THE RrruALIstric CONSCIENCE. r E Ritualistic conscience is a study in
itself. There is no doubt that it is a genuine conscience of its kind,—a con- science, that is, which really makes light of selfish motives, when brought into competition with any motives which it regards as armed with the spiritual authority of God. But what is puzzling about the Ritualistic conscience is the arbitrary caprices of which it is capable, in rejecting the binding character of some kinds of authority which appear to ordinary' men to have a good deal of venerable obligation in them, and in taking up as most solemn and authoritative, granular fragments of conventional rules which, even at the time they were first made, were never probably con- sidered to be of perfect obligation at all, and have long ceased to be regarded as authoritative by the great majority of even clerical consciences in the living Church for the guidance of which these rules were made. Mr. Tooth, for instance, is, as far as we can make him out, from mere observation of his conduct, a strictly conscientious, though narrow-minded man, who has set up for himself an idol called "the Ornaments' Rubric," which idol he invests with all sorts of divine sanctions, and puts almost on a level with the moral law itself. In honour of it, he refuses to obey the law of the land,— though he professes, and no doubt honestly, to regard that as extremely sacred, wherever it does not come into conflict with the law of God ; in honour of it, again, he positively courts imprisonment ;, and not only this, but lays on the con- sciences of his parishioners, as far as he is able, the same sort of artificial obligation to resist the law of the land which he recognises for himself. Mr. MacColl, in an ingenious letter which we print in another column, tries to make out that Mr Tooth is not breaking the law of the land, but only repudiating a doubtful interpretation of the law. But that, we take it, is very special pleading indeed. We entirely agree with him that the Purchas Judgment is exceedingly likely to be reversed, that it rests on what appears to us bad history and bad reasoning, and that it is in opposition to much more carefully considered judg- ments of inferior Courts. But all that is nothing to the purpose. The law of England is for the time the decision of the highest Court to which any question of law has been referred, unless there has been any judicial or statutory reservation postponing the final decision and refer- ring it to the judgment of some other and still higher authority. In the present ease, it is admitted that this is not so,—that the Court of Arches is bound by the decision of the Judicial Com- mittee of the Privy Council in 1871, till the new Court of Appeal reconsiders and reverses (if it does reverse) that decision,—and that Mr. Tooth is as much defying the law of the land when he ignores Lord Penzance's inhibitions and suspension, as a man would be who, having been committed for trial, ignored the magistrate's decision, on the ground that it was, in his belief, quite contrary to the best legal authorities, and sure not to be sustained by the decision of the higher Court when it came. Indeed, as a matter of fact, Mr. Tooth is not, we suspect, at all inclined to
' accept Mr. MacColl's apology for him. He has never defended his conduct on the plea that the Purchas Judgment was bad, but rather on the plea that the Public Worship Act is a gross interference on the part of the State with the indefeasible privileges of the Church, and not, therefore, entitled to his obedience at all. This is very different ground to that which Mr. MacColl takes for him, and on the whole, we think, rather more deserving of respectful consideration, though less sober. Mr. Tooth holds that a Church
Court would be entitled to his obedience, but that a Court created by the State is not. Nay, even though that Court's authority has the sanction of his Bishop, and though its decision is endorsed by his Bishop, who sent Canon Gee on Sunday to take the ser- vice of the church from which he is suspended, he not only refuses to admit his Bishop's nominee into his church, but lays his com- mands in the following arbitrary fashion on his flock to hold by him, and defy with him the law of his country and the nominee of his ecclesiastical superior. This is the language in which he invites his parishioners to support him faithfully in breaking the law :—" And further, in full reliance upon the Christian intelli- gence of my people, and upon their loving readiness to suffer for the truth's sake, I hereby call upon them to accept no ministra- tions in the public congregation, nor any discharge among them of the office and duty of cure of souls, either in the immediate present or in the future, other than my own, or of those acting on my behalf under my authority. I make this call upon my people as the lawfully and evangelically instituted priest of this parish, not inhibited therein, nor deprived thereof, by any lawful and canonical authority ; and I implore them, and if need be, require and charge them, to bear steadfastly in mind that all minis- trations and discharge other than my own are schismatical, and are an invasion and a robbery of the rights of the Church of England." So that Mr. Tooth wishes to associate with himself all the laymen of his parish in this defiance of the law of the Public Worship Act. Now when one considers whence all this preaching of sedi- tion—for all defiance of law is a kind of sedition—on the part of one who in ordinary cases recognises it as a great sin to defy the law of the land, has arisen, the case is doubly strange. Our Prayer-book declares that "such ornaments of the Church and of the ministers thereof, at all times of their ministration, shall be retained and be in use, as were in the Church of England, by the authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward VI." No rubric could well recognise the authority of Parliament more clearly. But then, of course, it is said that the rubric in question represents the sanction of the ecclesiastical authorities of that day, as well as the authority of Parliament, which is quite true. Still it is clear, (1) that the Ornaments rubric does not order, but only sanctions the use of all the Ornaments referred to ; (2), that it makes express reference to the authority of Parliament as a most critical element of the question, and that the authority of Parliament now is given to the Public Worship Act; (3) that the vast majority of the clergy, even of the High-Church party, do not consider it a matter of any moment that all the ornaments in question should be used, in defiance of the authority of the State, but are quite contented to use such of them as do not cause public offence ; and (4), that the conduct of Mr. Tooth, and those who sympathise with him, is not un- likely to prejudice very gravely the cause which they profess to have at heart, since it will certainly make it impossible for ordinary people to think that the Ritualists are sober enough to keep Ritualism in proper subordination to devotional purposes, when they make it a man's first duty to break the law, and if need be, to suffer martyrdom rather than suspend the use of these gew-gaws, even while awaiting the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
Now, surely, a more artificial state of conscience than this can hardly be imagined. Of course, we quite agree with Mr. MacColl that obedience to the lam is not the first of human duties,—that it is easy to conceive laws which it would be a clear duty sometimes to disobey,—not difficult to conceive laws which it would be a grave sin ever to obey. But except in very exceptional cues, it cannot be, and is not, denied that in a State like England it is a most dangerous and even subversive practice to make light of the law. And here is a law which, de- fective and ill-considered as we believe it to have been, at worst deals only with very outside matters ; which has been sanctioned by the whole nation, and therefore by the Church, so far as it is represented in the nation, and by the Bishops especially, as rulers of the Church, who have a separate voice in the Upper House ; a law, too, which may cer- tainly even yet be so interpreted as to restore the
liberty allowed by the Ornaments' rubric, which for the pre- sent it takes away. Nor can it be said that the State is here dealing with matters wholly ecclesiastical. For the Church is supported by the State, receives special privileges from the State, and is 1Di:sand, therefore, so far as it can, to comply with the conditions made by the State ; while those who can do so no longer, are clearly bound to surrender their privileges and accept disestablishment and disendowment so far as they themselves are concerned, before they proceed to treat the State with supercilious contempt, as an intruder which has no right to speak. Yet Mr. Tooth and his friends can see nothing but the holiness of the Ornaments' rubric and the wicked- ness of obeying the State, since the Church seems to them to speak through this Ornaments' rubric,—and all this zeal is dis- played on behalf of a religion which declares that outward forms are of little moment, where the first essential is to worship God, who is a spirit, in spirit and in truth.
To us, we confess, the problem of the Ritualistic conscience thus presented is a most startling one. Here is a good man, who goes back to a nearly obsolete tradition,—we are speaking now of the Church's practice, not of the letter of the rubric,—connected with the minutest matters of external detail, such as dress and gestures, and lights and incense, and fastens upon it with a tenacity of moral sentiment which would seem applicable only to the observance of the greater spiritual duties of the soul. In his devo- tion to this fragment of historical suggestion on petty matters, he does not hesitate to scandalise hundreds of thousands of true Christians and true Churchmen, and to defy for himself, and in- culcate as a sacred duty on his parishioners that they also should defy, a law which, as he would not deny, is in general a great terror to evil-doers and a great protection to those who do well And all this, as far as we can see, by way of defiant assertion of the doctrine,—not really at issue in the controversy at all,— that the State has no power either to define spiritual truth or to impose ecclesiastical obedience. There is nothing in the world resembling this evidently genuine moral passion of the Ritualists for the Ornaments' rubric and their right to obey it, except the superstitious importance nervous people,—like Dr. Johnson,— have sometimes attached to going through with the details of a self-imposed task, like touching every railing in a street or tread- ing separately on each flag-stone ; but then this caprice of the intellect never yet ventured to assume the rank of a moral obliga- tion. We sometimes get almost frightened when we consider the phenomena of the Ritualistic conscience, lest some day an eccle- siastical party should spring up, making it the first of Christian duties to defy the law and incur every conceivable suffering, rather than allow the singing of that-second hymn so often interpolated be- tween the Morning Service and the sermon. The power of the human conscience to throw itself with passion into the infinitely little is, seriously speaking, terrific,—and equally alarming, whether it makes a stir on behalf of petty detail or against it. How the mint and anise and cumin of worship can come to be morally identified with the weightier matters of the law, we find it difficult to realise ; but there is no doubt that they do,—and that in the case of a man like Mr. Tooth, and in the ease also of some of the most furious opponents of the Ritualists, we see Heaven itself in- voked, in order that something which is absolutely of no more importance to us than is the physical distribution of the com- ponent parts of a given body at a given time, shall either be done or omitted. This strange power of believing that God cares about what is morally indifferent only because it is somewhere "autho- rised," and cares almost more, apparently, to judge by the manner and bearing of those who urge it on us, than He cares about the attitude of the will and heart, is the most amazing and alarming of parodies on that wonderful power which belongs to faith to magnify small duties, till they press on us with almost infinite weight.