« AnteriorContinuar »
duty to leave it, as we have already said, when they have made it clear to themselves that the inheritance of the Church can no longer be honestly accepted by them. What we feel we cannot keep honestly we must abandon. But the clergymen we have supposed not only do not feel conscientiously called upon to leave the Church, but all their study and thought, while bringing them at times much spiritual disquiet and mental unrest, have only served to deepen their interest in the Church and in its doctrines. To them, indeed, the theological questions to which they have devoted themselves are far more vital and far more a source of quickening activity than they are to others, who accept doctrines always because they have once accepted them, and then closed the door of inquiry upon them for ever. great Christian ideas are not only not rejected by them, but have entered into the substance both of their intellectual and practical life. They retain the inner meaning of all Divine truths the more heartily, because they no longer confound them with their traditionary expression, but see everywhere the living current moving behind the scholastic embankment. The late Mr. Maurice and Canon Kingsley, and two men greater still-of a higher theological type-Dean Milman and Bishop Thirlwall, were examples of such clergymen to speak only of past names. Were these men less Christian, nay, less Anglican, because of their intellectual, or even their doctrinal, restlessness? Are men of this class, who remain in the Church of England, less conscientious than those who leave it? We cannot think so; and no one has a right to say that they are so. They may have chosen the higher part in remaining where they are. It is impossible to doubt, from their own point of view, that they have acted with equal conscientiousness. The Church is to them far more than the Thirty-nine Articles or the Athanasian Creed; and in leaving it-as the home of their lifelong spiritual culture-as the Church of the Fathers whom they revere all the more that they do not receive their dicta without criticism-they would do far more violence to their conscience than they do by remaining. Besides, what would become of the Church if such men were to leave it whenever their researches bring some measure of doubt to them on this or that point of doctrine, or of traditionary history? Intellectual life would die down within it; all that makes the Church more than an evangelical Institute-and it was more than this even in the time of St. Paul-would disappear. It would cease to be a school of thought, or to hold its own in the intellectual world at all. It would in fact become, what it is now sometimes called, a mere sect, without either spiritual or intellectual dignity. This is the inevitable tendency of all Creed-stringency, as we see before our eyes in the mental no less than the spiritual compression which all sects undergo, tightening their Creed-strings till they strangle all freedom of development.
It is plain, therefore, that the question of subscription is not a plain question. It is not so even on the narrowest interpretation of the terms of subscription. All that the entrant to the Church of
England 'declares' is that 'he assents to the Thirty-nine Articles,' and believes the doctrine of the United Church of England and Ireland, as therein set forth, to be agreeable to the Word of God.' Even the entrant to the Scotch National Church, whose dogmatic requirements are understood to be so much more rigid than those of the Church of England, is only legally required to subscribe the Confession of Faith, declaring the same to be the confession of his faith, and that he owns the doctrine therein contained to be the true doctrine.' The use of the expression doctrine' instead of doctrines' in both cases is highly significant. It was designed to be so at the time, and is still more so in the light of modern thought and criticism. The 'doctrine' is the line or system of Christian truth embodied in the Thirty-nine Articles and the Westminster Confession of Faith respectively. It is clearly meant to indicate that belief attaches to this, and not to the several propositions which make up the one or the othersome of which-in the case of the Confession of Faith many of which -are not of the nature of doctrine' at all. It is really, therefore, the 'sum and substance' of Christian faith which they contain, and not the propositional details of either document, to which the clerical entrant is committed. And there is no lack of logic in saying that the substantial creed of the one Church or the other-it is really the same in both, as is known to every student of Christian thought-may be held, while details in both documents are rejected or placed aside, as in no way entering into the doctrine' or Creed of either Church, properly so called. It is no halting logic, but the highest sense, in such a case to say that the whole' may be admitted and yet parts rejected; because the whole' is not commensurate with the parts. The whole is the ideal sum of doctrine lying within the document, and not a mere agglomeration of all the details of the document; and least of all, such an agglomeration as one mind may make for another out of those details, or even that a majority of subscribers may try to impose upon others.
This has long appeared to me the only feasible view of subscription in either of the National Churches. It is, I believe, the view which every thoughtful mind more or less makes for itself-nay, which every mind which thinks at all must make for itself—for there are statements in the Thirty-nine Articles, and still more in the Confession of Faith, which no intelligent mind can receive without reserve or hesitation. The blindest orthodoxy cannot well maintain, in the light of modern knowledge, that there never was in the Church any doubt of the authority of any of the present so-called canonical books of the Old and New Testaments,' or that the world was 'created out of nothing in six days.'2 These are both details of confessional orthodoxy; but neither of them are of the nature of 'doctrine,' strictly so called. Or, if they are held to be so, then the case of any one class of clergy against another entirely breaks down; for neither
the one class nor the other-not even those who would wilfully shut out all results of modern knowledge-can receive as true, or profess to believe, what is demonstrably not true.
The question of subscription is therefore reduced to this dilemma. If the terms are taken to mean that the subscriber assents to every detail of the Articles or the Confession, then no one does so. use of subscription breaks down at the outset, to say nothing of its obvious immorality. If, however, the only rational view be taken that subscription means simply, and never can mean anything more than, a general assent to the doctrine' or system of spiritual truth identified with the history of the Church as set forth in its standards, then the ideal side of subscription, once admitted, cannot be restricted. The subscriber is entitled to group for himself ideally the elements of the doctrine which he considers to be the true doctrine of the Church. No doubt he must do this honestly. That can admit of no question. He is self-condemned if he allows any conscious dishonesty to enter into the process. But the grouping is to be his own, and not another's, as he studies the document in all its parts, and honestly tries to read a consistent meaning or whole' into it. The subscriber, and he alone, is the judge of his own honesty in all this. The Church has no right-and, we believe, no power-to shut its door against him if he is willing to subscribe. It retains, however, the power of dealing with him, and if necessary extruding him, if he preach false or adverse doctrine. And this is a power that no Church can dispense with. It is essential to its very conception, and necessary to its healthy existence. According to this latter view, there fore, which appears to us to be the only possible view of subscription, the real security for sound doctrine in any Church is not in subscription, whatever be its terms, but in the disciplinary powers of the Church a view to which we are glad to see the Duke of Argyll gave his thoughtful assent in a remarkable speech some time ago.
The only objection that lies against this view is the encouragement which it is alleged by some to give to unveracity. But there is no room for a charge of unveracity where the verifying power belongs to the subscriber and no one else. The idea of any unveracity in such a case arises entirely from an implied assumption, which is quite unwarrantable, that there is a well-understood sense, other than that of the subscriber's, in which the Creed of the Churches of England or Scotland can alone be accepted. The critic has his own idea of what the Creed of these Churches involves; he identifies his own idea with the traditionary sense of the Creed, and it seems unveracious to him to take it in any other sense. But, first, his idea is merely, like any other, individualistic; it is gathered by the very same process which we suppose the subscriber to have honestly exercised; it is not necessarily identical with the traditionary idea, nor is this latter necessarily consistent with itself. It is impossible that it should be so. The ideas of a Creed change with the changing atmosphere of Christian thought in each age. They are mobile with
the currents of Christian sentiment as they rise and fall; and although all the Creeds of all the Churches were simplified to-morrow simplified with a view to greater stringency in subscription, which is the remedy of a certain class of minds for modern latitudinarianism -the process of change in any Church towards its Creed would just begin again. The plan of fixing belief as you would fix a seal to a document is a hopeless one, and there never was a time in which it was so hopeless as the present. Every Church that is living, and not dead, is constantly changing its spiritual horizon. There is no unveracity in the mere evolutions of Christian thought. The only unveracity is in personal disloyalty to the truth.
It will be said, and I do not gainsay it, that the effect of this argument is towards the abolition of subscription altogether. It has long appeared to the writer an inept, clumsy, and ensnaring process. There should be free entrance to the Churches, as maintained by Dean Stanley in his recent letter on the Nationalisation of the Church of England. No youth would ever think of entering them who did not feel loyal in his heart to them and their common faith. It is enough that the Church should have the power of excluding any who openly defy its doctrine or corrupt its worship. My own opinion goes this length; and if my argument goes this length also, good and well.
But, meantime, I wished to point out that the existing terms of subscription are not open to the charge made against them by many. They do not determine the Creed for the subscriber (no mere for-' mula of subscription can do this), but leave with him the power of determining, within the limits of a diversified document, the doctrine of the Church to which he gives his adherence. Although the document were changed to-morrow, and the formula changed too, there would still necessarily be the same subjective or ideal element in their interpretation which cannot be taken away. And so long as this remains, there is no room for a charge of unveracity. I have no right to say that another man does not accept a document veraciously because he accepts it a different sense from me. It is his own business, not mine. To his own conscience he stands or falls. No doubt the Church may judge differently from him, and decide with me. if the Church does so righteously according to its forms, it must have power to protect itself. But withal, to the last, the man may not only have been honest, but may have even judged the doctrine' of the Church better than the Church itself.
The conclusion, then, to which I come is that the morality of subscription-save when the moral judgment is taken in hand by the subscriber himself is not a simple but a very complex question, difficult of decision. The difficulty can least of all be remedied by the substitution of new Creeds for old; first, because the Creedmaking power in any creative sense is lost to the Church (it may return, but it certainly does not exist in any Church at the present time); and, secondly, because the Christian intelligence cannot be
fixed in a documentary or literal sense to the Creed of any time. The documentary statement dies with the age which produced it. No power can give it permanent life; while the Christian intelligence is essentially quick, expansive, and advancing in its range. It is not possible, besides, for any Church to remove by a simple act an old Creed and substitute a new one in its stead. In its very decay the old has gone to nourish the ever-growing life of the new; and no wise man or Church would seek to disentangle them. It is the Church which alone remains living, not its documentary and elaborated Creeds, Athanasian or Westminster. These are-and no pretences of belief can make them anything else worn and more or less vanished echoes of old faith, and not voices speaking from the heart of any Church.
What Churches may do and should do is to simplify to the utmost the bonds of connection between the Church and its servants-the living institution and the living men. The great Creeds are great facts in the history of the Church. The more freely they are studied the more fully they will be understood and appreciated. But they were never designed to bar the gates of the Church or to limit the range of its thought. Modern Christian science for the most part has gone quite outside of them, and is travelling in different directions altogether. Let them stand, but let them not fetter the Christian intellect; and let the clergy, instead of being held in terror by them, be invited to their free historical study. They would become in this way far more powerful sources of Christian enlightenment than they now are.—I am, A BROAD CHURCHMAN.
NOTICE TO CORRESPONDENTS.
Communications to the Editor should be addressed to him at 39 Paternoster Row, E.C.
As the Magazine has an ample staff of Contributors, MSS. are not invited without previous correspondence, and uninvited MSS. cannot be returned except at the convenience of the Editor. No copies of Verses can be returned.