LATITUDINARIANISM IN EXCELSIS.
THE Conference on Church Reform which met in the Governor's Room, Charterhouse, on Wednesday, appears to us to suggest a solution of the Church Establishment Question more likely to prejudice the cause of religion than Disestablishment itself. The whole drift of the meeting was to widen out the Anglican Church till it included all the faiths, or equivalents for faith, contained in the nation,—by placing both the buildings and the revenues of the Church in each parish at the disposal of the ratepayers of that parish. From this the legitimate inference was certainly that drawn by Dr. Martineau,—that the necessity of subscribing the Articles should be abolished, the Act of Uniformity repealed, and, of course, as a necessary consequence,—though we do not know that this was stated in words.—the legal necessity of usingthe liturgies of the Church dispensed with. The discussion of Dr. Martineau's inference from the premisses laid down by the speakers at the meeting was deferred to another occasion ; but the inference is so inevitable, and was, indeed, virtually so clearly admitted by the chief speakers,—Mr. Albert Grey, Lord Campordown,
Rev. S. A. Barnett, and others,—that we cannot doubt that it will be unreservedly accepted by those who promote the solution of the Establishment Question which the Conference was called together to popularise. Now, so far as we are con- cerned, nothing would please us better than to get rid of the
Thirty-nine Articles altogether. Without very severe manipula- tion, they seem to us to suggest no valuable truth which is not contained in a very much better form in the services of the 'Church ; while they do at least appear to embody various erroneous views of the nature of man, of the drift of revelation, and even of the meaning of the Church's own liturgy. It is not, then, either with the abolition of the subscription test, or with the repeal of the Act of Uniformity, that we should quarrel. But when it is suggested, as it was suggested freely at the meeting in question, that the ratepayers in every parish should have the power to determine what religion or religions should be disseminated in that parish, to appoint the minister or ministers of religion there, and generally to decide quite freely on the religious services, or the equivalents for religious services, to be used there, we cannot help asking ourselves whether complete Disestablishment and the application of the revenues of the Church to purely educa- tional purposes, would not be a far more religious solution of the question than such a solution as that. We strongly object, indeed, to Disestablishment so long as the Church represents, what we believe it still to represent, a Christian faith with a very powerful hold on the consciences and spirits of English- men, and therefore a civilising and spiritualising influence of the highest moment. But if instead of representing a definite faith,—such as is embodied, with more or less intensity and depth, in the actual liturgies of the Church,—the Established Church is to be broken up into a multitude of fragments, most of them probably colourless fragments in- tended to embody the residual belief common to a multitude of sects, while the few that remained true to distinctive and complete faiths would be the objects of constant attack and denunciation on the ground that they were approved only by a majority of the ratepayers, and disapproved by a large minority, we confess that we would rather see the Establish- ment go altogether. It would be far better to have the revenues of the Establishment divided at once amongst the various Churches which might be able to lay claim to them, than to offer, as it were, a rich prize to all who should succeed in preaching a Christianity with which none of their parishioners would be likely to disagree. Neutral religions Are no religions at all. There are few, for instance, who know Dr. Martineau'e sermons and services well who would not rejoice to have had the frequent opportunity of profiting by his high spiritual power, and his singularly noble imagination as a preacher of Christian idealism. But even Dr. Martineau, compelled to consider what he ought not to say in deference to the religious prepossessions of a large part of his audience, would be robbed of half his power. Conceive the late Mr. Maurice compelled to suppress his most characteristic creed, and to omit a good third of the liturgy of the Church from his services, at the cost of alienating the most thoughtful part of his audience if he declined that condition. So embarrassed,—though we admit that we cannot con- ceive Mr. Maurice submitting to any condition of the kind, —Mr. Maurice would have been not a great spiritual power, but a feeble and obscure mystic. Or conceive Dr. Liddon and Dean Church preaching their characteristic Christianity to crowded audiences, while angry parochial meetings pro- tested week by week that they were robbing the Calvinistic, or Wesleyan, or Unitarian Christians of the use of buildings and endowments which ought to be equally at their disposal. Would they not certainly feel that under such conditions they were doing not good, but harm, and that it would be far better for them to seek in a separate Anglican Church,—dis- established, but still identical in faith with the Anglican Church of to-day,—the means of diffusing their faith without incurring the odium which, under such circumstances, they would too surely excite ? The proposal of the Church Reform Conference seems to us to involve almost inevitably either the watering-down of every form of faith preached in an "Estab- lished' Church to a mere colourless residuum, of no fire and no force, or else the preaching of a faith held by the majority, to the exclusion and conscious injury of the minority who could not hold it and who would not sanction it.
Well,' it may be said, 'but is not that precisely the situa- tion now I Is it not now true that the Nonconformists regard themselves as injured by the appropriation of the revenues of the National Church to what they consider a single denomination,
while they themselves claim that they have as much right to inherit those revenues as the Anglicans?' Doubtless it is ; but then, the answer which we now give to their protest is at least a solid one. We admit that so far as the revenues of the Church of England were not meant to promote the preaching of a special, though tolerably comprehensive, form of Christian faith, the Nonconformists have reason to .complain,—just as we admit that the Quakers who are compelled to contribute to the maintenance of an Army which they condemn, may have reason to complain ; or the Republicans who are compelled to contribute to the maintenance of a throne which they dis- approve, have reason to complain. But then, this is not a world in which all kinds of men, of all sorts of opinions and shades of opinion, can possibly live together without a great many of them finding what, from their point of view, is a very just cause of complaint. The only problem is how to minimise these causes of complaint as moh as possible, with- out seriously injuring the whole people. At present our belief is that the establishment of one earnest and deeply influential, but comprehensive, form of Christian faith, is so enormous a gain to the people at large, that Disestablishment would be a very grave calamity. But, in our opinion, it would be a still graver calamity to substitute for the establishment of one coherent, though comprehensive, form of Christian faith, either the establishment of a caput mortuuni of Christian. faith obtained by excluding all the definite characteristics of the com- peting faiths, or the initiation of a mighty scramble amongst the various forms of faith for the possession of the churches and endowments of a particular neighbourhood. The first solution tends to exclude all that is potent, all that is intense, all that is really heart-searching in Christian feeling from its right to speak ; the second solution is an invitation to wrangle and fight about the moat sacred elements of human life. Yet, so far as we understand it, the scheme for widening the Establish- ment which was broached on Wednesday at the Charterhouse must come to either the one or the other. Disestablishment itself would be better than either.