5 JUNE 1909, Page 5


IN the Twenty-seventh Canon of the Constitutions and Canons Ecclesiastical of 1603 it is laid down that no minister shall give the Communion "to any that have spoken against and depraved his Majesty's sovereign authority in Causes Ecclesiastical." Any minister who breaks this Canon incurs the " pain " of susponsiou,—a penalty which, it may ho noted, is not attached to the rubric at the end of the Confirmation Service, the rubric relied on by those who desire to exclude absolutely from the Communion all unconfirmed persons. We will not say that this Canon makes any clergyman who gives the Communion to Lord Halifax and other members of the English Church Union guilty of an offence which. renders him liable to suspension, for it is no doubt possible for Lord. Halifax and his followers to argue that the line they take in regard to the Royal authority in "Causes Ecclesiastical" is only in appearance, and not in reality, "speaking against and depraving" such authority. According to the Canon, however, if a clergyman, as may well be, conscientiously believes that Lord Halifax, or any other strong High Churchman, has in fact "spoken against and depraved" his Majesty's authority, he would be guilty of an ecclesiastical offence for which he is liable to be punished by suspension were he to allow him to communicate. The only mode of escape from a result so ridiculous is to refuse to hold that every canon and every rubric is to be obeyed in its strictest and most technical sense. In the same way, not only the rubrics but the Act of Uniformity make it a most serious offence to alter or add to, in any respect, the services set forth in the Prayer-book and annexed to the Act of Uniformity. Accordingly a breach of the rubric is committed whenever a clergyman arranges a special service for a harvest home or for some other local celebration, or, again, in the case of those memorial services which are now so much used in our churches. We need. hardly say that we have no objection to such services, and hold that the clergy are perfectly right in making the necessary alterations, additions, and omissions. But that they are far more clearly and, obviously offences against the law than the alleged offence caused by the admission to Communion of unconfirmed persons cannot be doubted.

Again, as the Bishop of Carlisle most opportunely reminded us last week, the confirmation of Nonconformists who were baptised by their own ministers and not in their parish churches, and who therefore have no godfathers or godmothers, cannot take place without either a statement being made which is false in fact, or else an alteration in the service which is a breach of the Act of Uniformity, and therefore of both statute law and Church law. Other correspondents, notably Mr. Daustini Cremer, give us plenty of further examples of broaches of the rubrics which are constantly committed by the clergy. To put the point once more, we ourselves have no objection to such breaches of the rubric, and, indeed, bold them just and necessary, precisely as many breaches of obsolete statute law are just and necessary. What we do say, however, is that if the rubrics and the canons are to be enforced pedantically and in a highly technical sense in one ease, they ought to be so enforced in the others. It would be ridiculous merely to enforce the rubrics, the canons, and the statute law where High Church clergymen like to see them enforced, and to reject and treat those enactments with contumely in cases where they are disliked by High Churchmen. Especially ridiculous would be such a course in the present case. The rubrics and canons which are habitually violated are canons as to the meaning of -which there is little or no possibility of dispute. On the other hand, the rubric in regard to Confirmation is one where it is extremely doubtful whether what we may call the technical and pedantic interpretation is really valid. In our opinion it is not, and upon that contention we shall have something to say later. Here our point is that, even admitting that an offence is committed by a clergyman who gives the Communion to an unconfirmed person, it does not differ in ecclesiastical or statutory law from the offence he commits in altering the services, in not entirely immersing a healthy baby at baptism, or in giving the Communion to a person whom he conscientiously believes to have "spoken against and depraved" the Royal Supremacy in " Causes Ecclesiastical." Indeed, in the last case he Must deem himself to have committed a greater offence, for it is a greater offence to break a regulation to which a special penalty is attached than to break One which is only supported by a general admonition.

We must take one more point in this connexion,—the very' important point raised by one of our correspondents in this week's paper when he asks whether the Princes and Princesses who marry into our Royal Family are confirmed or reconfirmed before they receive the Communion, and if not, why not. Take the case of Queen Alexandra. Unless we have missed some record of the event, her Majesty was not confirmed by a Bishop of the Church of England after her marriage, nor was the father of the present King, Prince Albert. But those who contend that Confirmation and the laying on of hands by a Bishop qualified to do so—i.e., by a Bishop who has the Apostolic Succession—are a necessary preliminary to the reception of the Communion are °stopped from arguing that Queen Alexandra or any of the Princes or Princesses of the Lutheran Church have been confirmed in their own Churches. The Danish Church, we understand, is held by our High Churchmen not to possess the Apostolic Succession any more than the German Lutheran Church or the Presbyterian Church. Therefore the members of those Churches, if not reconfirmed, cannot be said to have received Confirmation of the kind insisted on by the Warden of Radley and others. If, then, as they argue, it is an offence to give the Communion to an unconfirmed person, that offence must have been committed by every Archbishop, Bishop, and clergyman who gave the Communion to Prince Albert or has given it to Queen Alexandra,—assuming that we are right in thinking that there was no Confirmation by an Anglican Bishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, must have committed that offence at the Corona- tion. Will it be contended in reply that Prince Albert, the Queen, and the other Princes and Princesses had declared themselves to be "ready and desirous to be confirmed" according to the rites of the Church of England? We may, we think, presume that they did nothing of the kind, and that they would have refused to condemn by implication the Evangelical Churches in which they were brought up. Needless to say, we have no sympathy with the argument we are now developieg ; but here again it is absolutely essential that the upholders of the technical and pedantie interpretation of the rubric should meet our point. They will, we feel sure, not meet it by saying that the laws of the Church must bow to the great of the earth, to Queens and Princes and Princesses. One more point may be mentioned, as it is alluded to by one of our correspondents. It is said that Archbishop Tait, whose family, if we remember rightly, were Scottish Presby. terians, believed it to be lawful to administer the GNU, munion to members of the Presbyterian Church, though they were unconfirmed, and though, as persons who remained Presbyterians, it was necessary to assume that they were not "ready and desirous to be confirmed " according to the rites of the Church of England.

We now desire to deal with a matter of importance in regard to the rubric at the end of the Confirmation Service. That rubric, as several of our correspondents remind us, was altered at the Savoy Conference after the Restoration. Up to that time the words of the rubric no doubt appeared to require the minister not to give the Communion to any persona who had not been confirmed. At the Savoy Conference, however, the ministers who presented certain "exceptions against the Book of Common Prayer" stated :—" We desire that Confirmation may not be made so necessary to the Holy Communion as that none should be admitted to it unless they be confirmed." The answer of the Bishops was as follows :—" There is no inconvenience that Confirmation should be required before the Communion when it may be ordinarily obtained. That which you here fault you else- where desire [alluding to another exception in which the ministers asked that the power to repel might be strengthened] We are willing that to the rubric after Confirmation these words may be added, 'or be ready and desirous to be confirmed.'" The rubric was then revised and assumed its present form. It seems to us that if the Bishops had meant to insist that non-Confirmation was an absolute bar to Communion, they would not have yielded at all to the desire of the ministers, but would have kept the old form intact. That they altered it on the request made was proof that they did not desire to maintain the position of absolute prohibition, though they did desire at the same time to support the rite of Confirmation as much as possible. Therefore it seems to us that the decision of the Savoy Conference strengthens materially the contention made in the Spectator,—namely, that the object of the clause "ready and desirous to be confirmed" was to place persons of discreet age awl religious intention in as good a position as confirmed persons. In other words, we think it may be fairly argued that those whom we may call confirmable persons were given the right to receive the Communion as well as confirmed persons. Possibly this may seem to someof our readers too subtle, though we do not take that view ourselves. If so, we would, ask them to consider the matter from the following point of view. The addition of the words made at the Savoy Conference on the direct plea of the ministers must have had some effect on the old absolute prohibition, and must have been meant to have some effect. Whet effect could, it have had but to widen the rubric and to admit persons who were not admitted by the old words? One cannot suppose that the Bishops at the Conference altered the words of the rubric merely to cheat the ministers into thinking that their point was gained when really nothing was changed. An act so deceitful is unthinkable. Rather we must assume that, though jealous of the rite of Confirmation and anxious to maintain it as a duty for Church-people, they did not dare to erect it into a kind of sacrament, or even an absolute bar to Communion, In, effect they left the door open, but put a notice upon it that people ought not to go in that way. If, however, in spite of this, people insisted on going in by that door, they would net take the responsibility of actually turning them Out. Our Church is, of course, full of such compromises, and there is nothing in the least unlikely or unprecedented in our suggestion.

Should any clergyman, in doubt as to the course he ought to pursue, ask our final opinion on the whole matter, it is this. Though the point whether a clergyman has a right to repel communicants save only for notorious evil living and the denial of the Royal Supremacy hae never been judicially decided, and is possibly not capable of dear decision, there can be no doubt that a clergyman who chooses to admit unconfirmed persons to Communion, as so many Archbishops, Bishops, and clergymen have done in the past, is committing no ecclesiastical or civil offence of greater degree than that committed by a person who, as we have said, makes an alteration in the services either of omission or addition, or who does not immerse a healthy child completely at the baptismal font, or, again, does not insist upon communicants being also parishioners. Therefore every clergyman who is anxious to allow uncon- firmed Nonconformists to come to the Communion may feel that he can do so with a clear conscience. On the Other hand, it seems to us plain that a clergyman who conscientiously feels that he ought not to admit an unconfirmed person to Communion is bound, if he repels, to do so only provisionally, and to refer the case for the decision of his Bishop. It is on the Bishop that the responsibility for the further repelling of the Nonconformist ought to rest. In such cases we can only hope that the Bishop, accustomed to judge these matters in a wider spirit, and conscious of the legal difficulties in which he would laud himself if he were to insist on a pedantic observation of the rubrics, and still more, impelled by the true spirit of Christianity, will refuse to order the exclusion of any person sincerely "ready and desirous" to take the Communion, even though not "ready and desirous to be confirmed."

We feel bound to say that there seems to us something, if not blasphemous, at any rate wholly inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity in arguing such a point as this as if it were solely a point of law and not of religion. But if it is essentially not a point of Church law but a point of Christianity that is being considered, can any man who looks into his own conscience, and who desires to do the will of God as it is found in the Gospels and the teaching of Christ, really doubt what would be the will of our Lord, in such a matter ? Would our Lord have repelled any man from His side, from His gifts, and from His ministrations on a punctilio, on a point of law, on a matter of ritual ? Would He, Who told the ritualists of His day that they laid on men burdens too heavy to be borne, have given His approval to those -whose misdirected zeal prompts them to shut, as they believe, the gates of heavenly mercy upon all who did not conform with rigid accuracy to the rubric ? We, at any rate, cannot read the Gospel or the will of Jesus in any such sense as that. If we look to the spirit of our Lord's teaching we shall surely find, not repulsion but embracement, not exclusion but inclusion. What we said at the beginning of this controversy we must say again. We are neither theologians nor ecclesiastical lawyers, and we of course make no pretence to a monopoly of Christiafi truth. We will not condemn Pharisaisin in the Spirit of the Pharisees. But at least we have a right, as Englishmen, to ask other Englishmen, whether Bishops or clergymen or laymen, to remember so to be Churchmen as not to forget they are Christians.