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ART. I. - BISHOP COLENSO.
The position of the Church of England, and its relation to the religious ideas of the age, are very hard to explain to Americans, or even to Englishmen not born in her communion. The beautiful old simile of the cathedral with its painted windows — so dark and dull and unmeaning, viewed from without; so glowing with light and significance, beheld from within — is singularly true to the character of the great National Church of England. Never yet has it happened to the writer to find the most cultivated, liberal, and learned of Dissenters treat the subject with what seemed, even to an apostate, absolute fairness and comprehension. Let us endeavor, before describing the work of the man who has striven to be the “ later Luther” of that Church, to give some idea of what it is to its disciples.
An Englishman, whose parents are not members of any other sect, is by that fact assumed to be born into her communion, and, with rare exception, is baptized by the clergyman of his parish within a few weeks of his birth. No further initiation into the Church is needful. The ceremony of confirmation at sixteen, though usual, is optional. Any adult, without question asked, may partake of the Eucharist in any church in the land; only very notorious offenders, in extreme cases and in places where they bappen to be known, being re
VOL. LXXXIII. - NEW SERIES, Vol. IV. NO. 1.
ceived with any hesitation. Thus an Englishman feels himself, as we may express it, a free citizen of this Civitas Dei by right of birth. All the grandeur and the wealth, the learning and power, of the Church; all the tender piety which hangs, like the ivy, round the village spire, beneath whose shade " the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep;" all the national pride and glory which hallowed the vast old cathedrals, where kings and statesmen and warriors have left their dust, — all these are his own. He is at home in every sacred edifice, and free partaker of every holy rite. And, when he dies, he is assured that the stately service of the Church will be performed over his grave; and, be he saint or sinner, rich or poor, the whiterobed priest must, by the very tenure of his office, commit his body to earth,"in sure and certain hope of a blessed resurrection.” It is not a little thing to belong to a Church like this, which in every corner of England has its temple, and in every page of English story its martyrs, saints, orators, and philosophers. The Church which counts York and Winchester and Westminster among its shrines, and Latimer, Hooper, Ridley, Hooker, Butler, and Jeremy Taylor among its ministers; the great State Church of England, which crowns the sovereign, whose bishops share the House of Lords with Howards and Russells, and whose meanest deacon is, by virtue of his office, admitted of right as a gentleman wherever he goes, — this Church is not an institution any Englishman can despise. It is bound up with every thing glorious in our national life. Its head is the crowned chief of the State, around whom gathers the little that remains of feudal chivalry, and the very much that remains of loyalty to a constitutional sovereign in the common sentiment of the people; and its roots strike down into the deepest ground of our family and social life, twining around the cradles of our children, and underlying the graves of our fathers.
Let it be remembered, also, that the Church of England differs from almost every other Church, in offering (at the present day, at least) nothing but benefits and services, without exercising any right of intrusion in return. The sort of inquisition into the spiritual affairs of their members, which other Churches commonly practise, is almost unknown in the Church of England. Men and women attend its services and partake of its sacraments if they please, and stay away from them if they do not please, all the time speaking and writing publicly for or against them and their doctrinal basis; and never once are called upon by anybody to account for their acts or words. Usually, a clergyman in the country or in small towns visits his appointed flock as an acquaintance; but if any of them show distaste for such visits, or for discussion of religious matters, almost always the intrusion ends. In larger societies it is the sheep who must generally seek out the shepherd, if he desire from him any private counsel or ministration. Thus, while members of the Dissenting Churches in England (with the exception of the Unitarians) are all subject to a sort of social inquisition, very distasteful to the national character, the man who quietly allows himself to be counted as belonging to the State Church has no such trespass to fear. Even the much-disputed tax of the Churchrate affects him no more than his Baptist or Independent neighbors. He pays nothing, either in money or time, for whatever privileges Church membership may bring him. If he choose to take a seat in one or other special sacred edifice, he is free to do so; but, if he prefer to spare the cost, he is sure to be able to hear the same Liturgy gratuitously in the next street.
Again, there is a reason for attachment to the Church to be found in the great breadth of doctrine taught under her shadow. If narrow, sharply cut creeds inflame the zeal of fanatics, there are (especially in our day) thousands more whose theological ideas are sufficiently hazy, and whose power of viewing the same dogmas from different sides have been sufficiently developed, to make them much more disposed to like a wide and tolerant Church, than any closely guarded sect, whatever might be its merits. The old saying of Lord Chatham, " that England has a Romish ritual, Calvinist articles, and Arminian clergy," instead of being corrected during the last century, might be re-enforced by several fresh anomalies. The High-church party, who stand condemned by the articles ; and the Low-church party, who hide their diminished heads before the rubric,-exert their liberty of prophesying with less apparent license than the two Broad-church parties of Maurice and Jowett, teaching, — the first, the finality of future punishment; and the second, the fallibility of Scripture. It was possible, a hundred years ago, to teach a great many things in an English pulpit, very obviously at variance one from another. It is rather difficult now to say what a clergyman may not preach (with some little trifling caution as to his expressions), secure from any danger of prosecution. Thus, if a layman do but like the invariable Liturgy, it will go hard but that, wherever he may be in the theological wilderness, he will find a shepherd close beside him, and may listen to a sermon which shall, more or less, express his own ideas. Literal belief in the old Calvinistic creed, or the reduction of every dogma of it to some spiritual idea, and “ distillation of astral spirits from dead churches;' love of a splendid cultus, or a taste for ecclesiastical barns; warm enthusiasm or preferment of the coldest and driest of moral discourses; belief in the infallibility of every letter of the Bible, or a free criti. cism of all its pages, — these are but specimens of the differences which may exist in that “Happy Family," from whose open and gilded cage its inmates seldom desire to depart.
In a word, the attraction of the National Church to English minds is what the attraction of the earth's mass is to bodies on its surface. Every one, not endowed with strong will and vigor to rise, obeys its gravitation inevitably. The other churches, like moon and sun, may move the tides a few feet; but the waters of national life return ere long to the bed in which a nearer and stronger attraction preserves them. The Church of England may be modified, and even essentially changed, as the Constitution of England may be modified and changed; but the last contingency imaginable is, that any rival sect should dethrone it, and usurp its place.
If we have succeeded, in any way, in making clear to our American readers how the English Church appears to its lay members, it will not be hard for them further to understand both how immensely important to English religion is any great movement in it, and also how great are the reasons which induce its most enlightened teachers rather to strive to reprove than to subvert it. Let it be remembered, a sect (in which position must be accounted every Church in a country which has no State Church) - a sect exists in right of its doctrines. The raison d'être of the Baptist, Methodist, and Quaker Churches is in each case certain dogmas (and practices proceeding from dogmas) concerning baptism, conversion, the inner light, etc. But it is more than doubtful whether the raison d'être of a National Church can be a system of doctrines, even if those doctrines be embedded in the very ground wherever it stands. The question is entirely an open one. What is a National Church? It may be viewed in half a dozen ways. It may be considered as a self-existing, corporate body, endowed by the State. It may be considered as a State endowment of an order of priesthood for the perpetual distribution of sacramental privileges. It may be held to be the payment of a class of teachers, sworn to instruct the people in a certain fixed system of dogmas. All these Fiews of a National Church have been maintained in their time; but few will be disposed crudely to defend them now. The remaining theories open up very different vistas as to future progress. The Church may be held to be mainly a great national collegiate foundation of professorships of theology, for the instruction of the people in that highest of all sciences, as other professorships are designed to instruct them in history or mathematics. This view, though obviously incomplete as regards the practical work of the Church, yet commends itself to common sense, so far as theologic instruction goes, and at once legitimates the natural conclusion, that theology, like every other science, must be taught by its professors, not as it was when their chairs were founded, but as it is to-day, availing themselves of every new discovery which can be brought to bear on its advancement.