TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE SECOND READING OF THE PUBLIC WORSHIP REGULATION BILL.
Tr HE event of Thursday afternoon is certainly one of the
quaintest, and not, we imagine, one of the most fortunate, of the strange political auguries of this strange political season. It is certainly not wholly agreeable, though it is both amusing and instructive to political observers to find their expectations so completely at fault as ours have been with regard to this Bill. The Conservative reaction we discerned and asserted, at a time when we were vehemently scolded as well as ridiculed for anticipating anything of the kind. The ecclesiastical reaction we have long observed with anxiety, and for a year back, at least, thought dangerous in its tendencies. But we confess, we never did expect to see a Bill, not supported by the Govern- ment of the country, and not supported by the Opposition, not straightforwardly aimed against the Ritualists, and not adapted to strike them hard, while it is adapted, though not intended, to do much more execution against the liberals than against the Ronianisers, a Bill professing to enforce in a summary manner an obsolete Rubric, the observance of which is far more frequently neglected by every other party in the Church than the party at whom it is aimed, a Bill which has every defect of disingenuousness that a Bill can have, and that was attacked by the eminent statesman who is still regarded as leader of Opposition in the most brilliant speech of the last five years,— carried through its second reading without a division, and with the almost enthusiastic support of the one ecclesiastical party whose feelings it is most certain eventually to gall. The first bad result of this curious event will, we fear, be not merely to excite vindictive feeling,—that, perhaps, could hardly have been avoided,—but spontaneously to place a formidable weapon in the hands of those who entertain the vindictive feeling. The Ritualists will say, You had not the courage to alter the law of the Church, but you have appealed to the law of the Church against us,—by the law of the Church you shall be judged;' and they will put the law in force against those who violate it most frequently, though not, in our opinion, most flagrantly, because not in the manner most fatal to the tendency and movement of the period of Reformation in which the law was first laid down. The next bad result will be to stimulate that fatal and femi- nine indirectness of ecclesiastical strategy which has gained this sinister victory. The third bad result will be to diminish, for a time at least, the influence of Mr. Gladstone with a party which has thus openly and almost contemptuously rejected his guidance. And the last bad result will be, that so far from answering its purpose, the Bill will, as Mr. Disraeli on Thursday eagerly and almost gleefully prophesied, lead us into a lengthening chain of ecclesiastical controversies, the end of which no one can see, but the tendency of which must be to break up the comprehensiveness of all the Churches, and disintegrate rapidly the already sufficiently sectional ecclesiastical life of England. And all this has happened when, as it seems to us, a little manliness and straightforwardness,—the simplicity and courage requisite to say that Ritualism is an avowedly Romanising reaction, which cannot and ought not to be tolerated in the Reformed Church of England,—would have got rid of the irritation under which the English people are fretting, without disingenuousness, without playing into the hands of the more moderate Ritualists themselves, and without giving rise to that long series of ecclesiastical controversies, over the prospect of which Mr. Disraeli, knowing that his rival is suspected by the English people of secret leanings for Ritualism, so ostenta- tiously and almost indecently gloats.
Nothing was odder than to listen to the language in which the various Chiefs of both parties spoke of this Bill on Thurs- day. Mr. Cross called it a Bill intended to enforce on the clergy the whole compact they had made with the State, and was much cheered for so calling it, but made no attempt to show that at any tinut since the first origin of the Establishment that compact ever had been even approximately kept ;—indeed, we doubt whether, if we take as fully into account those breaches of the compact which were at the time indifferent to the nation, as we do those which are offensive to the nation, there has ever been a time at which it has been so little set at defiance as it is now ; in the eighteenth century certainly, the law of the Church was far more widely and uniformly ignored than it is at present. Then Mr. Walter made a very able speech to show, what we have always maintained, that offensive rites matter a great deal more to ordinary worshippers than offen- sive doctrines ; but he declined to regard as an offensive rite
the reading of distressing anathemas on Christmas Day, Easter Day, and other such happy occasions for uttering these amiable sentiments, especially as those clauses are read only by the laity,—he really made a point of the fact that it falls to- the laity to pronounce the curse 1—and he never even alluded to the Commination Service at all. What was more remark- able, neither he nor any other speaker attempted to show which of the Ritualistic practices can be put down under this Bill. Avowedly it does not apply to the Confessional at all, the Confessional fortunately being no part of our public worship ; it will put down the more showy of the "eucharistic vest- ments " so long as the Purchas Judinent,—a judgment on which, however, Lord Selborne and other eminent legal autho- rities have thrown serious doubt, as having been given in an undefended suit,—is maintained, but not if that judgment be overruled ; and with the same qualification it will forbid the Eastern position of the celebrant at the communion-table ; but much that is very offensive to Protestants will not be touched at all. Then came Mr. Forster, who made an excellent speech against/ the Bill, so far as it dealt a blow at anything but Ritualism,. and in favour of a simple Bill in its place to abolish Ritualism ; but he announced his intention to vote for the Bill, in the (very sanguine) hope of transforming it completely in Committee. In. fact he yielded, in the hope of regaining, at a later stage, con- trol of the unruly forces to which he yielded. Lord Sanclon asserted, very justly, that the Church owes a great deal more to the courage of Parliament than to the Synods and Convo- cations of the Clergy, as if that would justify Parliament now for its cowardice in not venturing to embody its real meaning in its new law, for disguising, under the form of a new method of legal procedure,' a warning that Romanising practices (some of which will still continue as legal as ever) are to cease. Then came Mr. Goschen, who made a most conscientious and laboured effort to show that the Rubric, which has been habitually treated for centuries in one way or another as a mere india-rubber law, to be fitted by every clergyman to his own and (though too seldom, alas !) his people's convenience, might easily be enforced all round ; and it was amusing to observe how his speech was received by the House. While he kept to the line of invective against rebellious elergymen,—whom_ all the House understood to be the Ritualists,—he was cheered to the echo. Directly he attempted to carry out the individual programme which he had laid out for himself of showing that the Rubrical law might easily be obeyed by the other (non-Ritualist) violators of it, and went with painstaking energy into the sub- ject of hymnody, catechising, and creeds, the House became amazingly intolerant, shouted, Divide, divide ! ' and showed by every sign of impatience in its power, that for this scrupulous at- tempt of a Liberal leader to justify the equal bearing of the Bill_ on all parties, it did not care a single rush. Then Mr. Disraeli himself declared, first, with complete frankness, that he sup- ported the Bill because it was intended to put down Ritualism,. and next, that the House ought to pass it because it was- merely a Bill to simplify the methods of ecclesiastical law, two. positions so astonishingly incompatible with each other, that Mr.. Disraeli himself no doubt enjoyed cynically his own indifference to consistency, trusting to one of his arguments to tell on one class- of persons, and the other on a different class. Last, not least significant, came an appeal from Mr. Hussey Vivian to Mr. Gladstone to withdraw his Resolutions, on the avowed ground that if the Bill should be found to tell unfavourably on any- body except the Ritualists, he (Mr. Gladstone) could remedy that injustice in a future Session, and would receive the whole support of his party in applying the cure for the evil which the present Bill is so likely to cause.
Such is the reasoning or impulse which has carried • the House of Comnions to this strange and, we. must say, somewhat Jesuitical conclusion. A more candid and universal avowal of a preference for indirect legislation we have never before seen in England. And it sounds all the odder, for the very big language of menace against the recalcitrant clergy in which it is couched. Here is a double-edged weapon, with a rather blunt edge for Ritualism, not likely to be effective, and a pretty sharp one for Liberalism, likely, in a strong Judge's hand, to be only too effective, which the House of Commons eagerly offers to the new Tribunal, while uttering a loud 'aside' to the effect that if it does not wound the Ritualists, and does wound the Liberals, the mistake may easily be remedied on a future occasion. We threaten equally, says the Recorder of London, everybody who does not strictly obey the law,— only that, he adds, reflectively, if the Bishops don't use their veto, as we mean them to do, to protect all except certain marked parties, they will abuse our
confidence in them, and throw away a great opportunity. We confess that this is not an attitude for which we find it possible to entertain much respect. On behalf of the Liberals, we fear that the sword will enter into our own breasts, and that our bow will be broken. Archbishop Tait, Dean Stanley, Mr. Liewelyn Davies all the Churchmen for whose theology and ecclesiastical politics we have been accustomed to feel the deepest respect, seem to us to have gone off into the question- able paths of timorous menace and ecclesiastical finesse. Only Mr. Gladstone, whom everybody seems to treat as either a Congregationalist or a Jesuit in disguise, has stood up fairly and eloquently for the policy of tolerating the ecclesiastical elasticity avowedly admitted for two hundred years, except on the one side on which there is clear evidence of an intention to sap the foundations of the Church of England. Against that side we ought to have directed an open attack, leaving everybody else alone. That was a policy that did not commend itself to the Bishops,—we could hardly hope it would,—but we feel some surprise and morti- fication in thinking that in this respect the Bishops have proved themselves true gauges of the feeling of the House of Commons. Lord Sandon called the National Church what we wish it was, a Parliamentary Church. To our minds, this debate has rather proved that we have a Churchy Parliament,—a Parliament which says strong -things with its tongue and does weak things with its hands,—that imitates the Bishops in the vehemence of their ecclesiastical threats and the feebleness of their ecclesiastical action,—which prefers endangering its friends to dealing plainly and promptly with its foes,—running the risk of disintegrating the compre- hension of the Church, to cutting off the one diseased member -which has been the cause of all this trouble.