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SPEECH IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS,.
ON THE ECCLESIASTICAL DUTIES AND REVENUES BILL.
Monday, July 27, 1840.
MY LORDS—I have heard with great regret the determination of the noble Viscount* and the Most Reverend Primate to proceed with this Bill ; and I cannot allow it to pass without protesting against it.
My Lords—This subject, fully treated, is of great extent and great difficulty ; but in the remarks with which I am going to trouble your Lordships, I propose very much to narrow the ground upon which it may be considered. I will take no exceptions to the composition of the Commission ;t nor will I speak of any illustrations which that composition may have received from any of the proceedings of the Commission previous to the introduction of this Bill. Nor will I dispute the right of the Legislature to deal with these revenues as it thinks fit. He will be a much bolder, and a very much abler man than I, who will venture upon that ground, after the remarks of the learned Counsel on Friday evening. I will take a lower and a simpler ground; and endeavour to show that the bodies to which this Bill refers have important functions vested in them, provisions for which at this moment lie dormant in their statutes, essential at all times to be exer* Lord Melbourne. Ecclesiastical Commission.
# Mr. J. R. Hope.
cised, most essential at this time ; and that the true duty of the Legislature is, if needful, to enforce the due performance of those functions.
My Lords—I say that this is the true ground on which these institutions should be defended, and that this is the ground which has always been taken by their best defenders. This was the ground taken in an excellent pamphlet by Mr. George Selwyn, to which I just allude for the purpose of objecting to an interpretation put upon a passage in it by a Right Reverend Prelate* in his Charge. The Right Reverend Prelate says, “It has been asked 'Are Cathedral institutions useless ?' and the ingenious querist, in order to prove them useful, sets himself to prove that they might be made to answer several good purposes, which they do not answer as at present constituted.” My Lords, this is the exact reverse of what the author of the pamphlet says; it is the exact reverse of what has always been said in defence of these institutions. We say—the author of the pamphlet says—that these bodies do not answer those good purposes, because they do not act according to their constitution, in the very words of the Right Reverend Prelate, as at present constituted ; that the purposes are involved in the constitution ; and that what is now required is to bring back their action to a state of harmony with their principles. Here is a material difference; and, my Lords, I submit that even on the ground of expediency, we stand in a position of some advantage, when defending institutions not on account of some presumed use to which they might be applied, but in virtue of ancient principles inherent in them
* Bishop Blomfield.
principles which were formerly called into action, and which seem to have given to them vitality to endure through so long a time. I say that it is better and wiser to make such institutions work in accordance with such principles, than thus throw them, as it were, into the middle, to try what new results may be drawn from them.
My Lords—What those functions were to which I refer, I find so happily and comprehensively sketched by a writer whose opinion, in this case, as I think I can show your Lordships, has some weight, that I will take the liberty of reading the passage, and making it the text of the remarks with which I shall trouble the House. The Rev. Sydney Smith, with whose general conclusion I agree, but from most of whose arguments, and whose whole mode of viewing the subject, I am compelled to differ—throws out, quite loosely and carelessly, in a corner of one of his pamphlets, the following remarks :-“I cannot help thinking that a great opportunity has been lost of improving the discipline of the Church by means of those very institutions which Lord J. Russell is so anxious to destroy. Divide the Diocese among the members of the Chapter, and make them responsible for the superintendence of the Clergy in their several divisions, under the supreme control of the Bishop. By a few additions they might be made the Bishop's Council for the trial of delinquent clergymen. They might be made a sort of Council for the general care of education throughout the Diocese, and applied to a thousand useful purposes, which would have occurred to the Commissioners, if they had not been so dreadfully frightened, and to the Government, if their object had been, not to please the Dissenters, but to improve the Church.” Now, my Lords, without in the least admitting any of the imputations implied in the above passage, what I wish to urge upon your Lordships is this :-If this powerful writer had not been, as he somewhere calls himself, so determined a hodiist -if he had condescended to look a little into the ancient history and inherent principles of these institutions, he would have found that the very offices which he thus conjectures these bodies might perform are, with almost a curious exactness, the offices which they were intended to perform, which in former days they did perform, and the performance of which might and should be now required of them. And, my Lords, I think this should rather dispose us to consider whether such be not the right way to deal with these bodies, when we find that this writer, evidently not thinking nor caring about their ancient principles, but merely conjecturing what might be the best use to which they might be turned, precisely hits upon the very functions which they were intended and framed to perform.
My Lords-Even in inquiring briefly into these functions, I must apologise if I appear to go over part of the same ground which was trodden by the learned Counsel. My Lords, it could not be otherwise. That learned Counsel exhausted the subject; and all that remains to do is to support, as I shall attempt to do, by a few arguments and citations, the positions which he advanced.
My Lords—Following the plan I proposed, I look at the first of Mr. Sydney Smith's propositions, which is this :—" Divide the Diocese among the members of the Chapter, and make them responsible for the superintendence of the Clergy in their several divisions, under the supreme control of the Bishop.” Now, it is notorious that originally the Chapters were much more than this. The Cathedrals were the fountains from which flowed the stream of religious instruction which Christianised the land. Selden, quoting from an ancient authority, calls the Capitular bodies “Singularum ecclesiarum presbyteri, qui populum erudire debent." In confirmation of which I would refer to the words of the Charter of the Cathedral of Ely, given by Henry VIII. : “Statuimus et volumus, ut Decanus et Canonici in verbo DEI seminando sint seduli, cum alias, tum præcipuè in ecclesiâ nostrâ cathedrali,”—words which show, assuming the constitution of similar bodies to have been similar to this, that the operation of them was intended to be co-extensive with the Diocese belonging to the Cathedral city in which they were placed.
Such, then, was the case in former times. My Lords, I say that the same necessity, the same machinery, the same power, the same responsibilities, exist at this day, and ought to be called into action. Will it be said that the country is Christianised, and that the division of it into parishes supersedes the necessity for the diffusive agency of the Chapters? We answer by denying the fact : the country is not Christianised fully, and re-conversion is often more difficult than conversion, opposing peculiar obstacles which do not impede the latter. Undoubtedly the parochial division of the country made a modification necessary of the system in which Chapters should act; and this is just what we should expect. Principles are everlasting ; the mode in which they should be carried out varies from time to time. And the modification I mean is, of course, the