HL Deb 04 July 1843 vol 70 cc565-9
The Archbishop of Dublin

rose to present a petition, signed by upwards of 200 members of the Established Church in Ireland, on the subject of Church government. The prayer of the petitioners was, that the House would take measures to remedy the evils which were occasioned from the want of a Church government for the United Church of England and Ireland. The petition was particularly directed to the subject of the anomalous position of the Church in relation to the civil legislature. It had been felt that there was a want of a legislature for the whole Church, and if it were said what need could there be for this, he replied that, although the Bishops were governors of the Church, yet they had not the power of altering or abrogating its laws. Some years ago he brought this subject under the consideration of the House, and at that time he was listened to with great attention. He then urged that these questions should be settled, but nothing had been done; and were they now in a more peaceable state than they were then? He did not wish that any alteration should be made in the Litany and the formularies of the Church, but he wished that some legislative body should be appointed which could settle those things which now needed to be settled. It was of the utmost importance that all those points which ought to be left at large should be fully left at large; but some points needed to be decided either one way or the other, for there were points on which members of the same Church entertained different opinions, and the persons entertaining those opinions, denounced as unsound members of the Church those who entertained contrary ones. They were told that they must have controversies—that truth was elicited by them. There were parties in both Houses of Parliament, and was it to be endured that a Member of this or the other House should denounce another Member for high treason, merely because he differed from him? And was it not high treason to denounce a member of the Church—especially one holding office in it—as au unsound one, merely on account of a difference of opinion? This, he said, had been going on lately, to an extent which was disgraceful, dangerous, and ruinous to the Church. If men could not agree, they might say that such a course of instruction was improper, or injudicious, but to say that it was heterodox, that it was contrary to the Articles of the Church, was a charge strictly analogous to that of treason in a civil community. Their Lordships must bear in mind that not only laymen and clergymen, but Bishops were denounced in this manner, and were declared unsound members of the church by persons entertaining the highest zeal for the Church. In stating this, he begged to be understood not to give any opinion as to who were right, and who were wrong; but he had seen it stated, not only in magazines and newspapers, but in pamphlets, bearing the authors' names, that such a bishop, or such a cler- gyman was an unsound member of the Church. The public had lately been looking with great interest to the charges of the Bishops, as giving such and such opinions. Their Lordships must be aware that the Bishops had no more authority to decide these points than any writer of any anonymous pamphlet. The Bishop could not do more than give his own opinion. Then it had been said, both in that House and in the other House of Parliament, that the great body of the clergy and laity entertained a zealous attachment to the Church; but taking all those who made that profession they would find one party condemning their opponents who professed the same zealous attachment to the Church as unsound members of the Church. This was a state of things which was disgraceful, dangerous, and ruinous to the Church, and which would be so to any community whatever. He stated, some years ago, in that House that such a state of things would not right itself, but, on the contrary, that the evil would increase and get worse; and this prediction had been most lamentably confirmed by the present state of things, for the evil had increased and was daily increasing. They were often told to adhere to the wisdom of their ancestors. He could understand and tolerate that doctrine when a similar state of circumstances existed, but they must know that in the time of their ancestors the Church was governed by members of the Church, which had not been the case for the last century. Their Lordships must remember that rights carried duties with them. The two Houses of Parliament, in conjunction with the Crown, alone had the power of legislating for the Church, and if the three branches of the Legislature did not conceive it to be a suitable office for them to put an end to all this discord and uncertainty, it clearly was the duty of Parliament to entrust the task to the hands of those who could be legally constituted to do so, and who would have the will to do so. If he were a permanent Member of the House, or, although only an occasional Member of the House, if he were even a permanent resident in England, he would endeavour to bring the matter before the House by a substantive motion for an address to her Majesty, praying for the appointment of a commission to make inquiries with a view of Establishing a Church Government in spiritual matters alone, or of causing the adoption of such other measures as might be deemed fit and expedient. As it was, he submitted the matter to his right rev. Brethren the English Bishops, for if they did not agree with him, it would be impossible for him to carry anything in opposition to their wishes, or, in fact, to do anything at all without the assistance. The most rev. Prelate concluded by moving, that the petition should he on the Table.

The Bishop of Salisbury

said, on a matter of such deep moment to the Church,' and therefore to the nation, he could not omit saying a few words, though he should not enter much into the subject in the absence of many of his right rev. Friends; some of whom had expressed opinions concurring with those just advocated by the most rev. Prelate. The position of the Church was most objectionable as a body, without any power of self-legislation, or authority, by internal arrangements to settle matters in which might be required adaptation, alteration, or abrogation. The inconveniences resulting from this state of things, were most weighty and painful, pressing every day on the consideration of those who were exposed to them by their position; and now, so notorious were they, that they could no longer be disregarded. If the reasons were required for the discontinuance of the ancient self-government of the Church they would hardly be satisfactorily supplied either in objections to the nature of the system, or to the altered circumstances of the times. The convocation might not theoretically be the most excellent and perfect form of church legislature; but he could not deem it so impracticable or useless as it had been represented. The upper House, composed of the Prelates, could not, surely be open to the charge of too great tendency to popular influencies; and the other House consisted of only l44 Members, a number of which certainly if popularly elected might be susceptible of excited influencies, but which was made up, of first, the deans, dignitaries next in rank to the bishops, and probably about the same age, not at all likely to consider matters in other than a calm and temperate manner; nor less likely to deal with church matters in such a spirit were the archdeacons—the very élite of the clergy—to whom, assuredly such subjects might safely be intrusted.

So that more than half the Members of the lower House were persons not popularly elected, but sitting by virtue of their stations and offices in the church. The excitement common now-a-days in church matters might be ascribed in no slight degree to the absence of any recognized form of government—of any mode by which opinions could be brought to the test of calm consideration. Something analogous to this evil in the Church might be noticed in the excitement accustomed to pervade the country during the temporary cessations of Parliamentary deliberations, when public questions were discussed at dinners and meetings, and exciting language bandied to and fro in speeches and papers — an excitement dying away in a great degree when matters were brought again before regularly authorized assemblies; and even the wild excitement—the fierce language echoed so loudly on the other side of the Irish channel, was apt to die away to something more approaching rational discussion and argumentative consideration when it was brought into the Houses of Parliament. Nor was this wholly dissimilar to what must occur in a church where there was no authorized body to consider conflicting opinions calmly; and, therefore, they were left to the excited and exciting controversies of those least able and least willing to treat them in so befitting and beneficial a spirit. There would be no safety or security to the Church, if she were not permitted to accommodate herself in a due degree to the altered circumstances of the age, and with recognized authority to meet the necessities which, in the course of time, must inevitably occur.

The Bishop of Ossory

expressed his dissent from the prayer of the petition.

Petition laid on the Table.

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