CONVOCATION AND PARLIAMENT.
meeting of the London clergy to demand the reform .l ofConvocation, so as to make it a more truly repre- sentative body,—at least a body more truly representative of the parochial clergy,—unquestionably points to a very general wish to restore legislative functions to Convocation. and to effect the general government of the Church through that body, instead of through Parliament. It will be long, however, we hope, before the English people consent to regard the National Church as consisting of its priests, or a clerical assembly as in any sense empowered to speak for the Church. The Rev. Llewellyn Davies indeed made this point at the meeting on Tuesday. He said that Convocation, as at pre- sent constituted, was convenient enough as a mode of affording expression to clerical opinion, but that if there was any intention of fitting Convocation to assume, if permitted, any of the powers of Parliament as regards the Church, then the question of the representation of the laity would become one of primary im- portance. We think and believe it would. We would as soon put the making of the criminal and civil laws under the abso- lute control of the Bar, as the making of the ecclesiastical law and the treatment of Church questions generally under the absolute control of the clergy. They can teach us much, but they represent no more, probably much less, "the mind of the Church," to use a common expression, than the " Heads " of Oxford represent the mind of the University. Dogmas laid down by the clergy would almost always be ecclesiastical refine- ments on the simplicity of Christian faith, and, as we saw re- cently in both Houses of Convocation, there would be little of that stern equity in the decisions of mere ecclesiastics which, in dealing with heresies, would insist on a distinct definition of heresy, and a clear proof, after hearing the accused person's defence, that the heresy had been avowed. For all purposes for which Convocation principally desires power, namely, for defining more clearly the limits of the Ch5reh's creed, or deciding judicially when it has been violated, we can conceive no worse assembly than one consisting of representatives of the clergy alone.
The power of legislation for the National Church has now long resided, and we believe must always reside, not with any special body, whether of clergy or otherwise, but with Par- liament, which represents the general interests of the nation. In the Upper House the clergy are already more than adequately represented. In the House of Commons, by what seems to us a great constitutional blunder, the clergy of the English, Scotch, and Roman Catholic Churches have been ex- cluded by special legislation. The clergy vote indeed, and exercise often a most important and decisive influence in the choice of representatives. But it cannot be denied that there is a great anomaly and even injustice in excluding them, if chosen by the people, from representing what they think their truest interests in their own way. The effect of the latter exclusion is that we get mere nominees of the Roman Catholic priests, always more difficult to deal with than their superiors, like Mr. J. Pope Hennessy, for the Irish counties,—and of the former that in our recent ecclesi- astical debates Par]iexeent has professed itself incompetent to dis- cuss the only question there really was to discuss,—the amount of intellectual significance still appertaining to the old dog- matic formulas by which the consciences of clergymen are bound,—and tried to get off on a side wind. What could be more shifty, for example, than the mode in which the late Royal Commission found themselves or thought themselves obliged to deal with the law of subscription for clergymen, and the mode in which Parliament accepted the suggestion ? Instead of simplifying the subscriptions directly, they were com- pelled to propose a more general, abstract, and ambiguous term to express the act of belief. Instead of allowing " "all and every the Articles, being in number nine and thirty, to be agreeable to the Word of God," the clergy are now asked only to " assent " to the Articles as a whole, and to believe " the doctrine " (not all and every the doctrines), therein set forth to be agreeable to the Word of God. That is, instead of asking the clergy to profess less than before, the new law gives them leave to mean less by what they profess. Instead of diminish- ing the number of dogmatic obligations, it lightens the general stringency of dogmatic obligation. And what is the reason why the Commission felt itself compelled to proceed, and to, ask Parliament to proceed, in this way, except that it waa generally understood, and admitted on all sides, that the House of Commons would not engage in any direct discussion, pro- bably did not feel competent to engage in any direct dis- cussion, of the proper dogmatic limits for the clergy of the Church of England g They would not object to relax in a. doubtful' sort of way the general words of the subscription, but they would not venture even to touch the question of the scope and character of the doctrinal affirmations to be required from the clergy.
Now this is surely a very unhealthy and unnatural condition for the mind of Parliament, and we believe that nothing tends to promote it more directly than the exclusion of the clergy from the House of Commons. There ought to be no• subject of general national concern on which the House of Commons should feel it out of place and indecorous to touch.. Mr. Disraeli once expressed his hope that the House was going to conduct a debate on clerical subscription in a statesmanlike spirit, and not to turn that assembly into a doctrinal debat- ing society, like the Parliament of the Revolution, whose members used to come down with their thumb Bibles in their pockets, and apply theological standards to every point at issue. Now of course the true end and aim of parliamentary debate is never the ascertainment of intellec- tual truth, but only the determination of national welfare. But no question can be of much greater importance to the- national welfare than the• restrictions to be imposed on the consciences of the religious teachers of any church supported by national property. Of course the discussion could never be dogmatic, would always be a discussion of the relation existing between the moral and religious needs of the majority of the people taught by the Church, and the professed faith of their teachers. The question would assume one shape for Ireland, which is chiefly Catholic, another for Scotland, which is chiefly Presbyterian, another for England, which is divided between the religious teaching of voluntary sects and of the- national Church. But it is a question which Parliament has no right to shirk, while it undertakes, as it does undertake, the whole work of legislation for the supreme good of the nation. The tendency of the House of Commons to narrow its attention to the purely secular interests of the nation is mischievous, and in fact almost equivalent to a suspension, if not an abdication, of its highest authority. It is due in some measure probably to the allinission of Jews, Dissenters, and Roman Catho- lics into the House, and the delicacy which a miscellaneous: body so constituted feels in discussing matters pertaining to. any Church founded on a distinct creed. But it is• clear that this sort of delicacy is a mere temporary squeamish- ness, which is out of place and out of character. It is quite right that the whole nation, whether accepting the creed of the Church or not, should have a voice in determining the proper boundaries of this great national institution, and in applying wide national conceptions of justice to settle the dis- putes which arise within the Church. Those who do not hold the Church's creed, or even the Christian creed, are not the less under a solemn obligation to consider the highest means of providing for the instruction of the population by some spiritual teachers, where there would otherwise be no spiritual teaching at all. The value of some national church with a specific creed of its own to teach, is admitted by numbers—probably even the majority—of those who dissent from the creed of the Church itself. And it is only fair to admit that the spirit in which the latter class discups Church questions not seldom contrasts favour- ably with the spirit shown by Churchmen themselves. At all events it is quite certain that if ever the nation should be, as we think, so mistaken as to declare against the national Church, that Church would necessarily be cut loose from the State ; and while this is so, it is absurd for the nation to feel any delicacy about determining the lesser question, when it claims, and undoubtedly has, the right to settle the wider ques- tion. That there should be any modesty in Parliament about adapting from time to time the ecclesiastical conditions of the Churches which it accepts as national to the wants of the people, when it would undoubtedly assert, if it thought right to assert, the right to dismiss any such Church altogether from its connection with the State, seems intrinsically absurd. Though no political body can ever prescribe the fulness of an individual faith,—it is clearly its duty in the case of a national Church to revise carefully from time to time the spiritual professions which it is expedient to exact from national teachers of religion ; and it is far more likely to decide
such questions justly, wisely, and well, than the body of believers which makes up the Church itself.
We believe, then, that if all the classes most deeply in- terested in the national religions, whether of England, Ireland, or Scotland, were as freely admitted to Parliament, as Dissent- ing ministers, who have no recognized clerical status at all before the law, already are, there would be much less hesita- tion about discussing boldly the political duty of the State to the predominant faiths in the different sections of the king- dom, and, amongst other important consequences, no field left for the legislative functions of Convocation. If the clergy had their spokesmen in the Lower, as they already have in the Upper House, Parliament would become as much the proper authority on ecclesiastical questions as it already is the only real authority. Whenever questions of ecclesiastical moment were before the nation—as, for example, the question of a Spiritual Tribunal of Appeal,—the nation might send, if it chose, clergymen to represent the true bearing of this or any other question on the interests of the clergy to the House of Commons, and there would no longer be any plea for that neglect of slaty by the Lower House which is now thought to be in some measure a Parlia- mentary etiquette. To concede any legislative function to a body of clergymen like the present Convocation, or even a body consisting chiefly of clergymen with only a sprinkling of Church laity, like the ideal convocation sometimes proposed to us, would be the most mischievous and illogical of self-denying ordinances. But to remove the shadow of justification which at present exists for such a claim on behalf of the national Church, the nation should be permitted to send representatives from the clergy no less than from any other class to Parlia- ment, if it chooses. The resolution in Home Tooke's case was clearly, as it seems to us, a violation of principle, and the Acts founded on that resolution, first as regards English and Scotch clergymen in George HL's reign, then as regards Roman Catholic priests in George IV.'s., were mistakes which, as often happens, by their unjust intention to curb the influence of the clergy over politics, have closed the natural safety-valve, and so increased it. Convocation can never have any political importance. It is a class assembly wholly unworthy of any authority over the Church. But to give Parliament as full a moral authority in these matters as it already has political, the Acts excluding the clergy, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian, should be repealed.