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CONTINUITY' is an abstract term denoting an uninterrupted condition in time or space of some object or action.
As to any material object, its continuity may be said to consist of two simultaneously existing sets of relations: one external, the other internal. Putting aside all questions as to 'molecules' and 'atoms' and whatever is beyond our powers of observation, such an object may be said to be the more continuous according to the degree in which its constituent portions are perceptibly connected together and distinguishable on all sides from other objects.
If the material object be alive, then, for its vital continuity, it is obviously necessary that it should possess not only a continuity of extension, but also that there should be a persistence of active internal and external relations (nutrition, respiration, &c.), and a certain persistent correspondence between its internal and external relations, as Mr. Herbert Spencer, long ago, carefully pointed out.
Healthy and normal vital continuity may be consistent with considerable changes; as is obviously the case with the tadpole and the frog, the caterpillar and the butterfly, and even as regards the man of science in his embyronic and adult conditions. But these changes should be normal, ordinary ones, such as occur generally in the groups to which such creatures severally pertain, and form part of their natural development, otherwise they are deformities or pathological degenerations which may, sooner or later, occasion that decisive breach of continuity wherewith life ends.
The continuous existence of a living organism is evidently a much more complex thing than the continuity of any inanimate object. But more complex still is the continuity of a social organism -a nation or a national institution.
Every nation and every national institution is (like every living organism) continuous according to the degree in which its internal and external relations, and the correspondence between them, are uninterrupted.
Thus the English nation, which has developed slowly, with few and relatively inconspicuous breaches in its constitution-its laws and customs broadening down from precedent to precedent’—
possesses a more complete continuity than does France, which, towards the end of the eighteenth century, entirely transformed or destroyed so many of its previously existing internal relations.
But the continuity to which I here specially refer is that which is asserted to exist-and which, to a certain extent, obviously does exist-between the Established Church of England as now existing and the Anglican Church of times anterior to Henry the Eighth.
Such continuity is perseveringly and zealously asserted and proclaimed by many most worthy and excellent persons, while by other persons, not less worthy, it is entirely denied.
The only way in which, as it seems to me, we can arrive at a satisfactory solution of the question is by considering, in a scientific spirit, the internal and external relations of the two bodies as they existed at the periods referred to.
In the first place, however, it may be well to call attention to the fact that all Churches are 'abstractions.' No such thing as the 'Anglican Church' or the Church of Rome' exists anywhere in the world, but only so many men and women who possess a certain set of special internal and external relations.
Just as there is really no such thing as a zoological or botanical species, genus, or family, but only certain concrete animals or plants, respectively more or less alike; so there is no such thing in reality as a Church or sect of any denomination. Nevertheless, as the concrete animals or plants really possess certain attributes which serve as a foundation for the various zoological or botanical abstract terms in use, so multitudes of men and women possess certain religious attributes which serve as a foundation for various ecclesiastical abstract terms. Thus for all practical purposes it is, of course, quite reasonable to speak of the Anglican or Roman Church, as we speak of a genus of birds or plants. Nevertheless it is very desirable to bear in mind that such abstractions are abstractions, lest we fall into an exaggerated realism which may carry with it exceedingly misleading conceptions.
We have heard a great deal of late about the mind of the Church,' the Church's intention,' and similar abstractions from abstractions. Keeping carefully before us this distinction, let us proceed to consider what were the most conspicuous religious relations in which Englishmen stood to each other and to foreigners, before and after the reign of Henry the Eighth.
In such an inquiry it is especially desirable to put on one side all contentious matter, and confine our attention to facts which no men competent to hold an opinion on the subject can deny. We must therefore leave out of account all quibbles as to what the framers of the Prayer Book, with its ornaments rubric' and thirty-nine articles, did or did not mean; what was the purpose, or effect, of royal decrees or Acts of Parliament; what was the spirit in which Bishops
or Convocation yielded, or refused to yield, obedience to royal demands, and what was the essential nature of such compliances or refusals to obey. For the present purpose it does not matter if the Ornaments Rubric be taken in the sense given it by the most extreme Ritualist, whether the Thirty-nine Articles be interpreted in the way Newman suggested in his famous Tract 90, or whether the Book of Homilies be deemed the surest guide to the real meaning of the Book of Common Prayer. These are but matters of opinion, which men may differ about. They are inferences, not obvious realities, the truth of which all must admit.
(1) Among such latter realities is the fact that both before and after the reign of Henry the Eighth, groups of Englishmen (as well as the people of other nations) stood to each other in the relations indicated by the terms' clergy' and 'laity.'
(2) Before that period, the laity of England, like that of France, Spain, and Italy, did not institute national changes in doctrine and ritual, without the consent of the clergy and also of the Pope, to whom appeals were in certain cases allowed and his decisions accepted. Afterwards, all these relations were changed, and to that extent the internal and external relations of the people of England became altered from those of the above-named three nations, with whom the old relations continued substantially unchanged.
(3) When Protestantism arose and spread in Germany and Switzerland, the body of the clergy and governing laity of the three nations conspicuously repudiated and condemned it. After Henry the Eighth in England it was otherwise.
(4) After, as before, Henry the Eighth, not only was the doctrine of Transubstantiation explicitly adhered to in the three nations, but the Host continued to be reserved, carried about, lifted up, and worshipped. After Henry the Eighth, in England, the authorities of the Anglican Church accepted (in Article XXVIII) a declaration that Transubstantiation cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture and overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament.' Also that the Sacrament was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped.' Thus, if even (as some Ritualists believe) the 'Anglican Church' did continue to believe and teach Transubstantiation, and to approve the practices of Italy, France, and Spain, it at least, through the abovequoted words, cast a slur thereon, whilst it abstained from inculcating what it deemed true belief and right usage. In the above three nations, however, profession, teaching, and ritual continued to be in harmony; and thus we have a third breach of continuity between the religious relations of Englishmen amongst themselves as well as between their religious relations and those of other nations.
(5) Amongst the relations existing before Henry the Eighth between the laity and most of the clergy in England and elsewhere
VOL, XLVI-No. 270
were those which arose from the fact that the latter were regarded by the former and by themselves as truly sacrificing priests.' Each invariably wore a special sacrificial garment, and offered his sacrifice, known as 'the Mass,' said in Latin, upon an altar of stone which had been consecrated for that purpose by a Bishop. These relations persisted in the three nations referred to, while, in England, after Henry the Eighth (whether the 'Anglican Church' really continued to approve of altars and sacrifice or not), Bishops not only ceased to consecrate, stone altars, but ordered them to be pulled down and sometimes allowed them to be used as paving-stones. Moreover, for centuries, also, the sacrificial garment, previously habitual, became generally, if not universally, discarded.
If, as many Ritualists contend, 'Mass' nevertheless continued to be said, and was still deemed of inestimable value, the following statement was nevertheless accepted as put forward in Article XXXI: The sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits.' By this public acceptance, in the absence of any other official statement on the subject (whatever might be the real meaning of the passage, or the 'mind of the Church'), countenance was given to that depreciation of the Mass which was common amongst Continental Protestants.
The clergy of Italy, France and Spain never made such a misunderstanding possible through any analogous statement put forward, or even tolerated, by them.
Here, then, we have two sets of very divergent relations between the religious conditions of Englishmen before and after the period mentioned, and between Englishmen and the Churchmen of Italy, France and Spain after that period.
(6) Article XXII runs as follows: 'The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.' Now here, as in other instances before noted, even if it be true (as some Ritualists might contend) that the English Church,' ever after, as before, the accession of Edward the Sixth, has believed in and taught the doctrine of Purgatory and continued to worship Images, Relics, Saints, and Angels, it is none the less certain that by accepting, or even tolerating, the above article, the Anglican clergy at least assumed an appearance of reprobating such doctrines and practices, and were not careful to guard against all semblance of so doing, and thereby entered into a very different set of relations from those common to Englishmen before Henry the Eighth and maintained, after his decease, in France, Italy, and Spain.
The change which took place between the inter-relations of both clergy and laity in England, as regards prayers and masses for the dead, is notorious.' And this brings me to the consideration of a most striking breach of relational continuity affecting simultaneously personal relations and others concerning ecclesiastical property. almost, or all, parish or conventual churches and cathedrals there were before Henry the Eighth a multitude of foundations intended for the benefit of deceased benefactors, lands having been granted or devised for that purpose. Afterwards all requiem masses were put an end to, though many of such properties continued to be, and still are, held regardless of such obligations, the holders being materially (though, of course, not morally or legally) in the position of fraudulent trustees. To those persons who are most zealous for Anglican continuity,' it might well seem one of the first of their duties (as has been pointed out by my friend, Mr. Wilfrid Meynell) to institute prayers and masses for the souls of those who have been so long defrauded of the suffrages which their endowments were intended to secure.
Now, is it reasonable to consider that changes of relations so numerous and considerable as those which have been here enumerated (and many more could easily be adduced) constitute a breach of continuity or not? In my judgment they unquestionably do so, in spite of the persistence of legal relations with respect to Church. property, including buildings used for worship, while even in these legal relations we have the enormous breach of continuity as regards estates and chapels devoted to the dead, as just pointed out. But most important of all changes as to religious relations is that between a community which itself determines the nature and extent of such relations, and a community which accepts such determinations from an external source.
Yet the fact that these various relations have been thus changed constitutes no reason why they should not be restored if a vast number of persons are willing, or anxious, to restore them. Nevertheless, Englishmen who call themselves 'Anglicans' are, at present, clearly under legal subjection to the State-to the Privy Council, and to Parliament-and it is useless to attempt to deny that such is actually the case.
It is declared, by High Churchmen, to be 'a monstrous thing that Dissenters and men of no religion should take part in regulating the doctrine and ritual of the Anglican Church.' But if it be true that Englishmen of any religion, or of none, not being notoriously evil livers, have a right to demand the Sacrament from the hands of their parish priest, who can only refuse to administer it to them at the risk of a legal penalty, it seems a much less matter for such persons to have a voice in regulating an establishment whereof, in the eye of the law, they undoubtedly form a part.
1 See the article on that subject in the Nineteenth Century for January 1897.