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There has been a repetition of the old Protestant crywhich has done and is still doing such good service to the Church of Rome-which has brought, and is bringing, such disgrace on the Church of England.
What used, at the time of nearly forgotten political riots, to be called the brickbat and bludgeon theory,' or the De Witting style of certain newspapers, has been unblushingly resorted to, and such expressions as 'the people will not stand it,' 'people will make short work of it,' as if Confession was some building or physical thing which could be caught and strangled, has been again the language of leading articles in newspapers, speakers at public meetings, and furious letter-writers in print. The inimitable humour of Pascal in the first of the Lettres Provinciales has been coarsely burlesqued: 'Vous êtes opiniâtre, me disent-ils; vous le disez ou vous serez hérétique, et M. Arnauld aussi; car nous sommes le plus grand nombre, et s'il est besoin, nous ferons venir tant de Cordeliers, que nous l'emporterons.'
This solide raison,' as Pascal calls it, overwhelmed the humble inquirer as to the 'pouvoir prochain,' and he ceased to argue. A like method, according to Dryden's vigorous lines, prevailed against poor Martin and his brood:
'But soon discovered by a sturdy clown,
He headed all the rabble of the town,
And finished them with bats, or polled them down.'
Are we never to get rid of the disgrace of Titus Oates and Lord George Gordon, and, alas! of the more recent Papal aggression tumult?
There is yet another instance to be mentioned, as showing how English history repeats itself on the subject. Confession, it has been said, has long been disused, but now 'Roman Confession is in the midst of us.' Parliament must be invoked to our aid. It is worth while to try the validity of this argument by a test which just and fair minds will not refuse. It so happens that not only did the observance of Confession become nearly obsolete in the reign of the Georges, but the observance of Good Friday also. Archbishop Cornwallis and Bishop Porteus, exactly a century ago, A.D. 1777, determined to revive it, and immediately the cry of 'No Popery' was raised against them.
In the Restituta, edited by Sir E. Brydges (iv. 416. See an excellent pamphlet by Mr. Cooke, Vicar of Goreby, A.D. 1858, p. 114), we read :
'It is inconceivable, the clamour, uproar, and rage which the order from the Archbishop to observe decently Good Friday in 1777 gave to the faction. For many weeks together the Presbyterian newspapers were full of abuse and lies relating to Archbishop Cornwallis and his family; and when one expected it should have subsided, two months after the day was observed, out comes the following long and severe paragraph in the London Evening Post, of May 29, 1777 :- "On the late announcing a sort of outlandish name, one Porteus, to an English bishopric, I naturally asked what was become of all our old learned and venerable English clergy, of the best families, that they were all passed over with so much contempt and injustice? I was informed that the young prelate was a man distinguished by His Majesty's own judgment, and exalted by his mere personal favour, as one of the most promising talents and disposition to fill the sacred office in a manner the most suitable to his own pious feelings and sentiments, and the mild and liberal plan of government adopted by him. A countenance and a character so clear of cynical and ecclesiastical pride and austerity could not escape the penetrating observation and the generous sympathy of the Royal patron. A Charles has had his favourite Laud. Similar characters and principles will always attract each other. It has, indeed, been insinuated that, over and above the great merit of Scottish extraction and interest, he has distinguished himself as a ministerial writer in the public papers almost as much as by the stretch of Church power and arrogance in shutting up the city shops on Good Friday, which, as a sanctified, hypocritical triumph over both reason and Scripture-the civil and religious right of Englishmen-could not but be highly acceptable to tyrant and hypocrite of every denomination, particularly at Court. By this experiment on the tame and servile temper of the times, it is thought the Host and Crucifix may be elevated to prostrate crowds in dirty streets some years sooner than could have been reasonably expected, and when a Wedderburne shall be keeper of the kingly conscience and seals, and a Porteus of the spiritual keys, as the alterius orbis papa, there is no doubt but our consciences, and our property too, will be effectually taken care of."'
The clamour was met by firmness and courage on the part of the Archbishop and Bishop, and it died away, leaving John Bull, in this as in other instances, heartily ashamed of himself.
The manner in which the recent tumult about Confession originated is not a little remarkable. A much respected Peer makes a statement in the House of Lords about a book called The Priest in Absolution, belonging to a body called 'The Society of the Holy Cross.' He reads from it various passages which appear to be of a coarse and mischievous character. Whether the context did or did not affect or alter this appearance, we do not know: for we have never seen, and never had heard of the work till Lord Redesdale drew
public attention to it. The House becomes excited, and it is easy to foresee that both town and country will be equally excited when they devour the newspapers next morning.
Where are the Bishops? Do they rise to explain the true teaching of the Church on this gravest of subjects, and especially the teaching of the Catholic branch of the Church in this country? Do they warn their lordships against the use of language which might appear to be an indiscriminate censure of this branch of penitential discipline? Do they remind their lordships, in Hooker's noble and brave language, of
that grand original warrant, by force whereof the Guides and Prelates in God's Church, first his Apostles, and afterwards others following them successively, did both use and uphold that discipline, the end whereof is to heal men's consciences, to cure their sins, to reclaim offenders from iniquity, and to make them by repentance just.'-(Hooker, Ecc. Pol. 6, vi.)
Alas! nothing of the kind. The Archbishop of the Province rose indeed and spoke, unfortunately not in this sense, but in one which, however unintentionally, appeared to confirm the appeal to the solide raison of the Cordeliers and the rabble.
It must, indeed, be presumed that his Grace was taken entirely by surprise in this debate, because on a later occasion, in his answer to an address from certain Peers, he referred to a report made in 1873 by a committee of Convocation. It is much to be regretted that his Grace did not adopt and use the language upon this subject of not the least learned and esteemed of his predecessors on the throne of Canterbury, Archbishop Wake, who, in his Exposition of the Doctrine of the Church of England, says :
'The Church of England refuses no sort of confession, either public or private, which may be in any way necessary to the quieting of men's consciences, or to the exercising that power of binding and loosing which our Saviour Christ hath left to His Church. . . . We exhort men, if they have any the least doubt or scruple, nay sometimes though they have none, but especially before they receive the Holy Sacrament, to confess their sins. We propose to them the benefit not only of ghostly advice how to manage their repentance, but the great comfort of absolution as soon as they shall have completed it. . . . When we visit our sick we never fail to exhort them to a special confession to him that ministers to them, and when they have done it the Absolution is so full that the Church of Rome itself would not desire to add anything to it.'
Observe that this teaching of Archbishop Wake was inserted
by Bishop Gibson in his Preservative against Popery (vol. iii. p. 31).
Ninety-four Peers have addressed the Archbishops and Bishops on the subject of the work that has been referred to. It would be unreasonable to have expected them to have studied it, but of course these members of a pre-eminently judicial body had read what they condemned. In this respect, we must repeat, they had an advantage over us. They were able to exercise their judicial faculty on the passage, not as torn from, but as connected with the context; and it was not, to be sure, until after this perusal, which common fairness to absent men, as well as regard for their own high character and position, demanded, that they addressed the Archbishop in terms which not only censured the work in question, but expressed the greatest alarm at 'the introduction of the practice of auricular confession' into the Church. Now one cannot help venturing to doubt whether these august persons did really and accurately know what the doctrine and law of the Church is on this grave and difficult matter. If they did not know them, then they were judging the alleged practice of auricular confession, not by a legal standard, but by one of their own devising,—may we be forgiven for saying?—by perhaps rather a crude opinion of what the doctrine and law ought to be, not what it is. How earnestly, for instance, would they have condemned the language which we now cite :
'Now is the receiving the secret, the auricular (for the words are in this instance of the same import) confession of the sins of the dying penitent, or of one who is withheld from the Lord's Table by fear of his unfitness to present himself—is the receiving of such confession one of the ministrations of Christ's ministers ? Church says that it is.'
So wrote one of the ablest and best instructed Bishops which have adorned,-we will say,--the House of LordsHenry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter. To whom? To the Dean of his Cathedral. On what subject? Confession and Absolution. In what year? 1852.
I cannot refrain from making two more extracts from a letter which, for its knowledge, its reasoning power, its courage, and its eloquence, will long survive its writer:
'And here,' the Bishop says, 'I must, in the outset, express my regret that your whole discourse, with a trifling exception which I am about to notice, was directed to an exposure of the unsoundness of the doctrine of Rome respecting Confession and Absolution,
a very legitimate subject of discussion, I admit; but one which at all times, and especially at the present, requires to be accompanied with a statement of the true doctrine on this point, as it has been always maintained in the Catholic Church, and most expressly in our own branch of it.'
Then let us listen to the just severity of the following rebuke:
Why is it that in the whole compass of your argument, set forth at a time when you must know that there is the wildest, the most ignorant, the most presumptuous, the most schismatical clamour from the vulgar of all ranks, against all priestly absolution, whether of the Church of England or of the Church of Rome-why is it that you say not one single word in favour of the former-do not attempt to mark the distinction which separates truth from falsehood, the doctrine of your own Church from that which for three centuries it has ever faithfully renounced-but pour forth all your eloquence and open all the vials of your righteous wrath against a tenet which you tell me in your letter you do not believe that any one minister of Christ in this diocese really holds, though a senseless Babel of ultra-Protestants professes to believe and some of the number perhaps really believe is held and practised by many amongst us?
Leaving the consideration of the unhappy, rash, and ignorant manner in which this subject has been so recently dealt with, we propose to make some remarks on the history and law relating to Confession, first, generally in Christendom, and then specially in this kingdom, both before and after that epoch generally known as the Reformation. It may be permitted to us to make some prefatory observations on what may perhaps be called the philosophy of the subject.
In accordance with his own moral attributes God has so constituted the moral nature of man that sin is a burthen and a torment to him, because his conscience, the divinely implanted monitor, perpetually represents to him that he is responsible for following the guidance of evil passions, and this whether the sin be done openly or in secret. In the former case he is often visited by the censure of his fellow-men as well as of his conscience, and driven by their joint pressure to attempt an expiation of the sin. In the latter case the pressure i s often more severe, the secrecy is found to add to the torment, to sharpen 'the thorns which in the bosom lodge to prick and sting,' and, as it were, to increase the guilt. The secret stripes of the ‘animus tortor' are more difficult to bear than the open punishment, and well said the heathen moralist
'Ne tamen hos tu
Evasisse putes, quos diri conscia facti