Изображения страниц

vested in these corporations, a mass of rights and duties attaching to a body of ecclesiastical officials selected by certain definite legal methods, and an assemblage of rights and duties which determine or express the relations of all persons in the country towards the ecclesiastical officials, or towards the corporations which they constitute or to which they are appended. It is obvious, then, that considering all the innumerable and intricate interests concerned, and the deep and strong sentiments to which all handling of religious matters appeals, the process of reforming abuses can at the best only be slow, tentative, and, both in its methods and machinery, inharmonious and apparently dislocated. The establishment of the Ecclesiastical Commission fully recognised the complexity of the problem. Its powers of recommendation, and, at a later time, of actual administration, were most extensive and flexible; and though its main province was that of ecclesiastical property, yet the more even distribution of ecclesiastical revenues which it has effected has told largely on the public usefulness of the Church as a whole. The Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 was another important parliamentary effort to reduce a longstanding grievance, and to remove something of the friction which could not but exist between a richlyendowed ecclesiastical organisation and such of the population—secular, indifferent, or hostile—as, by the terms on which they held their own property, were bound to support it. The history of the parliamentary reform of the Church of England in the present reign would properly cover that of all the Acts for improving the procedure of the Church Courts, transferring their jurisdiction in some cases to secular courts, facilitating

The Dissenters' Chapels Act.


appeals to a Court partly secular and partly ecclesiastical,—that of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council,—constructing new Courts, such as that created by the Public Worship Regulation Act of 1874 for the trial of special offences by the clergy in not con• forming to the requirements of the Book of Com'mon Prayer,' and controlling in certain respects the action of the clergy by a reorganisation of the parish vestry.

It is to be observed, however, that the legislative function of readjusting and controlling religious trusts has by no means been confined to the case of the Established Church. The circumstances of Nonconformist bodies are usually in their nature far simpler than those of the Established Church, and are such that the ordinary legal rules which govern voluntary associations and trade partnerships easily apply to them. When, in 1844, there was some fear, from decisions of the Court of Chancery and the House of Lords, that the endowments of one sect might be forfeited in favour of another, owing to some change or development of creed, the Dissenters’ Chapels Act was passed,' which provided that, where the founder had not expressly defined the doctrines or form of worship to be observed, and therefore the character of the trust had to be gathered from extrinsic evidence outside the will or deed of the founder, the usage of twenty-five years should give trustees a title to their endowment. The operation of this Act was to establish harmony between sects which, from the near approach of their doctrinal standards, might be tempted to compete with one another for endowments, the true purpose of which was, by uncertainty of evidence, lapse of time, and therewith change of circumstances, very indefinite. It became merely a matter of ordinary judicial evidence to ascertain whether, in any particular case, the broad scheme of doctrine professed by a sect had been continuous and uniform for the twenty-five years preceding. The general result of this legislation was, on the one hand, to secure the rights of private members of the sect to the property and religious services which the endowment conceded and provided for, and on the other hand, to enforce on the ministers and officers of the sect the duty of satisfying the expectations of its private members, in respect both of doctrine and ritual.

17 and 8 Vict. c. 45.

In thus noticing the recent policy in reference to the Church of England and sectarian bodies, for the purpose of determining whether a new constitutional position has been taken up, it is not suggested that Parliament has complied with or adopted any abstract theory of the relations of Church and State. It would be more true to say that the new constitutional position is that of ignoring all obligation to favour any abstract theory whatever concerning religious affairs. Apart from the sentiments and predilections of particular members to be found in both Houses of Parliament, the broad sense and temper of Parliament as a body exhibits itself more and more in the direction of treating the Church of England and all other religious institutions as social facts which, whether beneficial or the contrary, transient or permanent, profoundly penetrate society, and require legislative as well as judicial vigilance to guard them against corruption and abuse. If it is true that, by its measures for the University Reform.


increase of the episcopate and the like, Parliament interferes more directly with the Established Church than with other religious bodies, and the chief ministers of this Church are nominated by the Government of the day, this must be looked at, not as admitting any superior religious merit in the Established Church as contrasted with other bodies, but partly as due to acci-. dental circumstances for which only an historical explanation can be found, and partly to the enormous. amount of property, social influence, and private interests, involved in the government of the Church. Any other theory would be inconsistent with such facts as the very limited area of the Queen's dominions over which the English Church is legally established; the recent prompt disendowment and disestablishment of that Church in Ireland; the repeated modifications of the principle of establishment as applied to Presbyterianism in Scotland; and the very various and elastic policy in religious matters applied, as was noticed above, to the dependencies.

(2) The reform of educational endowments is closely connected with that of religious endowments, inasmuch as, at the time to which the most important endowments can be traced back, religious and educational objects were regarded as almost inseparable. It might hardly have been expected that the great Universities of the country would resent parliamentary inspection and control in the way they did ; and had not their best friends in the House of Lords been more far-sighted than those on the spot, University endowments might have long remained centres of narrowness, inefficiency, and festering abuses, when all other similar institutions had been purged and vivified. It was

on the 23rd of April, 1850, that Mr. Heywood proposed in the House of Commons that an humble address should be presented to Her Majesty, praying her to issue a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the state of the Universities and Colleges of Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin, with a view to assist in the adaptation of these important institutions to the requirements of modern times. In spite of the opposition of all the members for those Universities, Lord John Russell, then Prime Minister, announced that if Mr. Heywood would withdraw his motion, the Government would advise the Crown to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the state of the Universities. On the 18th of the following July, Lord John Russell further explained the purpose of the Government by saying: 'We propose • to make such inquiries as were made with respect to

the municipal corporations and the ecclesiastical • bodies; and if it should on inquiry be thought

necessary that any alteration should be made, it will 6 afterwards be the time to inquire what is the authority • by which these alterations should be effected. On this Commission,—which was furnished with very insufficient powers for the purpose,-proceeding with its work, the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford positively refused to give evidence, and the example was followed by many other office-bearers of the University and Colleges. Thus the revenues of the Colleges could not be even approximately calculated, and the result was in the highest degree unsatisfactory. It was not till 1854, under the Government of Lord Aberdeen, that, by overwhelming majorities in the House of Commons, and with the invaluable and indispensable support of the Earl of Derby in the House of Lords, an effective

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »