Images de page
PDF
ePub

external assault, they entertain the profoundest conviction that the Bishops will steer the vessel safely through the perils by which it is encompassed. Hence, on every new development, the first question of this class of men and their type will be perfectly familiar to our readers — is, What will the Bishops say? Whatever alarm others may cherish, they never seem to entertain a doubt that when the Bishops speak all will be right. Perhaps, even in their minds, there may be a lurking suspicion of some members of the right reverend Bench, but there are others who, they feel well assured, will adjust all difficulties. We ourselves heard a man of this stamp the other day say, that, if all the clergy were like the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops of Winchester and London, there would be more unity and more success. Considering the differences between these prelates themselves, we thought the condition rather a difficult one to be realized, but the remark is an excellent illustration of that unwavering confidence which the stolid English Churchman reposes in the Episcopate, and especially in those members of it whom he regards more directly as his own spiritual rulers.

This feeling of reverence for the spiritual powers may be a very amiable one, but, truth to tell, if such men think at all, their trust must sometimes be put to a very severe test, and must be of the nature of that faith which the Ritualists require us to feel in the Real Presence, for which no evidence whatever is given, and in relation to which therefore we must be careful “not to exalt our poor and weak understandings.” Assuredly, it is not on the ground of the great and strong things which the Bishops have done, that it rests. They have had many opportunities of proving their sagacity and power during the last few years, but such qualities have only been conspicuous by their absence. They have sometimes spoken loudly enough, but it is marvellous to how little purpose. If menaces, denunciations, and censures could have purified the Church, they would have done it, but their censures have been unavailing, and their denunciations have only served to show their own impotence. They condemned the Essays and Reviews as Rationalistic productions, but their authors still remain in the Church, whose rulers have pronounced them disloyal to their creed. They branded Bishop Colenso as an arch-heretic, but he still wears his mitre, and we suppose still retains the mysterious power of transmitting the apostolical succession. In fact, despite the Bishops, heresy is still as rife in the Church as ever, and its authors defiantly resist Bishops, and Convocation alike.

Still, amid all the tumult which Ritualistic movements have caused during the last three months, the expectation of what the Bishops would do has been if possible more eager and earnest than ever. At length they have spoken. No less than five of them have in one way or other, dealt with these innovators, but we cannot see that the cause of Protestantism has gained much, if indeed the hearts of the Romanizers have not been somewhat encouraged by the treatment they have received. The prelates who have spoken are amongst the most distinguished on the Bench. The utterances of the “Palmerston Bishops” would doubtless have been received but with little respect, except by their own immediate adherents. Ritualists would class a Bickersteth, a Baring, and a Waldegrave among those “Protestant traitors who eat the bread of the Church of England, while they deny or refuse to proclaim her doctrine, and seldom carry out the explicit directions of her Service Book.” They would have been taunted with their assumed want of learning, and their remonstrances quietly passed by as undeserving of more serious notice. But Bishop Ellicott is acknowledged to be one of the best Biblical critics of his day; Bishop Thirlwall is not more eminent for his learning than for his breadth of view ; Bishop Tait is known as one of the most able, active, and devoted of the episcopal band; and whilst lovers of Protestantism might not unreasonably expect from them decided sympathy, even Ritualists could not venture to treat them with contempt. The learning of the Bishops of Oxford and Salisbury would of course cause them to be regarded with more apprehension by all who are opposed to Sacramentarian novelties. But it might have been hoped that even they would have been startled by recent developments. They have all spoken, and it may be useful at present to consider the result of their deliverances, in order that we may the better estimate the present prospects of Protestantism in the Church of England.

The Bishop of Salisbury was one of the first to speak, in an informal and unusual manner, but with a distinctness which, while differing toto coelo from his opinions, we could not but admire. Had there been action as prompt and speaking as plain, on the part of some on the opposite side, the Church might have been in a less distracted condition to day. Dr. Hamilton is unquestionably a very sincere and earnest man, narrow in his creed, very exalted in his notions of ecclesiastical authority and priestly prerogative, but still, as even Lord Shaftesbury says, personally “ among the most gentle and amiable of mankind.” Unquestionably, for so illustrious an example of Christian meekness, he was somewhat sharp and severe upon “S. G. 0.” “Ungenerous, undutiful, inaccurate, and very unworthy," are hardly the kind of epithets which we should have expected from the pen of a paragon of mildness and charity, especially towards one with whom he had been on terms of friendship. But then “S. G. 0.” is rather a hard and unsparing hitter; he had delivered some very heavy blows which had evidently told, and the points which he had touched were so tender that it was not very surprising, perhaps, that even the meekest of Bishops should wince, and, in the excitement of the moment, allow the scoffing world outside to see that even a Bishop and a priest is, after all, only a man. His indignation, he himself doubtless felt to be of the most righteous kind, manifested in the most holy of causes, and against one of the most flagrant offences, the treason of an ordained priest to his own order. "S. G. O.” may judge from the feeling excited in the mind of his diocesan, and that diocesan his own personal friend, of the unpardonable nature of the crime that he has committed. Had he followed in the track of the Bishop of Natal-had he impeached the New Testament, as well as the Old-had 'he even assailed the fundamental principles of our common faith, he would not have sinned so grievously as by his stinging exposures of those monstrous priestly claims which are at this moment driving more than one-half of England mad. There is a story told about a preacher in one of the Dissenting sects in Wales which we would commend to his special attention. It was originally the practice of the sect to forbid its ministers to administer either sacrament. They were simply to preach, and to gather their converts into societies, whose members were still to go to the parish church for baptism or the Lord's Supper. At length, however, one very daring man ventured to baptize a child, and for this heinous offence was arraigned before a council of his brethren. Various opinions were expressed as to the discipline to be inflicted upon him. One counselled that he should be silenced, another that he should be suspended, and others that he should be altogether expelled from their communion. At last a shrewd old Welchman rose, “Brethren," he said, “Brother Thomas has committed sin, very great sin. How can we punish him enough? If Brother Thomas had sinned against God, God would have forgiven him, but he has sinned against the priests, and they will never forgive him, neither in this world nor in that which is to come.” We hope “S. G. O.” may not fall under so terrible a condemnation, but we fancy that the experience of the last few weeks, and, especially the vehement onslaught of the Bishop, may show him that the Welchman was not altogether wrong. Perhaps nothing could more strongly indicate the extreme sensitiveness of the priestly spirit than the outburst of Dr. Hamilton. There is, perhaps, no other subject which could have induced such a man to commit himself thus.

Turning from the spirit to the matter of the controversy, we are not so sure, despite all our sympathy with “S. G. (.”'s views that he is wholly in the right. When, indeed, the priestly claims come to be tested, either by Scripture or common sense, they appear not only untenable but monstrous; and if anything could make them more ridiculous than they are in themselves, it would be their assertion by a body of men like the Anglican clergy, educated in the same way as other English gentlemen, and living the same sort of life as good Christian men around them. The merciless banter, therefore, of the letter “Priests and Priests," was irresistible, and would have been unanswerable if coming from an outsider. But when employed by one, who has himself accepted ordination at the hands of a Bishop, with the full knowledge of all contained in the ordinal, it wears a very different character. The Bishop of Salisbury very naturally reminds the inconvenient critic of the words by which both had received their “conmission to enter upon

the office, and to the work of priest in the Church of God. Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.''

This is the crucial point of the whole controversy, and we confess, with regret, that we see no legitimate way in which the High Church interpretation of it is to be escaped. Common sense may be against it—the feelings of the great majority of Englishmen may be against it—the New Testament may be against it, but all these cannot alter the plain words of the Prayer-book. The great question of the times is how the evil is to be abated. On this point Dr. Pusey throws out a challenge to his opponents. Remove these words, he says, and you change the whole doctrine of the Church, and rend it in twain. Are the Evangelicals prepared to take up the gauntlet? Is their opposition to the dogma, with all its consequences, as earnest as the attachment of those who thoroughly believe it? Will they see what all the world sees beside, that between parties holding such irreconcilable views, real union is impossible? Will they boldly take the same ground as Dr. Pusey, and say, These words are made the cover for the introduction of Romanism bodily into our Church, and unless they are changed we cannot retain a ministry, thus supposed to be invested with an authority so contrary to all our conceptions of Scriptural teaching.” We wish we could believe it. This is the one way in which the Evangelicals can do substantial service to the interests of Protestant truth, and English liberty, and surely the aggressions of the Ritualistic party ought to enforce on them the necessity of decided action. Never was there a party to whom the significant words of Mordecai to Esther, might with more appropriateness be addressed, “If thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed, and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”

Meanwhile, we are glad that the Bishop of Salisbury has plainly told us what is the meaning he, and the party he represents, attach to the language of the Prayer-book. To “be fore-warned is to be fore-armed ;” and when a member of the Episcopal Bench distinctly places the Anglican clergy on a level with those of the Greek and Roman Churches, we have ourselves to thank if we look quietly on while a large party among them are doing their best to realize this favourite idea. Here are his words to “ S. G. 0.”:

“You cut away in your letter no small portion of the ground on which the Church of England rests her protest against the exclusive claims of the Church of Rome; and so a possible effect of your letter may be to disaffect many thoughtful and still attached members of our Church who have rightly believed that as the Church of England requires her Bishops, when they admit deacons to the order of priesthood, to use those momentous words of which I have already reminded you, she justifies those who have been so ordained in believing that they have had committed to them the same powers which the priests of the rest of the Catholic Church, both in the East and West, have ever claimed as their inheritance, and to which the literal and plain meaning of the words points.”

That there are thoughtful and still attached members of the Church of England,” who hold these notions, we are compelled to believe, but of the tendency of such notions Dr. Hamilton has a melancholy example in his own neighbourhood and circle. Perhaps, however, with his ideas of the relations between Romanist and Anglican priests, a secession to Rome is not a very serious calamity. Happily, even the members of his own Church are not yet disposed to acquiesce in his views. What the next generation may be, it would be rash, with the facts at present before us, to predict, but at the present the most “thoughtful and attached members of the Church of England," especially among the laity, do not conceal the alarm and indignation with which they regard the attempt to assimilate her to Rome, and their feelings will not be diminished by finding that a Bishop has lent his sanction to the extremest form of the heresy which lies at the foundation of the whole.

Bishop Ellicott is a melancholy example of the corrupting influence of Episcopal rank, and the lofty notions which such

« PrécédentContinuer »