« PreviousContinue »
THE CHURCH AND PARLIAMENT.
PARLIAMENT AND THE CHURCH' is the title of an article in this Review for October of last year by Mr. W.C. Borlase, M.P., characterised by a calmness and moderation which encourage a belief that the burning question of disestablishment may be argued with such fairness that even if the controversialists do not ultimately agree they may at least understand each other. Such,
Such, at all events, is the feeling with which I scrutinise Mr. Borlase's article; and I am confident that an ultimate resort to Parliament will be infinitely more hopeful if reasonable men will, by previous discussion, prepare for the questions at issue a solution for which legislative confirmation may be required.
. Mr. Borlase opines that · Parliament should declare itself unable to deal with ecclesiastical legislation in any shape or form;' but I venture to postpone from the outset of our inquiry a proposition which, if admitted as an axiom, should be admitted only at the inevitable conclusion of inquiry, and not as a preliminary rule which of itself would preclude inquiry.
Local self-government, to which Mr. Borlase would assign full power to manage the affairs of the several districts within its control, cannot, I submit, be trusted to originate or amend the laws touching Imperial interests such as religion or taxation. That duty is one vested in the legislature. The office of local government should be restricted to the administration of the law when it is statutably determined.
The relation of the Church to the State, or, in other words, to Parliament, is essentially one of the subjects with which no authority less than the Imperial Parliament can deal; and the consideration of so weighty a subject requires a clear view of the matter in contention, of the contending parties, and of the principles which should govern the discussion. The case for disestablishment' prepared by the Liberation Society is inspired by an undeviating enmity to the Church, and the sentence which it suggests implies the absolute dis. integration and dissolution of the Church as an organised religious society. But there are Churchmen and Dissenters, Conservatives and Liberals who, wishing no ill to the Church, see in her connection with the State evils so serious that disestablishment may be accepted as the means of restoring to her the freedom which should pertain to VOL. XX.—No. 116.
every religious society. Mr. Borlase apparently takes this view, and he cites among her grievances the inability to vary her formularies or improve her discipline ; the unreality of the Congé d'élire when accompanied with the Præmunire and the consequent appointment of her bishops, nominally by the Crown but effectively by the Prime Minister; the resort to Parliament as indispensable to the extension of the episcopate in England, and generally the hindrance to any change in ecclesiastical law by the necessity for Parliamentary concurrence reluctantly given or refused. These grievances are real, but they are remediable without a revolution. Those who desire the moral and industrial advancement of the people must also desire the improvement of all religious and educational agencies, including those of the Church of England, pre-eminent in their antiquity and widespread influence. Religious nonconformists may therefore be expected not to thwart, but to support, legislative propositions tending to facilitate her spiritual labours and amend her discipline. Nonconformists exult, not unnaturally, in their deliverance from the disabilities which weighed upon them in past generations and in their actual freedom from any practical grievance. I gladly join with Mr. Borlase in pleading that in common with all other religious communities the Church of England should have a fair stage and no favour; ' but when he further pleads that the Church should herself desire to bring about a position of equality' (religious equality, which the Rev. Guinness Rogers defines to be equality of churches), one is obliged to ask for a precise definition of this term.
Mr. Borlase does not offer one, but I submit that, whatever may be the other conditions of religious equality, one would be imperative-viz. the repeal of the Act (of 1700 A.D.) for the Limitation of the Crown, which enacts that whosoever shall come to the possession of this crown shall join in communion with the Church of England as by law established.'
So long as this statute remains unrepealed, there can be no religious equality between the Church of England and the sects which, notwithstanding this disparity, enjoy the largest and most unqualified religious liberty. In virtue of its connection with the Crown, the Church has certain privileges, but they are hardly of a character to constitute a practical grievance to the 150 sects who have them not. For instance, Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords, but Anglican clergy are excluded from the House of Commons Anglican clergy are protected in their ministrations, but it is in their own parish and against the intrusion of their own brethren. The clergy have no legal power to exclude dissenting ministers from their parish if within it there should be a congregation prepared to welcome them. On the other hand, the House of Commons is open to the eloquent preachers and practised ministers of all dissenting denominations, while the Church submits to the
exclusion of Anglican deans and canons. The reverend Nonconformist orators in the House of Commons are a far greater power in the State than they would be in the House of Lords. There are the sentimental grievances of precedence arising out of the existence of a National Church, but it will be for the country to determine whether it is expedient to relieve these sentimental sufferers by the sacrifice of the monarchy. Mr. Borlase, I submit, exaggerates the unfitness of Parliament to entertain and assent legislatively to measures approved by the Church and Convocation, and to which, in the interest of the nation, no objection can be raised. Members who felt themselves disqualified from intervening actively in the discussion might be satisfied to give their assent under a persuasion that the measure in question would prove beneficial to the National Church, and therefore to the nation. Time spent in passing an unopposed Church Bill could not be time wasted. Nonconformists who will at one time assert their nonconformity will at another claim the full privilege which could pertain to them as members of the National Church to share in the consideration of whatever may redound to the efficiency of the Church. In so doing they are quite within their rights, for no sentence of excommunication has been passed upon them, and their only needful qualification is a charitable and patriotic spirit.
Church dignitaries are advised by Mr. Borlase to make their Church the Church of the people, and to substitute for the title · Established Church'its ancient name Ecclesia Anglicana.' The advice is hardly needed. As understood by learned dignitaries,
the establishment of the Church of England means the recognition of the Church of England as the national organisation for the profession and the teaching of the Christian religion.' The State, when it allied itself with the Church at the Reformation, assumed to itself certain prerogatives which have proved injurious to spiritual independence, and may now, if enforced, be found so intolerable as to necessitate a resolute resistance. In a country holding religious liberty as a sacred principle, the requisite relief ought not to be a matter of controversy; and those alone would refuse it who, hating the Church, would aggravate her difficulties in order to drive her to the acceptance of freedom with disestablishment and disendowment.
Mr. Borlase seems, almost as a matter of course, to assume that the Church is to be presently disendowed upon the scheme of the Liberation Society-a scheme which, after he wrote his article, was disowned by the eminent Nonconformists at the Temple Conference on November 19, 1885, and by the Liberation Society itself, with an implied rebuke to their confiding followers who had been beguiled into thinking that 'Practical Suggestions' were suggestions meant to be carried into practice.
Foreseeing disendowment, Mr. Borlase comforts himself with the anticipation that even that calamity will not paralyse the Church's work, but that the wealth devoted to its service in recent times would have been even more liberally provided had there been no establishment to fetter the gift. That what the Spectator calls the crude, cruel, and ridiculous scheme' of the Liberationists would not wholly ruin Churchmen, and that they would strive to the utmost to compensate the Church for the wrongs inflicted on her, I readily believe; but surely it is a strange political morality which would connive at an act of spoliation because forsooth the sufferer had friends able and willing to keep him alive. Mr. Borlase insists on the excellent purposes to which the confiscated Church property might be applied, in the relief of destitution and the education of the people. Has Mr. Borlase forgotten that this country is distinguished for its legal provision for the destitute through a highly organised Poor Law, and that the Church is the earliest educator of the people, not only in her churches, but in her grammar schools and parochial elementary schools, and that up to 1870 the work of education was, and has remained, chiefly in the hands of Churchmen, aided and advised by the National Society as the organ of the Church ?
I will not follow Mr. Borlase through the details of the palliatives with which he would considerately mitigate the severity of the crude and cruel disendowment.' I pass rather to the evidence before me that there is a strong reaction following upon the exposure of the perversions of history and fallacious arguments which pervade the Liberationist literature, and culminate in the now discredited Practical Suggestions.'
On the 19th of November of last year a conference on disestablishment was held at the City Temple, Holborn. The Rev. J. Guinness Rogers presided, and the importance of the meeting was marked less even by the large attendance of well-known men than by the selection as president of a pronounced Liberationist. The speech of the chairman is distinguished by a profession of friendliness towards the Church which is most gratifying, and from it I select portions which will constitute a fitting prelude to the subject of this article.
Mr. Rogers based his argument on this proposition :
If it be a right that what we on the Nonconformist side calló religious equality,' then certainly there will be somewhere or other a method found of treating this question of disendowment in such a manner that no party will have any just ground to complain of being injured.?
The acceptance of this proposition involves its converse: the religious equality' requiring a method of disendowment which gives any party just ground to complain of being injured, cannot be right.
' Nonconformist, November 1885.
If I thought any proposition for religious equality involved the disintegration of the Episcopal Church of England, I should pause a long time before I could take part in it. We care only to make our friends understand that we really mean them no harm. I say distinctly, as in the presence of Him to whom I have to account, that I mean no harm to the Episcopal Church.
Mr. Rogers concluded his speech by enjoining that the discussion should be maintained in the spirit of sweet reasonableness,' that argument and not invective should be employed, and that all should endeavour to speak the truth in love.'
Nothing more encouraging than these friendly protestations could have been desired, and a peaceful solution of the difference may have seemed probable even when the speaker said: “We do not believe we shall work any harm to the Episcopal Church by disestablishment, even though accompanied by disendowment.'
But churchmen have a strong impression that disestablishment and disendowment would work serious harm to the Church and people of England, and in support of that impression they display the scheme of the Liberation Society, and in particular they point to the provisions which would (1) sever religion from all legal connection with the State, (2) secularise the endowments of the clergy, and (3) allow the conversion of all sacred buildings to common and profane uses.
Don't be misled, interposes Mr. J. G. Rogers; no scheme has yet been framed to which any one authority is bound.
I am committed to no scheme, nor is the Liberation Society. The Liberation Society has published what are called • Practical Suggestions,' and these · Practical Suggestions' have been improperly regarded as a definite scheme of disendowment. They never professed to be anything of the kind. . . . They were the outline of a brief put into the hands of a prosecuting counsel, or rather counsel for the plaintiff —that and nothing more.
Nothing more!' Is not that enough? I will quote from the Case for Disestablishment, p. 167 :
At the close of 1874 the Executive Committee of the 'Society for the Liberation of Religion from State Patronage and Control' appointed a special committee to obtain legal and other information required for the preparation of a scheme of disestablishment, and to offer suggestions which might aid in the framing of such a scheme. The suggestions so prepared were presented to the Triennial Conference of the Society on the 1st of May, 1877, and were published by direction of the Conference.
The scheme, carefully prepared, has been widely disseminated, and has been the source of the instruction assiduously conveyed to the classes who from want of better and truer teaching were disposed to be tempted by the secular advantages connected with the plunder of the Church. The tardy exposure of the conspiracy has roused an