I WILL not call the present an age of revolution, but it certainly is one that expects of every public institution to correct its inherited and traditional faults, to mould itself in some measure according to true principles and theories, and curtail some of the anomalies that encrust all the habits and associations of so ancient a country and people as England and the English.
The question of Church Patronage is necessarily a duplex one. There is the appointment of an individual to his work or vocation, and there is the property out of which he is to be paid.
Difficulties with regard to the pay of the clergy commences very early in the teaching of the Gospel, not always ending in satisfactory results, or establishing precedents to be blindly followed. Our Lord sent forth His first teachers without anything, and had to warn them to be prepared for very bad receptions. The experiment of the common bag was unsatisfactory under the care of Judas. The first great outburst of Christian love in the Church of the Apostles, the having all things in common, was too ephemeral to be any but a very shadowy or ideal example, and, moreover, it needed a very severe discipline to support it while it lasted, as witness the histories of Ananias and Sapphira. St. Paul, in many portions of his career, had to retain the trade of his youth as an Apostolic preacher; and in some places, according to the temper he found among his converts, his spirit revolted from being maintained by their voluntary offerings.
To follow Church Patronage though all ages of the Church would not only occupy too much space, but entail much repetition. The history of religion itself is involved in it, for ministers of religion from the beginning have required both nomination to their functions and payment for their work, whether in the service of Baal in old times, of Buddha, of Mahomet, or of the Church of God in its manifold history. One thing has to be acknowledged at the very outset of any consideration of this subject--that we cannot start de novo; past facts, relationships, and associations, both legal, moral, and religious, must be considered. The whole present position of the question must be dealt with as having a certain vis inertiæ, not at once to be overcome. And yet it is the province of an age like this to leave a strong mark behind it, and the time is drawing close when a great move must be made. Let us then ask--I. What is the present state of things? II. What signs are there of its public condemnation as dawning before us? III. What are [374/375] the reasons for a careful re-adjustment of the whole question? and IV. What is the nature or direction of that re-adjustment?
I. The present state of things is deficient in many important elements of justice and expediency. Work and pay certainly do not concentre in one focus; indeed, there is danger that while the work remains the pay will be dissipated in space, like other ill-adjusted rays of light, and have no further relation to the work of the church. Again, in consequence of the struggling efforts of Church patrons--subdivided as they are--to fulfil, each one in his small, contracted circle, some common natural instincts of humanity, there is little security for the right man in the right place.
Again, the idea of private property is wholly objectionable and inimical to the claims of justice in the working of any department of the public service--as the Church must be considered, if it is to stand the trials about to come upon her. Buying places in many branches of the public service used to be common. Quasi freeholds were acquired, and vested rights established, which have been exploded of late years as utterly untenable, even where compensation, to a large extent, has been necessary. The result of this system is the establishment of personal independence, to the destruction of discipline, as exercised by the rulers of the Church. We have Bishops--able, just, good men--who themselves are appointed as responsible ministers in the public service, under a revised and purified system as regards the regulation of episcopal estate and income; but who find themselves crippled, and, in many cases, powerless, because they are set over, not a department of public work, but an intricate complication of private interests, and with little power of nominating or promoting clergy. Property cannot be yours and mine too--meum and tuum are distinct; and yet the Church has been labouring under the hallucination that, in matters of work done for pay, it has all due and proper control over clergy, who (to a degree that essentially leavens the whole mass) have bought their places on certain terms, in which the law will firmly support them against any innovations or changes which the Church, as such, may require.
I am not going to use hard words about simony, or define that sin. I only look upon the recognition of its grievous nature as a wise provision for the true and elastic working of the church through ages of dulness and indifference, and preserving church property from utter wreck, such as would befal it, if buying and selling where wholly unrestrained.
II. What signs are there of public condemnation as dawning upon us? A very able report of the Committee of Convocation has been prepared upon the subject. Bishop Mackenzie was Chairman of the united Committees, and, as Suffragan of Nottingham, he read a paper at the last Church Conference, in which he spoke in the strongest terms of the evil of the present state of things. The manifestoes on the [375/376] subject of the Bishops of Manchester and Exeter are still fresh in our minds. Beside, however, the public recognition, there is a growing feeling that, as the Church increases her spiritual agency, she becomes more comprehensive, more national; the dictation or personal control of private individual is more and more out of place. Private patronage and family possession of good livings is a very pretty picture, if the scene of its existence could be excluded from the rest of the Church or country. No doubt it is the occasion of bringing a higher class of men into the Church, and also of putting good men forward, in spite of public prejudice and party spirit, which otherwise would have kept them back, and thus of introducing a great variety of type into the English Church. Mr. Beresford Hope rests much on this argument. But the question now before us is, whether this kind of principle has not done it work, and must not now yield to more general and far wider claims of justice and truth, in harmony with the claims of the whole Church for a sounder system of patronage and greater equality of income. Great country livings give a dangerous reputation of wealth to the Church in her working centres, which, carried up to London by our working artisans, much hinder that willingness to estimate the Church in their new homes as she really is, poor and struggling in sympathy that is with themselves.
III. But this brings us to the question of certain imperative reasons for a careful re-adjustment of the whole question.
There are clear signs of an entire change, already operating and becoming more and more imperative, in the work expected of the clergy. That work used to be defined as serving a church, i.e., having one or two services on the Sunday. This was estimated as being worth _100 a-year, and all the rest was thought saleable in the market as open property. Now if the Church is to be reformed, i.e., if her own energies (so apparent now) are to be become her fixed rule and order, there must clearly be the power given to those who rule and direct the Church to appoint men fit for the work, to promote able and useful men, according to merit and services, and to know clearly what income they have at command for the remuneration of their labours. The hap-hazard, chance system of the past, itself the offspring of spoliations and corruptions in a thousand forms; though seemingly settled down as part of our country's institutions, with a crust of respectability over it, will do no longer, for a very good reason. The whole condition of things it rests on is about to under go a change. A stiffened, crystallized old system of administration may be picturesque, and have its sparkling angles--even its diamonds, its emeralds, and rubies;--but these perhaps can be set elsewhere, as ornaments and beauties of the Church, while the bed on which they have grown must submit to rough practical cultivation.
One imperative reason there seems to be, why the scandal of the sale of [376/377] livings can no longer be countenanced--that private rights are detrimental to our public service--and that imminent as well as great reforms in the Church are about to make the Church more and more a department of the public service.
But it may be said that the present bugbear is disestablishment, which would make the Church less and less a department of the public service. No doubt there are two principles struggling with each other, pulling at each end of a rope. Perhaps they may gyrate without a violent separation, each having its influence on the other according to the strict law of mechanics. But we should consider each supposition with its necessary accompaniments. Disestablishment is talked of, but the actual tendency of events in the last half-century, judged by enactments (as to property), by the revival of Church's constitutional organ, and by the branches of public work willingly undertaken on the part of the clergy, as supervisors of public charity, of education, and a large development of public worship, point strongly to a closer union rather than a separation.
Nor do the claims of independent actors in spiritual matters affect the question. Union of Church and State, as regards all secular matters--such as patronage and property--in no way need imply dictation on the part of the House of Commons on doctrines. That body will be content with its own department, and the more freely it legislates there, the more willingly will it dispense with doctrinal questions.
IV. And now as to the nature and direction of the re-adjustment.
The more the question is dealt on and ventilated, the bolder will be the plans necessary to meet the urgent demands of the case. We have heard what the Committee of Convocation recommend as to the sale of livings. It strongly condemns all traffic in next presentations, and only recommends acquiescence in the sale of advowsons, so generally considered quite innocent--on the condition of the next presentation after such sale being in some public hands. This latter suggestion seems made in strange ignorance of its real import; for, as advowsons are generally sold, it would be like going to your butcher and paying for your dinner of next Sunday week, when your real object was to dine next Sunday.
The buyers and sellers would find these transactions hungry work. As a matter of fact, the recommendation would amount to an entire stoppage of the traffic in any definite form as separated from the sale of landed estates.
It is generally argued that the purchase of livings brings good men and men of money into the Church, and that the Church is benefited by their services, paying them by the respectability of the position rather than in income. I confess I have no faith in the real good of the investment which a retired grocer makes in the purchase of a living for his pet son. Nor have I faith, either, in the spiritual good resulting from a man known [377/378] as a wealthy civilian rather than as a working priest. Men are wanted for the definite work. Clergy are wanted to spend their time in prayer, and teaching, and preaching; among their people, not to present the dignified position which appertains rather to the squire than the priest.
Very wealthy livings are generally scandals, even within themselves as well as to the outer world, from the very fact of their existence. But how re-adjust? I confess that all minor expedients, turn them over as we will, try to make them fit in as we will, but end in inevitable failure. All private patronage will end in traffic. It has been tried, and has been a scandal--grown within the memory of the present age from a comparatively small thing to a gigantic wrong. The patronage of the livings of England is stated to be thus:--
The total number 13,000.
The Crown..............................1,500 Chapters..........................................1,000
Episcopal and senior Rectors..2,500 Universities and official persons.....2,000
Leaving 6,000 in private hands, to which number alone the question of sale now happily applies. But having been banished from the others, or felt as utterly unworthy, why not from this also? Cannot an individual hold a sacred trust as well as a body corporate? Experience, alas! tells us not. Then what are we to do, as the law protects their right? I would say boldly to the owners of Advowsons, Take your fitting compensation for what the law will maintain as your private right, and leave the Church what is her right, for her own purposes, at her own disposal, subject to her own discipline. The clergyman will be a poor man, it may be said. Why so? HE WILL HAVE HIS OWN MONEY IN HIS OWN POCKET, THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN SPENT IN THE PURCHASE; and I would certainly risk the alarming threat, that a system of just patronage would be the means of driving away clergy of private means from the service of the Church. A position founded on justice and honour would be quite as respectable, and attract quite as worthy men, even in worldly positions, as one founded on a principle ever held in the Church as corrupt, dangerous, and a public scandal, when allowed--that of purchasing spiritual rights and offices. The case even of landed proprietors presenting their relations, though natural and allowable, is not desirable, or worth fighting for to make exception of. The clerical position loses independence, and such a man, from his general connections and social position, if worth anything, would generally be quite as well off under an open system of preferment as under the close one, and, if specially fitted, would probably remain as naturally in the family living (whoever had the right to present) as if absolutely presented by the landowners.
Private patronage in itself is not objectionable--indeed, it has its merits; but the dangers overpower all wholesome advantages, and indirectly, as now directly, the good influences and wishes of landed proprietors would ever have their way; but those good influences and motives cannot [378/379] legally be winnowed from the abominable empty chaff of the present traffic that goes on; and, therefore, a sacrifice must be made. One form of purchase has invaded even modern town Church work--specially degrading, intellectually and spiritually, and in itself very shallow--that of a young clergyman "founding a district," as it is called, or a wealthy merchant building a church, that a district of intelligent men and women may be subjected to the ministrations of a man who is unable to obtain any sphere of influence or work on more open and natural principles.
With regard to public patronage:--
1. The Crown. The higher preferments it already enjoys, and I do not think any great harm would ensure, or any real diminution of Church influence and individual opportunities of promoting service and merit, if it would throw its weight into some general scheme.
2. The Episcopate. The one idea of re-adjustment should be to strengthen the hands of the rulers of the Church, and to enlarge their influences to an extent that would amply compensate for the few direct and irresponsible presentations which Bishops now enjoy.
3. Chapters and Universities seem now the subject-matter for such inevitable changes and reforms, that the Church or clerical element, conspicuous in its absence as regards Universities, will no longer require retiring places for its old tutors; while they, and the Chapters also, would be represented on the general system any legislation would appoint. Many legislative ideas may be propounded and worked for by degrees without entailing on those who wish for such reform the responsibility of saying how the revolution is to be effected without a complete and sudden disruption of everything. The beginning, however, would be with private livings actually on sale.
My own conviction is that a body such as the Ecclesiastical Commission, if not it itself, might slowly and by degrees, according to an elaborated system, absorb tithe and parochial endowments into a general fund, relieve the clergy of the trouble they have in business matters connected with their incomes--either pay the lay improprietors in a sum for what practically has long been conflated, or make some annual arrangement--and then apportion to each parish a certain just and proper income, varying according to circumstances of population and work
With regard to appointments. The theory of the Episcopate giving each clergyman his place or office should be made in some degree more real than at present. This would be effected by a system of harmonious working between each Bishop--on the occurrence of a vacancy in his diocese--and the Centre Commission in each province, over which, in matters of patronage, the Archbishop would preside. That Commission would have a great variety of representatives within it--the Crown, the Chapters, the Universities, and individual representative laymen from [379/380] both Houses of Parliament. Such a body would consult local and public interests, and at the same time be unwilling to encounter oppositions from disregard of just personal influences.
But it may be said there is not money enough in the Church property to venture on any redistribution. I would answer that, under the present system, the old property of the Church is melting away, as fast as can be, from the grasp of any Church discipline or work, such as, we hope, will be needful in the future; and therefore that the best policy is to hold fast something whilst we can get and keep it. I would also say that a public, responsible way of managing Church patronage would be the only chance we have, in this age which threatens the stability of all private foundations, of acquiring more funds from the wealthy and influential friends of the Church--who would see great facility of doing good in making offerings to this common fund.
In another way I can see a good chance of acquiring funds for the help of the Church in each parish. The present system of irregular endowments checks the harvest of offertory collections for the maintenance of the clergy. If the income to the parish from the Commissioners was small, the incumbent would have a good claim on the parishioners; and the annual income might be regulated in some measure by the power of the parishioners thus to help. This would in itself be a way of securing to the laity some voice in the larger and important spheres of labour, from the degree to which the clergyman who undertook such a sphere would depend on their offerings. This would be equivalent in some places to a voice in the elections, without its scandals; for no one, unless possessing certain powers, would venture to undertake the post, or, indeed would be presented to it.
A public system of Church patronage, working in each case through the Bishop in the diocese, and controlled by the Houses of Parliament and Convocation, as well as by public opinion, could hardly fail, in addition to its many other advantages, to negative some of the present evil effects of party divisions and prejudice.
In some scheme of this kind I see the best mode of keeping hold of what we really have, at the sacrifice of giving up what we only seem to have, but which is actually private property; and also of adding to it in the offerings and the constant liberality of Churchmen, who, when the existing prejudices about a wealthy national Church are dispelled, will freely open their hearts and hands to supplement in their own parishes the known shortcomings of the Church's funds.