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Historical Sketches: Volumes 1 To 3 -Blessed John Henry Newman


Its Constitution and Rights

THE Convocation of the Province of Canterbury, called, par excellence, the Convocation, is generally known to us as the State meeting of the clergy, convened, as the representatives of the Church, at the commencement of every new Parliament, and as consisting of two Houses, the bishops in the Upper, and, in the Lower, the deans, archdeacons, and proctors (that is, representatives) of the chapters, one for each, and of the parochial clergy two for each diocese. The whole number of the members of the Lower House is between a hundred and forty and a hundred and fifty, of which about one-third is parochial clergy. It is generally known, moreover, that the Convocation is called, under king’s writ, by mandate of the Archbishop; that it is opened with divine service and a sermon; that an address follows from the Archbishop, its president, to all its members; that, at the direction of the Archbishop, the Lower House withdraws and chooses a Prolocutor, or Speaker, from among its members; that, though the Convocation thus assembled may address the King or Parliament on behalf of religion, or the redress of Church grievances, it is not at liberty to confer to constitute canons, that is, to act as a Council, without the king’s license, nor even with it to execute any which are against the king’s prerogative, the common or statute law, or any custom of the realm; lastly, that, in matter of fact, after the introductory solemnities, it is always prorogued, and has been in this dormant state for about a hundred and twenty years. This is as much as is generally known about the Convocation. Now it is a question which often rises in a churchman’s mind, “Is it not an anomaly that we have no ecclesiastical synod?” And times may be coming of so grave an aspect as to turn this anomaly into a great practical evil and misfortune. Then the questions follow, “Are we still to account this long-suspended Convocation the synodal representative of our Church? If so, what if the king altogether refuse his writ to assemble, or license to debate and enact canons? or what if, on the other hand, the Convocation is made use of by the civil power, to force upon the Church measures destructive of her purity or constitution?” Questions such as these become more urgent year by year; and the first step towards answering them is to be put into possession of the facts of the case, that is, the history of the Convocation.

This history was fully discussed and brought to light in the beginning of the eighteenth century, in the course of those dissensions which ended, A.D. 1717, in its suspension. I propose to give some account of this quarrel, and such information concerning the constitution and history of the Convocation as may be necessary to illustrate the points debated in it.


When King William was called from Holland to the throne from which James had retired, he promised the nation such a comprehension as should heal the chief differences which distressed the Protestant world. With the circumstances which encouraged him thus to pledge himself, we are not concerned here,—his own feelings on the subject are obvious. Being external to the Church himself, he naturally thought it a matter of little consequence whether a man were without or within it; Protestants might be considered as all of one religion, inasmuch as they were not Papists, the enemies of intellectual and political freedom; and, coming, as he professed and was acknowledged, as the Great Liberator of the Church of England “from Popish tyranny,” he reasonably expected churchmen to sacrifice somewhat of their prejudices and peculiarities for the blessing of his patronage. Accordingly he promised a comprehension; but, when it came to the point, unexpected difficulties encountered him. First, as many as nine bishops refused to acknowledge the obligation under which he had laid the Church, in taking the place of James, and declined the oath of allegiance. Four hundred clergy followed their example; and there seemed a danger (which in the event was realized) lest he should be obliged to have recourse to measures against the Church even more arbitrary than those which had disgraced the dethroned monarch. Under these circumstances, to have altered the liturgy or discipline of the Church at his own royal will would have been a gratuitous insult, as impolitic as it was unprecedented in the history of the English monarchy since the reign of the tyrannical Henry.

There were persons however, at the time, even among the dissenters, the especial champions of liberty of conscience, who were desirous of such a measure, pointed to the precedent of Henry, and maintained with truth, that the Church would never be reformed to their satisfaction without some such summary process on the part of the civil power. Calamy takes this line in his account of his own life and times. “I am well assured,” he says, observing on the failure of William’s attempt, “that it is the wish of many … that, when the next fit opportunity arrives for such an healing attempt, … it may be taken with more vigour and less formality. The Reformation had never been brought about had it been left to a Convocation; nor will our breaches be ever healed but by a true English Parliament.” And he speaks of the proceeding actually advised by Tillotson, as the “unhappy step of this great and good man.”

Such a mode of acting, however, was so contrary to the principles and sentiments which the dissenters had ever expressed, that it is no unpardonable blunder in Tillotson to have supposed that the opposite procedure would be more pleasing to them. He and his friends felt that one popular objection to the Church of England, on the part of Papists as well as Puritans, had ever been its being what was called parliamentary—as created by human law, and living by the breath of princes; and they considered that a concession was made to the prejudices of all its opponents, as well as a deference shown to its own members, by advising the new monarch to call a Convocation for the settlement of the proposed comprehension. For these various reasons, then, William resolved on committing religious matters to the clergy; and, accordingly, appointed a commission of bishops and presbyters to determine the proposed changes, which were then presented for the sanction of the Convocation.

The Convocation, however, did not answer his expectations. He had, indeed, so revolutionized the Upper House that its members were incapacitated from acting or were already in his interest. But the Lower House consisted of men over whom he had no power, full of jealousy and suspicion of his intentions, who had unwillingly taken the oaths, and thought they had conceded enough in allowing the overthrow of episcopacy in Scotland and the suspension of their own bishops. Accordingly a determined stand was made against the project of comprehension, till the king, despairing of success, fearful of increasing the party of the nonjurors if he converted a political into a religious question, and embarrassed by the absence of the metropolitan, gave over his attempt, and closed the Convocation.

He had, however, an easy mode of retaliation in his power, for which he was indebted to Henry VIII. By the Act of Submission, passed in Convocation in the 25th of Henry’s reign, that assembly could not meet, much less frame canons, without his permission. He availed himself of this power; and, though in the coronation oath he had sworn to “preserve unto the bishops and clergy of this realm, and to the churches committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain unto them, or any of them,” he suspended these meetings of the clergy till close upon the end of his reign. Mr. Hallam makes the following defence for this procedure: “The Church had, by prescription, a right to be summoned in Convocation, but no prescriptive right could be set up for its longer continuance than the Crown thought expedient;” and, admitting the analogy between Convocation and Parliament, for which the clergy contended, he says, that “the king may, legally speaking, prorogue the latter at his pleasure,” and that, “if neither money were required to be granted, nor laws to be enacted, a Session would be very short.” This is true, but the nation would not be satisfied if the king took on him to decide of himself, whether laws were required or not. However, this was the view of the subject maintained by the State party at the time.

So matters rested the better part of ten years; Convocations being called, and then prorogued. Towards the end of William’s reign, dissatisfaction began to be openly expressed by the friends of the Church, who were apprehensive of these continual adjournments being drawn into a precedent for a perpetual suspension of Convocation, a catastrophe which the State party, on the other hand, professed to deprecate. In 1695, the controversy between Sherlock and South, on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, giving an advantage to the Socinians, had occasioned the king’s Injunction forbiding all such explications of it as were not commonly received in the Church. This proceeding, though strictly according to the precedent of the reigns of James and Charles, turned the minds of men more strongly, by way of contrast, to the suspension of Convocation, and seems to have opened the controversy.

In 1696 was published an anonymous pamphlet, entitled “A Letter to a Convocation Man, concerning the Rights, Powers, and Privileges” of that body, supposed to be written by Dr. Binckes, in which it was maintained, that, though the king’s writ is the formal instrument of summoning the Convocation, it has, by our ecclesiastical constitution, a right to be summoned, and to be let sit and act, and that its meeting is determined by law and custom to coincide with the Session of Parliament; further, that the king’s license of its sitting as a Council, and enacting canons, is contained in the writ of summoning; lastly, that the canons enacted do not need the confirmation of Parliament in addition to that of the king, provided they are consistent with common law, statutes, customs, or prerogative. Letting alone the last position, which is of inferior importance in the controversy, we may observe that the two former impugn the received interpretation of the famous Act of 25 Henry VIII., already referred to. They maintain that the king’s license is unnecessary, and that his writ somewhat resembles, for instance, a marriage license, which may not, under certain circumstances, be refused by the functionary who has the office of granting it.

In 1697, a few months after the publication of this pamphlet, an answer to it appeared by Dr. Wake, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, maintaining the received opinion of the king’s absolute control over the Convocation. It elicited a reply the same year, written on a very different basis, by Hill of Kilmington, entitled, “Municipium Ecclesiasticum; or, the Rights, Liberties, and Authorities of the Christian Church asserted, against all Oppressive Doctrines and Constitutions.” Waving the legal and constitutional question, the author asserts the divine right of synods in general, a right inherent in the Church, and prior to civil institutions; and, accordingly, condemns the Act of Submission as inconsistent with the first principles of ecclesiastical polity.

Wake defended himself (1698) by “An Appeal” “in behalf of the King’s Supremacy” as established by the law, and sanctioned both by Convocations and by our most eminent bishops and clergymen, among whom he enumerates Jewel, Whitgift, Bancroft, Bilson, Nowell, Hooker, Andrewes, Laud, Heylin, Taylor, and Barrow. This Tract was supported, in 1699, by an anonymous “Brief Inquiry into the Ground, Authority, and Rights of Ecclesiastical Synods, upon the Principles of Scripture and right Reason,” in which the author of the “Municipium” was met on his own ground, the abstract constitution of the Church, Wake having argued from history and authority.

Lastly, in 1700, appeared Atterbury’s work, the first edition of which was without his name, in which “The Rights, Powers, and Privileges of an English Convocation” were “stated and vindicated, in answer to a late book of Dr. Wake’s, entitled ‘The Authority,’ etc.” It is written on the legal and constitutional ground, contending that the statute of Henry is not inconsistent with ecclesiastical liberty; that the Convocation had the legal right of meeting with every new Parliament, and might frame and present canons to the king, and do anything short of enacting them without his license.


So far the controversy had proceeded at the meeting of the new Parliament of 1700, which was attended by an accession of some of the Church party to the ministry. This occurrence was, of course, favourable to those who desired the restoration of the Convocation to its ordinary powers; and the ground which had been openly taken by Wake’s party, almost rendered its meeting necessary in order to allay that suspicion of the Government, which the friends of civil liberty might entertain from its continued suspension.

There was just so much prima facie similarity between Parliament and Convocation, in the relation of each to the king—in their times of meeting, and their twofold internal structure—that to assert the king’s absolute power over the latter seemed a preparation for a similar claim in civil matters. Politicians, of all classes and opinions, looked upon Ecclesiastical Councils as mere creations of the State,—such is Burnet’s professed opinion; but the more entirely the religious character of the Convocation was merged in its civil establishment, for that very reason the more ominous was the arbitrary conduct of the Crown. As for the bishops, they, it might be said, were but the tools of the government,—fifteen had been made in the two first years of William’s reign; it was only by the clergy in the Lower House of Convocation that the Church was truly represented, and they were not allowed liberty of speech. If such was the fortune of that high-spirited order, which had stood foremost, whether in the person of their prelates, in their Universities, or in their churches, in resisting the encroachments of James, what was to be expected by the people at large?

And, farther, the ecclesiastical principles laid down broadly by Wake, were such as would have justified King James, had he proceeded of his own will to alter the Liturgy and Articles, and to exact the submission of the clergy, who would have been bound, not, indeed, legally, till Parliament had confirmed the alterations, but, in foro conscientiæ, to accept them. In debating the question, “Whether the prince should be allowed a power to alter or improve what a Synod has defined, to add to, or take from it,” Wake remarks, “Sure I am that this princes have done, and so I think they have authority to do. For, since the legislative power is lodged in their hands, so that they may make what laws or constitutions they think fit for the Church, as well as for the State; since a Synod, in matters relating to discipline, is but a kind of Council to them in ecclesiastical affairs, whose advice having taken, they may still act as they think fit; seeing, lastly, a canon, drawn up by a Synod, is but, as it were, matter prepared for the royal stamp, the last forming of which, as well as enforcing whereof, must be left to the prince’s judgment, I cannot see why the supreme magistrate, who confessedly has a power to confirm or reject their decrees, may not also make such other use of them as he pleases; and correct, improve, or otherwise alter, their resolutions, according to his own liking, before he gives his authority to them.” This is spoken of the power of princes generally; yet, as Atterbury observes, he afterwards says that, “by our own constitution, the King of England has all that power over our Convocation that ever any Christian prince had over his Synods.” In another place he asserts that this power exists, “not only in matters of discipline, but in matters of faith too;” and he cites the example of Henry VIII. in his modelling the Articles, which, he says, “relate to doctrines of faith, and that in the most necessary points of it; and yet, see what liberty the king took in judging, as well as correcting, of what they [the Synod] had done.” If this be the constitutional power of the king over the Church, it is plain that the clergy, who risked so much against James, are the only body of men who have not gained legal rights and liberties by his expulsion; and it curiously fulfils the words of the incensed monarch to the seven protesting bishops, that “they were raising a devil, which they would never be able to lay, and were the unconscious tools of men who aimed at the ruin of the Church as well as of the throne.” Ken and Sancroft might have the simplicity of the dove in slipping between James and William; but the Comptons and Atterburys, who had not this grace, should, at least, have had enough of the serpent’s wisdom to have bargained for ecclesiastical liberties as the price of their changing their king. But to return.

The mode in which Wake attempted to anticipate the objection which the jealousy of the friends of liberty made against his statements, was to maintain that, in “an extreme case,” resistance to the royal authority would be justifiable. “Whenever,” he says, “the civil magistrate shall so far abuse his authority, as to render it necessary for the clergy, by some extraordinary methods, to provide for the Church’s welfare, that necessity will warrant their taking of them.” Further, both he and Dr. Kennett, who wrote against Atterbury in 1701, candidly lament the tyrannical character of the Act of Submission, and are manly enough to protest against what, at some future day, though not under their then gracious sovereign, might be an instrument of deplorable mischief to the highest interest of the Church. Dr. Wake, says Kennett, “does not dwell so much upon the equity of the Act; but he proves the obligation, and there in law leaves it: because, perhaps, he might think this submission was a little hardly obtained by a prince of excessive power, and in a time of some ill designs; and, however safe and expedient for us, under princes of our own faith and communion, yet, under the government of heretics and heathens, it may lay too hard a yoke upon the Church, when the archbishop shall have no power to assemble the bishops and clergy of his province, nor they any liberty to attend him, (without a præmunire,) let the necessities of the Church be never so urgent, and Christianity itself in utmost danger. Dr. Wake, who pleads for present submission, seems aware of ill consequences that might arise in future times of trial.”

The odiousness, then, of that constitutional right in the Crown, by which alone the suspension of the Convocation could be defended when assailed, seems to have forced the State bishops to give way; and the two Houses were accordingly opened, in due form, in February, 1700.

The clergy, having now gained one victory (so to call it) over the Crown, proceeded, in the next place, to attack the authority of the archbishop. They maintained that the Lower House had the independent right of debating whenever they would, (as fully as the House of Commons,) without reference to the meetings of the House of bishops; or, (as it was worded,) they contended for the right of “adjournments,” which now became the great question in dispute. The mode of reasoning adopted was, as before, the asserted analogy between the Parliament and Convocation; and they contended that—if even the king had no constitutional power to hinder their meetings, much less had the archbishop, the president of the Convocation, whose rights, at least, were certainly destroyed by the Act of Submission in the reign of Henry VIII. And thus we have three main inquiries before us,—the relation of the Convocation to the Church; the power of the king over Convocation and other synods; and the power of the Lower House to transact business independently of the Upper.


These shall be discussed in due order. Before proceeding, however, there is a call on us seriously to reflect upon the anomalous state of the opposing parties in the dispute, and to ask ourselves the question, whether the Church had not, somehow or other, got into some wrong position, which put all its functions out of order, and made them work in perverse and fantastic ways? On the one hand, the Tory and (so called) high-church party were in opposition to authority, resting on law rather than on ecclesiastical principles, attacking the conduct of Laud and his sovereign towards the Church, and rising up against the rulers of their own day, while aiming thereby at a blow at the low theology of the school of Burnet;—a position which they never can again occupy, considering the dependence of the Lower House, as regards the appointment of its members, on the Crown and the Bishops. On the other hand, the superior clergy were the advocates of episcopal rights, and conducted themselves with the temper which became their station, though they had confined, unchurch man like views, and were more or less the creatures of the court. Some of them, as Burnet, were open Erastians, and willing to admit presbyterian Ordination. Others, with Wake, made the historical precedents of the country, of whatever nature, the law of the Church, so that it was sufficient that only one tyrannical act of the Civil Power in former ages should be producible, in order to its being assumed and used as an ecclesiastical principle. And others, with Hody, while seeming to allow that the Revolution was attended with encroachments on ecclesiastical liberty, maintained nevertheless that the Church must ever submit to an irresistible necessity, as if sanctioning a cowardly surrender of the trusts which had been committed to her.

Meanwhile, Ken and his company stood by on dry land, far removed from the scene of confusion into which the politics of the time had precipitated their hapless brethren. Whether they were right or wrong in declining the oaths of allegiance to William, still they, at least, had a compensation for their worldly losses. They had no need to reconcile their duty to the faith with their duty to their Church; to obey the authority of its rulers while they resisted their doctrines,—a more grievous conflict than that which they themselves had encountered once, between loyalty and conscience. At length, they dropped off, one and one, from this troublesome stage, and their race is long extinct; but the English Church, my mother, is still encompassed with the waters into which she then was plunged.


Its Lower House in relation to its Upper

I LEFT off, in my first paper, with the meeting of the Convocation in the last year of William, the immediate subject of dispute between the two Houses being as to the power of the Lower to adjourn itself independently of the Upper. It may seem surprising, at first sight, that there should be room for dispute, where an appeal to usage might settle the matter at once. But the genius of the union of Church and State had been opposed to frequent meetings of the clergy, who had been called together for business only on especial occasions; and a good part of the records of Convocation had been lost in the fire of London. On the other hand, there had been so many alterations in the constitution of the country in the foregoing two hundred years, that it seemed hardly safe or fair to rest upon precedents of a very remote date. And there was certainly a close analogy between the actual origin and formation of the Parliament, and the assumed history and state of the Convocation on Atterbury’s theory, which seemed to render recent precedents scarcely necessary. In truth, the ecclesiastical system which the Reformation undertook was never completed; and, much as Laud did for the Church, there was no call upon him in his day, with such a king as Charles, to place its synods on an intelligible and consistent footing.

However, there was, after all, sufficient information to be had as regarded the general relation of the Lower House to the Upper, which nothing but the impetuosity of faction could obscure; especially a memorandum of Archbishop Parker’s, which seems entirely to bear out the bishops in their resistance to what were dangerous innovations on the part of the inferior clergy. Indeed, that, on the whole, the Upper House was in the right, and the Lower in the wrong, is sufficiently clear to my mind, first, from Bull and others, who were members of the Lower House, taking the side of the bishops; next, from the indecency of the Lower House deciding by themselves in favour of their pretended rights, and, acting on their own decision, considering that the existing usage was on the side of the bishops.


The Convocation took its rise in the course of the fourteenth century, between three and four hundred years before the controversy which I am employed in relating, under circumstances which shall be mentioned at another time. At present, I will but describe its internal structure, by way of throwing light upon the question of “Adjournments,” which was immediately in dispute. Originally, it consisted, as the Parliament itself, only of one House, the inferior clergy being rather assistants to the bishops than possessed of coordinate authority, and being allowed a place in it principally on account of those money-questions which interested lower as well as superior ecclesiastics. It was called by the Archbishop’s mandate, directed to the Bishop of London as Dean of the Province; to the Archbishop the returns of members were made, and before him, as President of Convocation, the members appeared on the day fixed for assembling. The members thus convened representing different interests, it was natural that, from time to time, they should, for dispatch of business, be divided into several committees, that the whole meeting might be enabled the better to ascertain and to forward the views of each section of their constituents. Hence, it is said, there were sometimes as many as four separate assemblies transacting business in the Convocation; the Bishops, the regulars, the deans and chapters, and the parochial clergy. In process of time, however, these settled into the two main divisions of the bishops and the inferior clergy, at present called, as in Parker’s “Descriptio,” the two Houses of Convocation. Thus, the Lower House, in its origin, had no independent existence, being a mere appendage to the Upper, separated off from it for convenience, sent out from it to debate on this or that question specially submitted to it, and recalled at the President’s pleasure to report the opinions and advice of its members. Accordingly, at first it had no separate place of meeting, but merely retired to a distant part of the room where the Bishops assembled. Though, however, originally merely a committee of the Convocation, in process of time it gained powers by the force of custom, which, in consequence, it was very difficult to distinguish from legal rights. Usage is a sufficient sanction, whether in civil or ecclesiastical matters, where antecedent principles, moral or religious, do not stand in the way. In the quarrel before us, there was the twofold controversy—first, what the usage was? next, whether, granting it to emancipate the Lower House as fully as the clergy of the day maintained, such usage was not counter to the principles of the episcopal regimen, and therefore invalid as an authority? It had long been the custom for the inferior clergy to hold their meetings in a separate room, though in the same place with the Bishops. They had long received and reported business through one of their number, called the Prolocutor, Referendary, or, “organum vocis Domus Inferioris,” who also presided at their debates. Such was the received usage; but, owing to the infrequency of the meetings of Convocation, and to the absence of a jealous accuracy in the proceedings of an assembly of men who were in the mutual relation of fathers and sons in the ministerial office, it was scarcely possible to decide exactly the limit of the power possessed by the Lower House, especially considering there was the parallel and complete history of the two Houses of Parliament, (which also originally formed but one House,) to supply and comment upon the deficient precedents of the Convocation. Accordingly, to this parallel the champions of the Lower House had recourse, in order to establish their independence; while the Bishops appealed first to the original state of the Convocation, next to the principles of episcopacy and the precedents of primitive Synods.

In the meanwhile, thus much was granted on all hands to the Lower House, which implied a very considerable power in presbyters, had it nothing more—the right of presenting their grievances to the Upper, of offering petitions for making canons, revising old ones, etc., of being assessors of the Upper in judicial matters, and, lastly, of having a veto on synodical acts. But the main object coveted by the Lower House was the power of originating measures, and, in 1689, they had ventured to exercise it, when they made a representation to the Bishops about some of the latitudinarian and scandalous books of the day. On the other hand, the Upper House maintained, in opposition to such spontaneous movements on the part of the Lower, that the power, not only of origination, but also of jurisdiction, lay solely with the Bishops, who were to prescribe to them their subjects and times of debate, the choice and number of their committees, to determine the question of elections, to censure for absence, and especially to prorogue their meetings, the claim which of course most effectually interfered with that independence which the Lower House affected. On this last point, the power of Adjournments, the controversy turned, in the proceedings of 1700—I: the Lower House asserted they might remain sitting after the adjournment of the Upper, and that they might adjourn themselves to any time or times before, and need not meet upon, the day fixed for its reassembling.

In the language of Convocation, as of other Church Synods, a Session has not the meaning given to it in Parliament, but stands for every separate meeting devoted to discussion; and to prorogue or continue the Convocation is to end the Session, or to adjourn. This was customarily done by schedule from the Archbishop, (unless he declared it by word of mouth to the members of the Lower House present,) sent down to the clergy, and conveyed to them through the Prolocutor; and as the dispute turned, in the first instance, upon its wording, I will here transcribe it, as used by Tenison, in 1700:

“In Dei Nomine, Amen. Nos Thomas, Providentiâ Divinâ Cantuariensis Archiepiscopus, totius Angliæ Primas et Metropolitanus, rite et legitimè procedentes, præsentem sacram Synodum sive Convocationem Prælatorum et Cleri nostræ Cantuariensis Provinciæ, usque ad et in hunc diem, horas et locum continuatam et prorogatam, necnon omnia et singula certificatoria, hactenus introducta, et introducenda et non introducta, in eodem statu quo nunc sunt, ad et in diem Veneris, 28vum diem instantis mensis Februarii, inter horas 8vum et 11mam ante meridiem ejusdem diei in hunc locum, una cum ulteriori continuatione et prorogatione dierum extunc sequentium, et locorum, si oporteat, in eâ parte fiendis, continuamus et prorogamus in his scriptis.


The form of prorogation in the Lower House, con sequent upon this, as used by the Prolocutor, was a follows: “Intimamus hanc convocationem esse continuatam usque ad et in diem.… in hunc locum; e monemus omnes ad tunc et ibidem interessendum.’ From the former of these two forms, the Bishops argued that the Lower House, being included in “præsenten sacram synodum sive convocationem,” was adjourned by the Metropolitan; the other party replied that, in like manner, the phrase præsns parliamentum was used in the adjournments of the House of Lords, yet at that day it referred to the proceedings of that House alone. Upon this, the advocates for the Upper House observed that “Prælatorum et cleri” was added in the schedule; that its actual effect had ever been to prorogue the Lower House, as was confirmed by the oldest convocation-men then living; and, further, that it was also declared in it that the matters in debate must remain in statu quo, sealed and secured, till the next Session,—a provision quite inconsistent with the claim of the Lower House, to open and discuss them in the interval. They added that the schedule could not be altered except by Act of Parliament. Moreover they referred to the word intimamus, in the Prolocutor’s form, as corroborating their position concerning the dependent character of the Lower House.

The opposite party maintained a different interpretation of the word intimamus, which in the ecclesiastical courts and in Councils (they said), was a word of authority, being even used by the Pope in the Council of Constance. Then they went on to destroy the evidence derivable from the form of the schedule, which, they said, was unknown till the reign of Henry VIII., introduced by Archbishop Warham, who was bred up in the canon law, after the pattern of the Lateran council, but accompanied on its introduction into England by a new clause, inserted in the Archbishop’s mandate of summons, calling on the clergy, to send up proctors “habentes authoritatem continuationi et prorogationi consentiendi,” as if to avoid encroachment on the rights then enjoyed by the Lower House, of voting on the question of adjournment. Further, they maintained, that not even the wording of the schedule was against them, that is as interpreted by the practice of the Upper House; for the schedule seemed to place the adjournment in the Archbishop’s hands absolutely, whereas the Bishops certainly had a voice in it; if, then, he did but declare the adjournment, the question whether any other than the Bishops had a share in it was left undecided.

On the other hand, the advocates of the Bishops further appealed, in support of their claim of jurisdiction over the Lower House,—first, to the circumstance that the catalogue of the Lower House was prefixed to their own register; next, that the names of proxies for its absent members were lodged with their registrar; thirdly, that, according to Archbishop Whitgift’s tables, his registrar had the sole right of fees for exhibiting these proxies; fourthly, that, in these matters, the actuary of the Lower House was accustomed to act only as the registrar’s deputy.

The members of the Lower House, in reply, brought together, from their own journals, what they considered to be precedents for their exercising the independent right of Adjournments. The alleged precedents were as follows: that in 1586, Sessions 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, it is recorded that the prolocutor, (and in the 10th, that a member of the Lower House, “nomine prolocutoris,”) “continuavit hujusmodi convocationem quoad hanc domum.” In 1640, sess. 7, “Domini continuarunt et prorogarunt ulteriorem sessionem,” etc. In 1677, March 21st, “Prolocutor continuavit,” he being Stillingfleet, and, in 1678, “Dominus prolocutor continuavit, hanc synodum.”

The Bishops answered, that these expressions “prolocutor continuavit,” etc., were undeniably exceptions to the ordinary style, and were most naturally accounted for as familiar and inaccurate modes of speaking, hastily adopted by the actuary; that, in these very instances (except those of 1640), the Upper House (as its registers showed) was adjourned by the Archbishop from and to the very same day and hour as the Lower House, showing clearly that the Lower House followed herein the movements of the Upper; and that, with the exception of 1586, the instances were adduced, not from registers, but from short, confused, and ill-written minutes—a mere scribble, taken down at the time, and attested by no one—a circumstance especially to be kept in view in considering the very different precedents of 1640, which they confessed were, at first sight, deserving of attention.


These important precedents were as follows:—on May 5th, 1640, both Houses sat; the register of the Upper says, that the Archbishop’s commissioner prorogued the whole Convocation to May 9th, and from thence again to May 13th; whereas by the minutes of the Lower House the clergy adjourned from May 5th to May 8th, and so to May 13th. However, this was explained, as the Bishops argued, from the history of that troubled time. On May 5th, Charles dissolved his Parliament; but, desirous to have the grant of the subsidies which he expected from the clergy, he consulted the Lord Keeper whether the Convocation might still sit, though Parliament was dissolved. Finding that it was possible, he directed the Archbishop to go on with the business they had begun; but he, hearing that some of its members had doubts about the point of law, advised a further reference to his Majesty’s Council, who determined as the Lord Keeper had done before them. Accordingly a new commission was issued, the former having limited the Session of the Convocation to the Session of Parliament, and they set to business again on May 13th. The interval, then, was a time of confusion, there being continual informal meetings through it; some of which, mentioned by Fuller and Heylin, are not even noticed either in the register or minutes. After the 13th, all is regular and correspondent again, in the times of adjournment, as recorded in the journals of the two Houses.

The other instance brought forward by the clergy was from the end of the same year. According to the register of the Upper House, the Convocation was prorogued from December 19th, 1640, to January 13th, 1641; but the minutes of the Lower mentioned an adjournment from December 19th to December 23rd, and from thence to January 13. Now it so happens that on December 18th the Archbishop was accused of high treason, and committed to the custody of the usher of the black rod; and it also happens, that, in the preceding May, after an assault upon his palace, the rabble who made it turned their fury on the Convocation, who were forthwith protected by the train bands. All this was enough to put its members into confusion on the present occasion; and December 23rd, two days before Christmas, is not a probable time for an ordinary meeting, as is implied by the adjournment of the Upper House from the 19th to January 13th. Further, there is no proof the Upper House did not in the event meet on the 23rd, since its register breaks off abruptly upon the Archbishop’s arrest. The only difficulty on the face of the documents was the actual intention of the Lower House on the 19th, to meet on the 23rd, whereas the Upper did not so intend; to which it was answered, that there were the strongest reasons for thinking this entry in the register of the Lower House was not made till afterwards. In the five Sessions, from December 9th to January 17th, (of which December 19th and 23rd were two,) no business was done; and the minute of them seems, from the ink, which is different from what comes before and after, to have been made at one and the same time. Further, there is great inaccuracy and irregularity in the minutes at other times: such as the joining together in the same paragraph the acts of several Sessions, and a confusion of dates. Such was the explanation offered by the Upper House. To which it was added, that, in 1689, a committee had been appointed to inspect the registers, and adjust the privileges of both Houses, and at that time the lower clergy did not allege the quotations now produced in behalf of their claims of independence.

But the advocates of the Lower House did not rest their case on the result of an inquiry into one or two mere precedents; they appealed, as their chief argument, to their resemblance to the House of Commons; and they contended that, in spite of forms and precedents, the Act of Submission, in 25 Henry VIII., had, in matter of fact, destroyed the power of the Metropolitan altogether, and placed the king in his stead; so that the clergy being now under the king, and the king having allowed them to meet, the Archbishop could not interfere with them. This famous Act will come under our notice by-and-by; here it is enough to observe, in opposition to this theory, that it does not hint at any change in the relation between Archbishop and clergy in synodal matters; only subjecting the whole Church to the king. In spite of every attempt to assimilate the Convocation to the Parliament, both in its internal structure and its relation towards the sovereign (and undoubtedly there is a resemblance), these distinctions between them are undeniable: viz., that the king summons the Parliament in his own name, under the great seal, through the Lord Chancellor; receives the returns, receives the Commons on the first day of meeting, directs them to choose and confirms their Speaker: whereas it is the Archbishop, empowered indeed by king’s writ, but by his own mandate, addressed to the Bishop of London, who convenes the Convocation, in his own name, under his own archiepiscopal seal; receiving the returns, receiving the Lower House on their first meeting, and directing them to choose, and confirming when chosen, their prolocutor. Accordingly, Parker’s “Descriptio,” which, in other respects also, substantiates the claims of the Upper House, so far from countenancing Atterbury’s Erastian notion, that the Archbishop became, by the Act of 25th Henry, a mere officer of the king, as regards the Convocation, professes, in the Introduction, to be the “forma convocationis celebrandæ prout ab antiquo observari consuevit,” and presently introduces the phrases, “ex more” “ex laudabili et antiquâ ordinatione,” and “solet observari.”

But the Lower House considered they had another ground of civil right, which might avail them in their contest. It had been usual, since Edward the First’s reign, to introduce into the writ, summoning the bishops to Parliament, a clause (called, from the first word, the “Præmunientes,”) in which each Bishop was required to bring with him certain of his clergy. This clause was very distasteful and insulting to the Church, when first inserted, and had scarcely been obeyed from Edward’s time. It was now almost obsolete, though formally continued in the parliamentary writ; but it now was turned to account by the lower clergy in their contest against their rulers. The latter answered, with justice, that this supposed right of the clergy had nothing to do with the Convocation; that the writ came from the king, and the return was made to him; that those select clergymen might proceed with their respective Bishops to the king in Parliament, if they would, and take the place he chose to give them. Meanwhile, the Archbishop surely might be allowed to preside over his own provincial Council, according to custom. However, this alleged claim, though thus successfully disposed of, seems to have had some influence in inducing the court to allow the meeting of the Convocation. Some of the Bishops, urged by the clamour, had summoned their clergy to Parliament by virtue of it; and a source of embarrassment and annoyance was thus opened upon the government.

Lastly, the Lower House argued that, from the nature of the case, it was absurd to allow them to sit separate from the Bishops, if they were not allowed to sit at pleasure—the very notion of a House implying a right of separate debate, a right of separate judgment, and a right of sitting at discretion; to which the Upper answered, that points of privilege and jurisdiction were determined by usage, not by the nature of things; and, moreover, that there was much more of incongruity in the idea that the lower clergy had a power which, in its full exercise, was contrary to all episcopal government and the Metropolitan’s rights, and tended to overthrow the Church.


This is an account of the main points in dispute and main arguments employed. If, however, we inspect the history of the Session of 1700 itself, we shall find the above to be a very inadequate representation of the actual course of the controversy. So many are the little annoyances offered by the Lower to the Upper House, so marvellous their encroachments on precedent and breaches of order, that we can only account for their conduct by supposing the body of the clergy at that period thoroughly dissatisfied; dissatisfied with their condition, with their prospects, and, above all, with themselves; suspicious not only of their new king and his Bishops, but of their own straightforwardness in the course of late events; feeling that somehow things had got wrong, and not seeing how they could be righted, yet without the consciousness that they were altogether free from blame themselves.

For instance, on the 25th of February, they prejudged the question in dispute, by continuing to sit after the receipt of the Archbishop’s schedule, and then adjourning to a place different from that specified in it. When called to account for this irregularity, they did not answer in that respectful and obedient manner which superiors had a right to expect from them. The Archbishop had put to the Prolocutor these two questions: “Whether the Lower House of Convocation did sit, after they were prorogued by his grace, on February 25th?”—And “Whether they did meet that present morning (February 28th) without attending on their lordships in the place to which they were prorogued?” An answer as to the matter of fact was required, first by common decency, next because their exercise of a right actually under dispute was itself an important measure, and called for the attention of the Upper House, whatever became the question of right itself. However, instead of answering, they merely sent in a paper of precedents, in defence of their side of the argument. Nor was this all; for they entitled it, the “Report of the committee of the Lower House;” thus ruling in their own favour, and in the very presence of the Bishops, another point in controversy: the Upper House maintaining that the Lower House itself was but a committee of the Convotion, and that all power of separating off portions of its members lay with them.

Again, they renewed the attempt which they had made, against all precedent, in 1689, to communicate with the Upper House through other members besides the Prolocutor; the only defence they were able to offer for this conduct being, the inconvenience resulting to them by the frequent absence of their chairman in his attendance on their lordships; whereas the very inconvenience was itself a token, if they would take it rightly, that such continued and independent discussion was not part of their rights or business. Their own mode of stating their complaint (which they published) provokes a smile in the reader of after times. The then Warden of All Souls was sent up to the Upper House, instead of the Prolocutor, on which “his grace was pleased to return this answer, ‘Dr. Finch, since the Prolocutor is not with you, I say nothing.’ ” “Admit,” they argue, “the Prolocutor, as the os et organum vocis of the House, to be in most cases the properest person to report their sense, this does not hinder but a message in scriptis, such as this was, especially when brought up by a person of the honourable Dr. Finch’s quality, might be fit to be received.”

Further, they maintained they might take the first step in censuring irreligious publications of the day, such as Toland’s “Christianity not Mysterious,” and proceeded to submit certain resolutions, drawn up by a committee of themselves, to the Upper House; though it was as yet undecided, first, whether they themselves had such a right of origination, whether they might appoint a committee, and receive its report, and further, whether the Convocation might, as the Law then stood, enter upon judicial proceedings at all.

Further still, the Bishops had given to their paper of precedents a distinct and careful answer in writing, which I do not know where to find, though I am pretty sure I have seen it among the pamphlets of the day. “A Narrative of the proceedings of the Lower House, in 1700–1, drawn up by the order of the House,” (supposed to be written by the Prolocutor Hooper, afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells,) instead of furnishing this paper, says, “It cannot be expected we should here insert a copy of their lordships’ papers, which make up many sheets, … but possibly the reader may be curious to know, at least, the substance, etc.,” and then it proceeds to give its own version of it. This is surely unfair and disrespectful to the Upper House. But the conduct in Convocation of the same party, on receipt of the Bishops’ paper, was actually offensive. Without prosecuting the argument which they themselves had begun, they voted, first in committee, then in the House, that they had a right to adjourn themselves; then they sent the Prolocutor with a message to the Bishops, signifying that they considered their lordships’ reply unsatisfactory, and praying for a free conference on the matter in debate. Here was a fresh assumption of a privilege enjoyed by the Lower House of Parliament; for, in Convocation, such conferences had ever been held at the invitation of the Bishops, not to mention their general claim to direct the proceedings of the Lower House in all matters. This was urged by the advocates of the Upper House;—also, that written statements, specific quotations, etc., were more to the purpose in such a matter than speeches, and, besides, that the dispute had hitherto been conducted on paper.

Lastly, when the Bishops, with the hope of smoothing matters, appointed a committee of five of their number to meet ten of the clergy to inspect the acts of both Houses during the then Convocation, and report judgment upon them, the Lower House, by a new and unprecedented disobedience, declined to act with them for such a purpose.

The reader may be curious to know whether such factious conduct was supported by a large majority of the Lower House. The resolution that it had power to adjourn itself, was carried by 66 against 24, proxies included; the neuter members (taking the whole number to be 145) being 55. Of this minority of 24, only 13 were present, and these seem to have offered a determined opposition to the course pursued by their brethren. Two months afterwards, a protest was presented to the Archbishop, from 13 members of the Lower House, against its proceedings, who probably were about the same who voted in the minority on this occasion. I will here insert it, as it contains fresh argument against the candour of their brethren:

“To his Grace, etc. We, whose names are underwritten, do humbly beg leave to represent to your Grace, that, whereas we did move in the Lower House of Convocation that we might enter our protestation against all intermediate Sessions of the Lower House betwixt your Grace’s ordinary prorogations, the question being put upon the said motion, it passed against us in the negative; and a further motion being made, and the question put, whether the said vote should be registered, it likewise passed against us, that it should not be registered at [as] yet. Wherefore we humbly beg leave that we may be admitted to enter our protestations against all such intermediate Sessions. (Signed.) Wm. Sherlock, Dean St. Paul’s; G. Verney, Proct. Linc.; J. Wichart, Dean Winton; S. Freeman, Dean Peterbor.; G. Bull, Archd. Landaff; W. Stanley, Archd. London; J. Jeffery, Archd. Norwich; C. Trimnell, Archd. Norfolk; R. Bourchier, Archd. Lewis; J. Evans, Proct. Bang.; J. Whitefoot, Proct. Norwich; G. Pooley, Proct. Bath and Wells; T. Littel, Proct. Norwich.”

In May, in the same year, another list of 13, almost the same, (W. Beverege and W. Hayley being substituted for Wichart and Bull,) addressed the Archbishop, by way of protest, on another innovation made by the Lower House. On the 8th, the Prolocutor had refused to read the Archbishop’s schedule of prorogation to the Lower House, though urged by some of the members to do so. These members, in consequence, did not consider they could attend on the 16th, which had been fixed for the next Session, without (as far as the form went) obeying the notice of it given by the Prolocutor, instead of the order of the Archbishop, and, in consequence, addressed a letter to the latter to explain their absence.

So much concerning the friends of order in the Lower House, to whom, in 1705, we find added the names, among others, of Gibson, (afterwards Bishop of London, to one of whose tracts I am much indebted in the foregoing account,) Green, Prideaux, Bentley, and Hody. On the other side, besides Spratt, Bishop of Rochester, Trelawney, of Exeter, and Compton, of London, there were Atterbury, Aldrich, Smalridge, Jane, and Hooper.

Here, then, I stop for the present; and, to avoid all mistake, I will just observe that I am far from pretend-tending to have mastered the history of this controversy, though I have attempted to give its outlines correctly, as far as I have gone. I have before me a list of as many as 69 books and pamphlets, written before 1708, on the subject, as affixed to one of them by a publisher. Wake’s work on English Councils, published in 1703, in answer to Atterbury, is itself a thick folio of 850 pages, not to mention the fourth volume of Wilkins’ Concilia, a work of a later date. Therefore no one need be surprised if he happens to pitch on narratives giving him fuller information than I have collected.


Views of the Lower House in opposing the Upper

I AM fearful of tiring the reader with the minute details of the quarrel which took place between the two Houses in the Convocations of 1700 and following years; yet it has been my object, as it shall be in what has to come, to confine my account of it to those points which involved some question of right or privilege between them, or between both and the Crown. In continuing the history, I will only remark that such a dissension scarcely can occur again. It arose from a new Upper House being grafted by a new King on an old clergy; whereas, in a settled state of things, there is a regular and close connection between the Bishops and the Lower House, the great majority of the members of the latter being appointed either by the Crown or the episcopal bench. I say it scarcely can recur; because it is not to be supposed that the great body of the clergy will ever again find themselves called upon to shift their allegiance to new Bishops at the command of a foreigner scarcely seated on the throne.


Comparing the two Houses with each other, the dignified and temperate conduct of the Upper House forces itself upon the notice of the reader. However, it should be remembered that nothing is so easy as composure, good humour, and good sense, when we have matters in the main our own way. “Let those laugh who win” is a familiar proverb. The Bishops were at this time on the winning side; they had the King with them, and their political principles had gained the victory. Besides, a sort of constitutional tranquillity and clearness of head are often the attendants on the cold, unenthusiastical temper which had, at that era, triumphed in Church and State, as may be illustrated in the case of some well-known writers of that and a more recent date. At the same time, there were members of the Upper House as free from the reproach of placidity and insensibility as any of the Lower. On one occasion, Burnet, whose writing’s had been attacked by the Lower House, was provoked to interpose, in answer to a question from the Prolocutor to the Archbishop, on some immaterial point of dissension. “This is fine indeed,” he said, “the Lower House will not allow a committee to inspect their books, and now they demand to see ours!” and on the Prolocutor replying that he asked nothing but what he was concerned to know, and what of right he might demand, Burnet returned, “This is according to your usual insolence.” “Insolence, my lord!” said the Prolocutor, “do you give me that word?” “Yes, insolence!” replied the Bishop; “you deserve that word and worse. Think what you will of yourself, I know what you are.” This Prolocutor was Hooper, soon afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells, whom Burnet repays in his History, for reporting the above conversation, with a line of description in aggravation of what he then said to his face; saying, that he was “a man of learning and good conduct hitherto,” but “reserved, crafty, and ambitious.”

The Convocation of which I have hitherto spoken came to an end by the dissolution of Parliament. A fresh one, summoned in the beginning of 1702, was first interrupted by the death of the Prolocutor of the Lower House, and then dissolved by the King’s death, in spite of Lord Rochester’s attempt to give it the same continuance of existence as the Parliament enjoyed, as if it were a constituent part of the civil assembly.

Little need be said of the proceedings of the Convocation for the following nine years. Their dissensions continued unabated, and the situation of the Church and kingdom was such as to supply abundant matter for jealousy and factiousness to act upon. In the opening of the new reign, the Bishops offered, by way of accommodation, to allow the Lower House, during the intervals of Sessions, to appoint committees for preparing matters; and, further, when business was brought before them, to give them sufficient time, before their prorogation, for debating upon it. The Lower House would not accept these terms, and wished the controversy referred to the Queen’s arbitration; which the Bishops declined, lest they should compromise that right of supremacy over presbyters, inherent in the episcopate. The Lower House then addressed themselves to the Commons, but could only obtain from them a general promise of standing by the just rights of the clergy. Then they addressed the Queen, who referred them to her ministers, and the premier being with them, and the judges (as it was supposed) against them, nothing was done. Lastly, they passed a declaration that episcopacy was of divine and apostolical right; but the Bishops, apprehensive of incurring a præmunire by what would have seemed the enactment of a canon, declined to assent to it.

The sessions of 1705–6 were scarcely begun when a protest was presented to the Bishops against the majority in the Lower House by forty-nine of its members. In this document the following innovations are specified: (1) Their Prolocutor’s proroguing the House with the consent and authority of the House itself, not by authority of the Archbishop’s schedule (a practice begun in the last Convocation of King William), and the consequent introduction of intermediate Sessions; (2) their claim of a power of putting the Prolocutor into the chair before he was confirmed by the Upper House, and so beginning debates without formal leave from it; (3) their giving leave of absence to members, and of voting by proxy; (4) their electing an actuary, in prejudice of the Archbishop’s right, whose officer, the registrar of the whole Convocation, had constantly received fees from the Lower House, in which he acted by deputy; and, (5) their insisting on drawing up an address to the Queen, at the opening of the then Convocation, instead of accepting or amending that sent down to them from the Bishops. It is observable that among these forty-nine protesters, only ten were proctors of the clergy; whereas, in the counter-declaration, subscribed by the majority of the Lower House soon afterwards, there are twenty-nine such, out of seventy-five signatures.

In the Convocation of 1707, the Archbishop was armed by a letter from the Queen (who had already interfered in 1705–6), declaratory of her intention to maintain her supremacy, and the due subordination of presbyters to Bishops in the Church of England. When he sent for the Lower House to communicate it to them, few of them were found assembled, and the Prolocutor was absent; so that the Archbishop found it necessary to communicate it to the clergy generally, in a circular letter, addressed to the Bishops of his province.


However, it is but fair to state the circumstances which led to these strange irregularities on the part of the Lower House. In truth, they found, or thought they found, that their obedience as presbyters to Bishops was to be made use of in order to betray and destroy the Church; they were in a net from which they could not disentangle themselves, and having lately had their Bishops’ sanction to the doctrine that, in extreme cases, it was lawful to renounce the Lord’s anointed, and his heirs after him, they were tempted to believe that on similar grounds, and much more in a case of conscience, it was religious to engage in a systematic opposition to the successors of the Apostles. In the year 1707, the Act of Union with Scotland was passed, and the body of the clergy saw in it what the event has proved, the depression of the Church Catholic, their own bone and flesh, in that country, and the practical recognition of the kirk by English Protestants. Lords North and Grey had moved the addition of the following proviso to the bill:—“Provided always, that nothing in this ratification shall be construed to extend to an approbation or acknowledgment of the truth of the presbyterian way of worship, or allowing the religion of the Church of Scotland to be what it is styled, ‘the true Protestant Religion;’ ” but it was rejected on the second reading by fifty-five to nineteen, only one Bishop (Hooper, of Bath and Wells,) voting in the minority. The Lower House of Convocation had taken the alarm, and were proceeding to make application to the Commons against the Union, when the Queen (contrary, as the clergy maintained, to the custom of the Church ever since the Reformation,) prorogued the Convocation, while the Parliament sat, for three weeks, that is, till the Act of Union had passed both Houses and received the royal assent. Their indignation at what they considered tyranny added to treachery, occasioned the Queen’s letter concerning her own supremacy, and their absence from the Convocation, when the Archbishop communicated it in form, as above related.

Again, their refusal of the Upper House’s address to the Queen, in 1705, disrespectful as their conduct was, and irregular, arose from the wish of the Bishops to represent that the Church was in no danger; while the Lower House, fully as they might trust the Queen, did consider that there were parties in the State very hostile and dangerous to its interests.

Nor must it be forgotten, that to the Lower House (aided by the Nonjurors externally) we are indebted that no change was made in our services and discipline in 1689; the innovations contemplated being such as would literally have been fatal to us as a Church, such as cannot be contemplated by any churchman without indignation and affright, and gratitude to a merciful Providence, which ordered things otherwise. What they were shall be given in Mr. Hallam’s words:—“The Bill of Comprehension, proposed to Parliament, went no further than to leave a few scrupled ceremonies at discretion, and to admit presbyterian ministers into the Church without pronouncing on the invalidity of their former Ordination;” as if the recognizing them as ministers were not pronouncing. Is it then the case that we have a second time risked the Succession? the thought of this, while it is frightful, is consolatory in our present uncertainties. This good act the Lower House of 1689 has done for us; and, while doing it, and attempting other services, its members also gave the alarm that the Government was aiming at the suspension of Convocation, and the Government party denied it. We have the event before us.

Moreover, with all their faults and mistakes, they certainly had an enlarged view of the duties of an Ecclesiastical Synod; and grasped the principles, and aimed at wielding the powers, of the Church with a vigour that the court Bishops could not comprehend. The aspect of latitudinarianism and infidelity was very threatening; and they felt these principles of evil were to be met, not by mere controversy, not by individuals relying on what is called the force of reason, nor again by mere civil authority, but by the moral power of the Church, whether as a body, or in its authorities, by Bishops or Convocations; by that high influence, in fact, which broke the power of paganism and baffled the schools of philosophy. But so far from exercising this their special gift, the very heads of the Church were in terms of friendship with its enemies. Firmin, the Unitarian, was the friend of Tillotson and Fowler; and the writers of his party are recommended by Burnet for their “gravity” in the management of controversy, for their temper, and judgment. Sherlock seemed extravagating towards tritheism, Clarke towards Arianism, and Hoadley towards a legion of heresies. Even where orthodoxy was preserved, the depth and fervour of the Laudian era was being supplanted by a cold, dry, and minute theology. A few years after the date under review, the Bishops of the province of Canterbury were all but unanimous in favour of openly recognizing lay baptism; and were only stopped from declaring themselves on the point synodically, by the Lower House, and, as Bishops, by the opposition of Sharp, Archbishop of York. Such was the less alarming side of things; but on the worse the prospect was fearful. The rationalism which has appeared in Germany seems in great measure to have originated in England at the period under consideration. Hickes, in 1707, speaks of pamphleteers of the day, who wrote

“against making of creeds, and creed-makers who impose upon men articles of faith. These men of large minds and free thoughts will not have them confined and tied up to forms and summaries of belief.… If they durst, they would write against Scripture-making, as you may perceive by the table-talk which the reputed author of the Rights, and some other Grecians, had of them, at a dinner, the 39th of November last.… They began with Balaam and his ass, and, with scorn and scurrility enough, asserted the ass to be the fittest of the two to see an angel, and to have divine inspirations and revelations.… Then, for the prophets, they did God and them the honour to compare them to the Camisars, and prophecy to deliriums in fevers, and told a story of a physician who cured a patient of his prophetical deliriums and was refused his reward. They also said it was a disease proper, it may be, to certain places and constitutions, as agues, and … observed, that drunkenness and prophecy was the same thing.… The passing over the Red Sea, they said, was not miraculous, but natural.… The pillar of fire, they said, was some sort of artificial preparation in the nature of a phosphorus.… Elijah’s sacrifice, they said, was by artificial fire.… The marriage in Cana was a merrymaking; and He, meaning our Lord, made the water wine with spirit of wine.”

Such being the state of things, the plans of the Lower House have, at least, the merit of energy and boldness. They appointed, in 1700, committees for examining certain attacks upon Christianity; for inquiring into the causes of the corruption of manners, and the means of reformation; for making inquiries into seminaries set up in opposition to the Universities; for the means of promoting religion in the plantations, and among seamen; for introducing our liturgy to the notice of the French and other Protestants, and for considering the grievances of ecclesiastical cognizances. They desired to restrain the licentiousness of the press, and the profaneness and immorality of the stage; to reform the church discipline, to hinder clandestine marriages, to remove the inconveniences in the mode of recovering church rates, and legal difficulties which lay on the clergy as to the administration of the Lord’s Supper. In short, they undertook, as was their duty, all those matters which have ever since either been neglected or taken up by improper parties, whether the Parliament, the public press, or private societies. With some account of their attempts to proceed against irreligious and unsound publications, I shall close this paper and the history of their career.


In 1700, they presented an address to the Upper House, on the subject of Toland’s “Christianity not Mysterious,” praying for their lordships’ judgment on certain extracts they made from it. The Bishops, upon taking advice of counsel, returned answer, agreeably to a former decision in 1689, that since the famous Act of Submission they could not censure judicially any such books without a license from the King, “which they had not yet received.” It was conceived that a judgment on opinions was of the nature of a canon, as indirectly making doctrinal statements, and that thus the Articles of the Church would be liable to continual alteration and variation by successive decisions or precedents; that, though Coke had decided that the Convocation is a court, nevertheless to judge matters without the King’s leave was interfering with his prerogative, which the Act of Henry VIII. especially guarded; and that, in the great Council of Clarendon, 1164, it was resolved, among other things, that no servant or dependent of the King could be excommunicated without his leave; and that, in case of appeals, the King had the right of final decision. At the same time, it was admitted that each Bishop, in his own court, might proceed against exceptionable publications.

The Lower House was obliged to acquiesce in this determination; but before long they appeared before the Bishops with an attack upon Burnet’s Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, which, as divers members of the episcopal bench had sanctioned the publication, was, in fact, an attack upon those to whom they were appealing. The Bishops referred their complaint to a committee of themselves, who reported that the Lower House had no power judicially to censure any book; that they ought not to have entered upon the examination of the work of one of the Bishops without acquainting the Upper House; that they ought to have been specific in their accusations, which, in the form in which they were presented, were a mere vague defamation; that the Bishop of Sarum’s “History of the Reformation” had been approved by Parliament, and, with his other works, had done great service to the English Church, and deserved the thanks of their lordships’ House; and that it did not rest with the Convocation to pass an opinion upon private expositions of the Thirty-nine Articles. Thus matters rested for nine years.

In the summer of 1710 a change of ministry took place, and Parliament was dissolved soon after. This was the consequence of Sacheverell’s affair; and, of course, the accession of the Tories to power was favourable to the wishes of the Lower House of Convocation. The description given, in an address of the new Commons to her Majesty, of the retiring ministry, is curious; and, though beside my present purpose, I cannot help quoting it. “These ministers framed to themselves wild and unwarrantable schemes of balancing parties, and, under false pretence of temper and moderation, did really encourage faction, by discountenancing and depressing persons zealously affected to your Majesty and to the Church, and by extending their favour and patronage to men of licentious and impious principles, such as shake the very foundation of all government and religion.” However, they had now been dismissed from the Queen’s councils, and one of the first effects of it was the grant of a license to Convocation to frame canons for the exigencies of the Church. Two bishops, Compton and Hooper, both defenders of the privileges of the Lower House, were delegated, in succession, to supply the place of the Archbishop in his absence, and Atterbury was chosen Prolocutor. The subjects assigned by the Queen for discussion were, the state of religion, with reference to infidelity, heresy, and profaneness; the reform of the proceedings of the courts in the matter of excommunication; the preparing forms for the visitation of prisoners and convicts, and for admitting converts from popery and dissent, and restoring the lapsed; the establishment of rural deans; the providing terriers of glebes, tithes, etc.; and the prevention of clandestine marriages; on all which subjects committees were appointed in this and subsequent years, and delivered in reports. One important measure was actually passed in this Convocation. A correspondence commenced between the Commons and Lower House on the subject of the want of churches in the metropolis, which ended in a vote of the Commons of £350,000 for the erection of fifty additional ones, according to a scheme drawn out by Atterbury and the Lower House. If that House had done no other service to the cause of religion than this, it would deserve to be kindly remembered by posterity, in spite of the temper which it displayed towards the Bishops. On the other hand, it would not be fair to impute it to the latter that no great measure had hitherto been carried in behalf of the Church. In their reply to the Lower House, in 1701, on the subject of censuring Toland’s book, they observe, “that there had been several obstructions and stumblingblocks laid in the way” of their showing their zeal; and we can readily understand how Queen Anne’s Tory ministry might be more ready to co-operate with the heads of the Church than a monarch of foreign birth and prepossessions.

Passing over these subjects, we are here more especially concerned with the conduct of the Lower House, in consequence of the first of the recommendations made by the Queen, viz., to examine into the state of religion. They first drew up a report, in which they attributed the growth of irreligion chiefly to the encouragement given in the former reign to men of latitudinarian principles; but, the Upper House objecting to what seemed like personalities, especially in what had gone by, the matter dropped. Next, the Lower House proceeded to censure Whiston, whose heretical opinions had made great talk at the time; and, upon this, the question of the judiciary power of Convocation revived, which had been stirred in the case of Toland’s publication.

Whiston had been expelled the University of Cambridge for Arianism, in October, 1710; and the Lower House of Convocation addressed the Bishops, praying for their lordships’ opinion how they might best proceed in relation to him. They received the request graciously, and referred it to the Archbishop. Tenison, in consequence, addressed to them a circular, explanatory of the state of the case. He observed that there were three ways in which a person could be proceeded against whose writings called for censure:—by means of Convocation; by Archbishop’s court of audience, in which his suffragans were assessors with him; or, thirdly, by means of the Bishop’s court to whose diocese the accused party belonged, on report of Convocation. He considered the first method to be attended by serious difficulties: first, because the Convocation was a court of final resort, which would interfere with an act of Elizabeth, vesting all ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the Crown; next, because there had been no such proceeding for the last one hundred years, during which time an Act had passed abolishing the High Commission and all like courts hereafter; thirdly, because, in the statute annulling the writ “de hæretico comburendo,” in Charles the Second’s time, all established courts, and therefore that of Convocation, were made to give way to episcopal jurisdiction; lastly, because the Upper House, in 1689, had been advised by counsel to leave such matters to other courts. He ended by recommending an address to her Majesty, praying her to refer the matter to the judges. This was done, and the judges were divided in opinion. Eight were in favour of the jurisdiction of the Convocation in such matters as by the laws of the realm were declared to be heresy, on the ground that an appeal to the Crown from all ecclesiastical courts was implied in the royal supremacy, whether expressly provided for in particular statute or not; so that the Convocation might exercise its ancient and constitutional powers without incurring a breach of the act of Elizabeth. The other four judges considered that such judgments lay within the ordinary episcopal jurisdiction, and concurred in the apprehensions Tenison had expressed in his letter; however, they allowed that heretical tenets and opinions might be examined and condemned in Convocation, without convening the authors or maintainers of them. Such a public judgment was accordingly passed in Convocation upon Whiston’s work, and all Christian people were warned against it; it being thought prudent, in spite of the Queen’s encouragement to them to proceed judicially, to abstain from further measures.

In 1714, another lamentable occasion occurred for the Lower House to exert itself in maintenance of the orthodox faith. Dr. Samuel Clarke having published his “Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity,” a work especially adapted to harass and confuse sensitive minds, they presented an address to the Bishops, praying them to take the matter into consideration; to which they added, at the Bishops’ request, a list of objectionable passages in the work, arranged under distinct heads. The Upper House were unwilling to move in the matter, and professed themselves satisfied with a so-called submission, which Dr. Clarke was prevailed on (chiefly, it is said, by Smalridge,) to offer; in which, without retracting any position he had published, he shut up his sentiments in an ambiguous form of words, and proposed to keep silence for the future. The most natural submission would have been for them to subscribe the Articles before the Convocation; but Bishop Burnet had at that time great influence in the Upper House, and I have been told by a very learned person (though he did not refer to his authority), that such was Burnet’s relative regard for the Church and his Whig friends, that he wrote to dissuade Archdeacon Welchman from answering Clarke, on the ground of the embarrassment which such a procedure would occasion to Protestant politics. This agrees with what we know of the conduct of the Government in the matter, before the publication of the offensive work; when Godolphin and others of the Queen’s ministers sent Clarke a message, to the import “that the affairs of the public were with difficulty then kept in the hands of those who were at all for liberty; that it was therefore, an unseasonable time for the publication of a book which would make a great noise and disturbance; and that, therefore, they desire him to forbear till a fitter opportunity should offer itself.” Four years after the introduction of his name into the Convocation, he ventured on altering the Doxologies in the Psalm Books used for singing in St. James’s parish, which brought upon him the animadversion of the Bishop of London.

In 1714, George the First succeeded to the throne, and the final suspension of the Convocation soon followed. George began his reign with an address to the Archbishops and Bishops on the subject of the “great differences” which had arisen “among some of the clergy of the realm, about their ways of expressing themselves in their sermons and writings concerning the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity,” and of the “unusual liberties which had been taken by several of the said clergy in intermeddling with the affairs of State and government, and the constitution of the realm;” and, accordingly forbad them preaching either heterodoxy, or politics, except “in defence of the regal supremacy.” The next year the Convocation was opened with a license to debate, being the third assembly which had been so favoured. This license was, so far, the result of a more liberal and enlarged policy towards the Church, than Burnet and his friends had advised previous to 1710. The subjects for consideration were (in addition to some of those already specified in former licenses) the preparing a form for consecrating churches and chapels, the better settling the qualifications of candidates for orders, the enforcing discipline on the clergy, the providing more effectually for curates whose incumbents were non-residents, and the improving the catechetical instruction given prior to confirmation. But the career of the Convocation was close on its termination. It soon came into collision with the ruling powers, on the subject of Hoadley’s doctrines, and though truth was on the side of the clergy, the interest of the government was against them, and it was easy to see which way the contest would terminate. As early as 1705, the Lower House had ventured to attack a sermon of Hoadley’s, as “containing positions contrary to the doctrine of the Church, expressed in the first and second parts of the Homily against disobedience or wilful rebellion;” but the Upper House suffered the matter to drop. In 1715–16, Hoadley was made Bishop of Bangor; and, in the course of the following year, published his “Preservative” and Sermon, which gave rise to the famous Bangorian controversy. These writings were at once brought before the Lower House of Convocation who made a representation of them to the Bishops, on the grounds of their “tendency, first, to subvert all government and discipline in the Church of Christ;” next, “to impugn and impeach the authority of the legislature to enforce obedience in matters of religion by civil sanctions.” Before this representation could be taken into consideration by the Upper House, a special order come from the King for the prorogation of the Convocation; and from that time to this, it has only existed as a formal appendage to the first meetings of Parliament.


Its relation to the Ecclesiastical Establishment

IT may be recollected that I proposed three questions for consideration on the subject of Convocation:—what was its real nature and history relatively to the Church? what was the principle, and what the actual extent of the civil governor’s jurisdiction over it and assumption of its powers? and, thirdly, what was the place which the Lower House held in its constitution? The last of these three has now been discussed, as far as is necessary to illustrate the history of its suspension in the beginning of the eighteenth century. And for any other purpose, one may hope it ever will be unnecessary; for it was (to say the least) a heavy calamity that members of the Lower House should have felt it their duty, from the circumstances of the times, to stand upon their rights against the authority of their Bishops. Not to dwell on the unbecoming appearance of such an opposition, it must be borne in mind that the privilege actually conceded on all hands to the Lower House, the Veto on the proceedings of the Upper, is in itself almost too liberal a grant of power for the episcopal principle; and is only defensible (I suppose) on the ground of the size of the dioceses, and the Crown’s prerogative in the choice of Bishops. “Maximo enim,” says Wilkins, “præ aliis nationibus presbyteri synodi Anglicanæ fruuntur privilegio in concilio provinciali, ut dissensus eorum universa domûs superioris decreta irrita reddere valeat.” Having this Veto upon all proceedings of their superiors, surely the clergy should have been satisfied. But perhaps those of them who had released themselves from their pledge of canonical obedience to their deprived Bishops, might consider lightly of the obligation which subjected them to those who had come into their place; perhaps, also, there was reasonable ground of jealousy as regards such as William’s government had promoted. But, though much might have been said in their defence had they refused altogether to recognize the new prelates, one does not see the consistency of taking them for their rulers and then not submitting to them. But enough on this unpleasant subject. Now let us pass to the consideration of a second of the questions originally proposed—viz., the nature and history of Convocation relatively to the Church. And first a few words in statement of the controversy respecting it.


Atterbury, Binckes, and their party, maintained, in the pamphlets mentioned in my first paper, that the Convocation was an essential part of the constitution, established by law, “by the same law as the gentleman receives his rent, or the member enjoys his privilege.” When required to produce the particular law which makes its assembling imperative on the sovereign, instead of its being (as the court party maintained) at his option, they allowed as much as this—viz., that his writ was absolutely necessary for its assembling, but they maintained, at the same time, that it was absolutely necessary that he should grant that writ, and that for two reasons: first, if the meeting of Convocation were a privilege or liberty of the English Church (which no one could deny), the King was by his coronation oath bound in two ways to issue his writ according to custom. For Magna Charta (they argued), to which the King had sworn, pronounced “quod Ecclesia Anglicana libera sit, et habeat omnia jura et libertates illæsas;” and again one especial part of the oath administered to him by the Archbishop, contained a promise on his part to “preserve to the Bishops and clergy of this realm, and to the churches committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them;” so that, since the assembly of the clergy in Convocation was, beyond dispute, a privilege recognized by the law, no particular law was necessary to bind the sovereign, who was bound in a more solemn manner by his express oath, which the law imposed.

Secondly, they maintained that their assembling was matter of constitutional right; for the Convocation, they said, was a member or a necessary adjunct of Parliament; so that, independently of law or promise, it could not constitutionally be abolished or suspended. They showed from history that from the earliest Saxon times the clergy had been summoned with the laity to the King’s great Council; that, as time went on, the mode of their assembling, from being indeterminate, became definite and regular; then again, from circumstances, was varied; and lastly became fixed in the particular form which had then for centuries been matter of usage; that, on the other hand, during this process and ultimate settlement, the ordinary annual Church Synods gradually came into disuse, so that the Convocation, as then constituted, was the representative both of an important political privilege, and a standing ecclesiastical ordinance of the Church; that at first they met in one body with the Laity, or Parliament (as it is now called), afterwards separated from it, and then again themselves divided into two provincial Synods; that this arrangement was for a while interrupted by a new writ from the King (the præmunicutes clause inserted into the Bishops’ writ), summoning them to Parliament, which was a fresh evidence of their constitutional right, but that the former custom was again restored and had so continued to that day, the above-mentioned clause being still retained in the Bishops’ writ, though not acted on, in token that their right remained where it was; that under all these changes, under whatever irregularities of time, place, and form of meeting, the great rule obtained that they met in connexion with Parliament, as belonging to it, (closer or more detached, as the case might be,) but still as constitutionally annexed to it; lastly, that since the Reformation the Convocation had invariably met with the Parliament and been dissolved with it, except in the solitary and extraordinary instance of 1640, when it sat after the Parliament was dissolved, and which no one would urge as a precedent, though after all, even as such, it only affected the question of the termination of Convocation, not of its assembling. They added, that anciently the same general appellation was given to both meetings, the Parliament being called a Wittena Gemote, the Convocation a Church Gemote, and that in various modern documents (besides the præmunicutes clause above noticed) the Parliament was said to include the clergy, as in a mandate of Bonner’s, 1543, which has the words “prelati et clerus Prov. Cant in parl.,” in a petition to the Pope in Henry the Eighth’s time, speaking of the “milites et doctores in parl.,” and in the phrase in the 5th of November Service, “the nobility, clergy, and commons of this land, then assembled in Parliament;” this being the reason why a clergyman could not be a member of the House of Commons. They proceeded to argue, that, if the Convocation was thus an adjunct to the Parliament, the King’s writ was but the formal instrument, necessary indeed (as a license of marriage may be), but not to be refused without leading to grave political consequences.

The court party, on the other hand, granted that the clergy had this right to be summoned in Convocation, but they drew a distinction between assembling and conferring. They said that the clergy had nothing beyond a right to be summoned; that a further license was necessary in order to their debating, and that they had no right to demand this; that the utmost extent of their right did not go beyond that of framing petitions to King or Bishops when assembled under the primary writ. This ground of argument, which at first sight looks like an evasion, was maintained, first by the fact that the Convocation had often in matter of fact met without debating; next, by the received opinion of the Church in the century last past; and further by the reason of the thing, the stated meetings of Convocation having been held for the purpose of granting subsidies to the Crown, and the custom naturally coming to an end with its object. Accordingly it was professed that the Convocation had now become only an occasional assembly to provide for especial business, and that old precedents were sufficiently consulted by the King’s formally convening them, though without suffering them to debate.

To this it was replied, that the same reasons which made the granting the writ for assembling a right of the clergy, made the license for debate a right also; but if not, then the Convocation did not, in matter of fact, supply the place of ecclesiastical Synod, and thus it became necessary to fall back upon the elementary and essential rights and duties of the Church, and to resume those canonical meetings which had only been suspended from a wish to adjust the principles of the Church to the particular civil polity in which it had been incorporated.

This is an outline of the controversy, which turned upon this:—not whether the meetings of Convocation might be lawfully suspended, this no party maintained, but whether it had a right to debate as well as to assemble, a right to demand a license as well as the writ. Atterbury, indeed, goes further than this in his view of its rights, denying in toto its need of any license for any act short of the positive enactment of a canon; as if it might frame and pass any measure in the form of a canon, and present it for the royal assent, as a bill in Parliament. On a question of this nature materials of argument lie so widely and plentifully for either side, that it requires a mind practised in weighing evidence, and much careful attention, in order to form an opinion worth putting upon paper. So far I suppose is clear, that at the present day a valid precedent against its right “to be put into a condition to do business,” (to use the phrase of Atterbury’s party,) exists in the actual suspension of its debates during the last 120 years; though, to be sure, certain recent changes in the constitution of Parliament, seem to create an opposite precedent of a novel kind, in favour of insisting on inherent rights instead of custom and usage. Now for the history of Convocation.


The Diocesan Council is the simplest form of ecclesiastical assembly, and that which, under the circumstances of the primitive Church, would first come into use. “That the Bishop of each diocese,” says Wake, “has, by divine commission, a power of governing the Church of Christ over which he is placed, and, in order thereunto, to call together the presbyters which minister under him, was the constant sense of all the ancient Councils and fathers of the Church.”

In our own Church these diocesan synods were held at first twice a year, but in process of time the direction of the Canon Law was followed, which made them only annual. At this stated assembly all beneficed clergy in the diocese were bound to appear, and the regulars also, except when any were exempted, as time went on, from episcopal jurisdiction. If the diocese were small, and had but one archdeaconry, all the clergy met in one place; otherwise they met by parties, the Bishop moving on from one archdeaconry to another. At these meetings the synodical inquiries were one part of the business, of which the ancient form still remains; then the causes,—not only clergy, but laity, being at liberty to present complaints before the assembly; then the Bishop’s charge, in which he communicated to the clergy the decisions, if any, of the Provincial Council, and exhorted them to fulfil the ministry with which they were entrusted; lastly, the Bishop’s diocesan constitutions, if such there were, were read and agreed to by the Synod, and thenceforth became the law of the diocese, provided they were not contrary to any provincial canons. The mode of celebrating these synods was as follows:—the clergy in solemn procession came to the church where they were to meet, at the day and hour appointed by the Bishop, and took their seats according to the date of their ordination. Then the deacons and laity (even women not excepted) were admitted. The Bishop having entered, prayers were read; and then the Bishop made an address introductory of the Synod. A sermon followed; then the complaints were heard; the diocesan constitutions were promulgated and passed, and the charge, with prayers, ended the meeting, which commonly lasted three or four days. It is easy to see that these Councils are continued to this day in the Bishop’s periodical Visitation, which at any moment (were it expedient) might resume the form of a synodal meeting. They were held, as above described, down to the time of Henry the Eighth.

The English Provincial Councils were as carefully conducted, after the pattern of the primitive Church. The Metropolitan summoned them, the business transacted related to the faith and discipline of the Church, and the members were the suffragan Bishops, to whom were sometimes added the heads of the regulars, abbots and the like; parochial presbyters having no place in them, by way of right, but, if summoned, summoned at the Archbishop’s pleasure, and for some particular purpose. Here again we have the rudiments, perhaps the substance, of a Provincial Council left to us, (at least as far as political matters of debate are concerned,) in the private meetings of the Bishops in London during the Session of Parliament. So much for ecclesiastical meetings of the clergy; now for civil.

From early Saxon times the prelates of the Church, that is, bishops, abbots, deans, etc., were called to the great Council of the nation to assist in its deliberations, and especially to grant subsidies from the Church property for the use of the State; it being then, as now, the standing principle of the law of England, that no persons could be taxed without their own consent or that of their representatives. In Saxon times the Church lands were taxed for the three objects of castles, bridges, and expeditions. William the Conqueror changed their tenure, and laid the burden of a further service on them. The princes following increased these taxes. However, since they still reached only to a portion of the clergy, and a part only of the revenues of this portion, various methods were adopted to comprehend the general body. First, the Pope laid a tax upon the Church for the use of the King; next, the Bishops, on extraordinary occasions, obliged the clergy to grant a subsidy to the King by way of a benevolence, which was done by means of diocesan Councils, the clergy empowering therein, first their respective Bishops, then their archdeacons, then proctors of their own, to act for them.

Thus matters stood till about the reign of Edward the First, who determined to put them on a securer basis for the interests of the Crown. Accordingly, in 1281, he, of his own authority, bade the two Archbishops call a Council for raising subsidies “coram rege in parliamento.” The superior clergy, alarmed at the consequences of a first step in an infringement upon their rights, refused to obey the summons; and the Archbishop of Canterbury, to meet the wishes of both parties, changed the place of meeting so as to disconnect it with the Parliament, while he obtained the grant of the subsidy previously by means of diocesan Councils. This was the first instance of the inferior clergy being summoned to Parliament. Twelve years afterwards, Edward made a new and more systematic attempt. On summoning his Parliament, he inserted a new clause in the writs issued to the Bishops and prelates, which has since been called, from its first word, the præmunientes clause, by which he required them to cite such of their inferior clergy to his Parliament as he therein specified, who were to act for the whole body. Here then a general representation of the clergy was introduced into the National Council, and may be called, after Wake in his learned work, (from which, with the assistance of Wilkins’s Concilia, this account is compiled,) the Parliamentary Convention of the Clergy. From that time down to the present day (unless any change has been made since the date of Wake’s book [1703]) the clergy have always been summoned to the Parliament, and accounted one of the three estates of the realm. This writ of præmunientes has been acted upon, since the Reformation, in the church of York, at the end of Henry the Eighth’s reign; in the church of Norwich, in Elizabeth’s; in Lichfield, at the end of James the First’s; in Lincoln, by the authority of Laud, 1640; and, according to Burnet, by several bishops in 1701.

Nothing more was done in the reign of our first Edward; but in that of his grandson the clergy resisted. They resolved they would not grant subsidies to the King except in provincial Councils, both as disliking the attendance in Parliament, and as hoping in this way to have more liberty in refusing or lessening the burdens which the King’s necessities put upon them. Edward was obliged to give way, and allow these provincial meetings instead of parliamentary; securing, however, their stated meeting, first, by continuing in terrorem the præmunientes clause in his parliamentary writ to the Bishops; and next, by the periodical issue of a second writ to the Archbishop, formally bidding him to summon them for the purpose of voting subsidies. This is what is now called the Convocation of the Province, the nature of which will easily be gathered from what has been said. It is a kind of provincial Council, assembled (1) on the King’s writ, (2) simultaneously in both provinces, (3) for civil, not spiritual purposes, (4) composed, not merely of Bishops and prelates, but of representatives of the body of the clergy; (5) commonly held with a reference to the time of the meeting of Parliament:—But we must go somewhat more into particulars here, both as to the persons of whom the Convocation consists, and the matters which have come under its cognizance.

As to its members, since a money-vote was the object of the meeting, it necessarily consisted of representatives of the whole clergy. This system of representation had been begun in the Legantine Councils, first held, by the Pope’s authority, in 1070, with the object of taxing the clergy, in which the regulars were represented by their abbots, etc., and the chapters by their deans, and afterwards by representatives chosen by themselves. The same system obtained in the Convocation. Before the date of its institution, the archdeacon is supposed to have been the original representative of the parochial clergy, in the occasional tax-meetings; but he was present in it in his own right, two proctors being added by election of the clergy of each diocese to support their interests. The members of the Convocation remain the same to this day, (subtracting the abbots and other prelates of the regulars who are extinct,) viz., the bishops, deans, archdeacons, proctors for the chapters, and proctors for the clergy, the Archbishop of the province being president. It should be added, that they gradually formed themselves into several more or less standing committees,—of, for instance, regulars, and of seculars, and of deans and archdeacons, under the Bishops, and then at last into two permanent Houses, which has been the constitutional form of the Convocation from a period earlier than the Reformation; but on this subject I have already spoken at length.

As to the subjects debated in the Convocation, though the King’s demand of a subsidy was the direct object of their meeting, yet it was natural that other matters of debate should be brought before it. Money-votes have commonly been used as a fit introduction of grievances; a statement of these and petitions for redress were accordingly added to the addresses, in which they conveyed to their sovereign intelligence of the grants which they had made him; and here it was impossible to draw the line between temporal and spiritual matters. Further, a meeting of the clergy was evidently a fit opportunity for discussing and deciding among themselves pure ecclesiastical questions; so that a meeting which had been called as a mere Convocation, was continued in the shape of a provincial Synod, the inferior clergy, of course, falling back into that subordinate rank which would be fitted to the change in the matter of their deliberations, and, by so doing, preparing the way for the formation of a Lower House. Thus, by degrees, ecclesiastical matters were altogether drawn into the Convocation, and the provincial Synod fell into disuse.

This was the condition of the Church, as regards her greater Councils, in which the Reformation found her. At the commencement of it was passed, in Convocation, the famous Act of Submission, to which allusion has been made above, and of which I shall now give the history.


Henry VIII., of unblessed memory, was determined, as Wake says, to “tie up the hands of the clergy, that they might be unable to oppose his designs.” With this end he contrived to involve them all in a præmunire, which lay against them for appearing in Wolsey’s Synods legantine unauthorized by the Crown, or for appearing and making suit in Wolsey’s courts, as it is variously represented. Wolsey had been in such full possession of Henry’s favour, that to have resisted him would have been to provoke the King’s anger. He had been made legate with the King’s knowledge, and held, besides, the great seal; and, when he put his commands on the clergy to appear before him, it was not for them to ask, or at least they neglected to ask, whether he, the keeper of the great seal, had an express license under that seal for what he commanded. However, by this mistake in a matter of form, they incurred the loss of liberty and estate; and Henry made use of this their difficulty to effect his purposes against the Church. He refused to pardon them unless they paid him £100,000, and recognized him as her supreme Head. After some negotiation they submitted, and passed an Act in Convocation, which was afterwards carried through Parliament, by which the liberties of the Church (as far as they can be lost) were lost for ever. They bound themselves by it, first, not to meet in Convocation, without his authority; and next, lest, when he had called them together (as he was obliged to do, from time to time, in order to obtain their vote of subsidies) they should proceed to act synodically in ecclesiastical matters, they promised henceforth only to act according to his directions,—in other words, not to attempt or make any canons or constitutions provincial without the royal license to make and promulge the same. This latter provision of the Act is the point of debate between Wake and Atterbury; in what follows I have sided with Wake, as having the general judgment of the seventeenth century in his favour.

The negotiations were of the following kind:—First of all, the Commons complained to the King “that they (the clergy) made sanctions and laws of temporal things, not having nor requiring the King’s royal assent to the same laws so by them made.” The clergy answered, that “they had this power of God, and could not submit it to his authority; that their authority of making laws was grounded upon the scripture of God, and determination of the Holy Church; and, as concerning the requiring” of the King’s assent to the authorizing of such laws as had been made by their predecessors, or should be made by themselves, they doubted not but that the King knew that to depend not upon their will and liberty, who might not submit the execution of their charges and duty, certainly prescribed by God, to his assent.” They added, however, some vague promise of being guided by the King’s wish in their decisions. This answer (as may be supposed) not satisfying King and Commons, new forms were drawn up, and fresh debates held, how they were to compound the matter with the King, yet give up as little as might be.

First, they gave up the power of publishing canons without the King’s license, reserving to themselves the power of making them. But here they made several important limitations; first, the canons spoken of must relate to the laity; next, they must not concern faith or good manners, and the reformation and correction of sin; next, though they went so far as to offer, that they would not enact, promulge, or execute any constitutions in future, unless with his license, still this promise was limited, in the Lower House, to the King’s lifetime.

These admissions did not satisfy Henry, and he drew up a form himself for them, in which the clergy were to bind themselves, first, never hereafter to meet in synod without the King’s writ; and next, being assembled by it, never to proceed by virtue of authority of their own, or to make, promulge, and execute canons, without the royal license previously obtained. This promise, after some discussion and alteration, was passed, by Convocation, in the following form:—“We, your most humble subjects, daily orators and beadsmen of your clergy of England, having our special trust and confidence in your most excellent wisdom, your princely goodness, and fervent zeal to the promotion of God’s honour and Christian religion, and also in your learning, far exceeding, in our judgment, the learning of all other kings and princes that we have read of, and doubting nothing but that the same shall still continue and daily increase in your majesty, first, do offer and promise, in verbo sacerdotii, here unto your highness, submitting ourselves most humbly to the same, that we will never from henceforth enact, put in use, promulge, or execute any new canons, or constitution provincial, or any new ordinance provincial or synodal in our Convocation or synod in time coming, (which Convocation is always, hath been, and must be assembled only by your high commandment or writ,) unless your Highness, by your royal assent, shall license us to assemble our Convocation, and to make, promulge, and execute such constitutions and ordinances as shall be made in the same, and thereto give your royal assent and authority,” etc.

It will be observed, that this submission of the clergy, ample as it is, does not go the length of binding the successors of the clergy making it, and it seems to limit itself to the very monarch to whom it was made, by speaking of his personal qualities and endowments; moreover, it was recalled in Convocation, in Mary’s time, and never renewed. However, it became the subject of an Act of Parliament in Henry’s, and afterwards in Elizabeth’s reign, and with a stronger wording, by that Act (with the penalty of præmunire to enforce it) are the clergy at present bound.

Thus stood the relations between Church and State till 1664, the Church being willing to remain in a subjection which the King never abused to her spiritual detriment. On the Restoration, a change was silently made by Sheldon and Clarendon, which was scarcely favourable to her interests. It will be observed, that the sole remaining safeguard which she possessed against the tyranny of the State, was the power of granting subsidies, which gave her a hold of some sort over the earthly masters she had taken to her, “when the Lord was her king.” This power gave to Convocation importance, and eventually prevented any attempt at suppressing it. At the era in question, the clergy, impoverished by the recent troubles, felt severely the weight of the subsidies required of them, and perceived (as was really the case) that they paid for their privilege by contributing to the State in a larger proportion than other subjects. An arrangement was agreed upon, in spite of a protest from Heylin against it, between the Bishops and the Commons, by which two subsidies, which the clergy had just voted, were remitted to them, while, on the other hand, they were sub silentio, and without formal statute, comprehended in the wording of the money-bills passed in Parliament. The first public Act on this subject was a Tax Act of 1665 (16–17 Car. II. cap. 1), which includes the clergy, discharging them from subsidies, with a saving clause as to their right of taxing themselves, which has never since been exercised. The clergy, on the other hand, soon acknowledged the arrangement by exercising the right of voting in the elections of the Commons, which before was forbidden them, as now it is forbidden peers of Parliament. Burnet speaks of this right, as generally admitted, in a pamphlet, published as early as 1700, and it is assumed in two subsequent Acts of Parliament, 10 Anne, cap. 23, and 18 George II., cap. 18. “Gibson, Bishop of London,” observes Speaker Onslow (in a note contained in the last Oxford edition of Burnet’s History), “told me that this (the taxing out of Convocation) was the greatest alteration in the constitution ever made without an express law.” It is remarkable that (according to Warburton) the clergy had as silently both become and ceased to be an estate in Parliament 300 or 400 years before.

The Church soon began to feel the alarming position in which she had allowed herself to be placed. In 1675, and then in 1677, addresses from the Lords were presented to the throne, praying for the frequent meetings of the Convocation, which (as Mr. Hallam justly observes) probably proceeded from the Bishops, and shows their dissatisfaction with the existing state of things. They were not allowed, however, to feel or express their regrets for any long time. The Revolution which soon followed, “glorious” as it has ever been considered in its political effects, was fatal to the remaining liberties of the Church. William completed what Henry had begun. Nine of her Bishops were sentenced to deposition by a prince who had just ceased to be a Presbyterian, and its Convocation shortly after expired, except as a matter of form, while endeavouring to raise its voice against the doctrines of Hoadley.


Relation of Convocation to the Crown

THE third and last question I proposed to consider relative to the Convocation was as to the civil governor’s de facto and de jure power over it; a large subject indeed, requiring a depth of thought and an accuracy of historical knowledge which cannot be expected in such papers as I am presenting to the reader. Asking then his indulgence for all defects in my mode of handling it, I will, in return, give him more in one respect than I engaged to do—viz., some account of the State’s power over the English Church generally, not merely over the Convocation. To this undertaking I now address myself, and shall so bring my papers to an end.


The King’s power over the Church is popularly conveyed in the title “Head of the Church,” which has become a familiar phrase. It is a title, however, unknown (as I believe) to the Law at present, having been assumed by Henry, but abandoned by Elizabeth. This would not be worth noticing, except that it is usual, with many persons, to assume it is of authority, and to proceed to deduce conclusions from it; for instance, “the King is head of the Church, and therefore he may alter the liturgy;” whereas it is but a generalized term, the sign and symbol of certain defined and specific prerogatives which belong to him, such as the power of appointing bishops. It is not correct to say, “The King appoints the bishops because he is head of the Church;” rather, he is head of the Church because he appoints the bishops, etc. The simplest answer to such confused statements is to draw attention to the parallel supremacy of the King in civil matters. He is head of the State; yet no one dreams that he may therefore interfere with the constitutional rights of its separate members and functionaries.

With this caution, however, the title of Head will express the relation of the King to the Church, better, perhaps, than any other. The recognized constitutional title, and that which comes nearest to it, is “Supreme Governor;” but this, as we shall directly see, neither includes of necessity his appointment of the bishops, in which he commonly is said to act as the representative of the laity, nor his extensive church patronage, which is held on the same tenure with other patrons, though it is so great as to be virtually a constituent portion of his power. The very vagueness of the term Head is its recommendation.

I confine myself here, however, to the consideration of the supremacy, which is a supremacy of jurisdiction. The King is supposed to call the Church into being, that is, to develop that member of it existing in his own dominions, which is only in posse till he makes it actual; and, therefore, he claims to have authority over all its movements. In the 26 Henry VIII., the King is said to have “power to visit, repress, reform, order, etc., all such errors, heresies, abuses, etc., which by any manner of spiritual authority or jurisdiction ought to be visited;” and, in 37 Henry VIII., that ecclesiastical persons, such as archbishops, have “no manner of jurisdiction ecclesiastical, but by, under, and from him, to whom, by Holy Scripture, all authority and power is wholly given to hear and determine all manner of causes ecclesiastical, and to correct vice and sin whatsoever.”

This power is claimed in more accurate language in the instrument under which Cranmer exercised his episcopate in Edward’s time, as given in Burnet’s History. (Part ii., book 1, Records.) In this document, the King declares that “omnis juris dicendi auctoritas atque etiam jurisdictio omnimodo, tum illa quæ ecclesiastica dicitur, quam sæcularis, â regiâ potestate, velut a supremo capite ac omnium magistratuum infra regnum nostrum fonte et scaturigine, primitus emanaverit.”


This being a general account of the Supremacy, let us consider it under the two heads of executive and juridical.

1. Executive; and here I shall confine myself to the King’s acts from Henry’s time to the accession of the Hanoverians, not, however, professing to do more than approximate to a complete list of them.

(1) Henry’s first act of pure Supremacy was in 1536. In all that went before he had had the concurrence of the Convocations; but, at this time, Cromwell published injunctions about Religion in his name, Cranmer (as it is believed) being the writer of them. These enforced upon all incumbents the reading in church of a declaration against the Pope, and in behalf of the King’s Supremacy, confirmed the Articles lately set forth by the Convocation, forbade the superstitious use of relics, etc., and gave sundry directions relative to education, charities, temporalities, etc. Shortly before this, Henry had given orders for the translation of the Bible, but this was at the petition of the Convocation. A more remarkable proceeding of the same year, though still with the sanction of the Convocation, was his interfering in the drawing up and 1 correction of the Articles of Religion, published at that time.

(2) Fresh injunctions were issued out in the King’s name in 1538, calling upon the parochial clergy to provide their churches with the English Bible, to instruct their people in the true Gospel, to remove images which had been abused by superstition, to observe holydays and their eves according to the directions set forth, to omit the commemoration of St. Thomas of Canterbury, etc.

(3) In 1539, the King bade the House of Lords appoint a committee of Bishops for framing Articles of Religion. Eight were nominated in consequence, but could not agree. Upon this, six articles were proposed and carried in the House by the Duke of Norfolk, thence passed through the Commons, and lastly received the royal assent, without the Convocation being consulted in the matter, and the Archbishop voting in opposition.

(4) In 1540, a committee of divines was appointed by the King, and confirmed in Parliament, to draw up a declaration of the Christian faith, for the necessary erudition of a Christian man. Some time afterwards, the King prefixed to their Report, which took the shape of a book, a Declaration requiring all his people to read and impress upon their minds the doctrine contained in it. In the same year, another commission of Bishops was appointed to examine the rites and ceremonies of the Church, and to draw up a ritual of worship.

(5) In 1542, the examination of the English version of the Bible, which had begun in Convocation, was taken out of its hands by the King, and committed to the two Universities. And, in 1544, he gave orders for the translation of the prayers for processions and litanies into English, and sent directions to Cranmer to see to its use all over his province.

(6) Edward the Sixth’s reign commenced with a general ecclesiastical visitation, which, during its continuance, suspended all episcopal jurisdiction throughout England. The majority of the commissioners appointed were laymen. Homilies were drawn up and published for general use, and preachers attended the visitors on the same authority.

(7) In the second year of Edward, a committee of select Bishops and divines was appointed for reforming the sacred offices; and the result of their labours was passed through Parliament. And thus the Ordination Service was drawn up by a committee of Bishops and divines, named by the King, at the instance of an Act of Parliament. And several years after, a new Catechism was set forth for the use of schoolmasters by the King’s letters patent.

(8) Elizabeth put forth injunctions, in 1559, on the subject of supremacy, superstition, simony, and the like. She also re-enacted the Book of Common Prayer, which, in Mary’s reign, had been discarded; doing this without authority of Convocation.

(9) In the reign of James the First, the conference at Hampton Court, the order for the new translation of the Bible, and the proclamation about sports and recreations, were all acts of the King, without the formal sanction of the Church.

(10) Such, moreover, were Charles the First’s directions to preachers about the Arminian points. And in the same spirit were that religious King’s instructions to Archbishops Abbot and Laud, and Laud’s annual report of his province, in consequence.

(11) Charles the Second, in 1661, granted a commission to a number of Bishops and clergy to review the Book of Common Prayer, which was the occasion of the Savoy Conference. In the next year, he published his directions against seditious, predestinarian, and irregular sermons, and in behalf of the due observance of the Lord’s day.

(12) William, in 1689, during Sancroft’s suspension, addressed a letter to the Bishop of London, calling upon the Bishops to be careful in their examination of candidates for Orders, and exhorting the clergy to be diligent in their duties, and earnest in enforcing the social virtues. Several years after, he published injunctions concerning ordinations, residence, pluralities, public prayers, the Lord’s day, etc., and, soon after, directions concerning preaching on the doctrine of the Trinity.

(13) Lastly, George the First published, like William, directions on the subject last mentioned, and in maintenance of the King’s power.

(14) It should be added that the four State Services are imposed on authority of the King, not of the Church.

Now, before summing up the prerogatives contained in this list of precedents, I would observe that some of them have been actually superseded by subsequent precedents of an opposite nature; for instance, Articles of Religion, which were first imposed by Henry’s command, were, in the reign of Elizabeth, regularly passed in Convocation. This was an acknowledgment of the Church’s right, and of the informality of Henry’s proceedings, while it is a final precedent, and settles the point, for all future times. Again, the liturgy, which, in Elizabeth’s time, was imposed by Act of Parliament, was sanctioned in Convocation at the Restoration; which would not have been done, had not the Church’s consent been necessary. In like manner, the Canons of 1603, passed in Convocation, take the place of the irregular State Injunctions of the preceding century. And the High Commission Court, which was the organ of the most exceptionable exercise of the King’s power—viz., that of Visitation independent of ecclesiastical functionaries, and even in the case of heresy, etc.—was abolished in Charles the Second’s reign. As to the violent act of William, by which nine bishops, including the primate, were marked for deprivation, (a sentence which was executed on all who survived to endure it,) I have not noticed it, because it is evidently a mere part of the Revolution itself, which has always been confessedly considered to be an extreme case, and such as ought never to be cited as a precedent for future acts of usurpation.

The prerogatives which remain (even supposing the above acts valid as precedents) are as follows:—1. That of appointing commissions of divines for diverse purposes, for instance, translating scriptures, compiling a liturgy, and framing articles of faith; 2. Of sending directions to the clergy on the matter of their sermons, whether doctrinal or ecclesiastical; 3. Of appointing State prayers; 4. Of addressing the people, through the clergy, on various subjects; as, for instance, the royal Supremacy, education, charities, temporalities, ceremonies, and holydays. To these powers must be added, the most important prerogative, 5. Of appointing the Bishops; and thus the account of the executive power of the King over the Church will be complete.


2. Next, as to his juridical power. It is this which is more formally called his Supremacy, consisting chiefly in his presidency in all spiritual courts, and his jurisdiction over Convocation. And here, in order to explain the province and limits of this prerogative, it will be necessary to give some account of the principle on which the Supremacy over the Church is granted to him.

It is plain that, though our ecclesiastical system is based upon invisible sanctions, it can scarcely be realized in any country without permission from the civil power. The Apostles, indeed, to show their immediate commission from above, asked no earthly aid; and, indeed, because there was no chance of obtaining it, for St. Paul was not backward to avail himself of his existing privilege of Roman citizenship on fit occasions. It is certain all attempts to gain the civil power would have been unavailing, at first; and Christians were obliged, by gaining influence and credit in the world, to show that they were worthy of State protection, before they obtained it. As soon as the chance of recognition on the part of the State appeared, they were not slow to apply for it; and by the middle of the third century they had, on one occasion, employed the Roman power in the defence of their temporalities. This was, in a certain way, acknowledging the State’s interference in Church matters; for such a patronage necessarily implied, as its practical correlative, a certain claim of jurisdiction. This, then, is the principle which was publicly avowed and established at the era of the Reformation—the duty of the Church to ask leave of the State (where it could obtain it) to perform its functions, and its protection by the State, and its subjection to the State, thence resulting.

The essential parts of the Church system are few; its elementary functions may be discharged this way or that, according to circumstances. The exact influence of the laity in elections, synods, etc., the form, times, and circumstances of synods, the size of dioceses, the character or the adoption of monastic institutions, chapters, and the like, the celibacy or non-celibacy of the clergy—all these, being but developments of the essential Church element, may well vary according to the country in which that element is found. In other words, the State has practically the power of calling out into existence, this way or that way, the latent energies of the apostolical ministry; and so far forth as it does so call them out, so far as it recognizes, protects, privileges them by Law, in the same degree does it claim a jurisdiction and superintendence over its own work. Such, for instance, in England are the Spiritual Courts, in which the King presides; such, in a measure, is Convocation, over which he has kept his hand; such the temporalities of the Sees, which, converting the episcopate into “the high state of prelacy,” may be supposed to give him the right of appointing the Bishops. The essence itself of the Church, the Apostolical element, as it may be called, is not in his power; the ministry of the Word and Sacraments is given to those only whom God especially calls. The developments, again, of this are not necessarily in his power. The Church may not choose to mould itself precisely after the State’s design; while its institutions are unrecognized by Law, they remain apostolical, but as soon as it determines that they shall assume that particular mould to which the State has annexed protection and support, at once they become of a semi-civil nature, or what are commonly called (in the language of the Constitution) spiritual. To illustrate what I mean, the King has power over the Convocation, which is a “spiritual” court and assembly; I conceive he has none over the provincial or diocesan Synod, as being (I suppose) an institution unknown to the Law. Were the Archbishop to hold a metropolitan Council, its decisions indeed would not possess the sanction of civil authority, but at the same time the civil power would have no jurisdiction over it. This, at least, will do to illustrate an important distinction. The King has jurisdiction over the Church only so far as he may be supposed to have called its system into existence and actually sustains it.

And if he has a recognized influence upon it, considered merely as the magistrate well disposed towards it, much more really is he its governor, considered as a Christian prince. In this light he is the father of his subjects, a natural priest ordained of God; and, as the head of a family is bound to superintend the instruction of his children and servants, so the King has a sort of patriarchal power over the Bishops and clergy. This power is beautifully illustrated in those reports of Laud to King Charles, with the latter’s notes upon them, of which I have already spoken; and it will justify, in some sort, many of those injunctions, directions, and the like, of Henry, Elizabeth, or William,—which most nearly resemble encroachments upon proper Church authority. But, after all, the distinction above drawn between apostolical and mere “spiritual” or “ecclesiastical” functions holds throughout.


Our history sanctions this view of the subject, which I have deduced from the nature of the case; as I now proceed to show:—

In the first place, I refer to the very instrument above spoken of, in which Edward claims ecclesiastical jurisdiction; for it explicitly professes, at the same time, to bestow on Cranmer something additional to his apostolical power, “per [præter] et ultra ea quæ tibi ex sacris literis divinitus commissa esse dignoscuntur.” To the same purpose is the “Declaration made of the function and divine institution of Bishops and Priests” (Burnet’s History., part I, addenda v.), subscribed by Cromwell, Henry’s minister in ecclesiastical matters, by Cranmer, the Archbishop of York, eleven other bishops, and others; in which the power of the keys and other Church functions are formally separated from the civil jurisdiction, that is, the apostolical from the spiritual power; and such also the judgment of eight bishops, of whom Cranmer is the first, concerning the King’s Supremacy (Record x.), in which it is asserted that the Church’s commission is founded, not on princes’ power, but on the Word of God, while they confess that that divine commission does not impart civil power over princes, or make the Church independent of them in civil matters, but that she is in the same position towards the State as Christ was on earth, a subject yet with supernatural powers. In further explanation, it may be observed, that Bonner took out the same commission for his bishopric from Henry as Cranmer did from Edward, clearly showing (from the concession of a Romanist) that it was merely a commission for exercising jurisdiction, parallel to the license which the dissenter, at this day, purchases to exercise the privilege of preaching.

Further, the nature of the King’s Supremacy is explained in our 37th Article, (which, be it observed, is part of an Act of Parliament,) in a sense quite accordant to that which I have been unfolding, viz.—“that only prerogative which we see to have been given always to all godly princes in holy scripture by God Himself,”—viz., to rule all estates of men, and to use the civil sword. It is plain, from this account of the Supremacy, 1, that it has no reference to the apostolical powers of the Church; for no one pretends, with the instances of Uzziah and Jeroboam before us, that the Jewish kings had right of interfering with the priesthood; 2, it is only granted to “godly,” that is, Christian princes, though Henry, indeed, seemed to make it inherent in the kingly office. There can be no doubt, then, that the oath of Supremacy, in which we swear that the King is “supreme governor, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes as temporal,” must be interrupted by this 37th Article, that is, as having no reference to our apostolical rights and powers.

But the history of the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign puts this matter in a still clearer light. The Act of Henry VIII., in which the title of “supreme head of the Church” was given to the sovereign, and which had been repealed by Mary, was not revived; “supreme governor” being substituted for it, in the enactment of that oath which is observed to this day. “This was done,” says Burnet (part 2, book iii.), “to mitigate the opposition of the popish party; but, besides, the Queen herself had a scruple about it.” Leslie, who refers to this passage, adds, (Case of the Regale, p. 9,) “the same bishop in his travels, letter 1. from Zurich, quotes a letter of Bishop Jewel’s to Bullinger, dated May 22, 1559, wherein he writes ‘that the Queen refused to be called Head of the Church,’ and adds, ‘that that title could not be justly given to any mortal.’ ”

Moreover, it will be observed, that the 37th Article refers to Elizabeth’s Injunctions in explanation of its meaning. These clearly set before us the drift of the doctrine of the Supremacy, as it has been held in law ever since Elizabeth’s time, whatever extravagant and impious notions Henry may at any time have entertained about it—viz., to secure the kingdom against foreign interference, not to restrain home apostolical authority. “Then followed,”—I quote from Burnet, (part 2, book iii.)—“an explanation of the oath of Supremacy, in which the Queen declared that she did not pretend to any authority for the ministering divine service in the Church, and that all that she challenged was, that which had at all times belonged to the imperial Crown of England, that she had the sovereignity and rule over all manner of persons under God, so that no foreign power had any rule over them.” Indeed, this comment upon the sense of the words is inserted in the latter part of the oath itself.

“Primate Usher,” says Leslie, “gave the same explanation of it, in a speech at the council-table at Dublin, upon occasion of some magistrates there, who refused the said oath; and King James sent him a letter of thanks and approbation of his speech, both which are in print. And none of our succeeding kings or parliaments have given any other explanation of it, or required that it should be taken in any other sense, but all along refer to these.” Gibson might be quoted to the same effect. And, lastly, this is, in the main, Burnet’s view, who cannot be accused of allowing too much independence to the Church. In a controversial pamphlet on the subject of our Reformation, which he published in Holland, in 1688, he says—“It is a very unreasonable thing to urge some general expressions,” (alluding to the preambles introduced into some of the parliamentary Acts of Henry,) or some stretches of the royal Supremacy, and not to consider that more strict explanation that was made of it, both in King Henry the Eighth’s time and under Queen Elizabeth.… In King Henry’s time, the extent of the King’s Supremacy was defined in the Necessary Erudition of a Christian man, that was set forth as the standard of the doctrine of the time; and it was upon this that all people were obliged to take their measures, not upon some expressions, either in Acts of Parliament or Acts of Convocation, nor upon some stretches of the King’s jurisdiction. In this, then, it is plainly said, that with relation to the clergy the King is ‘to oversee them, and cause that they execute their pastoral office truly and faithfully, and especially in those points which by Christ and His Apostles were committed to them.’ ” This is that patriarchal power which I have spoken of. “And to this it is added, ‘that Bishops and priests are bound to obey all the King’s laws, not being contrary to the laws of God.’ … The other reserve is also made of ‘all that authority which was committed by Christ and His Apostles to the Bishops and priests.’ And we are not ashamed to own it freely, that we see no other reserves upon our obedience to the King besides these. So that, these being here specified, there was an unexceptionable declaration made of the extent of the King’s Supremacy. Yet, because the term ‘Head of the Church’ had something in it that seemed harsh, there was yet a more express declaration made of this matter under Queen Elizabeth.… This explanation,” [that is, that which is in our Articles,] “must be considered as the true measure of the king’s Supremacy; and the wide expressions in the former laws must be understood to be restrained by this, since posterior laws derogate from those that were first made.… This is all that supremacy which we are bound in conscience to own; and if the letter of the law, or the stretches of that in the administration of it, have carried this further, we are not at all concerned in it. But in case any such thing were made out, it could amount to no more than this, that the civil power had made some encroachments on ecclesiastical authority; but, the submitting to an oppression, and bearing it till some better times may deliver us from it, is no argument against our church; on the contrary, it is a proof of our temper and patience,” etc.


To conclude; it would seem, on the whole, that the Royal Supremacy may be viewed under the following aspects:—

1. As the prerogative of governing the Church externally, that is, ruling all the members of it in civil matters, claiming their obedience, to the exclusion of all foreign jurisdiction; and this is the prerogative of every government, as such, whether heathen or Christian. Vide Canon 1, of 1603.

2. A prerogative of interfering in Church matters, “in ecclesiastical causes,” appointing functionaries, directing usages, providing liturgies, etc.,—which is only exercised by the King as Christian, and exercised on two grounds, first, because he allows the Church’s jurisdiction in his kingdom, and creates “prelacy,” authoritative courts, and the like; and next, because, by his patriarchal power, he has a claim upon the confidence and devotion of the Church. Vide Canon 2, of 1603; agreeably to which is the judgment of the Eight Bishops already referred to, which declares, that “in case the Bishops be negligent, it is the Christian prince’s office to see them do their duty.”

3. The King has not the power (1) of bestowing the ministerial commission, as is plain from Henry and Edward’s words, in granting license to Bonner and Cranmer, “ultra ea quæ tibi divinitus,” etc.; (2) of ministering the sacraments, vide Art. 37; (3) of excommunicating, vide the Declaration subscribed by Cromwell; (4) of ministering the Word, (in which, of course, the making Articles, etc., is included,) vide Art. 37.

4. There are a number of details in which the extent of the Supremacy is undetermined—for instance, the King’s power of depriving bishops, of creating or destroying bishoprics, etc. Judge Hales, indeed, places all these matters absolutely in the Crown; “the prescribing who shall be a bishop, the extent of his diocese, the circumscription of him, under pain of contempt, to act his powers of order within those limits.” But here the instances, which Hales gives, impair his rule, for the prescribing who shall be bishop is not “inherent in the Crown,” inasmuch as the Chapter has the right of election. And this, indeed, may be observed generally, that in these details of jurisdiction the Church has, for the most part, a concurrent voice, even where the Crown has the initiative. Thus the Chapter must elect, when the King recommends to a bishopric; the Bishop must institute to a living; and so of induction, confirmation, installation, etc. I mean that, letting alone the apostolical powers of the Church, Ordination, etc., even in (so called) ecclesiastical or spiritual matters, that is, in those peculiar institutions which, in the words of the Ordination Service, “this Church and realm has received,” the Church has a concurrence in the acts of jurisdiction exercised by the civil power. And this consideration throws some light on the state of the law in such cases of jurisdiction as are not clearly determined by the letter of it, for instance, the union of dioceses.

Lastly, I have no wish to contend that the existing state of the law is, in every part, as consistent as the theory of it is just. For instance, the power of excommunication lies in the Spiritual Courts, of which the King is the head; which is as great an anomaly as though he was invested with the power of Ordination. Warburton, indeed, defends it; but he seems to have made his theory with a view to fit on to the existing state of our law, not upon any religious and philosophical basis.

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