HL Deb 08 July 1867 vol 188 cc1168-81

, who had given Notice "to call the attention of the House to the subjoined Letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Guardian," of 26th June, 1867, said, My Lords, I am aware that it is not usual for one Member of this House to ask a Question of another who is not a Member of the Government; but in putting the Question to the most rev. Primate (The Archbishop of Canterbury), of which I have given Notice, I act towards him as a great public functionary, and not only as Metropolitan of all England, but as President of the Upper House of Convocation—the very body whose powers are affirmed in the document I desired to bring under your Lordship's notice. If any doubt existed as to the public nature of this document, its postcript would set it at rest; for the most rev. Primate says to his correspondent, "You are quite at liberty to publish this." That being the case, I will read the letter addressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Rev. H. T. Barnard, rural dean of Portishead. It is as follows:— Rev. and dear Sir, I have duly received the Memorial of the Clergy of the Deaneries of Chew and Portishead, expressing their Opinion of the Danger that would result from any Alteration to the Book of Common Prayer, &c., by the sole Authority of Parliament. Mark these words, "the sole authority of Parliament," and these which immediately follow:— I quite agree with the Memorialists in this Matter; and I have the satisfaction of informing them that Convocation will be duly consulted upon the Matters submitted to the Royal Commission alluded to, before Parliament shall make any Enactment touching them.—I am, Rev. and dear Sir, Yours, very faithfully, C. T. CANTUAR." To the Rev. H. T. Barnard, Rural Dean of Portishead. You are quite at liberty to publish this.' This letter, my Lords, acquires very great importance when taken in connection with the Memorial to which it is a reply. The Memorial is addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury from a meeting of the Clergy of the Deaneries of Chew and Portishead assembled at Yatton, and these are its words:— That a Royal Commission has been appointed for the consideration of certain rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer, and of the Table of Proper and Daily Lessons, with power to suggest alterations in the said rubrics, and in the said Table of Lessons. That, in the opinion of your memorialists, it would be opposed to the Divine principles of the Church, and unconstitutional and exceedingly distressing to the consciences of many sincere Churchmen, and would establish a most dangerous precedent, if any alterations in the Book of Common Prayer, or in the rubrics, or in the Table of Lessons, should be made by the sole authority of Parliament. Your memorialists therefore pray your Grace to withhold your sanction from any measure introduced into Parliament which shall propose any alteration in the Book of Common Prayer, or in the rubrics thereof, or in the Table of Lessons. And mark these words— Unless such alteration has been previously submitted to and approved by Convocation. That is the Memorial in answer to which the most rev. Primate says, in effect, "I quite agree with all that is stated by the memorialists; I quite agree that it would be most dangerous and improper that anything should be done by the sole authority of Parliament;" and the most rev. Primate must also necessarily assert, if he agree with the Memorialists, "that no such alteration as that specified can be tolerated unless it be previously submitted to and approved by Convocation." Upon this I may be allowed to make one or two preliminary observations in order to show the value of the Question I am about to put. In the first place, I think that we have to inquire whether the Commissioners appointed to serve on the Commission were apprised at the time they consented to serve upon it that their decision would be subjected to the criticism and perhaps the revision of Convocation? We have also a right to ask what course will be pursued in case the decision come to by the Commission be submitted to Convocation, and Convocation come to a conclusion different from that of the Commissioners? What will be the state of things then? Which of the two decisions in that case will prevail? Having regard to these points, I say that upon the answer of the Archbishop to the Questions I am about to put will depend very serious issues. It is quite clear that if Convocation assert the powers here ascribed to it some collision will arise between it and the Parliament, which, I believe, is fully prepared to deny that Convocation has those powers. And, my Lords, if we ascertain from the most rev. Prelate that he has authority for what he states in his letter—if we understand from him that Convocation concurs with him in the opinion that nothing can or ought to be done in respect of "the matters submitted to the Royal Commission" by "the sole authority of Parliament," then it will be necessary for us to demand an explanation as to what is the meaning of Convocation. If Convocation is to be erected into a body of such power, we must know what Convocation really is; we must ask whether Convocation is to be confined to the single Province of Canterbury, or whether it is to be extended to the Province of York? Indeed, my Lords, we must look further, and ask whether Convocation is to embrace the Provinces of Dublin and Armagh, with the representatives of some 2,000 clergymen in Ireland? All this must be clearly set out before we can recognize Convocation as a power to which we are to yield or to listen; and we must know exactly what this great power is which has assumed such magnificent proportions and pre-eminence. We must then know what is the relation which Convocation is to bear to the two Houses of Parliament. When, too, such language as this is used we have a right to ask whether Parliament is not entitled to act by its sole authority, and whether Convocation has any concurrent jurisdiction? Indeed, we ought to learn whether the authority of Convocation be supreme, whether it be concurrent, or whether it be subordinate? All these Questions will depend upon the Answer which I expect to receive from the most rev. Primate, although it is quite possible that the Answer of the most rev. Primate may remove the apprehensions which his reply to these Memorialists has excited, not only in my own mind, but in the minds of others. I will, therefore, take the liberty of putting the Question of which I have given notice, and will ask the most rev. Primate on what authority it is stated that— quote>"Convocation will be duly consulted upon the Matters submitted to the Royal Commission before Parliament shall make any Enactment touching them?


said, that before the most reverend Primate replied to the Question of the noble Earl, he desired to ask some information with reference to the Report of the Ritual Commission, because as their Lordships might remember, the second reading of the Clerical Vestments Bill had been postponed for a couple of months, a majority of their Lordships' House deeming it advisable that the Commission should have an opportunity of considering those questions to which it referred before the Bill was proceeded with. There was, however, a large minority, including eleven Prelates of the Church of England, in favour of immediate legislation. He would therefore ask the most rev. Primate how far the Commission had proceeded with the consideration of the subject, and how soon they would be in a position to make a Report? He should be exceedingly sorry if a Session passed without Parliament giving some proof to show that they were desirous of remedying evils which were inflicting a mischief on the Church of England which it was impossible to overrate. The feeling of the country would be greatly disappointed unless something were done.


My Lords, I will first answer the Question of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Taunton) by stating that at a meeting of the Royal Commission held this morning, when 26 out of the 29 Commissioners were present, the following Resolution was unanimously agreed upon:—

  1. "1. The Commissioners, having at their first meeting resolved to report upon the question submitted to them on the ornaments of the Church and the vestments of the minister, before they applied themselves to any other branch of the subject, have already taken, and they are taking, evidence on this particular question, and as soon as that evidence is concluded they will apply themselves to a consideration of their first Report.
  2. "2. The Commissioners have now obtained in great part the information which they desired to receive as preliminary to their deliberations, and next week, or at the very furthest the week after next, they hope to be able to commence the consideration of their first Report."
Now, I have not the slightest difficulty in answering the Question of the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) and although I at first entertained great doubt as to whether it ought to have been put at all; having given that point consideration, I do not wish to press that objection, but will at once proceed to answer it. I will, however, make this preliminary remark. I think my noble Friend has scarcely dealt quite fairly with me, in respect of my letter, because when I say "I quite agree" with the Memorialists he interprets those words as meaning that I agree with everything stated in the Memorial, which is really not the case. What I really agree with them in is in thinking that serious danger would arise from any alteration being made in the Book of Common Prayer upon the sole authority of Parliament, and to that opinion I still adhere. I think such alteration would raise very serious questions, and nothing would induce me to agree with it. When I am asked on what authority it is stated that "Convocation will be duly consulted upon the matters submitted to the Royal Commission before Parliament shall make any enactment touching them," my answer is — my authority for the statement is founded on law and precedent. That power alone that enacted the law can alter the law. The question then is, what authority enacted the Book of Common Prayer? The Book of Common Prayer was framed, sanctioned, and enacted by the joint authority of Parliament and Convocation. That I assert as an historical fact. For what occurred after the failure of the Conference of the Savoy? Charles II. immediately issued a Commission to Convocation to consider certain alterations in the Book of Common Prayer. That was in 1661. Convocation took a month to discuss the alterations, and then made their Report; and in March 1662, the Act of Uniformity was passed. What again took place in conformity with law and precedent with reference to the Clerical Subscription Act within the last two years? The Commission having made their Report, Her Majesty's Government (Earl Russell being at its head) granted a license to Convocation to discuss the question, and Convocation having come to a decision the Bill was submitted to Parliament and passed. The noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) spoke of the possibility of Convocation and Parliament disagreeing. All I can say is, that sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. I do not profess to say that there is no power in Parliament to settle these matters; but I adhere to everthing which I have stated in my letter, although I may not agree with every word contained in the Memorial, and I repeat my conviction that all the matters referred to the Commission will be submitted to Convocation before Parliament proceeds to legislative enactment.


I must remind your Lordships that a Petition has been presented, signed by 10,000 persons, praying that no change may be made in this matter without Convocation having been consulted. It is, therefore, very important that there should be no misunderstanding, because, by exciting false hopes, we may induce many of the clergy, who view this matter with great anxiety, to expect more than can perhaps be done, and they may therefore be dissatisfied when they compare the promise with the performance. From the satisfactory explanation made by the most rev. Primate, he appears to have intimated that the same course will be pursued as was pursued some years ago in case of the Clerical Subscription Bill. But I am afraid that the clergy, especially after the prominent manner in which the subject has been brought forward this evening, may form an exaggerated notion of what took place at that time. While Parliament was engaged in considering the Bill for an alteration in the subscription, the members of the Lower House of Convocation very properly assembled, and, though they had been very doubtful previously as to the advantages of a change in the subscription, agreed unanimously that the Bill before Paliament should receive their hearty approval. Convocation, therefore, in this case, expressed their approval in anticipation, and the measure received the subsequent sanction of the Crown. It is evident that great difficulties must constantly arise in consequence of the complicated machinery which regulates the relations between the Church and State, and while I heartily approve of Convocation being recognized and consulted on matters of this kind, I do not attach to its action, or to the words of the most rev. Primate respecting it, the importance which seemed to be attached to it by the petitioners. Therefore, the words that appear so objectionable to the noble Earl do not appear in the same light to me.

Convocation is rightly recognized in such matters, as the Dean and Chapter of a diocese are recognized when they receive a Congé d' Elire to elect a Bishop. It is said that Convocation has assumed a very different position of late years from that which it occcupied in former times. But one point which I would press upon your Lordships' attention is, that Convocation is frequently spoken of in the singular instead of in the plural number, which would be the more proper form; for though Convocations in Ireland have long slumbered, and the Convocation of York enjoyed the same slumber until it was aroused a few years since by the most rev. Primate; yet, having been thus resuscitated, it is evident that the York Convocation will no longer rest contented with a position of subordination to the Convocation of Canterbury now that the Northern districts have so greatly increased in importance. And this has brought about a great practical change in the position of Convocation, because now that there are two Convocations in this country, each of which has an equal right to be consulted, it might take a long time before any definite agreement was come to in respect of any change in the practice of the Church. As an instance of the inevitable dilatoriness of such a body, I may remind your Lordships that, five years ago a simple and peculiarly appropriate question—with regard to baptism—whether fathers might stand sponsors to their own children—was submitted to the consideration of Convocation. It was supposed that the opinion of the clergy was unanimous on the subject, and that a definite judgment would be arrived at; but five years have passed; the question has been bandied backwards and forwards, from Her Majesty's to Canterbury, from Canterbury to York, and back again from York to Canterbury, and at the present moment I believe that the prospect of a settlement is more remote than when we began. Under these circumstances, Convocation, as it at present exists, must not be offended because the Imperial Parliament is disposed to regard its machinery as too cumbrous to fit it for the real decision of these questions. It is perfectly true that in old times certain Acts received the approval of Convocation as well as that of Parliament; but out of a compilation by a learned civilian of 2,000 pages of statutes relating to the Church only seven Statutes appear to have received the sanction of Convocation, the rest having been adopted by the sole authority of Parliament. Among these are two Acts of Uniformity. Therefore, it can scarcely be said that in every case the authority of Convocation is required to sanction alterations in the Church. Although I quite agree that all respect should be paid to an ancient body which does represent—in an imperfect manner, no doubt—the clergy of the Church of England, yet it is well that we should see what those who have high ideas of Church authority say as to the propriety of consulting Convocation. The Rev. W. Bennett, in a letter addressed to the Rev. E. B. Pusey, D.D., entitled "A Plea for Toleration in the Church of England," says— But, as it (that is, Convocation) is now, the fact of a prolocutor and a session of presbyters in one House, surrounded with technical etiquette in approaching the other, evidently cuts off the joint spirit of deliberation, and at once destroys the Convocation of the clergy as an assembly working for Clod's Church under the influence of the Holy Ghost. On this ground, therefore, we could not trust it. Again— What chance is there of any really pure, spiritual unbiassed deliberation on the affairs of the Church in such an assembly as this? It is impossible to say otherwise than that the Convocation, however eminent and estimable many of its members may individually be, is no true representative either of the laity or of the clergy of the Church of England. It is clear then that there is very little hope of conciliating the party represented by this gentleman.

I have nothing to add further than to advert to the reason given by some persons for thinking that Parliament is quite unfit to decide these subjects—namely, because no questions of this kind should be determined by an assembly consisting of persons belonging to religious denominations other than the Church of England. In reply to that proposition, I must say that it was not until the year 1672 that Roman Catholics and Nonconformists were excluded from Parliament, and that many important Acts affecting the Church were passed before that time, and were, therefore, enacted by the authority of a Parliament exactly resembling in this respect the Parliament of the present day.


said, he had supposed that the most rev. Primate had expressed the opinion conveyed in his letter on the authority of Her Majesty's Government. He now understood that it was merely the expression of the most rev. Primate's personal opinion; but he hoped that before the discussion came to an end the noble Earl at the head of the Government would set the matter satisfactorily at rest. No human being could doubt that Parliament possessed the power of making any alteration it chose in this or any other matter; though he quite agreed with the most rev. Primate, on the other hand, that as a matter of fairness and of constitutional usage, it was highly expedient that subjects of this sort should be referred to the opinion of Convocation.


I desire to state that I wrote that letter without having any authority from Her Majesty's Government. I also wish to say that when I spoke of Convocation in the singular number, I used it in a general sense, and did not mean to exclude that of York.


said, he could not, as a legal Member of the House, permit the observations of his Friend the most rev. Primate to pass without notice. That most rev. Prelate said, that as the Book of Common Prayer had been settled first by Convocation and then by Parliament, it could be unmade only by the same authority that made it. The rule quo ligamine ligatum est eodem dissolvi debet, might be very well as a principle of law; but the most rev. Primate was mistaken in supposing that the authority of the Book of Common Prayer resulted in any degree from Convocation. It was very true that before the Act of Uniformity was passed, a Commission, or something in the nature of a Commission, was issued, which consulted learned persons, and afterwards Convocation; and it was probably the support the Bill received from that body that influenced Parliament to pass it; but it was not that body that gave it any efficacy. He wished to make that explanation lest it might go forth to the public that the assent of Convocation in any case was necessary. It might be expedient that Convocation should be consulted—upon that point he would express no opinion; but that any binding efficacy could be added by Convocation to any measure that received the assent of Queen, Lords, and Commons was wholly untenable.


wished to ask a Question of the noble Earl below him (Earl Granville); it was, Whether, when the Bill with respect to Clerical Subscription was under consideration, the noble Earl had not stated that the Government had not thought it necessary to consult Convocation respecting it?


said, that there was some little difficulty in answering Questions without Notice, and that difficulty no doubt had been experienced by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby), who had not risen to answer the Question put to him by the noble Baron (Lord Lyttelton). He should be sorry to give a precise answer to the Question of his noble Friend, but he thought that his noble Friend's recollection was correct. At all events the late Government absolutely denied any right in Convocation to be consulted in the matter. He remembered the discussion that had taken place as to the course that should be taken, and also the Correspondence which had taken place between the Home Secretary and the most rev. Primate on the matter.


said, the answer of the most rev. Primate had carried dismay through the length and breadth of the land; and that dismay would be greatly increased if the noble Earl at the head of the Government should give the weight of his authority to the position which had been taken up in the letter of the most rev. Primate. That answer, he conceived to be, that nothing would be done in this vital matter of Ritualism until Convocation had been previously consulted. The words of the most rev. Primate's reply were— I quite agree with the Memorialists in this matter; and I have the satisfaction to inform them that Convocation will be duly consulted upon the matters submitted to the Royal Commission alluded to before Parliament shall make any enactment touching them. Now, if that were done, it would give Convocation, or rather, as had been said by the right rev. Prelate, Convocation, an opportunity of interposing very serious delay. All that the Ritualists asked for was delay. They said—"Give us two years and we will revolutionize the Church. We will put ourselves beyond the reach of all legal enactments whatsoever. Give us two years and we will put ourselves beyond all Episcopal control." Now, it appeared to him, and in that the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of London) thought with him, that to take counsel with Convocation in the matter would be playing into the hands of the Ritualists. What had been the whole history of the movement? It had been nothing but one series of postponements and delays. Two years ago the matter was brought forward, and they were told that they should try the effect of paternal counsels upon the innovating party. Well, the right rev. Prelates who presided over the dioceses of London and Winchester had given counsel in the most fatherly spirit; and yet the number of the churches in which the objectionable practices prevailed had increased in spite of private admonition and public exhortation. They were then told that they should ascertain the law on the subject. Several Members of the Episcopal Bench, of whom he was one, agreed that a case should be drawn up with great care and laid before four of the most eminent counsel of the day, one of whom was the Attorney General of the late Government, and another a man who had lately taken a place in their Lordship's House to the great advantage of that assembly. Those eminent persons gave an unanimous opinion against the legality of vestments and of those practices which their Lordships all reprobated. Then it was proposed to try the question in a Court of Law; and it was said that the English Church Union were taking the opinions of nine very learned men, and it would be important to ascertain their opinions before proceeding further. It was evident that those gentlemen had the greatest difficulty in arriving at a conclusion favourable to the Ritualists; but at last, after several months had elapsed, a very impotent result was produced in opposition to the opinions of the four eminent men to whom he had alluded. Time passed away, and then it was suggested that a Royal Commission should be appointed. Then there was found considerable difficulty in getting a deputation to wait upon the heads of the Government, until his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Shaftesbury) brought forward his Bill. Influence was brought to bear to have the Bill abandoned, and the noble Earl at the head of the Government was called upon to announce the appointment of a Royal Commission. The special constitution of that Commission was a subject upon which he (the Bishop of Carlisle) would not like to enter; but he was only speaking the truth when he said that it failed in recommending itself to the general confidence of the country. It had now, however, oozed out that the facts which had been brought before the Commissioners were of so startling a character that they felt that it was absolutely necessary that the matter should be dealt with.


rose to Order. He was unwilling to interfere with the freedom of debate, but he thought that the right rev. Prelate was going beyond reasonable limits. The noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Shaftesbury) had given Notice of a Question which he wished to put to the most rev. Primate, and the most rev. Primate had given a plain and distinct Answer. The debate had no doubt taken a very wide range; but the right rev. Prelate was now not only departing from the subject matter of the Question, and going into the general topic of Ritualism, but he was giving information to the House which he said had "oozed out" from the proceedings of the Commission—information taken merely on the authority of newspaper paragraphs. Not only was the right rev. Prelate irregular in entering into that discussion, but still more so in dealing with the questions about which he could have no possible information, but the vaguest rumours—questions which ought not to be presented in that shape to their Lordships.


said, that the question was of such vital importance that he trusted their Lordships' indulgence would be extended to him. All he wished to say was that he was in hopes that they would have prompt legislation upon the subject. They had been told that Convocation must be consulted before legislation could take place. But how stood the case? The Convocation of Canterbury was already showing an unmistakeable—

THE BISHOP OF OXFORD rose to Order. If their Lordships were to have this sort of irregular debate, arising without notice, where was it to end?


said, that for many years—ever since he had been a Member of their Lordships' House—it had been the practice of this House to allow a discussion arising out of Questions put and Answers given. Here Notice had actually been given of the Question. He submitted that it was entirely a question of discretion as to whether the subject-matter of the right rev. Prelate's remarks arose naturally out of the debate; and, at all events, it was quite clear that the right rev. Prelate might put himself in order by some formal Motion.


said, he wished to warn the noble Earl behind him (the Earl of Derby) of the serious consequences which might follow his Answer. If he said that Convocation must be consulted before anything was done by Parliament, he would leave all over the country the impression that he was unconsciously playing into the hands of the party of innovation in the Established Church, whose only cry was "Give us time!" The Convocation of Canterbury had shown itself remarkably unwilling to deal openly and decidedly with the question of Ritualism. The Bishops some time back drew up a most important document on this subject; but when it was referred to the Lower House it was shorn of all those parts which contained the pith and marrow, and a mere vague and impotent Resolution was adopted. Was it to be expected that Convocation, which acted in this way, would yield its assent to any really efficacious legislation on this subject? There were other parties to be considered besides those who asserted their right to liberty of action within the Church. Large numbers of laymen were estranged from the Church by the proceedings of the ritualists; and it was impossible also not to help feeling deeply for the poor people who were being led away by those delusions. In conclusion he hoped that the noble Earl in the remarks he would presently make would give no sanction to this policy of delay, and that prompt and serious action would be taken in this most serious matter.


My Lords, I am not going to add to the irregularity of which I have complained. I understood the most rev. Primate to say, as the fact is, that he had no authority from the Government for the statement contained in his letter; and I only rise therefore to relieve the right rev. Prelate who has just spoken (the Bishop of Carlisle) from the dismay which he says will be felt in the country if I pledge myself to the opinion that Parliament has no right to deal with this question without the consent of Convocation. To relieve his mind I will say that I have not given any opinion on the subject, nor am I going to give one now. I think it is perfectly competent for Parliament to take any course which it may see fit to take. On the other hand, I think it desirable that Convocation should have an early opportunity of expressing its opinion upon any important change which is contemplated with regard to Church matters. But there is no doubt that the legislation of Parliament is not in the slightest degree dependent upon the deliberations of Convocation.


said, in reference to the statement of the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Carlisle), respecting reports which had oozed out and appeared in the London papers, that it was remarkable that the right rev. Prelate should have overlooked a statement made by the most rev. Primate that those reports were entirely without authority, were incorrect, and in some instances opposed to the fact.


said, that if it was thought expedient that the opinions of the Convocations of the Provinces of Canterbury and York should be taken in these matters, it was equally important that the Convocations of the two Provinces of Ireland should be consulted. These Provinces were as much an integral part of the Church of England as the two English Provinces.


, in reply, said, he had heard with satisfaction the statement of the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) that the most rev. Primate had no official authority for the statement contained in his letter. The most rev. Primate based his statement on law and precedent; but in some most important instances it had the sanction neither of law nor of precedent. The second Prayer Book of Edward VI. was established by Royal authority, without consulting Convocation; and the Prayer Book of Elizabeth passed in the first year of her reign, not only passed without the consent of Convocation, but against its wishes. All the spiritual Lords were against the Uniformity Act, all the lay Lords were for it, and yet the Prayer Book of Elizabeth was that of the kingdom of England from her time to that of the Protectorate. These were two vital precedents against the course indicated by the most rev. Primate. As he gathered that the Report of the Commission would be ready in a few days, it would be only courteous to the House and the Commission that he should postpone the second reading of the Clerical Vestments Bill which was set down for to-morrow, for one week; and he therefore gave notice that he would do so.


said, he had not stated that the Report of the Commission would be ready so soon as the noble Earl seemed to have understood.


said, the noble Earl must either persevere with the Bill or postpone it until after the Commission had reported. If the Commission had not reported, in what position would their Lordships be when the second reading of the Bill had been postponed for a week? He believed that there ought to be no postponement whatever, and the noble Earl ought to proceed with the Bill.


said, he had understood the most rev. Primate to say that at the end of this week, or at least towards the end of next, the Commission would have completed taking evidence, and would be prepared to deliberate upon it, and to prepare a Report. However, after the lapse of a fortnight if the Report was not presented, nothing would induce him to postpone any longer the second reading of the Bill.

After further explanation,


said, he would postpone the second reading of the Bill to the 23rd inst.