Project Canterbury

REPORT OF THE ROYAL COMMISSION ON ECCLESIASTICAL DISCIPLINE.

Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty
1906.

transcribed by Mr Thomas J W Mason
AD 2001


CHAPTER VIII.
RESULT OF THE EVIDENCE.

The outcome of the evidence as to present breaches of uniformity appears to be as follows.

The law relating to the conduct of divine Service and the ornaments of churches is, in our belief, nowhere exactly observed; and certain minor breaches of it are very generally prevalent.

The law is also broken by many irregular practices which have attained lesser, and widely different, degrees of prevalence. Some of these are omissions, other err in the direction of excess.

Of the omission one has been separately dealt with on account of its character. We refer to disobedience to the rubric directing the recitation of the Athanasian Creed; and in the term “disobedience” we include its omission at the point directed, even though it is used as an anthem at another part of the service, especially when it is so introduced in an incomplete form. The omission of the Creed may be due to any of several different causes, some of which have doctrinal significance. there is no evidence before us from which we can say to what extent these causes severally operate.

Other omissions, such as the neglect of Holy-days services, are for the most part due to carelessness or to a deficient respect for the Church’s rule. Few have any doctrinal significance; and any such significance would seldom be recognised by those responsible for them. We do not think that in many cases there is a deliberate intention to disregard what the Prayer Book requires. But the aggregate effect of a number of omissions goes far beyond the significance which any one of them separately would have. In parishes—and not a few such may still be found—where there is no daily service, no proper observance of Holy-days, no notice of ember Days, no public catechising on Sundays, and perhaps no service even on Ascension Day, it cannot be denied that the standard of worship and of religious observance set before the parishioners differs widely from that which the Prayer Book enjoins. Carelessness in these matters is, we are assured, steadily decreasing, owing to the pressure exercised by the Bishops and to the growing desire for a closer adherence to the directions of the Prayer Book and for more frequent services.

With regard to irregularities in the direction of excess, there is a great volume of evidence showing a large development of such practices. The significance of many of them lies rather in an apparent approximation to the forms of worship of the Church of Rome than in any necessary or essential connexion with Roman doctrine; and an advance on this direction has been stimulated by the organised and widespread action of a large and increasing number of clergy and laity holding the views which certain well-known societies have actively promoted. We have noted in regard to each practice of this sort the degree of prevalence which in the evidence it is shown to have reached. Some such practices are widely prevalent; many are far less so; and some are rare. But it must be recognised, and we understand that it has been recognised in judicial decisions, that an accumulation of such practices in a service may, under certain conditions, have an aggregate effect which is more serious, and further removed from the standard of the Prayer Book and he type of worship inculcated by the Church of England, than the several practices taken singly would appear to have. In a large number of the Service of Holy Communion as to which evidence has been given, vestments, the Confiteor, illegal lights, incense, the Lavabo, the ceremonial mixing of the chalice, the wafer, a posture rendering the manual acts invisible, the sacring bell and the Last Gospel, are all or nearly all in use, and unite to change the outward character of the service from that of the traditional service of the Reformed Church of England to that of the traditional service of the Church of Rome. The primâ facie significance of this similarity is, however, strenuously repudiated by large numbers of loyal members of the Church of England, who claiming quite truly that many of these things took their rise in ancient times, before the introduction of roman abuses, see in their use a token of the continuity of the Church of Christ; and further, relying on the absence of harmful symbolism, honestly believe them to be in accordance with the teaching of the Prayer Book and the law of the Church of England as in their view it ought to be declared. Apart altogether from the question of connexion with the Church of Rome, it may well be doubted how far elaborate spectacular ceremonial of this kind can be consistent with the spirit and genius of the Church of England. The amount of symbolism of which may with advantage accompany worship depends partly on national character and individual temperament, but also partly on the circumstances of each age. In our opinion such observances as the blessing and use of holy water, Tenebrć, the washing of altars, and the benediction and lighting of the Paschal Candle, may emphatically be said to belong to the class of ceremonies which were designedly abandoned in the sixteenth century.

Practices unquestionably significant of doctrine condemned by the Church of England have also been shown to exist in considerable numbers. But they are far less frequent than most of those dealt with in the last paragraph. They cannot accurately be described as prevalent; and some of them seem to be very rare. The churches in which this class of irregularity prevails are most often found in the metropolitan area (especially in the poorer districts), or in seaside towns; but they exist also in other places, including some rural parishes. In these last cases the parishioners have a special cause of complaint, as it is generally very difficult for them to attend any other church. Such churches are far more numerous in the south than the North of England, and are very rare in Wales. The common feature present in and characteristic of most of the illegal practices belonging to this class, such as elevation, genuflexion, use of the Canon of the Mass, use of the words “Behold the Lamb of God,” etc., public reservation, solitary celebrations, simultaneous celebrations of the kind referred to in the evidence, celebrations without communicants and children’s Eucharists, is the tendency to attach to attendance at the consecration of the elements a quasi-sacramental efficacy apart from actual Communion, to regard the consecrated elements as in themselves objects of adoration, and to direct towards them some of the devotion which is due to our Blessed Lord himself.

Prayer and hymns addressed to the Virgin Mary or involving invocation of Saints, and also the superstitious use of images, belong to the same class of practices significant of doctrine repudiated by the Church of England as those mentioned above, and are open to condemnation for a similar reason.

These practices lie on the Rome-ward side of a line of deep cleavage between the Church of England and that of Rome. It is significant that many of them seem to receive their chief support from a section of Churchmen, who, lightly regarding the special ceremonial and distinctive teaching of the Reformed Church of England, and especially her claim to ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies or rites ordained only by man’s authority, profess submission to what they term Catholic custom—an allegiance which in practice is found to involve assimilation of some of the most distinctive methods of Roman worship.