The Catholic Movement and the Society of the Holy Cross.
By J. Embry, M.A.,
Vicar of St. Bartholomews, Dover.
London: The Faith Press, 1931.
"REPROVED BECAUSE OF A WELL OF WATER."
FATHER MACKONOCHIE said in 1866,"Few of the bishops would dare to say a word for us, most of them would distinctly condemn both our principles and our mode of carrying them out. Our struggle is, in the face of this lack of outward authority, to restore the abiding voice of the Church of England to its true position." The words proved to be a correct forecast and were fulfilled a few years later.
The "principle" condemned was sacramental confession. The "mode" condemned was laid bare by a Petition presented to Convocation, and by attention being drawn to the private circulation of a book. The former was intended to help authority generally, in the assaults made upon it at that time by extreme Protestantism and Liberalism, and in particular to request it "to bind up the broken" in a definite and recognised way. The latter was intended to be a scientific guide for rightly interpreting the "voice," which urged the necessity of "ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of conscience and avoiding of all scruple." The Petition, by the controversial exaggeration of the hour, became known as "The Petition for the licensing of duly qualified confessors." The book, which was a small manual of Moral Theology, had as its title, The Priest in Absolution. The Petition was presented to Convocation on May 9th, 1873. Attention was drawn to the book in the House of Lords on June 14th, 1877. S.S.C. was responsible both for the Petition and the book. The Petition caused a storm of contrary winds to arise, but after the fair havens were sighted there arose against the book Euroclydon.
In the recognised acceptance of the Sacrament of Penance to-day and the encouragement now given to the study of moral theology, the opposition which Catholics encountered, at the time referred to, seems almost incredible.
In looking back across the half century which has intervened between now and then, it appears at first sight strange that any good and earnest men, faced with the abiding fact of sin and the perpetual struggle between good and evil, should have been in active opposition to a definite and scientific means for grappling with it. Allowing for differences of opinion, or even of interpretation of the conditions of forgiveness, and making full allowance for the evolution of the Churchs system of penitential discipline, which bore witness of an interpretation of those conditions held as of faith by the greater number of professing Christians throughout the world, and, at the lowest denominator, acquiesced in by the Prayer Book, in terms precluding a total explaining away, it appears stranger still that this means should have been denounced as "erroneous." It appears strangest of all that the use of two such churchly words as "priest" and "absolution," when used in a practical and unambiguous way to express the exercise of one of the functions of the priesthoods "office and work," should have been able so to distort mens judgment as to create, not a controversial prejudice but a pandemonium of religious frenzy. Yet so it was. In the House of Lords, in Convocation, at numerous meetings in London and the Provinces, in newspapers, from the acrid pens of protestant pamphleteers, in the committee-rooms of the Anglican Societies, in drawing-rooms, even to a cartoon in Punch,The Priest in Absolution was the one thing everywhere spoken against.
For more than twenty-five years before the "great exposure," an anti-confessional agitation had taken place, in which offensive language, innuendo and startling posters had sufficed in lieu of arguments. A certain dean of that day, more famed for his use of strange language than for his theological learning, coined much of the vocabulary that was employed. Such controversial "Billingsgate" is best forgotten. It is enough to say that the Times rebuked it and said of its author that he was "ignorant and offensively vulgar in his mode of handling the most awful and solemn topics of religion."
In particular, the agitation had occasionally taken a definite shape, such as the disgraceful attacks and ribald accusations which were leveled against the Rev. G. R. Prynne, at St. Peters, Plymouth, in 1852, and whose perjured accusers were routed and exposed by the great "Henry of Exeter," or the like accusations brought against the Rev. A. Poole, in 1858, who fared not so well at the hands of his diocesan, but had his license cancelled and was described for his practice of hearing confessions, as one who had "departed from the spirit and practice of the Church of England."
Except however in special cases like Bishop S. Wilberforces inhibition of Dr. Pusey, the Bishop of Londons strange treatment of the Rev. A. Pool, the idiosyncrasies of refusals to ordain to the priesthood, or to license to a curacy and strong words expressive of protestant opinions in some charges, the bishops in their corporate capacity had not issued any composite statement against sacramental confession. They could not at that time have succeeded in framing a united statement, for Bishop Phillpotts of Exeter had not only vindicated the use of confession in the Plymouth cases, as far back as 1852, but he had put it forth as a part of the Churchs system in his charges, public utterances and private advices. Bishop Hamilton of Salisbury also, in his erudite, catholic and withal moderate charge of 1867, when treating of definite dogmatic and sacramental teaching, had used no ambiguous language in speaking of Confession and Absolution. In the sense of the Homilies, he had claimed it as a Sacrament and spoken of "Sacerdotal Absolution," the proofs of which he "could cite," as supported by great Anglican authorities, "from the time of the Reformation . . . to the present time."
But both Bishop Phillpotts and Bishop Hamilton passed away in 1869, while the new Primate was successful in uniting the bishops on the whole in an opposition against confession, as it was now increasingly taught and practised. A great deal was heard of the "spirit and teaching of the Church of England," as being in agreement with the bishops, but very little, to borrow Prayer Book language, of "the mind and purpose of the old Fathers," or of "established doctrine or laudable practice of the whole Catholick Church of Christ." It could have been demonstrated quite easily that what the bishops were appealing to was their own "spirit and teaching" and not that of the Catholic Church, which the Church of England, as an integral part of the whole, herself appealed to. Their opposition was directed chiefly against frequent and total confessions, both of which they declared the English Church discouraged. Their logic, however, was faulty, in drawing a negative conclusion from an affirmative premise. The English Church had nowhere discouraged the frequency or otherwise of confession; if she had done so it was for those who made the statement to point out where it was set forth, while the "all thy sins" of the special absolution logically agreed with the confession of all. The two Archbishops at this time, in replying to an address from the Church Association, stated that the Reformers had allowed "no place in our Reformed Church" for the Confessional,a statement so historically baseless that the incident is only mentioned to illustrate the inaccuracies to which prejudice will lead.
Environed by such opposing prejudice on the one side and in the struggle with evil upon the other, while convinced that the Catholic way was the true way, the Brethren of S.S.C. were not slow to see that there were two important studies most necessary for the equipment of a good priest. It was necessary that he should possess an accurate acquirement of moral theology and some knowledge of canon law. In both these requirements, the English Church had failed in practice to provide for her clergy what she clearly demanded in theory. She required that her confessors should be "learned and discreet," in order to be capable scientifically of rendering "ghostly counsel and advice." She also implied that they had to be guided by the discipline and canons of the Catholic Church, otherwise there would be an ignorance of the "laudable practices of the Catholick Church," against which the Prayer Book did not "strike," while certain terms found in the same Book, such as "curate,""godly discipline,""due Order,""charge and government," "lawfully appointed,""ancient canons," and many others, presupposed a knowledge of Canon Law. The stricture moreover laid on her ordinands of being "learned in the Latin Tongue" might be taken as an expression of the same mind.
Moral theology is, strictly speaking, that branch of theology which treats of the relation of man and his actions to God and his supernatural end and the means appointed by God for the attainment of that end. It sets forth the rule of moral order, the roots and consequences of sin and the Divine helps for the practice of virtue and Christian perfection. It becomes the conclusion which must guide the conscience in applying and determining the ought, or ought not, of human conduct and of moral obligation. It would be granted that those who taught the faith and morals of the Church by this norm, in the exercise and ministration of the same, would need a clear mind concerning the discipline, government, administration and sphere involved. The Catholic Movement, with its awakened sense of penitence and discipline, re-directed men's attention to the rod and law, which lay beside the manna, within the ark. S.S.C., as already stated (Chap. 1.), had in its very early days started a movement for the study of moral theology among priests. It had also its Penitentiary and Canon Law Committees. Among the members of the Society were several who were experts in the sacred science of dealing with souls. Of such were C. F. Lowder, A. Poole, J. C. Chambers, T. T. Carter, W. H. Hutchings, Dr. Oldknow, A. H. Ward, G. R. Prynne, A. H. De Romestin, E. Field and many others. Of those specially learned in Canon Law were Dr. Littledale, J. E. Vaux, W. H. Cleaver, Dr. Jenkins and E. G. Wood.
In reviewing the work of S.S.C. up to the early seventies, Father Mackonochie stated that it had been the means, by life and effort, of attaining a better state of things within the Church. In a summary of these things, he said,"Confession is taken for granted, as a recognised ordinance, if not a Sacrament, of the Church by all save a faction not large enough to claim any considerable attention." Yet, while saying this, he had been sufficiently cautious to preface his statement with the warning,"No doubt we still have the opposition of those in high places, and the murmurs of more obscure opponents." Both he and the Brethren of S.S.C. were soon to learn the truth of "the opposition in high places," as also the clamour of the "faction," that contrived for a time "to claim most considerable attention."
In this same address reference was made to the Petition to Convocation, now ready to be presented. It had received the signatures of 483 priests. About sixteen months earlier, in the January of 1872, the Society had appointed a Committee to consider the desirability of preparing a Petition, which should set forth decided claims, either for a permissive use of the First Prayer Book of Edward VI., or for the restoration of certain Liturgical omissions in the present Prayer Book and the formal acceptance by Convocation of definite Catholic practices. The rapid spread of the Catholic Movement in doctrine and in ceremonial, of which S.S.C. was the leaven, made it appear that the time had come when, amidst many floating plans for Liturgical Revision, Catholics also should issue a plan. A controversy was raging over the Athanasian Creed (18711873), which was the aftermath of the Fourth Report, issued in 1870, of the Royal Commission appointed in 1867, "to inquire into the Rubrics and Ritual of the Church of England." Polemical intensity had almost reached an exploding point. For two years, both inside and outside Convocation, the controversy went on. At last, on Friday, May the 9th, 1873, Convocation made a declaration on the Creed, which failed to satisfy either its defenders or its foes. On the same day, the Archbishop read the S.S.C. Petition. While there were, as already intimated, many matters of liturgical suggestion in the Memorial, these became mere debris by the explosion which the firing spark of one clause effected. The clause ran as follows:
"That, in view of the widespread and increasing use of Sacramental Confession, your Venerable House may consider the advisability of providing for the education, selection and licensing of duly qualified confessors in accordance with the provisions of Canon Law."
The Upper House regarded the request as a new departure in the Church of England, and resolved itself into a Committee to consider the teaching of the English Church on Confession. Many things were said both sad and painful. A treasured and effective ministry of the Church Catholic, tested and approved by the experiences of many Saints and countless souls for centuries, was described by the Primate as "a most serious error," and "alien to the Church of England." He was, moreover, "glad to know that every member of this Synod here present altogether repudiates the practice of habitual Confession, and that they all state with the utmost distinctness that they consider the sacramental view of Confession a most serious error." (Life of Archbishop Tait, Vol. II., Chap, xxiii.) There was now no Bishop Phillpotts to vindicate Confession, no Bishop Hamilton to express its "Sacramental" blessing.
The first impulse of the Society, after the presentation of the Petition, was to prepare another Petition, signed by Priests only, who practised Confession, both personally and ministerially, and deprecating at the same time any restraint or discouragement of Sacramental Confession. Outside the Society, the Bishop of Brechin urged Dr. Pusey, Dr. Bright and others to publish a Declaration on Confession, which should include the clear teaching of the Prayer Book on the subject. There was a difference of opinion, however, among those approached, some thinking that it would only inflame and prolong the controversy then rampant. As a consequence of this, the Declaration was suspended, but not lost sight of.
The Upper House of Convocation issued its Report on July 23rd, 1873. It was a most unsatisfactory statement, both as regards the interpretation of the Prayer Book and the uncatholic tone it adopted. Faced with the plain language of the Prayer Book, the Report admitted that provisions were made for Confession and Absolution, but that they were a "special provision in two exceptional cases," and intending to safeguard from what the Bishops had declared in Convocation to be "erroneous," it proceeded to deny the right to teach either the practice of habitual confession or the necessity of direction for attaining to the highest spiritual life.
The nature of the Report made it imperative that some action should follow. The E.C.U. being approached referred the matter to Dr. Pusey and others at Oxford and elsewhere. S.S.C. meanwhile faced the "crisis" in a calm spirit. The sirens of an anti-confessional agitation were shrieked throughout the country by protestant associations, and fog-horns were sounded by many who lacked experience in penance, but the Society, aware that the noise was too loud and too discordant to last, was also sanguine that the Petition had already done good, and would be overruled to produce further good. For the time, it took no line of action. It knew, however, that there were others who in common fairness had to be considered much more than the opponents of Confession, and so it did not wish to act with any precipitancy. The faithful use of the Sacrament of Penance, which was increasing daily, was after all the greatest asset for the strengthening of the Catholic cause. It was impossible now for anyone, no matter how exalted his position, to put down Confession. It was also true that there still was a large body of persons who believed anything that had a bishop's name attached to it, and therefore some steps should be taken to counteract the recent Episcopal utterances. Even as regards these latter, there was the probability that at least some of the bishops were taken by surprise, and so the words were spoken by them in surprise. In private, it was thought, the bishops were not so much opposed to Confession as their recent utterances seemed to imply. Such were the different view-points from which the Society meditated upon the "crisis." It therefore adopted the wise course of leaving the question in the hands of the Committee. When later in the year (December 6th, 1873) the weighty Declaration of Dr. Pusey appeared in the Times, over the signatures of twenty-nine authoritative and representative namesseven being Brethren of S.S.C.the Committee reported that, as the Oxford Declaration would do its own work, the best course to be recommended to the Society was silence. This recommendation was adopted.
The anti-confessional agitation spent itself in due course. Attention became diverted to something much more drastic than meetings. What resolutions, passed from heated platforms, could not do to kill the Catholic Movement, legislation, it was hoped, would do. The new weapon shaped in an Erastian forge and sharpened for war by Protestant Societies was now ready, and had only to be unsheathed "to put down Ritualism." The hired representatives of those opposed to Catholic Truth seemed to be interested in little else than the measuring, with almost mathematical exactitude, the movements, gestures, postures and ornaments of those who conducted Divine Worship decently and in order. The real interest, however, was centred on the supposed Toledo blade which, finely tempered, would quickly pierce Ritualism and in the piercing kill the Sacramental Truth for which the latter stood. Those chiefly responsible for its manufacture, and those so eager to display its use, knew not at the time that it would prove to be but a barbarian's sword which, used in a barbarous fashion, would deal out blows, here and there, and finally be laid aside to rust, as a specimen of a clumsy and obsolete warfare which ecclesiastical opinion would not acknowledge and public opinion would not tolerate.
The early years of the P.W.R. Act, which saw so many of the Society's Brethren picked out for persecution, together with the chief transactions of the S.S.C. during that period, have already been outlined. We now come to the greater "reproof."
The June Chapter of the Society, held in 1877, was quite an uneventful one, as judged by the subjects of its agenda. It gave the impression, indeed, that those who drew it up were not unlike pressmen who, when they ran short of material for their papers, used "fossils." A question was put down concerning an "alleged use of unfermented wine' in the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist," and a discussion was reopened "on the subject of the Pax and Blessing at the end of the Communion Service." Before the Chapter closed, the Rev. R. J. Wilson called attention, as a special subject, to a notice given by Lord Redesdale that he intended to bring the book The Priest in Absolution and its connection with the Society before the House of Lords. After some conversation, it was decided that the Master (Rev. F. L. Bagshawe) should be left to use his own discretion in dealing with the matter.
The connection of S.S.C. with The Priest in Absolution can be stated in a few words. The need of an accurate acquaintance with at least the elements of Moral Theology was known to S.S.C. as being indispensable for the effective work of a priest. Nor would any reputable theologian demur from the Society in this opinion, seeing that Moral Theology is one of the five recognised branches of "the Queen of Sciences," and takes its proportioned place with Dogmatic, Pastoral, Ascetical and Mystical Theology. In the training, or examining, of her ordinands, the English Church had come to confine herself to two branches only,dogmatic and pastoral,and had overlooked the study of the other three. Ordained a priest, having first solemnly promised to be diligent in such studies as would help to the knowledge of his calling and to give "private monitions" as need required and occasion should be given,the man ordained not infrequently found himself in a strange environment and beset with problems which ordinary text-books never mentioned. In his mission work, he might be faced with a twofold difficulty in helping certain souls to penitence. On his own side, he would require some practical guidance in the first principles of casuistry and, on the side of the penitent, a difficulty might arise, from ignorance or otherwise, not of the sin, but of the right way of confessing it Not only in the Society had the need been realised of a handbook for the use of those hearing confessions, but as far back as the confession controversies of the fifties the scholarly and level-headed Christian Remembrancer (No. ciii., p. 240) had given utterance to the same need, even while it had warned of the fate which would befall such a publication and "the howls that would be poured forth against it."
The Society, however, was not content with feeling the want of such a handbook; it proceeded, as far as it could, to provide one. It placed the entire matter of a manual for confessors in the hands of the Rev. J. C. Chambers, St. Mary's, Crown Street, who had been an early Master of S.S.C., and than whom no priest was better fitted for the task, on account of his deep theological learning, his wide experience as a confessor and his right ideals of what spiritual perfection meant. By the time of the May Synod, 1866, the work was well in hand, and it was announced that Father Chambers would bring out a book in parts and on his own responsibility. It was further stated that the title of it would be The Priest in Absolution, and that Part I. was nearly ready. This first part, which treated of Moral Theology and the general principles of Casuistry, duly appeared and was published by J. Masters & Co., New Bond Street, at two shillings and sixpence.
The second part was completed by the earlier months of 1870 and at the May Synod of that year Father Chambers was thanked by the Society, to whom he had dedicated the book, for the labour he had expended on it. This part, he retained for private circulation and restricted its sale to priests and on account of some of the questions in it concerning sin, which of necessity found a place in a technical manual, he further safeguarded it by limiting its possession solely to priests who were known to exercise definitely the ministry of Penance. On the death of the author, in 1874, the whole of the remaining stock with the copyright valued at £100, was offered to the Society for purchase. In the event of the proffer being refused, the deceased priest's executors were prepared to expose the work for public sale. In order to prevent an action so contrary to the late compiler's wishes as this alternative, the Society resolved to buy the book. When the work had passed into the Society's possession, the latter exercised the same supervision over its circulation as that which had marked its sincere and single-minded author.
It may be observed, as St. Paul intimated to Titus, that soundness in the Faith rendered all things pure, whereas, on the other hand, anti-confessional agitations had always been conducted by the dangerous and degrading way of using strong language concerning exposures, and the employment of insinuations of that which was obscene. It was a way whose blind prejudice, apart from denying confession as a means of grace, could not grasp any necessity for its use, and even when it was used had never been able to discriminate between those who had recourse to it because they were striving after perfection and those who came to it because they were in the thraldom of some awful habit of sin. Those who could see the ridiculousness of imagining that a physician spoke of every loathsome and terrible disease that man is subject to when he visited a normal case of sickness, did not hesitate to suggest that the soul's physician demanded a knowledge of every kind of sin in his spiritual patient, and as a consequence sowed seeds of evil in innocent hearts. Thus by an awful travesty it seemed to be insinuated that the declared way of pardon in the Church was a particular ministry which brought joy to bad angels, rather than the occasion over which good ones rejoiced.
The pain, therefore, which another anti-confessional agitation would bring to the minds of devout Catholics was indescribable. Aware of the outbreak which must follow a public discussion of the book in Parliament, and aware also of the successful strategy of the enemy, in securing a reputed High Church controversialist, like Lord Redesdale, to be the mover; the Master (Rev. J. L. Bagshawe), the same day the Chapter had left it in his hands to deal with, wrote to the Bishop of London (Dr. Jackson). There was no time to waste, as it was now Tuesday, and the question was timed for Thursday (June 14th). As his Diocesan, the Master, in his letter, informed the bishop that many of those who constituted the S.S.C. were in the London Diocese, and that he himself held the office of Master. He stated that the object of the book "was only to offer professional guidance to the clergy." He gave the name of its author, the circumstances which led to its acquirement by the Society, and the restrictions that had always been laid upon its circulation. He exonerated from responsibility for the book the "great body" of those who belonged to the Society, most of whom, he asserted, were not acquainted with its contents, while some scarcely knew of its existence. If any attempt were made to hold all the members of the Society responsible, he wished "the true state of the case" to be known to the House of Lords. As the head of the Society possessed of the unpublished book, he had no desire to shrink from personal responsibility. He concluded by offering the bishop any further information he might require. In a postscript he added that, while the statements in the book were the compiler's own, the work was originally undertaken at the Society's request. This, however, did not mean that anything in the book required an apology when read as a work of a professional character.
The letter was left at the bishop's house, in St. James's Square, on Wednesday morning, but was only received by him a few hours before the debate, on Thursday, in the House of Lords. It happened that the Archbishop of Canterbury did not see it before the debate.
The morning after the debate, the Bishop of London wrote to Father Bagshawe stating that he had so far made use of the letter as to authorise the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol to make the statement that not all the members of the Society were responsible for, or even acquainted with, the book under discussion. He then added,"Few things have ever given me more pain than the very unexpected information that the late Mr. Chambers was the compiler of that volume which I have seen and that you were the Master of the Society which owns and circulates it." He considered that a system needing such a book carried its own condemnation.
The Master of the Society acknowledged the Bishop's letter at once. He thanked him for acceding to the request concerning the nature of the responsibility for the book and drew the bishop's attention to the wide misapprehension of the practice of Confession, which the debate in the House of Lords had shown. He mentioned that an objection he himself had to The Priest in Absolution was that its language was not calculated to remove that misapprehension.
The debate in the House of Lords does not really come within the compass of this work, except to mention that it was directed against the use of Sacramental Confession in general, and the S.S.C. in particular, and that it was directed in a prejudicial way, mainly by drawing public attention to that part of the book which dealt with matters arising out of the seventh commandment. Looking back at "the great exposure" with its ensuing reproof, a wonder may be indulged in at such an inconsistent panic in high places. All knew that these sins existed and that it was the duty of the Church to grapple with them, while there were some present, at least the spiritual peers, who declaimed against the book so strongly, who must have been aware that if the book's language was imprudent or even unseemly, the same was true equally of the English Church. They must have known of a certain sermon by Thomas Becon, to be found in a collection which the Prayer Book said was "set forth by authority," and which Article XXXV. declared to "contain a godly and wholesome doctrine," and which although it had fallen into desuetude, even as the study of moral theology had, nevertheless, if some eccentric clergyman had chosen to use it, they could not have condemned him for so doing. The real difference was that Becon's coarse language was to be read ad populum after the Nicene Creed, while The Priest in Absolution was to be read privately, under certain restrictions, by a priest, that he might be better informed how to deal with a special kind of sinner.
The Master of the Society in his reply to the Bishop of London gave the key to the panic."Confession is very widely misapprehended." In this lay one solution of it. "To dig the pit for the Cross" was spade work and pioneer work and in the Catholic Movement S.S.C., leading the way, was always a few years ahead of the rank and file that followed after. The working out of the Movement had always followed this sequence and is still doing so. What the few had been "reproved" for in one decade, had received the recognition of the succeeding one. The Master was also right when he stated that the language of the book was "not calculated to remove that misapprehension" of Confession. The mistake which the compiler of The Priest in Absolution had made was that he clothed it in a vernacular dress, when he should have vested it in an ecclesiastical one. It should have been written in Latin.
After the debate in the House of Lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to the Rev. F. H. Murray, Chislehurst, appointing a meeting, and the result was that the Archbishop proposed that representatives of the Society should confer with the Archbishop and the Bishops of London, Winchester, Gloucester and Bristol, and Ely. On June 23rd, the Master had called a meeting of his Council and with their advice had appointed a deputation consisting of himself, C. F. Lowder, J. Newton Smith, F. H. Murray, H. D. Nihill, J. W. Kempe, R. J. Wilson and G. N. Freeling. The absence of Father Mackonochie's name from the deputation arose from the fact that, while he believed the Master had done the best he could under the circumstances, he had been opposed to any meeting of the kind proposed with the bishops, and had been opposed also to the Society taking any action in the matter of the book, which would be interpreted only as an admission of its deserving to be censured.
The Rev. F. H. Murray reported the acceptance of the proposal to the Archbishop, whereupon the Archbishop sent a letter to the Rev. F. L. Bagshawe, in which he stated that he would be glad to see him and the other members of the deputation, at Lambeth Palace, at 12.30, on Thursday, June 28th. The deputation went to Lambeth on the appointed day and waited on the Archbishop, but found, instead of the bishops they had expected, the two Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishop of London. The Master read a statement he had prepared giving an account of the objects and work of S.S.C. and its connection with The Priest in Absolution, together with some comments on the book itself. When he had got about halfway through the statement, he was interrupted and requested to send the remainder to the bishops on Saturday. The result of the interview was a surrender of a copy of The Priest in Absolution, and the promise of a surrender of the Statutes. The Master took the Statutes and the Office Book to the Archbishop on the following day.
The Archbishop acknowledged the receipt of the papers on June 30th, and stated that he would lay them before the bishops. As he understood that a meeting of the Society was to be held on the following Thursday, he urged upon it "the duty of at once repudiating the book which (had) caused so much alarm." He added that it was necessary that he should be in possession of any resolution passed, not later than the Thursday evening.
The Chapter referred to in the Archbishop's letter was duly held, as a special one, on Thursday, July 5th, 1877, in the Society's Rooms, at 5 Greville Street. It was summoned in order that the Society should decide the course to be adopted with regard to The Priest in Absolution. Convocation was sitting at the time and already
the prelude of the great reproof had taken place by sending to the Lower House, for its deliberation and approval, the "Statement on Confession," which the Committee of the Upper House had presented to the bishops in 1874. The debate on the affairs of S.S.C. in Convocation had been adjourned until the day after the Society's special Chapter, which explained the Archbishop's anxiety to know what attitude it intended to assume in the matter of the book, on the very day it should decide.
The Society, first of all, resolved to present a Memorial, which had been drawn up with the assistance of the Rev. T. W. Perry and Dr. Walter Philimore, to the Upper House of Convocation. It contained such interesting facts relating to the work of the Society, and such a sane view of the book under discussion, that a full transcription of it cannot be dispensed with. It was as follows:
"The Society of the Holy Cross desires to approach your Right Reverend House with the sincere expression of its respect for your Lordship's high and sacred office: and in deference to the expressed wish of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and of the Bishop of London, to present the following Memorial:
"The Society of the Holy Cross is a Society of Clergy, founded in 1855 for the primary purpose of deepening the Spiritual Life in its Brethren.
"Besides this main object, it is also engaged in aiding or carrying on Mission work, at home and abroad; it promotes spiritual and temporal charity among the Brethren, and unites them in common consultation on matters affecting their duties and the interests of the Church. With these views it originatedI. In 1856, the first Home Mission, viz., that of St. George's-in-the East, the pioneer of many others. II. Special Parochial Missions, such as that of Bedminster, in 1862, conducted by its Brethren, and followed by the two London Missions, in 1869 and 1874 (the first of which was organised by its Brethren, and the second commenced under the auspices of the three Bishops of London, Winchester and Rochester), and also by the Missions at Leeds, Bristol, Plymouth, Manchester and other important centres. III. In 1856, the first Spiritual Retreat for Clergy, followed in like manner by Retreats for Clergy and Laity, conducted in the first instance by the Brethren of the Society, but subsequently by bishops, or other clergy with episcopal approval.
"The Society consisting for some years of a few members meeting together for prayer, meditation and conference, has gradually grown and developed itself.
"It is an entire mistake to suppose that the Society was originated for the purpose of promoting the practice of Confession; the Society has only endeavoured to secure for Confession its due place among the aids to the spiritual life, and the recognition of its importance amongst the ministerial duties of the clergy.
"The connection of the Society with the book called The Priest in Absolution arose from accidental circumstances. Some Members of the Society, feeling the need of a Manual to help them in the difficult and important duty of hearing Confessions and giving Absolution, to which priests are obliged by their commission at Ordination and the requirements of the Prayer Book, informally asked one of their number to compile such a treatise. The learned, devout and experienced priest, the Rev. J. C. Chambers (now deceased), who undertook the work, published the first part, in accordance with this request, on his own responsibility, and it was sold for some time in the ordinary way; but he afterwards wrote a second part which, entering deeply into subjects of Moral Theology and the Nature of Sin, was rightly considered not adapted for general circulation, and accordingly it was never sold through any bookseller; but Mr. Chambers supplied copies to certain of the clergy who specially applied to him for it, and who might need to consult it, in the same way as a medical man consults medical treatises. The words, 'Privately printed for the use of the clergy' appear in the title page. At his decease his executors informed the Society that, unless it intervened, the work would be sold to the book trade. It is obvious that thus it would have obtained an indiscriminate circulation. Out of respect to the memory and wishes of the compiler, and for the common good, the Society purchased the remaining stock, removed it to their rooms, and endeavoured to maintain the original restrictions of the compiler.
"The Society, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, was never called upon to revise, read, or pass any judgment on the book. Many of the Members knew nothing of it, except by report. Many felt that the possession of the book by the Society involved nothing more than recognition of the want often expressed by clergy, that they should have some guide in fulfilling this part of their sacred office.
"The work itself, from which extracts have been made with entire disregard to the context, and to the safeguards most frequently, carefully and plainly laid down in it, and which govern the whole book, has been grievously misjudged, as though it directed questions to be put under ordinary circumstances which could only be needful in the most exceptional cases. The writer says that one of his chief objects 'in entering into this subject of spiritual pathology is to aid the priest to avoid needless and dangerous enquiries.' He further says, 'Questions should only be put when the priest has some reasonable ground for thinking that the penitent has failed in any duty, or that he conceals his fault through shame or ignorance.''The priest cannot be too careful, in questions about sin, to avoid giving the penitent any further acquaintance with evil.' With regard to children, he is told that such questions should be put in the most guarded manner, and only when there is good reason to fear that the child has been exposed to temptations.'It is better that a Confession should be materially wanting in fulness, than that a child should learn or imbibe a desire to know what hitherto had been hid from its understanding.'
"The accusations which have been made against the Society and its Members, as if questions of a dangerous character were used by them, are groundless. The number of persons of all classes who resort to Confession has multiplied year by year, and many of these are persons of the highest education and refinement. Such an increase would have been impossible if these accusations were true; nor would it be the case (as it commonly is) that husbands who use Confession desire that their wives should exercise the like privilege, and so with parents and children, brothers and sisters, etc.
"The laity have thereby abundantly shown their confidence in the character of those clergy to whom they resort, and their conviction that this confidence has not been misplaced."
In presenting this Statement, in deference to the expressed desire of the Prelates, whom the delegates of the Society met at Lambeth, it was resolved also, in deference to the same desire, that no further copies of the book should be supplied. In determining this the Society stated that it distinctly repudiated the unfair criticisms which had been passed upon the book, and that its suppression was not intended to imply any condemnation of it, but was due alone to the desire which the Archbishop had expressed. A further resolution was passed, in which it was stated emphatically that the Members of the Society, while coming to that determination, desired to express in virtue of their Ordination and the clear teaching of the Prayer Book, the requirement laid upon them to hear the confessions of those who came to them, and also to maintain the liberty and right which Christian persons had to make their confessions, as frequently as they felt the need of doing so.
A proposal was made at the same Chapter, that a copy of the Society's Roll should be given to the bishops. The Master said that he had told the Archbishop he was unable to do so, for two good reasons. The unfairness it would be to absent Brethren, without previously obtaining their consent, and secondly, because at that very time
the Roll was being revised and he had no complete list of the Society in print.
The bishops debated the subject of The Priest in Absolution on Friday, July 7th, 1877, in Convocation, and passed an unanimous resolution of three parts, the first, holding the Society responsible for the preparation and dissemination of the book; the second, that the Society had neither repudiated nor effectually withdrawn the book; and third, that the House strongly condemned any doctrine or practice of Confession which could be thought to render such a book necessary.
It seemed probable from the temper prevailing and the strong denunciations used, in terms which to-day need not to be recalled, that the Upper House would have proceeded to have passed an official censure upon the Society. Such an untoward event, however, was prevented by the Bishop of Oxford (Mackarness) and the Bishop of St. Alban's (Claughton), who carried a resolution which referred the Statutes of the Society to a committee of all the bishops, which should submit a report to His Grace the President as soon as possible.
The Archbishop asked the Registrar of the Province to transmit to the Rev. F. L. Bagshawe the resolutions which had been adopted by the Upper House of Convocation, and himself courteously wrote to him and gave him the substance of them. The Master, in his acknowledgment of the resolutions, gave the only possible answer, that either there must have been some ambiguity in the words that no more copies of the book would be supplied, or that the veracity of the Society was doubted. The Archbishop replied that in his opinion the Society ought to have ordered the destruction of all the copies. In answer, the Master pledged his word that, as all the copies of the book were in his custody, none should be supplied except to bishops of the two Provinces of Canterbury and York, and pointed out the difficulty of a Society, chafing under a popular accusation which they knew to be unjust, in ordering the immediate destruction of a book written by a man whose memory they revered like
that of Mr. Chambers. He reminded the Archbishop that, however much he differed from the Society, he would find it to be straightforward.
The many things said in Parliament, Convocation and throughout the country generally, during the summer and autumn of 1877, brought the Society into a line of vision which was the very antithesis of its foundation and meaning. With an almost rampant energy, its supposed aims, statutes and life had been laid bare for the world to gaze on. The position was fairly gauged by a prominent member of the Society, when he said somewhat emphatically,"We have never been a secret society, and we have now ceased to be a private one."
The speeches made in the Upper House of Convocation had revealed an animus against the Society. It was known to the bishops that the influence of S.S.C. had been felt in the Church at large, and this influence they wanted to check. At that time, they were prepared, if they could, to destroy the Society and the principles it upheld and, even if some of the bishops were supposed to be friendly, it was commonly reported that the dominant power of the Archbishop was so great over the whole Bench that it would be useless to trust to the friendship of such particular bishops.
The inward feeling of the Society was that it was called upon to bear witness, to stand in the front of the battle and to contend for certain great truths and principles before the eyes of the world. In the matter of The Priest in Absolution, or the great principle of Sacramental Confession, which lay behind the attack on the former, the Society was aware that it had climbed to a height of truth and experience where the bishops of that day could not follow. The bishops could only condemn the practice strongly. S.S.C. possessed the only valid argument, and that was a complete knowledge and use of the Sacrament of Penance with both a sense and an experience of what it did. This was a finding which no popular clamour and no episcopal frown could undermine. The Society had behind it the entire weight of the teaching, practice and experience of the whole Catholic Church; the bishops had nothing behind them, on which to rest their condemnation, not even the historical teaching of the Province they represented. In the matter of the Statutes, the Society was aware also that these contained terms which in themselves were legitimate, but which nevertheless were in advance of the Anglican vocabulary of the day. As long as the Statutes were used for private and personal ends, and read only by those for whom they had been drawn up, it did not matter. It was different, however, when they came before the notice of those for whom they were not compiled, and who viewed with a suspicious bias everything associated with S.S.C.
The true spirit of the Society manifested itself at this painful time. It put aside its own feelings of injury and resolved to follow a dignified course. The Brethren were ready both to defend, or if necessary to suffer for principle, but they had no intention of going to the bishops as suppliants. The Master, consequently, was empowered to take such steps as might seem best to explain and defend the objects, statutes and work of S.S.C. before the Committee of the Upper House of Convocation, if summoned by them, with liberty to let the bishops know privately that the Society was prepared to take this step.
It needs but little reflection to perceive that the ensuing September Synod would be an important one in the life of the Society. To have its affairs suddenly transplanted, by unfriendly hands, from the private and devotional atmosphere of a church to the House of Lords and the Upper House of Convocation, was like touching a tender nerve. Any necessary publicity the Society did not avoid, but from notoriety it recoiled. It was clear, therefore, that it would have to decide on a policy that could be adjusted to the situation which had arisen. There was still the Damocles' sword of a possible censure by Convocation hanging over the Society. It had been delayed by the appointment of a Committee; it had not been removed. The problem S.S.C. had to face was not one
merely of its own well-being, but of what was best for the greater good of the Catholic Movement. In the country at this time a great tide of feeling had set in towards Catholicism, and the Society, by its policy at this great crisis, naturally did not want to check that tide.
The recent events had brought the Society into a relationship both with the bishops and the public. It had thus passed into a new phase of existence. It was being attacked because it stood firm to two important truths, the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, and the freedom of Confession. This was the real issue. Its Statutes employed certain terms, such as "Mass,""penance," "sacramental confession," which emphasised these truths, but, as regards the bishops and the public, it needed no demonstration to prove that they were words born before their time.
At the September Synod of 1877 one of two courses was to be decided on by the Society. The one, proposed by an earnest minority, was that the Society should disband, at least for a time, so that the danger to the Catholic cause generally, which would inevitably follow a censure passed upon S.S.C. by the bishops, might be averted. The other course, and which became the one adopted, was the appointment of a Committee to consider the form of the Society's Statutes, with a view to modification or otherwise.
The publicity given to the Society by the recent events began at this time to bear fruit correlative with the view taken of that publicity. Canon Carter, when advocating a bold course of witness before the bishops, irrespective of consequences, had said during the crisis,"We may possibly shrink up as a Society." This turned out to be a true forecast. A large number of the Brethren at this time retired from the Society. Such resignations were due to varying causes. In several instances, they came from pressure brought to bear by the higher powers in the Church; in others, from injury which seemed likely to fall upon important work, on account of priests being connected with S.S.C.; and with a few from the lack of patience and confidence to stand firm until the storm had spent itself. Not the least hardships of the crisis fell upon the Brethren who were unbeneficed. In many Dioceses at this time the bad custom arose of holding an uncanonical examination, which consisted of one question only,this question being relative to the Society. If the would-be "curate" answered the question in the affirmative, it meant that he would not be licensed in that particular diocese. It was commonly reported that the only bishops willing to license Brethren of S.S.C. were Winchester, Oxford and Worcester. The state of prejudiced feeling against the Society which prevailed may be imagined from the fact that a bishop like Dr. Harvey Goodwin, who had stood by the Society in the matter of the Carlisle Oratory a few years earlier, now refused to license the Rev. H. Holloway to St. George's, Barrow-in-Furness, "except on the condition," as the bishop wrote, "of your secession from that Society" although he permitted him "to help at St. George's for a few more Sundays." Individual bishops were refusing licences to Curates on the ground of the Society's Statutes. The great unfairness of this will be seen by recalling the fact that, at this very time, the Upper House of Convocation had the Statutes under consideration. In self-defence the Committee appointed by the Society to consider the form of the Statutes had its attention drawn to this prejudging of the decision of the Upper House, and was asked to take action concerning it. Episcopal pressure was also being brought to bear upon S.P.G., and the Additional Curates' Society, in a partisan direction. In the former case to induce the authorities to refuse S.S.C. men as Missionaries, and in the latter case to withdraw or refuse grants towards the stipends of S.S.C. curates. If the publicity which had been forced upon the Society brought upon it the odium and vexation outlined above, it also received its compensations. The crisis had brought into the Society the fighting service of that redoubtable champion of the Faith, Archdeacon Denison, who stood out as an ardent defender of S.S.C. all through its trouble. Votes of sympathy with the Society, moreover, came flowing in, passed by Branches of the English Church Union, in different parts of the country, and at the September Synod of 1877 a Deputation of Laymen was introduced bearing a Memorial to the Society.
A Synod of the Northern Province, i.e. of the Scottish Brethren, which was held in the Chapel, Glamis Castle, on August 31st, 1877, had some features of special interest. The Sermon, which was preached by the Rev. G. Moor, on "The Truth of God and our Relation as Priests towards It," dwelt on the necessity of bearing "patient, unswerving, uncompromising testimony" to Sacramental Confession, in which there could be "no temporising, no dilutions," for "so long as sinners required absolution, so long must priests urge confession." A minute recorded that the Scottish priests refused in any case to consider themselves amenable to the censures of the English bishops, and that it was a mistake to allow the latter "to overhaul the statutes." It thought the act of publishing The Priest in Absolution in English unwise, but wished at the same time that an intimation could be conveyed to the English bishops that, S.S.C. being a purely private Society, their judgment on its books was not invited. It was thought that if the Scotch bishops adopted the action of the English bishops, the Society should be disbanded. It was also in favour of a revision of the Statutes.
The Committee appointed in September, to consider the form of the Statutes, did its work thoroughly, and was ready with its Report at the May Synod, 1878. It had drawn up a most careful and clear statement concerning the terms which were thought to be offensive to the bishops. It pointed out that the word "Mass" had been employed in Western Christendom, to signify the Celebration of the Holy Communion, for more than fifteen hundred years, certainly from the days of St. Ambrose, and had always been used in England, St. Augustine having employed it in the second of the nine "Questions," which he addressed to St. Gregory the Great. It went minutely through the Liturgical changes of the Reformation period, the true and historical interpretation of Article XXXI., and pointed out that just as the English Church had refrained from any repudiation of the term "Mass," so also the Augsburg Confession and the Swedish body had deliberately retained it. In defending the offering of Requiems for Departed Brethren, the Statement referred to the primitiveness of this, citing for its proofs the patristic evidence given by Bishop Harold Browne, in his Commentary on the Thirty-nine Articles,the accepted text-book of that day for Ordination Examinations,as also the writings of accredited English Divines, from Andrewes to Wilson, defending the custom. It explained the term "intention," and pointed out that while the priest celebrated in accordance with the rubrics and canons which the Church prescribed, when he drew near the altar, yet he also possessed the liberty of directing his own private desires in union with the pleading of the Holy Sacrifice. The Statement defended the use of the term "Sacrament of Penance," and gave a catena of Anglican authorities to prove that the term "sacrament" was not confined to the "two only, as generally necessary to salvation." In referring to the Society's "Roll of Celibates," the Report drew close attention to the purely voluntary act on the part of those who were thus enrolled. It insisted on the point that it gave them no pre-eminence or authority in the Society, but was of a private nature, undertaken by the Brother of his own free will, for his own sanctification for the glory of God and an undivided gift of himself to his work. In support of this, Bishop Andrewes and Bishop Hall were quoted as Anglican authorities.
Having drawn up this irrefutable defence of the terms used, both from the historical and ecclesiastical view points, the Committee nevertheless recommended that, in the interests of peace, they should be deleted from the Statutes, and that other phraseology should be substituted in their stead. This recommendation, however, was not unanimous, as there was a small minority opposed to all the alterations suggested.
The Report having been presented to the May Synod, it still remained to be seen if it would be received and adopted. Opinions on the question were almost equally divided amongst those present at the Synod. Those who were prepared to accept the weakening of the language in use, advocated it chiefly on the grounds that it would tend to conciliate the bishops, who for the time had suspended their consideration of the Statutes until the Society had reconsidered them, and also that as the publicity into which the Society had been dragged had entirely changed its position, it became imperative to use terminology in keeping with this publicity, lest scandal to the Faith should ensue.
Those who disagreed with the proposed alterations, and whose opposition was expressed by Father Mackonochie and some of the other more senior Brethren, reviewed the circumstances, and criticised the policy, which had produced the situation in which the Society found itself. Disallowing any mention of expediency in a Society dedicated to the Holy Cross, and warning against the danger of changes made during panic, they urged the Society to stand firm, and pointed out that steadfastness in the Faith implied steadfastness also in the Church's expression of that Faith. They pointed out that, if the proposed verbal changes were effected, they would be interpreted by the public mind as giving up the Faith, while it was certain that, if S.S.C. went back, the faith of very many in the English Church would be shaken.
It was realised during the whole of the long and careful debate that a real crisis had arisen and that the deciding vote would be a momentous one, both for the present existence of the Society and for the colouring of its future life. By a small majority, it resolved to keep to the more difficult path and so refused to retrace its steps. The Society had revived for its own private use the legitimate terms of the Catholic heritage and therefore negatived the proposal to surrender them.
The familiar use to-day of such churchly terms as "Mass,""intention,""saying and hearing Mass," "penance,""sacramental confession,"is sufficient evidence of what English Catholics owe to this Vote. It is no idle boast to say that, if S.S.C. had not stood firm and borne the obloquy of it, the Catholic Movement would have suffered a great set-back.
The strife of tongues spent itself at last, but much suspicion and irritating action followed after, and many priests found their work none too easy. Militant Protestantism never learns and never forgets. The battle of " Sacramental Confession," however, was really won.
While full of thanksgiving for the overruling power of God's will, there was a tinge of humiliation, as there always had been, and seemingly always will be, with the Catholic Movement in England. Its victories have always been won by priests. The bishops who should have been its leaders have always tried to stop its progress. Each triumph of Catholic truth and practice has been gained in the teeth of their opposition. Sacramental Confession, of which The Priest in Absolution was the pawn, was no exception to the rule.
Reviewing dispassionately, now that more than half a century has passed away, it can be seen that the zeal of the Society led it into two tactical blunders. The time had not arrived to present such a Petition as that which was presented to the Upper House of Convocation in 1873. Whatever good it may have done in drawing the attention of some to the truth and practice of Sacramental Confession, this was out-distanced and scandalised by its becoming the occasion which produced the Public Worship Regulation Act. The publication of the Second Part of The Priest in Absolution, which to-day would pass either unnoticed or be commended as a hand-book for those whom it specially concerned, was at the time a mistake, not in itself, for it was written by an experienced and sanctified priest who was an expert at his work, but it came at the wrong time, in the wrong way, and in the wrong language. But if S.S.C. lacked prudence, by identifying its enthusiasms, experiences and principles with a supposed and intelligent acceptance of them by churchmen in general, the bishops lacked wisdom to see truths which to the Catholic mind were evident, and so they neither worked them out, nor saw any other conclusion to them than their own. The experience of the whole Church meant little to them, because it had in their eyes become distorted and dwarfed, and seemed but a brazen serpent that should be broken and destroyed, rather than copied and reverenced. Their speeches in Convocation tended to excite passions and to affect and embitter prejudices. They not only misunderstood and ignored the Catholic Church, but they misinterpreted the historical formularies of their own portion of it.
Painful as the whole controversy was, and when the Society, in the words of Father Mackonochie, was "bearing at last the real cross," there was at least one redeeming point. Of those who were chiefly concerned, there was on either side no rancour. The Archbishop used words of unmistakable condemnation, which considering his religious prejudices were not surprising, but he uttered them as gently as possible, and hoped that the event would not lead the priests concerned to leave the English Church. His language stood out in contrast with that employed by Lord Shaftesbury, whom the Archbishop rebuked in the House of Lords. On the side of S.S.C. no single word of bitterness was used in its deliberations while, time after time, it deprecated the terms printed by some of the Church newspapers of the day concerning the English bishops and their Sacred Office.
The bishops as a Bench had been brought up in a school of thought which was at antipathy with Catholicism, one which would not bear testing, but was yet one in which bad "evangelical" custom had become second nature, while some of them had been appointed to urge the Disraelian church polity of broad inclusion and Catholic exclusion. They lacked the conception of the Catholic Church. In the sequel, they tilted against windmills, when they should have learned with profit and in a newer light the insinuation of St. Thomas Aquinas of a beautiful world of grace created out of sin.
The proceedings of the Society at this time, together with the correspondence, have been printed in Walsh's Secret History of the Oxford Movement. The account given in that book was accurate, as far as it related to the facts themselves and the words reported as spoken by the members present. This could not have been otherwise, as they were extracted from the private papers of the Society issued for the information of its members. The exaggerated innuendoes of the writer need no comment.