HC Deb 09 April 1862 vol 166 cc718-41

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he hoped to be able to satisfy the House that some such change as that which the measure proposed to carry into effect was not only called for and just, but would also be salutary and advantageous to the Church of England itself. The position of things which had led him to ask the assent of the House to the Bill was, that for a considerable number of years a good many of those who had taken orders had, from various reasons, deemed it to be their duty to change the opinions which they had professed at the time of their entry into the Church, and had, owing to the scruples which thus arose, considered themselves bound to resign the benefices which they happened to have held. It was matter of notoriety, indeed, that several clergymen, occupying positions of great eminence, had formed opinions which they had publicly avowed, and which, though representing the opposite poles of Christianity, were equally inconsistent with the formularies of the Church of England; and that they took the course of giving up their benefices, and thus endeavouring to free themselves, as far as lay in their power, from all their obligations as ministers of the Church to which they originally belonged. He might allude to the names of Archdeacon Manning and Mr. Newman on the one hand, and to those of Mr. Baptist Noel and Canon Woodhouse on the other, to show that the scruples of such men as those to whom he was referring were entitled, at least, to the respect of those who were the advocates of liberty of conscience. They felt—and in the opinion of every reasonable man they justly felt—that the opinions which they had formed were inconsistent with the subscriptions they had made at the time of their ordination, and they took the true and righteous course of resigning the preferments which they held. The laity of the Church of England, fortunately, were not required to trouble themselves much about subscribing to its formularies; and therefore, although much had been said and written within the last few years respecting matters theological, there was among the public generally a considerable amount of ignorance as to what the oaths and subscriptions of the ministers of that Church really were. With such obliga- tions our forefathers, however, seemed desirous to load the clergy, forgetting the dictum of a great contemporary of theirs—namely, "It is not the many oaths that make the truth, but the plain single vow." That was nut the opinion of our forefathers, and he wished very briefly to state to the House in what the obligations of the clergy really consisted. When a person happened to be ordained deacon of the Church of England, he was, under a statute of Elizabeth, required to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles; he had to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, under an Act of William and Mary; and further, by a, canon of the Church adopted in 1603, to sign three articles, which were to the following effect:— I. That the King's Majesty, under God, is the only supreme governor of this realm, &c. II. That the Book of Common Prayer, and of ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, contained in it nothing contrary to the Word of God, and that it may lawfully so be used, and that he himself will use the form in the said book prescribed in public prayer and administration of the Sacraments, and none other. III. That he alloweth the Book of Articles of Religion agreed upon in the convocation holden in London in the year 1562, and that he acknowledged all and every the articles therein contained, being in number 39, besides the ratification to be agreeable to the word of God. To these three articles whosoever will subscribe he shall for the avoiding all ambiguities, subscribe in this order and form of words— I, N. N. do willingly and ex animo subscribe to those three articles above-mentioned, and to all things that are contained in them. Such were the oaths and obligations imposed on a clergyman when he was first ordained; but when he was admitted to a benefice, the operation was repeated, with a further extension, he being obliged to take in addition what was called "the oath of canonical obedience," which was this— I, A. B., do swear that I will perform true and canonical obedience to the Bishop of—and his successors in all things lawful and honest. So help me God. That, however, was not all. The Act of Uniformity enjoined that— Every person put into any ecclesiastical benefice shall within two months after he shall be in actual possession, upon some Lord's-day openly read the morning and evening prayers appointed to be read by the said Book of Common Prayer, and after such reading shall declare as follows:—I do here declare my unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained and prescribed in and by the book entitled the Book of Common Prayer, &c. Such was the process in accordance with which a clergyman became entitled to hold a benefice of the Church of England; and he, for one, did not wonder that any clergyman who took the oaths in question should entertain scruples with respect to the obligations which they imposed in after-life. Indeed, he doubted very much whether one layman in a thousand would, in mature life, be prepared deliberately to subscribe to all these obligations, especially the declaration required by the Act of Uniformity, that he gave his "unfeigned consent and assent to all and everything contained and prescribed in and by the Book of Common Prayer." Since that declaration had been framed thousands of men had scrupled first of all taking it and afterwards remaining in the Church with such opinions as they felt themselves bound to hold. What wag the history of the declaration? It was framed with the express object of driving out of the Church of England some of the most pious ministers whom she had ever numbered among her members. It was the triumph of a political and religions party in this country, which had obtained complete dominion over the first Parliament of Charles II., and which sought to make the Prayer Book as offensive as it could be to the prejudices, as some would maintain, but also to the scruples of many of the best men in the Church. The party to which he alluded had been successful in their aim and the subscription had, from that day down to the present, been a constant source of serious discontent and dissatisfaction. The House was aware how, within recent times, the scruples of which he was speaking had again sprung into active existence. It was but a few years ago that some 5,000 clergymen prayed for some relief with respect to the reading of certain portions of the burial service. But what, let him ask, was the ordinary history of the case of a man—he did not speak of those brilliant exceptions who did honour to their profession—going into the Church? He was destined from his boyhood for the ministry. He went to college, pursued the necessary course of study, and went up to be ordained, and having accomplished the minimum amount of the requirements for the purpose, and having succeeded in being ordained, he took the oaths which had been enumerated, a process which upon his admission to a benefice he repeated with certain additions which had also been mentioned. Then one of three things happened. He either settled down to the energetic performance of his every-day duties, and did not occupy his mind much with theological controversy; or he subsided into what Mr. Gibbon called "the fat slumbers of the Church;" or, being of an inquiring turn of mind, he devoted himself to the acquisition of that knowledge which his profession would naturally lead him to seek. Taking the latter course, he in many instances became satisfied by further research of the truth and force of those convictions which at the time of his ordination he entertained. It, however, not unfrequently occurred that doubts and scruples arose in his mind with regard to those convictions, and with respect to the possibility of retaining, as a consequence, fairly and honourably his preferment in the Church. So situated, and harassed by contending feelings, let it be supposed that he adopted the conscientious course, and resigned his benefice. What was he under the circumstances to do? If he desired, like many good men, to continue in the service of the great Being whose ministry he had already entered, and sought to become a clergyman of a Dissenting congregation, he was immediately met by the fact that the law prohibited him from following out his wishes, as was decided in the well-known case of Mr. Shore, in which it was settled by law that no act that such a person could do would enable him, without breaking the law, to net as a minister of a Dissenting congregation. It was to be supposed that such a person ought to obtain protection under the Toleration Act, and he was sure that such was the intention of that Act, because the very case which the Act of William and Mary was framed to meet was the ease of men who had been ministers of the Church of England, but had become Nonconformists. It remained for persons in the nineteenth century to find out that such a clergyman was not protected by that Act—was totally unable to free himself from the obligations to the Bishop—and that the bishop was able at any time to prevent him from acting as a Dissenting clergyman, and to send him to prison if he did act as a Dissenting clergyman. The result of the decision was, consequently, to debar a clergyman who had resigned his benefice from entering into the ministry of any other Protestant church. It was true Unit in many cases that was done; but it was equally true that in a well-known case it was not done with impunity, but that the gentleman was prosecuted in the Bishop's Court and sent to prison. That was what by law might be done at any time, and it was not right that the law should be in a state that would permit its being done. Well, then, although prohibited from becoming a dissenting minister, was a lay occupation open to the seceding clergyman? He might wish to go to the Bar, but the effect of the law was too debar him. That was shown by the casa of the clergyman from whom he had that very day presented a petition, who was refused to be admitted as a student of their inn by the benchers of the Middle Temple.

The following canon, the 76th, 1603, was against him:— No man being admitted a deacon or minister shall from thenceforth voluntarily relinquish the same, nor afterwards use himself in the course of his life as a layman, upon pain of excommunication. Having been then refused, he again made application for admission to the inn to the benchers; but they told him that they could not grant his request, and that; their refusal was based upon the canon and upon a rule of their own, passed in the last century, he believed in reference to the case of Mr. Horne Tooke. Now, against the decision of the benchers there was no appeal; for though it had been decided that an appeal would lie to the judges in case of their refusal to admit a student to the Bar, yet, no such right to review the decision of the benchers existed in the case in which they refused to admit a person as a student of their inn. The Bar, therefore, was shut up; but was a clergyman who had left the Established Church at liberty to engage in any other lay occupation? Not if he obeyed the law which bound him. Many clergymen were engaged in lay occupations, but they were under the ban of the law, and were liable to be proceeded against in the ecclesiastical courts. It was to be remembered, moreover, that by a modern Act of Parliament a clergyman sentenced by the ecclesiastical courts to excommunication was liable to be sent to prison for any term not exceeding six months. Under the existing state of the law, clergymen who had left the Church were wholly excluded from every pursuit of life with one exception: they might with impunity become Roman Catholic priests. The 31 Geo. III., c.32, contained the following provision:— After the said 24th of June, 1791, no person who shall take and subscribe the oath hereinbefore appointed to be taken and subscribed in manner hereby required, shall be presented, indicted, sued, impeached, prosecuted, or convicted in any civil or ecclesiastical court of this realm for being a Papist or reputed Papist, or for professing or being educated in the Popish religion, or for hearing or saying mass, or for being a priest or deacon or for being present at or performing or observing any rite, ceremony, practice, or observance of the Popish religion, or maintaining or assisting others therein. So that the law excluded clergymen who had left the Church from the Ministry of Dissenting congregations, from the Bar, from every lay occupation; but it had such regard for the position of a Roman Catholic priest in this professedly Protestant country, that if a man took orders in the Roman Catholic Church, after having been a minister of the Church of England, it exempted him from the penalties enforced in all other cases. The law, in short, was a disgrace to our time and country, and a remedy was urgently required. A few days previously he had presented a petition, signed by a good many gentlemen of the highest eminence who had been ministers of the Church of England. The petitioners stated the grievances which he had endeavoured to set forth, and they asked for a remedy. Was the House not bound to give them one? It was but, justice that he, asked for them. Could anybody maintain that here was not persecution for religious opinions in this country? Was it not persecution to inflict temporal penalties for the avowal of religious convictions? There was no use saying that a. man was not punished for his opinions, but for the avowal of them. It was his duty to avow them if he had them. Would they wish a man to remain in the Church a base hypocrite, teaching doctrines which tie did not believe, and observing forms which were repugnant to his feelings and his judgment?

But he did not ask the House to assent to, the principle of his Bill merely on grounds of justice. It was for the interest of the Church of England herself that a change should be made. Which was better—that secret disaffection within the pale of the Church should exist, or open and avowed nonconformity? He was persuaded it was for the true interests of the Church that those who were galled by the fetters imposed by her subscriptions should be permitted to leave her communion if they pleased. There would then be far less discontent and disaffection within the Church itself. Would anybody say that the formularies of the Church were not the cause of much discussion and dissatisfaction? What answer had they for those who were discontented? They could not tell them to leave the Church. Like Sterne's starling, they were beating their wings against the cage, crying "Let me out; let me out;" but the law said to them, "No, you shan't go out; you must remain within, a source of discontent and disaffection, because the Legislature insists upon your continuing liable to the obligations of the oaths and subscriptions imposed upon you by the Church." The religious world had been startled within the last twelve months by the publication of a certain book. His private opinion was that the book in question was a very dull book, not particularly well written; but the Essays and Reviews had frightened the Church of England from her propriety, and after reading them men had wondered how the authors, who were ministers of the Church of England, could at one and the same time maintain their position in the Church, and avow opinions which, at any rate on the first blush, appeared inconsistent with her standards. What did the heads of the Church say upon that point? In a letter addressed to the Rev. Mr. Williams, and signed, with one exception, by all the archbishops and bishops, he found the following passage:— Rev. Sir,—I have taken the opportunity of meeting many of my episcopal brethren in London to lay your address before them. They unanimously agree with me in expressing the pain it has given them that any clergyman of our Church should have published such opinions as those concerning which you have addressed us. We cannot Understand how these opinions can be held consistently with an honest subscription to the formularies of our Church, with many of the fundamental doctrines of which they appear to us essentially at variance. That was merely the expression of an opinion generally entertained throughout the country—an opinion in which he shared; but it showed in how false a position the heads of the Church were placed by the existing state of the law. The authors of Essays and Reviews were told that they had published opinions which were inconsistent with the formularies of the Church, and that they ought not to remain in the Church. Their answer was, "We can't go; you wont let us out."


They say they remain in.


But the law kept them in. They were shut out from every occupation in life, except that of a Roman Catholic priest. It came to this—the right hon. Gentleman would drive them out to starve in the streets, or he would compel them to be silent. Was it, then, mere silence which the Church of England ought to require from men who had formed conscientious opinions upon the highest and holiest subjects? The only other alternative was to let them opt and to invite them to go.

But he wished the House to regard his Bill from another point of view. Within the last few years the standard of ability and intellectual power among those who sought admission to the ministry of the Church of England had decidedly deteriorated. He had heard the fact acknowledged by those who were well capable of forming an opinion, and he could understand why it should be so. It might be partly because the prizes of the world outside the ministry of the Church were greater now than at any previous period of our history, and partly because the prizes within the Church herself were less: but he was quite sure that one of the motives which must operate to deter men of intellect from entering the ministry of the Church was the notion, that if they did enter it, they must become slaves for life. There were no means, however they might alter their opinions, for them to escape from the service of the ministry, and he could understand why men of the highest capacity and intelligence, though honestly desiring to enter the Church, and thoroughly convinced of the truth of her formularies and standards, should jet be unwilling to abandon the full right to exercise their brains, and indisposed to enter into an engagement as to what their opinions should be for all time coming. There were many men who late in life had deeply regretted that they ever entered the ministry of the Church, not from worldly views, but owing to a change of opinion which induced a constant struggle between their interests and their consciences. It was for the interest of the Church herself—for her peace, her purity, and her prosperity—that such men should he released from a life of slavery. He would not anticipate the objections that might be urged against his Bill, but he could not conclude without referring to the proposition of which notice had been given by the hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford University (Sir W. Heathcote), for referring the Bill to a Select Committee. Thirteen years ago the Bill was before a Select Committee; and therefore, although it was altered by the House itself after it had been reported by the Committee, he should not himself have been disposed to move that it should be referred again to a similar tribunal. But a long period had elapsed since the Bill was last under discussion; the snbject—one of great doubt, difficulty, and delicacy—was novel to many hon. Members; and if he found that there really was a wish on the part of the House generally that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee, he should not think himself justified in resisting a Motion to that effect. In conclusion he begged leave to move the second reading of the Bill.


said, that since his right hon. Friend had signified his willingness to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, he would not offer any opposition to the Motion for the second reading. At the same time, if he were bound to take the Bill as it stood, with only the chance of such Amendments as might be introduced in a Committee of the Whole House, he should have no difficulty in making up his mind to vote against the second reading. He had listened to the speech of his right hon. Friend with great attention, and he found considerable difficulty in following his arguments so as to discover how they applied to the Bill. There appeared, indeed, to be a good deal of confusion in the mind of his right hon. Friend on the subject. His right hon. Friend had confounded the holding of a benefice with the status of a clergyman pure and simple, and he had also confounded the status of a clergyman with the alleged necessity of giving effect to his opinions by performing the services of the Church. He was not aware that any clergyman, unless he held a benefice, was liable to any proceedings whatever if he abstained from taking part in the services of the Church. When his right hon. Friend enlarged upon the case of the authors of Essays and Reviews, he expected him to come to the conclusion—a conclusion to which the whole of his argument pointed—that the ecclesiastical courts ought to be armed with greater powers and facilities for passing the sentence of excommunication. The Essays and Reviews were not the productions of gentlemen who said, "We are trying to get out of the Church;" on the contrary, the essayists and reviewers maintained that they were the real Church; and although the archbishops and bishops took a different view of the matter, they had done nothing to keep these gentlemen in the Church. There, however, the gentlemen were, claiming to be the Church, although the rest of the world regarded their claim with considerable misgiving. His right hon. Friend had raised a cheer, which was easily done in that House, by drawing a contrast between the position of a clergyman who should think fit to be a Dissenting minister and the position of a clergyman who should think fit to be a Roman Catholic priest; but the Act which his right hon. Friend had cited merely provided that the clergyman who should become a Roman Catholic priest was to be free from the penalties attaching to Papists. There was not a single word in the Act which touched the question of canonical obedience to his own bishop. His right hon. Friend was, generally speaking, a calm and moderate man; but in the present instance he had not escaped the error which was apt to befall the framers of Bills on the subject—namely, while remedying a grievance, perhaps, of no great magnitude, to contrive to combine with it the maximum of insult and injury to the Church. Here was a Bill, on the one hand, to encourage and facilitate secession from holy orders, enabling a man to relieve himself from certain solemn vows and engagements into which he had entered; and, on the other hand, to subject the ministers of that Church from which the seceder had ostentatiously divorced himself to the most rigorous legal proceedings, if they refused to afford to him all the immunities which he enjoyed before his secession. Nevertheless, he was disposed to vote for the second reading, provided the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. Although he thought that some of the grievances alleged by his right hon. Friend were visionary, and that others were to be regarded, not as grievances, but as the inevitable consequences of deliberate acts, yet he admitted there was a certain residuum of grievance which was real, though not, perhaps, very important. That residuum he wished to deal with. It appeared that a clergyman of the Church, if he became a Dissenter, was liable to temporal consequences which did not attach to a layman taking the same step, and might be exposed to certain pecuniary or personal penalties. He desired to relieve clergymen from that liability, and therefore he could not refuse to support the second reading of the Bill, provided his right hon. Friend would consent to refer it to a Select Committee, whore every word of it would be carefully weighed. The Committee had not a very easy task before it. A good deal of difficulty would arise from the attempt made in the Bill to deal with several distinct classes of persons. One could understand the position of those clergymen of the Church of England who desired to withdraw from her communion for the purpose of joining an existing sect, or of establishing a new sect for themselves; but his right hon. Friend seemed to regard with peculiar favour another and a very different class—namely, those who were going to trade upon the very orders they had repudiated, and to claim the right to read the prayers and administer the sacraments of the Church they had rejected. It might be right to deal with these men as the Bill proposed, but at least he might be permitted to say that they did not approach the House with very clean hands, especially when they wanted to do what he had stated, after they had taken a declaration to the effect that they entirely dissented from the doctrines of the very Church whose Liturgy they were to be allowed to use. There were other clergymen, again, who desired to become laymen. They might be divided into two classes. First, there were some grave and respectable men who had been pressed with the weight of the reasons urged by his right hon. Friend, who, perhaps, did not believe in the legitimacy of the orders, and who only wished to be set free to pursue some secular calling; but were there not others who might be tempted to enter the Church for the purpose of trying whether they should draw prizes or blanks, and who, if they should draw blanks, would not hesitate to leave it to try their hand in some mercantile or legal occupation, or, perhaps, to obtain seats in that House? These were some of the points which the Select Committee would have to consider; and he frankly confessed that if the Bill should not be returned to the House in a very different shape from that in which it now appeared, he would not be disposed, at the next stage, to show it that indulgence which he was prepared to extend to it on the present occasion. He could not help thinking that a great change had taken place since the question was last agitated in the House. People were now more disposed to recognise the truth that the Church of England was not to be the one religious community which was not to have religious liberty. He trusted, that if certain clergymen were to be relieved from their obligations to the Church, and exempted from all legal dependence on the Church, they would not be allowed to invoke as against the Church and her ministers those very laws from which they were now trying to emancipate themselves. No permanent good or permanent peace could result from any arrangement which might be made if they were determined, while aiming at relieving some persons from engagements which they had found disagreeable to themselves, to effect that object at the expense of a tyrannical interference with the Church—not an interference with mere temporalities, but an interference With the inner life of a religious community, the ministers and members of which were entitled to the credit of being deeply sensible of their duties and responsibilities, and of having consciences leading them to act upon their convictions.


said, he believed that the success of that important Bill would entirely depend upon the spirit in which the Select Committee undertook the inquiry. For his own part, seeing much that was unsatisfactory in the measure—much that fell short of what was required, and much also that was done in an ungainly manner—he was glad that it was to be referred to a Select Committee. He thought, however, that the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Heathcote) had not quite fairly stated the question before the House when he said that it related solely and exclusively to the inner life of a religious community. It related to a grievance which had become so obvious and flagrant that it could not fail to force itself upon the attention of the Legislature. At the bottom of the whole discussion lay the broad fact that there were many men of the highest integrity, who in their youth had taken orders in the Church, but who for certain reasons either secular or religious, had come to feel that those orders, which ought to be the privilege of their lives, were a burden upon both their outward and their inward existence. How many persons were there who though having no ill-will against the Church, though capable of becoming excellent lay members of the Church, were yet disinclined to become teachers in the Church, and who at the same time, in consequence of having taken subordinate orders in early youth, were inhibited from following secular occupations in which they might distinguish themselves, or, at all events, earn a just remuneration? His main objection to the Bill was, that it did not meet the case of such persons. It contained what a churchman might fairly call a premium upon heresy. It placed before every one of the class he had mentioned the temptation, which in many cases would be irresistible, of saying to himself, "Though I have no wish to go out of the Church, though I am willing to remain a lay member of it, yet the only way in which I can relieve myself from obligations of which I want to get rid is by declaring myself a heretic." He regarded that as a very objectionable, not to say immoral, provision, and he trusted the Select Committee would amend it. There could be no danger to the Church of England—a Church which was assuming every day more of a voluntary character—a Church which was rapidly growing out of its Erastianism—in permitting persons who had taken deacon's orders in early youth, but who did not wish to become teachers of the Church, to engage in secular pursuits as laymen. He believed the Church of Rome not only maintained, but exercised the power of dispensing on certain occasions from deacon's orders, and he saw no reason why the same power should not be used in the Church of England. The hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford University, taking a rather low view of the Church, had spoken of it as a lottery, expressing the hope that men would not be encouraged to enter it for the purpose of trying whether they should draw blanks or prizes. Surely, that of itself could be no great injury to the Church; at any rate, it would diminish the number of blanks. But the religious question was not the only one which claimed attention. He believed, that if the existing law were amended in a wise and judicious spirit, a great social advantage would result to the community. It was not good for the Church or laity to see so many of what were familiarly called "grass Parsons" going about in society. Many of them were very respectable men, but they had become thoroughly secular in heart; and the sooner they were reduced to simple laymen the better for the Church, for themselves, and for the community at large.


said, considering that the question they were discussing was what was commonly called a religious question, he thought it was fortunate that the House had arrived at that degree of unanimity as to consent to send the Bill to a Select Committee; but from the speeches made it was abundantly clear that in that Committee, and in the House when the measure came out of Committee, there would be a wide divergence of opinion, and therefore some observations on its merits might not be superfluous at that moment. And before offering any remarks of his own he wished to quote, in favour of the principle of this Bill, an authority to which those who were the warmest friends of the Church of England would attach more weight than to anything Which fell From him. He would quote a passage from the pamphlet by a Bishop of the Church, written, he believed, shortly after the case of Mr. Shore had been tried, and having reference to that trial. The passage was to this effect— Before, however, I commence this statement, I rejoice to be able to say that your Grace as well as myself is entirely disposed to favour and support any well-considered measure (as the Bill now before the House of Commons must be expected to be) for relieving any clergyman who, after he has been admitted to holy orders in the Church, should conceive conscientious scruples against a continuance in its communion. So far, indeed, from wishing to claim to the service of the altar any whose conscience bids them renounce that service, the true churchman would urge them rather quietly to withdraw than to persist in the performance of offices which they can no longer perform without peril to their own souls, and a serious offence to the souls of others. Now, who was it who used that language? It was the Bishop of Exeter. He quoted his authority in order to show that the principle of the Bill found supporters among those the general tendency of whose opinions must be supposed to be in a different direction. If any division had been taken on the measure, he was prepared to support it on two grounds—first, as tending to the advantage of the Establishment, and next, as an act of justice to individuals. It was designed to set free from their obligations certain persons, who, by the position in which they found themselves, were compelled, or all but compelled, to continue in the service of the Church against the dictates of their consciences. When such a case arose, he could not see that any Church, established or not, could gain by the continuance of a clergyman so situated in its Service. Could there be any advantage in services given unwillingly, under the fear of penalties on one side and starvation on the other? If such a man made up his mind to remain in the Establishment, he would do all he could to enlarge the boundary of opinion; he must do so for the ease of his own conscience; and would preach within the Church doctrines which would be in letter, perhaps, but not in spirit, those of the Church. Would not the clergy think it tenfold more dangerous that he should continue under his present obligations, exercising in that spirit the influence which his position gave him, than that he should be at liberty, if so determined, to break through them, and separate from the Church? And again, was it not clear that when he found his position was not recognised by the law, that would go far to make him an enemy to the Church, whereas, if allowed to retire peaceably, he would ask nothing better than to remain in a state of neutrality? More than that, they must look at the effect on public opinion. So long as the difficulty in withdrawing from the Establishment was great, the public would always believe that for one who went, out half a dozen were inclined to go, but feared to take the step. Was it not, then, something gained that by opening the door they convinced the world that all those who remained did so of their own free will, and that the minority of those who quitted the Church was as inconsiderable as practically it would be found to be? Something had been said about no man being compelled by law to remain in the Church and perform its services. Strictly speaking, that was true: there was no legal compulsion; but three fourths of the clergy were, without private fortunes, and as a general rule they had families. Was it not clear, then, that if they shut a man out of every other profession except that which he had taken up, they in practice compelled him, having a family, to remain in it? It had also been argued that the Bill would operate as a premium on dissent, inasmuch as a Churchman must remain in orders, white a Dissenter might quit them. There might be something in that; but public opinion would do what the law did not. There was always a certain amount of obloquy—he thought it unjust, but it was almost universal—attaching to those who changed their religious belief; and if that change was accompanied by advantage to themselves, the obloquy was the greater. And apart from that prejudice, in a country in the social condition of England, it was not an easy thing for a man to change his profession. All professions were crowded, most were overstocked; and when a man migrated from one to another at a later period of life than that at which others usually began their career, so far he was behind in the race. That was a position of disadvantage which no person without strong inducement would select. There appeared to be some apprehension, that if the Bill were passed, many persons were likely to leave the Church. That was matter of opinion. He did not think it would be so; but, if it should, the question was not whether the opportunity should be refused, but whether, if the state of the Church were really so unsound, the danger would not be increased by leaving things as at present. Something was said about the grievance which this Bill sought to remedy not being of a practical character. By the canon of 1603 it was declared that "no man, being admitted a deacon or minister, shall from thenceforth voluntarily relinquish the same, nor afterwards use himself in the course of his life as a layman, upon pain of excommunication;" and by the subsequent statute of George III. the sentence of excommunication rendered him liable to imprisonment. To be sure, there was no probability of that law being enforced; but if they put themselves in the position of clergymen against whom it might be enforced, they would feel that it was no light or agreeable thing for a man in a free country to know that he enjoyed his freedom by mere toleration or connivance, and that he might be deprived of it by any zealot who chose to put the law into operation. Again, it was contended, that if men were to be set free from orders on the ground of dissent, they ought also to be set free if on other grounds they felt unfit for the exercise of their profession. Personally, he did not shrink from that conclusion; but it was quite a different question from that raised by the Bill, a much wider question—one that ought to be considered on its own merits; and be should be sorry if by entertaining it the Committee risked the loss of the Bill. There were some other matters of detail, to which, if the Bill were not to be referred to a Select Committee, he should have adverted. He did not know what was the position, under the actual law, of persons in orders of the Church in Scotland. He believed those orders were recognised in England; and, if so, he presumed that such persons, ceasing to hold orders, were liable to all the penalties which attached to those connected with the Church of England. In that case he thought their position should be taken into consideration, and be provided for under the Bill. He hoped the Bill, when it left the Select Committee, would be in such a shape as would enable Parliament to come to some practical agreement on the subject.


said, that although en- tirely agreeing with hon. Members who had spoken on the subject that the question was one which could only properly be dealt with in a Select Committee, he should yet have been prepared, if necessary, to have supported his right hon. Friend in the second reading of his Bill. Certainly he did not think that either the speech of his right hon. Friend who moved the second reading, or the measure itself, was open to those charges—at least they appeared to him as charges, So far as the Church of England was concerned—which the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir W. Heathcote) had held out. At the same time, he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. M. Milnes), and with the noble Lord who had just spoken, that there were many difficulties of detail which would require the most grave and serious consideration. He thought there was force, although not so much as to affect his general opinion of the measure—still there was some force in the observation of his hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. M. Milnes) that the limitation of the Bill to cases of dissent did, to a certain extent, amount to a premium on heresy. And when he looked at the oath proposed to be taken by persons seeking relief under this Bill, he was not quite sure that that oath would meet the case of the particular gentleman on whose account the Bill was introduced; because, so far as he recollected, in the letter of that rev. gentleman, which was not a very wise one, he did not discover any expression of dissent from the doctrines of the Church of England, or any statement that the writer would feel more comfortable as a member of any other community; that, at all events, was the impression left on his mind. However the matter of the evading of the declaration could only be decided after very serious and grave discussion. But, while the Bill would afford relief to a class of persons who undoubtedly laboured under a very serious and cruel difficulty, it would afford still greater relief to the Church of England itself. And he thought the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Heathcote), who was a strong advocate for tightening the reins of ecclesiastical discipline, should have considered that it was impossible to tighten those reins unless they gave to the persons affected some locus pœnitentiœ. It had always seemed to him one great difficulty, in dealing with cases of immorality and heresy, that courts of law felt it a very serious thing to deprive a man of his only means of livelihood: some extraordinary case must be proved against a person in orders before a court of law would force his bishop to turn him out of the only profession in which he could gain his bread. He also thought the Bill was also called for in consequence of the peculiar practice which prevailed in the Church of England, which required those taking orders to do so at a Very early period of life. A young man went to college at an early age; he had no opportunity of forming his opinions on many important questions. Instead of mixing with the world, where he would meet with men of different views, by which he might, perhaps, correct his early prejudices, he was frequently sent to what was sometimes the worst of all institutions—a training college—where the prejudices which he had formed at college Were confirmed. No opportunity was afforded him of comparing his opinions with those of men he was likely to meet in after-life, and ascertaining whether the opinions he then held were likely to be so firmly based as to justify him in entering into indelible orders as a minister of the Church of England. He must entirely Confirm the opinion expressed by his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), that from all he had heard from those conversant with the state of the Universities at the present time there was a growing disinclination to enter into holy orders in the Church of England; and although it might be true that there were greater prizes in other professions at the present day, yet it had frequently been stated to him, by persons competent to judge, that the theological discussions in the religious world on controverted points formed one of the great obstacles to young men of talent entering the Church, and one reason of the marked inferiority of the clergymen of later days who had entered into holy orders. He thought it would he far better that the Church should encourage men to take orders at a later period of life, when they might have had time to mature and correct their opinions, to investigate the points which frequently formed the subject of controversy in the present day, and satisfy themselves that they had some special calling for the ministry on surer grounds than they were capable of forming at an early period of life. For the reasons he had stated, he should be glad to see some measure car- ried which would afford some means, of relief for persons who had the misfortune—for it must be a misfortune—to repent their embarking in a sacred profession, and feel themselves prohibited from engaging in a secular calling without that scandal which must be the consequence of their remaining in a profession against their conscientious scruples.


said, that he would not deny that a certain amount of grievance existed, but he thought it was infinitesimally small. There were 20,000 clergymen, and only twenty to be relieved. He regretted that with the attempt to remove that grievance there should be associated an affront to the Church of England. He by no means agreed in the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman who moved the second reading of the Bill as to the character and intelligence of those who took orders in the Church of England. He knew it was the opinion of the Archbishop of Canterbury that within his own experience there never had been a larger number of candidates presented for ordination, and better qualified, than at the present moment. He also demurred to the title of the Bill. It was called a Clergy Relief Bill. The clergy, as a body, did not require relief of this kind—it was for the relief only of the seceding clergy. He had no objection to its being called the Seceded Clergy Relief Bill. He particularly objected to that provision of the Bill which enabled a clergyman by sending a sixpenny letter to the nearest magistrate to relieve himself of his most solemn obligations. Such a letter might be despatched in a moment of despondency and doubt, whereas if he were brought in contact with his Bishop, a change of mind might be brought about. It was a monstrous proposal that a man should be deprived of holy orders by a simple stroke of the pen. What a clergyman received from his bishop he received for life; he might be relieved from the consequences of disability, but he could not possibly be relieved from the character he had assumed. The Bill ought not, he thought, to be entertained in its present form.


said, he could not at all approve of the measure, which was latitudinarian in principle. Its object was to enable a man to divest himself of all the functions conferred by ordination, with an absolution from all its liabilities. This appeared to him to be voluntaryism run mad. The functions of ordination were so sacred that they were not conferred till their recipient had fully made up his mind to all the consequences, and it was the universal doctrine of the whole Catholic Church, of which the Church of England was a branch—and the purest branch—that no man who had once received priest's orders could divest himself of them daring his life: "Once a priest always a a priest." Moreover, by repeated Acts of Parliament, it had been declared that I no person in priest's orders should be permitted to enter into any other profession. What was the meaning of that restriction? It was that the Legislature would not recognise the principle that the man who had once taken upon himself all the solemn obligations and privileges of ordination in the Catholic Church could be permitted to divest himself of that character, and repudiate his sacred functions. At the same time it was a question whether the period during which an inexperienced young man remained in deacon's orders was sufficient to enable him or the Church to judge whether or not he was fitted for ordination, or whether his mind was so constituted as to afford a reasonable probability that he; would adhere to the doctrines, discipline, and ceremonies of the Church during his whole life. There was, no doubt, much in this; and it was a question whether the period of a deacon's probation might not be advantageously extended to five years. This would be beginning at the right end. This Bill began at the wrong end. The true course was to deal with the manner in which young men were originally admitted into the Holy Orders of the Church. The course proposed by this Bill was to afford to persons who had taken orders facilities to escape from their obligations, and to hold out to them the power of admission to the learned professions and even into that House, as a premium to leave the Church of which they were ordained ministers. It was, no doubt, an evil to retain men in Holy Orders who had ceased to have an affection for the Church; but why should they offer a premium for quitting it? He thought it desirable that the probation should be longer; but it was inconsistent that those who had taken upon themselves priest's orders should be at liberty, whenever they liked, to abandon solemn obligations which they had taken upon themselves for life. He believed the Church of England to be the purest branch of the Catholic Church. Yet this Bill proposed to permit her ordained ministers to aban- don the solemn functions and obligations to which that Church had ordained them, without her sanction, without the sanction of her Bishops, without the intervention of any ecclesiastical tribunal. This was only a small portion of a wide question. Suppose a clergyman of the Church of England to be guilty of a grave offence, under this Bill all he would have to do was to send a sixpenny notice, and he was no longer subjected to the penalties to which he was liable at the hands of the tribunal of his own Church. It was grievous to contemplate the possibility of great crimes being committed by ministers of the Church; but offences would come—they had come, and of late years too—and the power of the Bishops was insufficient to meet the evil. But this Bill would enable an offender, by means of a sixpenny notice, to avoid all the ecclesiastical penalties of his misconduct. By giving these facilities for secession they practically narrowed the Church of England to a sect. He rejoiced to find that the Government were considering the question of remodelling the whole ecclesiastical jurisdiction and tribunal of the Church of England; and he strongly deprecated the passing of a crude and partial measure such as this, which would in some degree tend to embarrass or preclude the satisfactory adjustment of those collateral questions which must be considered when the ecclesiastical jurisdiction came to dealt with.


said, it seemed to be understood that the general desire was to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, and he should not have risen but that he wished to state, that having taken part in the discussion on a similar Bill in 1845, he retained the opinion he then expressed—that it was desirable some provision should be made by law to enable clergymen who had taken on themselves vows at their ordination binding them to the Church of England, if conscientiously at a subsequent period of life they entertained opinions at variance with the doctrines of that Church, to withdraw from its communion without rendering themselves liable to proceedings in the Ecclesiastical Courts for canonical disobedience. When that Bill was brought forward, there was a practical grievance existing in the case of a clergyman who, having left the Church of England, officiated as a dissenting minister. He was proceeded against in the Ecclesiastical Courts, and the penalty of imprisonment was actually enforced. He believed no similar case had subsequently occurred, and he could not think that the existing grievance was a very serious one. At the same time, the law remained unaltered, and it was quite right that an alteration should take place. He admitted, however, that while there seemed a general concurrence that some provision of this kind should be made for clergymen sincerely dissenting from the Church of England freeing themselves from their obligations, the provisions of the Bill would require most careful consideration, both as to the class of persons to whom its provisions should apply and the process by which their liberation from the Church should be effected. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had spoken last that they must be careful not to allow a clergyman who might by some offence have rendered himself subject to ecclesiastical jurisdiction to withdraw altogether from it by the process provided in this Bill. He was quite sure that was not the intention, and they must be careful that was not the result. The seventh clause would also require careful consideration. It referred to the extent to which clergymen would be affected by the disqualifications imposed on them after making the declaration of dissent from the doctrines of the Church, They should consider what was to be the position of clergymen who, after exempting themselves from all obligations incurred at their ordination, wish to return to the Church. If they desired to become again ministers in the Church, were they to be reordained, or were they to resume their functions by virtue of their original ordination? That was a question on which he would be sorry to express any opinion then, but certainly it ought also to be carefully considered in the Select Committee. There were, indeed, many difficult and delicate points connected with this subject, and he was therefore glad his right hon. Friend was willing to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. He thought the necessity for some measure of that kind very much arose from the very early age at which clergymen took upon themselves vows that were irrevocable, and he agreed with the hon. Member for Warwickshire that it might be much better if deacon's orders were not irrevocable, and if a longer interval were allowed between the entrance upon deacon's and upon priest's orders. Young men of three-and-twenty in many cases had scarcely experience enough of their own convictions, or of what were likely to be their own settled tastes and habits of life, to justify them in deciding upon dedicating themselves irrevocably to the sacred profession. That, however, was not a question which necessarily arose out of the Bill, although he had often thought it desirable that some change should take place respecting it. On the other hand, when once a man had taken holy orders, it, was not expedient that he should be induced lightly to divest himself of them. He should assent to the second reading of this Bill, with a view to its being referred to a Select Committee.


said, that though not himself a member of the Established Church, he recognised its great importance, and would be the last man to impair its stability. He hoped that the Select Committee, and also that the Government—who were understood to be taking ecclesiastical matters into their consideration—would inquire not only how clergymen were to be permitted to leave the Church, but how the obstacles which now prevented many valuable young men from entering its service could best be removed. The latter of those questions was much more important than the former. Hundreds and even thousands of young men were excluded from the ministry of the Established Church because the oath and the other requirements were so stringent that they could not conscientiously subscribe them. Again, the present law, by giving facilities to clergymen of the Church of England wishing to go over to the Church of Rome, while corresponding facilities were denied to those desirous of becoming Dissenting ministers, was unequal in its operation, and ought to be altered. The hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) had correctly stated that young men at the Universities had very little opportunity of advancing themselves in ecclesiastical or religious knowledge. It was frequently a matter of great regret to those who had young friends and relatives at the University preparing for the Church, that while great pains and trouble were taken to advance those young men in the classics and mathematics, their instruction in the truths and doctrines of the Gospel which they would have to preach was much neglected.


said, he wished to offer a word of explanation as to what the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard) had termed the "sixpenny de- claration" to be made under the measure. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that not the slightest insult or offence was either intended or conveyed by that part of the Bill; and if the hon. Member had been familiar with the Acts of Parliament relating to that subject, he would have known that the clause to which he objected really followed, mutatis mutandis, the enactments of the Toleration Act The proposed declaration was taken from the Toleration Act, which statute also required the record of the declaration to be registered at Quarter Sessions on payment of a fee of 6d. He desired further to explain how that particular process was originally proposed in the Bill of 1849 and passed through Committee. The original object of the Bill of 1849 was to extend the operation of the Toleration Act to clergymen committing an offence against their canonical obedience, and it was found, that if they were merely exempted from all penalties, they would still have continued to be clergymen, and might afterwards have resumed their functions as such. It was necessary, therefore, to put some bar on their exercising the functions of clergymen, and that could be accomplished only by the process suggested by the Bill of 1849, and also by the Bill before the House—namely, deposition, a proceeding well known to the ecclesiastical law, and equivalent to the perpetual suspension of clerical functions.

Bill read 2o, and committed to a Select Committee.