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Church Reform in Spain and Portugal

A Short History of the Reformed Episcopal Churches of Spain and Portugal, from 1868 to the Present Time.

By H. E. Noyes.

London, Paris, Melbourne: Cassell and Company, 1897.

Chapter V. The Consecration of Bishop Cabrera.

BUT a few years ago such an event as that which took place in the Church of the Redeemer, Calle Benefecencia, Madrid, on Sunday, September 23rd, 1894, would have been deemed an impossibility. Indeed, as one thinks over the history of this movement, with its struggles, its poverty and its persecutions, and then considers the state of things to-day--a church fully organised on the primitive model, a fixed liturgy loved by the members, church buildings and schools springing up in different parts of the land, and a band of men preaching the pure Word of God and administering the Sacraments "according to Christ's ordinance," one can but exclaim, "What hath God wrought!"

A short account of the consecration, and of some of the steps leading up to it, will be of interest. It may be truly said the event was the making of history.

The oft-expressed desires of the Spanish Reformers to be fully organised and to have the Bishop of their choice consecrated are given elsewhere. Suffice it to now say that for more than twenty years, amid many difficulties and disappointments, the Church had strictly adhered to its purpose. The expression of sympathy [88/89] from the Lambeth Conference in 1878 had raised high hopes. This amounted to expectation when the following resolution was passed, by the Conference in 1888, nem. con.: "That with regard to the Reformers in Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, struggling to free themselves from the burden of unlawful terms of communion, we trust that they may be able to adopt such forms of doctrine and discipline, and to secure such Catholic organisation, as to permit us to give them a fuller recognition. We have referred in another place to the keen controversy this resolution caused throughout the English, and other Churches and the different explanations that were given of it.

The question had been referred to the Bishops of the Irish Church, who passed an important resolution, given in another chapter. It had also been submitted to the General Synod of the Irish Church, and a resolution was passed at a meeting of that body on April 5th, 1894, as follows: "That, seeing that memorials have been presented to the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland by two organised bodies of Reformers in Spain and Portugal respectively, and that the Archbishops and Bishops, after full consideration of these memorials, have passed a resolution which interposes no obstacles to a compliance with this request, and that the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishop of Clogher, and the Bishop of Down have expressed their readiness, under certain conditions, to discharge the episcopal duties for which the memorialists have sought, this Synod, believing that such action belongs entirely to the Archbishops and Bishops themselves, in the exercise of their episcopal powers, subject only to the laws and canons of the Church of Ireland, is satisfied, without [89/90] expressing any opinion, to leave the matter entirely in their hands."

The way was now clear, and his Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, the Right Rev. the Bishop of Down and Connor, and the Right Rev. the Bishop of Clogher--the Bishops forming the Provisional Council of the Spanish Reformed Church--decided that, no obstacle being placed in the way by the Spanish authorities, they would proceed to Madrid for the consecration of Señor J. B. Cabrera, the Bishop-elect of the Reformed Church in Spain. Upon the Tuesday evening the Bishops met in Paris at the house of the Rev. H. E. Noyes, D.D., British Chaplain, and after prayer and consultation, the journey to Madrid was commenced on Wednesday evening. Friday and Saturday in Madrid were fully occupied with a meeting of the Synod of the Reformed Spanish Church, which had been summoned for the occasion, and with two formal meetings of the consecrating Bishops in council.

The following conditions were laid down by the Bishops, and formally accepted by the Synod: (1) "That until these Churches shall have in each case (of Spain and Portugal) three Bishops of their own, there shall be associated with their own Bishop or Bishops a Provisional Council consisting of two or three Bishops of the Church of Ireland, or of some Church in communion therewith; (2) That during the same interval the Synod of each Church shall be pledged (a) Not to permit the election or consecration of any Bishop for the said Church without the written consent of the Provisional Council of Bishops; (b) Not to alter or add to the doctrines, formularies, or discipline of the said Church without the previous approval of the Provisional Council; [90/91] (c) To submit for the examination and sanction of the Provisional Council every resolution of a fundamental character that may be proposed for adoption by a future Synod." The above conditions had already been before the Reformers so far back as the year 1883, but were now solemnly accepted and ratified. The Bishops, however, required a further condition, which was accepted by the Synod--viz. "That no Bishop consecrated should have power to consecrate for another Church without the consent of the other Bishops forming the Council."

The preparation of all the necessary documents and the arrangements for the solemn service on Sunday kept all engaged until a late hour on the Saturday night. Great anxiety was noticeable on the faces of all. The Government had said that if no public manifestation were made, and no notice put in the papers, they would not interfere, and the fear was lest some one unfriendly to the cause of the Reformed Church should insert some notice in the press, and give a pretext for interference; and it could not be forgotten by many present that on a former occasion it was on the Sunday morning that the authorities closed the building.

However, on this occasion all passed off without any hostile demonstration, and much credit is due to the Spanish authorities for their having protected the Reformers in the exercise of their dearly-bought liberties at this important crisis. The service was fixed for ten o'clock, an hour earlier than usual, owing to the necessarily unusual length of the service. Punctually at the hour appointed, the three Bishops, robed, with Dr. Noyes acting as chaplain to his Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, proceeded to the vestry of the church, where they were met by the Pastors of the several [91/92] congregations in Spain, who had come to Madrid for the purpose, and also the members of the vestry. The Pastors, with the Rev. J. B. Cabrera, passed down the church to the west door (which was kept closed by the authorities), on one side of the church; the Archbishop, Bishops, and Chaplain proceeding down the other aisle to meet the Spanish clergy. After the reading of the petition for the consecration of the church, all proceeded to the chancel, the choir and congregation singing the twenty-fourth Psalm. Then followed the "Service for the Consecration of a Church," and, the deed having been signed, the service for the Holy Communion commenced. This service in the Spanish prayer-book is peculiarly rich and beautiful, and the parts to be sung were heartily joined in by the choir and congregation. The choir had been carefully trained by Miss Cabrera, who also presided at the harmonium.

The epistle was read by the Right Rev. the Bishop of Clogher, and the gospel by the Right Rev. the Bishop of Down. After the Nicene Creed, a short sermon was preached by the Rev. Francisco Palomares from San Basilio, Seville, who took as his text St. Matthew v. 14, "Ye are the Light of the World: a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid." At the close of his address the preacher said some earnest words to the Bishop-elect. Señor Palomares is the oldest Pastor in the Spanish Reformed Church, and is much respected.

At the close of the sermon the Bishop-elect was presented to the Archbishop by the Right Rev. the Bishops of Down and Clogher, and the account of the election of Rev. J. B. Cabrera to the solemn office by the Synod was read by one of the Pastors. The litany was said by the Rev. Antonio Garcia, the assistant [92/93] clergyman in Madrid, and at its close the Archbishop took the chair at the chancel steps and put the solemn questions from the service to the Bishop-elect. These questions were put in English and Spanish, and answered by the Rev. J. B. Cabrera in a loud voice. After the Bishop-elect had been robed in surplice, purple and white cope, and purple stole, all having been prepared from an ancient Spanish model, the three Bishops laid their hands upon the head of the Bishop-elect, and the first Bishop of a Reformed Church in Spain was duly admitted to his sacred office.

It was a solemn moment, one which will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. The new Bishop then proceeded with the Communion service, standing behind the holy table, and facing the congregation according to the ancient Mozarabic use. There were 134 communicants, a large proportion of whom were men. At the conclusion of the service the, scene in the vestry was most touching, and there were few dry eyes. All the Pastors embraced their tried friend and first Bishop in true Spanish fashion, and wished him many years of life in which to exercise his holy office. The members of the junta (the vestry) crowded in, and there could be no doubt as to the sincerity of the congratulations. It was the realisation of a long-cherished hope and the consecration of the one man who was the Bishop of their deliberate choice. When we returned to the house the Archbishop took my hand, saying--"Well, Noyes, we have reason to thank God for this day." We were both overcome, and I shall never forget the impression of that hour. I have had many opportunities of intercourse with Bishop Cabrera, and my growing conviction is that he has been raised up by [93/94] God for this important position, and has been given rare powers of organisation. The next day we were all photographed in the patio, a copy of which is printed with this chapter. A medal was struck by order of the Synod to commemorate the event: four in silver--three for the consecrating Bishops and one for myself--and a number in brass for members of the Society and friends in England.

It must not be supposed that such an event could take place without hostility in Spain and criticism in England. A perfect storm of abuse was hurled at the Reformers by the Ultramontane press in Madrid, and the most calumnious charges were made against both the public and private life of the Bishop. But this did. little harm. After a few weeks the inevitable was accepted, and this form of persecution ceased. It would hardly serve any good purpose now to quote the absurd and scurrilous matter which the extreme papers published shortly after the consecration. The Liberal press was, however, entirely favourable, and in not a few instances rejoiced at the progress of religious liberty in Spain. The criticism in England was of a more serious nature, arising chiefly from a misapprehension as to the meaning of the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference (of which we have spoken in another chapter), and on the part of some from a morbid sympathy with the Church of Rome. Part of the controversy has had already very far-reaching effects, owing to the discussion about "Union with Rome" which for the most part arose out of it.

This was started by a correspondence between Lord Halifax, President of the English Church Union, the Archbishop of Toledo, and Cardinal Vaughan. My [94/95] story would hardly be complete without the record of this correspondence. The first letter, published in the Guardian, dated from the office of the English Church Union, October 8th, 1894, was as follows:--

"To the Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord Autolius Monescillo, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Archbishop of Toledo.

"Your Eminence,

"I venture to approach your Eminence in order to express, on behalf of the English Church Union, a Society consisting of many thousands of members of the Church of England, the profound distress which has been caused to us by the recent action of the Archbishop of Dublin in having presumed without the sanction of your Eminence and of the Bishops of your province of Toledo, to consecrate a certain schismatic named Cabrera at Madrid to the episcopate. We desire absolutely to disclaim any complicity with such action, believing it to be a most grievous violation of well-established and universally recognised principles of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and of Catholic order. We are also apprehensive lest it might be supposed by any members of the illustrious Church of Spain that the ancient Church of England, of whose honour we, as her loyal members, are most dutiful jealous, is in any way responsible for this action which we so earnestly deplore. We therefore would say--first, that the provinces of Canterbury and York, which constitute the Church of England, are ecclesiastically independent of and can in no way control those which constitute the Church of Ireland; secondly, that in the last session of the Provincial Synod of Canterbury, held in the present year, the Primate of all England and the Bishops of his province repudiated all responsibility for [95/96] the step contemplated by the Archbishop of Dublin. The Church of England has thus entirely disclaimed any responsibility for an act which is and remains simply the private act of the Archbishop of Dublin and the two Irish Bishops who assisted him. Nevertheless we, on our own behalf, believe it to be right, as members of the Catholic Church, which is the mother of us all, and as members of the Church of England in particular, thus solemnly to assure your Eminence, and the Bishops, clergy, and faithful of the ancient and illustrious Church of Spain, of our repudiation of the encouragement which the action we deplore has given to those who have withdrawn themselves from the communion and authority of their lawful pastors.

"I have the honour to remain, with the expression of my most profound respect,

"Your Eminence's most humble and obedient servant,

"President of the Union."

We can well imagine the perplexity of the Cardinal on reading such a document. But that perplexity was not lessened when a few days afterwards he received the following letter from Cardinal Vaughan, published in the El Correo Espanol of October 19th, 1894.

"Most Excellent and Most Reverend Sir,

"The considerations which I am about briefly and promptly to place before your Eminence upon a matter of the greatest urgency (as may be gathered from the contents) will explain the reason for my sending to you the telegram of this day's date. (I) The English newspapers have just published a letter by Lord Halifax with regard to the consecration of Señor [96/97] Cabrera. (2) This nobleman is not and never was a Catholic, but the chief of one of the sects of the Anglican Church, which claims for itself without the smallest foundation the name of the True Catholic Church. (3) In taking such a name this sect has acted with a view to be regarded in Catholic countries as the National Catholic English Church. It is supremely important that your Eminence should be possessed of these facts in order that you may treat Lord Halifax and the sect over which he presides with prudence, not dealing with it as if it were a member or a part of the Catholic Church, but as a member or part of the Anglican Protestant Church, subject to the civil power. (4) The Viscount's letter is written with the object of astutely deceiving the Catholic Bishops who may not be as well informed as your Eminence. (5) Many persons of this sect when travelling in Catholic countries are accustomed audaciously and sacrilegiously to communicate in the Catholic churches. (6) This sect speaks of us English Catholics as schismatics, and the Catholic Church of England as an Italian Mission.

"With regard to Señor Cabrera, who has received the episcopal pseudo-consecration, I have to call the attention of your Eminence to the following:--

"The Bishops and clergy of the English and Irish Protestant Church do not possess valid orders. The formula of ordination composed by Cranmer in the time of the Reformation was made with the object of excluding all notion of that sacerdotal power (sacerdocio) which pertains to ministers who offer sacrifice. On this point I transmit herewith to your Eminence a letter which I have published in the English newspapers, in which I explain briefly the reasons which make it [97/98] impossible to recognise the validity of the Orders of the Anglican Chilrch. With regard to the manner in which the pseudo-consecration of Señor Cabrera should be treated, whether by your Eminence or by anyone else who may concern himself about the matter, it would be convenient not to insist solely upon the sacrilege that has been committed, but more especially upon the fact that the validity of Orders of the Anglican Church has never been recognised by the Holy See, nor by the Catholic world, and that as regards true Orders understood in a Catholic sense, neither the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin nor the Bishops and clergy of the Protestant Church, whether Anglican or Irish, should be considered more than as so many laymen. With the object of defending the truth, I write this letter to your Eminence, submitting myself to your benignity and paternal affection, and humbly kissing your hands. Your Excellency's humble and most devoted servant,

"Archbishop of Westminster."

One cannot help feeling that this letter must have caused something more than perplexity to the President of the English Church Union; indeed, the controversy which has taken place as to the validity of Anglican Orders, shows that it did so. It is only right to say here that in a subsequent letter written by Cardinal Vaughan the severity of paragraph four in the above letter was considerably toned down.

With these letters I will close the chapter. On the controversy which was carried on for some time after with regard to the interpretation of the resolution of the Lambeth Conference, we have spoken in another chapter. [98/99] Indications are not wanting that many of the objections raised were owing to a misconception as to the facts of the case; and many moderate-minded Churchmen have come to see that had the Irish Bishops adopted any other course, these Reformers might have been thereby driven into some form of dissent.

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