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“The strife,' Mr. Buxton told the House, * • was between the principle of religious subjection and the principle of religious liberty. It was impossible to understand the meaning of these tests, or even to imagine any feasible plea for them, unless they were regarded as parts of a great system which emanated in days gone by from the idea that uniformity of belief was the first essential. That idea 300 years ago led the Government of almost every land in Christendom to attempt the extermination, by fire and sword, of all who broke through the required uniformity of belief. This test was in fact nothing else but a miserable rag and tatter of the system which issued from the idea that uniformity of belief was essential. . . . . Whilst he admitted the necessity of some such tests for the authorised teachers of a national Church, he strongly detested the tyrannical stringency of the existing subscriptions required of the clergy.'
The struggle which followed was severe, and the issue doubtful. In March the second reading of the Bill was carried by 211 ayes to 189 noes. On the next stage of the Bill in June, the going into Committee was carried in a much fuller House by a majority reduced from 22 to 10, the ayes being 236 to 226 noes; on the 1st of July an amendment to postpone the third reading till this day six months was lost by 10, the numbers being 140 to 150. On the same night, on the direct question of the third reading, the ayes and noes each reached 170, and the casting-vote of the Speaker alone saved the Bill, which passed the same night through its last ordeal, on the question that the Bill do pass, by 173 to 171.
It was plain, after these debates and divisions, that the question could not be quietly shelved; and Lord Palmerston's Government, already touched with the enfeebling hand of age, flew to the familiar resource of a troubled Ministry. It appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the matter.
The Commission, it was understood, was to consist of leading men of all schools and parties who were known to have taken interest in the subject, and who were not absolutely resolved either against all subscription or against all modification of that form of it which actually existed amongst ourselves. It required a long catalogue of names in any degree to exhaust such a list. The subject was one with which many men were officially, and some officiously connected; and their various representatives reached (in the Commission), by various graduations, from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Lord Ebury; from the Bishop of Oxford, Sir Wm. Heathcote, and Sir John Coleridge, to Dr. Lushington, Mr. Napier, and Mr. Buxton; and from Dean Milman to Mr. Venn. It might have been thought at first that anything like an unani
mous decision would be impossible from twenty-seven such counsellors * on such a subject.
For granting that some subscription was to be kept, yet how wide in their scope were the questions which remained behind, and invited diversity of judgment! Should subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles be still made obligatory on all clergymen? Might it not be urged that such subscription was altogether unnecessary as the safeguard for the essential doctrines of Christianity, which might be more safely and fully protected by other means; that it tended to create and keep alive, rather than to reconcile, religious differences; that the Articles were framed in an atmosphere of fierce controversy; that they treated of the most profound, abstruse, and agitated theological questions; that on these subjects, bristling with difficulties, they were throughout controversial-speaking, of necessity, the controversial language of their day—-requiring very careful study and very wide knowledge of the disputes and opinions of the times in which they were composed, to be distinctly understood ; that the calm and deep examination of all the questions involved in such knowledge is not to be expected from young men on entering the Holy Ministry, for that the range of such questions is immense, nay, almost infinite; that even when the definitions of our Articles concern the fundamental truths of our faith, and are—as they are —at once exquisitely subtle, and yet, for their subject-matter, remarkably distinct and clear, that still their dry logical form is the most unpropitious for teaching and avouching the doctrines they enunciate, but that, beside these fundamental truths, they branch out into profound subjects which modern wisdom has concluded to be beyond the verge of human thought, and the power of human language; that their declarations concerning the sacraments are flavoured rather with the polemics of past days than with the enduring spirit of devotion; that thus they are poor teachers of the truth, and no bulwarks against new errors which have sprung up since their construction; that this infirmity has been revealed, whenever their strength for such service has been tested in our; Courts; that they have notoriously failed to maintain uniformity of doctrine, since they have been subscribed, through successive generations, by men who are identified with all the different schools of religious opinion known amongst us; whilst the uncertainty in which the question of how
* The entire list comprised the Archbishops of Canterbury, York, Armagh, and Dublin; the Earls Stanhope and Harrowby; the Bishops of London, Winchester, St. David's, and Oxford; Lords Lyttelton, Cranworth, and Ebury; Mr. Bouverie; Dr. Lushington ; Mr. Walpole ; Mr. Napier; Sir John Coleridge; Sir W. Heathcote ; Mr. Buxton ; the Deans of St. Paul's, Ely, and Lincoln ; Archdeacon Sandford; Dr. Jacobson ; Mr. Venn; and Mr. Humphry: 2 G 2
far the subscriber is bound to believe, and not merely to acquiesce, in what he subscribes, is an immoral trial of the conscience --leading men, on the one hand, to tamper with sacred obligations, and, on the other, to fall into the paralysing torture of doubt? As wide as this, it might assuredly have been expected that the controversy must have opened on the members of this Commission. From its composition it could scarcely have been possible but that there were, amongst its members, those whose disapprobation of any subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles could not have fallen far short of such positions as we have noted above.
In the Report of the Commissioners there is no positive evidence of such difference of opinion having existed. A socalled religious newspaper, indeed, which throughout the sittings professed to have some interior sense of what was proceeding, was wont to whisper its suspicious notes of the internal discords of the Chamber; and when the Report appeared, with the signatures of all the Commissioners, it found, in the unreasoned but clearly-stated conclusions of which it consisted, a new evidence of the fierce dissensions which in their progress had burnt up all the surrounding verdure, and left the charred columns of the naked propositions alone as the surviving witnesses of past volcanic activity. But its information was questionable, and its instinct for suspecting notorious. Nothing has since appeared to justify its surmises. But we have had proof enough that, as might have been supposed, all these views found their advocates in the wide circle to whom the question had been submitted. The speech of the Dean of St. Paul's, published in the last number of · Fraser's Magazine,' contains all the arguments which it appeared to us might probably have been urged against subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles. Mr. Napier, in his • Answer,' whilst he admires the chivalry of 'a Dean errant,' deals unsparingly with what he conceives to have been the unproved and mischievous propositions of the speech, which was meant to show that the required subscription to the Articles and the Prayer-book, taken together, was a very dangerous, a very objectionable, and a very immoral trial of the conscience.* These,'
• says Mr. Napier, « are hard words; but hard words are not a substitute for strong or sufficient reasons.'t Mr. Napier's reasons probably appeared to the Commission as they appear to us, strong and sufficient' enough to overpower the Dean's words; whilst enough is known by all of us of Dr. Milman, to make
Clerical Subscription Commission, Answer to the Speech of the Dean of St. Paul's, by the Right Hon. Jos. Napier, D.C.L.,' p. 21.
† Mr. Napier's · Answer,' p. 30.
us feel sure that in those secret discussions he had something more to urge than the mere element of wordy war.
All of these opinions, then, had to be weighed and answered before any practical conclusions could be gained ; and yet answered doubtless they were with a very unusual completeness of reply; since the signature of the author of the paper of objections, which look startling and extreme even in the pages of our contemporary,
is subscribed without note of reserve to the recommendation of the very subscription they impugn.
Nor would this be all. Very different estimates may undoubtedly be formed as to the history of subscription amongst ourselves; and those different estimates would inevitably lead to very different practical conclusions as to the nature and even purpose of any changes which should be introduced into it. It might be treated as a set of props and buttresses, which the events of former times had shown to be necessary for the support of the ancient fabric, and which it would be the height of rashness to touch incautiously, or to remove without supplying everywhere their place with similar defences. On the other hand, it might be argued, that in the settlement of these questions we had inherited the records of a fierce struggle, the victors in which had been severe, and harsh, and unapproachable; that our forms of subscription had been drawn up in that hour of bitter triumph, with a hard and ingenious exclusiveness, which it became us to sweep eagerly away to cover our fathers' shame and separate us from their sin.
The admirable paper of Mr. Walpole, which was printed in their Appendix by the Commissioners, and which we shall use freely in these pages, shows how thoroughly these questions were examined in the course of their inquiries.
That they arrived (as the signatures of all the Commissioners to their common recommendations proves them to have done) at a unanimous conclusion, is another proof of the completeness of their sifting of the subject. Nothing short of this could have drawn one harmonious voice out of all the discordant utterances with which such discussions must have opened. What that conclusion was, we will presently set before our readers ; but for the present it will suffice to say, that should their recommendations be adopted, two considerable alterations of our present practice will have been effected. There will be first a great simplification and diminution in number of the oaths and declarations which are now binding on the clergy. This of itself will be a clear gain, since all needless oaths and all unnecessary declarations are of course an evil in themselves. But, further, there will be a considerable relaxation in the stringency of the declarations. This, too, seems to us a clear gain. All excessive stringency in such subscriptions destroys its own efficiency. For the assertion of an absolute unity of view, which is really incompatible with the inalienable freedom of the human mind, must introduce either conscious falsehood, which swallows the whole declaration at a gulp, or a latitude in the use of the common words, the limits of which, being left to the conscience of each individual, are practically wholly unrestricted. The words of our existing declarations, though patient, no doubt, of reasonable explanation and defence, can hardly be cleared from the charge of tending towards this dangerous extreme.
Of what uninspired book can it be safe to require of every beneficed clergyman (as we do in the case of the Book of Common Prayer) to declare that he gives his "unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained and prescribed in and by it? This form, the invention, be it remembered, of Parliament, and not of the clergy, bears on its front the marks of the unhappy time when it was enacted. The acts of that era (1662) are often spoken of as if they embodied only the violence of the restored party, and many hard words have in consequence been uttered against the leading Churchmen of that day. It is perfectly true that those were reactionary times, and that there was a hardness and violence in many towards the defeated faction which is worthy of all censure and regret. But this is far from being the whole statement of the case. Such an enactment as this witnesses quite as much to the sin of the provokers of such violence, as to the existence of that which they evoked. All the violence and fraud, all the dishonesties and cant by which the Puritans had ejected Churchmen from their benefices, and through which they now sought to keep out from their rights the returning claimants, are written broad in these rigid letters. No doubt there was something of the insolence of present triumph in such a declaration, but there was also the desire to frame something which it should be impossible for the loosest Puritan to utter, and so retain the post to which possession of doubtful legality was the only plea against the claims of returning and more rightful owners. This was, no doubt, the intention of Parliament in requiring so trenchant a declaration. But when the peculiar evils of the times which required, or seemed to require, such strait bonds to be laid upon all liberty of opinion, have passed away, it is surely desirable that this excessive strictness should be relaxed. Such has been the decision, and , we think, the wise decision, of the Commissioners. The case of this single declaration is a good example of the necessity of an accurate knowledge of the history of our existing forms of sub