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The Gorham Controversy.
Art. IX. — Report of the Judgment of the Judicial Committee
of the Privy Council in the Case of Gorham versus the Bishop
of Exeter, March 8. 1850. 'IT T is a bad business,' said Abu Musa, in the sedition at
Mecca, and he that meddles least with it has less chance • of doing wrong. For what says the Prophet touching an evil * affair of the kind? He who sleepeth in it is better than he that waketh - he that lieth than he that sitteth - he that sitteth than he that standeth - he that standeth than he that * walketh - he that walketh than he that rideth.'
The words of the Prophet are still true; and we would gladly have spared ourselves and our readers the annoyance of passing through even the outskirts of the Gorham controversy. The impossibility of fully sympathising with either party — the unmeaning character of most of the points in dispute — the elaborate tediousness with which the case has dragged its slow length along — would have justified us in putting it aside at once, and forgetting it now, as we trust that it will be forgotten not many months hence. As for these Sacramentarian
quarrels,' says good Bishop Hall, “Lord! how bitter have they been! - how frequent !- how long ! - in six several successions of learned conflicts. In these cases the very victory is miserable — such, as Pyrrhus said of his, as is enough to undo • the conqueror.'
But although in itself the controversy deserves little consideration, it has grown into such colossal dimensions, as to suggest, even where it does not invite, topics of great interest and instruction. We may safely leave to themselves the personalities with which the Primate has been assailed by the Bishop, and the vengeance with which the Bishop has been visited by the Presbyter --- not to speak of the separate ingredients of discord and confusion thrown into the boiling cauldron by the controversies of Mr. Badeley, Mr. Maskell, Mr. Bennett, Mr. Irons, Mr. Allies, and Mr. Dodsworth, with one another, and with every one else; and proceed at once to the great question at issue in the whole struggle.
That question, when stript of all accessories and disguises, is no less than the question, whether the Church of England is now, and is to continue, a national institution. It is involved in both the points in dispute - to a certain extent in that which relates to the Court of Appeal which has decided the case – to a much greater extent in that which relates to the judgment which the Court has pronounced.
A moment's glance at the past history of the Church of England will best explain our meaning. Even before the era of the Reformation, the Anglican hierarchy had, in spite of the peculiar interests of their order, struck deep root into the affections of the people and the genius of the country. The intimate connexion of the secular with the ecclesiastical element, which survived the convulsions of the sixteenth century, and which still is stamped on the face of our legislature, our monarchy, our universities, our clergy, is a living result of that old and early union which, like all the rest of our constitution, was slowly maturing itself in the struggles of the Middle Ages, and had just reached the most critical point of its developement when it was overtaken by the tempest of the Reformation. That great event, which in many countries caused the nation and the clergy to start asunder more widely than before, in England riveted their union, at least politically speaking, more strongly than ever. The form which this union took expressed itself, as every one knows, in the establishment of the great principle of what was then called the Supremacy of the Crown, but what is now in reality the Supremacy of the Law. We bring these two phrases together advisedly, because it has been often overlooked that the latter is of necessity, in our own days, the only intelligible translation of the former ; and hence it is that the wise and beneficent institutions which, out of the strong will and strong sense of the Tudor sovereigns, have grown into the bulwarks of the constitution of Queen Victoria, often labour most unjustly under the odium which rightly attaches, in many points, to the personal character of Henry and Elizabeth. It is as unreasonable to refuse the benefits of the Statutes of Præmunire and of the Royal Supremacy, because they remind us of the divorce of Catherine of Arragon and of the persecutions of Puritans and Catholics, as it would be to refuse the benefits of the Habeas Corpus and the Bill of Rights, because they remind us of the wicked statesmen who figure in the pages of Macaulay.
Of this intimate connexion between the various elements, secular and ecclesiastical, of our body politic, one amongst a thousand results has been the fact, which to some has seemed so strange — the decision of an ecclesiastical controversy by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
It is not necessary to enter into a detailed defence of the composition of that august tribunal. In answer to the clamour against the anomaly of submitting spiritual causes to the judgment of a court of laymen, it is enough to reply that this anomaly, if anomaly it be, is the direct consequence of that theory, or, to speak more correctly, of that constitution of the relations of Church and
The Supremacy of the Crown.
State, which has been the especial object of the praise of Cranmer, and Hooker, and Selden, and Burke, and Coleridge, and Arnold. In answer to the clamour for the rights of the clergy against the tyranny of the State, it is sufficient to reply that that is no tyranny which protects the minority, or it may be the majority, of the clergy from the inquisition of prelates like the Bishop of Exeter, and of synods such as those which have lately assembled in Hanover Square and in Willis's Rooms. Let Churchmen listen to the warning voice of S. Gregory Nazianzen,–* To say the truth, I have utterly determined never to * come to any council of bishops; for I never yet saw good end
of any councils; for councils abate not ill things, but rather • increase them.' Let Englishmen listen to the sober judgment of their great statesman, —. We know that the convocation of the clergy had formerly been called and sate with nearly as much regularity and business as Parliament itself. It is now • called for form only. It sits for the purpose of making some • polite ecclesiastical compliments to the king; and when that
grace is said, retires, and is heard of no more. It is, however, . a part of the constitution, and may be called out into act and
energy whenever there is occasion, and '— we call particular attention to the conclusion which follows upon this lucid statement—whenever those who conjure up that spirit will choose • to abide the consequences.
It is wise to permit its legal * existence; it is wiser to continue it a legal existence only. So truly has prudence the entire dominion over any exercise of
power committed into its hands; and yet I have lived to see prudence and conformity to circumstances wholly set at nought ' in our late controversies, and treated as if they were the most • contemptible and irrational of all things. '*
But it is not on the composition of the tribunal that we would chiefly dwell. The judgment itself is, after all, its best justification; and whenever any purely clerical court shall deliver a decision equally wise, and just, and dispassionate, the nation might look with more composure on the transference of the jurisdiction of the Privy Council from its present administrators. The correctness of the judgment may now be safely left to fall or stand by its own merits. Its mode of procedure has been admirably vindicated by Archdeacon Hare, in his Letter to Mr. Cavendish. Its arguments have been triumphantly defended by Mr. Goode against a polemic of no ordinary vehemence and power. Its conclusion has received, from the honourable confession of Mr. Maskell, a testimony in its favour which leaves nothing more to be added.
* Burke's Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol.
It was, in fact, no new controversy which was brought before the Judicial Committee, and it is no new discovery which they have made. It was but a subordinate branch of the question, often asked in former times, and as often answered in the affirmative, - whether Calvinism was admissible within the Church of England. The judgment of Lord Langdale did but announce, in terms of legal precision and judicial gravity, the same undoubted fact which Lord Chatham expressed when he spoke of the Popish Liturgy, the Calvinistic Articles, and the • Arminian Clergy;' which Bishop Horsley expressed when he • asserted what he had often before asserted, and by God's grace
declared that he would assert, to his dying day,' that upon the principal points in dispute between the Arminian and • Calvinists — on all the points characteristic of the two sects' the Church of England maintains an absolute neutrality;' and
that there is nothing to hinder the Arminian and the highest ' supra-lapsarian Calvinist from walking together in the Church
of England and Ireland as friends and brothers, if they both approve the discipline of the Church, and both are willing to * submit to it.' And every reader of this Review will remember the irresistible humour and not less irresistible logic which, in 1822, lent its powerful aid to the burst of public indignation against the prelate who endeavoured, by the 87 questions of Peterborough, to extort the same conformity to his own opinions from the Calvinistic curate of Blatherwycke that is now claimed by the 140 questions of the Bishop of Exeter from the Calvinistic vicar of St. Just. Why the Peterborough controversy should have been allowed to die away in silence, whilst the Gorham controversy is thought of sufficient importance to convulse the Church to its centre, it is for our modern agitators to determine.
But it is not merely on the well-known inclusion of Calvinism and Arminianism within the Church of England that the justice of the recent judgment reposes. It rests on a wider basis, on a more impregnable position, — the very foundation of the Church of England, as represented by the most indubitable testimony of historical facts. There is no need - although if need there were it could be amply satisfied — for minute comparison of the particular formularies of the Church to prove the general truth that it is, by the very conditions of its being, not High or Low, but Broad. The wonder is how any one who knows anything of the English Reformation can have hesitated for a moment in acknowledging that the Church of England, like every other 1850. Comprehensiveness of the Church of England. 267 institution which came out of that momentous crisis, bore upon its features the impress of the contradictory elements which were contending for the mastery. Two principles — the principles of Rome and of Geneva — were struggling for life and death in England, as in every other country in Europe, for a triumph, which in England alone was in part lost, in part won, by both alike. If even in Germany, proverbial for the precision and fearlessness of her eminent men, the confessions and apologies of the Protestant Churches retain traces of the conflict, how much more in England, well called the native country of compromise, whose distinguishing excellence has always been a strong sense of practical unity amidst the utmost confusion of theoretical contradictions. Never was there a contest in which parties were so equally balanced,- in which the weight of external circumstances so instantly turned the scale. We cannot look steadily at any one scene or view in those eventful times without finding that it is dissolving into its opposite. At the accession of Edward the nation is Protestant. At the accession of Mary it is Roman Catholic. The very same proxies which the year before Edward's death were in the hands of Cranmer appear the next year in the hands of Bonner. It could not but be that every public act and document of the Reformers was marked by signs of the struggle through which they had passed: they had to build up their system sword in hand, with the axe of Henry behind them, and the fires of Mary before them; and, like the walls of Athens, after the Persian war, the whole fabric, strong as it has been in defence of the citadel, yet naturally 'exhibits ' in its irregular structure a lasting monument of the clashing • interests and jarring passions by which the ill-assorted parts were brought together.'*
Nor must the peculiar disposition of those chiefly concerned be forgotten. If ever there were characters who would naturally have been inclined to gather within the sweep of their institutions as large a mass of supporters as possible, they were the two first Protestant Primates, Cranmer and Parker, and, above all, the great Protestant Queen, under whom the whole system was first compacted together. Without ascribing to them any remote prevision, or even any deliberate intention, they could hardly fail, by the very force of their nature, to accomplish the purpose which Fuller ascribes to their work, in language not inapposite to the circumstances of the present day. 'Some,' says that quaint and original writer, in speaking of the Thirty-nine Articles, “have un
* Thirlwall's Greece, vol. iii. p. 365.