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THE VENERABLE THE ARCHDEACON OF BATH,
IN HIS PRIMARY CHARGE,
RESPECTING ONE OF THE SACRAMENTAL
THE QUESTION OF CONGREGATIONAL
BY ONE OF THE CLERGY OF THE ARCHDEACONRY.
(AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM.)
LONDON: SIMPKIN AND MARSHALL.
Price, One Shilling
T ONE OF THE
SACRAMENTAL RUBRICS, ETC.
WHEN a gentleman in an official station in the Church stands up to pronounce a positive opinion on any particular point, it is to be presumed that he has well studied the question. Some of the rubrics in our Book of Common Prayer are so plain and obvious, that they can admit of but one interpretation ; others again, are not so clearly expressed, and consequently there may, and indeed must, be some difference of opinion respecting their meaning. For any man to pronounce a decision in these latter cases is to declare that the Rubrics in question are not doubtful, though charity itself ought to lead such an individual to believe that there is some room at least for doubt, or none of his brethren would vary in their practice from that which is adopted by himself. In such cases, therefore, the utmost length that an Archdeacon could reasonably proceed, is to offer his own opinion on the subject, and not to pronounce a decision. Now the Venerable the Archdeacon of Bath has not merely given an opinion in his charge respecting the Rubric in questiou, but he has pronounced a decision, and as positive a decision too as if he had been called npon to pronounce judgment after the case had been argued before him. He was not called upon to pronounce a decision. In short, the Clergy are not accountable to him for their conduct in such cases. He should have remembered that he was not sitting on the seat of judgment; that the Clergy were not standing before him as culprits; and that they have an equal right with himself to put their own interpretation on doubtful Rubrics. By his charge he has pronounced a sentence of condemnation on all his brethren whose practice in the administration of the Sacrament differs from his own. Was this becoming in any Archdeacon? Was it just ? Was it fair? Is it likely to be serviceable to the cause of religion or to benefit the Church of England ? I leave the Archdeacon seriously to ponder these questions.
But I proceed now to combat the decision which was so authoritatively pronounced. I do not intend to occupy the ground of expediency or necessity. I am quite ready to concede that it must be a strong case of necessity that would justify a Clergyman in violating the Rubrics. If the Archdeacon can prove the point which he has so positively asserted in his charge, namely, that his own view of the Rubric in question is the only view that can possibly be taken, then I grant that the Clergy who do not repeat the words to each individual separately are fairly chargeable with irregularity. Nay, I will go a step further; and I assert that if he can establish his position and show that the words will bear no other interpretation than that which he has put upon them, he is bound in conscience as well as by law to bring the offending Clergymen to trial before their ecclesiastical superiors ; for, if the case be so clear as he asserts, an ecclesiastical Judge would have no difficulty in pronouncing a decision.
Though, therefore, I do not mean to meet the Archdeacon on the plea of necessity, yet I should be prepared to show that such a plea could be justified. I am not, however, under the necessity of adopting this line. of argument, since I shall clearly prove that the Rubric permits a latitude of interpretation. Were it not so, the plea of necessity might be set up in this case with far more propriety than in some others, for it is always admitted that even positive laws must yield to stern necessity. I concede thus much, therefore, to those of my brethren who urge this plea. It would be a fair plea if the Rubric did not authorize the practice which the Archdeacon condemns. It would be absurd for any one to allege that no necessity can justify any departure from the strict letter of the Rubric, for every Clergyman is a transgressor. Some of the Rubrics are impracticable, and others are tacitly set aside by custom. In the cases alluded to the Clergy are relieved from their obligations by the nature of the Rubrics, which cannot be complied with. It is useless to say that we ought to comply until they are repealed, for the Convocation, by whom alone the alterations could be effected, is not permitted to assemble. As, therefore, the supreme power does not permit the assembling of that body by whom the changes could be made, the Clergy are justified in not complying with those Rubrics which are impracticable, or which custom has set aside. Among the impracticable Rubrics I would specify that which enjoins the dipping of the infant in the font; and there are others of a similar description. In certain cases, too, it would be impracticable to repeat the words to each communicant, as where the numbers are great. Under such circumstances, the Minister would be at liberty to depart from the letter of the Rubric, even if it did enjoin the repetition of the words to each person. But such is not the case, as will be shown; the Rubric does not enjoin any thing of the kind. That the plea of necessity may be urged in certain cases is admitted by the most eminent ritualists; it is admitted by Archdeacon Sharp, the very authority, if I mistake not, quoted by the Archdeacon of Bath. His words are pertinent and worthy of quotation. He says
“ This we must always take along with us, that our obligations to observe Rubric, how indispensible soever, are subject to this proviso, viz., that the rule prescribed be a thing practicable, which perhaps cannot be said of all Rubrics in all churches or in all places of the kingdom; nay, that it be a thing that falls within the Minister's power, so that he be not deprived of his liberty in acting, or restrained in it by the previous acts of other people ; whereby what would be practicable in itself is rendered not practicable by
* Sharp's Charges, p. 8.
This reasoning would justify a departure from the Communion Rubric, even if it were explicit. The same writer speaking of some Rubrics which are not explicit remarks
« Upon all which I observe, in general, that where the Rubrics are defective or capable of two sepses, or of doubtful interpretation, there is no stating a Minister's obligation to observe them; nor is uniformity in practice to be expected ; because every Minister must be allowed a liberty of judgment, and consequently of practice, in cases not sufficiently clear, or capable of various constructions, so as he make no breach upon those Rubrics that are plain and express."*
This reasoning is unanswerable, and singularly applicable to the present question.
I will, however, meet the Archdeacon fairly on the ground of the Rubric; and my position is this, namely, that the Rubric in question is open to more than one interpretation, and that it was intended to be so by the Reformers, to meet the exigencies and peculiar circumstances of the Church. Two points, therefore, are to be established: first, that the Rubric is not one of those respecting which there can be no difference of opinion, or which can receive only one interpretation, and, secondly, that it was never intended by its framers to be so.
First.' The Rubric is not one of those respecting which no doubt can exist, and consequently is open to more than one interpretation according to the views of different persons.
And here I would quote the words of the same eminent ritualist relative to the obligation of Clergymen to obey the Rubric. I quote his words for the purpose of showing what ought to have been the line adopted by the Archdeacon of Bath :
« Now I shall be free to tell you my own thoughts of the matter; though at the same time I do not propose them as certain rules for any of you. Surely it concerns every Clergyman to be his own judge' and casuist in these points. Every man will have his own sentiments concerning his own personal obligations. However it may help your private way of thinking on this subject if I offer to you the result of my own reflections upon it.”+
Had the Archdeacon of Bath adopted such a tone in his charge, no one could have complained, even though he had given an opinion at variance with his own.
But my position is, that the Rubric is not one respecting which there can be no difference of opinion. The Rubric in question is as follows : -“ And when he delivereth the bread to any one he shall say.” It is enjoined that the minister shall deliver the elements into the hands of the people, or otherwise it might be doubtful whether they might not take them from the table : it is also enjoined that the communicants should receive the elements kneeling ; but it is not said that, in administering the bread and the wine, the prescribed words are to be repeated to each individual communicant. The words are to be repeated when
* Sharp's Charges, p. 79 † Archdeacon Sharp, on the Rubric and Canons, p. 5. I believe, as far as I can recollect the words, that the passages quoted by Archdeacon Brymer, from an eminent ritualist, were from the same work. The Archdeacon of Bath did not give the name, but I am almost certain that I remember the passages in Archdeacon Sharp's work.