HL Deb 07 August 1833 vol 20 cc394-400
The Archbishop of Dublin

spoke as follows;*—My Lords, I have the honour to present to your Lordships a petition from the Archdeacon and Clergy of the Diocese of Kildare, signed by the Archdeacon in their names; and as the petition is very short, I will read it. The petitioners state— That your petitioners, aware that every thing human, civil, or ecclesiastical, requires, from time to time, revision and correction, do not consider the United Church of England and Ireland exempt from this principle. That, in the humble opinion of your petitioners, the ecclesiastical laws, by which the Church is now governed, require better adaptation to the altered circumstances of the country. That the practice of our Ecclesiastical Courts, in matters connected with the welfare of the Church and best interests of religion, has ceased to be conducive to the important objects for which they were originally established. That the Church of England and Ireland, viewed as an important integral part of the Church of Christ, ought, as such, to enjoy the privilege permitted to other churches and religious bodies, of being governed by such laws as best promote the performance of the sacred duties required of her ministry, and provide for the spiritual discipline of her members. That they consider it highly important to the safety and prosperity of his Majesty's dominions, that the Church should be so governed, inasmuch as the doctrines and precepts which she maintains, when duly inculcated, must * Reprinted from the Corrected Edition published by Fellowes. always exercise the most important influence over the consciences of his Majesty's subjects; teaching them, on the highest principle, the duty of submission and obedience to the laws which the wisdom of the Legislature may enact. Your petitioners therefore, humbly pray that your Lordships, if it should be deemed advisable will be pleased to enact such laws as may appear most calculated to promote the spiritual improvement of our Church, and to renovate and reform its government, so as to render it more suitable and better adapted to the altered circumstances of the country. Now, my Lords, I am desirous to mention that the prayer of this petition, though entirely in accordance with the views of the Bishop of the diocese of Kildare,—as I learn by a letter from himself,—yet was drawn up and agreed to at a public meeting, without any suggestions from that venerable Prelate, and is the spontaneous act of the petitioners themselves. In presenting this petition to your Lordships, I cannot refrain from troubling you with a few observations on the very important subject to which it refers. I beg to observe, however, that in stating what I believe to be the sentiments of the petitioners, I speak merely my own belief, as grounded on my own observation; and, I must add, no hasty or careless observation,—but not as authorized by any express commission from them. I can confidently say, then, that I am satisfied they are not, in the smallest degree, ill-disposed towards the system established by our Protestant Reformers, and towards the fundamental doctrines of the Church of England and Ireland. I say, confidently, my Lords, that they have no hostile feeling of this kind; and that even whatever difference on any point of religion may exist between any of them, they are all agreed in sincere attachment to the system. I am perfectly and entirely convinced also, that, as far as civil government is concerned, there is not a more loyal body of men living. Whatever differences of opinion they may entertain with respect to several political questions, of this I am convinced, that they venerate the Constitution of this country,—and, as part of that Constitution, the union of the two islands. Any disturbance of the union between Great Britain and Ireland, either in Church or State, is the last thing they would seek. I am convinced, also, that they have no thought of complaining of any act of encroachment on the part of the civil Government in purely ecclesiastical affairs,—in matters altogether spiritual: and that they have no idea themselves of encroaching on civil affairs. They have no wish, I conceive, of creating anything like an imperium in imperio,—a body empowered, like the original Convocation, exclusively to control the temporalities of the Church. Nor do they again complain, that the civil power IS disposed to do too much in religious matters. On the contrary, they perceive that the Parliament of this country, although the fountain of legislation in all matters, ecclesiastical as well as civil, has not considered the more purely ecclesiastical matters as coming within its province. No one has the power, at present, to interfere in the affairs of Church government, except the civil Legislature; yet the petitioners feel that Parliament, even when it consisted, as formerly, exclusively of professed members of the Church, has always shown a backwardness in interfering with subjects connected with the forms and internal regulations of the Church. I understand, then, the wish of these petitioners to be, that some inquiry should be instituted, or some commission appointed to make inquiries, with a view to making such alterations in these matters as may be deemed expedient. They are not, however, as far as I know or believe, anxious for any great or fundamental changes; nor, indeed, for arty changes at all, if, upon inquiry, they shall be considered unnecessary. But they feel,—and it is a feeling which pervades the minds of many men of scrupulous conscience,—that there is at present no individual, or body, of individuals, to whom any questions of doubt and uncertainty, or of scruple and objection, may be referred,—no constituted authority to whom application can be made, in order to determine, on examination, whether an alteration is needed or not. And I am myself convinced, that it is highly desirable, (without pretending to say whether any change is necessary or not,) that as regards proposed alterations in the Liturgy, or in the Articles, or the appointed Lessons, the authorized version of the Scriptures,* and other matters of a like description, there should be some responsible person, * This last point, it should be observed, is one which concerns not only members of our Church, but also dissenters; almost all of whom use our version,—Note by Dr. Whately. or body of men, to whom such points might be referred for examination and inquiry, in order to determine whether alterations are or are not called for. It should be observed, my Lords, that serious alarm may be excited, even in reference to trivial matters, if there is no competent authority to whom to apply. Some points of exceedingly small importance in themselves may be left in such a state as to be indicative of a neglect and apathetic disregard of Church affairs; and it is this point particularly which I imagine the; petitioners regard with anxiety. They do not, I apprehend, object to the main principles of the Articles of the Church: yet they cannot, I think, but consider that some of them require revision. For example,—one of the Articles contains a declaration in respect to the Homilies, that they contain godly and "wholesome doctrine, and necessary for these times." Now, it never can be contended that the framers of the Articles designed to exact of all future generations such a nugatory declaration, as that of the suitableness of these Homilies for the time of Edward 6th. Their intention must have been, either that new Homilies, suited to the wants of successive periods, should be put forth from time to time, or that the Article in question should be withdrawn. Neither of these has been done: and it is, therefore, indicative of a general neglect of the affairs of the Church, that these Homilies are left in the state in which they were at first framed, though everything else has been changing around them,—that the Article relating to them remains unaltered,—and that no power or authority exists whose business or province it is to look to such matters. The Lessons, again, appointed to be read, the authorized version of the Scriptures, and the Liturgy, may be all of them, just as perfectly adapted for the present day, as they were for the age in which they were framed; but what, I conceive, the petitioners complain of is, that there is no person, or body of persons, to decide whether they are so or not. If any word be obsolete, or if any doubt exists as to the propriety of a phrase, which it may by some be thought advisable to change, there is no one competent to decide the point; there is no body of men whose proper province it is to inquire as to the propriety of making the alteration. Both these petitioners, and, as far as I can learn, many of the clergy both of Ireland and of England also, feel this strongly in their own minds, and consider it to be, in others, one of the great causes of dissent and defection, or of indifference, towards the Established Church. It is a common feeling (whether well or ill-grounded) ill the minds of many men, that incongruities and inconveniences do exist, and that a reform, greater or less, is required; but the natural question is, how, and by whose authority, is it to be accomplished? And there are many who are open to a feeling of disgust from the knowledge of there being no such competent authority to effect that object. There are many, perhaps, of these persons who do not seek unnecessary change; and who would even be perfectly satisfied, though on this or that point no alteration were made, provided it were certified on proper authority, that everything, in respect of any such point, was right, and that no alteration in it was desirable. If any building were but suspected of being in a state of dangerous decay, much alarm would be excited by its being understood that no workmen could, or would, be sent up to inspect the condition of its roof. But if such an examination did take place, and the result was, that every beam and rafter was found perfectly sound, and needing no repairs, no one would say, that the sense of security thus obtained was too dearly purchased. Such are the feelings with which, I conceive these petitioners conic forward. I know that the same feelings are entertained by many clergymen of my own diocese;—it is, therefore, not a feeling peculiar,—nor is there, indeed, any reason why it should be peculiar,—to the clergy of Kildare. I believe, indeed, that the same exists to a great degree, not only in Ireland, but in England also; and I would beg to suggest that this is a state of things which ought not to be suffered to continue. I am addressing your Lordships, not as persons who regard the Church as a political engine rather than as a religious institution; not as men zealous for the Establishment, merely as an establishment;—as men anxious for the means, and indifferent to the end;—as careful guardians of Church-property, merely as property; without any regard for the great objects for which the Church was instituted and endowed,—the moral and religious improvement of the people;—as caring, in short, more about "the gold of the Temple," than the Temple that "sanctifieth the gold;"—but I address your Lordships as men fully sensible that the important questions relative to the Church, which have lately been, and which are likely to be, anxiously discussed in this House, derive nearly the whole of their interest from their connexion with the matters to which this petition relates; the utility, in a religious point of view, of the Church Establishment. Whatever differences of opinion may exist, as to the best means for securing that end, I trust your Lordships are agreed as to the paramount importance of the end itself. 1, therefore, ask your Lordships,—with a view not only to the safety, but also to the security of the Church,—its immunity not only from danger, but from apprehension of danger,—whether the state of things, which I have been describing, should still continue? I trust such steps will be taken that the Church may be made not only secure, but efficient; so as to satisfy and to benefit, as far as possible, all those who are willing to be satisfied. I trust the suggestions conveyed in this petition will not meet with neglect, or inattention; and that some measures, in accordance with it, will be resolved on. I presume not—nor do the petitioners—to dictate to this House what particular course should be adopted; but only to suggest that some should be adopted,—for instituting inquiry into those matters connected with the religious functions of the Church, which may be considered as needing inquiry. Then, should it even be decided, that nothing whatever should be altered, but on the contrary, that every thing should remain as it is, such a declaration, coming from a competent authority, would satisfy the minds of many persons who are not now satisfied; because, then, they would be given to understand, that if alterations were not made, it was from its being ascertained, on deliberate inquiry, that they were not needed; and not merely because there are no persons duly authorized, who care to introduce them.

The Bishop of Chichester

said, nothing was so much required as the institution of an inquiry into the best mode of reforming the ecclesiastical law.

The Marquess of Westmeath

expressed his surprise, that the petition which had been sent from the diocese of Kildare was only signed by one person. He should have wished to have seen all the clergymen of the diocese of Kildare sign it. Was there any thing in it inconsistent with the thirty-nine articles to which they had subscribed?

The Archbishop of Dublin

said, there was nothing in the petition which went to dissent from any thing the clergy had subscribed to. The petition was signed by the Archdeacon, in the name of the clergy who were at the meeting, and which was very fully attended. He could express his full conviction that there was nothing in the petition contrary to the Thirty-nine Articles.

Petition laid on the Table.

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