Project Canterbury

Colonial Church Histories: New Zealand

Containing the Dioceses of Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Nelson, Waiapu, Wellington, and Melanesia.

By Henry Jacobs

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1887.

Part II. The Period of Organisation.


The Canterbury Church Committee--Letter written by Mr. J. R. Godley at request of the Committee--Analysis of the same.

In accordance with the bishop's desire, expressed in his pastoral, meetings of clergy and laity were held in the chief centres of population throughout the colony, to consider the appended Principles. As these meetings were held in succession at considerable intervals, abundance of time and opportunity was allowed for the discussion and thorough ventilation of the important questions involved in the Principles. The newspapers opened their columns to correspondence on the subject; lectures and addresses were given upon it; it was a matter of frequent reference in sermons. In short, the clergy, equally with the laity, were being gradually educated up to self-legislation, and self-government, before they were privileged to possess them.

As regards Canterbury, it should be said that this process had been going on before the bishop's pastoral made its appearance in that quarter. The synodical organisation, which the bishop set on foot at his last visit in November, 1851, had not been idle; the minds of several able and thoughtful men, such as the Rev. R. B. Paul, Mr. Godley, Mr. J. E. [197/198] Fitzgerald, Mr. H. J. Tancred, [Footnote: His elder brother, Sir Thomas Tancred, joined the body of Canterbury colonists in the following year, just after Mr. Godley left for England. He was a Christ Church man, and afterwards Fellow of Merton. He took a Double Second in Michaelmas Term, 1830, when Bishop Hamilton, Cardinal Manning, William Palmer of Magdalen, and Henry Wilberforce took Firsts in Classics.] and others, both of the clergy and laity, were continually and earnestly engaged in the discussion of these Church questions in all their bearings. The result was that (1) general meetings of Church people were held both in Lyttelton and Christchurch, chiefly to consider the best means of obtaining a form of government for the Church of New Zealand; (2) that at these meetings a committee was appointed, called the Church Committee, to represent the Canterbury Settlement; and (3) lastly, that a letter of some length, drawn up by a sub-committee of the Church Committee, consisting of the Rev. O. Mathias and Mr. J. R. Godley, but undoubtedly the composition of the latter, was sent to the Bishop of New Zealand, embodying the views of the committee on Church Government for the colony. By a singular coincidence, the date, April 19th, 1852, is identical with that of the bishop's pastoral, which appears, from a subsequent minute of the Church Committee, to have been under their consideration on the 12th June of that year. [Footnote: The original minutes of the Church Committee are in the custody of the writer, together with a copy of the draft of the letter, with corrections in Mr. Godley's own handwriting, and with the date prefixed, also in his handwriting. The earlier portions of the minutes are written by the same hand, Mr. Godley having acted as secretary until his departure from the colony in February, 1853. The writer was himself present at all the meetings of this committee.]

[199] The letter contains: I. An expression of "the sincere gratitude felt by the committee for the encouragement and support which his lordship had uniformly give to the cause of ecclesiastical self-government in this colony." II. A cordial recognition of "the importance of the declaration made by his lordship on a late public occasion to the effect that if the Church in these islands be invested with corporate privileges, he would transfer to the body so constituted all the property now held by himself, as trustee, for general ecclesiastical purposes." "Such a declaration" (it is added) "cannot fail to contribute powerfully both towards the attainment of our common object, and towards its value when attained." III. "A respectful and earnest request that the bishop would give the committee the benefit of his advice and direction as to the best mode of common action; and, in the event of his recommending to petition Parliament, whether any common form of petition had been sanctioned by his lordship." IV. An enquiry whether in the bishop's opinion, "any objection exists to bringing the question under the notice of a colonial legislature, a course which, independently of its greater facility, appears to have the important advantage of affirming the principle that subjects of a purely local character should be dealt with exclusively by local legislation." V. The expression of the committee's decided opinion that, [199/200] whether the Imperial or Colonial Parliament were asked to legislate, "a specific plan of Church government, involving at least an outline of the proposed constitution, should first be agreed upon by the Church herself, so far as this is possible in her present unorganised state; and that the civil power should merely be asked to incorporate her by law." The language of the letter is very decided on this point:--"Application may be made on her behalf to the State, as it might lie in the case of any other associated body, secular or ecclesiastical, for the civil privileges which attach to a chartered corporation; but it seems impossible to admit that the State is competent to decide such questions as those which affect the membership and government of the Church; upon such points it can only accept and ratify her own decision." VI. The letter proceeds to say that "the great difficulty, however, remains, of ascertaining what that decision is; and it is with reference to this point, especially, that the committee venture to crave his lordship's authoritative intervention. It appears to them that a plan of Church government for New Zealand ought to originate with the bishop, or bishops, of New Zealand, and that the consent of the other Orders would more properly be given in the shape of acquiescence in a proposal from his lordship, than in that of original suggestion on their own part." Allusion is here made to the address of 1850, and the letter proceeds to say of this:--"Acting on this view, the committee have abstained from following the example of those clerical and lay members of the New Zealand Church, [200/201] who addressed your lordship on this subject about two years ago, and who, in so doing, entered largely into the details of a proposed constitution. The committee have no means of knowing what answer you gave to the address, or how far the plan which it contained met your approbation; nor do they think it necessary to express any opinion upon that plan on the present occasion, except with reference to one point of great importance." Then VII. this "one point of great importance" is dealt with at some length; it was one which was very much discussed at that period, and on which the views of the Canterbury Committee were certainly at variance with those of the majority of New Zealand Churchmen. They were looked upon, in fact, as far too advanced; it was, indeed, a fear of development in the direction supposed to be indicated by the following extract, that caused many to set their faces against the movement altogether, or, at least, to be lukewarm and undecided in their support of it. In point of fact, however, the committee were not by any means revolutionary, but harmless theorists at the worst. The letter proceeds as follows:--"They have observed that, both in the scheme above mentioned, and in another which has been lately published, as emanating from the Australian Church Society, and which was referred to by your lordship at Wellington, there is contained a proviso to the effect, that the Colonial Church shall be prohibited by the terms of her constitution from altering for her own use the existing ritual of the Church of England, and the Authorised Version of the Holy Scriptures. The [201/202] committee venture respectfully to submit that there appears to them no valid ground for such a proviso, and they would deeply regret to see it incorporated in an Ecclesiastical Constitution for this colony." The next sentence savours somewhat of the magniloquent, and may excite a smile. "They have never heard it proposed either that this Church should participate in directing the concerns of the Church of England, or that she should be represented in any common ecclesiastical legislature for the empire at large; to make her dependent therefore on the mother Church in matters which concern herself exclusively would be, in the opinion of the committee, not only to sacrifice rights inherent in, and exercised by national and provincial churches in every age, but to prepare the way for very serious, practical inconveniences. It is possible, nay almost certain, that on the one hand the lapse of time, and on the other the wide difference of circumstances, which exists between the Churches of England and New Zealand, may imperatively call for a corresponding divergence of their rituals and formularies, both from the present standard and from each other; and the committee submit that each of them ought to decide for herself as to the expediency and extent of such divergence in her own case." They go on to say that "they would maintain this view, even if the Church of England were in full possession of similar powers to those which the Colonial Church is now seeking, and were thereby enabled to make, or assent to, such modifications as might from time to time appear desirable [202/203] for the dependent branches; but the argument for it becomes infinitely stronger now that the effect of the proviso which they are considering would be simply to require the perpetual adhesion of the Church of New Zealand to forms which, open to alteration and improvement as they ought from their nature to be, accident alone has, to all appearance, stereotyped in England." The letter proceeds to anticipate an objection, which might be raised here, to such "complete powers of self-regulation, involving a control over formularies, being possessed by so small a portion of the Church as that which exists in these islands," and suggests that it "might be obviated by a general representation of the Australasian churches in a common legislature, to which the decision of such questions as that now under consideration might be referred. But," they add, "the committee feel that it would be unsuitable and presumptuous in them to discuss the provisions of a scheme so extensive as this; and, while matters remain as they are, that is, while the alternative is between complete independence, and subordination to a church, in whose proceedings the New Zealand Church can take no share, the committee wish most earnestly to express their opinions in favour of the former." They show an anxiety, however, in what follows, to assure the bishop that their zeal is inspired by no actual desire for change, but by anxiety to assert what they consider "a fundamental principle which appears to be endangered." They hope that in this anxiety they "have not unduly deviated from the general [203/204] rule which they wish to observe, of avoiding, until required, to enter upon the details for a Church Constitution; and still more anxiously would they disclaim the inference, if such be possible, that the rituals of their Church, and the Authorised Version of the Scriptures do not command their complete and cordial assent. His lordship at least, they are confident, will not construe the assertion of a right on the part of each separate church, when properly constituted, to manage her own affairs, into an expression of dissatisfaction with any part of the formularies of the Church of England." VIII. One point only remains, "the relation which the Canterbury Association," which was still in existence, "bore to the Church in New Zealand." On this point the conmittee say, "they are sure the Association must feel, as strongly as they do, the great inconvenience which results from Colonial Church property being invested in, and administered by, a distant and irresponsible body; and they are fully convinced therefore that, if the New Zealand Church were properly constituted, the Association would transfer to her at once all the quasi-ecclesiastical functions now exercised by herself." And the letter concludes as follows:--"This conviction forms with the people of this settlement an additional ground for desiring the establishment of a form of government for the Church of England in New Zealand."

The writer has come across no reply to, or acknowledgment of, the foregoing letter. It is reasonable to suppose, however, that the bishop's [204/205] pastoral, which, as we have seen, bears the same date, and was before the committee two months later, was regarded by them, as well as by the bishop, as an amply sufficient reply, especially when taken together with the pastoral of 1853, to which reference will be made at the beginning of our next chapter.

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