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Political Thought in England from Locke to Bentham By Harold Joseph Laski Characters: 54733

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Revolution of 1688 drew its main source of strength from the traditional dislike of Rome, and the eager desire to place the Church of England beyond the reach of James' aggression. Yet it was not until a generation had passed that the lines of ecclesiastical settlement were, in any full sense clear. The difficulties involved were mostly governmental, and it can hardly even yet be said that they have been solved. The nature of the relation between Church and State, the affiliation between the Church and Nonconformist bodies, the character of its internal government-all these had still to be defined. Nor was this all. The problem of definition was made more complex by schism and disloyalty. An important fraction of the Church could not accept at all the fact of William's kingship; and if the larger part submitted, it cannot be said to have been enthusiastic.

Nor did the Church make easy the situation of the Nonconformists. Toleration of some kind was rapidly becoming inevitable; and with a Calvinist upon the throne persecution of, at any rate, the Presbyterians became finally impossible. Yet the definition of what limits were to be set to toleration was far from easy. The Church seemed like a fortress beleaguered when Nonjurors, Deists, Nonconformists, all alike assaulted her foundations. To loosen her hold upon political privilege seemed to be akin to self-destruction. And, after all, if Church and State were to stand in some connection, the former must have some benefit from the alliance. Did such partnership imply exclusion from its privilege for all who could not accept the special brand of religious doctrine? Locke, at least, denied the assumption, and argued that since Churches are voluntary societies, they cannot and ought not to have reciprocal relation with the State. But Locke's theory was meat too strong for the digestion of his time; and no statesman would then have argued that a government could forego the advantage of religious support. And William, after all, had come to free the church from her oppressor. Freedom implied protection, and protection in that age involved establishment. It was thus taken for granted by most members of the Church of England that her adoption by the State meant her superiority to every other form of religious organization. Superiority is, by its nature exclusive, the more especially when it is united to a certainty of truth and a kinship with the dominant political interest of the time. Long years were thus to pass before the real meaning of the Toleration Act secured translation into more generous statutes.

The problem of the Church's government was hardly less complex. The very acerbity with which it was discussed proclaims that we are in an age of settlement. Much of the dispute, indeed, is doubtless due to the dislike of all High Churchmen for William; with their consequent unwillingness to admit the full meaning of his ecclesiastical supremacy. Much also is due to the fact that the bench of bishops, despite great figures like Tillotson and Wake, was necessarily chosen for political aptitude rather than for religious value. Nor did men like Burnet and Hoadly, for all their learning, make easy the path for brethren of more tender consciences. The Church, moreover, must have felt its powers the more valuable from the very strength of the assault to which she was subjected. And the direct interference with her governance implied by the Oaths of Allegiance and of Abjuration raised questions we have not yet solved. It suggested the subordination of Church to State; and men like Hickes and Leslie were quick to point out the Erastianism of the age. It is a fact inevitable in the situation of the English Church that the charge of subjection to the State should rouse a deep and quick resentment. She cannot be a church unless she is a societas perfecta; she cannot have within herself the elements of perfect fellowship if what seem the plain commands of Christ are to be at the mercy of the king in Parliament. That is the difficulty which lies at the bottom of the debate with Wake in one age and with Hoadly in the next. In some sort, it is the problem of sovereignty that is here at issue; and it is in this sense that the problems of the Revolution are linked with the Oxford Movement. But Newman and his followers are the unconscious sponsors of a debate which grows in volume; and to discuss the thoughts of Wake and Hoadly and Law is thus, in a vital aspect, the study of contemporary ideas.

We are not here concerned with the wisdom of those of William's advisers who exacted an oath of allegiance from the clergy. It raised in acute form the validity of a doctrine which had, for more than a century, been the main foundation of the alliance between throne and altar in England. The demand precipitated a schism which lingered on, though fitfully, until the threshold of the nineteenth century. The men who could not take the oath were, many of them, among the most distinguished churchmen of the time. Great ecclesiastics like Sancroft, the archbishop of Canterbury and one of the seven who had gained immortality by his resistance to James, saints like Ken, the bishop of Bath and Wells, scholars like George Hickes and Henry Dodwell, men like Charles Leslie, born with a genius for recrimination; much, it is clear, of what was best in the Church of England was to be found amongst them. There is not a little of beauty, and much of pathos in their history. Most, after their deprivation, were condemned to poverty; few of them recanted. The lives of men like Sancroft and Ken and the younger Ambrose Bonwicke are part of the great Anglican tradition of earnest simplicity which later John Keble was to illustrate for the nineteenth century. The Nonjurors, as they were called, were not free from bitterness; and the history of their effort, after the consecration of Hilkiah Bedford and Ralph Taylor, to perpetuate the schism is a lamentable one. Not, indeed, that the history even of their decline is without its interest; and the study, alike of their liturgy and their attempt at reunion with the Eastern Church, must always possess a singular interest for students of ecclesiastical history.

Yet the real interest of the Nonjuring schism was political rather than religious; and its roots go out to vital events of the past. At the bottom it is the obverse side of the Divine Right of kings that they represent. That theory, which was the main weapon of the early secular state against the pretensions of Rome, must naturally have commanded the allegiance of members of a church which James I, its main exponent, had declared of vital import to his very existence. Its main opponents, moreover, were Catholics and Dissenters; so that men like Andrewes must have felt that when they answered Bellarmine they were in substance also defenders of their Church. After the great controversy of James I's reign resistance as a duty had come to be regarded as a main element in Jesuit and Nonconformist teaching; with the result that its antithesis became, as a consequence of the political situation, no less integral a part of Church of England doctrine. For it was upon the monarchy that the Church had come to depend for its existence; and if resistance to the king were made, as Knox and Bellarmine had in substance made it, the main weapon of the dissenting churches there was little hope that it would continue to exist once the monarchy was overthrown. And it is this, unquestionably, which explains why stout ecclesiastics like Barrow and Jackson can write in what seems so Erastian a temper. When they urge the sovereignty of the State, their thesis is in truth the sovereignty of the Church; and that means the triumph of men who looked with contemptuous hatred upon Nonconformists of every sect. The Church of England taught non-resistance as the condition of its own survival.

How deep-rooted this doctrine had become in the course of the seventeenth century the writings of men like Mainwaring and Sanderson sufficiently show; yet nothing so completely demonstrates its widespread acceptance as the result of the Revolution. Four hundred clergy abandoned their preferment because James ruled by Divine Right; and they could not in conscience resist even his iniquities. An able tract of 1689[10] had collected much material to show how integral the doctrine was to the beliefs of the Church. Had William's government, indeed, refrained from the imposition of the oath, it is possible that there might have been no schism at all; for the early Nonjurors at least-perhaps Hickes and Turner are exceptions-would probably have welcomed anything which enabled the avoidance of schism. Once, however, the oath was imposed three vital questions were raised. Deprivation obviously involved the problem of the power of the State over the Church. If the act of a convention whose own legality was at best doubtful could deprive the consecrated of their position, was the Church a Church at all, or was it the mere creature of the secular power? And what, moreover, of conscience? It could not be an inherent part of the Church's belief that men should betray their faith for the sake of peace. Later thinkers added the purely secular argument that resistance in one case made for resistance in all. Admit, it was argued by Leslie, the right to disobey, and the fabric of society is at a stroke dissolved. The attitude is characteristic of that able controversialist; and it shows how hardly the earlier notions of Divine Right were to die.

[10] The History of Passive Obedience. Its author was Jeremy Collier.

These theories merit a further examination. Williams, later the Bishop of Chichester, had argued that separation on the basis of the oath was unreasonable. "All that the civil power here pretends to," he wrote "is to secure itself against the practices of dissatisfied persons." The Nonjurors, in this view, were making an ecclesiastical matter of a purely secular issue. He was answered, among others, by Samuel Grascom, in an argument which found high favor among the stricter of his sect. "The matter and substance of these Oaths," he said, "is put into the prayers of the Church, and so far it becomes a matter of communion. What people are enjoined in the solemn worship to pray for, is made a matter of communion; and if it be simple, will not only justify, but require a separation." Here is the pith of the matter. For if the form and substance of Church affairs is thus to be left to governmental will, then those who obey have left the Church and it is the faithful remnant only who constitute the true fellowship. The schism, in this view, was the fault of those who remained subject to William's dominion. The Nonjurors had not changed; and they were preserving the Church in its integrity from men who strove to betray it to the civil power.

This matter of integrity is important. The glamour of Macaulay has somewhat softened the situation of those who took the oaths; and in his pages the Nonjurors appear as stupid men unworthily defending a dead cause. It is worth while to note that this is the merest travesty. Tillotson, who succeeded Sancroft on the latter's deprivation, and Burnet himself had urged passive resistance upon Lord William Russell as essential to salvation; Tenison had done likewise at the execution of Monmouth. Stillingfleet, Patrick, White Kennett, had all written in its favor; and to William Sherlock belongs the privilege of having defended and attacked it in two pamphlets each of which challenges the pithy brilliance of the other. Clearly, so far as consistency is in question, the Nonjurors might with justice contend that they had right on their side. And even if it is said that the policy of James introduced a new situation the answer surely is that Divine Right and non-resistance can, by their very nature, make no allowance for novelty.

The root, then, of this ecclesiastical contention is the argument later advanced by Leslie in his "Case of the Regale and the Pontificate" in which he summarized the Convocation dispute. The State, he argues, has no power over bishops whose relationship to their flock is purely spiritual and derived from Christ. The Church is independent of all civil institution, and must have therefore within herself the powers necessary to her life as a society. Leslie repudiates Erastianism in the strongest terms. Not only is it, for him, an encroachment upon the rights of Christ, but it leads to deism in the gentry and to dissent among the common people. The Church of England comes to be regarded as no more than the creature of Parliamentary enactment; and thus to leave it as the creature of human votes, is to destroy its divinity.

It is easy enough to see that men who felt in this fashion could hardly have decided otherwise than as they did. The matter of conscience, indeed, was fundamental to their position. "I think," said the Bishop of Worcester on his death-bed, "I could suffer at a stake rather than take this oath." That, indeed, represents the general temper. Many of them did not doubt that James had done grievous wrong; but they had taken the oath of allegiance to him, and they saw in their conscience no means of escape from their vow. "Their Majesties," writes the author of the account of Bishop Lake's death, "are the two persons in the world whose reign over them, their interest and inclination oblige them most to desire, and nothing but conscience could restrain them from being as forward as any in all expressions of loyalty." In such an aspect, even those who believe their attitude to have been wrong, can hardly doubt that they acted rightly in their expression of it. For, after all, experience has shown that the State is built upon the consciences of men. And the protest they made stands out in the next generation in vivid contrast to a worldly-minded and politically-corrupt Church which only internal revolution could awaken from its slumbers.

No one represents so admirably as Charles Leslie the political argument of the case. At bottom it is an argument against anarchy that he constructs, and much of what he said is medieval enough in tone to suggest de Maistre's great defence of papalism as the secret of world-order. He stands four square upon divine right and passive obedience. "What man is he who can by his own natural authority bend the conscience of another? That would be far more than the power of life, liberty or prosperity. Therefore they saw the necessity of a divine original." Such a foundation, he argued elsewhere, is necessary to order, for "if the last resort be in the people, there is no end of controversy at all, but endless and unremediable confusion." Nor had he sympathy for the Whig attack on monarchy. "The reasons against Kings," he wrote, "are as strong against all powers, for men of any titles are subject to err, and numbers more than fewer." And nothing can unloose the chain. "Obedience," he said in the Best of All, "is due to commonwealths by their subjects even for conscience' sake, where the princes from whom they have revolted have given up their claim."

The argument has a wider history than its controversial statement might seem to warrant. At bottom, clearly enough, it is an attack upon the new tradition which Locke had brought into being. What seems to impress it most is the impossibility of founding society upon other than a divine origin. Anything less will not command the assent of men sufficiently to be immune from their evil passions. Let their minds but once turn to resistance, and the bonds of social order will be broken. Complete submission is the only safeguard against anarchy. So, a century later, de Maistre could argue that unless the whole world became the subject of Rome, the complete dissolution of Christian society must follow. So, too, fifty years before, Hobbes had argued for an absolute dominion lest the ambitions and desires of men break through the fragile boundaries of the social estate.

The answer is clear enough; and, indeed, the case against the Nonjurors is nowhere so strong as on its political side. Men cannot be confined within the limits of so narrow a logic. They will not, with Bishop Ken, rejoice in suffering as a doctrine of the Cross. Rather will oppression in its turn arouse a sense of wrong and that be parent of a conscience which provokes to action. Here was the root of Locke's doctrine of consent; for unless the government, as Hume was later to point out, has on its side the opinion of men, it cannot hope to endure. The fall of James was caused, not as the Nonjurors were tempted to think, by popular disregard of Divine personality, but by his own misunderstanding of the limits to which misgovernment may go. Here their opponents had a strong case to present; for, as Stillingfleet remarked, if William had not come over there might have been no Church of England for the Nonjurors to preserve. And other ingenious compromises were suggested. Non-resistance, it was argued by Sherlock, applied to government in general; and the oath, as a passage in the Convocation Book of Overall seemed to suggest, might be taken not less to a de facto monarch than to one de jure. Few, indeed would have taken the ground of Bishop Burnet, and allotted the throne to William and Mary as conquerors of the Kingdom; at least the pamphlet in which this uncomfortable doctrine was put forward the House of Commons had burned by the common hangman.

What really defeated the Nonjurors' claims was commonsense. Much the ablest attack upon their position was Stillingfleet's defence of the policy employed in filling up the sees vacated by deprivation; and it is remarkable that the theory he employs is to insist that unless the lawfulness of what had been done is admitted, the Nonjuror's position is inevitable. "If it be unlawful to succeed a deprived bishop," he wrote,[11] "then he is the bishop of the diocese still: and then the law that deprives him is no law, and consequently the king and Parliament that made that law no king and Parliament: and how can this be reconciled with the Oath of Allegiance, unless the Doctor can swear allegiance to him who is no King and hath no authority to govern." All this the Nonjurors would have admitted, and the mere fact that it could be used as argument against them is proof that they were out of touch with the national temper. What they wanted was a legal revolution which is in the nature of things impossible. We may regret that the oath was deemed essential, and feel that it might not have been so stoutly pressed. But the leaders of a revolution "tread a path of fire"; and the fault lay less at the door of the civil government than in the fact that this was an age when men acted on their principles. William and his advisers, with the condition of Ireland and Scotland a cause for agitation, with France hostile, with treason and plot not absent from the episcopate itself, had no easy task; what, in the temper of the time, gives most cause for consideration, is the moderate spirit in which they accomplished it.

[11] A Vindication of their Majesties' Authority to fill the Sees of the Deprived Bishops (1691).


The Nonjuring schism was by no means the only difficulty which the Church of England had to confront in these troubled years. The definition of her relationship with State and nation, if at the moment it aroused less bitterness, was in the long run more intricate in its nature. That some sort of toleration was inevitable few, save a group of prejudiced irreconcilables, would have denied. But greater things were in the air, and there were still many who dreamed of a grand scheme of Comprehension, by which all save the more extreme Dissenters would have been admitted to the Church. It is this which explains the acrimonious debates of the next two years. The hatred of the Church for dissent can only be understood by those who study with care the insults heaped upon her by the sectaries during the Civil Wars. That men who had striven for her dissolution should be admitted to her privileges seemed to Churchmen as tragic as ironical. Nor must we miss the political aspect of the matter. William had received an eager, if natural, support from Nonconformists; and since the vast majority of them was Whig in temper, the greater the degree of toleration, the greater likelihood there was of an attack upon the Church. Exclusion thus became a fundamental article of the Tory creed; and it was the more valued because it enabled them to strike at their opponents through an institution which at the trial of Sacheverell, in 1710, still showed an overwhelming hold upon the mass of the people.

The attitude of mind herein implied is in large part the reaction from the Erastian temper of the government. Under William, that temper is intelligible enough; for unless he held the Church in strict control, he must have felt that he was giving a large handle to his enemies. Under Anne, the essence of the situation remained unchanged, even though her eager sympathy with the Church was beyond all question. William had relieved Nonconformists from the burden of penal statute; the Occasional Conformity Act of 1713 broadly continued the exclusion of all save the more yielding of them from political office. When the Hanoverians succeeded they were willing to repeal its more rigid intolerance; but the Test Act remained as evidence that the Dissenters were not yet regarded as in a full sense part of the national life.

The reasons for the hatred of dissent go back in part to the Civil War and in part also to the feeling of common ground between the dissenting interest and Rome which was born of the struggle under Elizabeth and James. The pamphlets are innumerable; and most of them deserve the complete obliquity into which they have fallen. We are told, in the eighteenth as in the seventeenth century, that the Presbyterian theory of government is inconsistent with the existence of the civil power. "They claim," said Leslie, "power to abrogate the laws of the land touching ecclesiastical matters, if they judge them hurtful or unprofitable... They require the civil magistrate to be subject to their power." Of Knox or Cartwright this is no unfair account; but of the later Presbyterians it is the merest travesty. It supposes that they would be willing to push to the utmost limit the implications of the theory of the two kingdoms-a supposition which their passive submission to the Act of 1712 restoring lay patronage decisively refutes. Bramhall had no doubt that their discipline was "the very quintessence of refined popery," and the argument is repeated by a hundred less learned pamphleteers. Neither the grim irony of Defoe nor the proven facts of the case could wean either the majority of Churchmen or the masses of the people from the belief that the Revolution endangered the very existence of the Church and that concession would be fatal. So stoutly did the Church resist it that the accession of George I alone, in Lecky's view, prevented the repeal of the Toleration Act and the destruction of the political benefits of the Revolution.

But nowhere was the temper of the time more clearly displayed than in the disputes over Convocation. To William's advisers, perhaps, more than to the Church itself their precipitation is due; for had they not, at the outset of the reign, suggested large changes in the liturgy suspicions then aroused might well have slumbered. As it was, the question of the royal supremacy immediately came into view and the clergy spared no effort to meet the issue so raised. And this they felt the more bitterly because the upper house of Convocation, two-thirds of which were William's nominees, naturally inclined to his side. Both under William and Anne the dispute continued, and the lower clergy shrank from no opportunity of conflict. They fought the king, the archbishop, the upper house. They attacked the writings of Toland and Burnet, the latter's book since recognized as one of the great treasures of Anglican literature. In the main, of course, the struggle was part of the perennial conflict between High Church doctrine and latitudinarianism. But that was only a fragment of the issue. What really was in question was the nature of the State's power over the Church. That could be left unanswered so long, as with James I and Charles, the two powers had but a single thought. The situation changed only when State and Church had different policies to fulfil and different means for their attainment.

The controversy had begun on the threshold of William's accession; but its real commencement dates from 1697. In that year was published the Letter to a Convocation Man, probably written by Sir Bartholomew Shower, an able if unscrupulous Jacobite lawyer, which maliciously, though with abounding skill, raised every question that peaceful churchmen must have been anxious to avoid. The Letter pointed out the growth of infidelity and the increasing suspicion that the Church was becoming tainted with Socinian doctrine. Only the assembly of Convocation could arrest these evils. The author did not deny that the king's assent was necessary to its summons. But he argued that once the Convocation had met, it could, like Parliament, debate all questions relevant to its purpose. "The one of these courts," said Shower, "is of the same power and use with regard to the Church as the other is in respect to the State," and he insisted that the writ of summons could not at any point confine debate. And since the Convocation was an ecclesiastical Parliament, it followed that it could legislate and thus make any canons "provided they do not impugn common law, statutes, customs or prerogative." "To confer, debate and resolve," said Shower, "without the king's license, is at common law the undoubted right of convocation."

Here was a clear challenge which was at once answered, in The Authority of Christian Princes, by William Wake, who was by far the most learned of the latitudinarian clergy, and the successor of Tenison in the see of Canterbury. His argument was purely historical. He endeavored to show that the right to summon ecclesiastical synods was always the prerogative of the early Christian princes until the aggression of the popes had won church independence. The Reformation resumed the primitive practice; and the Act of Submission of 1532 had made it legally impossible for the clergy to discuss ecclesiastical matters without royal permission. Historically, the argument of Wake was irrefutable; but what mostly impressed the Church was the uncompromising Erastianism of his tone. Princes, he said, "may make what laws or constitutions they think fit for the Church.... a canon is but as matter prepared for the royal stamp." In this view, obviously, the Church is more than a department of the State. But Wake went even farther, "I cannot see why the Supreme Magistrate," he wrote, "who confessedly has a power to confirm or reject their (Convocation's) 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."

So defined no Churc

h could claim in any true sense the headship of Christ; for it was clearly left at the mercy of the governmental view of expedient conduct. Wake's answer aroused a sensation almost as acute as the original Letter of Shower. But by far the ablest criticism it provoked was that of Francis Atterbury, then a young student of Christ Church and on the threshold of his turbulent career. His Rights, Powers and Privileges of an English Convocation Stated and Vindicated not only showed a masterly historic sense in its effort to traverse the unanswerable induction of Wake, but challenged his position more securely on the ground of right. The historical argument, indeed, was not a safe position for the Church, and Wake's rejoinder in his State of the Church (1703) is generally conceded to have proved his point, so far as the claim of prescription is concerned. But when Atterbury moves to the deeper problem of what is involved in the nature of a church, he has a powerful plea to make. It is unnecessary now to deal with his contention that Wake's defence of the Royal Supremacy undermines the rights of Parliament; for Wake could clearly reply that the seat of that power had changed with the advent of the Revolution. Where the avoidance of sympathy is difficult is in his insistence that no Church can live without an assembly to debate its problems, and that no assembly can be real which is subject to external control. "Their body," as he remarks, "will be useless to the State and by consequence contemptible"; for its opinions will not be born of that free deliberation which can alone ensure respect. Like all High Churchmen, Atterbury has a clear sense that Church and State can no longer be equated, and he is anxious to preserve the personality of the Church from the invasions of an alien body. To be real, it must be independent, and to be independent, it must have organs of self-expression. But neither William nor Anne could afford to forego the political capital involved in ecclesiastical control and Erastian principles proceeded to their triumph.

Here, as elsewhere, it was Charles Leslie who best summed up the feeling of High Churchmen. His Case of the Regale (1701) is by far the ablest of his many able performances. He saw at the outset that the real issue was defined by the Church's claim to be a divine society, with rights thus consecrated by the conditions of its origin. If it was divine, invasion did not touch its de jure rights. "How," he asked, "can rights that are divine be given up? If they are divine, no human authority can either supersede or limit them.... How can rights that are inherent be given up? If they are inherent, they are inseparable. The right to meet, to consult, to make rules or canons for the regulation of the society, is essential to every society as such ... can she then part with what is essential to her?" Nor could it be denied that "where the choice of the governors of one society is in the hands of another society, that society must be dependent and subject to the other." The Church, in the Latitudinarian view was thus either the creature of the state or an imperium in imperio; but Leslie would not admit that fruitful stumbling block to the debate. "The sacred and civil powers were like two parallel lines which could never meet or interfere ... the confusion arises ... when the civil power will take upon them to control or give laws to the Church, in the exercise of her spiritual authority." He did not doubt that the Church should give securities for its loyalty to the king, and renounce any effort at the coercion of the civil magistrate. But the Church was entitled to a similar privilege, and kings should not "have their beneficence and protection to the Church of Christ understood as a bribe to her, to betray and deliver up into their hands the powers committed into her charge by Christ." Nor did he fail to point out the suicidal nature of Erastianism. For the church's hold upon men is dependent upon their faith in the independence of her principles. "When they see bishops," he wrote wisely, "made by the Court, they are apt to imagine that they speak to them the court language; and lay no further stress upon it than the charge of a judge at an assizes, who has received his instructions beforehand from the Court; and by this means the state has lost the greatest security of her government."

The argument is powerful enough; though it should be noted that some of its implications remain undetermined. Leslie does not say how the spheres of Church and State are to be differentiated. He does not explain the methods whereby an establishment is to be made compatible with freedom. For it is obvious that the partnership of Church and State must be upon conditions; and once the State had permitted the existence of creeds other than that of its official adoption, it could not maintain the exclusive power for which the Church contended. And when the Church not only complained of State-betrayal, but attempted the use of political means to enforce remedial measures it was inevitable that statesmen would use the weapons ready to their hand to coerce it to their will. The real remedy for the High Churchmen was not exclusiveness but disestablishment.

That this is the meaning of the struggle did not appear until the reign of George I. What is known as the Bangorian controversy was due to the posthumous publication, in 1716, of the papers of George Hickes, the most celebrated of the Nonjurors in his generation. The papers are of no special import; but taken in connection with the Jacobite rising of 1715 they seemed to imply a new attack upon the Revolution settlement. So, at least, they were interpreted by Benjamin Hoadly, then Bishop of Bangor, and a stout upholder of the Latitudinarian school. The conflict today has turned to dust and ashes; and few who read the multitude of pamphlets it evoked, or stand amazed at their personal bitterness, can understand why more than a hundred writers should have thought it necessary to inform the world of their opinions, or why the London Stock Exchange should have felt so passionate an interest in the debate as to cease for a day the hubbub of its transactions. Nor can any one make heroes from the personalities of its protagonists. Hoadly himself was a typical bishop of the political school, who rose from humble circumstances to the wealthy bishopric of Winchester through a remarkable series of translations. Before the debate of 1716, he was chiefly known by two political tracts in which he had rewritten, in less cogent form, and without adequate acknowledgment, the two treatises of Locke. He clearly realized how worthless the dogma of Divine Right had become, without being certain of the principles by which it was to be replaced. Probably, as Leslie Stephen has pointed out, his theorizing is the result of a cloudy sense of the bearing of the Deist controversy. If God is to be banished from direct connection with earthly affairs, we must seek a human explanation of political facts. And he became convinced that this attitude applies not less completely to ecclesiastical than to secular politics. Of his opponents, by far the ablest was William Law, the only theologian whom Gibbon may be said to have respected, and the parent, through his mystical writings, of the Wesleyan movement. Snape, then Provost of Eton, was always incisive; and his pamphlet went through seventeen editions in a single year and provoked seven replies within three months. Thomas Sherlock would not be either himself or his father's son, were he not caustic, logical and direct. But Hoadly and Law between them exhaust the controversy, so far as it has meaning for our own day. The less essential questions like Hoadly's choice of friends, his attitude to prayer, the accuracy of the details in his account of the Test Act, the cause of his refusal to answer Law directly, are hardly now germane to the substance of the debate. Hoadly's position is most fully stated in his Preservative against the Principles and Practice of Nonjurors which he published in 1716 as a counterblast to the papers of Hickes; and they are briefly summarized in the sermon preached before the King on March 31, 1717, on the text "My Kingdom is not of this world," and published by royal command. Amid a vast wilderness of quibbles and qualifications, some simple points emerge. What he was doing was to deprive the priesthood of claims to supernatural authority that he might vindicate for civil government the right to preserve itself not less against persons in ecclesiastical office than against civil assailants. To do so he is forced to deny that the miraculous powers of Christ and the Apostles descended to their successors. For if that assumption is made we grant to fallible men privileges which confessedly belong to persons outside the category of fallibility. And, exactly in the fashion of Leslie in the Regale he goes on to show that if a Church is a supernatural institution, it cannot surrender one jot or tittle of its prerogative. It is, in fact, an imperium in imperio and its conflict with the state is inevitable. But if the Church is not a supernatural institution, what is its nature? Hoadly here attacks the doctrine which lies at the basis of all ecclesiastical debate. The Church, he claims, is not a visible society, presided over by men who have authority directly transmitted by Christ. There are not within it "viceregents who can be said properly to supply his place; no interpreters upon whom his subjects are absolutely to depend; no judges over the conscience or religion of his people. For if this were so that any such absolute viceregent authority, either for the making of new laws, or interpreting old ones, or judging his subjects, in religious matters, were lodged in any men upon earth, the consequence would be that what still retains the name of the Church of Christ would not be the kingdom of Christ, but the kingdom of those men invested with such authority. For whoever hath such an authority of making laws is so far a king, and whoever can add new laws to those of Christ, equally obligatory, is as truly a king as Christ himself. Nay, whosoever hath an absolute authority to interpret any written or spoken laws, it is he who is truly the lawgiver to all intents and purposes, and not the person who first wrote and spoke them."

The meaning is clear enough. What Hoadly is attacking is the theory of a visible Church of Christ on earth, with the immense superstructure of miracle and infallibility erected thereon. The true Church of Christ is in heaven; and the members of the earthly society can but try in a human, blundering way, to act with decency and justice. Apostolic succession, the power of excommunication, the dealing out of forgiveness for men's sins, the determination of true doctrine, insofar as the Church claims these powers, it is usurping an authority that is not its own. The relation of man to God is his private affair, and God will ask from him sincerity and honesty, rather than judge him for his possession of some special set of dogmas. Clearly, therefore, if the Church is no more than this, it has no supernatural pretensions to oppose to the human claims of the State. And since the State must have within itself all the means of sufficient life, it has the right to resist the ecclesiastical onslaught as based upon the usurpation of power assumed without right. And in later treatises Hoadly did for ceremonial exactly what he had done for church government. The eucharist became a piece of symbolism and excommunication nothing more than an announcement-"a mere external thing"-that the rules of the fellowship have been broken. It at no point is related to the sinner's opportunity of salvation.

In such an aspect, it would clearly follow that the Church has no monopoly of truth. It can, indeed, judge its own beliefs; but reason alone can demonstrate the inadequacy of other attitudes. Nor does its judgment preclude the individual duty to examine into the truth of things. The real root of faith is not the possession of an infallible dogma, but the arriving honestly at the dogma in which you happen to believe. For the magistrate, he urges, what is important is not the table of your springs of action, but the conduct itself which is based upon that table; from which it follows that things like the Test and Corporation Acts have no real political validity. They have been imposed upon the State by the narrow interpretations of an usurping power; and the Nonconformist claim to citizenship would thus seem as valid as that of a member of the Church of England.

All this sounds sensible enough; though it is curious doctrine in the mouth of a bishop of that church. And this, in fact, is the starting-point of Law's analysis of Hoadly. No one who reads the unsparing vigor of his criticism can doubt that Law must have been thoroughly happy in the composition of his defence; and, indeed, his is the only contribution to the debate which may claim a permanent place in political literature. In one sense, indeed, the whole of Law's answer is an ignoratio elenchi, for he assumes the truth of that which Hoadly sets out to examine, with the inevitable result that each writer is, for the most part, arguing from different premises. But on the assumption that Hoadly is a Christian, Law's argument is an attack of great power. He shows conclusively that if the Church of England is no more than Hoadly imagines it to be, it cannot, in any proper historic sense, be called the Church of England at all. For every one of the institutions which Hoadly calls an usurpation, is believed by Churchmen to be integral to its nature. And if sincerity alone is to count as the test, then there cannot, for the existing world, be any such thing as objective religious truth. It subverted not merely absolute authority-which the Church of England did not claim-but any authority in the Church. It impugned the authority of the Crown to enforce religious belief by civil penalties. Hoadly's rejection of authority, moreover, is in Law's view fatal to government of any kind. For all lawful authority must affect eternal salvation insofar as to disobey it is to sin. The authority the Church possesses is inherent in the very nature of the Church; for the obligation to a belief in Christianity is the same thing as to a belief in that Church which can be shown to represent Christ's teaching.

From Law's own point of view, the logic of his position is undeniable; and in his third letter to Hoadly, the real heart of his attack, he touches the centre of the latter's argument. For if it is sincerity which is alone important it would follow that things false and wrong are as acceptable to God as things true and right, which is patently absurd. Nor has Hoadly given us means for the detection of sincerity. He seemed to think that anyone was sincere who so thought himself; but, says Law, "it is also possible and as likely for a man to be mistaken in those things which constitute true sincerity as in those things which constitute true religion." Clearly, sincerity cannot be the pith of the matter; for it may be mistaken and directed to wrong ends. The State, in fact, may respect conscience, but Hoadly is no more entitled to assume the infallibility of private belief than he is to deny the infallibility of the Church's teaching. That way lies anarchy.

Here, indeed, the antagonists were on common ground. Both had denied the absolute character of any authority; but while Hoadly virtually postulates a Church which logically is no more than those who accept the moral law as Christ described it, Law restricts the Church to that society which bears the traditional marks of the historic institution. On Hoadly's principles, there was no reason why anyone not hostile to the civil power should not enjoy political privilege; on Law's there was every reason simply because those who denied the doctrines of the High Church refused a truth open for their acceptance. Law, indeed, goes so far as to argue that in the light of his principles Hoadly should be a Deist; and there is ground for what, in that age, was a valuable point to make. The sum total of it all is that for the bishop the outward actions of men alone concern the State; while Law insists that the root of action and the test of fitness is whether men have seen a certain aspect of the truth and grasped it.

The result, to say the least, was calamitous. In May of 1717, convocation met and the Lower House immediately adopted an unanimous report condemning the "Preservative" and the sermon. But Hoadly had the government behind him and the convocation was prorogued before further action could be taken. Snape, Hare, Mosse and Sherlock, all of whom were chaplains royal, and had been drawn into the conflict, were dismissed from their office; and for more than one hundred and thirty-five years convocation was not again summoned. It was a striking triumph for Erastianism, though the more liberal principles of Hoadly were less successful. Robert Walpole was on the threshold of his power, and, as a manager of Sacheverell's impeachment, he had seen the hold of the Church upon the common people, may even, indeed, have remembered that Hoadly's own dwelling had been threatened with destruction in the popular excitement. Quieta non movere was his motto; and he was not interested in the niceties of ecclesiastic metaphysic. So the Test Act remained immovable until 1828; while the annual Act of Indemnity for its infractions represented that English genius for illogical mitigation which solves the deeper problems of principle while avoiding the consideration of their substance.

In the hundred and twenty years which passed between the Bangorian Controversy and the Oxford Movement, there is only one volume upon the problem of Church and State which deserves more than passing notice. Bishop Warburton was the Lord Brougham of his age; and as its self-constituted universal provider of intellectual fare, he deemed it his duty to settle this, amongst others of the eternal questions. The effort excited only the contempt of Leslie Stephen-"the peculiar Warburton mixture," he says "of sham logic and bluster." Yet that is hardly fair to the total result of Warburton's remarks. He tried to steer a middle path between the logical result of such Erastianism as that of the Independent Whig, on the one hand, and the excessive claim of High Churchmanship on the other. Naturally enough, or the writer would not be Warburton, the book is full of tawdry rhetoric and stupid quibbles. But the Alliance between Church and State (1736) set the temper of speculation until the advent of Newman, and is therefore material for something more than contempt. It acutely points out that societies generate a personality distinct from that of their members in words reminiscent of an historic legal pronouncement.[12] "When any number of men," he says, "form themselves into a society, whether civil or religious, this society becomes a body different from that aggregate which the number of individuals composed before the society was formed.... But a body must have its proper personality and will, which without these is no more than a shadow or a name."

[12] Dicey, Law and Opinion in England (2nd edition), p. 165.

And that is the root of Warburton's pronouncement. The Church is a society distinct from the State, but lending to that body its assistance because without the sanction of religion the full achievement of the social purpose is impossible. There is thus an alliance between them, each lending its support to the other for their common benefit. The two remain distinct; the union between them is of a federal kind. But they interchange their powers, and this it is which explains at once the royal supremacy and the right of Churchmen to a share in the legislature. This also it is which explains the existence of a Test Act, whereby those who might injure that which the State has undertaken to protect are deprived of their power to evil. And, in return, the Church engages to "apply its utmost endeavors in the service of the State." It becomes attached to its benefactor from the privilege it receives; and the dangers which might arise from its natural independence are thus obviated. For a federal union precludes the grave problem of an imperium in imperio, and the "mischiefs which so terrified Hobbes" are met by the terms upon which it is founded.

It is easy enough to discover the loopholes in the theory. The contract does not exist, or, at least, it is placed by Warburton "in the same archive with the famous original compact between monarch and people" which has been the object of vast but fruitless searches. Nor does the Act of Submission bear upon its face the marks of that tender care of the protection of an independent society which Warburton declared a vital tenet of the Union. Yet such criticisms miss the real significance of the theory. It is really the introduction into English politics of that notion of the two societies which, a century before, Melville and Bellarmine had made so fruitful. With neither Presbyterian nor Jesuit was the separation complete, for the simple reason that each had a secret conviction that the ecclesiastical society was at bottom the superior. Yet the theory was the parent of liberty, if only because it pointed the way to a balance of power between claims which, before, had seemed mutually exclusive.

Until the Toleration Act, the theory was worthless to the English Church because its temper, under the ?gis of Laudian views, had been in substance theocratic. But after 1692 it aptly expressed the compromise the dominant party of the Church had then in mind. They did, indeed, mistake the power of the Church, or, rather, they submitted to the State so fully that what they had intended for a partnership became an absorption. So that the Erastianism of the eighteenth century goes deep enough to make the Church no more than a moral police department of the State. Saints like Ken and preachers like South are replaced by fashionable prelates like Cornwallis, who made Lambeth Palace an adjunct to Ranelagh Gardens, and self-seeking pluralists like Bishop Watson. The Church could not even perceive the meaning of the Wesleyan revolt; and its charity was the irritating and complacent patronage of the obstrusive Hannah More. Its learning decayed, its intelligence slumbered; and the main function it fulfilled until Newman's advent was the provision of rich preferment to the younger sons of the nobility. It is a far cry from Lake of Chichester and Bishop Ken to a church which was merely an annex to the iniquities of the civil list.


No one can mistake the significance of this conflict. The opponents of Erastianism had a deep sense of their corporate Church, and it was a plea for ecclesiastical freedom that they were making. They saw that a Church whose patronage and discipline and debates were under the control of an alien body could not with honesty claim that Christ was in truth their head. If the Church was to be at the mercy of private judgment and political expediency, the notion of a dogmatic basis would have to be abandoned. Here, indeed, is the root of the condemnation of Tindal and of Hoadly; for they made it, by their teaching, impossible for the Church to possess an ethos of her own. It was thus against the sovereignty of the State that they protested. Somewhere, a line must be drawn about its functions that the independence of the Church might be safeguarded. For its supporters could not be true to their divine mission if the accidental vote of a secular authority was by right to impose its will upon the Church. The view of it as simply a religious body to which the State had conceded certain rights and dignities, they repudiated with passion. The life of the Church was not derived from the State; and for the latter to attempt its circumscription was to usurp an authority not rightly its own.

The real difficulty of this attitude lay in the establishment. For here the Church was, at bottom, declaring that the State life must be lived upon terms of her own definition. That was possible before the Reformation; but with the advent of Nonconformity and the growth of rationalism the exclusive character of the Church's solution had become unacceptable. If the Church was to become so intimately involved with the State as an establishment implied, it had no right to complain, if statesmen with a genius for expediency were willing to sacrifice it to the attainment of that ideal. For the real secret of independence is, after all, no more than independence. The Church sought it without being willing to pay the price. And this it is which enabled Hoadly to emerge triumphant from an ordeal where logically he should have failed. The State, by definition is an absorptive animal; and the Church had no right to complain if the price of its privileges was royal supremacy. A century so self-satisfied as the eighteenth would not have faced the difficulties involved in giving political expression to the High Church theory.

Yet the protest remained, and it bore a noble fruit in the next century. The Oxford movement is usually regarded as a return to the seventeenth century, to the ideals, that is to say, of Laud and Andrewes.[13] In fact, its real kinship is with Atterbury and Law. Like them, it was searching the secret of ecclesiastical independence, and like them it discovered that connection with the State means, in the end, the sacrifice of the church to the needs of each political situation. "The State has deserted us," wrote Newman; and the words might have been written of the earlier time. The Oxford movement, indeed, like its predecessor, built upon foundations of sand; and when Lord Brougham told the House of Lords that the idea of the Church possessing "absolute and unalienable rights" was a "gross and monstrous anomaly" because it would make impossible the supremacy of Parliament, he simply announced the result of a doctrine which, implicit in the Act of Submission, was first completely defined by Wake and Hoadly. Nor has the history of this controversy ended. "Thoughtful men," the Archbishop of Canterbury has told the House of Lords,[14] "... see the absolute need, if a Church is to be strong and vigorous, for the Church, qua church, to be able to say what it can do as a church." "The rule of the sovereign, the rule of Parliament," replied Lord Haldane,[15] "extend as far as the rule of the Church. They are not to be distinguished or differentiated, and that was the condition under which ecclesiastical power was transmitted to the Church of England." Today, that is to say, as in the past, antithetic theories of the nature of the State hinge, in essence, upon the problem of its sovereignty. "A free church in a free state," now, as then, may be our ideal; but we still seek the means wherewith to build it.

[13] Cf. my Problem of Sovereignty, Chapter III.

[14] Parliamentary Debates. Fifth Series, Vol. 34, p. 992 (June 3, 1919).

[15] Parliamentary Debates. Fifth Series, Vol. 34, p 1002. The quotation does not fully represent Lord Haldane's views.

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