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A Creed is important as a barrier against heresy, and against the gradual depravation of doctrines which transcend the ordinary human understanding. I believe it is a fact, and a significant one, that some modern sectaries, whose bond of union is not so much any common belief, as a dislike of all fixed human formularies, are sometimes found to feel no uneasiness at joining in any of the services of the English Church, except when the Athanasian Creed is used.
LETTER TO THE CHAIRMAN OF A CLERICAL
MEETING ON THE FINAL COURT OF
DEAR SIR, Your meeting, at which I was present, did not seem a favourable one for full discussion of any point requiring deliberate attention; and in any event, such a subject as that of the Court of Appeal cannot well be dealt with without some previous preparation.
Having been present at the meeting, I feel it an additional favour to be allowed to write this letter, which I believe you will be kind enough to read to the next meeting. The subject is one of general interest, which laymen, as well as clergy, may, if they can, contribute to elucidate.
My task, however, is much lightened by the perusal of Mr. Joyce's book,* which you have lent me; for, much to my satisfaction, I find myself in entire agreement with him on the general principle of the practical measure which he recommends.
It is also more than I expected : for I had imagined that he would support, as to appeals in cases of doctrine (which are all that need here be dealt with), the constitution, or the return to the constitution, of a tribunal consisting wholly or predominantly of spiritual persons, and certainly of members of the English Church exclusively.
* Ecclesia Vindicata, by the Rev. J. W. Joyce, 1862.
Writing as a Churchman, it is unquestionably a concession on Mr. Joyce's part that he does not do this ; for, though I am not sure that he has quite exhausted the historical view of the subject in the earlier part of his book, I think he has sufficiently shown that the general stream of ancient English precedent is on the whole in favour of such exclusive jurisdiction in the hands of the spiritualty; at least as far as judicial tribunals are concerned, and apart from the paramount power of the King personally, which was in almost all cases in earlier days rather indefinite, and difficult accurately to limit and delineate.
Mr. Joyce's authority, were it needed, is sufficient to show that such a concession is not in limine indefensible, or necessarily surrendering any vital privilege of the Church. : The concession is this (pp. 173-189): that the Judicial Committee shall remain as it was till lately, wholly one of lawyers (for the Lord President is there rather as a sort of compliment to his office), and that, as in all other cases, it should decide absolutely on its own judgment; but that, also on the analogy of other cases, it should inform that jndgment in matters of theology or scientific doctrine, by obtaining the opinion of what may be called theological experts.*
The analogies of the case are partly stated or quoted by Mr. Joyce, and on the general view of the case seem irresistibly strong. It is said to be monstrous that laymen or Dissenters should judge of Church doctrine.
* Undoubtedly this assumes that theology is a special study, requiring professional training. I shall not argue this, though I am not sure that it would be universally allowed.
But in itself this is not more unreasonable than that civilians should judge of navigation, unscientific men of points of science, and generally that men whose only special knowledge is that of technical law should judge of all matters affecting civil rights, however much they may involve their own different technicalities and specialities,—that can be brought before them.
There seems, indeed, here, a narrowing and a misapprehension of the meaning of “law,” which ought to be the application of certain principles to the determination of such questions. But the fallacy in the objection is pointed out above, when I say that ecclesiastical subjects are dealt with as others are, when they involve civil rights.
In the mind of the objectors there is probably an implied distinction of religious questions from others, on the ground of their peculiar sanctity and the sacredness of the trust respecting them reposed in the Church.
This is true in itself; but it should be considered whether the Church, by becoming established, does not necessarily surrender some of her particular prerogatives in this respect. I am assuming the continuance of the Establishment; to do otherwise would be to bring the question into a different region, into which I cannot now enter.
In an Establishment, then, it is plain that the limits, as to doctrine, of the Church's teaching, are inevitably and inextricably mixed up with countless matters of civil, legal, and social right, on the part both of the clergy and the laity. What is there strange or wrong in the system by which such matters are to be decided by lawyers, guiding themselves, as in other matters, on the principle of applying the rules of justice to conditions on which, in so far as they involve scientific knowledge, they are to inform themselves by the best lights they can obtain ?
This may be done in various ways, which Mr. Joyce adverts to. Perhaps the most apposite instance is that of the Trinity Masters in the Court of Admiralty. But there is an analogous (rather than an exactly parallel) case of singular force, which he has not noticed : that of the English lawyers in the House of Lords deciding appeals on Scotch law, from the Courts of Scotland. I have heard the late Lord Aberdeen say, that a greater outrage was never put upon a nation than this system ; and it is even beyond the other cases, in that the House of Lords has no system of calling in experts in Scotch law, and decides for itself simply, with the aid of Scotch (together with English) Counsel.
But it is a very remarkable fact, that when this system was inquired into by a Committee of the House, in the case of the Wensleydale Peerage, the equal is not the preponderating opinion among the best Scotch lawyers was, that the Court of Appeal is better as it is than if it were composed of Scotchmen— from the perfect impartiality, great ability, and knowledge of the great principles of law possessed by the veteran lawyers in the House, and the extreme pains they took with the cases, on the very account of their own want of habitual or experimental familiarity with the routine and the details of Scotch law. In such points, no doubt, though on no precise system, and not binding itself to do so, the House defers habitually to Scotch authorities, as to