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In Reply to a Letter










Oxford | Cambridge




MY DEAR LORD BISHOP,--The letter addressed by your Lordship to the Rev. E. T. West, and likewise sent to those of your clergy who signed the "Remonstrance against the Decision of the Judicial Committee, in the Case of Hebbert v. Purchas," is one which more deeply concerns the laity than the clergy. For all that relates to the public worship and ritual of the Church vitally affects us, and is essential to the edification and salvation of ourselves and our children. On this ground, therefore, I venture to make some remarks on that letter, which I trust your Lordship will not consider disrespectful.

"At this crisis of our Church's history, when her peace and usefulness, her weal or woe for generations to come, depend, under God, upon the course taken by her bishops and clergy now," it behoves the faithful laity to stand forth boldly to protect and maintain their own spiritual rights and privileges, as well as the rights and liberties of the Church and clergy, against the encroachments of the State, and to restrain, as far as may be, our bishops from yielding to those encroachments. It was with pain and distress that I read the expression of your Lordship's earnest [3/4] desire and direction to the clergy "that the rules now laid down" (by a one-sided, partisan decision of the Judicial Committee) "for the ornaments of the minister, and the conduct of public worship, may be the rules of our diocese." In the judgment of a large number of learned and devout Churchmen, both clerical and lay, the acceptance and adoption of this unhappy, contradictory judgment, as the guide and rule for regulating the public worship of the Church, would grievously wound the consciences of thousands of her most able and zealous sons, mar her teaching, mutilate and degrade her ritual and worship, and so bring her under the rule of a secular court as seriously to endanger her status as "a true and living branch of the Church Catholic." In this opinion I most entirely concur, and as an old and loyal member of the Church of England, which I love, and for which I have laboured with all my strength, I cannot go down to my grave without publicly abjuring any complicity or acquiescence in a course which appears to me so fatal to her independence and spiritual life.

While I do not sympathize with or defend all that has been done by some of my own friends, with all my heart I unite with the 4,700 clergy, and thousands of laymen besides, in most solemnly protesting against the surrender of her doctrines, her rights, and liberties into the hands of a State court, which has (say what we will) dealt with eternal verities as shifty, uncertain things. I protest against a secular court interpreting or misinterpreting the mind of the Church, and devising a new order of worship of which she knows [4/5] nothing. May God grant the clergy grace to stand firm to their principles in this hour of the Church's need, for on this depends her future, and that of our beloved country. It is now or never. Yield now in matters of (supposed) little importance, and soon we may have to give up fundamental doctrines. Once acknowledge the authority of the court in these things, the principle is gone. If tempted to regard some of the points at issue as small and unimportant, let them look back to the Council at Nicaea and see how tenaciously the far-seeing intellect of S. Athanasius clung to the small point upon which the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship rested. And I would fain, if I may, as a layman in your Lordship's diocese, as a friend who has long loved and revered you for your high conscientiousness, kindness, and forbearance--I would fain most respectfully yet earnestly reiterate the "trust" expressed by the remonstrants, and implore that, for your own sake, and for the peace and usefulness of the Church, you "will abstain from acting upon this judgment." For any attempt to enforce it will inevitably provoke a spirit of quiet but determined opposition, which will be disastrous to the diocese. For many are resolved that, come what may, they will resist all efforts to bring the Church under the dominion of the Judicial Committee. "As a magistrate" you are "bound by law to take cognizance of ecclesiastical offences, if duly brought before you." But we cannot for one moment forget that as a bishop in the Church of God, you are something infinitely higher than this--a Spiritual Father in God, invested with authority and power to exercise a [5/6] spiritual rule, which the Judicial Committee can neither give nor take away. By virtue of this you have a discretionary power, with which the courts have refused to interfere, which enables your Lordship to refuse to issue a monition, if you think fit. Your Lordship has "the option" of leaving things alone, and pardon my saying that you must either exercise this "option," or, in common justice and fairness, compel all your clergy to obey all the rubrics, which form part of the statute law of "this Realm."

The bishops themselves must also set an example at their Confirmations, and celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, and at royal marriages perpetrated in Lent. No wonder that a high ecclesiastic should wish to drive the priest from before the altar when he himself disregards the command of the Church about covering the sacred vessels.

As loyal subjects we heartily desire to obey the law of the land in things pertaining to this world--as Churchmen we owe allegiance to the higher spiritual laws of the Church, from which the State cannot release us. Let our bishops rule us by these, instead of by secular laws which come within the province of magistrates and policemen.

I know, my dear Lord, how abhorrent it is to your feelings to act in this capacity. Why, then, inflict the pain upon yourself when the whole Church is sick of the everlasting cry of "the law, the law"; and we want the guidance and the bread of the household of God--not the husks of mere human law.

Your Lordship tells us that you are bound both in [6/7] law and conscience by the recent decisions of the courts. How so, my Lord, when those decisions clash, as thousands believe they do, with that solemn vow taken by all the clergy "to give your faithful diligence always so to minister the doctrine and sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church and Realm hath received the same"? Your Lordship reminds us that "the Church hath power to decree rites and ceremonies."--Yes, truly she, and she alone, hath the "power," but whence does the Judicial Committee get it? It has no power to do anything of the sort. We utterly deny and abjure its right to do so, and we cannot accept its rulings, especially when, as in the Purchas case, they are at variance with the whole history, teaching, and practice of the Universal Church, and are intended to repress all that is Catholic. At the Lambeth Conference the whole Episcopate of the Anglican Communion exhorted us all to "hold fast the creeds, and the pure worship and order which of God's grace ye have inherited from the Primitive Church." And now your Lordship calls upon the clergy to accept the ruling of a court which says we shall do nothing of the kind, but shall accept a onesided, arbitrary, and tyrannical decree of the 19th century against one party in the Church. Again, the Lambeth Conference declared "with one mouth we make our supplications to God, even the Father, that by the power of the Holy Ghost He would strengthen us with His might--to supply the things which are lacking, and to reach forth unto higher measures of love and zeal in worshipping Him." [7/8] Whereas, by this miserable judgment you would suppress this "love and zeal," and reduce His worship to a cold and heartless Puritan level. God forbid!

Oh, "ye faithful in Christ Jesus, the priests and deacons, and the lay members of the Church of Christ in communion with the Anglican branch of the Church Catholic," whom will ye obey? The seventy-six Fathers in God, speaking in the name of His Church, or this decision of a State tribunal which would fain rob us of our glorious, blessed Catholic heritage? May we not take up the words of S. Ambrose, who says, "law has not brought the Church together, but the faith of Christ." "We are loyal to the Emperor, without sinning against God--for the Emperor is within the Church, but not over the Church; and a religious sovereign seeks, not rejects the Church's aid. This is our doctrine modestly avowed, but enforced without wavering. Though they threaten fire, or the sword, or transportation, we, Christ's poor servants, have learned not to fear."

I respectfully submit that the offices of the Church are the rightful heritage of all the faithful, and that, therefore, it is not competent for any single bishop or parish priest to order and settle, or to unsettle, as may be, the ritual and worship of the Church, regardless of the deep convictions and devout desires of the laity, for whose edification they were appointed. For when our ascended Lord gave to His Church apostles and prophets, evangelists, teachers and pastors, it was not that they might exercise an absolute lordship over God's heritage, much less surrender up its liberty to the secular power, but, "for the perfecting of the [8/9] saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ, till we all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man."

The discretionary power given to the bishop, "for the resolution of all doubts, concerning the manner how to understand, do, and execute the things contained in the Prayer Book," is restrained, so that he cannot "order anything contrary" to it. Yet, unhappily, we continually find that this discretionary power is exercised in favour of disaffected members, rubrics are disregarded, and the services of the Church are marred and mutilated to satisfy the whims and ignorant prejudices of "weak brethren" who never strive to grow strong, but, "like children, tossed to and fro," neither come themselves, nor will they suffer their more zealous brethren to come, "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." Parish priests, on the other hand, are allowed to withhold, without reproof, some of the most precious privileges from the laity, and to order their services in the most slovenly manner, to the disgust and injury of their flocks. And yet, amid all this irregularity, unbridled licence, and disregard of undoubted laws ecclesiastical, your Lordship feels "bound in law and conscience" to enforce a new judge-made law, of which the Church knows nothing.

Your Lordship seems to imply that those clergy who resist will be "unquiet, disobedient, and criminous." But surely this would be to condemn the Apostles and great champions of the Church, who, while submitting, for conscience sake, "to the powers that be," whether [9/10] Jewish, Pagan, or Arian, steadfastly refused to subject the truth of the Church of Christ to the powers of the world. What was their reply to the demands of their persecutors? "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." And so we say to our judges: we cannot but believe and practise what has been taught us by the Catholic Church in all ages. Take again the example of the great S. Basil, when the Prefect Modestus failed to overcome his scruples by using soft words about the folly of going counter to the times, and troubling the Church about questions of trifling importance; lie then assumed a threatening tone (like the Privy Council, with its pains and penalties), and asked, "What is the meaning of this, you, Basil, that you stand out against so great a prince, and are self-willed when others yield?" S. Basil meekly and calmly asks, as the next unhappy victim that comes within the relentless persecuting grip of the Judicial Committee may well ask, "What would you, and what is my extravagance?" The reply of the Court would be similar to that of the Prefect: "Your not worshipping after the Emperor's manner, when the rest of your party have given way and been overcome." But what says the great Saint and Bishop when threats of punishment are made? "When God's honour is at stake we think of nothing else, looking simply to him--therefore insult, threaten, do your worst, make the most of your power." If we are "disobedient and unquiet," so likewise were these great champions of Christ. Nevertheless they had [10/11] God's blessing withal. If it be argued that the decisions of the State Court in a Christian country cannot be compared with the decrees of Arian Emperors, I ask, wherein do they differ? Reduce, as the Judicial Committee have done, the doctrines of the Church of England on Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, Inspiration of the Scriptures, and Eternal Punishment to a set of vague uncertain propositions, and Arianism, if not Atheism, would soon eat out her life.

Your Lordship invites the clergy to throw the responsibility of their acceptance of the ruling of the Judicial Committee upon you. Can they do this? It may be, that under an absolute despotism a man would be free from responsibility and guilt, when compelled by brute force to do some things against his conscience. But how can any man, having entire freedom of choice and action, and "strong convictions" as to the duty he owes to the Church, under most solemn vows, shirk that duty, and shift his responsibility on to the shoulders of another without incurring a double guilt; especially when he knows that by so doing he would enable some one in authority to do that which, in his inmost conscience, he believes would be an injury to the Church, and therefore ought not to be done? According to this theory any Priest would be free from the guilt of heresy, in accepting the decrees of an Arian Sovereign (as in S. Basil's day), if ordered by his Bishop. Is there then no such thing as truth? How can the vow of canonical obedience release the clergy from the more solemn one as to ministering "the doctrine and sacraments?"

[12] Believe me, my dear Lord, it is not self-will or self-gratification, or a determination to maintain mere private opinions and feelings, that impels the remonstrants to put themselves in antagonism to their bishops, and the so-called law of the land. It is most painful to all loyal men to be compelled to withstand their rulers in Church and State; but what else can they do, as Churchmen, when their spiritual Fathers, who ought to be the guardians of the faith, and defenders of the Church's law and liberty, call upon them to substitute the law of the State for it. "A very heavy responsibility, this."

Far from wishing to "contravene the first principles of Episcopacy and of all good government," we desire above all things to return to those principles. We long intensely to put an end to that exercise of private judgment which leaves each individual bishop or parish priest to force his own private opinions upon us, instead of the spiritual laws and rule of the Church. In the restoration of "the first principles of episcopacy," lies the remedy and safeguard against the evils which now threaten to destroy us. Those principles would of necessity restore the synodical action of the Church; for as it is of the very essence of episcopal rule that nothing shall be done without the bishop, it is not less true that the bishop did not ordinarily any public act without the advice and assistance of his presbyters or synod. To the bishop thus ruling his diocese through his synod, all faithful Churchmen would be bound to render a glad and willing obedience, which they are not bound by any law to give to his mere private opinions. [12/13] Whether the rules laid down by the diocesan or provincial synod happened to coincide with their own opinions or feelings "would matter but little, as they would have no option but to obey." By this course the bishops may restore union, abate "intestine dissensions," and unite "the energy and ability of many able and good men" to "grapple with ignorance, error, and vice." But if, instead of so acting, they are resolved to force State law upon us, and allow the Church to be gagged by the secular power, then, alas, all the sad forebodings of your Lordship's letter, disestablishment, disrupture, and anarchy, and a creedless religion will come quickly upon us. But on whose heads will the awful responsibility and sin rest? Certainly not upon those who resist tyranny and injustice, but on those who at "this crisis of our Church's history" failed to maintain her rights and liberties, her doctrine and worship.

If, my Lord, I have spoken too freely, I pray your Lordship to pardon me; trembling, as I do, for the Church, for my Diocesan, and my friend, I could not but earnestly implore your Lordship to stay your hand before it is too late.

I will now conclude with the following solemn and weighty words of a thoughtful lay friend:--"As we have said before of the bishops, great and awful will be their responsibility if they refuse to govern their flocks spiritually, and to gather them in one, round their Fathers in God. So now we say of all others, clergy and laity alike, great and terrible will be our responsibility if, should such [13/14] spiritual rule be offered to us, we allow faithless distrust, or self-will, or prejudice, or want of charity, or any other thing, to stand in the way of its accomplishment. We must, if need be, sacrifice ourselves on the altar of love for the brethren's sakes, give up all we personally care for, except the Faith of God, and the truth of spiritual authority, for the recovery of unity and the rebuilding of our broken walls."

With earnest prayer that we may all act in this spirit,

I remain,

Your Lordship's faithful servant and friend,


STOKE NEWINGTON, May, 31, 1871.

P.S.--The following summary of an able analysis, by a barrister, of this miserable judgment, shows clearly and forcibly what a perversion of justice it will be to enforce it as a law of "this Church and Realm." The Court, in decreeing it, and Her Majesty, in giving it the force of law, have inflicted a deep wrong and lasting injury upon the Church of England, which, for many years, will bear most bitter fruit.

At the time when the Church, awakened by the warning voice of the Son of God to the "angels" of the Churches of Sardis and Laodicaea, has begun to learn how vain have been all the boastings of the establishment which "sayest, I am rich, and [14/15] increased with goods, and have need of nothing;" whereas she had become "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked;" and when moved by the Spirit of the Living God again "to be watchful to strengthen the things which remain, and are ready to die," that, "clothed in white raiment, the shame of her nakedness should not appear;" it is then her overseers seek to make and enforce a new law which will bring her again into bondage to that spirit of the world, which will keep her "lukewarm, neither hot nor cold,"--the rejected of her Lord. When tens of thousands of the hearts of this great nation are burning with the love of Jesus, and an ardent desire to "reach forth to higher measures of zeal and love in worshipping Him," as His Church has ever done in her highest act of thanksgiving, in the Holy Eucharist, it is then that our rulers in Church and State seek to chill the throbbings and desires of those hearts by the icy fetters of a new human law, which says that we shall not so honour and worship our Lord in the beauty of holiness, but in a cold, dreary service divested of all that is beautiful and symbolical, and unearthly, and that speaks of the spiritual and supernatural. Welcome persecution, the loss of all things, and even death itself, rather than that English priests and laymen should be found wanting to their Lord and His Church. Instead of a priest ministering before the Lord and His people, surrounded by all the accessories of dignified worship, the Judicial Committee would have us believe that the meaningless, unedifying spectacle of a bare sanctuary, an almost naked altar, [15/16] with one "minister" kneeling at the north end, and another looking in his face at the south, is what "the Lord hath commanded, and this Church and Realm hath received." R. B.

"For by their judgment in this, the Purchas case, the Privy Council have directly contradicted the previous judgments of the same tribunal in 'Westerton v. Liddell' and 'Martin v. Mackonochie.' They have given a force to the Canons repudiated by every Court of Justice in England. They have stated that construction of the ornaments Rubric in our Prayer Book to be 'a modern one,' which has been held by every Court of Justice, and by every legal authority (with the one exception of the opinion of Lord Cairns, Lord Justice Mellish, and Sir E. Palmer), from its very enactment down to the present day. They have relied on the argument from usage and desuetude, when the very foundation of that argument has been sapped by an historical analysis, unnoticed by them, though necessarily before their eyes, when the argument has been rejected by their own Court in a former case, and when it would, if true, destroy as well their own conclusions. They have quoted authorities when in their favour, and have not even recorded the same authorities when they were against them. When we find phenomena such as these occurring in a Judgment drawn up by men of ability and of great position, we regret that it should seem impossible to explain them on any other hypothesis than that of a PREDETERMINED AND INERADICABLE INTENTION, in the minds of the majority of the Court, to condemn, at all hazards, the 'novel practices' of the so-called Ritualists."

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