7 OCTOBER 1882, Page 7


WE have been struck, while studying the proceedings of this Church Congress, with the steady drift of English Churchmen of all ranks towards what we can best define as Ecclesiastical Democracy. All speakers grow more favourable, year by year, towards the admission of the lay element, until proposals to allow the laity to perform all clerical functions except the reading of the Absolution are debated without bitterness, and the laity can act only through a democratic representation. No one, so far as the reports show us, ven- tures to assign to the laity less than half the directing power in Church affairs, and many would leave them in practice much more. Moreover, whenever reforms in organisation are discussed, the grand change suggested is always the formation of a Council to advise and control the individual, whether it is called a Board, a Council, a Diocesan Synod, or a General Synod. It is, indeed, possible to evolve from the speeches at this Congress a complete Federal Repre- sentative Constitution for the Church of England, under which the parish would be managed by a Board, of which the Vicar would be chairman ; the diocese would be managed by a Synod, of which the Bishop would be chairman; with a veto ; and the Church would be governed by a General Synod, in which the collective Episcopate would hold the position of a chairman, with a veto. Every one of these projects found defenders and applause ; and we do not see that any resistance was offered of importance though there is, perhaps, a sign of coming resistance upon the question of discipline, the Clergy rather dreading, if we understand one or two interludes, that Synods might be very severe in controlling their conduct, or, at all events, more severe than Courts are.

This steady drift is the more noteworthy, for two reasons. One is, that the American and Colonial Churches, which are not established, are all adopting these modified representative ways, and leave exceedingly little power to individuals ' . and the second is, that within a generation the hold of the Epis- copate over the Clergy has become perceptibly weaker. Parlia- ment has, on the whole, in repeated Acts, shown a disposition to strengthen Episcopal authority, until the Ordinary is now armoured in statutes, and can, if ho pleases, make himself exceed- ingly unpleasant to any clergyman disliked by his parishioners, or of questionable opinions or conduct; but the extra-legal influence on which the Episcopal authority in a Disestablished Church would mainly rest has grown very much weaker. The High- Church Clergy have for years shown great contempt for Bishops as such, the Broad-Church Clergy incline to consider them over- seers ; and though the Evangelical Clergy rather put their authority forward, we question if they would do so, were it not that, owing to some legal decisions, Erastianism is to them con- venient. A beneficed Bickersteth would, we fancy, defy a mitred Pusey quite as boldly as a beneficed Pusey would defy a mitred Bickersteth, both High Church and Low Church in the last resort, declaring that the power of the Keys, as interpreted by Pro- testants, rests rather with the whole Presbytery than with the Bishop. Disestablishment, by setting Episcopal individualities more loose, and favouring the election of vigorous rather than of safe Bishops, would increase this tendency, till the wearer of the mitre might become in most dioceses a very constitutional monarch indeed. He would confirm and ordain, but he would not govern.

We are not about to-day to discuss the good and evil of this tendency, the existence of which, contrary as it is to the actual legal organisation of the Church, any clergyman can test for himself, by merely reading the speeches at this Congress, and particularly the interlocutory deliverances of less known or insignificant men—always the most instructive feature in such gatherings—but only to record it, and add the suggestion that at the next Congress the "relation of representation to true Church organisation " should be raised to the front rank among the subjects of debate. It will be good for the Church to bear what the Bishops and Doctors have to say about that, as well as the ecclesiastically-minded laymen, who have not yet realised that there can be such a thing as a mitre in commission. Drifting is never a very safe process, even if the drift is towards good harbourage ; and there must be a point at which re- presentation will be found inconsistent with any Epis- copate at all. The moment that is clearly seen, as it was seen in the first debates of the Disestablished Irish Church, there will be a furious reaction, based upon the theorem which a Mr. Roberts, in this Congress, embodied in the noteworthy speech in which he -protested against turning Clergymen into philosophers searching for truth, instead of "the appointed transmitters of a Divine Message." It is well to avoid that reaction, and also the jar and shock which will be felt, when it is perceived that all parties in the Church are rushing fast towards the Presbyterian organisation, modified by the addition of Episcopal "Moderators."