HL Deb 29 July 1859 vol 155 cc632-8

presented a Petition from the clergy of the Church of England, for a Revision of the Liturgy of the Church of England. His Lordship said that the petitioners prayed the House to address the Queen to appoint a Commission to revise the Liturgy, a subject which he maintained was regarded by all the thinking portion of the national Church as of paramount importance; and he fancied their Lordships would he disposed to attach greater weight to the petition from the fact that it was signed, not by the laity, but by upwards of 500 clergymen of the Church of England. The petition, of which he had caused copies to be sent to every Member of their Lordships' House, had been already presented to the House of Commons, and he commended it to their most serious attention, containing as it did a comprehensive and compendious statement of almost all the alterations which were desired by any party in the Established Church, although the alterations in question might not be desired in their entirety by each of those parties. He thought that the opinions embodied in that document were those entertained by the majority of the thinking laymen of the Church of England, and also of a very respectable body of the clergy; in proof of which he might mention that a petition of a similar character had received 10,000 signatures of the laity in one town alone, and had been presented to the Queen. He very much regretted that the leaders of the Church should have thought proper to give a complete and emphatic denial to his proposal; and he was desirous of stating that, owing to the various interruptions which had taken place in the course of the present Session, it was not his intention to bring forward the measure to accomplish the object set forth in the petition during the present year. That such an Amendment, however, would he desirable, was rendered manifest by the fact that the Committees appointed by both Houses of Convocation in the year 1854 had recommended considerable changes, one-fourth of which could not be carried out without an alteration of the Act of Uniformity. Not one statement that he had put forward when addressing their Lordships in May last had been controverted, and not a single argument had been answered; and he therefore deeply regretted that Convocation within the present year should have felt it their duty to propose an Address to Her Majesty praying that no alteration whatever might be made in the Prayer Book. The only hope therefore of those who were desirous of revision lay, therefore, in the Houses of Parliament to obtain for them the improvement which they desired. In conclusion the noble Lord expressed his determination to bring forward this subject at as early a period in the next Session as the convenience of their Lordships would permit.


said, that the speech of the noble Lord might seem to require some answer, but as the noble Lord did not appear desirous to promote discussion on that occasion, he (the Archbishop of Canterbury) would merely say that he thought that many of the Members of the right rev. Bench had given sufficient reasons why some of the changes advocated by the noble Lord should not take place. He felt obliged to the noble Lord for having given notice of the course he intended to pursue next Session. It was impossible for the Bishops to be absent from their dioceses at the present time; but when the noble Lord's Motion should come on for consideration he and his right rev. Brethren would be ready to enter fully into a discussion of so much importance.


said, he was sure there was no man less inclined to mislead their Lordships on this question than his noble Friend (Lord Ebury), nor was there any man who had more at heart the best interests of the Church of England. But their Lordships had been led to believe that what the noble Lord desired was simply to shorten the services of the Church, and that he represented that portion of what he (Lord Ebury) called the enlightened laity who were desirous to attain this object. He was ready to admit that this was an object which a great body of the laity, both enlightened and unenlightened, desired; but he did not think that the right way to shorten the services was to take the course which the petitioners desired. There was a danger of mixing up two very different questions in connection with this subject. Whether the services should be shortened was one question—whether the doctrines embodied in the services should be altered was another. For instance, the petitioners proposed as one way of shortening the services to leave out the Athanasian Creed; another way of shortening it was to leave out the observances for the saints' days; another to leave out those passages in the Absolution that had given rise to so much discussion; while another mode was to alter the baptismal and confirmation services. Now, really, if that was a specimen of the way in which the Church services were to be abbreviated; if a process was to be followed in which questions of doctrine were mixed up with abbreviation, he put it to the noble Lord whether such abbreviation would not lead to changes which neither he nor the clergy nor the intelligent laity whom he represented ever contemplated? The petitioners said they wished no new doctrine to be introduced; but they did not say how many doctrines they wished to be left out; which was a very important point, for it was just as possible to alter the whole aspect of our ecclesiastical system by omission as by addition. He very much feared that if abbreviation were to be followed out in the way suggested by the petitioners, the result would be that the Church of England would be divided into two distinct Churches; whereas it was the glory of the Church of England at present that it included persons holding the variety of sentiment that was sure to be found in an intelligent age in a great national Church. If, therefore, they did not feel their consciences hurt or forced by expressions in the service those who best understood the spirit of the Church of England were willing to allow them to remain, though, as individuals, they might wish to see them altered. With reference to the discussions in the House of Convocation, his understanding of those discussions was that there had been expressed in the House a great desire to see the services made more elastic, but there was a conviction that this should be effected without running the risk which such a proposal as that of the noble Lord would incur; especially as it was believed that they had the power to obtain the end they desired without any new legislation. It was the opinion of the bench of Bishops that they had the power to authorize any clergyman to use the Litany as a separate service, and that they had the power, which they exercised every day, of authorizing the communion also to be used as a separate service. If that were not oftener done, it was because it was believed that the majority of persons who attended our churches desired the service to remain as it was; but that was no reason why the services which he had named should not, when it was wished by any parish, be regarded as separate services, and those persons who preferred doing so should have the opportunity—at least in towns—of frequenting those shorter services. It was notorious that in some cathedrals these services, which the petitioners represented as indissolubly united together by Act of Parliament, had, from time immemorial, been separated. In the case of the Chapel Royal, for example, the services remained united, because no intimation had been given by the congregation that there was any wish for their separation; and there was no other reason why he, as Dean of the Chapel Royal, should not recommend to Her Majesty to authorize that to be done in the Chapel of St. James's, which there was no impropriety in stating was done in Her Majesty's private chapel—namely, to have the morning service read at an early hour, the Litany and Communion to form a separate service by themselves, and the afternoon service read as a separate service. The real difficulty the Bishops had to deal with was, that they did not feel confident they could carry with them the wishes of a majority in the congregations of the various churches for these changes. A great deal of the time of himself and other right rev. Prelates was taken up by complaints from churchwardens against clergymen who departed in the slightest degree from the common manner of celebrating the services. Of course, it was the bounden duty of a clergyman not to take steps for such an alteration as he had alluded to unless he had some ground to believe that it was the wish of the laity that he should do so; but he was confident that if the intelligent laity expressed a desire to have the services differently divided there were in the metropolis a great number of churches in which it might very easily be done. Of this he was certain, that the limitation of the afternoon service—which in London was now, he deeply regretted to say, very little attended—to the Litany alone would be most acceptable to a large number of persons in the metropolis. The ground, then, upon which the right rev. Bench had always opposed the proposition of the noble Lord was that they were of opinion that all the good at which he aimed might be effected in another way, and that the endeavour to attain it in this manner would lead to evil which he himself would be the first to deprecate.


said, the right reverend Prelate was mistaken in supposing that the Athanasian Creed was proposed by the petitioners to be expunged; they only desired to leave out the repetitions. They desired further, the omission of certain words which incorrectly represented the doctrines of the Church of England. He wished it to be understood that, though he had presented the petition, he did not take upon himself to endorse all the statements in it. What the petitioners prayed was, not that the alterations suggested should be made, but that a Royal Commission should be isssed to inquire whether they were proper to be made or not. Several of the alterations prayed for had already been made in the American Episcopal Church.


complained that the questions of abbreviation and alteration had been a good deal mixed up together; and that those who desired alteration had advanced their views under the pretence that they only sought for abbreviation. These petitioners, for instance, declared that they desired the introduction of no new doctrine, but at the same time they proposed to banish the Athanasian Creed, to omit passages from the Burial service, to clear the Absolution service from the appearance of giving absolution by priestly authority, to remove the sponsorial element from the baptismal service, and to amend the service of confirmation and the catechism so as to make them accord with these alterations. These omissions would produce as great a departure from the standard of primitive truth as might the introduction of entirely new doctrines. If a reformation, or rather a revolution, was intended, let that be stated at once, and not be disguised under the expression that no change of doctrine was intended.


concurred in all that had fallen from the noble Earl, and expressed his astonishment that any objection should be raised to our most beautiful and impressive Burial service. He looked with great apprehension on any attempt such as that proposed by the noble Lord opposite, and he much questioned his assertion that a large portion of the laity were in favour of a revision of the Liturgy, At any rate, any question of the kind might be safely left in the hands of the bishops and clergy, who were the proper persons to recommend any changes which might be necessary.


said, he thought that House a most unfit assembly to discuss questions of a theological character. No doubt there were many parts of the Liturgy which might be amended, or at least shortened; but matters of this kind were better left in the hands of the right rev. Bench, who had already power under the Crown to do anything which was necessary. With regard to the removal of the Athanasian Creed, he had no opinion of his own to offer, but he might remind their Lordships that it was related by Dr. Paley that he was once at St. George's Chapel, Windsor, when that Creed was read in the presence of George III. When it was commenced His Majesty did not make the usual responses, and the clergyman, thinking this was from inadvertence, began again, whereupon the King shut his book, and, as Dr. Paley said, "left him to go on with his 'Whosoever,' by himself." George III., therefore, as well as Dr. Paley—one of the most useful champions of the Church—did not look upon this Creed as fit to be retained—he meant in respect of the condemnatory words.


said, he was not ready to admit that the laity ought to be excluded altogether from the considerations of questions of this character, but he thought the initiative ought to be left in the hands of the bishops and clergy, and not taken by either House of the Legislature. Constituted as the right rev. Bench was at present, it represented all the various opinions of the Church, and if they were of opinion, as it appeared they were—together with an enormous proportion of the clergy—that it would be dangerous to adopt a proposition of this sort, their opinion ought to be deferred to. He hoped that before the noble Lord fulfilled his intention of bringing forward this subject next Session, he would be ready to state what it was that he proposed to do, since he had stated that at present he was not prepared to endorse the whole prayer of the petition.

After a few words from Lord EBURY in reply,

Petition ordered to lie on the table.

House adjourned at a Quarter before Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a Quarter before Four o'clock.