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Suggestions for the Extension of the Ministry and
the Revival of the Order of Sub-Deacons

In a Charge, delivered to the Clergy of the Archdeaconry of London
May 24, 1852.

by William Hale Hale, M.A.
Archdeacon of London.

London: Francis and John Rivington, 1852.


Amidst all the differences of opinion which exist amongst us, there is one point, upon which I believe men of all parties and ranks are fully agreed, namely, that as the population of the kingdom increases, hamlets becoming villages, and villages enlarging into towns, as trade and manufactures seek new places for their exercise, there ought to be a corresponding increase in the number of our Clergy, and a wider diffusion of the Ministrations of our Church. Whilst, however, I fully admit the truth of this statement, I would observe, that as the increase of the population is not the sole ground of this necessity, it is doubtful, whether the spiritual wants of the people would be supplied by the simple addition of more Churches and Pastors without such alterations in the Ministry of our Church as are required by the altered condition of the people, to enable her to fulfil her duty.

I will not attempt to solve the question, whether as a nation, we are more religious than our forefathers; whether, as we have become more refined, we are also more virtuous; or whether, as the Scriptures have been more widely circulated, and more persons are enabled to read them, the number of faithful Christians is proportionally greater. It must, however, be evident that the demand for religious instruction is greatly increased, and that not only in the towns, but also in the country, the duties of the Clergy have become far more laborious. There are few villages, in which two full services are not expected to be performed on each Lord's day, nor are the people satisfied, unless the strictest regularity is observed. Such omissions of the public service as the absence of the minister formerly occasioned, and which then passed unnoticed, can hardly now take place without incurring censure. In large towns also the growing partiality of the people for the Evening Service, and the constant attention which the Clergy devote to their Weekly and Sunday Schools, very frequently render the Parochial Charge a greater burden, than a single Minister is able for a long time together to sustain. How earnestly the Clergy at large have endeavoured to fulfil their duty, under the increasing pressure, is evidenced by the fact, that the number of Curates employed by resident incumbents is doubled, as compared with the number thirty years since; and also by the instances, which daily occur, of the failure of the health and strength of many an active parish priest, whose Benefice neither provides him with support for his family, nor enables him to obtain that help which the duties of the cure require. It must, I think, be evident that, under our present system, as respects both the education and the remuneration of the Clergy, there is too much reason to fear a failure in the supply of Curates for the service of the rapidly increasing population of our towns. The recent institution of an order of men called Scripture Readers, is of itself an indication, that the supply of men regularly educated for the Ministry falls short of the demand, and that the Clergy have neither time nor strength to fulfil all those duties of pastoral superintendence and domestic visitation, which are now required to be performed, in order that our Church may maintain her influence over the people, and preserve them from infidelity or superstition. Even had not our population so rapidly increased, the advance, which the people have made in learning and intelligence, would alone be a sufficient reason, for a vigorous endeavour on the part of our Church to supply them with more ample means of obtaining instruction in religion, by increasing lumber of duly qualified instructors, and the opportunities of assembling together for the public worship of God. The extension of secular knowledge conduces to civilization and to refinement; but the possessor of it does not learn from it to correct the selfishness of his own temper, to bear the trials and disappointments of life, or to be contented with the condition, in which he is placed. He that knows more than others, is not necessarily happier; the most learned man is not necessarily the most virtuous, nor does he who searches most deeply into the works of the Creator, necessarily become more informed, as to the moral relation in which the creature man stands to his Creator. Nay rather, the more men become acquainted with the truths of Natural Science, the more necessary it is to invite them to a closer acquaintance with the truths of Revealed Religion; the more deeply men are initiated in the mysteries of the kingdom of nature, the greater need have they of some friend at hand, who shall remind them of the mysteries of the kingdom of grace. The scientific student has need to be warned that the whole range of the material world, the connexion between mind and matter, or even the physical, moral, and religious condition of the human race, either as it now exists, or has existed in time past, are dangerous subjects of speculation, unless they are modified and corrected by that knowledge of the nature of man and his relation to his Creator and Redeemer, which the Holy Scripture alone supplies.

Twenty years since my Right Reverend Friend, the present Bishop of Norwich, in his valuable "Inquiry into the proofs, nature, and extent of Inspiration, and into the authority of Scripture," expressed the opinion that a "momentous moral crisis was approaching, by the rise of education throughout the mass of the people." There is so much force in what his Lordship then stated with reference to the results of education, and it proves so clearly, that religious knowledge ought to advance as other knowledge advances, that I cannot do better than quote, though at some length, what he has said upon the subject, in the introduction to that Essay. Speaking of the rise of education as a momentous moral crisis, he thus proceeds: "Amidst pretensions to sensible spiritual communion on the one hand, and a careful avoidance of recognizing any divine interposition on the other; amidst theories invented or imported, that would subject the sacred volume to the rules of mere ordinary criticism, opposed only in partial and personal controversy; a large portion of the community, which has been hitherto uneducated, is suddenly roused into free inquiry, and furnished with ability to perceive all that deforms and darkens the subject; but, it must be owned and lamented, not furnished with that spiritual training, which alone enables the inquirer to see his way through it. It is not that the people at large are without any religious and moral instruction, it is not that they have absolutely less now than heretofore, they have probably more. But the progress of spiritual and worldly knowledge is unequal, and it is this inequality of progress that constitutes the danger. It is a truth, which cannot be too strongly insisted on, that if the powers of the intellect strengthened by the acquisition of science, professional learning, or general literature, in short, secular knowledge of whatever kind, without being perpetually exercised on spiritual subjects, its susceptibility of the objections, which may be urged against revelation, will be increased, without a corresponding increase in the ability to remove them. Conscious of having mastered certain difficulties, that attach to subjects which he has studied, one so educated finds it impossible to satisfy himself about difficulties on revelation. Revelation not having received from him the same degree of attention, and forgetful of the unequal distribution of his studies, he charges the fault upon the subject. Doubt, discontent, and contemptuous infidelity (more frequently secret than avowed) are no unusual results. It seems indeed to have been required of us by the Author of revelation, that his Word should have a due share of our intellect, as well as of our heart, and that the disproportionate direction of our talents, no less than of our affections, to the things of this world, should disqualify us for faith. What is sufficient sacred knowledge for an uneducated person becomes inadequate for him when educated, even as he would be crippled and deformed, if the limb, which was strong and well-proportioned when he was a child, should have undergone no progressive change, as his bodily stature increased, and he grew into manhood. We must not think to satisfy the Divine law by setting apart the same absolute amount, as the tithe of our enlarged understanding, which was due from a narrower and more barren field of intellectual culture. Nor let it be imagined, that this is minds highly gifted and accomplished in science, elegant literature, or professional pursuits. It is not the absolute amount of worldly acquirements, but the proportion that they bear to our religious attainments, be these what they may, which is to be dreaded. If the balance of intellectual exercise be not preserved, the almost certain result will be, either an utter indifference to religion, or else that slow corroding scepticism, which is fostered by the consciousness, that difficulties corresponding to those, that continue to perplex our view of revelation, have in our other pursuits been long surmounted and removed."

I am sure, that these sentiments of the Right Rev. Prelate have met with the hearty approval of all who hear me, embodying, as they do, all the grounds of the objection, which we entertain against the attempts that are made, to give the only fixed and certain place in the scheme of public instruction to secular knowledge, and to leave the knowledge of religion to be acquired or not, according to the caprice or the indifference of parents. How can the balance of intellectual exercise be preserved amongst the people of this country, if authority throw its whole weight into the scale of secular instruction, and leave it uncertain whether the other end of the beam be weighted or not? It is not, however, merely with future schemes, that the Church has to contend, but with a state of society already produced. Secular knowledge has made progress: it is every where taught, and every where encouraged, but it is doubtful at best, whether religious knowledge has proportionally advanced. The closer are the inquiries, which are made into the social and domestic condition of the great mass of the people, the more abundant are the proofs that, though more skilled in art and more expanded in intellect, they are perishing for lack of religious knowledge, and are indeed as sheep without a shepherd.

I have already alluded to the fact of the Clergy in populous parishes having had recourse to Scripture Readers, as assistants in the Ministerial charge; and though the success of this scheme has not been uniform, there cannot be any doubt, that good has in many places resulted from their labours, With such evidence of the usefulness of Scripture Readers, and considering, that our Bishops have sanctioned their employment, it might appear unreasonable to doubt the expediency of this measure, as well as presumptuous to suggest, whether it is competent to the Bishops of our Church, without the deliberation and sanction of the Church, to empower a new order of men to share with the regularly ordained Clergy a part of the pastoral care, in searching into the spiritual condition of the people, admonishing the neglectful of their duty, and instructing them in the Holy Scriptures. There is, however, reason to believe that, although the employment of Scripture Readers has been sanctioned by our spiritual rulers, the proceeding is looked upon only as an experiment of a temporary kind, until the time shall arrive, when it shall be in the power of the Church to send forth a body of men, more regularly and authoritatively commissioned to take a part in the Christian Ministry, and to preach to the people the Gospel of Christ.

Is it not high time to lay aside all party feelings, and however we may differ from each other upon some questions, that we should at least unite in considering, what the Church can do for the extension of her Ministry, and what means she possesses for sending forth duly qualified persons to instruct the intelligent, but unenlightened, masses, who may found dwelling close to our places of worship, but who rarely enter the sacred door? I take it for granted that, however useful the domiciliary visits of the Scripture Readers may be, their ministrations fall very short of what is required; that something more is necessary, than that search be made by them for the sick and poor and impotent people of the parish; that we need persons qualified to perform a Divine Service, authorized to instruct the youth in the Catechism, and, if need be, to preach in other places besides our churches, where congregations might be assembled on the Lord's day.

If in the very first years of the Church, an emergency of no greater extent, and arising from other cause, as far as we are informed in Holt Scripture, than murmurings on the part of the Hellenist Converts upon the supposition, that their widows did not share proportionally with the Hebrew widows, in the distribution of the daily alms, was deemed sufficient cause for the holy Apostles to convene the whole multitude of the disciples, to authorize the selection of seven Hellenist brethren--men full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom--for the serving of the tables, and to intrust to them that duty, with imposition of hands and of prayer, is it too much to ask, that a deliberation as serious and solemn should now be held, not indeed for the supplying the temporal wants of a few poor widows, but to provide for the spiritual destitution of myriads of our own people, the married as well as the widowed, the young as well as the old? If the Diaconate, of which St. Stephen was the first member, was the result of the Council at Jerusalem, may we not humbly hope, that the extension of the Diaconate of our Church, or the restitution of some of the lower orders of Ministers, (the use of which has been forborne since the time of the Reformation,) might be the result of some formal conference of the Prelates and Clergy of our Church, in which the whole matter of the Extension of the Ministry should be considered and viewed in all its bearings, not only with reference to the general and particular work of the Ministry as it is pourtrayed in our Ordination Services, but also to the enactments of the statute law which affect the ministry of the Clergy?

For an adequate extension of the Church, and to give the people at large a greater knowledge of true religion, there must be more persons qualified and more means of meeting for public worship; and care must be taken, that the duty and necessity of being baptized should be more fully known, as the door of admission to the hopes and privileges of the Gospel. We want an order of men, who in other places than in our churches shall be authorized to invite the people to keep the Sabbath, and to come together for the worship of God, and hearing His Holy Word both read and preached to them. But if we must wait to assemble our people in public worship, until churches are built enough for their accommodation, we may be assured, that long before that is accomplished, thousands of people will have ceased to comprehend of what use a Church can be to them.

Our difficulties may not in reality be altogether new, but only newly perceived; but if new measures must be devised to meet the difficulties, it will most probably appear, that those measures are most likely be effective, which are based upon acknowledged principles, and which depart least from the ancient discipline of the Church.

Now, if the additional ministrations, which are required for the instruction of the people, be those according to the formularies of our Church belong to the Order of Deacons, and if we discover, that for all practical purposes the Diaconate can hardly be said to exist as a separate Order, it may be worth while to inquire whence it happens, that the number of Deacons is so few, and what are the obstacles, which must be removed in order to the increase of their number. The truth of the case is confessedly this, that although both in the Roman Pontifical, and our own Ordinal as set forth at the Reformation, distinct duties are attached to the Office of Deacon, the Church has for many ages regarded the Office in scarcely any other light, than a preparation for admission to the higher Office of the Priesthood. In conformity with this principle, the Rubric notices, that the service of the Deacon is expected to last for a year, unless for reasonable causes it shall otherwise seem good to the Bishop; whilst the age for admission to the Priesthood is one year above that for admission to the Lower Order. But what necessity can there be, that every one, who is willing to take a part in the Christian ministry, should be allowed to perform the duties of the Lower Order, useful, and important, and necessary as they are for the care and the edification of the people, only for a single year? If men could be found, who were willing to be Deacons, and to serve God in that capacity only, ought we to consider them as men deficient in piety or zeal, because they should decline making those worldly sacrifices and giving up those secular occupations, which are inconsistent with the duties of the Higher Office? According to our present principles, no man is admitted to be a Deacon, and allowed to remain in that office. The acceptance of the first step in the Ministry is considered as an implied promise, that the Deacon should both seek, and qualify himself for, admission to the Priesthood. Yet there seems some injustice in our judgment. No man condemns the Presbyter, who declines the office of a Bishop, because he is unwilling, or unable, to undertake that burden of duty. Yet he, who being ordained a Deacon, would desire to remain a Deacon, and not to undertake the higher duties of Priesthood, would hardly pass without incurring censure or suspicion.

When, therefore, I would suggest that it is expedient for our Church to forego the notion of former times, that the Deaconship is only a preparation for the Priesthood, and that none ought to be admitted as Deacons, who are not willing in due time to be Priests, let me not be charged with innovation, as being the author of new practices and opinions. If I am not misinformed, the Prelates of more than one Diocese in this kingdom have already begun to act upon these principles, and have undertaken of own their authority to ordain as Deacons, persons who are not to be ordained Priests, or who are to undergo a service as Deacons for a number of years. These Bishops would not have taken this new step without being under the strong feeling of necessity, such as has caused other Bishops to sanction the new order of Scripture Readers. That some such measures are necessary I most sincerely believe; at the same time I beg leave humbly to express my doubts, whether the Bishops of our Church have the power, of their own accord, to make these variations in the constitution and character of the Ministerial Office.

Another cause, which practically limits the number of Deacons ordained in each year to the number of vacancies, which have occurred in the Priesthood, either by death or the resignation of their Cures, is the stringency of our Canons, and the strictness of our practice with respect to Titles for Holy Orders. A Title is so indispensable for admission to Holy Orders, that if the candidate be not so provided, the Bishop is bound to keep and maintain the person, whom he ordains, with all things necessary, till he prefer him to some Ecclesiastical Living. The only case, in which the Bishop can ordain one, who has no Title, but lives on his own means, is that of the Master of Arts of five years' standing, living at his own charge at either of the Universities. I cannot but admit the fitness of the rule in time past, that every person, who is ordained, should have some fixed place, wherein to exercise his functions. At the same time it is evident, that so long as the principles of the Canon are strictly and literally carried into practice, there cannot be a greater number of Clergymen, than there are existing Offices and Titles, upon which they can be ordained. Though ten Curates were required for any populous parish, the Bishop would not be authorized in ordaining persons for that duty, unless stipends could be assigned for each of them. It is manifest, then, that the Diaconate of our Church cannot be enlarged without some material change in our Ecclesiastical and Statute Laws, such as would release the Deacon from the implied necessity of proceeding within the to the office of the Priesthood, and should also admit persons, when ordained, to live either on their means, or by some office, trade, or employment, shall not be deemed "base or servile labour." Were changes made in our laws according to this principle, the Order of Deacons would consist of two k descriptions of persons,--those who were content to labour in that office, and would be unfitted by their secular employments for the office of Priesthood; and those also who, having the power and the will to forsake all other cares and occupations would, as at present, not officiate for a longer time as Deacons, than was necessary to prepare them for the Priesthood. I have elsewhere expressed the belief that among the Laity of this great metropolis, as well as in other parts of the kingdom, there would be found many members of our Church engaged in professions and offices, and even of independent fortune, who would be willing, if permitted so to do, to devote much of their time to the fulfilment of the duties which belong to the Deacon's office, who would not disdain to assemble the poor in some humble oratory, or upper chamber of the factory set apart for worship, who would catechise the youth and visit the cottages of the poor. [See "The Duties of the Deacons and Priests compared," &c. London: Rivingtons, 1850.] It is possible, however, that, great as the necessities of the Church may be, society in general is not prepared to sanction the admission to the Deacon's office of any Persons who should continue to exercise their secular occupations. It remains, therefore, to be considered, whether the same objection would stand in the way, to prevent the admission to some lower Order of the Ministry, a Subdiaconate or Readership, of persons whose chief support should be derived, not from the revenues of the Church, but from trades or other sources. The employment of Scripture Readers seems to have prepared the minds of Churchmen for the establishment of a lower Order in the Ministry; and there may be fewer legal difficulties to overcome in introducing what is new, or what has simply fallen into desuetude, than there may be in altering what is settled by law, and sanctioned by usage. If, however, such a new order of Ministers is to be created, some very important points will require consideration. For the existence of an Order of Ministers some form of Ordination seems to be required. If the Apostles did not appoint Stephen and his colleagues to serve tables without imposition of hands and prayer, there would be an impropriety in authorizing men in the present day, to take a part of the pastoral charge, and to share in ministering to the spiritual wants of the people, without giving them a public mission in a solemn manner, corresponding to the importance of their duties.

If the Subdiaconate were to be restored in our Church, the duties of the Subdeacons would require to be authoritatively defined, and the limits, which separate that order from the higher order of Deacons, plainly determined. It would be necessary also, that some rules or canons should be framed regulating the times and places of their ministrations, their qualifications in respect of secular and religious knowledge, the age of their admission, their station in life, the testimonials which they should produce, their subjection to the incumbent of the parish, their submission to their Bishop, and to the discipline of the Church. I am fully aware that many will say at once, if these things are necessary for the enlargement of the Ministry, nothing can be done. But ought the Church, when reminded of her necessities and her duties, at once to give up the case in despair? There surely are to be found in our communion wise and able and zealous men, who would gladly give our Church the benefit of their counsel, and persuade our statesmen not to place impediments in her way. Nay, let me ask, may we not confidently hope that our blessed Lord, the Great Head of the Church, would himself infuse into the minds of his people grace and power adequate to the emergency, provided we humbly acknowledged our necessities, and earnestly besought Him to look down from heaven to behold and visit this vine?

I should not, Reverend Brethren, have ventured thus to address you, were I not convinced, that many of our Prelates take a view of the condition of our Church and of the defects of her ministrations, similar to that, which I have presented to your notice. Indeed, I think, that there is scarcely a Bishop of our Church, who would not be deeply thankful, if he saw only a remote prospect of the enlargement of the Order of Deacons, or the addition of a subordinate Order of Ministers, duly commissioned and authorized by the Church. But are we so void of faith as not to believe, that God will Himself grant to us, that which we see to be necessary for the Church's welfare, provided we duly make known to Him our wants, and use all the temporal aids, which He places within our reach?

If indeed, our Bishops should be advised by persons competent to assure them of the legality of their acts, that it is in their own power, either collectively or separately, as Suffragans of the same province, or Bishops of each Diocese, to make regulations for the enlargement of the Order of Deacons and for the formal addition of a lower Order of Ministers, it would be our duty to submit to their authority, and honestly to assist them in carrying out their designs. I fear, however, that since no changes can be so made in the constitution of the Ministry, without the admission on the part of the State, as well as of the Church, that our Bishops have an independent legislative power, it will soon be found that, connected as our Church is with the State, and controlled by her submission to the supreme authority of the Crown, it will be impossible to make any new enactments, which shall have authority, without the consent of the Crown, and the subsequent confirmation by Parliament.

It may be also more than questionable, whether such important changes, as are necessary to the enlargement of the Ministry, can have a legal efficiency in our Church, unless the laws, which exact those changes, be submitted to the Clergy assembled in their Convocation, and receive from them approval and consent. I know that the very mention of a Convocation is apt at once to create an alarm, and to check the consideration of any improvement, for which the concurrence of that body would be required. Indeed, there is no one more alive than myself to the dangers, which threaten us from what is now called Synodical action, if by that term be meant or implied a deliberative assembly of representatives of the Clergy, resembling the House of Commons, in which any individual member should be at liberty to propose any subject whatever for consideration, and thereupon to take the opinion of the whole body. A Convocation unrestrained in its deliberations, either by the Bishops or by the Crown, would, I fear, as respects the internal condition of the Church and its external relation to the produce dissension rather than peace, would hasted the overthrow of the establishment, and end ultimately in a schism. But if some new Canons were now required to be made for the more perfect discipline of our Church, and to give power to the Bishops to extend, or to modify, the duties of the Ministry, I cannot think that any evil could result from submitting such Canons, when duly prepared and digested, to the consideration of the two Houses of Convocation for their deliberation and consent. On the contrary, I feel persuaded, that nothing would more tend to calm the feelings of the Clergy, and to mitigate their demands for Synodical action, than the proposal of some Canons for special objects required by the altered condition of the Church, and the acknowledgment on the part of the Crown, that Clergy assembled in Convocation is a fit body to advise the Crown, upon matters connected with the doctrine or discipline of the Church. There would. be little fear that the Lower House of Convocation, as at present constituted, would be in opposition to the Upper House, provided, that the Lower House were duly informed upon all the questions which they might have to consider, and their statements received in return, as the opinions of a body of men, capable of forming a judgment, and entitled to respect.

The topics touched upon in this Address may be new to some of those who hear me; and this is certainly the first occasion, on which I have so fully publicly expressed my feelings respecting them. They will, however, easily be recognised by many of my superiors, as well as many of my equals, as thoughts with which my mind has long been conversant, and concerning which I have reason to believe, that I shall incur no censure for having taken this method of inviting discussion upon these most important topics, and preparing the minds of the Clergy and Laity for their due consideration. May God bless this endeavour for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.


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