2 OCTOBER 1880, Page 9


THE secession of Mr. Stopford Brooke from the Church of England, and the letter of explanation issued to his con- gregation, and subsequently forwarded by him to the Daily News, have roused once more the old controversy as to the degree of obligation pressing on clergymen, whose views have changed till they are no longer in full sympathy with the teaching of the Church, to quit her Ministry. The case is undoubtedly a crucial one. Mr. Stopford Brooke was not the holder of a benefice, and received nothing whatever from the revenues of the Church, being only incumbent of a proprietary chapel, presented to him by some friends who, before the gift was made, were explicitly warned by him that he might see reasons for quitting the Church of England. In that position he has drawn together a large congregation, who consider themselves members of the Church, who use and like its formularies, and who, as against assault from without, are decidedly on its side. Mr. Brooke, therefore, may be held to have given to the Church rather than to have drawn support from her, and might fairly regard himself, as far as all temporalities are concerned, entirely independent. He had not, again, been in any way legally inter- fered with, or restricted in his liberty. No society had prose- cuted him, no Bishop had called on him for explanations, no Court had so much as made him a defendant. His opinions had neither been condemned by ecclesiastical authority, nor, as has so often happened, pronounced just tolerable, though wrong. He was, in fact, understood to be among the chartered few who may say very nearly what they please. And, finally, his own change of opinion had not been an extreme one. He had not quarrelled with Establishments, or become convinced of the unspirituality of written forms. He had not rejected the supernatural, or become a mere Theist, or in any complete way abjured Christianity. He was still entitled under any usual definition to le considered a Christian, for he ascribed to Christ a posi- tion which, at all events, left him a fitting object of worship. "I believe, though the Person of Christ is no longer miraculous to me, though I cannot consider him as absolute God, yet that God has specially revealed himself through Christ, that the highest religion of mankind is founded on his life and revela- tion, tlutt the spirit of his life is the life and salvation of men, and that he himself is the Head and Representative of Man- kind,—Jesus Christ our Lord." We do not pretend to explain precisely what that sentence means, for we do not understand how Jesus Christ can be "our Lord," or could publish a "revelation," or can have become "the Head and Representative of mankind," unless he were either a miraculous person, which Mr. Stopford Brooke expressly denies, or the subject of miracles, which Mr. Brooke declares to be incredible. But it is evident that Mr. Brooke is no Unitarian, in the ordi- nary sense, that he is still a worshipper of Christ, and that he can still use, without offence to himself, one at least of the

strongest of the distinctive phrases by which the English Church in its services describes Him.

Under these circumstances, it is natural that Mr. Stopford Brooke's resolution to quit the Church should be much can- vassed, and that many among the Liberal clergy more especially should deprecate his departure, as calculated to draw closer bonds which they feel to be more or less oppressive. How is the Church to be liberalised, they say, if a man who believes in God and the government of God, and in a revelation and in divinity of some kind in Christ, and has no objection to Esta- blishments, and so admires the formularies that he proposes to use most of them after secession, and has had no legal decision against him, and has received no Episcopal warning, still feels irresistibly impelled to quit her communion. Ought not other men who have equally diverged from strict orthodoxy, or have even diverged in a less degree, to quit her also, and so [Ave up the task of widening the limits of the Church, which assuredly cannot be widened if every one who feels the desire for more width steps incontinently outside? The Liberal Clergy are dissatisfied, and Mr. Haweis, Incumbent of St. James's, Marylebone, who makes himself in the Daily News of Wednesday their exponent, condemns Mr. Brooke outright. He considers his "secession an anachronism," and more than hints, though he may not have intended to make the application of his words personal, that it is an act of irritability and a flight. He asks,—" Why so irritable, when the times are changing so fast, when knowledge is running to and fro, when reforms are daily being carried from within ; when the administration pauses, permits, pretends not to see ; is shy of its own infallibility and the old heroic measures ; is statesmanlike in its archiepiscopal charges with the tact of Cavour, who declined to crush the new aspirations of Italy, though revolutionary and somewhat irregular, because they were sound and patriotic ? Why run ?"

Our judgment goes with Mr. Stopford Brooke. We do not share his feeling that it is better to be "free "—that is, individual and separate — not seeing why the advantage of association should be sacrificed in ecclesiastical matters, any more than in political or industrial affairs ; and we do share keenly Mr. Haweis's idea of the injury done to the Church when those whose efforts in all directions are making her more liberal and comprehensive, cease from their work and go outside. It is imperative that the Church should be made wider, and if there is no assistance or impulse from within, if every man who thinks her dogmas too narrow is to quit her bounds, the rulers, whose interest is in calm, and not in change, will never seriously consider concession. We fully recognise also that a clergyman should be very slow to quit the body to which he has always belonged, and on which, in quitting it, he casts some slur, unless he is moved by a difference which he feels to be so vital as to deprive his continued ministration either of efficacy or sincerity. But still our judg- ment in this instance, is with Mr. Brooke, and not with Mr. Haweis. We cannot in the least admit the sufficiency of the test which the incumbent of St. James's would apply. He says broadly that a clergyman is bound to preach what he thinks is true, and if the administration of the Church tolerate his preaching, then he is bound to remain. " The liberal clergy declare these limits [of freedom] to be defined, not by the law (which no party in the Church attempts to keep consist- ently), but by the administration of the law, to which all alike must conform, or retire. The liberal clergy declare that our National Church exists for religious truth, and her clergy are set in her midst to teach it. It is for them to teach what they believe to be true, and do in ritual what they think to be wise, and for the Church to define by her administration their liberty of speech and action."

We hold, on the contrary, that whenever the liberal clergy accept opinions radically inconsistent with the essential meaning of the doctrines they teach either in the pulpit or in the services they perform, they ought to resign, and not to await a sentence which the organisation of the Church might render it impracticable to pronounce. It is next to impossible to prosecute a Bishop for heresy, but ought a Bishop who has lost his belief in a God therefore to con- tinue ordaining and confirming ? Such a continuance in a function which the Bishop who performs it thinks illusory is not commonly honest, and must be a degradation, even if the Bishop holds Christianity to be the best of man's illusions, or that mankind cannot yet be trusted to dispense with the super- 'natural. To justify a continuous falsehood like that, a weekly or -daily perjury, committed under the most solemn circumstances and against full knowledge, is to declare that man owes nothing to himself, that self-respect is no ingredient in character, that hypocrisy is to be judged only by its results. The case supposed is, of course, an extreme one, and we only suggest it because con- formity, even in this case, was defended in a powerful pamphlet 'by Dr. Hind ; but the limit cannot be drawn at Atheism, and, wherever it is drawn, it must, as we conceive, exclude Mr. Stopford Brooke's belief. Mr. Brooke has been most frank all through, and he says openly and clearly that he gives up his position in the Church of England because he holds miracles, and especially the miracle of the Incarnation, to be incredible. Now, the possibility of miracles is of the very essence of the teaching of the English Established Church. The theory that miracles can be wrought, have been wrought, and are wrought now, penetrates her services as completely and as fully as the assumption of the being of a God. If it is otherwise, and miracles are impossible, her creeds are baseless fabri- • cations, her prayers mere reliefs to ignorant minds, her affir- mations as to the history of Christ on earth wilful perver- sions of material facts. Indeed, if one miracle, the Resurrection, did not occur, is not true in the sense that any other historic fact is true, the raison d'être of the Church, or of Christianity itself, is very hard to find, and all inner sense is taken out of the services of any Church whatever. To reject that miracle, and continue to affirm the Creeds of the Church by reading and expounding them, is, and must be, either not honest, or the result of some deep delusion as to what an English clergyman does, merely by performing the service, profess solemnly to believe. We are not sure that Mr. Brooke's especial heresy about the Incarnation would compel him to quit the Church, for we are not sure what it is, and can quite conceive of an Arian minister who is also honest to himself ; but we are quite sure that Mr. Brooke declares that miracles are to him incredible, that the Church de- clares miracles to be to her credible, and that the dif- ference is radical, is of the very essence of that which the clergyman binds himself to teach. He may not see it, and he can be judged only by his own conscience; but if he does see it, as Mr. Brooke avows that he does, then he is, as we conceive, bound to go, and not stand there every week teaching, and preaching, and praying in a manner which he himself must know to be not only false, but absurd. Whether it is wiser for the Church to include the possibility of miracle among her peremptory demands on her Ministers' conscience is a different matter, but one on which we should have no hesitation in delivering a verdict. Nothing is gained to Christ- ianity by whittling it away to a straw. The Church of England has been narrowed beyond all bounds and all suitability to modern requirements, but that is no reason it should be widened until its comprehensiveness destroys its meaning; and a Christ- ian Church in which the minister may honestly either exclude God or preach him, deny Christ or acknowledge him, teach the Resurrection or say it is all a delusion, is a phantasmal Church. A school of medicine may be very wide, but if it does not assume the existence of the human body, the possibility of the cure of disease, and the certainty of death, it is not a school of much value to mankind, or much entitled to intellectual respect.