HL Deb 10 June 1856 vol 142 cc1219-27

begged permission to claim their Lordships' attention for a few minutes, on personal grounds, while he referred to a subject of which he had given the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Oxford) notice, and which related to certain statements made by himself and by the right rev. Prelate in the discussion which had arisen on Thursday last, on the refusal of another right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Salisbury) to consecrate the Blandford burial-ground. He felt confident that the right rev. Prelate would be obliged to him for affording him the opportunity of correcting anything that might have fallen from him in the heat of debate, or owing to inaccuracy of memory. The right rev. Prelate, on the occasion alluded to, said he would put no confidence in certain "hear-say" statements which he (Lord Portman) had made. He (Lord Portman) now begged to state that the "hear-say" statements made by him on Thursday last had since been fully confirmed. He had made no pretence to making a statement to their Lordships, beyond that he himself believed it to be true; and he believed it on the character of the party who gave him the information. He (Lord Portman) stated that there was no communion table in the chapel of the cemetery at Woolwich, on the occasion when the right rev. Prelate opposite consecrated that ground. The right rev. Prelate, however, stated as an eye-witness that there was a communion table.—[The Bishop of OXFORD intimated dissent.]—The right rev. Prelate had certainly been very cautious in the way in which he alluded to the chapel at Woolwich,—at all events, he said there was "a table;" and as their Lordships were talking about communion tables, it might well be presumed that the right rev. Prelate meant that there was a "communion table." The right rev. Prelate, however, said that he did not precisely recollect whether there was a communion table or not in the chapel at Woolwich, since, whether the ceremony of consecration was according to his views or not, taking place as it did in the diocese of another Prelate—London,—he should not have thought it a point of conscience. Now, he (Lord Portman) submitted that the right rev. Prelate ought not to have proceeded in a ceremony not according to his own views, if he deemed his views to be essential and matter of necessity. He might quote great writers upon such a point, if he thought necessary, but he would not trouble their Lordships: he would only say that in his own opinion no man was warranted in doing what he thought to be wrong merely because he was acting as the deputy of another. In matters of total indifference—matters signifying nothing one way or the other—a man was at liberty to act as he pleased; but in matters of conscience and essence, the case was far otherwise. If, then, the right rev. Prelate thought that a communion table—and the celebration of the holy communion were essential to the consecration of the chapel and burial-ground at Woolwich—he could not understand how the right rev. Prelate could waive his own opinion in deference to that of the Bishop of London. The gentleman on whose authority he (Lord Portman) had made the statement had informed him that there was no communion service and no communion table on the occasion of the consecration of Woolwich burial-ground. But with the view of being perfectly accurate, he (Lord Portman) had written to the Clerk of the Burial-board, at Woolwich, requesting information as to the real state of the facts, and from the reply of that person he was sure the right rev. Prelate would admit that he had been mistaken. The reply of the Clerk of the Burial-board was in these words:— In reply to your note of the 7th, I beg to inform you that there is not a communion table in the chapel of the cemetery at Woolwich, and that the Holy Communion was not celebrated at the consecration of the burial-ground. He (Lord Portman) found in a paper delivered this day, that the Chancellor of the Bishop of London receives a fee of five guineas for advising the Bishop whether the proceedings of every consecration were strictly legal, so that it was clear the Bishop of London was advised carefully that all is legally done, and he (Lord Portman) preferred to trust such advice rather than the caprice of the Bishop of Oxford. He wished to mention, also, that he had received a letter from a gentleman named Gray of Newbury, who was unknown to him, though he believed he was known to some of their Lordships, stating that he had paid much attention to the debate on Thursday last, and that he had been much struck by the remark of the Bishop of Oxford, in reference to what he had done at Woolwich as the deputy of the Bishop of London. Mr. Gray stated that some years ago the Bishop of Oxford had himself, in his own diocese—at Newbury—consecrated a burial-ground, in which not only was there no communion table, but not even a chapel. After hearing this he was sure the right rev. Prelate would be glad of the opportunity of putting himself right with their Lordships, especially as he had attributed to him a further inaccuracy in alleging that there was a difference of practice between the right, rev. Prelate and the Bishop of Salisbury; with regard to whom he might be allowed to say, in passing, that he disclaimed every degree of ill-feeling, and the differences in whose diocese, arising out of the matter referred to on Thursday evening, were not unlikely to be adjusted by the kindly intervention of the Bishop of St. Asaph. Whatever rules the right rev. Prelate might say he made, no one could fail to observe that his practice was not uniform; those who watched him, and saw that he did not adhere to any rule, had a right to say that he did not insist on a communion table in a cemetery chapel, and had a right to believe that it was quite a matter of indifference, as no one would wish to attribute to him that he would yield to any temporary purpose what was really essential. He (Lord Portman) would now appeal to their Lordships whether he had been wrong in relying upon hear-say evidence in these matters, and whether his statements had not been confirmed by the testimony of others? He felt exceedingly sorry that he should have been held up to their Lordships as having furnished them with erroneous information; and he trusted they would excuse him for having given the right rev. Prelate an opportunity of putting himself right with the House on these subjects.


said, the noble Lord charged him with two inaccuracies; first, with having stated that there was a communion table in the chapel at Woolwich, when there was none; and, secondly, with having told the House that the usage in his diocese was the same as in Salisbury, when such was not the fact. Besides this, the noble Lord charged him with having violated his conscience (if his conscience were rightly informed) in adopting in the diocese of London the usage of that diocese when he was acting in behalf of the Bishop of London. As to the first of those charges, the facts were simply these:—When he went to the cemetery chapel at Woolwich, the form used in the diocese of London was put into his hand as the official document for his guidance. The rubric prefixed to that document provided that the Bishop, with his chaplain, should be received at the door of the church or chapel by the chancellor, registrar, minister, churchwarden, or others, and having proceeded in his robes to "the communion table," the service of the day was then to be read by the officiating minister. Now, he had been duly received in the form here prescribed, had been conducted in his robes to a chair placed beside a table covered with a decent red cloth, and situated under the east window; his chaplain took his seat on the south side of the table; and the officiating minister then proceeded to read the service. He (the Bishop of Oxford) took it for granted that the table before his eyes was what the rubric called a communion table, and he appealed to their Lordships whether this was not a natural supposition, and whether it could be described by any other name? By to-day's post, however, he had received from the rector of Woolwich a letter, stating that the noble Lord had submitted to him a string of interrogatories as to whether the table in question was not a common dining table? whether it was not covered by a green baize cloth?—and the like; in answer to which their Lordships had heard that it was a decent table, covered with a red cloth, such as these tables were commonly covered with. It certainly appeared now that this table was not intended to be left there; and in the letter to which he had referred the rector of Woolwich said, I have evidently led you into a mistake by the arrangement I made. As it was necessary that a table should be placed somewhere for your convenience, and the place under the east window was the most appropriate position for it, that part of the chapel was selected for the purpose. It certainly had all the appearance of a communion table. As to the second alleged misrepresentation, he (the Bishop of Oxford) had said, that the rule adopted in the diocese of Salisbury with regard to these consecra- tions was the same as that of his own diocese. This statement was strictly correct. It was true that many years ago, before he had considered the subject, he had consecrated the chapel at Newbury without a communion table. The service of his diocese had not been drawn up, and when speaking last Thursday, he certainly did not think it necessary to state that, when young in office and before he had considered the question, he had on one occasion not adhered to that rule. He did not think there was any material misrepresentation in this. As to the third charge, that he had violated his conscience, because in an essential matter a man had no right to do for another what he would not do for himself, this point all turned on the meaning of the word "essential." He held that by the canon law and by the law which the Church of England had established there was no complete consecration of a cemetery chapel or church without the celebration of the Holy Communion. The question was supposing the Bishop of London only consecrated the cemetery, and did not consecrate the cemetery chapel, was there any violation of principle in his saying that he would adopt the form used in the diocese of London, which left that chapel unconsecrated? In his own diocese he had consecrated cemeteries without any chapel in them, in cases where there was a difficulty on the part of the parishioners in building a chapel, and of course there was no Communion there. He certainly thought it a mistake that in any diocese a cemetery chapel should not be legally consecrated, so that it remained an unconsecrated building in a consecrated cemetery, but he thought he should be straining at a gnat if he refused his assistance to one of his right rev. brethren in performing a ceremony of this sort, because that right rev. Prelate thought proper to permit the existence of an unconsecrated chapel. The consecration service in the diocese of London did not set apart the cemetery chapel for the service of God; it simply dealt with the burial-ground about the chapel. He trusted that the noble Lord having stated that all his anger to his right rev. Friend had passed away, would, after the explanation which he had just offered, extend his amnesty to him. It was very painful to him to think that any noble Lord should entertain anything like a grudge towards him, and he could assure their Lordships that, although he had spoken strongly in defence of one of his right rev. Brethren, he had no intention of misrepresenting the noble Lord. For his own part, he felt strongly upon the subject. He had for ten years had the experience of the episcopal work in a large agricultural diocese, and he had found that the opening and consecration of churches and chapels was the only opportunity afforded to the Bishop to partake, in conjunction with his clergy and the leading members of the laity, of the holy sacrament. That practice had in his own diocese been attended with most beneficial results by giving rise to feelings of kindliness, by removing fancied impressions of slights experienced, and by establishing a oneness in the Church of Christ, and he should therefore deeply regret anything which might tend to the discontinuance of the practice.


said, that although this was an irregular conversation, he believed their Lordships would consider it of importance. Without entering into the controversy which had occupied the attention of their Lordships, he was anxious to inform the right rev. bench of Bishops of certain circumstances which had come to his knowledge, and which had been the cause of great inconvenience and of some ill-feeling, which he should be sorry to see exaggerated or continued. He alluded to the great uncertainty which prevailed in the public mind as to what was the feeling and opinion of the bench of Bishops generally on the subject of consecration. There was evidently a great difference of opinion among them as to the ceremonies to be observed on consecration. He himself lived in a large parish in which the churchyard had been closed, and at present they were without any cemetery; for it was considered desirable to have three cemeteries instead of one: but then the Act of Parliament required that they should build six chapels, and that they could not afford. The Act of Parliament with regard to consecration was different as applied to the country and to London, the words being obligatory as regarded the country. He was able to give ground for the formation of a cemetery, but not to build a chapel. His diocesan, who was held in universal esteem, was informed of this offer, but he declined to consecrate, on, the ground that there was no chapel. Unless he had misunderstood the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Oxford), he had stated that he had in his time consecrated without a chapel or church. [The Bishop of OXFORD: Yes.] Then there appeared to be a difference between that right rev. Prelate and the Bishop of Winchester, although he did not pretend to decide who was right; but he thought that as every county in the kingdom was now occupying itself with the making of new cemeteries, this question of consecration ought to be set at rest. He, therefore, wished to ask the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Oxford) whether, as he had done so before, he would be prepared, under certain circumstances, to consecrate a cemetery in which there might not be a chapel? and also whether he would object to consecrate a private cemetery?


thought there was great inconvenience in being called upon to answer a question of that kind offhand. In the single case in which he consecrated a cemetery without a chapel the circumstances were rather peculiar, because the ground was sufficiently near to the parish church to make it possible for parties to have that portion of the service which was usually read indoors performed there. It was at High Wycombe. The parishioners had recently built schools at a considerable expense; and then an order came from the Secretary of State for the formation of a cemetery; it was represented to him that the parishioners were hard pressed for money, and under these circumstances he consented to the use of the parish church, thinking it right, in the exercise of his discretion, to meet, as far as possible, the wishes of the ratepayers—taking from them a promise that they would erect a chapel in the cemetery at some future period. In the case of the Bishop of Winchester, to which the noble Earl had referred, the reason of the right rev. Prelate's refusal was, that the cemetery in question was situated at such a distance from the parish church as that it would be impossible for the poor, for whom it was principally intended, to have the burial service performed in the church. The noble Earl asked, would he consecrate a private cemetery? He could only say, it was a matter in which he would exercise his judgment, and his decision would depend entirely on the circumstances of the case. There might be cases in which he would think it advisable to exercise the discretion vested in him by law.


said, that the difference of opinion on this subject was even greater than had been stated. If the right rev. Prelate was right in saying that the consecration of a church or chapel was ineffectual without the administration of the sacrament, he (the Bishop of Cashel) could only say that the greater number of chapels and churches which he had undertaken to consecrate were not consecrated, for he was never in the habit of administering the sacrament at the time of consecration, although he always gave directions that it should be celebrated the next Sunday. The Archbishop of the province in which his diocese was situated declared that a religious ceremony was not at all essential to consecration. The only real essential was the civil act by which the building was handed over for the purposes of divine service. He knew of cases in which the Archbishop of Dublin (who he might remind them was an Englishman, not a disorderly Irishman), the Prelate to whom he had referred, had walked into the church, signed the act of consecration, and then walked out again; and when asked why he had not read any prayers, replied, "Do you think that anything I could read would give to the building a holier character than it will derive from the fact of its being given up to the service of God?" He (the Bishop of Cashel) did not follow the example of the most rev. Prelate, but he must say there was no form of consecration in the Church service. Different prelates used different forms; he adopted that used in the diocese of London, but even it contained no command to administer the sacrament, and he believed the majority of the Prelates did not administer it at the time.


thought it was high time that some distinct understanding should be come to on this important matter. It was a very fearful and formidable thing to find this difference of opinion existing on one of the most solemn rites of the Church. He had heard with regret the observations which had fallen from the right rev. Prelate who had last spoken. That right rev. Prelate had alluded to a case of irregular and, he might even say, unhallowed consecration performed by the Archbishop of Dublin. Though he could not be insensible to the high attainments and the personal merits of that right rev. Prelate, still it must be admitted that there had existed, in his mind, strong peculiarities and opinions. When he filled a distinguished position in the University of Oxford these peculiarities manifested themselves, and be could not, therefore, attach much faith to his views on this question. However, this was a matter calling for decision, since it must necessarily give rise to doubts and feelings anything but pleasing or satisfactory if it remained in its present state.


respectfully suggested that, as there was no likelihood of the present conversation tending to edification, it had better be dropped.

House adjourned to Thursday next.

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