The pamphlet is founded upon a case submitted to, and an opinion delivered by, two of the most eminent lawyers of the day, as to the legal effect of the judgment in the well-known cases of Mr. Wilson and Dr. Williams. Both the case itself and Dr. Pusey’s observations upon it, display an incapacity of understanding legal principles which is almost grotesque in a man who proposes to regulate his conduct in a matter of the highest importance by his view of the effects of a legal decision. The case is exceedingly long, and contains no less than fifteen elaborate and wordy questions, which fill twelve pages of print, and which might be summed up in one comprehensive inquiry somewhat to this effect:—‘Be good enough to state every possible consequence which might be drawn from the decision of the Privy Council in the Essays and Reviews cases, and in particular be so good as to say whether or not it establishes the legality of all or any, and which of the following propositions.’ The propositions are of the most varied and comprehensive kind, and are nearly twenty in number. Finally, the learned and unfortunate counsel were asked to explain to Dr. Pusey the legal effect of the judgment as a. judgment. Would it form a precedent? would it be binding on any future Court of Appeal? and so forth. Any lawyer might have foreseen what the answer would be to such a catechism. Sir Roundell Palmer and Sir Hugh Cairns reply that the judgments in question ‘do not, by necessary implication or otherwise, furnish the means of determining in the abstract any of the legal questions raised by the present case.’ They proceed:—
‘We understand these judgments merely as deciding that in those particular cases there was no offence against the law pleaded or proved, unless the exact propositions stated by the Lord Chancellor could be deemed to be embodied in the formal and dogmatic teaching of the Church of England, so as to be rigorously binding upon every clergyman, which they were held not to be. But it would be most unsafe, and in fact impossible, to attempt to derive from their decision any rule for the determination of other hypothetical cases, each of which (if it should ever assume a practical form) must depend upon its own circumstances. This is the only answer which we can give to the questions proposed to us.’It is added in a postscript that the ‘exact propositions’ referred to in the judgment, consist in a negative answer to the inquiries whether every clergyman of the Church of England is strictly bound to affirm the two following propositions :—
1. ‘That every part of every book of Holy Scripture was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and is the word of God.
2. ‘That it is impious or heretical to entertain or express a hope that even the ultimate pardon of the wicked who are condemned in the day of judgment may be consistent with the will of Almighty God.’
Dr. Pusey does not appear to have suspected that this refusal to speculate on hypothetical cases, a refusal in which every lawyer would as a matter of course have joined, was in the nature of a polite reproof for the extravagant catechism set forth in the case. He ought to have known, or his solicitors ought to have told him, that lawyers never speculate, and that he could expect no other answer to the questions which he put than those which he actually received. The opinion which he publishes does not assert that the consequences apprehended by him would not follow from the judgments in question, or that the propositions which he suggests would not be justified by the principles laid down in them. It simply refuses to answer the question whether they would or not; and adds that any case which might actually arise would depend on its own circumstances. The opinion says, in effect, that the judgment establishes two principles, namely, that it is lawful for a clergyman to deny that every part of every book of Holy Scripture was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and is the word of God; and also that it is lawful to express a hope of the ultimate pardon of the wicked who are condemned in the day of judgment. What particular expressions might be justified by the establishment of these principles Sir Roundell Palmer and Sir Hugh Cairns decline to say.
Dr. Pusey seems to take this as an assertion that the judgment would not justify the expressions which he suggests; that the principles implied by the judgment are not part of the law of the land; that ‘the legal interpretation ruled in each case is the minimum which lies in the words;’ and that ‘it matters not whether by any apparent legitimacy of deduction any other consequences might be derived from the letter of the judgment.’ It is hardly worth while to argue with him on the point. If his conviction is a pleasant one, let him enjoy it by all means. When the case of Dr. Colenso comes on for argument (if it ever does), he will have an opportunity of hearing and seeing what use will be made of the judgment in question; and will perhaps be led to reconsider his pleasant impression that its legal effect on the subject of inspiration is ‘very narrow indeed.’ No one case, of course, actually governs another so as to preclude all argument, unless they are precisely similar in every respect; but a principle once solemnly affirmed by the highest court of law in the land, becomes part of the law of the land, and may be safely used as the foundation of legal arguments on all future occasions; and Dr. Pusey must surely see that, though his advisers declined to speculate on possible cases, counsel who had to support the legality of the propositions which he suggests would have a considerable advantage in argument, in being able to start with the proposition that ‘It is lawful to deny that every part of every book of Holy Scripture was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and is the word of God,’ and in being entitled to call on their opponents to draw the line dividing the parts which may lawfully be denied to be the word of God from those which may not. Dr. Pusey says—‘It might satisfy the words of the Lord Chancellor’s judgment if it were proved that any extension of any genealogy had been added to the Bible by one uninspired;’ and he seems to entertain some sort of hope that on some future occasion the Court may consider that nothing more than this was established by the cases in question. If the party which he represents are so ill advised as to bring the matter to trial again, they will get some new knowledge on the subject, and will perhaps at last manage to understand that there are only three possible positions respecting it—either that the whole of some specified copy of the Bible is absolutely true, or that a specified part of some such copy is absolutely true, or that the whole is open to criticism. They will also in time find out that the first of these views is negatived by the judgment in question, that the second is altogether untenable, and that the third is and must be the legal doctrine of the Church of England. Of course the judgments in question are only a step towards this; but that step being once taken, it is impossible not to go further.
It would be a difficult and an unsatisfactory task to undertake the legal education of Dr. Pusey. If he thinks the opinion which he has obtained satisfactory, so be it. We have no wish to disturb his satisfaction. There are, however, other matters in his pamphlet which call for some observation. In the first place, its tone is not only improper, but is positively indecent and hardly gentlemanlike. From the first page to the last the pamphlet is a virulent personal attack on the Lord Chancellor, mixed up with insinuations altogether unworthy of a gentleman and a clergyman. The judgment itself is ‘an unhappy judgment,’ a ‘victory of Satan.’ We are told of the ‘impiety of the decision,’ ‘the profanation of justice,’ the ‘unjust decision.’ The Court ‘has shown itself partial and dishonest.’ ‘Had it been a matter of human property,’ it ‘would not have dared so openly to profane justice.’ So much for the Court and its judgment. The Lord Chancellor comes off far worse. The judgment was ‘delivered by and is currently attributed to’ him. He ‘twisted’ Dr. Williams’s ‘words;’ he ‘went out of his way to affirm that the Church of England does not teach what it does plainly teach.’ He has, ‘as far as in him lies, poisoned the springs of English justice for ages in all matters of faith.’ If the legal effect of the judgment is as narrow as Dr. Pusey sometimes appears to suppose it to be, it is hard to understand why it should throw him into such a passion. If the Chancellor has happily failed to work his wicked will, why rail against him so furiously? This, however, is a small matter. It is not so small a matter that on such a subject an eminent divine should deliberately use, and more deliberately justify, language as unjust and foolish as it is indecent. Surely Dr. Pusey must know that the judgment which a judge delivers is not his own, but is the judgment of the Court. The Court at which he so fiercely rails consisted of eight members, of whom five were amongst the most eminent of living lawyers, whilst the other three were the two Archbishops and the Bishop of London. The lay lords all joined in the judgment, and the clerical lords concurred in part of it. It was as much the judgment of those who agreed to it as Lord Westbury’s, even if Lord Westbury did draw it up; and whatever credit or discredit attaches to it is theirs as much as his.
Dr. Pusey talks of the ‘unhappy state of the educated classes.’ He observes that an unbeliever or misbeliever may be a judge, and he asks, ‘How should one judge impartially as to the doctrine of hell, who has reason to wish that there should be none for those who live and die in the breach of some great commandment?’ On such topics he tells us we ought to have ecclesiastical judges; in their hands the faith would be comparatively secure. Probably, Dr. Pusey would not deny that tl1e clergy form a part of the educated classes; he himself undoubtedly possesses great learning. No doubt his own pamphlet proves that one part of the educated class is in a singularly unhappy state, and that it lives in the breach of those great commandments which enjoin men not to bring railing accusations especially against persons in a dignified position, and not to bear false witness against their neighbours. What effect this may have on his future prospects we shall not inquire; but the insinuation that he and other eminent divines can have no personal interest in wishing that there should be no hell, not only suggests the proverb that pride goes before a fall, but excites a curiosity to know in what company the bishops can have passed their lives. A man of ordinary humanity would probably feel a strong personal interest in the eternal condition of his friends. Has Dr. Pusey never had friends who died, according to his notions, in danger of ‘damnation, and for whose sake, if not for his own, he has reason to wish that the doctrine of infinite torture may not be true? Have all the bishops been equally fortunate? Are they all quite sure that they and all their friends will go to heaven, and quite satisfied that all the rest of the world should go to hell? If not, the miserable taunt which Dr. Pusey, with coarse insensibility, levels at the judges, falls on them as well. If we did not know how controversy hardens the heart and perverts all natural feelings, it would be almost incredible that any human being should suppose that personal fear constituted the great objection which ordinary men feel to the ordinary doctrine of hell, and that those who might think themselves secure from its torments would feel no concern at all for others, and would be perfectly willing to consign them to it for all eternity. It is all very well for men like Dr. Pusey to consider that they can have no interest in wishing that there should be no hell. Probably the Scribes and Pharisees thought so in their time. If they had had a more correct estimate of their own moral and spiritual condition, they would perhaps have been led to view the whole doctrine in a somewhat different light.
When we come to inquire into the foundation on which this vehement language rests, what is it? It is simply that the Committee of Council decided a legal question, which it was their distinct duty to decide, in a way which does not satisfy Dr. Pusey. They did not agree with him in ascribing to the two words ‘canonical’ and ‘everlasting’ one exclusive meaning. Dr. Pusey has the monstrous audacity to assert that ‘the terms of theology are in themselves as well-known and definite as those of common law. He says, ‘The theological meaning of “everlasting,” “hell,” “canonical,” “Scripture,” “inspiration,” is as definitely well known as that of “manslaughter,” “felony," “larceny,” “treason,” “libel;”’ and his grievance seems to be, that, in passing over these well-known meanings, the Judicial Committee have shown either bias or pure ignorance. It is a pity that Dr. Pusey does not say either what the theological meaning of ‘canonical’ and ‘everlasting’ is, or where it is to be found. It is in point of fact perfectly easy to show that there is hardly any, if indeed there is any, subject in the world on which men have used the same words in so many different and even conflicting senses as in theology. Probably there are no two writers in the present day who mean exactly the same thing by ‘inspiration.’ In Hey’s Lectures, for instance, inspiration has an utterly different sense from that which Usher or Calvin attached to it. Warburton and Tillotson differ from such a writer as Dr. Chalmers, who again, though an advocate of the highest doctrine of inspiration, uses the word ‘canonical’ in a sense like that which the Judicial Committee attach to it, and utterly opposed to the sense of Dr. Pusey. So ‘Scripture,’ according to the Church of England, excludes, and according to the Church of Rome, includes, the Apocryphal books. ‘Hell’ means something quite different in the expression, ‘he descended into hell,’ from the place of torment usually so called. The meaning of ‘everlasting’ has been a subject of controversy for centuries. It is used by different writers on different occasions to mean indefinite duration, a parte post et ante; indefinite duration, a parte post; very long; and fixed or absolute as distinguished from that which is relative and changeable. In a word, it is simply untrue to assert that the terms of theology are well known and definite. They are notoriously indefinite. Dr. Pusey continually goes on to say, that ‘theological terms in Holy Scripture are used in their known theological sense, and being known, are not defined (for men define what is really ambiguous, not what is known’). The logic of this assertion is on a par with its truth. How can people define what is unknown or ambiguous? to do so would be to alter the meaning of the word defined. The necessary condition of definition is, that a word shall have a known meaning. We define a circle; we cannot define beauty, because the meaning of the word circle is single and well known; that of the word beauty is ambiguous, and may mean many things according to circumstances. So much for the logic; now as to the fact. What is the known theological sense of the word ‘faith?’ and where is it recorded? how can it be so applied to the different passages in which that word is used in the Epistles as to make them intelligible ? Unless the word has more meanings than one, there is an express contradiction between St. Paul and St. James. What is meant by the words ‘justification’ and ‘regeneration?’ The assertion that such words as these have a known theological sense in which they are used in the Bible, is monstrous, but the further assertion, that ‘being known they are not defined,’ is even more monstrous. The truth would be, that their sense being unknown, every successive writer defines them differently, according to his general views on the subjects to which they relate. Jeremy Taylor says that the Lutherans had invented (if we remember rightly) twenty-seven different meanings for the word justification. It is notorious that the vagueness of the terms in use respecting the doctrine of the Trinity led to the Arian controversy; and if Dr. Pusey is right in saying that the word όμοούσιον was at last left undefined, that proves not that the word had a plain and well-recognized meaning, but that more animosity and weariness, ‘the Babel-din of theology’— to use the expression which Dr. Pusey himself employs for another purpose—had so much embittered and exhausted the contending parties, that they agreed to mark their mutual hatred by accepting or rejecting a shibboleth to which neither of them attached a real signification It is easier to revile Gibbon than to show that he was wrong in saying that the difference in meaning between όμοούσιον and όμοιόυσιον is even less well marked than their difference in sound; and if Dr. Pusey really means to say that theologians in general attach a plain, well-known distinctive meaning to the two words ύπόστασις and όυσια, or their English equivalents, he asserts that which nothing but passionate partisanship can enable him to believe. If any one were interested in the controversies to which the Athanasian creed refers, it would be no difficult matter to show that it l1as not really closed discussion. It is the fundamental weakness of most theological writers that they seem not to have any conception of the degree of precision of language which is required for the purpose of precluding discussion—and that they are ready to impute to all who differ from them, any conceivable degree of treachery and dishonesty, rather than admit the plain fact, that the formulas which they are accustomed to idolize are to a great extent indefinite, and do leave many questions altogether undecided.
The offence of the Judicial Committee lies in the fact that they have recognized this truth, and that they have not allowed themselves to be seduced into making law under the pretence of declaring it. For this and for nothing else are they denounced in language which any English subject ought to blush to apply to any English Court of Law. It is very remarkable that Dr. Pusey does not venture to criticise their judgment. He does not say a word to the fact that an article, which would have expressly condemned Mr. Wilson, was expressly repealed. He does not notice the fact that liberty of speculation on the meaning of the word ‘everlasting’ had always existed in the Church of England. He does not observe that the Court was bound by the principles laid down in the Gorham case, as to the existence of open questions in the Church, and that they only applied them to new circumstances, and yet he has the impudence—there is no other word for it—to denounce them, in the language quoted above, for not usurping an authority which they did not possess.
Dr. Pusey’s rashness and ignorance of legal principles probably prevent him from seeing what would result from the establishment of the principles which he maintains. The immediate consequence of it would be that there would be no such things as open questions on points of doctrine within the Church of England. Whenever a controversy arose, either or both of the controversialists could prosecute their opponent, the Court would have to define the doctrine of the Church upon the subject, and it is quite possible that the consequence might be to expel each of them in opposite directions. There are various instances in ecclesiastical history, as Dr. Pusey well knows, in which those who were pushed into Scylla revenged themselves by driving their opponents into Charybdis. But we need not go far to find illustrations of the inconvenience of such a state of things. Dr. Pusey himself, at this very time, is proved by this very pamphlet to be reaping the benefit of the policy which he denounces. He is at present, as he tells us, indulging ‘the pent-up longings of many years ' by attempting to form an alliance with the Evangelical party against the Liberals. He says, in a note to the present pamphlet, that so far back as 1848 he thought that the meaning of the Evangelical party might be good, though their language was unguarded. He adds: ‘I believe it is through love that men understand one another; that through love a veil falls from the eyes, and men see truths through the teaching of the Spirit of God; against which prejudice closed them. The Gorham judgment and subsequent controversies had separated persons.’ This is true, and in its way creditable, but how does it bear on the matter in hand? What would have become of the pent-up longings of many years if, sixteen years ago, Dr. Pusey had had the Court of which he now thinks it tyrannical to deprive the Church? Suppose that in the Gorham case the Court had declared the law as he thinks they ought to have declared it ; suppose they had ejected from the Church of England the whole or the greater part of the Evangelical clergy, and left it to the High Church party and the Liberal school then in its infancy. With what grace could Dr. Pusey now have written to the Record? How could he have asked a party stigmatized and treated as heretics to join him in a holy alliance against a common enemy? If a free Church, headed by the most eminent members of the Evangelical body, had been established sixteen years ago, the prestige of the Church of England, and the weight of its authority, would have been diminished below the point at which it could have sustained a second secession composed of every one who has any sympathy with the progress of science and learning. To suppose that the High Church party left to itself would be able to play with moderate decency and efficiency the part of a. national Church, is to show almost childish ignorance of the temper of the English nation. There would not be twenty years’ life in such an institution. It would not be endured that a minority of the clergy, supported by a small section of the laity, remarkable principally for combining a feminine turn of mind with the invidious distinction of rank and wealth, should monopolize such an amount of power, endowment, and social position as is at present possessed by the Church of England. This is so clear that probably hardly any one would dispute it. Yet Dr. Pusey inveighs against the application of the very principle by virtue of which he has been enabled to appeal for a reinforcement, which, as his conduct shows, he feels to be essential to the maintenance of his position. If the Church is what he says it is, if its system of doctrine is perfectly rigid and definite, and if the maintenance of that system in its integrity is the indispensable condition of Christian union, with what face can he seek to unite himself with a party which he tried to expel from the Church because they held views which he considered to be altogether opposed to its teaching on a cardinal question? Perhaps if he lives long enough he may find himself calling upon Deists to make common cause with him against Atheism.
Dr. Pusey’s proposed remedy for the state of things which he laments is one which he no doubt proposes seriously, but which in itself is so monstrous that it will hardly meet with much serious discussion. He proposes that the bishops should be intrusted with the function of ‘declaring what is the faith of the Church,’ with judicial authority ; and from the whole tone of the pamphlet it is obvious that he considers that the result of reposing this confidence in them would be, that they would say on a given occasion not merely what was the meaning of the Articles and other formularies of the Church of England, but also what was the general ‘ mind and teaching of the Church ’upon the subject under discussion. If we substitute plain prose for metaphor, and realities for abstractions, the effect of this would be to give the force of law to the current opinion of the clergy for the time being, as certified by the bishops. It is hardly possible to suppose that if such a claim were clearly and specifically stated, it would ever be seriously entertained. Dr. Pusey, indeed, asks, ‘why politicians should fear to do this more than ‘'they fear trusting eminent lawyers with declaring what is the law of the realm?’ The answer is obvious. They fear it because to, ‘declare the law’ is the highest of all judicial functions, and is one for which judicial habits of mind, formed by long and constant practice, and exercised under the most jealous and watchful criticism, are absolutely indispensable. Even in the case of law proper, the function in question is liable to the greatest abuses, and there is no part of our institutions which is, or ought to be, regarded with greater jealousy than the power of judicial legislation. Its existence, to a certain extent, is a necessary evil; but it is an evil, and is felt as such by every one who practically knows what law is, and it is made tolerable only by the fact that it is kept under the most careful control, and that a variety of habits and influences do, in fact, restrain judicial legislation within narrow limits.
If the bishops were trusted with such a power, every evil that besets the judicial legislation of the lay courts would be incurred and indefinitely aggravated, and all the restraints which mitigate those evils would be removed. The judges do little else all day and every day, and they have passed their lives in acquiring the necessary habits of mind. The bishops would be called upon to discharge this function very rarely, in times of great excitement, without the smallest judicial experience, and upon subjects in which they themselves take the keenest possible interest. What would be the value of a judicial opinion upon a particular subject given by men who had just set their names to a party manifesto on the same subject? Dr. Pusey might as well say why should politicians fear to leave the question whether a writing was a political libel to the Cabinet ministers for the time being. Are not they presumably men of great political experience? Are they not appointed by Parliament, which is Why not intrust them with the function of declaring the law on this subject in preference to twelve men who may be licentious, turbulent, disaffected persons, perhaps of the same political opinions as the very man whose work is the subject of trial? The bishops are not to be trusted with this power because they are not trustworthy, and to say that they are not trustworthy is merely to say that they are men like others, with the ordinary passions and weaknesses of men in authority. If the creed of the Church is fixed and embodied in plain words, the question whether, in a particular case, it has been contradicted is, and always must be, a judicial question, and judicial questions are proper for lawyers and not for divines. If the creed of the Church is not fixed, and if it is thought desirable to make it more precise, let this be done by legislation; but the worst possible form of legislation is legislation ex post facto, with a view to a special result, by a set of interested partisans, and that is the sort of legislation to which Dr. Pusey sees no objection. The costs of the course which Dr. Pusey proposes are by no means matter of speculation only. Experience condemns his view even more strongly than theory. Most of the corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church arose from this very source. The claim of the clergy to declare magisterially what is the faith of the Church brought forth, one after the other, all the doctrines which Protestants, with perfect justice, describe as innovations and corruptions. The monstrous doctrine of the immaculate conception was its latest birth; but, in fact, it always represents the workings of the minds of people in whom the religious sentiment happens to take specially definite forms. The results are often remarkable. Dr. Pusey wishes for such a power, in order to guard the doctrine of infinite torture in all its purity. He might do well to remember that the monstrous invention of Purgatory was ‘developed,’ as Dr. Newman would say, by this very method, for the purpose of evading and taking off the edge of that very doctrine. Men who shrank from the doctrine to which Dr. Pusey clings so passionately, invented, or rather suggested, the possibility of something like purgatory; by degrees the suggestion was brought into shape. It was then adopted by authority, and at last embodied in the teaching of a great part of the Church, though it is impossible to
allege the smallest particle of evidence for its truth. This was one result of judicial legislation, of the practice of intrusting the clergy with the power of declaring from time to time ‘the teaching and mind of the Church;’ in other words, the prevailing sentiment of the religious world at a given moment. Probably the bishops would not invent a purgatory; but to judge from their performances in Convocation, it may be expected that both about inspiration and about hell they would express themselves in a manner which would be inexpressibly mortifying to any one who cares for the character of the institution to which they belong. The manifesto of Convocation on the subject of the Bible was as ambiguous, half-perverted, and indistinct a performance, as if the men who drew it up had had pebbles in their mouths and peas in their shoes. Hitherto it has been the theory of the Church of England, and it is a theory for which much may be said, that its creed is that which is shown by examination of the Bible and by historical research to have been taught by Christ, by the apostles, and by their immediate successors; and it was further supposed that this creed was embodied in the Articles and Formularies. If, over and above this, there is to be introduced a vague, unwritten, unspecified something which resides in the breasts of the, bishops, and is to be declared on occasion by them, the whole nature of the institution will be changed. The Bible, the creeds, and the articles, will no longer guide men; they will have to be guided by the view taken by the bishops of the Bible, the creeds, and the articles. In short, the proposal to create an ecclesiastical tribunal, with power to declare the faith of the Church is and can be nothing else than a proposal to turn the Church of England into a sort of Church of Rome. It is a proposal to enable the clergy to govern the minds and consciences of the laity; and this is equivalent to undoing the most important of all the great works which were done at the Reformation. Dr. Pusey proposes to agitate for this object. He wishes to get such a court from Parliament. Here, at last, he is on the right track. Legislation is his remedy; and he has a perfect right to do his utmost to persuade Parliament to establish a court of law for the express purpose of overthrowing the law by which it would profess to be guided, and which has been found by Dr. Pusey and his friends to be insufficient for their purposes. Let him by all means agitate for this object. He will certainly go to the country with the strangest cry that ever was invented for an English election. It is, however, quite true that this is the road by which Dr. Pusey must travel. We wish him joy of his journey.
Dr. Pusey’s pamphlet is too indignant to be very consecutive or systematic; but some of his observations invite a few remarks upon the general subject to which his pamphlet refers. The gist of his complaint, apart from the particular charge which he brings against the Chancellor and the Judicial Committee, is that the Church of England is so constituted that, whereas it has a distinct body of theological doctrine, it is possible for its clergy to deny the truth of those doctrines —or at least of some of them—without being punished for it. This he describes as a grievous tyranny by the State over the Church. ‘How long,’ he says, ‘shall the patience of the English Church be abused? Tudor protection is withdrawn from it piece by piece; the iron grasp of the Tudors is held more tightly than ever upon its free action.’ (It is, by the way, highly creditable to Dr. Pusey that he generally calls the Church ‘it,’ not ‘she.’) There is a charming consistency in all this. The liberty which is taken away from the Church is the power to punish the clergy in the Ecclesiastical Courts; the protection which is withdrawn is, we presume, the satisfaction of seeing Dissenters punished in the lay courts. If the old penalties for nonconformity were restored, Dr. Pusey probably would not so much mind. If he might see a few Anabaptists burnt, or some Brownists set in the stocks, a slight liberty of opinion might be allowed to a few of the orthodox clergy; but if the Dissenters are to go scot free, it is too bad that the clergy should be allowed to think too. In all things there is, or ought to be, give and take. If we are not to persecute men for leaving our pale, at least allow us to do as we please with our own officers. The liberty of the ruler to punish seems to be the only liberty which Dr. Pusey really cares for. In much the same way High Tories in the seventeenth century declared that the 'monarchy of England was as free and absolute as any in the world.’
Passing, however, from this characteristic sentiment, let us shortly examine his main position as to the tyranny exercised by the State over the Church. The tyranny in question appears to consist in the fact that, whereas the Church is a body independent of the State, with a complete system of doctrine of its own, and a set of officers—the clergy— bound by its laws to teach those doctrines; the State, nevertheless, tyrannically prevents the Church from compelling them to do so, and even leaves them at liberty to evade or deny them. Any such proposition as this involves, of course, a variety of questions which it would require volumes to discuss with any approach to completeness. It involves, for instance, the two great questions: What is the Church? and, what are the doctrines of the Church? To answer these questions in a moderate compass would be impossible; but Dr. Pusey must be well aware that he is by no means entitled to assume that the Church is, for practical purposes, to be identified with the clergy, so that the clergy alone are to be allowed to have a voice in its government; still less has he a right to assume that the opinions which happen to prevail amongst the clergy at a given time, are in any sense the doctrines of the Church. The most authoritative documents relating to the faith of the Church of England are the Common Prayer-book and the Thirty-nine Articles: and how come they to be binding on the Church and on the clergy? Not by the authority of the clergy, but by the authority of the Act of Uniformity enacted by the Sovereign and Parliament of England. Mr. Wilson and Dr. Williams derive their title—not only to the emoluments of their respective livings, but to the exclusive right to officiate to the people of their parishes in the churches of those parishes—not from any clerical body whatever, but from the supreme legislature of the United Kingdom. In so far as their obligations are legal, they are obligations to the law of the land: for within this realm there is no such thing as law, in the strict sense of the word; that is to say, there are no commands enforced by sanctions, and compulsory on all persons living in the country, except the laws of the land—the laws made by the Queen, with the advice and consent of the two Houses of Parliament.
That the Church is entirely and exclusively the creature of the law; that if there were no law on the subject, there would be no Church; that by an alteration of the law the Church might be altogether destroyed-are propositions which no one affirms, and which would be as false as they would be mischievous: but that all this is true of the legal rights of the clergy; that they are the creatures of the law; that they might be destroyed by the authority which created them; and that whilst they exist they must be limited and defined by that authority—are self-evident and almost identical propositions. Hence it is obvious that the Church is one thing, and the legal rights of the clergy another; for if they were not, the monstrous consequence would follow that the Church itself is the creature of the law. But if these two things are distinct, how does the fact that the law determines what does and what does not forfeit the legal rights of the clergy constitute an act of tyranny over the Church?
A great deal of Dr. Pusey’s own language shows that, in fact, no such tyranny has been exercised. He says, ‘It must be remembered that no civil judgment enters into the question, What is the mind or teaching of the Church? It may be ever so morally certain that such or such is the teaching of the Church. A person may be constrained by conscience to believe any given truth as the plain or established’ [how established? Will the common opinion of the clergy for the time being give a fuller meaning to words than they naturally bear?] ‘meaning of the words; or he may be forbidden, under pain of mockery towards G0d’s dread majesty, to address to God himself, in unreal senses, words expressive of solemn truth. Of all this law takes no account.’ This is all perfectly true. And it is equally true, as he observes elsewhere, that these decisions do not in themselves ‘alter the doctrine of the Church of England.’
There are, no doubt, other observations in the pamphlet which we leave Dr. Pusey to reconcile with these. For instance, he says, ‘People of bad consciences congratulated themselves that, if the Lord Chancellor’s judgment was right, they need not fear hell for their sins.’ If there was in the whole world a fool so egregious as to suppose that the decision of a court of law, in the case of Fendall V. Wilson, be it what it might, would avail him personally in the day of judgment, his conscience could hardly have been as bad as his understanding. This is by the way.
Returning to Dr. Pusey’s main proposition, how, if it is true, has the Church been subjected to tyranny? Its formularies remain as they were. The moral obligations of the clergy are not touched. Nothing has been said or done which even implies that Dr. Williams or Mr. Wilson have not been guilty of a great sin in writing what they have written. All that has been decided is, that they are not liable to legal penalties for it. What then is the cause of this outcry? It can only be caused by distrust of the operation of those moral sanctions to which Dr. Pusey so powerfully appeals.
The fact of this distrust, the obscure consciousness that the moral sanction cannot in the present case be relied upon, is at the bottom of all Dr. Pusey’s indignation; and this is the most important inference which his pamphlet suggests. Let us examine this matter more fully. Dr. Pusey, like every one else—and, indeed, more emphatically than any one else—would deny that the Church itself was the creature of the law. He would no doubt say that, if everything in the nature of an endowment, if every legal recognition of ecclesiastical arrangements, were swept away by alterations in the law, the Church would remain altogether unaltered. Certainly it would not be destroyed: but what would be the result as to its laws? The essence of a law that which distinguishes it from every other sort of maxim or general principle—is its compulsory power, its sanction. Whatever else a law is, it must always be a command, enforceable in case of need by a penalty.
Suppose, then, that the Church establishment were altogether swept away; what commands enforceable by penalties would still remain unaffected by the change? Of course all commands given by God would still remain unchanged. Whatever doctrines God may have commanded men to believe; whatever ceremonies he may have commanded them to observe; whatever authority he may have commanded them to submit to,—he would still command them to believe, observe, or submit to after such a change, just as much as before it: but as regards outward and visible power, as between man and man, the powers of the Church in general, and those of the clergy in particular, would depend on contract, on private opinion. In the case supposed, the Church—that is to say, the whole body of clergy and laity—would have to agree upon certain rules, according to the state of opinion and belief amongst them, as to the Divine will on such matters; and those rules would be enforced by virtue of that agreement. This is the state of things which actually exists at present in all unendowed religious communities. Of course, as soon as private endowments were established, questions of property might arise; and these would have to be determined, in case of need, by the law of the land; but endowments apart, the power of the Church would be exclusively moral, and would be founded on the opinion of its members as to the nature of Christian truth. Dr. Pusey would be the last person to deny that this moral—or, if he prefers the word—spiritual, power is the distinctive characteristic of the Church; that this, and neither money, land, or rank, is the real genuine inheritance and distinction of the Church of Christ. He would, no doubt, say, The real power of a bishop lies not in the fact that he is a lord, and has £5000 a year, and a variety of powers conferred and recognized by the law of the land. It lies in the fact that those over whom he presides believe him (and, as Dr. Pusey would say, rightly believe him) to be the depositary of an authority conferred by Christ himself on the apostles and their successors, of which successors he is one. The same is true of the rest of the clergy in their several degrees.
We should not altogether agree with Dr. Pusey on the matter of bishops, or on the powers of the clergy; but every one who would care to claim the title of a Christian, would certainly agree with him so far as this, that whatever may be the extent of the powers of the Church, whatever may be the form of its government, and whatever may be the principles by which men ought to decide upon questions connected with those powers, their really efficient sanction is the moral one, and that the legal sanction is a subordinate and accidental matter. The question; what ought to be the legal rights of the clergy? is a question of immense practical importance; but the Church stands or falls by its moral and religious influence, and this is altogether independent of law. Let us then assume that the moral and religious influence of the Church is its vital and distinctive power, and that this influence is altogether independent of all political arrangements, and of all legal decisions whatever. What will be the inference? Surely the inference will be that the Church has in its own hands the real sanction of its laws, independently of the State. The objection to preaching false, doctrine is not that it is illegal, but that it is wicked. Suppose a man were to preach atheism in plain words, why would he be blamable? Would it be because, under the Act of Uniformity, he had subjected himself to a legal penalty, or because he acted the part of a traitor, and did his utmost to inflict deadly and treacherous injury on his hearers? Suppose that for some reason or other there were no legal means of removing such a person, or suppose that he obstinately resisted the means adopted, and spun out the proceedings, as he probably might be able to do, for two or three years, during which he continued to preach atheism, would there be no remedy? It would be a very poor compliment to his parishioners, and to the Church at large, to think so. He would, and ought, to be subject to a moral sanction far weightier than any legal one. He would be an object of horror and disgust. He would be universally shunned. He would be left to preach to bare walls and empty pews, and if he had either feelings or a conscience, they would make his life a burden to him until he resigned his position. Probably few men could be found in the whole nation so hardened and shameless as to endure the infamy of such a position. The vilest of men does not so completely disregard the rest of his species as to dare to proclaim himself continually a blasphemous liar and hypocrite. It is by no means a common fault to be hypocritical and dishonest in matters like these. So irksome is it to profess what is not heartily believed, and to take a hollow and insincere part in solemn services—so bitter is the reproach of falsehood and hypocrisy when felt to be well founded, either in the mouth of an antagonist, or in the secret admonitions of conscience—that men are perhaps more apt to be over-scrupulous in these matters than to be too lax about them. Whatever may be the meaning of that worm that never dies, of which we read in the gospels, it would be a most appropriate metaphor for the description of a bad conscience. There are men whom Dr. Pusey would probably consider utter reprobates, who would yet shrink from that suffering far more than from all the penalties which any law could inflict upon them. It is because, and in so far as, it has ahold over the consciences of men, that the Church is really powerful. This is its true and great prerogative: the rest is dust in the balance.
The force of the moral and spiritual sanction can hardly be overrated, but it is subject to one proviso of immense importance. It cannot, like the legal sanction, be applied at will, and in any direction. Law can make, and has made, the best and holiest actions into crimes of the deepest dye. The bare belief in Christianity itself has, at particular periods, been a greater crime than robbery or murder. Almost every form of religion has been persecuted in its turn. Acts in themselves indifferent have often been punished with severity, or even ferocity. Many a sentry has been shot for sleeping on his post. Men have been hung for breaches of laws founded on the most stupid prejudices about political economy. The moral sanction cannot be dealt with thus. It is coextensive with conscience, and cannot be carried beyond it. If a man feels convinced in his own mind that his conduct is right, there is no use in trying to make him unhappy by telling him that you think him wrong. If not only he thinks himself right, but if the public at large, or a considerable section of them think so too, there is no more to be said on the subject. It is this which constitutes the peculiar value of the moral sanction. It is irresistible where it acts, but its action, in the long run, is independent of caprice, and is governed by reason.
Let us now put together these principles, and show how they apply to the particular case in question. Dr. Pusey says, very justly, that the doctrines of the Church of England are now what they always were, and that no mere legal decision can alter them. He adds, also very justly, that it is wicked hypocrisy in a man to act a hollow and insincere part in performing divine service; and he lastly declares, or implies, that Mr. Wilson and Dr. Williams, and those who think with them, do act such a part, and ought to be subjected accordingly to all the penalties which the moral and religious sanction can inflict.
Test this by the principles just explained, and what is the result? It is that Dr. Pusey brings against Mr. Wilson and Dr. Williams an accusation which, if true, deserves severe punishment by the application of a sanction which rarely fails, because it is self-acting, which is essentially just, and is amply sufficient for its purpose. Yet they are not in fact punished. The public at large do not regard them with indignation and contempt, their congregations do not say a word, their own consciences, to judge from their conduct, are at peace. What, then, is the inference? Surely the inference is that they are not guilty. The moral sanction would operate efficiently if its penalties h been incurred. It does not operate, therefore its penalties have not been incurred.
It is worth while to dwell a little on this matter. The passage in which Dr. Pusey appeals to conscience against his opponents is as follows:
‘The unjust decision of the Supreme Court does not in itself alter the doctrine of the Church of England. The events of late years have brought out even more vividly the value of our prayers in the language of the people. The adage of above 1400 years has been verified anew, and the ‘rule of devotion has been the guardian of faith.’ . . . . So, then, although the legal obligation is removed, the moral and religious obligation to us as the creatures and ministers of God, to use words addressed to him without any evasion of their natural meaning, remains; the teaching of the people who wish to be taught also remains, at the time when their minds are most impressible, when their children are made members of Christ and children of God. And so, too, however, the Lord Chancellor may profane justice by assigning to our Lord’s words non-natural meanings, meu’s consciences, if not self-hardened, will still bear witness to them or against them, when, in the face of death and of the irrevocable end of each, they hear the prayer offered in their own names, ‘Deliver us not unto the bitter pains of eternal death.’ Nor would I for the whole world say such words to God with the mockery of a non-natural sense upon them. We have still men's consciences on our side, however a few hardened controversialists may, like the Talleyrands or Sieyes of the ante-revolution times, speak to God in such non-natural ways, and pray him to deliver them from what they think it contrary to His Being to inflict, and which they think to be only a theological scarecrow, lying terrors, held out by the God of Truth to frighten people from sin, as foolish nurses or parents he to children in order to keep them from mischief,—our better nature revolts at the mockery.O si sic omnia! Here at last we have an appeal to broad principles of common honesty and conscience—to a criterion which never errs for long, and which has ample power to enforce its own decrees. Here we heartily agree with Dr. Pusey’s principles. If he has conscience on his side, he has everything on his side. If it is by a mere legal quibble that Dr. Williams and Mr. Wilson keep their livings against the voice of conscience and religion, they are the basest of men, and deserve all that Dr. Pusey can say of them. Why could not Dr. Pusey see that here he had got hold of the real substantial question, and that he ought to have insisted on this point alone, instead of railing at judges as honourable as himself, and impugning the decision of an English court of justice upon a plain question of law? He does not, however, long maintain this tone. On the next page he makes a further attack on the Lord Chancellor, and then proceeds as follows:
‘ls then the Church of England to be really a mere arena for jugglers’ tricks, sporting with the meanings of words as if there were no truth, no faith, no Word of God, no God to whom men are responsible? If it is not to be such, the course must be arrested at once. The principles enunciated by the Lord Chancellor would make articles, creeds, prayers, scripture, a mere superficial mirror in which any one, instead of seeing the truth of God, is to see only the reflection of his own mind. As he looks in to them so are they to look out to him.’If Dr. Pusey really wishes the Church of England not to be an arena for jugglers’ tricks, he ought carefully to abstain from trying to convert moral obligations into legal ones. When the question of legal right has to be decided, the Court which decides it must look narrowly at this and that particular phrase, and must often establish distinctions which have little or no moral difference. Put articles, creeds, prayers, and scripture through a lawyer’s crucible, and you will, no doubt, reduce them to a caput mortum. But this is because they speak to the heart more than to the mind; that is because they assume on the part of those who read them a great deal which they do not state. In other words, they appeal to the moral sanction alone, and by that sanction alone can they be enforced. A prayer or a creed can no more be used like an act of parliament than an act of parliament can be used for a prayer or a creed. Look at the gospels and epistles; look at the creeds of the early Church. They have converted the world. They were a bond of union too strong to be rent by dissensions from within, or persecutions from without. They are so still. They have been and are the comfort and stay of millions of men, women, and children, and long may they remain so. You can say with confidence to a man’s conscience—Do you really believe this? Do you in your heart mean what you say? Do you believe in God at all? Do you think God can be mocked and deluded by verbal tricks and quibbles? But it is a sad descent from this awful appeal to add, and—Moreover I will bring an action against you. I will turn the Apostles’ Creed into an indictment, and translate the Lord’s Prayer into special pleadings. At all events those who choose to take this course must not complain of the consequences. Can there be a more ludicrous spectacle than a defeated plaintiff who complains that the defendant is litigious?
And now leaving the subject of Dr. Pusey’s pamphlet, let us try to meet his bold and manly appeal to conscience and religion in terms as bold and manly as those in which it is made. Are the Liberal clergy of the Church of England hypocrites and liars? Do they owe their position to a paltry quibble, and an unjust judgment; or can they look their fellow-countrymen fairly in the face and boldly justify the honesty and consistency of their conduct?
Without going over again the somewhat dreary description of the different pledges which clergymen have to give as the conditions of ordination and preferment, and without entering into the more dreary and perplexed discussions of the exact purport of their terms, it may be observed in general that, as a matter of fact, very considerable latitude of opinion has always been openly avowed by the clergy, and has been tacitly sanctioned by the laity. We deeply regret the existence of doctrinal subscriptions, and should far prefer reliance on the use of set forms of worship as a means of preserving such a degree of agreement in doctrine as is necessary for the purposes of a Church; but it is plain matter of fact that the subscriptions now in use have never been understood by any of the parties interested to bind those who sign them to an absolute approval of every part of the documents to which they assent and consent. The interpretations which have been put upon the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian Creed by writers of the most rigid orthodoxy (Waterland may stand as an instance) are standing examples of this. This being so, it is only fair, in considering individual cases, to admit that each man’s conscience is the only competent judge of the degree of deviation from absolute agreement with the whole Prayer-book which, in his own case, is consistent with an honest signature. When a man plainly avows opinions which appear consistent with particular expressions in the formularies; ‘when that avowal does not produce general disapproval, and when a court of law decides that the opinion so avowed is not condemned by the letter of the law,—it seems exceedingly harsh to say there is any reason to suppose that the man’s own conscience condemns him, especially if his opinion is one which is probably true, or which is even sufficiently plausible to be believed in good faith by a man who honestly seeks for the truth. On these general grounds it would seem that so far as subscription is concerned, both Mr. Wilson and Dr. Williams are entitled to be believed to be acting according to the dictates of their own consciences in retaining their preferments. This, however, is a much narrower proposition than the one which we have undertaken to maintain against Dr. Pusey. Apart from the question of subscription, do the two propositions stated above conflict with the general scheme of the teaching of the Church of England? Let us consider them separately; and first, the question of the free criticism of the Bible.
It is a prominent feature in the teaching of the Church of England that it does not categorically lay down any rule by the application of which the Christian faith may be discovered. It does not say the Bible is absolutely true throughout, and you have nothing to do but to go to the Bible to find the Christian religion written down in so many words. It does not say the Church is the ultimate authority, and you have nothing to do but to follow its orders. It states a specific set of doctrines as composing the Christian faith, and says in general terms of some of them, that they can be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture. Though it declares the Church to be the judge of controversies, it does not say that it is an infallible judge. On the contrary, it asserts in express terms that both general councils and particular churches have erred, and that in matters of faith. That the canonical books contain all things necessary for salvation is the strongest saying on the subject of the Bible to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles.
This reticence is most remarkable when it is compared with the superabundant energy of statements made by other Protestant churches about the Bible. The Westminster Confession, for instance, affirms the absolute truth and plenary inspiration, or rather dictation, of every word of it, and makes this one of its most prominent and earliest articles. The historical explanation of this marked peculiarity is sufficiently obvious. The great statesmen and divines who conducted the Reformation in England were not less averse to the monstrous extravagances of the Puritans than to the usurpations of the Popes. The great object of Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity is to controvert the notion that the Bible is the rule of life and faith in such a sense that no other authority was ever to be referred to, either for matters of belief or for matters of Church government. There can be little doubt that the reason why no positive definition of the characteristics of the Bible was given in the Thirty-nine Articles was, that the framers of them wished to retain a power of appealing to other than biblical authority; that is to say, to the evidence derived from early Christian history and literature as to many ecclesiastical questions, and especially as to Church government. Of course it is not suggested that they left the matter in that state with a view to the questions raised in later times, and controverted at present with so much zeal; but no candid reader of the Articles can doubt that, whatever may have been their reason, they did, in fact, advisedly leave the question open.
About a century after the final revision of the Articles—that is to say, about the middle of the seventeenth century— the discussions about the nature of limits of the inspiration of the Bible first began. From that time to this, divines of the Church of England of the very highest eminence have fully discussed the whole question, obviously considering themselves at full liberty to do so, nor was their right ever questioned till the Essays and Reviews were prosecuted. Many of the greatest names in the Church of England maybe cited for statements which, if justifiable, would justify nearly everything said by Dr. Colenso. A few of them may be mentioned by way of example: Tillotson suggests, and almost gives it as his own opinion, that whole books, for instance, the Book of Proverbs, are uninspired. Baxter (who refused a bishopric, and was an ordained minister of the Church of England) considered parts of the Psalms immoral. Chillingworth speaks in the most slighting manner of Ecclesiastes. Warburton elaborately defends the doctrine of what he calls ‘partial inspiration.’ Bishop Marsh translated Michaelis, and declared his approval of that author’s belief that the Gospel of St. Luke was not inspired. Bishop Horsley said that he would ‘strenuously contend’ for the right of controverting the truth of passages in the Bible which might contradict science. Archbishop Whately said that more was not to be expected of the historical books of the Old Testament than that they should be instructive and honestly written. Put all this together, and say where is the moral harm of what Mr. Wilson and Dr. Williams have said? No doubt the common opinion both of the clergy and laity was, that the whole Bible was absolutely true; but there is as much difference between a common opinion and a doctrine which a clergyman is morally bound to believe, as there is between a scientific truth and a popular superstition. A Roman Catholic priest is morally bound to believe in transubstantiation, but he is at liberty to disbelieve every miracle of every saint in the Calendar.
If the matter is viewed in a moral point of view, and with a due regard to the virtues of honesty and truth, it is hard to understand how any one can venture to deny the duty of perfectly free criticism. Consider for a moment what the Bible, and especially what the Old Testament, is. That the books which Moses wrote (if he were the author of them) have perished thousands of years ago is admitted. In our copies there are some corruptions. These corruptions may, for what we know, he not only false, but wicked; for there is no reason to suppose that if a man interpolated matter of his own composition into the Bible, the interpolated matter would be perfectly good. Assume that the original was perfectly good and absolutely true. Are we at liberty to draw—from the fact that passages in our copies are what in other books we should describe as false or bad—the inference that they did not form part of the original? If not, why not? If so, the whole case is established.
The morality and propriety of criticism by laymen is hardly disputed; and the only way in which it can be shown to be immoral in the clergy, is by asserting that they have virtually debarred themselves from such inquiries; that though it is not stated in terms in the Thirty-nine Articles that the Bible is absolutely true, the whole structure, both of the articles and of the prayers, implies it. There can be no question at all that the structure of the articles and of the prayers does imply that the Bible contains a Divine message from God to man; and there can be as little doubt, that a man whose researches had led him to look upon the Bible as a collection of mere human books, ought to resign his preferment. But between believing in the absolute truth of the whole Bible, and believing in its purely human character, there are many intermediate opinions, one or other of which is held by a very large proportion of those who have considered the subject. It is easy, and to many minds it is pleasant, to say, ‘there is no resting-place between the two extremes, be consistent; take one view or the other;’ but this is generally the resource of haste, rashness, and self-indulgence taking the mask of courage and decision. What would be the dishonesty of such a speech as this in the mouth of a clergyman of the Church of England?—‘You ask me my view as to the Bible. Positively I think that, in fact, it has exercised over the best part of the world an influence altogether unlike that of any other book or collection of books. If we are to call anything in history providential, I say that Providence has given to this book the position of an authorized code—a textbook or grammar of religion and morality, the value of which has been, and is, altogether unspeakable. I am perfectly willing to use it as such; to teach out of it, to be guided by it, and to use it for purposes of devotion. Negatively, I must own that I see considerable defects in parts of it. It contains some statements which, as an honest man, I cannot pretend to believe; and some others which, as a man recognizing the principles of morality, I cannot pretend to approve. Such statements I cannot possibly ascribe to God in any shape whatever. I cannot tell how far these flaws may extend. It is, no doubt, conceivable that if researches of this sort are pursued, they will at last reduce the Bible altogether to the common level; but this will happen only if that is its true level. If I am right in supposing part of it to be Divine truth and part to be human error, the result of further inquiry will be to show this fast. I do not underrate the importance of this admission. I do not deny that it may, in time, show the necessity of great alterations in our thoughts on these matters. We may be on the brink of great religious changes. It may be necessary to have a new Reformation; but I, as a clergyman, have to act not for tomorrow, but for to-day, upon the best of my knowledge an belief; and I affirm that for practical purposes, and as the minister of an existing system, I can still honestly preach out of this book, and read it to my congregation, as the vehicle of a Divine message to men. I do not bind myself for the future. I cannot be expected to do more than vindicate my own honesty at the present time. How I may think or act twenty years hence, is a question which I will answer in 1884, if I am then living. I uphold theology because, and in so far as, I believe it to be true; I do not uphold truth because I believe it to be theological. You say these inquiries tend to a denial of the fundamental doctrines of the Church. They do so only if, and in so far as, those doctrines are false. If you are right; if those doctrines do come to seem false to me,—I will at once resign my position; unless, indeed, I can prevail upon the legislature to think with me and relieve my conscience; but I will not be withheld from inquiries which have truth for their object, because hereafter they may perhaps show that my present views are mistaken; nor will I give up a position which is, in a variety of ways, most beneficial to others and to myself, until it becomes a plain duty to do so.’
What is there in all this which an honest man may not openly profess before God and man? As to the degree of disbelief of parts of the Bible which would amount, substantially and in foro conscientiae, to a general disbelief that the Bible is the vehicle of a Divine message, it is simply impossible to attempt to define it. Probably there are thousands of excellent men, and most sincere Christians, who set little or no value on the book of Esther, and regret the presence of the Song of Solomon in the Canon. Disbelief in the common opinion as to the character, date, and authorship, of the book of Daniel, is a very common opinion amongst learned men, notwithstanding Dr. Pusey’s elaborate lectures on the subject. Hardly any intelligent person, in the present day, ventures to affirm the truth, according to the natural meaning of the words, of the account of the creation in Genesis; and there are few, it is to be hoped, who would not agree with Baxter in considering the bitter curses poured on his enemies by David as inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity. If Dr. Pusey attaches any value to moral sanctions, he will probably find that, in the opinion of educated laymen, moral disapprobation attaches not to those clergymen who plainly admit these facts, and who manfully endure the suspense of being destitute of a distinct theory about the Bible till the inquiries, now in their infancy, shall have been completed, —but to those who, rather than face an unwelcome truth and bear the pain of doubt, will assert their belief in any kind of absurdity, and either attempt, like Dr. Pusey, to stifle discussion in the Church, or, with even deeper weakness, admit, with Dr. Newman, that reason leads to atheism, and go shuddering to the Pope to be taken care of, in the hope that, if Christianity is false, he will be the last person to find it out. This disposition to look facts in the face,--to admit a real difficulty and to try to find the true way out of it,—is the very temper which led to the Reformation,—which led to all the political and social reforms which have blessed the last forty years, and which those who believe in a God of truth may expect to lead to results as fruitful and glorious in religious affairs. Dr. Pusey may call this the ‘present unhappy state of the educated classes.’ Others will view it as the hereditary and native temper of the English gentry. Is it to be endured that sturdiness and courage and straightforward honesty should be applied only to physical danger and political struggles? Are men to be brave and open in Parliament, in law courts, and on fields of battle, and to shrink like ours from the threat of hell? Like all other threats and dangers, the threat and danger of damnation is to be deliberately measured, and coolly looked in the face. Steadfastly to follow the truth at all hazards, temporal or spiritual, here or hereafter, is the first great duty of all men and all women in this matter. To follow it in their own way and at their own pace, without being deterred by threats, or hurried by taunts, is the part of those who wish to tread in the steps of those wise fathers who built up the Church and State in which we were born and bred.
Next let us consider, and it must be very briefly, the moral right of clergymen to deny the doctrine that a great proportion of mankind will be judicially sentenced by God after their death to torture, infinite in degree and perpetual in duration. If Dr. Pusey will not accept this paraphrase of the words ‘everlasting fire,’ for which he contends so earnestly, the question between him and his opponents is merely a question of words, and is not worth a moment’s consideration. If he admits that the ‘fire’ is metaphorical (and surely he can hardly mean to assert that it literally means inflamed gas), and if he adds that we do not in the least know what is the fact which the metaphor represents; if he suggests, with Paley, that there may be as little difference between the lots, as between the characters, of the last man in heaven and the first man in hell; or if he says, with Hey (whose lectures are still a text-book of divinity), that a fine of a shilling is an everlasting damnation, inasmuch as it is a sentence which, when it has become a fact, will remain a fact for ever and ever,—there is no real difference between his opponents and himself. Nothing short of a belief in the future infinite and perpetual torture of a vast mass perhaps the vast mass—of the human race, can justify his language. Is a clergyman morally and substantially bound to believe this? It must at once he admitted that such has always been the express official common opinion of the great bulk of Christian people; though it must be observed that gratuitous and dishonest, though kindly meant imaginations about Purgatory, took off the edge of the belief from a great part of the Christian world for many centuries. The hope that he himself and his friends and connexions would get at least into purgatory, no doubt veiled from the ordinary mediaeval Christian, as it now veils from ordinary Roman Catholics, the horrible doctrine that hundreds of millions of heathens and heretics would be tortured for ever. The dreadful agony which that doctrine inflicted on those who, by various causes, were led to try to realize it to their own imaginations, has left behind it many affecting memorials. If it were necessary, it would be very easy to account for the growth and tenacity of the opinion itself. Both the natural tendencies of human nature, and the special circumstances of the Christian Church, contributed to it; but this inquiry would at present be superfluous. It is universally admitted that the mere fact that an opinion is common imposes no moral or conscientious obligation whatever on a clergyman of the Church of England to believe it. He is, no doubt, under a moral and conscientious obligation to believe the truth of what our Lord said on the subject; but he is bound to nothing else.
What then did he say? In the first place, he said very little; and his apostles said still less. Leave out a few expressions, such as the particular one quoted in the Athanasian Creed, and the result of his teaching on the point, though awful, is, in the last degree, general and reserved. Considering what a doctrine the doctrine in question is if true, the space which it fills in the New Testament is so small, that it is impossible to believe that it occupied in the minds of the writers the position which Dr. Pusey assigns to it. Our Lord speaks of a judgment to come; of rewards and punishments according to the good and evil works of those who are judged; of few stripes for the servant who knew not his Lord’s will, of many stripes for the servant who knew it; of not coming out till the uttermost farthing was paid; and besides this, no doubt, of a worm that dieth not and a fire that is not quenched; and also of everlasting fire. ‘This, however, is all. The machinery of legions of fiends, exquisite and refined tortures, and the like, is almost entirely the product of the imagination of the middle ages. Dante and Milton, the legends of saints, and the pictures which represented them—from the hideous daubs on church-walls in Roman Catholic countries, up to the awful imaginations of Michael Angelo,—these, and not the New Testament, are the source of that vague popular notion of hell,—lurid and vivid because it is vague, which Dr. Pusey cannot bear to see disturbed. The parable of Lazarus and Dives, an avowed parable, is the one exception; and though that parable speaks of fiery torments, and may well cause those who read it to tremble, it says not one word as to their perpetuity. Indeed it treats the torture of Dives as a sort of equivalent for the sufferings of Lazarus on earth; and Dives would have been treated with horrible injustice if he suffered endless agony as a counterpoise to a few years of luxury, whilst Lazarus would have been treated with a partiality not less horrible.
Such being the general mode in which the subject of future punishment is treated in the New Testament, what is the value and meaning of the two or three expressions to be found in our Lord’s discourses as to ‘everlasting fire?’ In the first place, no one knows what the precise words used were. The Greek is a mere translation of them. There is abundant reason to know that the Evangelists did not observe strict verbal accuracy—and here everything turns upon it. Letting this pass, however, and assuming that the words as they stand faith fully represent the words actually employed, what do they mean? The ‘fire’ is clearly metaphorical: but when we are once launched upon metaphors, who can tell their precise extent or meaning? It is nowhere said that every one who goes into everlasting fire is to stay there for ever. The passages about few and many stripes and the uttermost farthing, seem rather to imply the reverse, and, at all events, authorize a hope upon the subject. In this state of uncertainty, why are men to be compelled to preach that which no sophistry, no juggling with words, no fierceness of threatening, can persuade people to believe to be moral? Dr. Pusey may talk of having conscience on his side; but, in reality, the strength of his opponents’ case is in an appeal to the conscience. No one who has observed the course of opinion on this subject can have failed to recognize this fact. It is a gross libel on those who have protested against the views which Dr. Pusey maintains, to impute to them the motive of personal fear. Their motive almost always is, that they cannot bear to impute such conduct to God, and that they feel that to do so is practically to deny both His goodness and His justice.
The whole matter may be shortly summed up. The law does not forbid the doctrines to which Dr. Pusey objects; for if it did it would punish them. The consciences of those who maintain them are at rest,—at least there is no sort of reason to suppose the reverse. They gain nothing, and lose much in quiet and in their professional prospects by what they have said. The consciences of the public, at large do not condemn them; for the outcry on the subject proceeds only from a small and extreme section of the clergy. Their own parishioners —the only parties directly interested —do not complain; and the complaint against them substantially reduces itself to this,—that what they say shocks Dr. Pusey and his friends, and is opposed to common opinions which are neither enforced by law nor capable of being proved by argument.
Fraser’s Magazine, November 1864.