HL Deb 17 July 1868 vol 193 cc1345-50

In moving for a Copy of the Coronation Oath, your Lordships will be aware that I do so in reference to the question relating to the Irish Church, forced upon our consideration by the action of the other House of Parliament. Hitherto, it appears to me that the political aspect of that question has been almost exclusively discussed, and I am very anxious that the far more important consideration of it in its religious aspect shall not be overlooked. The country must be appealed to before it is settled, and as every man may act in relation to it, so will he have to account. I have on a former occasion expressed my opinion to your Lordships, that to take away property which has been devoted for centuries to the service of what we believe to be the true Catholic Church is sacrilege, and therefore sinful. The only answer I have received came from a noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll), who objected to my doctrine, "because money given to the Church was not necessarily given to God." I admit this to a certain extent. Gifts to the Church may be perverted, and cease to be devoted to the service of God. But when the noble Duke went on to say that— Churches are to be judged like other institutions,—that if they produce good-will and peace among men, the money given to them may indeed be held to be given to the service of God; but if, in the exercise of our reason we judge that they are producing evil effects, we are justified in holding that the money is not spent in the service of God: as in this case the "evil effects produced" are that some men are offended, I must ask the noble Duke where he learnt that doctrine in regard to the propagation of true religion? Does he hold that the truth will always be agreeable to all men; and that it is not to be preached if it offends anyone? Our Lord Himself said, when He first sent forth His Apostles, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." But this doctrine is not agreeable to the taste of the present day. Men prefer the teaching of false prophets if their teaching is pleasing, and to see peace when there is no peace. The Irish Church never was so efficient as at present, and in that efficiency she is condemned to serve a political purpose. Her property is to be confiscated and the wrong done to her excused because thereby a majority of the people of Ireland will be gratified. To injure one person to please another is sinful, and such policy can never prosper or bring peace to a nation. Oh, that every man would pray diligently for guidance in this matter before he committed himself to a course which he may hereafter bitterly regret ! I assert boldly that in dealing with the temporalities of the Church as property devoted to the service of God, it is our bounden duty to consider exclusively what will be pleasing to God, and to disregard altogether the wishes or prejudices of this or that body of men. The Resolutions on the subject of the Irish Church, lately carried in "another place," were taken up hastily to secure a particular purpose. It was found, to the disappointment of many, that the Government, having succeeded in passing the English Reform Bill last year, were likely to be equally successful with the Scottish and Irish Bills in the present Session. They were pursuing their course with a continuance of support which insured the result now obtained; and as regards the charge brought by a noble Earl (Earl Russell) against them, that they were holding Office in violation of constitutional principles, without possessing the confidence of the House of Commons, I believe that if the Division Lists on those important measures are examined, it will be found that the Leader of the Opposition has been more frequently in a minority than the Leader of the Government; and so far from the fact being that the Government did not possess the confidence of the House of Commons, I believe that they enjoyed it to a greater extent than any other party there on the questions really at issue before Parliament, whether as to general policy, domestic and foreign, or as to legislative measures actually under consideration. Under these circumstances, so distressing to the Leaders of the Opposition, who had by their mismanagement broken up their party, and knew that they could not carry a Vote of Want of Confidence if they proposed one, a question was to be sought out for making a hostile movement against the Government, on which all the sections of the Liberal party might be got to vote together, in the hope of turning out the Go- vernment before they could bring the Session to a successful conclusion. It was necessary that what was to be proposed should be grateful to Cardinal Cullen and to the Liberation Society, in order that all the extreme men might be secured; and for these purposes it was unfortunately determined to attack the Irish Church. Cardinal Cullen was pleased with Resolutions for her disestablishment and disendowment, because they were a grievous injury to Protestantism; and the Liberation Society rejoiced because they inflicted a heavy blow against the principle of all Establishments. And here I wish to say a word or two upon the principles of the Liberation Society, because in the heats engendered by the late discussions not a few have been led partially to accept their doctrine, and to plead in excuse for agreeing to disestablish the Church in Ireland, that thereby its efficiency will be increased. As regards Establishments and Endowments, I find that in the only case in which the polity of a nation was determined by direct order from the Almighty—namely, for the Jews, their Church was both established and endowed. Perhaps the Liberation Society consider that God made a mistake in those ordinances. With more veneration I bow to that decision; and where I find a Church, which I believe to be true, established and endowed, I consider myself bound to support it in the enjoyment of those privileges as being things divinely ordered. So much for the ultra-Protestant section of the alliance. On the Roman Catholic side I say that the agitation on the subject of the Irish Church is mainly an ecclesiastical, not a popular movement, and has been raised within a very few years. None existed at the time of the Emancipation, but, on the contrary, the strongest assurances were then given that no idea of overthrowing the Protestant Establishment was entertained by Roman Catholics. In I the Oath taken by them under that Act, each Member thus engaged himself— I do hereby disclaim, disavow, and solemnly abjure any intention to subvert the present Church Establishment as settled by law within this realm; and I do solemnly swear that I will never exercise any privilege to which I am or may become entitled, to disturb or weaken the Protestant Religion or Protestant Government in the United Kingdom. This Oath and others have been given up; but their removal, instead of leading to the peace and good-will which was to have been the promised result, has given licence to Roman Catholics to attack the Established Church, of which they have too readily availed themselves, and affords no encouragement for further concessions. Whatever has at any time been given to them has only been used as a stepping-stone to further demands. I cannot part from the consideration of this question, so vitally affecting the Church Establishment of these kingdoms, without calling attention to the manner in which this nation has been evidently blessed and made great since the Reformation. Before that event, we were a respectable European power, but gave no promise of our subsequent advance and influence. Since the foundation of our colonial Empire was first laid in the time of Elizabeth, we have been continually extending our name, our language, and our religion over a very large portion of the globe. To us the heathen have been given for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for our possession. To us, more than to any other European nation, it has been given in our Eastern Empire to fulfil the ancient prophecy, that Japhet shall dwell in the gates of Shem. We have not been without a warning. Notwithstanding the blessings conferred upon his kingdom and people, the Sovereign on one occasion relapsed to Popery. He was immediately judged and found wanting, and was removed from his Throne, to which another family was called, now represented by Her Majesty. The danger which now appears to threaten us comes, not from the Sovereign, but from a political party, and it behoves the people of these realms to reflect that if they fail to maintain the Protestant cause as heretofore, the result may be that the power and position now enjoyed by this country may be taken from it, in like manner as the Crown was taken from the Stuarts. Under these circumstances, and with these reflections before me, I desire to move for a Copy of the Coronation Oath. On a recent occasion, the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville), alluding to some remarks I had made in a former speech on this subject in relation to the personal responsibility of the Sovereign, avoided the discussion of them, saying in his most good-humoured manner— If I am asked to say what I think of certain portions of that speech, I must, with all respect to your Lordships and my noble Friend, acknowledge that I had rather do no such thing. And then he laid out for a laugh, by quot- ing some doggrel lines about "a curse, for which nobody seemed one penny the worse," which, as I had not said anything about a curse, were not appropriate; but taken together with what preceded, I accept the whole gratefully as an acknowledgment that he had no satisfactory reply to make to my argument which he thus evaded. Try it how you please, can anything exceed the solemnity of that Oath? It is not the voluntary act of the Sovereign, to which she might afterwards regret that she had engaged herself, and repent the indiscretion which led her to take it. It is imposed upon her by the law of the country, not by her own will. If, indeed, Parliament, before dealing with the Irish Church, were to repeal that Oath, and Her Majesty felt herself justified in assenting to that repeal—for, remember, the Sovereign has an independent legislative power equal to that of either House of Parliament, so far as assent is concerned, and is responsible for the exercise of it—a question might arise whether such a repeal released her from the obligation; but so long as that Oath remains in the statute book, the obligation exists. I have seen in The Times a letter from a gentleman who subscribed himself "Historicus," giving a number of reasons why it was not an Oath at all, and holding that it was a matter of indifference how it was observed. His argument appeared summed up in the following sentence:— To contend that the obligation of such a solemnity as the Coronation Oath is due not to the nation but to the Deity, is a position of which the folly can only be equalled by its profanity. What sense can the mind which conceived such a sentiment have of the place, the manner, and the terms in which that solemnity—for so he has the grace to call it—was performed? If, indeed, the engagement had been entered into by the Sovereign in this Chamber, with the Lords in their places and the Commons at the Bar, and if, laying her hand on the statute book, she had said, What I have here promised I will keep, "so help me Great Britain and Ireland," it would have been indeed due only to the nation. But when we consider that the Oath was taken in the Temple of God, that the Sovereign in taking it placed her hand on the holy Gospels, and, in the words "so help me God," invoked the Divine assistance in performing and keeping what she had promised, I think it impossible to deny that the obligation was not to the nation only, but to God. It has been the constitutional doctrine from the earliest times that the Sovereign of this country is subject to none but to God and the law. Duty to the law compelled the Queen to take that Oath, and to whatever her conscience tells her that it engages her, she is bound by her duty to God.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for a Copy of the Oath taken by Her Majesty at Her Coronation: Agreed to.—(The Lord Redesdale.)