HL Deb 19 March 1868 vol 190 cc1877-80

, on rising to ask, When it is probable that the Second Report of the Ritual Commission will be presented? said, that he was indebted to the courtesy of the most rev. Prelate the Chairman of the Commissioners for the opportunity of putting this Question. He could assure the most rev. Prelate that he did not put it in any spirit of complaint. He could understand, composed as the Commission was of persons in whom different portions of the Church felt confidence, how difficult it might be to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. He need scarcely, however, apologize for expressing anxiety on this subject. It was now about ten months since the Commission was appointed, and it was, he believed, seven months since they had issued a Report of some significance; but, at the same time, one which was entirely inoperative as far as the practices complained of were concerned. He would recall to the attention of their Lordships the circumstances under which the Commission was appointed. It was in the month of May last year that a noble Lord (the Earl of Shaftesbury), whose absence they must all regret, apprehensive of the great evils which had followed from the introduction of a certain costume and practices by some members of the Church of England, brought in a Bill which dealt with one very important part of the subject—that of clerical vestments. He held that to be a very important part of the subject, because he believed nothing more likely to give offence than that clergymen should exhibit themselves in costume strange to English eyes, nothing like which had for 200 years been seen in the Church of England, and which was supposed to be similar to that worn in the Church of Rome. Well, the second reading of that Bill was moved on the 15th of May, and gave rise to a very angry discussion, a general sense on both sides of the House being expressed of the great evil and danger that might flow from those practices to the Church of England, and there was a great desire evinced to put a end to them. The Earl of Derby, then First Minister of the Crown, while opposed to the second reading of the Earl of Shaftesbury's Bill, promised to recommend that a Royal Commission should be issued, which would command the confidence of all parties in the Church, to deal with this important subject. The majority of the Prelates in their Lordships' House were so sensible of the magnitude of the evil that, not content with the promise of a Commission, they voted for the second reading of the Earl of Shaftesbury's Bill. In fact, it was impossible for their Lordships to express in a more unequivocal manner the importance of dealing thoroughly with the subject. The Commission was appointed, and, as he had said, at the end of three months presented a Report which expressed a very decided opinion that the innovations complained of were working great evil, and ought to be restrained, because, as the Report said, those practices were considered essential by none, while they were highly offensive to many. They had been taught and believed that "blessed were the peace makers," and that all unnecessary causes of strife and contention should be avoided. He would have thought, therefore, that there would be a general concurrence among the clergy of this country that they ought to refrain from practices which their own experience must have told them, without the Report of the Commissioners, were deeply alarming and offensive to many, whilst they were considerably censured by some. He had no doubt that the reprobation of those practices on the part of those Commissioners did produce some effect. He happened to know some clergymen who had come to the conclusion, which he believed others would come to, that they ought to give up the practices referred to on the grounds stated by the Commission. He was afraid, however, that, as a rule, the Report of the Commission had put no effectual check upon those practices, but, on the contrary, had produced a very different result. That was the case especially in the diocese of London. Some of the clergy argued in this way: "Our time is short; Parliament or the Church may step in and prevent these things from being carried on; so let us get them as deeply-rooted as we can in the public mind while our opportunity lasts." Now, under these circumstances, the Commission ought not only to deal with the subject, but to do so as promptly as possible. In order to guard himself against any misapprehension, he might say that he would be one of the last persons in the world to desire to impose any too stringent restrictions. Nothing could be a greater misfortune to the Church of England than to endeavour to narrow the limits, so as to exclude from its pale any of the various schools of thought which had hitherto existed. But it was quite another thing for clergymen to parade party emblems in their churches, and especially in those parish churches which ought to be common to all members of the Church of England, whether their sentiments inclined to one school or another. The church ought to be common property, where all could meet together, and not have their consciences disturbed or their feelings excited by that of which they disapproved. He hoped the most rev. Prelate would be able to assure their Lordships that the second Report of the Commission would be presented in a very short time. Probably the most rev. Prelate would not enter into explanations on the subject, and any lengthened discussion would be quite out of place on the present occasion. Such a discussion would naturally take place when—the Report having been presented—the Members of the Commission in the House would feel more free to enter into the debate. But he hoped that the recommendations of the Commission, however strong their wish to avoid offence to any party in the Church, would be so clear and practical as to settle the question, for otherwise the labour of the Commission would be thrown away. A most excellent work would be done by putting an end to practices which had been made the means of advancing doctrines alarming to the great body of the laity. He did not mean to engage this House in anything like a polemical discussion. But it was the right, as it was the duty, of their Lordships to concern themselves with the general good order of the Church and the uniformity of its forms and ceremonies. He hoped the Report of the Commission would lay the foundation for a settlement of a question which now vexed and disturbed the minds of so many persons, and would thereby strengthen the Church of England, and add to the satisfaction and contentment of her members.


in answer to the noble Lord, begged to inform him and the House that the Ritual Commission had been very busily engaged in preparing their second Report on the ornaments of the Church, and they hoped to be able to present it to Her Majesty in a short time. He was sure that their Lordships would not expect him on this occasion to enter into a discussion of what the nature of that Report might be.