any one recommend this? I have never heard of any one doing so. What is recommended is, that people should be invited--not to substitute non-communicating presence for actual reception, but to add to their present occasions of actual communion, the respect and sympathy of their presence, of their prayers, and of their praises on all other occasions when the Sacrament is celebrated as well. At present, as you know, it is a fact that people do substitute, to a very great extent indeed, attendance at Morning Prayer, Litany, Ten Commandments, and Sermon, for Sacramental Communion; but I have never heard of any one discouraging their presence at these services on this account. If, however, what you really mean is, that people will communicate more frequently by being turned out of church on all occasions when they do not communicate, I think that this is [7/8] altogether an unreasonable assumption. I think that they are much more likely to acquiesce, after a time, contentedly in such exclusion, and so from less frequently seeing others communicate, and less frequently witnessing the Celebration of the Sacrament, to come at last to look upon it as an occasional and exceptional act of worship only.
I will not quote farther than this from your letters, for I believe I have already given the full substance of them; but 1 would remind you once again how entirely you have failed, after repudiating the Church's own rule in this matter, to find any other rule which might supply its place;--for that which you would substitute for the Church's rule, viz., your own opinion about the spiritual condition of individuals, is, in fact, no rule at all. The Church authorizes you no doubt to exercise your own judgment and discretion in certain cases as to the spiritual condition of individuals, as, for instance, in preparing candidates for Baptism and Confirmation, and in pronouncing absolution to those who themselves desire it after private confession; but it nowhere authorizes you to set aside its rule of public worship, and to substitute an opinion of your own in its place.
And here I will just repeat what that rule is,--for it really is so plain, so unquestionable, so beyond all controversy, that (neglected as it has been) I cannot believe that any one will find room for a doubt upon the subject, when once, the matter is fairly put before them.
 First then. The Church of England requires the presence of the whole congregation at the beginning of the Communion Service. This is evident, because the sermon and the public notices are appointed to follow the Nicene Creed in that part of the service, and these are plainly intended for the whole congregation.
Secondly. When the whole congregation is thus gathered together, one of two things must necessarily follow, viz., either that there is to be, or that there is not to be, a celebration of the Sacrament.
Thirdly. The Church has provided for the dismissal of the congregation under each of these alternatives. For first, if there is no celebration of the Sacrament, the minister is to dismiss the congregation with the blessing after the Prayer for the Church Militant, and secondly, if there is a celebration of the Sacrament, he is to dismiss them then with the blessing after the Gloria in Excelsis.
The matter really is so plain, as to be beyond all dispute. The congregation is to be dismissed in each case by the minister; and surely this implies, as plainly as anything can be implied, that they are not to dismiss themselves; moreover, they are to be dismissed by him altogether in each case, for there is no recognition whatever of the withdrawal or dismissal of a part of the congregation before the rest.
But if the matter is thus plain and unquestionable, is it not a very serious thing indeed, and one [9/10] involving the very gravest moral responsibility, if those who profess to accept, fairly and honestly, the written law of the Church as an authoritative standard in doctrine and in worship,--if such persons are found openly repudiating this authority, as soon as they find it speaking out of harmony with their own preconceived ideas? If you (I am not speaking personally) think you may set aside the authority of the rubric in this matter, with what face or conscience can you urge its authority upon others for the use of the Athanasian Creed, of private Confession and Absolution, of the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, and of Ordination grace, as well as of less important questions of ritual? We seemed to have touched terra firma when English Churchmen agreed to acknowledge the written laws of the Church as an authoritative standard in doctrine and worship, and to submit their own will and feelings to this standard, reserving to themselves, of course, perfect freedom of conscience and judgment meanwhile. To take the law of the Church of England as it now stands, interpreting it (where any difference of interpretation can exist) in the most Catholic sense consistent with thorough honesty of purpose as members of the Church of England,--this seemed to be a plain and intelligible rule, but we shall have to give up this rule, and fall back once again upon the endless confusion of private tastes and opinions, if the rubric, when it speaks plainly, is after all to be set aside as having no authority. You, for instance, may express your [10/11] belief that bad consequences might follow from recommending the whole congregation to remain throughout the Communion Service, and therefore you think yourself at liberty on this account to discountenance and to speak against this practice;--but another clergyman may be of opinion that the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration will produce quite as bad effects, and therefore he thinks himself at liberty to ignore this doctrine of the Church, and even calls it "a soul-destroying heresy;" and yet what difference is there, in principle, I wish to know, between you and him in such a case?
One thing more I have to say, which is this. Some people may think,--"If we allow that this really is the rule of the Church of England, we shall be obliged to observe it ourselves, and this would be very inconvenient indeed, if not altogether impracticable at our churches, and under our circumstances; and therefore, to excuse ourselves for not remaining throughout the service, we must of necessity deny that this is the Church's rule; plainly as we see that this really is the rule of the Church, we must pretend nevertheless not to see this, for fear of being called upon to comply with it. But to such persons I would say,--Surely there can be no need to tell a falsehood, and to deny the conviction of your own reason, in order to do what you believe on the whole, and under your particular circumstances, to be good and right. I do not urge the ill-considered adoption of this rule, [11/12] I only wish to point out that it really is the rule of the Church, and that therefore those who do adopt it ought at least to escape censure for doing so. It may be a good and right thing to do this, and yet, for all that, there may be a common-sense consideration for existing circumstances which would make it unreasonable in many places to urge its adoption.
Thus much I have thought it right to say about this matter, because it is a matter of vital importance that we should maintain our liberty to say and do all that the Church of England authorizes, and to do so without blame or censure from any minister of the Church. If indeed any one will maintain that this is not the law of the Church,--that is another thing; let him come forward and do so if he can;--but until this has been done, I must remind you that neither you nor any other minister of the Church has any right to imply censure, directly or indirectly, upon those who simply desire to follow out the Church's own rule in this matter.
I remain, yours very truly
To the Rev. W. U. Richards.
P.S.--In the above letter I have confined myself to the actual law of the Church of England as it now stands in the Prayer Book,--because this is of course the real turning-point of the matter to us now: but it may be as well to add a few words about the Church's rule on this point, as it existed in previous editions of the English Prayer Book, and also about the rule of the primitive Church.
And first, with regard to previous editions of the English Prayer Book.
Since the Reformation there have been six editions of the Prayer Book, and out of them all there are only two passages which have ever been pretended by any one to imply the withdrawal of non-communicants. The first of these is a rubric in the First Book of Edward VI., which directs all persons except those who intend to receive the Sacrament to "depart out of the quire" after the Offertory. But it is evident this did not bid them depart out of the church; nor was it meant to do so, as some have imagined:--for the author of the "Anglican authority for the Presence of Non-communicants," (a sixpenny tract published by Masters, which any one can get and read,) has shown most clearly and ably that there was a special reason for this direction to leave "the quire;" namely, that at that time the congregation went up into the quire to offer their alms at "the poor men's box," which then stood in the quire;--and hence many people might still have been remaining in and about the quire, whither they had gone for this purpose, and so have obstructed the administration of the Sacrament, which was about to take place there, had it not been for some such direction as this.
The other passage is that which formed part of the Exhortation to be read by the curate when he saw people negligent to come to the Holy Communion; and this passage is to be found in the Second Book of Edward VI., and in the editions of Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I.:--it was entirely omitted at the last revision of the Prayer Book under Charles II. It is as follows:--"Whereas ye offend God so sore by refusing this Holy Banquet, I admonish, exhort, and beseech you that unto this unkindness ye will not add any more. Which thing ye shall do if ye stand by as gazers and lookers on them that do communicate, and be not partakers of the same yourselves," &c, &c. "Wherefore, [13/14] rather than you should do so, depart you hence and give place to them that be godly disposed," &c.
Now upon this passage it is obvious to remark;--first, that it was only appointed to be read "when the curate saw the people negligent to come to the Holy Communion;"--it was not to be read always, as a regular part of the service; it was optional to the curate to read it or no, as he pleased; it was not in the form of a rubrical direction, but was meant rather as an occasional reproof of a very severe kind to those who never communicated, than as a rule of the Church. Secondly;--as it is in the form of a rebuke and reproof to those who were culpably negligent, it could never have been meant to apply to those who, though often present without communicating, yet did all that the Church required of them, i. e., who communicated "three times in the year at least," which was the rule laid down in those editions of the Prayer Book, as well as in our own:--and thirdly;--in those very editions of the Prayer Book in which this sentence is found, there is found also a distinct recognition of a "congregation" present at the Celebration of the Sacrament, before whom the communicants were to make their confession to Almighty God:--for the exhortation "Ye that do truly and earnestly repent," &c, ended in those editions of the Prayer Book with the words--"make your humble confession to Almighty God, before this congregation here gathered together in His holy name, meekly kneeling upon your knees:"--and the words "before this congregation," were certainly never intended to mean "before each other," though some persons have not hesitated even to assert this. It would he idle, therefore, to argue in the face of this distinct recognition of the presence of the congregation,--in the face of this rule of the Church only requiring people to communicate "three times a-year,"--and regardless of the character of the words themselves, that this passage ever implied that non-communicants in general were then expected to withdraw.
Not only, therefore, is the present law of the Church of England quite clear on this point, but it is equally clear that there has never yet been, in any edition of the Prayer Book since the Reformation, any direction whatever requiring all who did not communicate to withdraw. I have thought it right [14/15] may fairly be taken to illustrate any doubtful point--if indeed this were a doubtful point, which it is not--in its present law.
It still remains, however, to say a few words about the custom of the Primitive Church in this matter.
You say in one of your letters:--"We profess to take the Primitive Church as our model; she excluded the unbaptized and excommunicate." You are quite right in this;--we do profess to take the Primitive Church as our model; and the Primitive Church did, undoubtedly, exclude the unbaptized and excommunicate from the celebration of the Sacrament; but the inference you would draw from these facts is not at all warranted, I think, by the facts themselves.
First you say,--"We profess to take the Primitive Church as our model." No doubt we do so; but how is it that we do this? as individuals or as a Church? Is the appeal to primitive antiquity a warrant to us for setting aside the present laws of the Church of England, in those respects in which we may think, each for himself, that it does not quite come up to this model? or does not rather the Church itself profess to have been guided by that model in drawing up its laws, and so call on us to receive its collective testimony on this very ground, as of more weight than the private opinions of individuals? It would be a very dangerous principle which would lead you to say,--'The actual, existing law of the Church of England does, confessedly and beyond all dispute, contemplate the presence of the whole congregation throughout the entire Communion Service; but I, as a superior authority, tell you that the Primitive Church did not do this, and therefore in this one respect you need not attach much importance to the acknowledged law of the Church of England; in this one respect you are not to follow the Church of England's interpretation of primitive antiquity, but mine; in this matter the Church is wrong, and I am right, therefore follow my advice, and not the Church's rule about it."
Individual members of the Church, whether clergymen or laymen, have, no doubt, a perfect right to exercise their own judgment freely in these matters, and to give the collective synod of the Church the full benefit of their opinion, in case of any contemplated revision of its doctrines and [15/16] worship. For the authority of the Church, when rightly understood, is based upon the consent, not the negation, of the private judgment of individuals. And it is acknowledged and submitted to by individuals on this very ground, according to the dictates of right reason, which tells us that the consentient judgment of many men, when freely exercised and freely expressed, must necessarily have more weight than the isolated and contradictory opinions of individuals. You are at full liberty, therefore, to compare the existing laws of the Church of England with those of the Primitive Church, and to point out freely in what respects you think it fails of coming up to that model; but you are not at liberty, as a minister of the Church of England, to set aside or weaken one single law of the Church as it now stands, because in your private opinion it might have been better. When you shall have persuaded the Church at large that your view of primitive antiquity is more correct and better suited to our own times than the view it has itself taken, then the Church collectively will no doubt alter its view, and will alter also the laws which now express that view in its formularies; and then when these laws are thus altered, all members of the Church of England will be bound to obey this altered rule; but for the present, until you have brought about this change, you are yourself bound to obey the actual, existing law of the Church, as it now stands in the Prayer Book.
And then what was the rule of the Primitive Church? It undoubtedly excluded from the celebration of the Sacrament the unbaptized and excommunicate; but something more than this needs to be said, if we would provide the elements of a sound judgment in the matter.
For is it not self-evident that the circumstances of the Primitive Church were in many respects so widely different from those of the Church of the present day, that it would be impossible, in many matters, to adopt its laws now without some modification of them? The relation of Church and State, for instance, is so utterly changed (whether for the better or the worse, I do not say), that in this respect at least the Church of the first three centuries could hardly be expected to supply us with any adequate rules. And so it [16/17] crudely to adopt every rule and custom which existed in the early Church, without considering that fifteen centuries have since elapsed, and that we must take account of them too, as well as of the three first centuries of the Church's existence.
And with regard to this very question of the presence of non-communicants, does it not deserve our serious consideration, that the whole Catholic Church of the present day has adopted a different rule from that of the first few centuries?--whether it is a better rule, or a worse one, I do not now say, but I do think that he will he a bold man indeed, who will not pause to weigh well the value of such a testimony as this. The whole Catholic Church throughout the world at the present day in theory, and the Roman Church and the Greek Church in practice also, adopt a different rule from that of the Primitive Church in this matter:--is this a light thing, to be set aside at once as a fact of but little importance?--and if any one should say that the practice of the Church of England at least has differed from its theory, I do not see how this can he taken otherwise than as condemnatory of its practice, unless indeed we take as our motto "Mos pro lege," which principle would have been the unfailing defence in every age of every corruption which has ever yet obscured the Church's real standard of faith and worship. Moreover, the present practice of the Church of England, with its rare Celebrations and deserted altars, with its substitution of Morning Prayer, and Litany, and Sermon, for the Liturgy of the Primitive Church, will hardly hear comparison so readily with the worship of the first ages, as to warrant a claim to take such practice as our rule. I do not pretend to say what is the exact value to be attached to the present rule of Christendom in this matter, but a fact it is, and it is one which, I think, demands our serious consideration: for why should we set aside, as a thing of no weight, the actual experience of Christendom, in this matter?
And what was the rule of the early Church? It undoubtedly excluded "non-communicants," the akoinwnhtoi, from the celebration of the Sacrament. But whom did it mean by that word, which we commonly translate "non-communicants?" It meant those "not in communion" with the Church, and this is a very different thing from the [17/18] meaning we now commonly attach to the word "non-communicants." By the withdrawal of "non-communicants" we commonly understand now, the withdrawal of all persons who are not about to receive the Sacrament; but such a withdrawal as this is contrary to the known practice of the Primitive Church. The akoinwnhtoi who were then bid withdraw were those persons who were "not in communion" with the Church,--i. e., the unbaptized, who had never been made members of the Body of Christ at all, and the excommunicate, who were suspended by the discipline of the Church from communion with that Body. To argue, therefore, from the exclusion in early times of the akoinwnhtoi,--that all "non-communicants" (in the sense in which the word is commonly used now) ought to leave church before the celebration of the Sacrament, would be foolish and absurd. If indeed it was proposed to insert a rule in our Prayer Book requiring the akoinwnhtoi, in the true and primitive sense of that word, to withdraw, I suppose that in such a case no one would have anything to say against it;--at least, if care was taken that the altered circumstances of our times, and the altered rule of the whole Church received first its due consideration.
And now I will endeavour briefly to shew that the presence of "non-communicants," i. e., of persons who, though in full communion with the Church, yet did not always receive the Sacrament, was a recognised custom in the Primitive Church.
And the first authority I will cite, shall be that of S. Clement of Alexandria, who lived within a hundred years of S. John the Evangelist, and who therefore mentions this practice as early in the history of the Church, as we could reasonably expect to find it mentioned. He says--"Some (of the clergy), after dividing the Eucharist, as the custom is, permit each of the people to take his share, on the ground that conscience is the best guide for taking or refusing." Here we see the presence of persons taken for granted, who might either "take or refuse" the Sacrament, according to the dictates of their own conscience. They must have been, therefore, in full communion with the Church, else they would not have been at liberty to "take" the Sacrament; and they must have been allowed to be present at Its Celebration without communicating, else they would not have been at liberty to "refuse" It.
 Again, the case of the "consistentes" in the early Church is another proof of the presence then of "non-communicants;" it was the case of those who, being suspended from communion by the discipline of the Church, were yet allowed to "stand with" the faithful at the altar, and join in the common prayers, and see the oblation offered, though they were not allowed to make their own oblations, or to partake of the Eucharist. So that in this class of penitents we see the case of persons whose very name proves that they were allowed to be present at the celebration of the Sacrament, while they were actually forbidden to partake of It.
Again, S. Chrysostom speaks of this custom as existing in his day:--and I quote him more especially, because he is usually quoted as an authority against this practice. He is thus quoted by Bingham,--and English Churchmen, in a question of this kind, naturally turn to Bingham. But they should remember that Bingham is by no means an infallible authority, and that he has, in fact, been charged with great unfairness in only giving one-half of the authorities he quotes, and keeping back the other half, which would have told against him. Gibbon distinctly charges Bingham with this unfairness;--for, speaking of the celibacy of the clergy, (vide note on chapter 20 of the "Decline and Fall, &c") he says,--"See in particular Thomassin, 'Discipline de l'Eglise,' &c, &c.; and 'Bingham's Antiquities,' &c, &c. By each of those learned but partial critics, one-half of the truth is produced, and the other is concealed." Bingham's quotations, therefore, must not be implicitly relied on. And in this particular instance it will be found that Gibbon's reproach is unfortunately true, for while Bingham quotes some very strong passages from S. Chrysostom which tell against this practice, he stops short exactly at that point at which S. Chrysostom cautions his hearers against mistaking his meaning, and omits the very words by which he sought to guard against such mistake. He says:--"In S. Chrysostom's time some began to desire that they might have liberty to stay during the performance of the whole office, and yet not be obliged to communicate;" (how far Bingham is justified in saying that this practice "began" in S. Chrysostom's time, may be seen by referring to the quotation already given from S. Clement of Alexandria, who speaks of the custom as existing in his [19/20] day, two hundred years before S. Chrysostom;) he then quotes from S. Chrysostom's homilies the following passages:--"Thou hast sung the hymn, and made profession with the rest, that thou art one of those that are worthy, by not departing with the unworthy--how is it that thou remainest and yet dost not partake of the table? Thou sayest, 'I am unworthy.' Thou art, then, unworthy of the communion of prayers." Now nothing could prove more plainly than these words do, that the custom did exist in S. Chrysostom's time of those in full communion with the Church remaining throughout the service without communicating. S. Chrysostom blamed this custom;--true;--but in blaming it he proves its existence then, and this is the point of real importance to us. What the object of his blame was, we shall see, from some words of his which Bingham has entirely omitted; for after using very strong language against those who remained without communicating, lest this language should be misunderstood, he adds,--"That I may not he the means of increasing your condemnation, I entreat you not to forbear coming, but to render yourself worthy both of being present and of approaching," i. e., of partaking of the Sacrament.
It is then indisputable, from what S. Chrysostom himself says, that the custom of those in full communion with the Church remaining throughout the service without always communicating, did exist in his day: that it was allowed by the Church (for S. Chrysostom never ventured to turn them out), and that it was not then looked upon as a novelty. Thus much at least is proved by the very language which is quoted against this practice:--and then as to his own opinion about this custom. It is evident, in the first place, that his language was of a highly rhetorical character, for it formed part of a public sermon, in which it is not unusual for a preacher to use language of this kind, which should, however, not be taken quite literally, any more than we take S. Paul's words quite literally, when he says that he "could wish himself accursed for his brethren." If, for instance, a preacher in our own day, noticing the paucity of communicants, in comparison with the throngs present at the inferior service of the Church, were to say,--"How can you come to church at all: how can you join in the General Confession of sin, and receive the public [20/21] Absolution,--how can you recite the Apostles' Creed with the rest, and yet persist in neglect of Christ's ordinance?--you profess yourselves Christians by reciting the Creed, yet you never partake of the Sacrament Christ has ordained!--you acknowledge your own sinfulness in the Confession and in the words of the Litany, yet you persist in this neglect still! Surely you had better not come to church at all than do this! you had better stay away altogether, rather than involve yourselves in these contradictions and inconsistencies!" If, I say, we were to meet with such language as this in a sermon, would any one gravely and seriously maintain that the preacher really meant these people to stay away? would not every one at once know that he was only using rather hyperbolical language in order to lead people to communicate? And is it not so with the passages from S. Chrysostom? they were surely meant to lead people to more frequent communion, not to drive them away from the church.
And the private opinion of one Bishop of the Church may moreover be balanced against the private opinion of another of the same age, so far, at least, as to shew that it was a matter of private opinion only, and not of common consent in that day. For Eusebius of Alexandria (A.D. 440) speaks very strongly indeed on this point, guarding against that very mistake; which S. Chrysostom's words might possibly have led to. He says--"Abide during the Divine and Holy Eucharistic Service, complete the prayer, on no account leaving before the dismissal. If thou hast thy conscience clean, approach, and communicate of the Body and Blood. But if thy conscience condemn thee in foul and evil deeds, decline the Communion until thou hast amended by repentance. But continue during the prayer, and go not out of the church until thou be dismissed. If thou goest out before the dismissal thou imitatest Judas."
We may gather then, from reference to S. Chrysostom, that the practice in question did certainly prevail to a great extent in his day;--that he himself used very strong language against it, but that this was merely the expression of his own private opinion, for he quotes no rule of the Church against it, nor does he venture to forbid it. This language, too, is manifestly of a rhetorical character, such as might be expected in a public sermon; and his opinion upon the [21/22] subject is contradicted by a cotemporary, or nearly so, of hot own, who, in language still stronger than that of S. Chrysostom, has expressed an opinion on this subject diametrically the reverse of his:--if, therefore, the private opinions of these two Bishops are allowed mutually to cancel each other, the fact still remains, acknowledged by S. Chrysostom, that the custom in question did exist, and was allowed in the Church in his day.
And then, shortly after S. Chrysostom's time, we find the public judgment of the Church upon this point deliberately expressed in the Councils of Agde and Orleans. By the former of these--by the Council of Agde, A.D. 500--it is decreed in the 47th Canon as follows:--"We ordain by a special appointment that the whole of the Mass service shall be attended by laymen on Sunday, so that the people presume not to go out before the benediction of the Priest. Those who shall have done so may be publicly rebuked by the Bishop." And then again, in the Council of Orleans, A.D. 511, the same rule is laid down in the 30th Canon, as follows:--"When the people assemble together in the name of God for the celebration of Mass, no one may go out before the solemnity of Mass is completed," &c. [Those who desire to see a catena of authorities on this subject, would do well to get a pamphlet by the Rev. J. E. Vaux, M.A:, entitled, "The Presence of the whole Congregation at the Holy Eucharist, the Rule of Antiquity, and the Intention of the Church of England," published by Palmer; 32, Little Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, price 1 s.]
Now there can be no need to go any farther than this. Those who are not satisfied by this evidence as to the custom of the early Church, would not be satisfied probably with any evidence. First we have this custom mentioned by S. Clement of Alexandria, within a century of the time of S. John the Evangelist. Then we have it taken for granted by an express rule of the Church in the case of the "Consistentes." Then we have it acknowledged as the custom in his day by S. Chrysostom. And lastly we have it definitely established by the deliberate judgment of public councils at Agde and at Orleans. What more proof can be needed than this, that those in full communion with the Church habitually remained throughout the entire service, [22/23] whether actually communicating or not, from the very earliest times? S. Clement mentions it:--the case of the "Consistentes" proves it:--S. Chrysostom confesses it;--and the Councils of Agde and of Orleans distinctly enjoin it!
I do not mean, of course, that no attempt was ever made to require all who were in full communion with the Church to partake of the Sacrament every Sunday. Such attempts, no doubt, were made, but they were felt to be unwise and impracticable, and they were not persisted in. The experience of the Church, in short, made full trial of this question as it arose, and decided it as stated above. Why should we set that decision aside, and attempt to enforce a rigid rule which, the early Church was unable to bear?--why expel those whom the Primitive Church did not expel?--why require all to communicate or to withdraw, when no portion of modern Christendom does require this?
One only thing I will say in conclusion;--viz., that while referring to the early Church to learn what was then the rule and custom of Christian worship, we must at the same time remember that this rule and custom has been considerably modified by the Church in subsequent ages. Neither the Church of England, nor any portion of the Church Catholic, I believe, has now a regular form of exclusion even for the unbaptized and those who never communicate;--it has reserved power, as I have shewn above, to adopt such a rule at any time when it sees fit, by reading the "Excommunications" after the Nicene Creed: but any recurrence to primitive usage, which might be thought desirable in the altered circumstances of our age, must be made by the authority of the Church itself, and not by that of individual ministers of the Church. We may perhaps think it would be a good thing that there should be, before the celebration of the Sacrament, some rubric which should say--" All those who are not in communion with the Church must now withdraw;"--but the Church has not thought good to appoint any such rubric, and therefore we are not at liberty to impose one, either literally or virtually, of our own individual will. I have heard of Bishops and of Priests of late in the Church of England standing up and saying, before the celebration of the Sacrament,--"Those who do not intend to communicate may now withdraw:"--"may now [23/24] withdraw!"--a gracious permission truly to give to those who don't need it! They "may" withdraw! of course they may, either then or at any other part of the service, if they themselves desire it, and if they are careful not to disturb the congregation in doing so: but what if, under this gently permissive "may," there is found to lurk the spirit of a repulsive "must," or at least of a reproachful "ought?" What if ministers of the Church are found, trying to insinuate what they dare not openly say? would this be in the spirit of Christian truth and honesty? We have laws given us in the Church of which we are members, and we are bound (I speak as to Churchmen only) to acknowledge the authority of those laws; we are not at liberty to appeal to them just as far as we please, and to repudiate them in matters which are confessedly of importance, as soon as we find them not in harmony with our own preconceived ideas. Neither may we supersede the existing law of the Church of the present day, on pretence of harmonizing more completely with the law of some former period of the Church: there are legal and constitutional ways of altering the Church's laws, if men desire to do so, but if we would not strike at the root of all authority in these matters, we must acknowledge the force of the existing laws of the Church until they are thus altered.
I sum up then what has been said as follows:--
1st. That our present Prayer Book fully authorizes the presence of the whole congregation throughout the entire service.
2nd. That in no former edition of the Prayer Book has there ever existed any "Rubric or direction whatever requiring all persons either to communicate or to withdraw.
3rd. That the rule of the Church of England in this respect (though not its practice) is in full harmony with the rule and the practice also of the whole of modern Christendom.
4th. That in the Primitive Church it was the unbaptized and excommunicate alone who were required to withdraw.
And 5th. That we are not at liberty to set aside the actual rule of the Church of England of the present day, under pretence of conforming more nearly to the rule of a former period.
 NOTE.--That the present rule of the Church of England has been deliberately retained, and not merely through carelessness may be learnt from the fact that in 1563 the lower House of Convocation presented the following amongst other petitions to the upper House viz., "That no person abide within the church during the time of Communion, unless he do communicate." This petition, thus presented, was refused.