MY DEAR BERESFORD HOPE,
I have read, as we all must have read, a great many writings of good men, from the time of S. Jerome downwards, which we heartily wish had never been published. But, I must confess, I never yet read anything, the composition of one whom I so much respect as yourself, whom I know to be so much in earnest in promoting the welfare—as it seems to you—of the Church of England, which gave me so much pain as that article in the Christian Remembrancer of January, which, by re-publication, you have now claimed as your own. Every one, of course, was aware of its authorship from the beginning; but all rules of literary, and therefore of Christian, courtesy prevented my addressing you personally with regard to an essay which you had not acknowledged to be yours. And review of review is, we all know, as bad as is, in heraldry, metal upon metal. It is true that your name does not appear on the title-page: but, as you have purposely affixed to that title-page the names of other articles, the authorship of which has never been denied, nor the responsibility declined by yourself,—and is perfectly known by all interested in Church matters, that appears of small consequence.
But now that you have taken the responsibility on yourself of asserting what you there assert, there can be no possible impropriety in my endeavouring to show others, what I hope even to persuade you, that, on second thoughts, you would not have committed yourself to some statements, and to more opinions, in the non-fulfilment of which, I feel sure, you will some day be among the first to express your pleasure.
To begin with the least important matter. I am not aware that I had ever heard of the Society which you especially attack as giving despotic powers to its head, till I read of it in your pages. It is very true that, by reprinting your own paragraph, and the rules of that Society, one after the other, in the last Remembrancer, you virtually retracted what had been written hastily. I am not to judge other people by my own conscience; but—as I have more than once had to do in print—I could not have been contented without saying; Any one may make a mistake: I made one here, and I am sorry for it.
But where I think the chief gist of your article lies is here. We have won for the Church a certain amount of progress, partly, indeed, aesthetic, but at least equally of a far deeper character. Now you call those who are still pressing on that movement extreme men. Let us look back a little.
It is now many years since you were connected with the Ecclesiological Society. In its earliest period—before you knew it—they were the extreme men who, like ourselves, insisted that every new church ought to have a ritual chancel; and that at a time when, as an early number of the Ecclesiologist tells us, not one modern church possessed any such thing: they were the extreme men who declared that they would never rest while there was one pew left in one English Church. These things are now simply truisms. A little later you came into the fight; and then we all—you none of the hindmost—were the extreme men. Then we were contending for chancel screens, and altar vestments, and colour in churches generally; and that battle too we won. The first seal of our complete victory was All Saints, Margaret Street.
Now I do not in the least deny that, having worked so heartily, you have a perfect right to act on Lord Russell's advice—Rest, and be thankful. We, GOD knows, are thankful enough; but we have not the most remote idea of resting. And this brings us to the question of vestments.
It comes, I must say, rather strangely from one who, as President of the Ecclesiological Society, must have had so much to do with its organ, that you, having fought so strenuously, as we all have done, for altar vestments and for colour in churches, should now suddenly stop short,—should suddenly draw an arbitrary line and say, These things we shall have; but any other kind of vestments will only stir up popular prejudices, will only give rise to all manner of trouble, and, in fact, are very undesirable.
I could refer you to many and many a page of the Ecclesiologist, where it is said that one great reason for the restoration of colour in our sanctuaries is this: that the simplicity of the surplice, most beautiful of vestments as it is in choir, would no longer be tolerated at the altar.
Further: you take up the line of a strict Anglican. I am not aware that, except by a few vague directions, the English Church commands anything about the vestments of the altar. But I am very well aware that she does command the use of the cope and chasuble, which is exactly what, according to the code of your article, we are not to have. But we shall, though.
And then again: I presume we are all agreed on this—that, although the question of art and aesthetic beauty is the immediate one; that question of which the other is but the type, to which the other is but the portal, is that of worship—the most perfect earthly worship which earthly hands and earthly skill can render to Him Who is the Inspirer of all art as well as of all holiness. What sense is there—what sense can there be—in rejoicing that His inanimate creature, the altar, should be vested in the richest apparel, if you would forbid His not only animate, but especially consecrated, creature, the Priest, to wear any but the simplest vestments?
But you tell us that "rather a tumult may be made." Undoubtedly it was so in the case of S. George's in the East. Did you ever know anything worth fighting for that was gained without one? Had you been an earlier member of the Ecclesiological Society, you would remember how the whole University fell upon us because of that ever-memorable article—written by a now dignitary of the Church—on the notorious Red Church. I do not remember that we therefore refrained from equally criticizing other churches equally bad. But then, you see, and when you joined us, we were extreme men.
However, to read your article, one should imagine that some ten or twelve English Priests had, at the peril of their peace, if not of more, and out of their own heads, introduced these vestments. How stands the case? When we find a country tradesman telling us that, in the course of the past year, he has parted with sixty sets, we may imagine how rapidly our own ecclesiastical law is reclaiming its supremacy.
Notwithstanding your suggestion about riots,—which, I must say, rather reads like the old story, "Don't nail his ears to the pump,"—the whole result seems to lie quite in a different direction. When we hear of poor miners subscribing for a handsome set of vestments, and requesting their Priest to wear them in order that the Blessed Eucharist might stand out pre-eminent above all other services; when we find churchwardens presenting the same vestments to their Clergyman, with a remote hint that, if they were not worn, it might become their painful duty to present him to their Bishop; I do not think that the consummation you so kindly fear for us (but which we certainly do not fear for ourselves) is likely to be fulfilled. And, in truth, the plainest contradiction of your prophecy lies in the fact that, on the very first high Festival which fell after your article was published, greater ritual strides were made all through England than in any five preceding years. If I wished to be ironical, I might say, Post hoc; ergo propter hoc.
And now to proceed to another subject. Your essay professes to review the progress the Church of England has made during the last three years. Had you left Religious Houses out of the question altogether, I should then have been bound to believe that either you knew, or cared, nothing about their increase. But, as you have chosen to single out one for attack, without the slightest reference to any other, the case cannot be so.
I should have thought that one of the most remarkable features of our advance in these last years is the wonderful increase of Sisterhoods. I should have thought, and I still think, that any one professing to be the annalist of our Church should have—however briefly—chronicled this; that, in the period of their review, Sisterhoods have increased nearly three-fold, and Sisters themselves more than five-fold. Was it quite fair to single out the last and newest attempt, whether it result in failure or success, and utterly to ignore all the successes which have already, by GOD'S grace, been attained by the very same principle? You can hardly fail to recollect that language quite as strong, to say the least, as any you have applied to the Norwich experiment, was used by good men towards that effort at Devonport, in which the battle of the Religious Life was practically fought and won. Under such circumstances, I for my part should have thought reticence the wiser course, lest the non-fulfilment of my solemn predictions should discredit my judgment in all other matters.
To proceed to another point; your notice of the Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom. You tell us that, however desirable, however much according to the will of GOD, it is simply a dream, simply an impossibility, would simply require a miracle. I will come back to this presently. In the mean time, one question.
Among other objections that you bring against the A. P. U. C. one is this: that we utterly ignore the great Armenian Church. This objection occurs close to that passage where you speak of what you call the impossibility of corporate re-union. Now, had you known, what every one deeply interested in the East does know, that the Orthodox and Armenian Churches—separated by fourteen hundred years of bitterness—are trembling on the verge of re-union, and that even the popular voice on both sides is crying out for it, could you have almost in one breath spoken of Armenia, and of the so-called impossibility? And would it have been too much to admit that the most singular and vigorous effort after Re-union which has been made for several centuries—that between the American and Russian Churches—had its first beginnings almost simultaneously with the spread of the A. P. U. C. and the consequent multiplication of prayers for Unity?
The thing is impossible, you say; the Union cannot take place without a miracle. Be it so. "It is impossible;" therefore, in the sublime words of that Father, "it is certain." It cannot take place without a miracle. I have read in a certain Book, which it seems to be the fashion now to disbelieve, that if we had faith as a grain of mustard seed, we should do certain things,—which, it appears to me, you do not exactly think we shall be able to do.
But to speak more seriously. Having read, in this last Passion-tide, that last Prayer of our LORD, and spoken about it to others, it so happened that I looked through your Essay again. On the one side I found the: "FATHER, I will;" "that they all may be one;" "that they all may be made perfect in one." I might, had I looked further, have found: "Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." On the other, I found a then anonymous writer telling me, "Union! it is a dream; it is a mere hypothesis; it is an impossibility; it needs a miracle." And which do you think of the two I trusted?
Believe me, my dear Beresford Hope, Yours most truly,
J. M. NEALE.