DUTIES AND DIFFICULTIES OF ENGLISH CATHOLICS
IN THE PRESENT CRISIS:
THE HON. MR. JUSTICE COLERIDGE.
LATE FELLOW OF ORIEL COLLEGE,
PROFESSOR OF POETRY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD,
AND VICAR OF HURSLEY, HANTS.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I MUST begin by returning you my most sincere thanks for your kindness in allowing your name to stand at the head of the considerations which I have now to offer on a very serious and rather painful subject. Without in the least committing you to any statement or sentiment which may fall from me, I nevertheless feel that such friendly countenance may do much in disposing men to think fairly and deliberately of the view which I have been led to take: in itself a sufficiently obvious one, yet such as may very well escape observation, when people are excited, and think themselves called on to make up their minds in a hurry. There seems some reason to apprehend a feeling of this sort, and that in quarters of no mean influence, regarding the attempt which has recently been made to obviate certain objections to the Thirty-nine Articles, and to reconcile subscription to them with Catholic principles. Persons seem unusually inclined to act and speak hastily on that subject.
This alone, considering the importance of the matter, might excuse an endeavour, however weak, and however insignificant the quarter from which it proceeds, to urge a little more patient reflection and inquiry, before steps are taken, which it may be desirable, but impossible, to retrace. But he who now addresses you has a personal reason, which may partly acquit him of presumption in thus coming forward, whatever other censure it may draw upon him; viz. that he is himself responsible, as far as any one besides the actual writer can be, for the Tract on which so severe a condemnation has lately been pronounced by the Heads of Houses at Oxford; having seen it in proof, and strongly recommended its publication.  He is now, therefore, naturally anxious to explain, as he best may, the grounds of an opinion which has drawn on him the recorded censure of a body which he is for so many reasons bound to respect. The chief ground, indeed, has been already stated by Mr. Newman, viz. its being known as a fact, that persons imbued with Catholic principles, and desirous of carrying out in good faith the views which they seemed to themselves to have learned from sacred Antiquity, were in some points staggered by the tone and wording of the Articles. Thus the title of the Sixth Article, The Sufficiency of Holy Scripture for Salvation, might seem, at first sight, to dispense with the Church's office, as a witness and keeper of Holy Writ, and an enunciator of the Rule of Faith. To say "a man is justified by faith only," might appear to contradict St. James, and to be at variance with the constant use of the terms Justification, Merit, and the like, in the writings of the Fathers. The description of the visible Church, if taken as a strict definition, might seem to countenance the claims of the Cougregationalists. The Article about Sacraments has a sound at variance with the well-known and constant phraseology of the old Church writers: that about Councils requires explanation, to be reconciled with what has always and everywhere been held, conceruing those four at least, which the Church of England acknowledges.
On all these and similar points, explanations at length, had been given in various works; and it seemed desirable to collect them in one, as a kind of manual to assist in what was believed to be the true, legitimate, catholic exposition of the Articles; whereby the scruples which were known to exist, and other similar ones, which may be expected to arise from time to time in the interpretation of them, as of other formularies, might be removed or allayed, and our adherence to primitive antiquity, so far, thoroughly reconciled with our allegiance to the Anglican Church.
Looking in another direction, one seemed to perceive an additional call for some brief and popular treatise to the above effect. From various quarters the cry of insincerity has been of late more and more loudly raised, against those who, subscribing these Articles, professed uncompromising reverence for the ancient Church; and it was supposed neither unreasonable nor uncharitable, to put within the reach of persons, who might find something plausible in such an outcry, the true account of the several points of detail, which at first sight would naturally tell in its favour.
If I may speak of myself individually, I will add that the general tone of the Tract, more especially of the Introduction, appeared to me so very instructive, so exactly what our present position requires, that it would have required some very grave reason indeed, to make me consent to its suppression. To explain myself, I will instance particularly one expression: the rather because it seems to have been understood by many quite in a different sense from what its author intended, and, as I should say, from what the context obviously requires. "Till her members are stirred up to this religious course (of repentance, confession, and prayer, such as to win back the forfeited blessing of the Unity of the Spirit), let the Church sit still; let her be content to be in bondage; let her work in chains; let her submit to her imperfections as a punishment; let her go on teaching with the stammering lips of ambiguous formularies, and inconsistent precedents, and principles partially developed." In this I saw nothing but a condensed statement of the same fact which had been taught and illustrated in detail in a former Tract for the Times, No. 86; the drift of which is to show, that the deviations made in our Prayer Book from the more perfect and primitive forms may be accounted for, on the supposition of a special Providence, overruling them, to suit our decayed moral tone and condition: a view which, besides its intrinsic verisimilitude and importance, I knew had tended much to remove scruples, and to satisfy tender minds. And although that Tract refers directly only to the Prayer Book, yet its principle readily extends itself to other parts of the Church system; and among the rest to the Articles; as also to the relations between our Church and the State: a fact which was brought before me by the phrases "ambiguous formularies," "inconsistent precedents," and "principles but partially developed." Thus I saw nothing in the sense of what was said, which had not been taught at large long ago, without a shadow of scandal, as far as appears: and in the metaphor of "stammering lips," I seemed to see a beautiful and true adaptation of a most heavenly and condescending image from Holy Writ: "Whom shall He teach knowledge? and whom shall He make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must lie upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line; here a little and there a little. For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people: to whom He said, 'This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear." Is not the Prophet here telling us, how God in His great mercy feeds them with milk who have need of milk, though for the time they ought to be able to bear strong meat? how He speaks to them, as nurses to children, vouchsafing to imitate their imperfect tones? and why should it appear a thing offensive or incredible, that the dispensations of Providence with this Church should have proceeded by a similar rule? Or why should any of us take affront, at being advised to "refrain his soul and keep it low" in regard of this particular trial, the imperfections of the Church to which he belongs, as well as in the rest of his probation here? Is not the contrary the very sentiment, the prevalence whereof we lament in the Roman Church, and blame her writers and authorities for encouraging it?
I write this without communication with Mr. Newman, and am far from supposing that I enter into the full meaning of his words; but this is to my mind their obvious meaning: and until English Churchmen, generally, sympathize with him so far, I see no chance of our Church assuming her true position in Christendom, or of the mitigation of our present "unhappy divisions."
For these reasons I wished the Tract published: nor did it occur to me that it was more likely to cause disgust, and excite animadversion and controversy, than former publications expressing the same views. I found hardly anything in it, which had not been before avowed, and explained, and vindicated. Perhaps I did not sufficiently consider the difference involved in bringing the whole together, in a comparatively small compass, and in showing how it bore directly on an important practical question. But as to the doctrinal substance of the Tract, it seemed not unreasonable to hope that the same liberty would be allowed, as in other matters, at first sight at least equally serious. It is stating the case at the very lowest, to say, that the doctrines of Baptismal Regeneration, and of Apostolical Succession in the ministry, appear to be as expressly set forth in the Articles, and what is more, in the Liturgy, as the sufficiency of Scripture exclusive of tradition · or as Justification by Faith exclusive of works in all senses; or as the condemnation of the notion of Purgatory in every sense in which it has ever been held. Now whether, for many years past, liberties have been taken with these doctrines, in the way not only of explanation, but of absolute denial; whether the parties taking such liberties have been few, uninfluential, or unconnected with the University; these are matters familiarly known to all men; but we have not heard of the promulgation of any official reprimand on any such occasion. This is stated not as necessarily imputing any blame to the authors of the present censure: persons in high place must be allowed to judge for themselves, when it is their time to speak, and when to keep silence: but it may serve to account for our not anticipating such notice in the case of this Tract, more than on former occasions.
And this brings me to the particular topic, on which I am anxious to address my brethren through you. The hope we had of being allowed to exercise our old freedom of interpretation on these subjects has been more or less disturbed by what has taken place. There appears to be some chance of an authoritative prohibition of the view, which not this Tract only, but a whole army of writers, new and old, recommend: and it becomes a serious question, what ought to be the line of conduct adopted in such case by persons holding that view, and concerned in any way with subscription to the Articles.
It is a consoling, I trust we may say, a providential circumstance, that no authoritative censure has yet been passed. A resolution carried in the Board of Heads of Houses, I need hardly say, is not an act of the University: it is merely the opinion of the majority of individual members of the Board, happening to be present: worthy of much respect as an expression of opinion from persons in high place, but not laying any definite obligation on the conscience of those in inferior station: not what an episcopal sentence is to Churchmen within the diocese; or an academical sentence, to members of the University. As yet (and we cannot be too thankful for it) we are under no authoritative censure: but what has occurred comes sufficiently near to that case, to make it matter of Christian prudence, that we should realize the possibility of it as well as we can, and try to obtain some general view of what our position and duties would be, should it ever (which God forbid) occur to any of us.
Suppose, e.g. that not the Heads of Houses, but the Academical Body in Convocation assembled, had determined that interpretations such as have been now (not for the first time) suggested, evade rather than explain the Articles, and are inconsistent with the duty of receiving and teaching them in good faith, to which the University, by express statute, binds her tutors and other members; how would a college tutor (to take the simplest case first) have to act under such circumstances, supposing him convinced that the condemned view is the right one? would it not be plain breach of a human trust, if he used the authority committed to him for the purpose of teaching that view? and of a still higher trust, if, in compliance with the academical law, he forbore to inculcate it?
It is very desirable that the unavoidable extent of this difficulty should be thoroughly understood. There is such a thing, we all know, as stating a case of conscience nakedly and drily, in such a way that no one shall be able to say the statement is exactly untrue, yet the effect on the whole would be felt by every one to be unfairly exaggerated, the conclusion, if I may so speak, far too large for the premises. One would be very sorry to entangle any person in a scruple of that kind. But the ground of hesitation in the case imagined, would surely be very different. The words of the censure are very large: "interpretations, such as are suggested in the Tract" are condemned: of course, all such interpretations: of course, then, each particular definite one which is at all peculiar to the Tract, or those who are responsible for it. Now this is a very wide field: not to speak at present of its being indefinitely enlarged by the word such; which would impose on an instructor the task of considering, not merely whether a proposed explanation was contained in the obnoxious Tract, but whether it was of the same sort, and caste, and family. But to confine myself here to points actually stated in the Tract. Our inquirer's perplexity would begin with the Sixth Article: he might have learned from some other quarter--from Field, perhaps, or Laud, or Tertullian,  or St. Augustine,  that Scripture alone is not the Rule of Faith, and in what sense it is not so: but he would find the same mode suggested as in the Tract, of reconciling this opinion with the Article: therefore he must not adopt that mode. Well, suppose him to have found some other, quite free from the dreaded infection: he goes on to the next group of Articles (with a light or a hea.vy heart, as it may happen); and there he cannot evade the difficulty, before alluded to, about Justification by Faith only: but unless he could fall back on pure Lutheranism (which our hypothesis excludes), he will find it hard to give an interpretation which has not been more or less anticipated, either in the Tract or in the elaborate work of its writer on the same subject. Similar instances might be given in each following Article: but not to weary you, let him have arrived at that, which being specified in another document, may be thought to have been chiefly in the mind of the censors: the Twenty-second Article, on Purgatory, Pardons, &c. Here of course his first object would be to know what was meant by " the Romish Doctrine:" and perhaps it might occur to him to look into the first draught of these Articles, set forth by Edward VI. in the year 1552, where he would find that the original phrase was "the doctrine of the school-men:" and he might conclude that he could hardly be wrong if he expounded the present Article to mean " the doctrine of the school-men, as it is developed in the present practices and teaching of the Church: in papal bulls, indulgences, authorized service books, fraternities founded or warranted by authority to offer certain prayers, or the like/3 But here again he would find himself all wrong, for on looking into the Tract, he would meet with this sentence: "what is opposed is the received doctrine of the day, or the doctrine of the Roman schools." This, as far as circumstances guide us, would seem to be the point which of all others has excited most displeasure, and therefore it may seem that the censure refers to this suggestion particularly, as "evading rather than explaining the meaning of the Article." Against it, consequently, a tutor, desirous to act bonâ fide on the prohibition we have been supposing, would feel himself most especially set on his guard. Whatever he might do in any other Article, he could not, without breach of trust, adopt the suggestion of the Tract on this. Then the question would follow, What is Doctrina Romanensium, if school-men, papal decrees, and ordinary clerical teaching, together do not justify that description? There might be some difficulty in replying to this; I will not therefore dwell upon it.
Perhaps now instances enough have been given to make it clear, that, had the censure unhappily been authoritative, it would have been no slight stumbling-block in the way of academical tutors, who might, on other grounds, think it their duty so to interpret ambiguous phrases in the Articles, as to bring them most nearly into conformity with the primitive Church, and to throw no unnecessary censure on other Churches. Such persons would have been met at every turn by the recorded sentence of the University against them: in them it would have been no contumacy, but plain conscientiousness, to withdraw from an engagement which they could not religiously fulfil.
It may be said, they might do the work of tutors, might conduct a young man's general education, without directly applying themselves to the teaching of the Articles. That particular subject they might leave to others, who agreed more nearly in judgment with the general body. But, in the first place, this plan would hardly satisfy a mind disposed to great exactness in matters of trust; since the University statutes make all tutors, and not here and there an occasional theological master, responsible for their pupils' understanding of and adherence to the Articles. Next, considerate Catholics know well, that there is, practically, no separating the high and comprehensive views which that name imports from any of the moral branches of education. Silence them as you may on directly theological questions, how are they to deal with ethics, or poetry, or history, so as not to guide their disciples by the light which the Church system reflects on all? And there is yet a deeper consideration: they may perhaps think that College tuition is a branch of the Pastoral Care; at least, if they be themselves ordained to serve at God's Altar: and then they will have no further alternative: they must either teach Catholicism, or not teach at all.
To pass from the case of those engaged in tuition (which is also, mutatis mutandis, the case of those who appoint the University tutors): it would be matter of grave inquiry, whether any person, adhering to the Articles in the sense pointed out by the Tract, could with an unblemished conscience become a member of the University, or even, without dispensation, continue such. This doubt arises from the acknowledged rule of the best casuists,  that all oaths and covenants imposed by a superior, and especially subscriptions required to Articles of religion, are to be interpreted by the mind and purpose of the parties imposing, and in the sense which they intended. Waterland adds, in speaking of our Articles, the sense of the compilers also; but he presently modifies that part of his statement by subjoining,  "The sense of the compilers, barely considered, is not always to be observed; but so far only as the natural and proper signification of words, or the intention of the imposers, binds it upon us. The sense of the compilers and imposers may generally be presumed the same; and therefore I mention both, one giving light to the other." This mode of speaking plainly implies, that he did not consider the sense of the compilers as being obligatory in itself, but only as being one of the most certain ways to ascertain, where otherwise doubtful, that of the imposers. That is to say, if there be no reason to the contrary, the natural meaning of the words, as at first drawn up, may be taken without hesitation as the meaning of the Church, or State, or University, calling on us to sign them. Still our obligation so to take them arises from our relation to the imposers, not to the compilers: or, as Mr. Newman has more concisely worded it, "We have no duties toward their framers." This is evident, on considering, that if an Article were ambiguous, it is competent to the same authorities which imposed it, to add a new Article, making the point clear: and it is the same thing, if they choose rather to declare that such and such is the signification of the old Article. Thus, whatever might be the meaning of the divines of King Edward, who compiled, or of those of Queen Elizabeth, who revised our Articles, as to Predestination and Election, and other kindred tenets, it was within the prerogative of the Church governors in King Charles the First's time to declare, that those Articles should not be interpreted by the rules of any modern schools, but by the literal and grammatical signification of the words.
The plain and direct rule then is, that the Articles are to be subscribed to in the sense intended by those whose authority makes the subscription requisite. To prevent mistakes, though in a very plain matter, let it be here added, that by this expression, "the sense of the imposers," we do not of course mean the particular interpretation which the Bishops and other authorities for the time being might happen to put upon the several ambiguous passages, as most probable in their own private opinion. This could never be thought of for a rule, being a matter impossible to be ascertained, and varying continually as Church offices drop and are filled up. "The sense of the imposers" can only mean, "the sense in which they intended to allow subscription:" plain and obvious, where the words of the formulary admit but of one interpretation: in other cases doubtful at first reading, yet capable of being fixed with any degree of certainty, by comparison of different passages; by the declarations of the parties; or, as in the case now supposed, by an authoritative rule of exposition superadded to the original formula.
We obey, then, the sense of the imposers, not only when we happen to agree with them in each particular interpretation, but also when our disagreement, known or unknown, extends not beyond the limits which they in their discretion are willing to allow: when we make no "open questions" beyond what they permit. Now, from the Reformation downwards, both English Churchmen in general, and academical men in particular, have had at least so much warrant as this for interpreting the Articles in the Catholic sense. And to prevent cavil, I will here explain what I understand by the Catholic sense. I understand the phrase to mean, "that sense which is most conformable to the ancient rule, Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus." When a doubtful expression occurs in a formulary, it seems to me catholic to interpret it so as may best agree with the known judgment of the primitive, and as yet undivided, Church. Again, it seems catholic to interpret it so as to cast the least unnecessary  censure on other portions of the existing Church: more especially where they form the great majority of Christendom: both because such would be the natural sentiment of a mind trained to think much of the supernatural fellowship of Christians one among another; and because, argumentatively, quod ubique, and quod ab omnibus, are presumptions in favour of quod semper, until the contrary has been proved. These I take to be the grounds and principles of the mode of exposition, of late so severely censured: grounds and principles which would not be shaken by proving here and there an error of application or detail; though as yet I am not aware that anything material, even of that kind, has been or can be substantiated, as against the statements of the Tract.
May we not appeal without hesitation to the whole tenor of English Church history, for the fact, that this,--which I will venture to go on calling the Catholic acceptation of the Articles,--has been allowed by proper authorities in every generation? although in equity the onus probandi lies with those who would now put it down. They may be fairly challenged to name the time, when either the Bishops or the Universities of England have limited, as some would now limit, the sense in which the Articles are to be subscribed. But we have moreover this positive presumption in our favour, that the first imposers of the Articles, who were some of them  also among their original compilers, did in effect not only allow, but even enjoin and recommend the Catholic sense of them. It has been often repeated of late, but does not seem to have been sufficiently noticed,--I will therefore here set it down once more:--that the same convocation, in the same set of canons, which first required subscription to the Articles in 1571, enjoined also that preachers should "in the first place be careful never to teach anything from the pulpit, to be religiously held and believed by the people, but what is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testament, and collected out of that very doctrine by the Catholic Fathers and ancient Bishops." It seems no violent inference, that the appointed measure of doctrine preached, was also intended to be the measure of doctrine delivered in the way of explanation of doubtful passages in formularies. The first generation, therefore, of subscribers to the Articles might well think they had something more than permission to interpret them on Catholic principles. What was to hinder the next from taking the benefit of the same canon; and the next to them, and so on, quite down to our time; unless some authoritative declaration to the contrary can be produced? But the only interferences by authority that I am aware of were the King's declaration before mentioned, the re-enactment of subscription in 1662, and the directions of William in 1695, repeated by George I. at his accession. In the two first, the animus imponentis cannot be supposed less favourable to Catholic views, than that of the synod in Queen Elizabeth's time; and the last relates exclusively to the fundamentals of the faith, as contained in the five first Articles.
Nor can it be said that there was no interference, simply because the interpretation in question did not exist to be interfered with. Nobody can be ignorant that there has existed all along a school of divines who have been constantly employing it, on no mean points, but such as tradition, justification, the nature and authority of the Church, &c.: some of them confessedly among the greatest names in English theology.
There was call enough for the imposers of subscription to repudiate such " suggestions/' had they been so disposed. But no such thing was ever done; neither by the Church, nor (I speak under correction, not having documents at hand) by the University. May we not say then, with some confidence, that our case so far is complete? May we not hope that however the cause, which seems to us Catholic, may be damaged in other respects by the unworthiness of its defenders, at least it will not be allowed to suffer from this imputation on their sincerity,--that they maintain it contrary to the known tenor of their own solemn engagements?
But all this depends on the consent, implied or express, of the party imposing the subscription. Let that be once unequivocally withdrawn, and we should indeed be liable to the taunts and reproaches which now affect us so little, were we to go on subscribing by virtue of our Catholic interpretation. I would not willingly excite unnecessary scruples, nor cast a stumbling-block in the way of any man's conscience; but is it not so, that had Convocation ratified anything equivalent to the recent vote of the Heads of Houses, not only tutors, holding the Catholic view of the Articles, must have resigned their offices to avoid breach of trust, but no academic whatever, of the like principles, could either subscribe afresh or continue his subscription? Obviously he could not subscribe, for he could not do so in any sense allowed by the imposers. But since most of those who subscribe the Articles in the Universities, are too young to have definite opinions on their meaning, the main import of their subscription being that they receive them on the authority of the present Church: this might be thought no very great evil in practice. Few, it may be thought, would be excluded by it; and those who did subscribe would have greater security (so this argument would suppose) for sound education. Bnt what are those to do who have subscribed long ago in the Catholic sense, now (by hypothesis) forbidden? Can they honestly go on availing themselves of their former signature, now that the consideration is at an end which made that signature available? Can they with clear and untroubled consciences receive the emoluments of an academical foundation, or exercise the privileges of a member of the academical senate, while deliberately breaking the condition on which only they were allowed to share in those advantages? As long as they do so, they seem virtually to continue or renew their act of adhesion to the formula: and if there would be insincerity in that act, were it now to be performed for the first time, surely to go on reaping the benefit of it amounts to a constant repetition of the insincerity.
I am not prepared to say, that under such circumstances individuals might not honestly go on, having sufficient reason to know such was the wish of the imposing body in their own particular case: but if not sin, it would approach nearly to scandal, unless they could obtain a public dispensation, express or implied, to that effect. But as to the general case, as far as I see my way in it, I own that I have no alternative: it would. be equivalent to the University's adopting a new test, which if you cannot take, you can but retire from the society.
The general principles which regulate Academical subscription must of course be applicable to Clerical subscription likewise; only that all cases of conscience assume a deeper and more awful interest, as they come nearer and nearer to the Most Holy Things; and any sin or scandal which may be incurred will be, cæteris paribus, indefinitely greater. Nor am I unmindful, believe me, of the proportionably greater peril of unworthy tampering with this branch of the subject; and it is partly from a feeling of that sort that I have preferred stating the general case, with an immediate view to the University, rather than to the Clergy. If, however, the determination of it above intimated is correct in substance, there can be no difficulty in applying it to this other and more serious relation. If a candidate for holy orders, or a clerk nominated to any dignity or cure, were distinctly warned, by the same authority which calls on him to subscribe the Articles, that the Catholic mode of interpreting them would be considered as "evading their sense," and "defeating their object" the act of signature would evidently amount to a pledge on his part against that mode of interpretation. If, in virtue of a preceding signature, he were already exercising his ministry, his going on, without protest, to do so, after such warning, would virtually come to the same thing: it would be equivalent, as I said before, to a continued signature; unless indeed he could obtain from the imposers express or implied dispensation for his own case, which would remove the sin, and, if made public, would remove the scandal also.
But Clerical Subscription differs from Academical in this important respect; that it is not quite so easy to determine who are the real imposers of it, and what kind of declaration on their part is to be regarded as authoritative. Thus far, however, all Catholics will be agreed: that a synodical determination of the Bishops of the Church of England, with or without the superadded warrant of the State (on whose prerogative in such causes I would refrain from here expressing any opinion), would be endued with unquestionable authority. And it may seem at first sight as if nothing less could be so; as if the supposed limitation of meaning could only be enacted by another synod of London: just as in the University it would require an act of the Senatus Academicus. But would it not be dangerous, under present circumstances, to press this rule very rigidly?--to insist on the literal meaning of the phrase, animus imponentis, so as to demand that the party modifying, should be formally as well as substantially identical with the party enacting? Would it not be taking unfair advantage of the unhappy condition of our Church, and of the real or supposed inability even of her Prelates to legislate for her, independently of those who happen to be ministers of State for the time? It certainly seems as if, to a person really reverencing the Bishops as the Apostles' successors, there might be declarations of opinion not synodical, which would oblige him morally if not legally: as for example, if all our prelates should severally declare, ex Cathedra, their adhesion to the view which has just been expressed at Oxford; or if not all, yet such a majority, as to leave no reasonable doubt what the decision of a synod would be. In such case, would it not be incumbent on those who abide by the Catholic exposition, yet wished to retain their ministry, to protest in some such way, as that the very silence of our Bishops permitting them to go on, would amount to a virtual dispensation as regarded them? More especially if the Bishop under whom we ourselves minister, did in any manner lay on us his commands to the same effect, (as a public, official declaration of his opinion would amount to a virtual command, and ought, I imagine, to be obeyed as such:) these are considerations which would make our position a very delicate one indeed.
First, the old sacred maxim, He that heareth you heareth Me, or, as the Church afterwards expressed it, Ecclesia in Episcopo, could not but weigh heavily on a consistent Churchman's mind: receiving as it does in our days (if possible) additional point and force from the fact, that our own Bishop's personal direction is almost the only mode left, by which we may ascertain the mind of the Church on any doubtful matter of practice. 
Next, let it be well weighed how much the Oath of Canonical Obedience imports. No pledge can be more solemn or direct, than that under which we stand bound "reverently to obey our Ordinary, and other chief ministers, unto whom is committed the charge and government over us; following with a glad mind and will their godly admonitions, and submitting ourselves to their godly judgments." This latter clause appears to refer, more especially, to doctrinal decisions: and if to any, surely most especially to their explanation of the terms of the engagement, to which they themselves admitted us: as the Church's agents, it is true, and not in any wise by their own independent authority;. yet as deliberative, responsible, highly trusted agents, endowed severally with powers of more than human origin, to enforce their "godly judgments." So that it would be a very strong step indeed, and one hardly conceivable, but in a case where the very foundation of the faith was unequivocally assailed, for a Catholic Priest to go on ministering, when he knew that he was violating the conditions on which his Bishop would allow him to minister. It would be far different from insubordinate conduct here and there, in points of detail: rather his whole clerical life would be one continued act of disobedience. Who could endure such a burthen? What labour could prosper, what blessing be looked for, under it?
It is very possible that I may overlook something which materially affects this question, and which may be plain enough to other persons; but it does seem to me that in the case supposed (of a public censure, and dispensation, refused), loyalty to the Church, her Creed or her Order both, could only be maintained by one of the two following courses: either we should continue in our ministry, respect, fully stating our case, and making appeal to the Metropolitan, or as Archbishop Cranmer did, to the Synod, and that publicly--which course one should be slow to adopt except in a matter which concerned the very principles of Faith and of Church Communion;--or else we should tender to our superiors our relinquishment of the post which we held under them in the Church, and retire either into some other diocese, or, if all our Bishops were agreed into lay communion. The objections in point of scandal to these two courses would be, that the former might sound under present circumstances more as a way of talking than anything else: the latter, unless the case were very amply and openly explained, would appear as if one conceded the notion of the Articles being incapable of a Catholic sense. But explanations might be given. And it seems on the whole that with the exception of such extreme cases as just now put, of positive heresy in one of the Most Sacred Order, this resource of lay communion, painful and trying as it must be in most cases, both in a temporal and spiritual sense, would be the only one properly open to us. Farther than it we could not even appear to separate from that which we believe to be the manifestation of the Holy Catholic Church in our country. We might be excommunicated, but we could neither join ourselves to any of the uncatholic communities around us, nor form a new communion for ourselves. We could not be driven into schism against our will. We could only wait patiently at the Church door, wishing and praying that our bonds might be taken off, and pleading our cause as we best might from reason and Scripture and Church precedents. So little ground is there for the surmise, that advocating the Catholic sense of the Articles is symptomatic of a tendency to depart from the English Church.
So far, my dear Friend, you will perceive that I have been addressing myself to those chiefly, who concur with me in their view of the principle on which the Articles should be expounded. May I, in conclusion, mention a few topics, which I would fain suggest for the consideration of persons demurring to that principle, either its truth or its expediency, yet unprepared to adopt, at all hazards, extreme measures towards the maintainers of it? The objects of such a censure as that which occasioned these remarks could not indeed consistently deviate into schism: but it cannot be denied, that should it be unhappily adopted by Church authority, now or at any future time, very evil consequences of that kind may be anticipated with regard to others. The whole position of our English Church, in her great controversy with Rome, will be altered. She will no longer be able to take her stand, in questions of Church practice or interpretation of Scripture, upon the old Catholic fathers and ancient doctors. To what her appeal must be made, is not so clear; but as often as she tries to fall back on antiquity and Church consent, Romanists will have to say, "Nay, you have explicitly condemned suggestions of that kind in the exposition of your Articles; you cannot now be allowed, as in former days, to avail yourselves of them." Hitherto, in all essential points, the followers of antiquity among us have challenged the Roman Catholics to prove our formularies wrong: it has been constantly said, "Rome must move towards us in the first instance, if ever a re-union is to take place." But now it will be quite obvious, that we too shall have to retrace our steps. We shall have wantonly sacrificed so much of the holy ground, which, by an especial Providence, we have hitherto occupied. As we have in former days surrendered to them the name Catholic, so we should now, by a kind of fatality, be conceding the thing itself, and that at the very point of time when people gradually are beginning to be aware of its importance. There is no need to enlarge on the scandal which this would cause to our English Romanists, encouraging them to continue in their schism; and to Roman Catholics abroad, causing them to think and speak more harshly than ever of our branch of the Church: nor is there occasion to add anything to the important and unanswerable statements of Mr. Newman, concerning the almost certain effect on many of our own communion, whose Catholic feelings are stronger than their principles are clear and consistent; who are of themselves sufficiently inclined to be jealous of the signification of our formularies, from circumstances unhappily connected with their origin and history; and who may seem to be wanting only such an impulse, as a false step on the part of our Church would give them, to go sheer over the precipice, and pledge themselves to the infallibility of Rome. But may it not be well to give a thought also to another sort of scandal--the encouragement which would be given to the latitudinarian and dissenter, who will sneeringly congratulate our Church on having at last found out her own inconsistency, and abandoned the untenable position for which she has so long been contending? Will it be pleasant or profitable to have the good faith of former ages, the theological honesty of such as Andrewes and Laud, of Hammond and Bull, virtually impugned by the confession of their own branch of the Church? Will it not tend fearfully to the promotion of scepticism, and of a worldly contemptuous tone on all such subjects?
Again, it should not be left out of sight, that the course which I am now deprecating, tending to displace, on religious scruples, a certain number of clergymen or academical men, tends, consequently, to perplex and discourage a certain number of quiet, thoughtful people, under their charge, or otherwise aware of the circumstances. Of course, this inconvenience must be faced, rather than bear with false doctrine or immoral practice: yet it is a serious thing to multiply cases of conscience, and disseminate popular alarms, without some great necessity; and those who think the interpretation objected to rather imprudently stated than untrue m itself, will perhaps feel themselves bound, according to their opportunities, to check the same kind of imprudence, should it appear on the opposite side, the more earnestly from their sympathizing with such simple people as I am now alluding to.
Further, we may be tolerably sure that the half-schismatical effect of such a censure will not pass away with this year nor with the next, nor with the lives of those who have to inflict or endure it. There will always be, in all probability, a certain number of educated persons, who will be led to take the view now objected to of the Articles of the English Church, and will be unable to sign them in any other sense. They will be restrained, at most, to Lay Communion, and their energies will be so much lost to the ministry. And it will be much if in the course of years human infirmity do not cause some of them to lapse into absolute schism. At any rate there will be a constant though an involuntary thorn in our Church's side: in one respect more so even than the Nonjurors; at least so far as the point which gave name to their party went; for they naturally ceased as a sect or school, when the claims of the exiled family vanished away. But the interpretation which causes this difference, is such as cannot well cease to exist, while men have eyes to read the Fathers and to compare them with the Articles, and hearts to feel the duty of Catholicity.
The last evil that I shall now specify, as likely to ensue from any hasty step of the kind on the part of those in authority, is the necessity which it seems to involve of something more definite, to follow on the Protestant side of the controversy. (I use the word Protestant in its historical sense, that sense by which it is best known throughout Christendom, as denoting a certain school of positive opinions: not in its strict etymological sense, as simply meaning those who protest against certain errors of the Church of Rome.) For example: the censure, supposing it authoritative, declares it an evasion of the sense of our Church on Purgatory, to say that "the Romish doctrine" means the doctrine of the Schools as "popularly taught in that communion: will it not be expected, by and by, that the same authority should declare what is the intended measure of Romish doctrine? May we not expect efforts to establish, as a dictum of our Church, the too popular notion, that wilful deadly sin after Baptism, truly repented of, is as if it had never been; so that a lifelong contrition is not needed, to make the man's final hope assured and certain? Again, the censure seems to repudiate Catholic consent as a part of the Rule of Faith: shall we have no endeavours, by and by, to assert in direct terms the right of private judgment in its place? The same kind of questions might be asked with reference to the other disputed points; nor would it be hard to imagine two or three different schools of Theology, which would earnestly contend with each other for the right of determining them, each encouraged by the success they had had in common in first setting out. There is here abundant promise of future controversy; considering that the object of the censure was the peace of the Church.
But we may be allowed to hope better things: and, indeed, whilst I am writing, I am informed that the respected authors of this severe but no doubt conscientious sentence, have given, or are giving currency to a statement, that they did not intend it as an expression of theological opinion, but rather, if I rightly understand what I hear, as a caution against an immoral unfairness of interpretation, which they feared mightfind unintentional encouragement in the manner of reasoning adopted in the Tract which they were noticing. You and others will judge whether anything has been said incidentally, in the course of this letter, to obviate any such suspicion, by explaining that the principle of the Tract was that which the first imposers of subscription expressly recommended, and which their successors in every generation have constantly allowed: viz. to interpret all doubtful places, as nearly as possible, by the rule of Catholic consent. You will also judge whether I have at all succeeded in the more direct object of what has been said: in pointing out, namely, the course which persons interpreting our formularies on the above-mentioned Catholic principle must adopt, in the event of an authoritative condemnation of that principle: you will judge whether the principle itself, or the condemnation of it, is more to be apprehended, as tending either to schism, or to scandal in other ways. And whatever your sentence may be on these points, you will, I am sure, rejoice with me, that through the moderation of various parties, the discussion, at first so painful, appears likely to be concluded with no loss to truth, and (may I not add?) with some gain to charity (for I reckon as nothing what may have been said in angry newspapers, or in mere political declamation): and that we have heard so little, during its progress, of that most uncatholic sentiment, too often lightly uttered in such debates, "If a man cannot sign, let him go: we can do without him: if he does not like our Church, let him go to another:" as if there were any other to which he could go. The prevalence or abatement of this sort of language and feeling, is perhaps one of the surest indices of the decay or growth of the temper of Catholicity among us. May we hear and practise less and less of it, and more of the tone and mind of that good Bishop of our Church, who living in uncatholic times, yet made it part of his daily evening prayer, that GOD would "vouchsafe unto him an interest in the prayers of His holy Church THROUGHOUT THE WORLD, which had that day been offered to the Throne of Grace."
Believe me, my dear Friend,
Very affectionately yours,
Hursley, April 2,1841.
1. This, his responsibility, he avowed to the Board, before the result of their deliberations on the subject was known.
2. Isa. xxviii. 9-12.
3. De Virg. Veland. 1. De Præscript. Hæret. 13.
4. Enchirid. c. 56.
5. Bp. Sanderson de Juramenti Obligatione, Præl. vii. § 9; and as quoted by him, St. Aug. Epist. 125, 4; 126, 13.
6. Case of Arian Subscription, c. iii. Works, ii. 288.
7. 7 By "unnecessary," I mean here, "not required, humanly speaking, for the prevention of serious error in doctrine or practice." And as an example, I would instance the Articles never charging the Churches of Greece or Rome with idolatry; as also their stigmatizing the tenets about purgatory, &c., not as overthrowing the foundations of the faith, but as "a fond thing vainly invented, and not proveable from Scripture, but rather repugnant to it."
8. Bishops Horne and Grindall. See Strype, Cranm. b. ii. c. 27.
9. By God's good Providence this statement, in its fulness, is now (1865) no longer applicable to our position, and apparently becoming less so year by year, as the idea of Synodical action with appellate authority is gradually reviving among ourselves, and in Christendom generally. And the perplexities and alarms to which these pages address themselves are in the like proportion vanishing away.