Project Canterbury


Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty

transcribed by Mr Thomas J W Mason
AD 2001

The Report.

Your Majesty having been pleased to issue a Commission directing us "to inquire into the alleged prevalence of breaches or neglect of the law relating to the conduct of Divine Service in the Church of England and to the ornaments and fittings of Churches, and to consider the existing power and procedure applicable to such irregularities, and to make such recommendations as may be deemed requisite for dealing with the aforesaid matters," we have inquired into the said subjects and now humbly present our unanimous Report thereon to your Majesty.

We have held 118 sittings and examined 164 witnesses.

During our proceedings we were deprived by death of the services of one of our colleagues, Lord St. Helier, who until December, 1904, participated in our inquiry. We wish to place on record our deep sense of the loss which we and the public sustained by Lord St. Helier's death, and our high appreciation of his work. His place has been taken by Lord Alverstone, Lord Chief Justice of England.


After our first meeting we published the following statement: "The Royal Commission is prepared to consider applications from persons desiring to give evidence of breaches or neglect of the law relating to the conduct of Divine Service in the Church of England, and to the ornaments or fittings of Churches, prevalent within the last twelve months [that is since May 1, 1903]. In selecting the witnesses who will then be asked to give evidence, special consideration will be given to those who are, or have been, Church officers in any parish, or are qualified to speak from wide or special knowledge." The above announcement produced little response from Church officers or other person having special connexion with particular churches; nor has any great portion of the evidence which we have received come to us from such persons.

A large body of complaints was brought before us, mainly emanating from three sources: namely witnesses produced (a) by the Reverend the Honourable W.E. Bowen, M.A.; (b) by the Joint Evidence Committee of "The Church of England League" and the "National Protestant Church Union;" and (c) by "The Church Association." Mr. Bowen’s witnesses (4 in number) gave evidence as to 111 services in 107 churches; the witnesses of the Joint Evidence Committee (28 in number) as to 326 services in 307 churches; and the witnesses of the Church Association (44 in number) as to 224 services in 173 churches. In addition to the above, sixteen witnesses gave evidence as to 26 churches and 26 specific services—making in all 687 separate services in 559 churches, some of those churches being the subject of more than one report. In some cases the same service is described by more than one witness.

Almost all of the above evident was directed to alleged irregularities consisting of the introduction of unauthorized alterations in the rites or ceremonies of Divine Service. Scarcely any evidence was offered of mere negligence in the conduct of Divine Service; and we received all that was tendered. On the other hand, the complaints heard by us did not exhaust the evidence offered with reference to alleged positive irregularities. Mr. Bowen, the Joint Evidence Committee, and the Church Association tendered further evidence of the irregularities which we find to be more commonly prevalent; but we considered that for the purpose of our inquiry sufficient evidence of this class had been given, and that to hear more would prolong the inquiry without adequate reason.

In every case we caused a copy of the evidence which had been given as to a service held n a church to be sent forthwith to the incumbent, and invited any observation he might desire to offer, orally or in writing, with regard to the accuracy of the statements made. These reports of services were sent in the first instance without the names of witnesses. But as soon as this class of evidence was closed, we communicated the names of the witnesses to the parties concerned. Replies in writing were received from 502 clergymen to whom copies of the evidence had been sent; and 13 clergymen, some by their own desire and some at the instance of the Commission, attended and gave oral evidence.

We publish the evidence as it was received, subject only to such corrections as were made by the witnesses in revising the proof. We also publish the comments of those to whom the evidence was sent. It will be seen that in certain cases the accuracy of the evidence is denied by those to whom it referred. In a few of these cases the discrepancy is obviously due to misprints in the proof-copies of evidence sent out. In others the points to which the denial related did not seem to us to be of importance; in others again, they seemed grave. In the last class of cases an opportunity was given to the witness of withdrawing, in view of the denial, the statement which had been made; and where this opportunity was taken, the withdrawal is published. It did not appear necessary or possible for us to pronounce between conflicting statements which remain unreconciled. The evidence which stands admitted, or unchallenged, is sufficient to enable us to discharge the duty entrusted to us; and it is on this evidence that our Report is based. It will be seen that in two cases witnesses admitted conduct on their part which, in our opinion, rendered it unfitting that their evidence should be received. In another case the evidence of a witness appeared, and indeed was admitted, to be inaccurate in so many particular that we thought it right to disregard it altogether.

In weighing the complaints, we have thought it necessary to bear in mind the special circumstances under which the evidence was prepared and given. The witnesses were not in sympathy with the services they attended; and their object in attending them was to inquire as to the existence of irregularities such as those which they subsequently reported. Further, in many cases it should be noted that a series of questions had been furnished to them beforehand by the Church Association and the Joint Evidence Committee, which in substance were instructions as to the specific things which they were invited to observe. But, after making all proper deductions in respect of these considerations, we are satisfied that the great mass of the evidence which we have received is trustworthy, in the sense that the witnesses who attended services for the purposes of observing facts have truly reported what they saw. We thought it well to hear all witnesses who, without useless repetition of evidence already given by others, desired to speak to facts in any way relevant to our inquiry; nor did it seem to be worth while to sift out, at great expense of time and some risk of misunderstanding the mention of details which were clearly not breaches of the law. We feel bound, however, to express our regret that some of the witnesses should have thought it necessary to employ phrases likely to cause unnecessary pain to those to whom their evidence referred; and, on the other hand; the language of some of the replies is much to be deprecated. The view sometimes taken seem to have been taken that those who are not parishioners, and do not sympathise with the special type of service used, have no right to attend the services of any particular church so as to be entitled to make a complaint in respect of them. We cannot accept this view. We have in no case invited or instigated anyone to attend Divine Service for the purpose of observation; but we are bound to say that it would have been practically impossible, apart from the evidence which rested on such observation, to ascertain the facts which we appointed to investigate. We must also add that it does not follow that irregularities in the services in a church should be passed over because no habitual worshippers complain. Not only have all the parishioners a right to complain who might possibly attend if those services were differently conducted, but also the nation has a right to expect that in the national Church the services shall be conducted according to law. Therefore we have felt bound to receive and weigh all evidence which appeared to us to be trustworthy, without regard to the status or the motives of those who tendered it.

We communicated to each Bishop the evidence relating to churches in his diocese and the replies of the clergymen concerned, together with a letter of which the following is a copy:

September 30th, 1904

My Lord,—I am directed by the Royal Commissioners on Ecclesiastical Discipline to inform your Lordship that they have been appointed to inquire into the alleged prevalence of breaches or neglect of the law relating to the conduct of Divine Service in the Church of England, and to the ornaments and fittings of churches, and to consider the existing forms and procedure applicable to such irregularities and to make such recommendations as may be deemed requisite for dealing with the aforesaid matters.

In pursuance of the first part of the order of reference, the Commissioners have commenced their work by directing their inquiries more especially to the following points:—

A.—Rites and Ceremonies.

(1) The performance in the church, either in the course of the authorised Prayer Book Services or at a separate time, of any unlawful or unauthorised service, rite or ceremony.

(2) The omission of services, or any part of services, directed by the Prayer Book, where such omission is not authorised under the Shortened Services Act, 1872.

(3)The reservation of the Sacred Elements after consecration.

B.—Ornaments of Ministers.

The use of unlawful vestments, or the neglect to use those prescribed by law.

C.—Ornaments of Churches.

The use of unlawful ornaments, fittings, or decorations, or the absence of those prescribed by law.

The Commissioners have received evidence on one or more of the above points relating to certain churches in your Lordship’s diocese, which has been communicated to the several clergymen responsible for these churches.

I am directed to enclose copies of this evidence and of the replies which have been received, both of which will, in due course, be published by the Commission; and I am to invite, for publication with them, any statement, either oral or written, which your Lordship may be willing to make as to the fact alleged, as to the extent to which the matters complained of may have been sanctioned by you, and as to the reasons why any breach or neglect of the law which appears to be established by this evidence has been permitted.

Further evidence of the same king is being taken, which, so far as it relates to your Lordship’s diocese, will also be forwarded to you from time to time with a similar object.

The Commissioners will have under consideration the question of publishing the first volume of evidence by the beginning of 1905.

I am to add, that the Commissioners would feel obliged if your Lordship would suggest to them any means by which they could obtain fuller information with respect to the diocese under your charge of any breaches or neglect of the law.

It will be noticed that the complaints hitherto received by them relate mainly to the first of these two heads.

I remain,

Your obedient servant,

E.P. Charlewood,

We subsequently addressed to each Bishop the following questions:

(1) Whether the rubric with regard to the recitation of the Athanasian Creed on certain days is universally obeyed in your diocese; and, if not, to what extend this irregularity obtain?

(2) Whether there are instances in your diocese of the omission of the Ante-Communion Service at times when the Holy Communion is celebrated; and if so, to what extend this irregularity obtains?

(3) Whether the directions of Canon24, as to the use of the cope are followed in the Cathedral Church of your diocese?

(4) Have you authorised (otherwise than as sanctioned by a strict interpretation of the Act of Uniformity Amendment Act) (a) deviations from the Order of Public Service prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer; (b) Additional Services? And if so, under what authority?

(5) Have you enjoined obedience to the Judgment in the Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the case of the Bishop of Lincoln; or have you sanctioned or permitted variations from the directions therein laid down?

(6) Have you endeavoured to enforce the "Lambeth Opinions" on the ceremonial use of Incense and the Reservation of the Sacrament; or have you sanctioned or permitted in any case a Use not in accordance with these Opinions?

(7) Have you called the attention of your clergy, as a body or individually, to the illegality of the use of what are known as the Eucharistic vestments in their churches; or have you in any way sanctioned or permitted such use?

(8) Do you, or do the Archdeacons of your diocese, in annual visitation, ask and question of the churchwardens respecting the conduct of Divine Service by the incumbent? If so, can you favour the Commission with a copy of the question asked? Have the answers been practically useful in disclosing irregularities?

The replies to the above communication will be found in Appendix A, Vol. IV.; and, in addition to such replies, many of their Lordships attended before us and gave general evidence on the matters referred to us. They have also afforded us much valuable assistance by furnishing various statistical returns, copies of their Visitation Articles, and other information of a like kind. The main part of the information which we have been able to obtain with reference to hat portion of our inquiry which concerns neglect of the law relating to the conduct of Divine Service has been derived from these sources.

A considerable body of witnesses who have given special attention to the historical questions connected with the matter referred to us, and several diocesan chancellors and lawyers of distinction, have given evidence. We have further had the advantage of hearing proposals by various prominent Churchmen, both as to particular remedies for existing difficulties, and as to Church reform generally. Thus, with the view of checking ritual irregularities, it has bee suggested that the Bishop might, though acting on his own responsibility, be aided and strengthened in the administration of his diocese by the advice of a council of clergy, or a council composed of clergy and laity; while some witnesses have recommended the general institution of parish church councils, on a model which has proved useful in some large urban parishes, the consent of such councils being necessary to any change of ritual. It has been proposed that the approval of the vestry should be required before the institution of an incumbent. It has also been proposed that incumbents, instead of enjoying a freehold tenure, should be appointed for a term of years, at the end of which the appointment might be terminated for any cause which would now justify refusal to institute. Another suggestion was that diocesan should be substituted for parochial endowment, with provisions for removing the clergy from one preferment to another, and granting pensions. The possibility of utilising the services of the houses of Laymen, which are empowered to discuss any church question saving only the definition or interpretation of faith or doctrine, and the progress that has been made in organising a representative church council, composed of the three Orders or Houses of Bishop, Clergy and Laity, have also engaged our attention. We do not fail to recognise the services which may be rendered to the Church by such representative bodies; but we have not made a recommendation on any of these subjects, because they were found to involve questions much wider than the scope of our Commission, and do not think their consideration necessary for properly dealing with the subject-matter of our inquiry.

A large number of publications, including manuals, pamphlets, magazines, tracts, and altar-cards have been laid before us. We have taken these into consideration so far only as they appeared to be connected with the matters specifically mentioned in our Commission, that is to say, so far as they throw light on words used and actions performed by the clergy in and as part of public worship.

Seven Memorials dealing with matters directly or indirectly connected with our inquiry have been laid before us, and have received our attention.

The first stated that the signatories did not intend to bring forward evidence of the neglect of others to observe the rubrics, but that they conceived it their duty to say that the law imposes upon the clergy the obligation of observing the provisions of the Ornaments Rubric, especially with regard to the use of vestments; and, further, that the signatories repudiated the competence of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to determine the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England. This memorial was signed by 2,519 clergymen, whose signatures were invited by the Secretary of the English Church Union. It was forwarded to the Archbishop of Canterbury on December 12, 1904, with a view to its being brought before the Commission.

The second memorial stated the adhesion of the signatories to the principle of an appeal to the First Six Centuries. This memorial was signed by 3,540 clergymen, and was presented to the Commission by the Dean on Canterbury, who supported it by his oral evidence. The Dean explained the "principle of the appeal to the First Six Centuries" to mean the adoption of the view that "nothing can be accepted as truly Catholic which cannot claim the general assent and observance of the Christian Church before the end of the sixth century." He drew attention to the constant reference which the Church of England makes in her formularies to "the custom of the primitive Church," and quoted the authority of Bishops Jewel, Andrewes, and Cosin, and of Dr. Crakanthorp, as well as of the eleven Articles of 1559, in support of his contention. The Dean of Canterbury explained that it was not suggested that the general acceptance of a practice before the end of the sixth century should be treated as a test, subject to which the use of any ceremony or ornament in public worship might be deemed proper to be legalised, but rather as a condition which every practice must satisfy before its claim to Catholicity can be admitted. The Dean of Christ Church, on the other hand, deprecated the universal application for all times of such a condition, as being inconsistent with the idea of development which, in his view, is becoming as important in the region of Church history as in other subjects. In 1905 the Lower House of Canterbury Convocation after discussion resolved "that the appeal to antiquity may rightly be interpreted as an appeal to the general practice of the Catholic Church in the First Six Centuries, and that amidst present controversies a fuller recognition of this principle is much to be desired."

The third memorial signed by 44 clergymen and forwarded to the Commission by the late Canon Garratt of Norwich on April 7, 1905, stated the conviction of the signatories that such an appeal to the First Six Centuries "is fraught with grave peril."

The fourth memorial, signed by 72 laymen and forwarded to the Commission by Bishop Welldon on June 24, 1905, expressed their opinion that the use of the Athanasian Creed in public worship should be made optional and not compulsory.

The fifth memorial was addressed in the first instance to the two Houses of Laymen, and was forwarded to the Commission on July 13, 1905, by the Dean of Canterbury and Prebendary Webb-Peploe, by whom signatures to it had been invited. It was signed by 86 dignitaries of the Church of England, 1,767 other clergy, 52 peers, baronets, and knights, 90 peeresses, 3,231 officers of the Army and Navy and other laymen, and 4,254 women. The memorial deprecated the authorisation of any distinctive vestment for the minister in administering the Holy Communion, and stated that the signatories would "resist to the last any such authorisation."

The sixth memorial, addressed to the Chairman of the Commission by twenty-six clergymen on behalf of the South Midland Protestant Union in January, 1906, contained a representation by the signatories that "any legalized recognition, permissibly or otherwise, of a Mass Vestment of whatever colour for the minister at the administration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion would imply a legalized permission to hold and to teach the doctrine of the Mass."

The seventh memorial, addressed to the Commission by 118 churchwardens of churches within the ancient parish of Manchester, and sent to the Chairman of the Commission on April 17, 1906, expressed the concurrence of the signatories in the following resolution passed at a meeting of churchwardens held on July 24, 1905, namely, "That it would be to the advantage of the Church if the approval of the vestry were required before the institution of any clergyman to any particular parish."

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