HL Deb 28 June 1858 vol 151 cc475-9

rose, pursuant to notice, to move the following Resolution:— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to take into Her Royal Consideration the Proclamation of the First Year of Her Majesty's Reign, commanding the Use of the Forms of Prayer and Service made for the Fifth of November, the Thirtieth of January, the Twenty-ninth of May, and the Twentieth of June; and should Her Majesty see fit to order the substitution for the said Proclamation of one declaring it Her Majesty's Royal Pleasure that only the sereice appointed for the Twentieth of June, being the anniversary of Her Majesty's acccession, shall henceforth be printed and published and annexed to the Book of Common Prayer and Liturgy of the United Church of England and Ireland to be used yearly on the said Day. The noble Earl said, that on calling their Lordships' attention to the Political or State Services of the Church of England, he desired in the first place to refer to the Motion made earlier in the Session upon the subject of the Liturgy by the noble Lord (Lord Ebury) who for so many years represented the county of Middlesex. The speech of the noble Lord on that occasion was admitted, even by those who opposed his Motion, to have been distinguished by excellent taste and spirit; and much as their Lordships differed as to the final issue of that Motion, there were some points on which they were all agreed. They were all agreed in one feeling of admiration for our beautiful and majestic Liturgy, so appropriate in its language and so lofty in its strain of devotion, They were all, or nearly all, agreed that some improvement might be made, if not in the services of the Church, at least in their selection and arrangement; although it was also felt that evil might arise from disturbing what had been so solemnly established. He had now to invite their Lord ships' attention to a much smaller branch of the subject. He asked them to disturb what, as he would presently show, had been by no means so solemnly established. He asked them to remove services from the Liturgy which in their present form did not rest upon the votes of Convocation, or upon Acts of Parliament, but upon the force of a Royal Proclamation alone. He asked them to remove services which deserved no part of the praise to which the rest of the Liturgy—the real Liturgy—was justly entitled; but which, when viewed in juxtaposition with it, were a blot and a stain that he called upon their Lordships to remove. Their Lordships would readily believe that on a question of this moment he did not rely on his own judgment alone. On the contrary, he had taken counsel with many persons of great weight and authority in ecclesiastical matters. He might further mention that though this question was new to Parliament, it was not new to Convocation. Last year a Motion, almost identical to the one he had now to make, was brought forward by a divine who was certainly inferior to no man living in ecclesiastical knowledge and research, and whose opinion, both on that account and on many others, was entitled to the highest respect—he meant Dr. Milman, the Dean of St. Paul's. That Motion, had it been proceeded with, was to have been seconded by a divine of a different school, but also a high authority in such matters—Chancellor Martin, of Exeter; but it did not come on for discussion, not so much from any opposition, either encountered or expected, but through those forms and technicalities with which all proceedings in Convocation are beset. The subject was referred by Convocation to the consideration of a Committee and the Report of that Committee he held in his hand. In their Report the Committee declared themselves unwilling to give any opinion whether, on the ground of the Royal Proclamation or on any other ground, the use of the services as now existing was or was not legally obligatory; to give any such opinion said the Report, would be "to intrude on the province of the courts of law," But so far as regarded the Church, and what he might call the historical part of the question, the judgment of the Committee was expressed in the following Words:— Though in one or more of the three cases Convocation appears to Lave given its sanction to certain services, yet the Crown, in ordering these services, makes no reference to any co-ordinate authority in this respect of Convocation. The services as they stand at present, with alterations not unimportant made from time to time, were certainly not submitted either to Convocation or to Parliament, but rest so far on the solo power of the Crown. it was to this conclusion, in which he entirely concurred, that he wished to direct their attention, and he hoped to be able to show their Lordships that the services as they existed did not depend on any decision either of Parliament or of Convocation, but solely on the authority of the Crown.

The first of these services was that set down for the Fifth of November, and instituted in 1605, when the King and the two Houses of Parliament had been recently delivered from a foul midnight conspiracy known as the Gunpowder Plot. An Act of Parliament was then passed, being the 3rd of James I, cap. 1. This Act began by speaking of the utter ruin which might have ensued to the whole kingdom had it not pleased Almighty God to inspire the King's Most Excellent Majesty with a Divine spirit to interpret some dark phrases of a letter. After this compliment to the King, on which he would make no comment, the Act proceeded to enact that a day should be set apart to celebrate the deliverance, but it did not provide any form of service. It provided nothing but that the Act itself should be read on that day in the parish churches, which he believed he might assert had never been done in any one single case, so far as was known, for at least a hundred and fifty years. It followed therefore that, so far as the Act of Parliament was concerned, unless the supremacy of the Crown had provided a service the day could not have been kept at all. The Crown did provide a service, and that service subsequently did obtain the authority of Convocation. Thus matters continued until the Revolution, when it chanced that the Prince of Orange lauded in England on the Fifth of November, the anniversary of "the Gunpowder Plot." It was then resolved to new-model the service, and to make it a Thanksgiving for the landing of King William III., as well as for the deliverance from the Gunpowder Plot. In this new-modelling of the service no reference was made to Parliament or to Convocation. The task was committed to two Prelates, Bishop Sprat and Bishop Patrick, and this was the form continued down to the present day, being prescribed anew by Royal Proclamation at the commencement of every reign. It followed that the Act of Parliament directing the day to be observed would become a mere dead letter the moment that the Crown consented to withdraw the Royal Proclamation which was necessary to enforce the remodelled service. Then came the question whether it was desirable or proper to continue the service in the Book of Common Prayer. He did not for an instant deny that the deliverance of the Sovereign and both Houses of Parliament from a sudden and cruel attack of conspirators was an act of Providential mercy deserving to be held in grateful remembrance, and for which thanks were due to Almighty God; nor was he inclined to speak in other terms than those of gratitude for the political and religious benefits which this country derived from the landing of King William III.; but he submitted to their Lordships that in all questions of this kind the lapse of time was a most important element. No man would think, for example, of celebrating by special thanks the expulsion of the Danes by King Alfred, or the return of Cœur de Lion from captivity; and he certainly did think that after the lapse of more than a century and a half, and after so many other events of importance had taken place, the time had come when it was no longer desirable or proper to have annual celebrations of such events as were noticed in his Motion. This he would say in general terms; but he had also special objections when Un dune to look to the nature of the themselves. It was with all possible reverence that he quoted any portion of those services, and he did so with reluctance; but he felt himself bound to read from them in order to show the nature of the objections which he entertained to their continuance. In the service for the Fifth of November we Were directed, instead of the Prayer for the Church Militant, to use another, in which thanks were returned to Almighty God,— Who on this day didst miraculously preserve our Church and State from the secret contrivance and hellish malice of Popish conspirators. And when it was new-modelled for the accession of King William, there was added, And on this day also didst begin to give us a mighty deeliverance from the cruel tyranny and oppression of the same cruel and blood-thirsty enemies. And in another part of the same service we were warned against those who were declared, with singular alliteration, very much in the style of a party pamphlet, to "turn religion into rebellion and faith into faction." Now, he wished their Lordships to consider what was implied in those words. It was implied that there was some connection between the tenets of Roman Catholics and the practice of assassination—it was said that the enemies of King William III. were the same cruel and blood-thirsty enemies as those who had plotted the murder of King James I. He was net standing there to defend the errors and corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church, but he was bound to say in all justice and fairness that in the days of James I. there were many Roman Catholics—nay, by far the greater number of them—who were not identified in sentiment with the midnight conspirators who attempted the death of the King and the Parliament. It would be the greatest want of fairness and justice to assume that the whole Roman Catholic party in the time of James II. were identified in sentiment and principle with the band of misguided conspirators who plotted against his grandfather James I., and surely no one would venture to say that, from the Revolution of 1658, when the present form of prayer was established, down to this time, the members of the Roman Catholic church were to be regarded in the light of conspirators, actuated by "hellish malice." That was a view which no one would take in the present day, and therefore he contended that the prayer was not desirable or proper, or expressive of the true feelings of upright and honourable men—