Page images

The laity do not take the subject much to heart; that is, the great majority of them do not. There is, of course, a social, or say, connubial sense, in which the middle classes naturally feel interested; because there is scarcely a family, among the middle classes, which is not allied by intermarriage with one or more clerical families. The "new curate" has always been an object of domestic interest to most of the single ladies in every parish; and as marriage implies hopes of preferment, endowments are a very practical consideration. This view of disestablishment is but little discussed [the extreme Ritualists would resent any allusion to it, because they "do not approve of a married priesthood," theoretically], yet everyone knows that a married clergy implies, first, the means of getting married and keeping a family. It is, therefore, perfectly excusable, perfectly natural, to propose the painfully commercial inquiry: "Would the voluntary system answer in the Church of England? And the experience would, probably, be of this kind: for "popular" clergymen it would answer; for "unpopular" clergymen it would not. So that popularity is not a reliable source of income. In former days popularity was everything for a clergyman-in the days when "sacerdotalism" was unknown. Indeed it may be said that the "success" of an Anglican curate used to depend mainly on his acceptability; on the charm of his preaching or of his manners. There was weakness and there was force in this arrangement. Popularity was the bane of Protestant Anglicanism; just as it was the one thing which sustained it.

That the bishops do not desire disestablishment, or that the wealthy dignitaries in all spheres do not desire it, we have assumed for a mere postulate of human nature. Few men who have a generous income would wish to exchange it for contributions. And here it may be noted that the very reason—at least, a principal reason why dissenting ministers have been looked down upon by Anglicans, has been because they have been voluntarily supported. They have been alms-men; not established, endowed gentlemen. True, dissenting ministers have not been "educated," until quite recently, when they have built their own colleges; but the tache upon dissent has been the fact that it was not "recognized," not established, not endowed, by the Imperial Power. And at this point we may ask the question: What have the Dissenters got to say, as to the "justice" of the Establishment, or of its extinction?


To summarize their arguments would take a volume. Let us be as brief as it is possible. The arguments may be classified under three heads: The Historic, the Doctrinal, the Ethical.

Historically, Dissenters say to the Establishmentarians: Your

Church was the creature of Henry VIII., of Edward VI., of Elizabeth, of Charles II. By persecution alone have you maintained your Church; while we have always fought for religious liberty. Witness the fruits of our labors (fruits wrung from you through generations of resistance): The Toleration Acts, the Test and Corporation Acts, the Marriage Act, the Abolition of Church Rates, and the throwing open of the Universities to all comers. You have created dissent all over the world. You compelled the Puritans to found "churches" in the United States; the Nonconformists to inaugurate Congregationalism; the Oxford Methodists to cover the land with their conventicles; Whitefield and Wesley to turn Dissenters. And as to your "Church," in the ecclesiastical sense, it was not of ecclesiastical origin at all; for, though it was, at one time, of regal, at another time of parliamentary and regal, it was never of ecclesiastical inception. "Church and State" is a most falsifying conjunction; it is a misnomer, which defies historic. facts; for your Church was never more than the State's servile agent to carry out its political will. Thus, historically, we dismiss you as the most patent ecclesiastical sham which the history of all religions can furnish.

Doctrinally, we cannot treat you any better. As to your superficial "unity," you have (and you always have had) more divisions within your sect than there are without it: High Churchmen and Low Churchmen, Broad Churchmen and No Churchmen, and (of late years) Extreme Ritualists and Rationalists, contending against the Bishops and the Law Courts. Even your " principle" of Establishmentism is proved doctrinally to be nonsense; for, in Great Britain, you have two separate establishments, the Anglo Episcopal and the Scotch Presbyterian; nor can your Queen's chaplains (the chaplains of your only Pope) officiate lawfully in both communions. Indeed, as to doctrines, you simply have none at all; for every clergyman makes his belief for himself, while every bishop trims his sails to the State-winds; and as to the laity, it is simply impossible to find two of them, in any parish, who are in accord on all their religious opinions. You might as well call the "tuning up" of an orchestra-before the conductor has begun to wield his imperial baton—a harmonious and exquisitely-timed concert, as call the myriad eccentricities of Anglican opinion a uniform system of belief.

Ethically, you are, if possible, in a still worse plight. Your method of Church patronage is so gross a public scandal that Simon Magus might have patented it for his own. The Prime Minister appoints your Bishops and Deans (well, that perhaps is simply grotesque); your landowners give rich benefices to their kinsfolk, or sell them, like their garden-stuff, in the public markets; fully half of all your

"livings" are "saleable," and may come, and sometimes do come, under the hammer; and your Ecclesiastical Gazette has often "edified" your pious Churchman by" advertising" hundreds of livings for sale at one time-1497 in one advertisement! To take only two more specimens of your ethics: Your idle clergy have been always splendidly paid, and your industrious clergy left to live on bread and water; or, to quote one of your own clergymen (who was "suspended" for his sentiments): "The industrious, the ingenious, and the imaginative starve, while bloated mediocrity pants with success." And next, your High Church bishops, who pretend to be so "Catholic,"-and who are so shocked by being supposed to be " Erastian,"-when they receive their spiritual mission from the Sovereign make the following (profoundly “Catholic") declaration : "I do confess to hold the Bishopric of as well the spiritualities and temporalities thereof, only of your Majesty, and of the Imperial crown of your Majesty's realm.” These examples may suffice to vindicate the accusation we bring against you, of being, ethically, as utterly unworthy of being "established" as you have been proved to be historically and doctrinally.


We pass, now, from these arguments for disestablishment to the arguments which are in favor of establishment; such arguments as are urged by various parties, not necessarily either Anglican or Dissenting.

(1.) It is urged by these apologists, that the constitution of the Church-its political and quasi-national character-is "a safeguard against the encroachments of Romanism;" so that, if the Church were disestablished, Roman Catholicity would easily triumph over the multitudinous sects of English Protestantism. This pleading gathers force (in the estimate of those who urge it) from the fact that "sacerdotalism" would necessarily be advantaged by the removal of political influences from Anglicanism; and thus the Roman Catholic Church would have no strong foe to contend with in urging its "superior pretensions."

(2.) The Act of Settlement provides, that the king (or queen) shall not be professedly a Roman Catholic; but, to disestablish the Church would be to declare that the sovereign was no longer its supreme spiritual head, because Church and State would be separated. And this would endanger the national Protestantism.

(3.) The “ideal" of the Church is the national profession of belief; so that to denationalize the Church would aid democratic socialism, if, indeed, it did not prosper positive atheism. The whole freethinking element of the British population would glory in the humiliation of an institution which, whatever its faults,

is a bulwark against impiety-in the form, that is, of overt, blatant atheism.

(4.) There would be a narrowing or sectarianizing of the Church of England, by its subjection to Anglican Canon Law; whereas, the principle of Nationalism may be allowed to be enlarging, or, at least, to prevent one party getting the upper hand.

(5.) Disendowment (which would accompany disestablishment to some degree, which must be correlatively decided) would bear hardly on a large number of poor districts, which would be unable to adopt the voluntary principle. Conversely, disendowment would not benefit the poor, for the tithes would be collected into the exchequer, and thus the wealthier classes alone would be the gainers. At present, on the contrary, the payment of the tithe reverts to the poorer classes in most parishes; who moreover have nothing to pay for "ministrations."

(6.) The Cathedrals would have no lawful masters, and would probably lose their "ideal" as Church centres; for it is not unlikely that the question of their appropriation would be " fought over" by all Protestant parties. And even assuming that some newly constituted corporation should take the question of appropriation into their keeping, what wranglings, what unseemly squabbles, would be generated in the effort of each party to press its claims.

(7.) The State Church costs nothing to the nation. This is true, both because the nation is not taxed for it, and because the nation receives from it great benefits. But what would a Free Church cost the nation, if the nation cared enough about it to maintain it?

(8.) The free gifts of church members to the State-Church amount yearly to something like five millions; such gifts being expended on schools, church societies, charities, foreign missions, expenses of divine worship, and building or restoring of Anglican edifices. So that the active sympathy of Anglicans with their own communion, though it would not justify the experiment of voluntarism, at least shows that disestablishment is a hue-and-cry of party-advocates, not a profoundly felt desire of English Christians.

(9.) Scandals or abuses affect no principle. Let it be admitted that if you take the total net yearly value of endowments (received by all the officers of the establishment) you find that each clergyman would receive, on the average, three pounds ten shillings a week; would receive it, that is, but for the glaring inequalities which unhappily deface the present system; still, such inequalities might be easily lessened-might be, indeed, quite obliterated. Recast, if you like, the whole establishment; make it a more equitable institution; ensure a sufficient salary to all clergymen by lopping the huge endowments of a few clergymen; and be as

radical as you like with the dignitaries, to the benefit of the hardworking curates. Go back even, if you will, to a primitive simplicity, to an apostolic poverty and asceticism, and thus test the vocations of the clergymen. [This suggestion, however, must be unpractical so long as the Anglican clergy get married.]

(10.) Finally, let it be advanced that disestablishment and disendowment are both, in a true sense, impossible, because the Church of England never has been established by the State, neither has it ever been endowed. [No State document exists on either point.] The Church's own members, individually, have bit by bit built the sanctuaries of the Church; so that the State has no "ownership" in church property; nor has it legal or moral right to even pretend to deal, authoritatively, with what is in reality trust property.


We have thus sketched a sort of impression of the general "talk" which falls on the ear all over England; for, in a huge subject, presenting a score of different aspects, it is rather the fragments of personal views which find expression, than a clear, commanding synopsis of "first principles." Indeed it may be asked, and without the least fear of levity, are there any first principles in the matter? Is it not rather from want of principles-from national decadence in (professed) religious earnestness-that some millions of Englishmen have come to look with indifference on the spoliation of (what is to them) a Mother Church? That a vast number of Englishmen are shocked at the spoliation is no set-off against the fact that a vaster number still regard the whole movement without dismay. Even Mr. Gladstone, who is quite a typical "good Anglican," professes himself stirred only by expediency. He contemplates, with a profound composure and serenity, what the Bishop of Carlisle calls "rank robbery." No man sees the 'difficulties" more clearly than he does, but no man makes less of "first principles." And if this be the attitude of Mr. Gladstone-who reads the Lessons in Hawarden Church on Sunday morning-how can we expect that the Radicals, or even the Liberals, will be restrained by an extreme delicacy of conscience? The truth is that the reaction from High Churchism, plus the reaction from Catholicity [the reaction, that is from a once earnest disposition to study the claims of Catholic truth], have left Englishmen simply wearied with all polemics, and asking only not to be "bored about controversy." A leading Protestant journal said recently: "What has come over the national spirit? Places of worship are, as a rule, not half full; strife, worldliness, prayerlessness, indifference, are almost everywhere the prominent features of Church life. . . . . Nonconformist churches are but little better. Wesleyans, Baptists, Presbyterians,


« PreviousContinue »