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But we must not anticipate.
It was amidst the alarm which all the circumstances we have alluded to had excited throughout the whole Church of England and Ireland that a few individual clergymen at Oxford-not leading, as has been supposed, but led by the general feeling-began that series of publications now commonly called the Tracts; but we should not disregard their proper title-which corroborates the explanation we have given of their origin— Tracts FOR THE Times. In justice to the earlier Tracts this should not be forgotten; for if we find these writers throwing themselves violently and injudiciously into certain extreme opinions, it was the result of a natural impulse to counterbalance the extreme opposite opinions with which they were contending. They feared that the power of the State, guided by dissenting influences, was about to oppress and degrade the Church, and they were driven--we may almost say instinctively--to seek strength for the Church within herself by a return to the principles and practices of those ancient times when her intrinsic force counterbalanced — nay, defied the power of the State. This, we are satisfied, is the explanation, and to some extent the excuse for the deference of the Tractarians to ancient authorities of a very doubtful character, and their desire to restore doctrines, forms, and prayers which they supposed to have belonged to the Catholic Church, and to have been unfortunately lost to us through the interference of the State in the arrangements that followed upon the Reformation. They were wrong, we are satisfied, both theoretically and practically, in this view of the subject; but we think it right to suggest it as the best apology which can be made for the original error which led by easy steps to their subsequent extravagances.
The first Tracts, therefore--really • Tracts for the Times'fell in with the feelings, first, of increasing devotion, and, secondly, of pious alarm, which had been already developing themselves throughout the Church, particularly with young persons of both sexes, and, above all, with young clergymen, or those who destined themselves for the sacred office. All these, the Tracts found ready to kindle at a touch, and the zeal of the writers grew hotter and hotter at the flame they excited-till at last, growing blind at the blaze, they have burned their own fingers, and very nearly, if not actually, set fire to the Church. This seems to us the sum of the merits and demerits of the Tractarians. They have helped to develope and extend the strong religious feeling which was already in progress, and to guide it into the deep channel of systematic piety; and they have contributed to spread throughout the whole clergy, but particularly its younger members, an improved taste of theological learning a stricter atten
tion to their ritual duties—and a higher and more 'spiritualized sense of their sacred character and functions. But, on the other hand, many of them-and, unfortunately, amongst these are the leaders of the original movement-have been by degrees carried away into excesses, in matters of both doctrine and discipline--and all in a popish direction—which appear to us quite extravagant; and which render it our duty to interpose whatever of argument our reason can suggest, and whatever of authority our known affection and attachment to the Church may give us towards' resisting a schism which springing, or being supposed to spring, originally from laudable intentions, received a degree of countenance and assent from many influential friends of the Church, who have subsequently become alarmed at the gradual, we might almost say insidious, development of principles really hostile, and of ceremonies altogether alien to the spirit of the Church of England.
We do not mean on this occasion to pursue the Tractarian controversy, nor indeed to enter into any merely doctrinal topics. Now that so large a proportion of the prelates of our Church have passed official judgments in the shape of Visitation Charges on these points, it would be presumptuous in us to say more than that the general result of these judgments is the-we believe we may say--unequivocal and unanimous condemnation of all the Tractarian doctrines which had been by sober private English Christians suspected to have a Popish tendency. We have no less than thirteen of these Charges in a pamphlet form before usthose of the bishops of London,
Worcester, Oxford, besides those of the Primate and Bishop of Down in Ireland, and the Bishop of Calcutta ; and although in the unconcerted opinions of so many men of different ages, tempers, habits, and views, diversities of detail are inevitable, their accordance, wherever the main points of the new controversy are treated, is in principle complete. The Tractarian discussion occupies a greater or less proportion of the different charges, and is variously handled. Some make to the authors of the Tracts a larger, and others a more scanty, acknowledgment of good intentions and good effects; one or two seem to question both. Some speak with more, and others with less anxiety, as to the degree and extent of the error; and with more or less indulgence or severity of different portions of the Tractarian
system ; but all are condemnatory—and are written, generally speaking, with a moderation, charity, learning, and dignity creditable to the personal character of the prelates, and recommendatory to general concurrence of the judgment they pronounce. This is a most important fact, which we recommend to the dutiful attention of the clergy--that the bishops have unanimously condemned every article of Tractarian doctrine that they have had occasion to discuss; and that those who adhere to these doctrines are in opposition to the united opinion and authority of the prelates of the whole Anglican Church. In truth, we believe that these charges have given all the distinguishing tenets of doctrinal Tractarianism a death-blow :-and we trust that we may safely say that, however a few unreflecting or over-imaginative persons may persist in some foolish singularities either of doctrine or ceremony, there is no longer (if ever there was) any danger of extensive apostacy or serious schism; and we are sanguine enough to hope that little~comparatively little—now re: mains, and that in a short period nothing will survive of this Tractarian agitation, but a renewed confirmation of the soundness of the Anglican doctrine as enshrined (we use the metaphor advisedly) in our Articles, and a better understanding and a stricter observance of the original forms or real intentions of our Anglican rubrics.
But though we decline to enter into doctrinal details which are exhausted, and we trust settled, there are many questions of Tractarian origin concerning forms and discipline which have occupied the public mind, and which, though put forward as the auxiliaries and visible types of their doctrinal errors, do not seem to us to have been fully discussed, and certainly not satisfactorily settled. The Bishop of London alone has entered, to any extent, on this part of the subject, probably because the spirit of innovation has been most prominent in his diocese. The other bishops have but slightly adverted to these ritual matters; nor has there been as yet given any general view of the whole of this large and most interesting subject. Some, as we think, very important points have not been at all noticed, and on others hardly any authoritative decision has been pronounced. We think, therefore, that we shall perform a duty not unacceptable to our readers, and we humbly trust not unserviceable to the Church, if we review the discussion of the principal questions which have been raised on the Canons and Rubrics, and endeavour to give-(to use old Durandus's title, but not, we hope, to imitate his fancies)—a rationale divinorum officiorum, in continuation, as it were, of the article on Liturgical Reform which we have just mentioned. It has been asserted by the Tractarians, and too hastily, we think, admitted by some of
their opponents, that the Church of England had fallen into a laxity of discipline-a slovenly negligence of her rituals—which required those very strong alteratives, which, however, they recommended to the clergy and the public as mere restoratives. We deny the premises, and of course the conclusion.
Without at all undervaluing, but, on the contrary, rejoicing in and partaking the general interest which these subjects have excited, and the anxious desire for the integrity of the Liturgical offices, we are glad to be able to say at the outset, that the laxity complained of is greatly exaggerated, if not altogether misstated that the deviations from the ritual are much fewer and of less importance than has been popularly supposed; and that it will require, we think, no great exertion of common sense and candour to bring about a good understanding on most, if not all, these Rubrical differences.
But before we arrive at these details, there is a grave preliminary question to be disposed of. By what law, and before what tribunal, are we to try the cause ?-the strict Rubricans will say the Canons and the Rubric are the law, and Conyocation should be the tribunal. Now we will readily concede the first of these propositions—the second we must question. We admit the Articles, Canons, and Rubrics are the law-established and sanctioned by the supreme power in Church and State-but not all, at this day, of the same practical authority. We must observe that these three codes, as we may call them, are specially adapted to the three great branches of Church concerns—the Articles are doctrinal—the Canons disciplinal--and the Rubrics ritual ; but rites, and above all discipline, are liable to change and derangement from lapse of time-change of habits--some variation in the received meaning of words* -and inany new and unforeseen combinations of circumstances : and the Rubrics and Canonst having been originally made at different periods with different objects, and subsequently much varied, it is not surprising that taken, at the present day, collectively, they should appear in some points inconsistent;—and so we must certainly admit that they are, if they are to be construed, agreeably to the recent fashion, strictly to the letter, without reference to the equitable interpretation and successive modifications which they have received from the practice and usages of the Church-which practice and usages ought, in our opinion, like precedents in
* Dr. Elrington's Answer, p. 12.
† The Canons particularly, having been framed with reference to a state of society and the law that no longer exists, are, especially where they involve secular matters, quite impracticable, and require early revision and correction by some competent authority.
the courts of law, to be admitted to explain and determine whatever may be obscure or conflicting in the literal expressions. But under the feeling we have described, it is not surprising that the clergy, much alarmed for the safety of the Church, should have been led to look into the Rubrics and Canons with a critical eye; and-according to the various tempers of men who reject the authority of usage, and cling to the litera scripta--some are found to be obscure-some have been treated as obsoletesome as contradictory--some that one man thinks imperative, another interprets as discretional :--and so forth. Now, though all such variances and their practical consequences have been, we are satisfied, greatly exaggerated, they have had the injurious effect of producing soniething like schismatic discrepancies in the actual performance of the divine services in different parishes; and the awakened spirit of our congregations, justly dissatisfied with these new-made difficulties, calls loudly for their solution and settlement; and requires that a uniformity of practice, regulated as nearly as possible by the ancient standard of the Canons and Rubrics, should be re-established throughout the whole Church.
The call is naturally addressed to the Bishops. Some of them had already partially anticipated * it by diocesan advice and admonition : but a desire has been manifested for some more general and authoritative proceedings—and this has revived another still 'graver question, on which we think it right to say a few (not hasty) words. The situation of our clergy, and particularly of our Bishops, in regard to Church Government, appears, in the existing relations of Church and State, rather anomalous, and does afford at first sight some countenance to, or at least some palliation for, the complaints too warmly and too resentfully made by some of the Tractarians,--and more soberly by cooler heads of the want of a sufficient authority within the Church for her own direction and guidance. The clergy by the Common Law are entitled to assemble with every Parliament in their own two Hous of Convocation; and in the Ecclesiastical Law we read of a National Synod, the Church's Representative, for denying the authority of which the penalty of excommunication is imposed' (139th Canon). But Convocation has long ceased to have any real existence, and a National Synod (distinct from Convocation) has never been attempted in modern times.
* In 1825, many years before the Tracts were thought of, the present Bishop of London—then of Chester-discussed some of these subjects with his clergy, and particularly exhorted them to a strict and punctual conformity with the Rubrics and Articles.' —(Charge, p. 30.) The Bishop of Exeter in, we think, his first or second Charge (either several years ago) made a similar recommendation ;--and in fact since the attempt at Liturgical reform in 1832, a more punctual attention to the formalities of divine service has been everywhere inculcated and generally practised.