HC Deb 02 May 1851 vol 116 cc419-25

begged to ask the First Lord of the Treasury what the Government were prepared to do with respect to the Diocesan Synod contemplated by the Bishop of Exeter. In order that the House might understand the measure to which his question referred, he would, with the permission of the House, read a letter which had been addressed by the Bishop of Exeter to the archdeacons of his diocese, and which appeared in some of the journals yesterday, expressing his intentions. That letter was as follows:— South Moulton, April 28, 1851. Dear Mr. Archdeacon—Having announced to my clergy my purpose of holding, with God's permission, a Synod of the diocese soon after the conclusion of my present visitation, I now request you to desire the deans rural to inform the presbyteries, whether beneficed or licensed, in their several deaneries, that I have fixed on Wednesday, the 25th of June next, for the mooting of the Synod, to be continued on the two following days. We shall assemble first in the chapter room, and proceed thence to the cathedral, at the usual hour of morning prayer, and, after having received together the holy eucharist, will return to the chapter-room, which the dean and chapter have permitted us to use for that purpose. The one great question which only I shall submit to the Synod on the first day will be the fitness of our making a declaration of our firm adherence to the great article of the creed—'I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins,' as well as to the doctrine of our Church on the grace of that sacrament, as set forth in the Catechism. On the two other days we will discuss such matters of practical interest as shall seem best calculated, with God's blessing, to promote the great ends of our ministry—avoiding all questions of controversial theology. It is manifest that so numerous a body cannot usefully be brought together except by representation. I therefore invite the clergy of every deanery to elect two of their own number, together with their deans rural, to meet me, the dean and the greater chapter, my chaplains, and the officials of the archdeacons. This election, however, it may be better to defer till within a short time before the proposed meeting. In the meanwhile, the questions to be proposed for consideration will be fixed. For this purpose I would desire the deans rural to call together, or otherwise to invite their clergy, to transmit to me any questions which they may recommend for the consideration of the Synod. It is desirable that such questions be proposed six weeks before the 25th of June, in order that I may select such as shall seem fittest, and submit them to the deliberation of the clergy of the several deaneries a month before that day. This will give sufficient time for their deliberation, and for electing their representatives. As it is important that these representatives should have the full confidence of those from whom they are sent, I would wish that no one be considered as elected who has not an actual majority of the votes of those who are present, and the holders of the proxies of those who are absent; this would be best secured by electing each separately. The clergy of every deanery may send their opinions on the different questions to be proposed through their representatives, who will, however, be free to give their own judgment on those questions in the Synod. We may humbly hope that this and future similar meetings may be a means of giving, both to the bishop and to the clergy at large, the benefit of mutual consultation on various matters which shall from time to time arise of important consequence to our ministerial usefulness, and therefore to the edification of our people. He would say nothing as to the animus with which the questions to which the right rev. Prelate referred wore likely to be discussed, but he would beg permission to read one or two extracts from the pastoral letter recently addressed by the Bishop of Exeter to the clergy of his diocese. In alluding to the Gorham case, and to the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the Bishop said— I grieved to read the statement of the Archbishop in answer to an address from a portion of you, my clergy, in which he declared that, in issuing the fiat for institution in Mr. Gorham's case, he had acted not judicially, but ministerially. To affect to act ministerially in such a case, to give mission and authority over souls, as the minister of man is to renounce the divine authority of the office in which the power of mission is lodged—to fling the commission of Christ under the footstool of an earthy throne! And this, too, when the Crown itself had too just and true a sense of its own duty, as well as of the duty of the Archbishop, to require, to accept, or even to be prepared for such a surrender! That surrender can be regarded only as the voluntary betraying of a high and most sacred trust. 'Traditor potestatis, quam Sancta Mater Ecclesia a sponso suo acceperat.' It could not but be manifest to me, that if I was wrong—if the Archbishop had not, by instituting Mr. Gorham, become a fautor of the heretical tenets held by him—and if he had not, as such, forfeited his right to Catholic communion, any one of his comprovincial bishops, who there- upon renounced communion with him, would himself, by so doing, have deserved to be put out of the pale of the Church. The Bishop of Exeter then went on to remark upon the charge delivered by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the clergy of the diocese of Chester in 1841, and he said— After all this, it is possible for any minister of the English Church who would speak 'the words of truth and soberness' to hesitate what he must say of the statements which we have read from this unhappy charge? I declare solemnly, and with a deep sense of the responsibility which attaches to such a declaration, concerning a document proceeding from such a quarter, that I could not name any one work of any minister in our Church which, though of double the bulk, contains half so many heretical statements as are contained in this one charge. The Archbishop, in his charge, expressed a hope that his clergy would never be wanting in resistance to any attempts which might be made "to weaken or subvert the Protestant faith;" and upon this the Bishop of Exeter said— Now, it is not with anything like a wish to carp at words that I avow my ignorance of what is meant by the phrase 'the Protestant faith.' 'Protestant' and 'Faith' are terms which do not seem to me to accord together; the object of ' Faith' is divine truth, the object of 'Protestant' is human error. How, therefore, can one be an attribute of the other? He put it to Her Majesty's Government, what they thought was likely to be the consequence of the step which the Bishop of Exeter intended to take, and how they were prepared to act with regard to the proposed Synod.


Sir, the hon. Gentleman having given notice to me, and having given public notice in this House, of the question he intended to put, I thought it necessary to take the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, and to ascertain their views with regard to those Diocesan Synods to which the question of the hon. Gentleman refers. The hon. Member has truly stated that the Bishop of Exeter proposes to call together a certain assembly of the clergy of his diocese, elected after a certain manner, to confer upon subjects to which he adverts in his letter. It does not appear to me that that assembly, although it may be called by the bishop a Synod, bears in any respect the character of a Synod, either in the mode of its assembly, in its constituent parts, or as to the subjects upon which it is to deliberate. In ancient times there wore Provincial Synods, with respect to which I need not make any remarks, and there were likewise Diocesan Synods, convened by the bishop, to consider of Church matters once or twice a year. Bishop Gibson, who is a great authority on such subjects, says that such Synods ought to be called together once a year. Now, these Synods continued till the 25th Henry VIII., when an Act was passed which had relation both to the Provincial and Diocesan Synods. With regard to the Provincial Synods, to which the Act chiefly relates, it is stated that they cannot be called together except by the King's writ, and that they cannot issue any decrees or enact any Canons without the consent of the Crown; and that, if they should so do, the persons so offending shall be liable to imprisonment at the pleasure of the Crown. It is obvious that the former part of what I have stated—that such Synods cannot meet without the King's writ—has no relation to Diocesan Synods, because they have never at any time been convened by the King's writ, but were always called together by the bishop. With regard to the other point I have mentioned—that the Synods cannot enact any Canons—that certainly may be held to affect Diocesan Synods; but whether it does so or not, it hardly touches upon this question, because the Bishop of Exeter has expressly declared that it is not his intention to propose that the assembly of the clergy he means to call together shall enact any Canons whatever. It appears that the Bishop of Exeter has expressly declared, not only that he does not mean to propose any Canons, but that he would be loth to do anything which could be construed into an act of disobedience or disrespect to the Crown. It is clear, therefore, I think, that whatever purpose the bishop may have in view, it is not the purpose of contravening the Act of the 25th of Henry VIII., commonly called the Act of Submission of the Clergy. Then the question arises whether, the proposed assembly of the clergy not being within the provisions of that Act, there will be anything unlawful in it, supposing it is confined to the objects the bishop has stated, and does not go beyond those objects. My hon. and learned Friends the Attorney and Solicitor General do not think, as far as they have been enabled to form an opinion, that the meeting of that assembly of the clergy will be unlawful. Though it is called a "Synod," it seems to be merely an assumption of the word by the Bishop of Exeter—a very unfortunate assumption, as I think, giving rise to a suspicion that he is going to call together an assembly which is contrary to law, and to proceed to some acts which are forbidden by law. It is, therefore, I think, most unfortunate—to use no harsher term—that the Bishop of Exeter should have called together an assembly to which he gives the name of a Synod, but which is an assembly formed in a different way, and called together for different purposes, The clergy assembled in Synod were either assemblies of the whole of the clergy of a diocese, or of a part of the clergy of a diocese, in places to which they could conveniently resort, or they were sometimes meetings of the deans and chapters to advise the bishops; but the assembly of representative clergy formed in the particular manner proposed by the Bishop of Exeter seems to be entirely unknown to the law of the Church, and completely a device of his own. My hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) has also alluded further to the language which has been used by the Bishop of Exeter in his pastoral letter, and especially to his observations upon the Gorham case with respect to the conduct of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Now, with that case I had nothing whatever to do. I had nothing to do with the appointment of the person, or with the subsequent appeal. That appeal was brought finally before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and was there decided according to the law of the land. That question would have been decided by the Court of Delegates some twenty or thirty years ago; but in consequence of some recent alterations in our judicial system, it was now decided by a Court composed of persons of the very highest rank in the law, with the advice—which was especially asked for on this occasion—of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Bishop of London. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York gave their opinions in consonance with the judgment of the Judicial Committee, and the Bishop of London dissented from their views; but the decision was one made according to the law of the land, to which I conceive every subject of this realm is bound to conform. The Bishop of Exeter has called that judgment in question, and he has apparently convened this assembly or Synod, in order, under cover of declaring an adherence to one of the articles of the Church, and to the doctrine of the Church, which is taken from Scripture, and which is con- formable to Scripture, to impugn the decision which has been come to by the Court of Appeal. With respect to that question, of course it remains to be seen what is the language he may use, or what is the proposition he may make, before an opinion is given. With regard to the language the Bishop of Exeter has used relative to the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is well known that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a man of peculiar mildness of character, and of truly Christian forbearance; and I think it is because he is a man of peculiar mildness of character, and of well-known Christian forbearance, that that language has been used. I feel sure, however, that without any interposition of the Government, without any interposition of Parliament, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the chief of the archbishops and bishops of this land, the Primate of all England, will so conduct himself as to merit that veneration which has hitherto been accorded to him, that nothing that may be said or that has been said against him by the Bishop of Exeter can in the least diminish the respect entertained for that most excellent Prelate; and that while he will firmly assert his own opinions, and will firmly maintain those doctrines which he believes to be the true doctrines of his Church, and in conformity with the letter and the spirit of the Scriptures, he will never depart from the character he has acquired, so far as, by the use of unworthy language, or by the interchange of epithets of invective, to diminish in any way the purity and the holiness which belong to his exalted office.


was sure the House must feel universally that the character of the Archbishop of Canterbury was one that would require no defence, either in that House or elsewhere, from any attacks that might be made upon it from such a quarter. But he thought the course which the Bishop of Exeter meant to take, was calculated to produce consequences rather more important than had been indicated in the speech of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell). The Bishop of Exeter had stated that he would refuse to institute clergymen whose general opinions wore not the same as his own; and also any clergyman who might hold opinions on the question of baptismal regeneration which the Committee of the Privy Council had declared to form no bar to his institution. This was an interference with the patronage of the Crown, and with the rights of private patrons; and, far from being content with a more declaration of opinion, the Bishop of Exeter called on his clergy to join him in adhering to a principle which would shut the diocese of Exeter against any clergyman who did not hold his opinions. He (Mr. Horsman) must of course bow to the opinion of the law officers of the Crown in regard to the construction of the 25th Henry VIII.; but he did not know whether the attention of the noble Lord had been drawn to the 73rd canon. This stated that the clergy should not meet anywhere to consult upon any matter or any course to be taken for their guidance and direction, or be in anywise parties to acts impeaching or degrading any part of the doctrine or discipline of the Church of England as now established by law. That was a totally distinct question from that of meeting by Synod. He held that it was incompetent for the clergy to meet anywhere to consider matters of doctrine or discipline without being called together by the Crown; and he hoped the hon. and learned Attorney General would state whether this was legal or not.


thought the 73rd canon inapplicable to the case of Diocesan Synods. According to the law of the Church by which Diocesan Synods were formerly held, although they appeared to have fallen into desuetude, and to have been superseded by the Convocation, still they could not now be called illegal. With respect to the prohibitory statute, the 25th Henry VIII. related only to the meeting of Convocation, and the passing of Canons and Ordinances which should bind the Church. The Bishop of Exeter had declared that he did not intend to bring under the consideration of the meeting of his clergy any such questions as would require the Queen's licence. All they could say, assuming his statement to be true, was, that there did not appear to be any law by which the meeting could he prevented, or by which, if called together, those attending it could hereafter be punished. As long as the Bishop of Exeter limited the proceedings of his proposed assembly to that which he declared to be its object, it appeared to himself, as well as to his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, that there was no law under which this meeting could be prevented.

Subject dropped.