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The Legal Use of Church Bells.

By Eugene Augustus Hoffman.

Philadelphia: Allen, Lane and Scott, 1877.

It has been thought desirable to reprint the following points and authorities (which were originally prepared for the appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from the decree enjoining St. Mark's Church, Philadelphia, from using its bells) in relation to the propositions,—that bells are required, by the discipline and laws of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, to be rung in connection with its public services; and that this use of bells is a reasonable, decent, and proper exercise of an undoubted legal right, recognized everywhere in this country since its earliest settlement; and is, moreover, in accordance with the customs of churches of all denominations, in which bells are used, throughout the civilized world.

For more than twelve hundred years bells have been used by all branches of the Christian Church, and until the recent decision of the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia, their use has been freely conceded in all lands, with the exception of those under Mohammedan rule. The learned Ferrarius, in his work on preaching, the most esteemed in his day, says:—"I have now proved out of the best authors * * that the faithful began to be called to preaching and to the other offices of the Church by the open and public ringing of bells, as soon as the Church attained a safe and tranquil peace and the fury of tyrants was broken to pieces." (Paris Ed., 1664, page 35.)

The Church of Rome, the great Eastern Church, the Lutheran Church, and other Churches make the ringing of their church-bells a part of their ritual, thus announcing the different parts of the services, that those engaged in the necessary duties of life may pause and unite in spirit with the worship, and the sick in their beds join their prayers with those assembled in the sanctuary to the great Physician of souls.

The Church of England, whose canon law, except as hereinafter mentioned, forms part of the ecclesiastical law of the [1/2] Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, has always, for more than a thousand years past, required bells to be rung in connection with its public services. Dr. Hook's Ch. Dict., Art. BELLS.

By the constitution of Abp. Winchelsea (A. D. 12941313), which has the sanction of immemorial custom as well as the force of common law, (see Pinnock's Laws and Usages of the Church, 265) "The parishioners shall find, at their own charge, bells with ropes." Burns' Eccles. Law, Phil., I., 134, 370; and Stephens' L. rel. to Cl., 135.

By the rubric of the Church of England Prayer-book, “The curate that mini4tereth in every parish church or chapel, being at home, and not being otherwise reasonably hindered, shall say the same (the morning and evening prayer) in the parish church or chapel where he ministereth, and shall cause a bell to be tolled thereunto a convenient time before he begin, that the people may come to hear God's word, and to pray with him."

In the injunctions of ELIZABETH, A. D. 1559, we find, "Item 48, that weekly upon Wednesdays and Fridays, not being holy days, the curate at the accustomed hours of service shall resort to the church, and cause warning to be given to the people by knolling of a bell, and say the litany and prayers." [i.e. "Though they be not holy days."—Canon 15, 1603.]

Canon 15, of 1603, still in force, makes the requirement of this injunction of ELIZABETH part of the law of the Church.

Canon 67, of 1603, also still in force, requires a bell to be tolled at the time of any person's death, and a peal to be rung before and after the burial. See, also, Injunctions of ELIZABETH, 1559, and Book of Advertisements, 1564; Cardwell's Doc. Ann. I., 207, 292; Pinnock's Laws and Usages of the Church, 494, &c.

Hence the church-wardens are required by law to provide a bell and rope to "ring to church and to toll at funerals."

Mr. Cripps, in his treatise on the law relating to the Church and Clergy, 472-6, states that "the following are deemed [2/3] necessary for the service of the Church, and which the parishioners at their own charge are therefore bound to provide," viz., a communion table; a credence table; a pulpit; a reading-desk; a surplice; a font; an alms chest; an alms basin; a chalice; "a bell to ring to church and to toll at funerals, with the ropes;" a bier; a Bible; the Book of Common Prayer, and the book of Homilies: all these "are held absolutely necessary for the administration of divine service in the Church, and are all that the parish is absolutely enjoined to provide." See Canons of 1603; also, Lind., 250, 3 Hagg., 16; Roger's Eccles. Law, 155; Steer's Parish Law, Ed. Clive, 35; and Woodward vs. Makepeace, 1 Salk., 164.

In the case of Pearce and Hughes, church-wardens of Clapham, vs. The Rector, Inhabitants, and Parishioners thereof, 3 Hagg., E. R. 10, the learned judge, Sir William Wynne, held that the parishioners were liable for the cost of "a bell to ring to church and to toll at funerals," as one of the absolute necessaries. See, also, The Burial Board of St. Margaret, Rochester, vs. Thompson, 6 L. R. (C. P.), 445; and Prideaux's Churchwardens' Guide, 69, 305.

Hence a. rate for repair of the bells c n be enforced by law. Smith & Willis vs. Dixon, 2 Curt., 270; Waddilove's Digest of Cases, 1o4; Brice's Laws Relating to Public Worship.

During the colonial period, the Episcopal Church in this country was the Church of England in America; and "the Church of England in the colonies was subject to all the laws of that of England which could apply to its situation," and "all the members of the Church of England in the colonies were subject to the ecclesiastical law of England, except where it was expressly altered or necessarily inapplicable." Hon. Murray Hoffman, Law of the Church, 15, 17.

That this law, which was binding on the Episcopal Church during the colonial period, is also the present law of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, with the exceptions hereafter noted, cannot be questioned. Any other view, if held at the close of the Revolutionary war, as Bishop [3/4] White states, “would have torn the Church to pieces. Wilson's Memoir of Bishop White, page 348.

The first convention of the Episcopal Church held in Maryland, in, 1783, embodied in its declaration of fundamental rights that "the church of Maryland possesses the right to preserve and complete herself as an entire church, agreeably to her ancient usages and professions." Hoffman's Law of the Church, 32.

At the convention in Pennsylvania, held in Christ Church, Philadelphia, in 1784, and which was assembled at the instance of Bishop White, the following appears among the result of its deliberations:—”That the doctrines of the gospel be maintained (by the Episcopal Church in these States) as now professed by the Church of England, and uniformity of worship continued, as near as may be, to the liturgy of the said Church." Bp. White Memoirs of the Prot. Epis. Church in the U. S., 84; Hoffman's Law of the Church, 33.

In the preface to the Prayer-book of the Protestant Episcopal Church, which was adopted in its present form at the convention held in Christ Church, Philadelphia, in 1789, it is distinctly stated "that this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require." The word discipline, as here used, embraces not only the Book of Common Prayer and the articles, but the regulation of rites and ceremonies by canons and rubrics, and the whole body of ecclesiastical law then existing by which the Church of England in all other particulars was controlled and directed. Hoffman's Law of the Church, 40.

In the journal of the General Convention of 1871, page 193, we find:

"The provisions for Ritual in this Church are:

1. "The Book of Common Prayer, &c."

2. "The canons of the Church of England agreed upon in 1603, and in use in the American provinces and States before [4/5] the year 1789, and not subsequently superseded, altered, or repealed by legislation, general or diocesan, of this Church."

3. "The canonical, &c. decisions of this Church, &c."

"The entire canon in which the foregoing words occur was adopted by the House of Bishops, but did not pass the lower house, owing to a technicality. Section 2, as above, was, however, adopted, as a motion to strike it out in both houses was lost.

The principle which guided all the conventions which adapted the previously-existing usages of the Church of England to the Protestant Episcopal Church in this country, and which was affirmed by both houses of the General Convention in 1814 (Bioren, 310), is thus stated by the biographer of Bishop White, Rev. Dr. Wilson, who once adorned the bench in Pennsylvania, "the Church being the same body which existed before the Revolution, though under another name, was still in possession of all the institutions previously received, except so far as they were necessarily changed by that event, until they were altered by proper authority."—Life of Bishop White, 140.

And Chief Justice Lowrie, in McGinnis vs. Watson (5 Wright, 26), forcibly states that "The Episcopal Church of the United States lost none of its rights at our Revolution by giving up its old name of the Church of England in America."

In support of this view may be cited, also; the following Judge Hoffman, in his able introduction to his treatise on the law of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in which he seeks "to prove that the ecclesiastical law of England (in force in 1789) has an actual force and operation in the system of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States," states the result he arrives at in these propositions:

"1. The English canon law governs, unless it is inconsistent with, or superseded by, a positive institution of our own.

"2. Unless it is at variance with any civil law or doctrine of the state, either recognized by the Church or not opposed to her principles.

"3. Unless it is inconsistent with, or inapplicable to, that position in which the Church in these States is placed." Law of the Church, 64.

The late Thomas Addis Emmett, in arguing the case of the Rev. Cave Jones, says:— “Except so far as depended upon the connection in England between church and state,"—“the rules and laws of our Mother Church, where they can be applied, are the common law of our own religious association." Report of the case, 493, N. York, 1813. See, also, opinion of Bishop White, Dr. Wilson's Memoir, 347; and of Bishop Odenheimer, Pub. Alum. Assoc,, 1847, 58, 59; also, Commentary on the Canon Law, &c. of the P. E. Church, by Francis Vinton, S. T. D., D. C. L., 1-33.

The canon law of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States then makes a bell, or bells, a necessary appendage to its church buildings, and requires them to be rung before its services and at funerals, &c. Moreover, they have been so regarded by all denominations of Christians in this country, and their use freely conceded by the State, both under the colonial governments and since the declaration and establishment of its independence, Freedom to worship God according to the dictates of conscience has hitherto carried with it freedom to use the customary and recognized accessorie of religious worship. The law of the land, as Mr. Justice Strong states (Lectures on the Relations of Civil Law to Church Polity, &c., 28), not only "recognizes the existence of the church as an important element of civil society," but "acknowledges and protects its right to exist, and to enjoy the possession of privileges and powers." And so careful were our fathers to preserve and protect the rights and privileges of religious societies in this Commonwealth, that the Constitution of 1790 (as amended in 1838), which [6/7] was in force when St. Mark's Church was incorporated, provided that "The rights, privileges, immunities, and estates of religious societies and corporate bodies shall remain as if the Constitution of this state had not been altered or amended." In the exercise of these "privileges" (among which "privileges" then, and for many years before, enjoyed, was the ringing of church-bells), Christ Church, Philadelphia, in which many of the 'framers of the Constitution of the United States were accustomed to worship, has rung its peal of bells for more than one hundred and twenty years. The same privilege is still extended to all denominations of Christians, and every Roman Catholic church in the land rings its bells at least three times on each and every day in the year. The injunction granted by the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia, restraining St. Mark's Church from a use of its bells, in a manner precisely similar to the use of like bells by Christ Church and St. Peter's, is an infringement on the liberty everywhere accorded to the Church in this country since its first settlement; for St. Mark's Church is entitled to equal immunity in the use of its bells with every ,other religious society. To enjoin them at the instance of some private persons who may be inimical to its services, is therefore to create an invidious distinction against it which is repugnant to the spirit of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Moreover, to suppose, in view of the foregoing, that Episcopal churches, and all denominations of Christians in this country, with one or two exceptions, should voluntarily raise and expend such large sums of money, as they have and are still doing, in the erection of towers and the purchase of bells, "without any conceivable purpose except amusement or esthetic enjoyment," as stated by counsel, is, in the view of common sense, simply absurd.

Bells have their uses even in this material age. A church building is not complete without them. There is no other recognized means by which the voice of the Church can make itself heard in the “loud, stunning tide of human care and [7/8] crime" and awaken the attention of the thoughtless multitude who wander aimlessly about our streets to the duty and privilege of Christian worship. (See affidavits of Rev. Drs. Foggo, Dix, Morgan, Meiersmith, Schenck, and Potter, &c., St. Mark's Church Case, 217-223.) Not only do they summon all to the house of prayer; not only are they heralds of the festivals of the Church's year with their joyous and heart-stirring music, but they are also connected with every marked epoch of human life,—the birth in some instances, the marriage in more, the death in almost all, are marked by the joyous peal or the solemn toll of our Church-bells.

So, again, not only has the fancy of the poets revelled in the sweet sounds of the Church-bells, but the hearts of the stern and impassable have been touched by their familiar tones. When William the Conqueror was dying, a prayer was called. from his lips by the sound of the early morning bell of the Cathedral of Rouen; and when Napoleon, riding over a battle-field and gazing, stern and unmoved, on the dying [8/9] and the dead, heard a ring of bells suddenly burst into a merry peal, he was softened, and, dismounting from his horse, burst into tears.—Bells of Leicestershire, by Thomas North.

Moreover, Church-bells are to a neighborhood , what a Church-organ is to the assembled congregation—they wake up the hearts and affections, and (wherever grace accompanies the sound) lead men to render praises to God. On every Lord's-day morning, the holy echoes of the bells remind us that it is the day of the LORD our God;, that the day is His; that we have no right to any portion of it as our own; and that as Christians we ,are called on to praise Him for the mercies of redemption on that day when the blessed JESUS was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead.

Then they invite us to Church; they tell us it is time for public prayer; they bid all to come who can; warn all who cannot that it is prayer time, in order that they may raise their hearts with those who are assembled in God's house, that they may have communion with them in spirit, though absent in body. And if all were animated with a true love for the Saviour and His Holy Word, the voices of the bells, which call us to these solemn assemblies, would easily find their way to our hearts, they would sound like music in our ears.

And then they preach to all as good a sermon as we can hear, of death and judgment, heaven and hell, and while they invite the willing and the penitent they warn the neglecters of God's holy ordinances and the slothful Christians to gird up their loins, and hasten heavenwards; they preach to those who never hear another preacher, and seldom or never come within the sacred walls of God's House of Prayer, and tell them of that day when the Archangel's trump shall call the quick and the dead together to give an account of themselves to God. "I do not say that in practice such a sermon is always preached, or rather that the force of it is always understood; because in this, as in all other cases, habit is capable of hardening the mind against the most softening influences, and it is very easy for a man to fall into such a  [9/10] condition of spiritual listlessness that the sound of the church-bells is to him nothing different from any other sound. However, this is not the fault of the bells; the living voice of God's minister is, in such cases, quite as ineffectual; and the barrenness of the sound, when it falls upon some ears, does not prevent the same sound from being angels' music when it falls upon others which are rightly prepared to listen to it."—Guide to the Parish Church, by the Rt. Rev. Harvey Goodwin, D. D., Bishop of Carlisle.

It is related of an aged Christian man who was aroused from sleep, shortly before his death, by the ringing of a peal of bells in a neighboring church-tower, that he piously remarked, “How sweet to hear, as one is leaving the world, the sound of tongues that have never spoken but in God's praise."

Let us hope, then, that our Church-bells may long ring on, telling of peace and happiness, and above all proclaiming aloud the beloved Name of JESUS, and that our country is a Christian land.

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