THE LIBERAL BISHOPS AND THE "NATION."
WE do not wonder that the Liberal Party is so hostile to the Establishment of the Church. A principle must be judged by its consequences, and if we shared the Nation's opinions upon this point we should be as ardent Liberationists as its conductors. In last Saturday's number we are favoured with a vivid picture of the degrading results to which the present relation between the State and the Church must lead if the officers of the Church do the work for which they are appointed. In all cases of secular promotion the claim of the Prime Minister on the man whom he has promoted to a permanent office is supposed to end with the nomination. A judge does not consult the Minister who has raised him to the bench as to the way in which he shall decide the suits that come before him. The permanent head of a Department does not in cases of difficulty go for directions to the particular Minister who put him into the place. His responsibility is to the Public Service, not to the man to whom he owes his promotion, and in his management of his proper business he does not stop to consider whether that promotion came from a Liberal or a Conservative Government. But if the Nation is right a wholly different rule prevails where bishoprics are con- cerned. So far as appearances go, the holders of them are as independent as the holders of civil offices. But this seeming freedom is really controlled by a different law—a law which obliges them to assimilate their con- sciences to the conscience of the Minister " who gave them their sees and their salaries." Taken literally, this description of the part played by the Prime Minister in the distribution of episcopal sees would imply that the salaries came out of his own pocket, and the description of these twelve bishops as proceeding immediately upon their several consecrations " to bite the hand that has honoured and fed them " certainly bears out this view. It is more likely, however, that the Nation. has been carried away by its indignation, and that all that it really means is that twelve bishoprics carrying with them salaries varying from £2,000 to £10,000, with a " palace " added in each case, have been given to clergymen who are opposed to the Welsh Disestablishment, and presume to have opinions of their own upon matters connected with the Church of which they are chief pastors. They are held up as monsters of ingratitude because they are opposed to a Government Bill and still retain their sees. They ought, it seems, to have at once refused Mr. Asquith's offer in the first instance. They should have said, " Thy preferment perish with thee ! It is an accursed thing when offered by your hands !" Or if the temptation was too strong for them when it was first held out to them, time and reflection should have led them to " resign the position and emoluments they now hold "—and hold, as is too plainly the case, under false pretences. If, we repeat, the Nation, is in earnest it ought at once to demand from the Liberal Government an English Dis- establishment Bill. As things are, the English bishops hold their sees on conditions to which no religious man, no honourable man, no commonly honest man, could consent for a moment. They are placed there not for the good of the dioceses whose spiritual welfare they are supposed to have at heart, not for the interests of the Church whose chief ministers they are, not to invest the government of the country with a semblance at least of religious sanction. These are functions that may properly be referred to in after-dinner speeches, which are known to be made to order. The obligation that should be really paramount with them is to help on the policy of the Government to which they owe their palaces and their pay. If this were a true picture, the present occupants of these twelve sees are the first that have shown any sense of the degradation to which their predecessors have uncomplainingly submitted. They have taken the only course which in the circumstances was open to them. To have resigned their sees would have been of no avail. It would only have meant the appointment of successors more carefully chosen and more tightly held to the pledges which, according to the Nation., every bishop gives before he kisses hands. By staying where they are and refusing to pay the shameful price expected of them, they have at least called attention to a monstrous abuse.
We cannot believe, however, that the Nation really supposes that the conditions it speaks of were either pro- posed or accepted. The writer of the paragraphs from which we have quoted is probably very angry with Mr. Asquith for making these particular appointments. It is difficult for a Liberal journal to scold its Prime Minister for administering the ecclesiastical patronage of the Crown without exacting or desiring any promises of political support. Yet in view of the generous fashion in which all sorts of offices have of late been bestowed, with political support as the principal merit in the receivers, it is perhaps natural that the Nation should have expected the Church to form no exception to the general rule. When a Minister keeps one particular field of promotion entirely in his own hands, and fills up vacancies as they occur with no reference to the peculiar qualifications which are deemed indispensable in other instances, his ardent friends may feel more irritated at the one thing which be has left undone than grateful for the many things which he has done. Under the influence of this illogical emotion the Nation has not been careful in the distribution of censure. It has blamed the bishops for not giving disgraceful pledges instead of falling upon the Prime Minister for not exacting them. It has assumed that as each see fell vacant Mr. Asquith has enumerated either the whole list of Government measures or the particular Bill nearest his heart at the moment, and has made it plain to the future bishop what he is expected to do in consequence of this exposition. With this much postulated, the Nation has then only to reckon up the votes the new bishop has given, the speeches he has made, or the meetings at which he has taken his place on the platform, and the charge is proved. That it never had a shadow of foundation except in the brain of a too inventive journalist does not make it at all less useful. Possibly, indeed, there may be another motive in the background. Mr. Asquith's choice of bishops has been singularly felicitous. It is very unusual to find so long a list of appointments which has given such general satisfaction. This or that section of opinion in the Church may know of other men whom they would have preferred to see taken, but none of them has any exception to make to those on whom Mr. Asquith's choice has actually fallen. In a Church so divided in opinion as the Church of England at this moment is, that is the very highest praise that can be given to a Primo Minister. That he should have deserved it may vex those to whom politics are all in all, and who would like to see every post, from a sweeper of chimneys to an archbishop, given in consideration of political service asked and promised. What surprises us is not that this discontent should be felt, but that it should be so frankly uttered. It is one of the emotions which it may be human to share, but extraordinarily foolish to own to. The Nation seemingly thinks that every appointment to a bishopric should be made in consideration of a stamped document, in which the fortunate holder pledges himself to promote by every means in his power the measure or measures named in the schedule appended thereto, and further that any failure to give the support promised shall at once be followed by resignation. We say again that any journal holding that such a promise can be demanded of any man appointed to a spiritual office is bound to support no Government which does not give immediate Disestablishment the first place in its political programme. To all appearance our contemporary is not at all troubled by the existence of so monstrous an undertaking as that which it assumes every bishop appointed by a Liberal Government to have given either expressly or by implica- tion. Acquiescence in so wild a dream as this must of necessity be injurious to the moral nature of the dreamer. It will give us the sincerest satisfaction if we have been in any way instrumental in rousing the Nation from so engrossing and so unwholesome a vision.
It occurs to us at the last moment that possibly our readers will think that we are playing some kind of practical joke upon them or perpetrating some piece of long-winded irony. They will perhaps say that it is quite impossible that the Nation. really took up the attitude we have described, and that we are " joking," and rather heavily and unkindly. To show that we are not we append the actual words used by the Nation. They no doubt require to be read verbatim to be believed.
"It is a very remarkable fact that of the thirteen bishops appointed by the present Liberal Government every one of them, with the exception of Dr. Hicks of Lincoln, is at the present moment trying to destroy the Ministers who gave them their sees and their salaries. For a proof of this we have only to look at the manifesto they have recently issued in connexion with the Church in Wales. When these ecclesiastics accepted their appointments from the Prime Minister, they knew perfectly well what his policy was and what the policy of the Liberal Party was in relation IA the Church in Wales. It is a policy which has been before the country for years, and none of thorn could pretend that they were unaware of its purpose and character. Notwithstanding this knowledge, they accepted high preferment and valuable emoluments at the hands of the present Ministry. Those ecclesiastics have now the hardihood to turn round upon the Prime Minister who has made them what they are, and to accuse him, in set terms, of attempting to injure what they describe as 'the cause of religion in our land.' If these bishops believe that the Prime Minister is engaged in the odious task of hurting the cause of religion is our land, why did they accept preferment from such a person ? Why did they not say, when he offered it them, Thy preferment perish with thee ! It is an accursed thing when offered by your hands '? Or, if they now awake to the position in which they stand, why do they not, as honourable men, resign the positions and emoluments they now hold before proceeding to bite the hand that has honoured and fed them ? Here is a list of these right reverend gentlemen :— Dr. Lang, Archbishop of York. £10,000 a year and a Waco ; Dr. Ridgeway, Bishop of Chichester, £4.000 and
Dr. Pollock. Bishop of Norwich, 24,000 and a palace ; Dr. Burge, Bishop of Southwark, £3,000 and a palace; Dr. Ridgeway, Bishop of Salisbury, £4,500 and a palace;
Dr. Stratton, Bishop of Newcastle, £3,000 and a palace ;
Dr. Drury, Bishop of Ripon, £4,000 and a palace; Dr. Thompson, Bishop of Sodor and Man, 22,000 and a palace;
Dr. Russell Wakefield, Bishop of Birmingham, 23,000 and a palace ;
Dr. Kempthorne, Bishop-Designate of Lichfield, £4,500 and a palace ;
Dr. Burrows, Bishop of Truro, 23,000 and a palace."