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This period embraces what are usually termed the dark ages, The Church, so called, was one of the corruptest and most fraudulent corporations that ever polluted the face of the earth. Superstition of the rankest kind took the place of religion; and religion, what still remained of it, “fled into the wilderness.” But another era was now opening, and to that we proceed.
This third and last section comprises the space between the Reformation and the present time.
The Church had been “ drunk with the wine of her fornication;" she was about to be sobered. The Reformation, like all other great movements, was heralded by “signs of the times.” Long before Luther beld aloft the torch of truth, England, Bohemia, and the Waldensian Valleys had kindled their beacon fires. The art of Printing was discovered, and the Pope said to the “pivots” of the world (as the Cardinals from the meaning of the word might be called): “ This is a light that we must extinguish, or it will extinguish us." And now commenced a series of persecutions, such as the world bad not seen since the Pagan cruelties of old. The Christian engine of persecution had been set up on the day that Constantine signed the decrees of the Council of Nice. Every species of intolerance was provided for then. Auto-da-fes, Bartholomew massacres, Bohemian butcheries, Waldensian outrages
, slaughter of the Netherlanders, persecution of the Lollards,'parrying of the Puritans, hunting of the Covenanters; Courts of High Commission, Star Chambers, Corporation and Test Acts, Five Mile Acts, Conventicle Acts, and a thousand other less known instances and agencies of cruelty and wrong, were all possible on the day that the decrees of the Council of Nice became law. It is true that, prior to the Reformation, the engine of persecution had not been in extensive operation : for whom was there to persecute? All the world had gone “after the beast.” There was none that “muttered or that peeped.” A stillness brooded over Europe, but it was the stillness of death ; there was unity in the Church, but it was the unity of a Necropolis—not that of a city full of living, thoughtful, active men.
The Reformation divided that unity, broke that stillness, roused the sleeping powers of persecution into fearful activity. The Church supplied detectives and instruments of torture; the State executioners, and godly men, who at that time were like the “gleanings of the vintage,” the victims. The position and resources of parties were shortly and sharply defined by Weston, Dean of Westminster and Prolocutor of Convocation in Mary's time, when he said to the Reformers: “You have the Word, but we have the sword.” From the first hour of the Church's establishment until now, what is it upon which she has mainly relied for support? Not the Word, but the sword. Doubtless in her shall be fulfilled
that saying, “ They that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
The Reformation left the Pope for the moment the Head of the Church in strictly Popish countries as before. Only ever since this period commenced, the Pope's civil influence, even in Popish lands, has been on the wane. At the present time it is weaker than ever. England threw off his yoke, but took on another which was little better. We exchanged Pope Leo for Pope Henry, but did not realize much immediate benefit by the bargain. How, it might be asked, did the Reformation in England affect the relation between Church and State ? The Reformation did not dissolve that relation, but it modified it in favour of the State, or the nobles, and against the Church as a worldly corporation. The Church lost much of her property, and for the most part became the tool of the Government. When Elizabeth wished to pass an unpopular measure she “ tuned the pulpits,” and from the days of Henry the Eighth until now, whenever an obstructive Government sought power to carry a tyrannical measure, the “drum ecclesiastic" was furiously beaten. It could not well be otherwise; to have acted differently would have been to act ungratefully. For this Church was the creation of Government, or of the King, which, at the time we are speaking of, was the same thing. This Church was indebted to the Government for a vast amount of privilege, patronage, and pay. For her sake many of the best and bravest of English citizens were driven to seek refuge in other lands. And in return for all this, the Church acted the humble, but useful part, of “lion's provider” to the Government. But her influence is greatly weakened. Now-a-days she can render little aid to her friends, and is not able to inflict such damage upon those she calls her foes. In this bour of her weakness and adversity she is beginning to be conscious of the adulterous nature of that connection with the States which she has so long maintained. And she, who, in the beginning was “espoused a chaste virgin to Christ," but who has been strangely unfaithful, is heard “kindling her repentings,” and saying, “I will go and return to my first husband, for then was it better with me than now."
II. We come now to consider the relation of State Churches to the tendencies of the age.
If the foregoing brief sketch of the history of State Establishments of religion even approximates to the truth, it should not be difficult, one would think, to come to a decision as to the past of such institutions. But, it is alleged, modifications have taken place of late years, whereby State institutions of religion have been rendered less offensive to Christian ininds, and more productive of good to the countries where they exist, than they once were. This may be admitted. Still it is questionable whether such improvements have induced people to look with favour upon such institutions. We shall, perhaps, be able to determine the matter by weighing the following considerations.
First : Could such an union be originated at the present time? There is scarcely a high churchman who would venture to say that it could. But if it could not, then we infer that the current of public opinion is running against such systems.
Secondly: Is it likely that an union between two things, one of which is fluid and the other fixed, can be a sound or permanent one? But such an union is that of the State and Church in England. For the last three hundred years, with a few unhappy backslidings, the State has been “going on to perfection," whilst the Church stands upon the principles, both of doctrine and ritual, of three hundred years ago. Such an union, which is being weakened every day by the increasing distance between the respective parties, must surely terminate in the Divorce Court! And why should it not ? The opinion of the present age is, that there is no affinity between the contracting parties; that their ends are different; and that, if separated, they could pursue those ends with more ease to themselves, and efficiency to others, than they now can.
About thirty years ago, Mr. Gladstone published a book entitled, “ The State and its Relation with the Church.” The main doctrine of that book was, that one of the principal ends of Government, as Government, was the propagation of religion. The author even asserted that of the two ends of Government-civil and religiousthe religious was the more important in proportion as the soul was of more consequence than the body. But Macaulay, in his review of that work, proved convincingly that, so far from the propagation of religion being a main end of Government, it was no end at all; and that to put the religious end before the civil one on the ground of greater importance, was about as wise as it would be for a pianoforte maker to add to his business of pianoforte making the trade of a baker, because it was more inportant that people should have bread than that they should have pianofortes. "The opinion is fast gaining ground that the principle of division of labour, working so well in all other departments, should be applied to the case of Church and State.
Thirdly: The State Church is called, and calls herself, the National Church. Now, it is clear to many that she is not the National Church, and, consequently, ought to be deprived of her status and privileges as such. Mr. Gladstone taught in his book above mentioned that the Church, meaning the State Church, ought to be maintained for its truth ; lately he has maintained, in his chapter of Autobiography, that a State Church ought to be
maintained for its utility.” “It is, then,"—these are his words“by a practical, rather than a theoretic test, that our establishments of religion must be tried. For I now hold that a National Church should not be permanently upheld except for the nation ; I mean either for the whole of it, or at least for the greater part, with some kind of concurrence or acquiescence from the remainder.” Now, take Mr. Gladstone's principle and apply it to the case of the State Church in England. Is that Church the Church of the nation ? A writer in the Daily Telegraph, and a churchman, answers, not at all more than half of it.” This writer estimates that in England and Wales the numerical proportions of Church and Dissent are about equal (we suppose be means proportions of nominal adherents, because, as a minister of the State Church lately said, the number of communicants in the Church of England is absurdly small). Taking into account the three kingdoms, the proportions are as 42 per cent. for Establishment, 58 per cent. for Nonconformity. The State Church, then, is not the Church of the nation, or the greater part of it.. Has it the concurrence or acquiescence of the remainder ? The concurrence it has not; the acquiescence it must not reckon on much longer.
The writer of the essay on the National Church, in Essays and Reviews, imagines that he “throws a sop to Cerberus ” when he, adopting Coleridge's phrase, denominates the vast emoluments of the National Church, “the Nationality.” He speaks of this nationality as if it were distributed through the nation, as if any man in the kingdom might have a share in it. But we have seen that half the nation is excluded on conscientious grounds from touching it. The truth is, that the vast annual revenues accruing from an aggregate property of thirty millions in fee simple, is mainly in the hands of the aristocracy. The revenues of the Church were national in the beginning, and in a less degree down to the Reformation. Originally they were divided into four parts, whereof the bishop and his family got one, the clergy another, a third went to uphold the edifices, and a fourth to relieve the poor. But at the Reformation, Harry and his barons divided the spoil amongst them. More than half of the Church patronage, then or since, got into the hands of private persons. A host of “lay impropriators ” take the great titles for doing nothing, and give a miserable pittance to a curate or a vicar to do the work. The fattest livings are usually retained by the nobles for their younger sons or relations, and “reversions of livings” are openly bought and sold. How, then, can the endowments of the Church be called national ? So far as the appropriation of the revenues goes, the Reformation was a curse rather than a blessing.
Fourthly : There are days in which nearly everything is called upon to give a reason for its existence. What sound and sufficient
reasons can State Churches give for their existence? Why, first, 66 the State Church is the National Church." This has been disproved; the State Church neither does the work of the nation, nor suffers others to do it if she can help it. Had she done the work of the nation Dissent would never have existed. 6 Well, but surely the National Church is the great bulwark against Romanism !” Rather, is it not the training-ground for Romanism? Whence does Rome derive her converts ?—from the “sects," as they are called, or from the State Church? “However, ministers
? of the Establisment, being independent of their congregations, can use more freedom of speech than ministers who are dependent on the voluntary offerings of the people can afford to do." Practically, the reverse of this is the truth. To use" great plainness of speech ” requires not social independence, but moral courage, with experience of the truth of the message to be delivered, and faith in it; and he who alleges the above as a reason for the continuance of a State-paid clergy, is equally ignorant both of the early ages of Christianity and his own times. “But some respect should be paid to the ecclesiastical edifices, especially the cathedrals of the country, since these are the glory of our land.” Admitted ; but respect can be paid to the edifices without perpetuating the union between Church and State. Cathedrals are wonderful monuments of architectural skill and superstitious piety ; but what of their present occupants? When monasteriums, or “ministers," as they come vernacularly to be styled, were the heads of large “ circuits," a kind of rendezvous for a considerable number of itinerant monks, they probably were beneficial as well as ornamental to the nation. But can any one say of what earthly use deans and chapters are ? The yearly revenues of deans and chapters, exclusive of the salaries of bishops, is £350,000. Can any one say what the nation is the better for this enormous outlay? “ Still, if you dissolve the union, the Church will be split up into a number of sects.” Is not that already the case ? Macaulay once said, speaking of the English State Church, “Her frontier sects are much more removed from one another than one frontier is from Rome, or the other from Geneva.” “But the foundations of the Church were laid with the foundations of the monarchy; consequently, if you disturb the one, you will unsettle the other.” Here the premiss is doubtful, and were it not, the conclusion does not follow. Is the Queen's authority set at nought in the colonies because there no hierarchy exists ? Or are Dissenters less loyal than their neighbours ? The ancient character of the union may be a reason why it will be difficult to dissolve it, but no reason at all why a dissolution should not take place. “But though you should succeed in disestablishing the Church, you cannot disendow her; her revenues you cannot touch.” Why not? They have