HL Deb 18 March 1853 vol 125 cc419-29

presented a petition, of which he had given notice, from Members of the United Church of England and Ireland residing in the diocese of Sydney, in the colony of New South Wales, against the establishment of any system of Church Government in the Australasian Colonies in which the Bishop, Clergy and Laity shall not meet and vote in one council with equal and concurrent authority. His Lordship said that the diocese of Sydney formed one only of the six dioceses in the colonies of Australia, and therefore he must not lead their Lordships into the error of supposing that this petition represented the feeling of the whole of the Australian Colonies; but he had every reason to believe that it expressed the opinions of a considerable proportion of the members of the Church of England in the diocese of Sydney. It bore many thousand signatures, including those of several members of the Legislative Council, of magistrates, and of many other persons of respectable position and property. The prayer of the petition was in itself simple; it involved no disputed question, and at that period of the evening he would not enter unnecessarily into any details relating to the petition, but would merely state the objects of the petitioners. They represented that the condition of the Church within the Australian Colonies had for some time past been most painful and unsatisfactory to the members of the Church throughout the province. The petitioners further stated that doubts had been expressed respecting the supremacy of the Queen as the head of the Church in these colonies, to the great dismay of the petitioners, who deprecated the assumption of a new ecclesiastical supremacy, inconsistent with the ancient and Royal Supremacy of the Crown, which now threatened their religious freedom. They stated— That the constitution and form of Church Government suggested in the minute of proceedings of the Bishops of the province of Australasia, held in November, 1850, and by the Lord Bishop of Sydney, before his clergy, assembled on the 14th day of April, 1852; and in the petition to Her Majesty, subsequently adopted by the Bishop and a majority of the clergy of the diocese at that meeting, are not in accordance with the opinions or wishes of the lay Members of the United Church of England and Ireland in this diocese generally; and your petitioners most firmly protest against the establishment by law of any system of Church Government in which the bishop, clergy, and laity shall not meet and vote in one council, with equal and concurrent authority and jurisdiction, reserving to Her Majesty all the authority vested in Her Majesty as the head of the Church. The petitioners concluded by praying their Lordships not to assent to any law at variance with the sentiments of the petitioners. He (Lord Monteagle) could not present this petition without expressing the earnest anxiety which he felt, in common, he was sure, with all their Lordships, with respect to the extension of the Church of England and Ireland in our colonial possessions. Whatever differences of opinion might exist with regard to the best mode of attaining that object, as to the object itself there existed, lie hoped, no possibility of difference among their Lordships. The progress which had been made by the Church of England in many of the colonies was one of the most encouraging and satisfactory facts in our modern colonial history; but he must be allowed to add—and he felt satisfaction in doing so—that it would be impracticable to attempt to realise in our colonial possessions the idea of a dominant or exclusive Church. In the discussions which had taken place last year and the year before, the desire to create a dominant and exclusively-privileged Church in the colonies had been disclaimed even by those who professed to be the most interested in the prosperity of the Church of England. He felt that this truth should never be forgotten; it was important as a matter of principle, and equally important as a matter of expediency; he felt assured that it was only by the abnegation on the part of the Legislature of any desire to introduce a dominant Church into our Colonial Empire that we should promote the real progress of our branch of the Reformed Church. He believed it was by admitting, as we were bound to admit, that there was no intention of seeking any exclusive privileges that the Church of England would have the best chance of fair play, of full advancement, and of an ultimate diffusion of its doctrines among all classes of our colonial fellow subjects.


said, that the question of legislation for the better administration of the United Church of England and Ireland in the colonies, was a matter of great difficulty, but at the same time he believed it was a matter of great necessity. It was certainly consid- ered a matter of the highest necessity by the late Bishop of Sydney, whose untimely loss was most deeply regretted by all who knew him, and who left the colony, where he had so long exercised episcopal functions, and had obtained the esteem and good-will of those among whom he had so long resided, for the sole purpose of giving his opinion and hearing the opinions of others with reference to this subject. He (the Archbishop of Canterbury) begged to intimate that he hoped in the course of the Session to submit to their Lordships a measure which he hoped would meet with the concurrence, not only of the noble Lord who had presented the petition, but of their Lordships generally, as well as of the members of the Church in the colony.


did not mean to trespass on their Lordships' attention for more than a few moments, but he thought it right to set at rest at least one of the alarms which had been created by recent circumstances in the colonies, and which were referred to in the petition presented by his noble Friend. He observed that one of the strongest apprehensions entertained by the petitioners was that the abolition of the supremacy of the Queen was aimed at by some of the bishops. Now, he understood that this most erroneous impression had arisen in consequence of the minutes which were passed at the conference of the Bishops of the Australian Colonies which took place at Sydney two years ago. He sympathised with the most rev. Prelate who had just spoken in regretting that the eminent man to whom he had referred had been removed by death before they had had the benefit of his opinions on this subject, into the general bearings of which he was not about to enter; but, as he (the Duke of Newcastle) thought it most desirable that, at the earliest possible period, the misapprehension with reference to the opinions of the Colonial Bishops should be corrected, he would, with the permission of the House, read a few words from a letter he had received within the last fortnight from three of these bishops, and which, though having their three signatures alone attached to it, represented, as he understood, the opinions of all their brethren on the subject. Those three prelates were the Bishops of Quebec, Antigua, and Cape Town, who happened to be in England at present. After calling his attention as Secretary of State for the Colonies to the necessity of legislation as soon as possible with respect to the difficulties to which the Colonial Church was subjected, they said— We beg most emphatically to affirm our hearty and loyal declaration of attachment to the supremacy of our Most Gracious Sovereign, and our earnest desire that we may remain, as heretofore, closely and inseparably connected with the United Church of England and Ireland; and we venture to express a hope that, in any measure which Parliament in its wisdom may see fit to sanction, provision may be contained for the maintenance of the supremacy of the Crown, and for preserving intact our connexion with the mother Church. We beg leave humbly to add, that in making this representation to your Grace, we speak not only in our own names, but in behalf of other Prelates of Christ's Church in the distant dependencies of the Crown, one of us being the delegated representative of all the bishops of the Churches in British North America, with the exception of the Bishop of Rupert's Land, who is known to be favourable to the general principle of the measures herein contemplated, but with whom there has not been sufficient time to communicate on the subject. He (the Duke of Newcastle) would not enter into any discussion on the general question after the statement which had been made by the most rev. Prelate. He begged only to add, that he did not do so because he deprecated a premature discussion on this subject, and that he rejoiced to hear that the most rev. Prelate had his attention directed to it. He only thought it right to take the earliest opportunity of setting the public right with respect to the views of the Colonial Bishops on this point.


said, that so far from the Bishops who had attended the Australian Conference indicating the slight-test disposition to interfere with Her Majesty's supremacy, much less to deny it, they had actually made the following statement, which was contained in a paper that had been sent to all the Bishops in England, and which he would read to their Lordships:— We, the undersigned Metropolitan and Bishops of the province of Australasia, in consequence of doubts existing how far we are inhibited by the Queen's supremacy from exercising the powers of an ecclesiastical synod, resolve not to exercise such powers on the present occasion. The paper then proceeded in these terms:— But we desire to consult together upon the various difficulties in which we are at present placed by the doubtful application to the Church in this province of the ecclesiastical laws which are now in force in England; and to suggest such measures as may seem to be most suitable for removing our present embarrassments; to consider such questions as affect the progress of true religion, and the preservation of ecclesiastical order in the several dioceses of this province; and, finally, in reliance on Divine Providence, to adopt plans for the propagation of the Gospel among the heathen races of Australasia, and the adjacent islands of the Western Pacific. He would ask, was it fair in the petitioners to suggest the conclusion from words like these, that the proceedings of the Bishops had placed the Queen's supremacy in danger? The fact was that the Royal supremacy was asserted in the document to which he referred in the strongest possible terms, and in the manner in which the articles and canons of the Church affirmed it:—and when he spoke of the articles and canons, their Lordships would recollect that it was only they that any longer maintained the supremacy of the Crown. He would assert broadly and plainly, and he challenged contradiction to the assertion, that there was no longer in this country any authoritative and legal assertion of the supremacy of the Crown, except in the articles of the Church of England, and the canons of 1608. An attempt had been made in another place to base the principle of the Royal supremacy on the oath of supremacy. But that was a mistake—the oath of supremacy simply denied the supremacy of the Pope; and the fact was there was no oath of supremacy in the strict sense of the word; that had been abolished at the Revolution, and the Act creating the oaths which were sworn by their Lordships when they took their seats, simply denied the supremacy of the Pope, and asserted no supremacy of the Queen; and why was this? The fact was that the supremacy of the Queen, as imposed by the statute of the 1st of Elizabeth, and also by a statute of Henry VIII., was found to be perfectly irreconcilable with the articles of union with Scotland. It was because it was impossible for Her Majesty's subjects of Scotland to assert that supremacy, that the oath had been abolished; for when the union took place it was necessary that the oath should be equally satisfactory to the Scotch as well as the English Lords, and, therefore, the oath at present taken had been devised to suit Her Majesty's Scotch subjects as well as those of England, because it was known that the doctrine of the Queen's supremacy would not be endured by the members of the Kirk of Scotland. With respect to the claim of the Petitioners for a system of church government, in which the bishops, clergy, and laity should meet and vote in one council with equal and concurrent authority and jurisdiction, it was clearly inadmissible. In the document to which he had referred, the Bishops said there must be synodical meetings, but that they ought to consist in part of the clergy and in part of the laity. It was true they said the laity must sit in a house by itself. Now he was not going to discuss the very intricate question of the rights of the laity in regard to this matter, because such a discussion could not fail to be distasteful to their Lordships. He would only say that these Bishops of Australasia did express a most decided wish that the laity should have their fair share in synodal action in that colony, but they did not propose that they should be in the same house in equal proportions. He challenged the noble Lord to show him a single instance of a synod in which the laity had been admitted with equal votes to the clergy. The Bishops did not wish to bring in the laity to be mere servants; they said that the laity should have a certain class of cases in which they should have equal power with the clergy. He would not now enter into a discussion on this question, because their Lordships would have an opportunity of discussing it hereafter; but he would say this, that their Lordships would leave the House with a wrong impression on their minds if they supposed the Bishops to be hostile to the legitimate power of the Queen.


said, he could not let the observations of the right rev. Prelate with respect to the supremacy of the Queen pass unnoticed. He begged distinctly to deny that the supremacy of the Queen depended merely upon the articles of the Church of England, or of any Church. The supremacy of the Queen rested upon the law of the land established by Act of Parliament. What might he the incidence of that supremacy with reference to ecclesiastical matters in Scotland, was a matter wide of the discussion, which it would be improper to enter into on the present occasion; but it must not go forth to the public uncontradicted that the supremacy of the Queen in matters ecclesiastical rested merely upon ecclesiastical canons or the articles of the Church.


said, he had not asserted that the Queen's supremacy rested upon any ecclesiastical canon or the articles of the Church. What he did say was, that the only authoritative documents which declared the supremacy of the Crown, were the canons and articles of the Church. He was not aware of any Act of Parliament now in existence which created the supremacy of the Crown. The supremacy, they should recollect, was part of the common law—that the Queen is supreme in all causes, and over all persons, ecclesiastical as well as civil—supreme in all causes, temporal and ecclesiastical—no more supreme in one than in the other—but supreme in both. The supremacy of the Crown applied to both Church and State. The Queen was the supreme governor of all persons, ecclesiastical as well as civil.


said, in presenting the petition, he had endeavoured to avert all asperities of controversy. If he were now driven into adverse discussion, the House would do him the justice to remember that the fault was not his. But he should ill discharge his duty to the petitioners who had done him the honour to place their statement in his hands, if he allowed the discussion to terminate without some free commentary on the observations which had fallen from the right rev. Prelate. He confessed he had heard, with some degree of surprise, that for the first time in their Lordships' House, a question should have been raised casting any doubt upon the supremacy of the Queen of England. [The Bishop of EXETER: No, no!] Notwithstanding that denial, he must say that doubts had been so raised by the arguments they had heard which struck at the true and legal title of the Queen's supremacy. The right rev. Prelate had asserted that the Queen's supremacy rested solely on the canons and the articles of the Church—thus appearing to substitute an ecclesiastical for a civil title. But on what did the canons and articles rest? Could they stand proprio vigore? What effect would they have on any lay subject of the realm unless they were confirmed by the law of the land, that is, by Act of Parliament? Did the right rev. Prelate mean to contend that a canon unconfirmed by statute was binding on any lay member of the Church of England? Inasmuch as the authority of the canons and articles rested only upon statute, he would venture to say, on the right rev. Prelate's own argument, that the supremacy of the Crown rested upon the law of the land, and not upon any ecclesiastical law. He might have gone further and have shown that even in Roman Catholic times, under our Plantagenet ancestors, the prerogative of the Crown had been asserted boldly against the Pope, and that by the ancient law of England. The right rev. Prelate seemed to imagine that he had hit upon a conclusive argument against the Royal Supremacy when he said that Her Majesty was not supreme in the Church of Scotland, and, therefore, that Her supremacy over all matters ecclesiastical was contradicted by the law of Scotland. Why, who had ever imagined, in affirming the supremacy of the Crown, that such supremacy was claimed over all causes belonging to another Church of which our Sovereign was not the head? The people of Scotland would imagine it strange if a claim was made on the part of the Crown to be the head of the Church of Scotland; and the people of England would hear with equal surprise and sorrow that any doubt was entertained, on the part of a bishop, that the supremacy of the Crown had been held to rest on no authority higher than that of the articles and the canons. But that was not all. The right rev. Prelate had read a passage from a declaration of the three Bishops of Australia, for the purpose of proving that the petitioners were quite in error in supposing that any disposition was felt by any of the bishops of those colonies in the slightest degree to affect the supremacy of the Crown. He regretted that the right rev. Prelate had not sufficient light to read the document, and that some of the words escaped him, owing possibly to his want of the power of vision. How strange that they should imagine that there was the slightest disposition to interfere with the claim of the supremacy of the Crown, when the very resolution then entered into declared, on the part of the members of the episcopal bench, that they meant, on that occasion, no approach to any attack on the supremacy of the Crown. They said, "In consequence of doubts existing how far we are inhibited by the Queen's supremacy from exercising the powers of an ecclesiastical synod, we resolve"—what? Not to ascertain whether they were inhibited or not—not that they would not exercise those powers until their doubts were removed—but they come to this lame and impotent conclusion—we "resolve not to exercise such powers on the present occasion."


said, he had read the words.


said, he did not hear the words, but after the contradiction he would apologise to the right rev. Prelate. Still his (Lord Monteagle's) argument respecting the declaration of the majority of Australian Prelates remained unshaken. How could there have been more strongly made a suggestion, that the Australian Bishops would be disposed to exercise those powers on another occasion, if they found it expedient to do so, than the statement that they would not exercise those powers on the present occasion? And what did they proceed to do, somewhat at variance with their self-denying ordinances? They entered into resolutions, embodying propositions which they hoped would be favourably considered by the Home Government. They proposed, it would seem, practically that a kind of congé d'élire should issue from the Colonial Bishops, addressed to Her Majesty's Secretary of State, or to Her Majesty herself, for the purpose of recommending individuals to be in future selected for the office of colonial bishop. Here, again, was an approach to that very tender subject, the prerogative of the Crown in its appointments of the heads of the Church. But there was something more. The petitioners prayed, it is true, if church government of any description should be created in the colony, that with the ecclesiastical authoririties laymen should be associated. But in what manner and with what reductions was it proposed that this should be done? The right rev. Prelate justly said that the principle of lay co-operation was introduced in the resolutions, although in a different manner from that recommended by the petitioners. Now, he would state to their Lordships the manner in which it was proposed, for the purpose of justifying the feelings of alarm, and apprehension, and amazement, which had been produced in the colony. It was proposed that, with a view to the future government of the Australasian Church, there should be a provincial synod established for the whole province; that there should be a diocesan synod established in every diocese, thus forming seven ecclesiastical synods. It was also proposed that for the purpose of discussing all the temporal affairs of the Church, seven corresponding conventions should be established, composed solely of laymen. All questions touching ecclesiastical matters were to be reserved exclusively for the ecclesiastical synods; but the questions touching temporalities were only to be reserved for the other or lay body. Now, in bishops the Church looked to their capability of guiding their clergy, judging of the qualifications of candidates for orders, and maintaining order. They were expected to be likewise examples of piety and of purity of faith. But assuming all this, next to the spiritual purity of the faith, the next great gift to be prayed for the Church was, the maintenance of the peace of the Church. But, if any mode could be imagined which was certain to occasion eternal dissensions and divisions, it would be to create in a colony like Australia seven ecclesiastical synods, to be presided over by six bishops and one provincial, and seven conventions for temporal purposes presided over by laymen, having in some cases concurrent rights, and all to be created without any reference to any British law, and without reference to the legislative authority of the colony. Were the laymen or the ecclesiastics to agree each for themselves about what was spiritual and what temporal? The probability of such agreement was shown in the proceedings before them, and referred to by the petitioners. One of the steps which the Australian bishops had taken was most extraordinary. Among other things, they stated they would submit to the law of the land in respect to marriage, "provided it appeared to be consonant with Church law." Was ever anything so monstrous as to talk of submitting to the supreme law of the land provided it were consonant with something else? But they had gone a little further. Their Lordships might be aware of the establishment of a great and promising University at Sydney, which had been encouraged by the Governor and the Cabinet Legislature in the most generous spirit. What did the Australian Bishops state in relation to that establishment? Why, that they were "inclined to tolerate" the University of Sydney, but not to the disparagement of separate diocesan institutions! An inclination to tolerate is a mode of expressing a reluctant acquiesence, and implying the possibility of taking a very opposite course. The right rev. Prelate had endeavoured to persuade the House that the petitioners had no provocation, and no ground for alarm, but that they were suffering from an imaginary grievance. He (Lord Monteagle) contended, however, that the petitioners had good cause of apprehension from the proceedings of the bishops. If the bishops wished to preserve the episcopacy, if they desired to continue the union with the Church at home, from which he believed the Colonial Church never could be severed without the greatest danger to themselves—a union, therefore, which he prayed might long be preserved—if they desired peace and unity and enduring safety, let them abandon resolutions of this character, which they now, unhappily, seemed desirous of carrying into effect,

Petition ordered to lie on the table.