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The position and parties of the English church : a pastoral letter to the clergy of the Diocese of Winchester (Volume Talbot Collection online

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the assigning im])ortance or symbolical significance to
similar acts. They even said that ceremonies, dresses,
attitudes, were unimportant in themselves, and only



28 Pastoral Letter.

valuable as serving to promote order and maintain
unity. ^ I have reason to know that there are many,
both clergy and laity, in the present day, who would
like the use of a distinctive vestment at Holy Com-
munion, not because they desire to symbolize some
special doctrine, but because they look on that sacra-
ment as the most sacred of Christian ordinances, inti-
mately connected with their faith in the Great High
Priest and His atoning sacrifice, bringing them into
closest spiritual communion with Him who is the
Food of their souls ; and therefore they would wish
peculiar honour to be attributed to the rite. In like
manner, I know that there are many who would prefer
the eastward position of the minister, not because they
consider such position suited to a sacrificing priest, but for
the same reason that the bishops m 1661 favoured it, viz.
because, when we all pray to God, w^e should all look
tlie same way, and rather avoid the appearance of ad-
dressing one another. At the time of Holy Communion
it has generally been believed that the whole congrega-
tion pleads before God the merits of the one great
Sacrifice once offered on the Cross, and therefore it has
been thought that the priest should lead them in prayer,
and not turn to them as in exhortation.'^ Others, again,

' See, for instances, the so-called * Black Rubric' at the end of
the Communion Office, Canon XXX., and ' The Answer of the
Bishops to the Exceptions of the Ministers.' — Cardwell, Conferences,
pp. 335, seq. esp. pp. 348-351.

^ ' Minister's Turning. — The minister's turning to the people is
not most convenient throughout the whole ministration. When he
speaks to them, as in Lessons, Absolution, and Benediction, it is con-
venient that he turn to them. When he speaks for them to God it
is fit that they should all turn another way, as the ancient Church
ever did, the reasons of which you may see Aug. lib. 2, De Ser.
Dom. in ^fonte.'' — Cardwell, Confei'ences^ p. 353.



Pastoral Letter. 29

liave the feeling that the eastward was the position
generally observed in earlier times, that, not being
necessarily superstitious, it need not have been changed,
and that every continental communion of Christians (ex-
cepting only the Calvinists) uses the eastward position and
some distinctive dress ; and they do not like to be dis-
sociated in practice from all of these. Whether such per-
sons are right or wrong, their feelings and opinions are
consistent w^ith the truest loyalty to the English Eefor-
mation, and they ought not to be forced to attach a
significance to practices which they do not themselves
attach to them, and which those practices do not neces-
sarily involve.

But, above all, I deprecate the fastening a significance
on insignificant rites for the following reason : if one
party maintains that eastward celebration (for instance)
means sacrifice, and the other party nails them down
to their position, we cannot escape a most disastrous
schism. It seems admitted by the highest legal autho-
rities that the meaning of the rubrics on this latter point
is yet not finally ascertained. If one party maintains
that the doctrine of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is of the
essence of Christianity, whilst the other holds that it is
essentially anti-Christian (and, alas ! this is no exagge-
ration of what is said on either side) ; and if both
maintain that this is symbolized by consecrating to the
east, then it appears inevitable that if the final judg-
ment decides that the eastward position is unlawful,
one party must secede, and it is impossible to tell how
many earnest men it will carry away wnth it ; if, on the
contrary, the eastward position is decided to be the only
legal position, then the other party must secede, unless,
indeed, it can obtain a repeal of the rubric — a result



30 Pastoral Letter.

which must slioke the whole fabric of tlie Eno'lish
Church to its foundations, because it will unsettle that
principle of comprehension which has kept us together
for now two centuries and a quarter. Let us agree that
neither vestments nor attitude have in themselves any
doctrinal meaning whatever — and this is the only
common-sense view of the matter, the only view that
can be taken by reasonable men — and the result of an
adverse decision to either party will then be painful,
but cannot be destructive. Hopes may for a time be
ruined, but ' impavidos ferient ruinas.'

I have been led on to speaking of Courts and Judg-
ments. One difficulty in the way of settlement and
peace is the objection urged to the constitutic^n and the
impartiality of the Courts. Judges are human, and I
am not concerned to defend them or their judgments
as perfect ; but it is absolutely necessary that there
should be some mode of ascertaming the meaning of
laws which are confessedly obscure ; and I believe
it would be impossible to find a tribunal which would
be wholly free fi'om blame and acceptable to all
men. The Prayer Book itself sends doubters and dis-
puters to the Bishop ; but extreme parties on either
side have found some excuse for refusing to abide by
the judgment either of the Bishop of any single
diocese, or of the collective voice of the English epis-
copate. In the case of a great National Church — a
Church which from very early days has been identified
with the nation, and the nation witli it — there must be
some difficulty in deciding as to the constitution of
Courts which shall fairly represent the Church and the
nation and faudy satisfy the claims and the wants of
both. A Court composed wholly of ecclesiastics would.



Pastoral Letter. 31

probably, inspire no confidence in the laity. It is
doubtful whether it would give full confidence to the
clergy. Ecclesiastics might be the best informed on the
significance of ecclesiastical language ; but there would
be a general suspicion that they were influenced by
theological bias to the one side or to the other. An
ecclesiastical synod, again, is a legislative, not a judi-
cial body ; and, though synods of bishops may in early
times have acted as final Courts of Appeal, no body like
our present Convocation has ever had such functions
assigned to it, nor could it adequately discharge them.
There seems no alternative but either a mixed Court
of judges and bishops — such as the present Judicial
Committee of Privy Council — or a lay Court, pure and
simple, with, perhaps, the advice of episcopal assessors
or theological experts. None of these can be perfect ;
but the decision of imperfect Courts is incomparably
better than the anarchy of self-will. No doubt, even
great lawyers are liable to misunderstand and misinter-
pret theological language ; perhaps they have done so
in certain cases already. No doubt, the .proverbial
impartiality of our judges is greatly tried when ques-
tions which involve either political or religious party
come before them. No one can help having some
political and some religious bias, be he who he may ; ^
and, therefore, imperceptibly the most incorrupt of j udges
may be influenced either by preconceived opinions or
by desire to prevent mischief, whether to Church or
State. To say this is only to say that it is human to

• I believe that this is true even of a Jew or a Mahommedan
or an atheist living in England. Keligion and religious practices so
affect all social questions that those Avho have no religion are yet
under the influence of religious party.



32 Pastoral Ldter.

err. But a Court must be human ; and, probably, there
are no men who will weigh words so carefully and
impartially as well-trained lawyers. Moreover, we
must remember that, as all religious questions likely to
come before the Courts involve civil rights and civil
penalties, it is impossible to remove them from the
review of the great Courts of law. Even if the Church
were disestablished, and her own internal Courts were
constituted of ecclesiastics only, every cause decided by
such ecclesiastical Courts, if it affected the property or
civil rights of individuals, must be open to appeal to
the Courts of the nation. It seems to me, therefore,
that our only wisdom is to use all constitutional means
of obtaining the best and most impartial Courts con-
ceivable ; but not to refuse obedience to the Courts that
be, because tliey may have the imperfection which
adheres to all that is earthly. The two questions which
have most agitated men's minds — and which may again
come under the review of the Courts — are the Eastward
Position and the Eucharistic Vestments, of which I have
been speaking. Nothing can be more mischievous than
for one who may have to act as a judge to appear first
as a partizan or an advocate ; and as, even under the
new law, a bishop retains some of his judicial func-
tions, I shall try to be as colourless as possible in what
I have to say ; but I should be glad to contribute what
little I may towards the fair consideration of these two
busy questions.

1. The Eastward Position of the Celebrant. — The
subject has been so largely discussed on all sides that
I have little to offer except in the way of friendly
criticism on what has been said by others. There is
no doubt but that many of the clergy have been thrown



Pastoral Leifer. -33

into grout perplexity by the supposed conflict of senti-
ment in the Mackonochie and the Purchas Judmieuts.
The Learned Judges in the former case pronounced that
the words ' standing before the table,' applied to the
whole Prayer of Consecration, and that therefore Mr.
Mackonochie offended by kneeling. It seemed to follow
of necessity that he would have equally offended if he
had stood anywhere but ' before the table.'' Yet the
Judges in the case of Hebbert v. Purchas decided that
this applied only to posture and not to position, and
that consecration must take place at the north side, or
north end, looking southward. It has not unnaturally
puzzled very learned as well as very simple brains to
reconcile these two dicta ; and a very high authority
in the law has even declared that they are irreconcile-
able. I confess that I am of that opinion myself. I
have never seen how to reconcile the reasons for the
two Judgments, though I can easily believe that both
Judgments may be correct. I say I can easily believe
— I do not venture to say that I am sure — for I think
the question still a tangled and difficult question ; and
I do not think that all which "has been written on it
has fully solved its intricacies. There is one point,
however, to which I wish particularly to call attention,
because I understand that persons on both sides think
that it throws great light on the whole subject, and
will, perhaps, in tlie end unravel all its entanglements.
It is said that when the present rubric before the
Prayer of Consecration was drawn up very few holy
tables stood as they do now, viz. north and south, but
that they stood mostly in tlie body of tlie cliurch east
and west. Hence it is tliouglit that ' before the table '
meant both at tlie nortli side and facing south, and

D



34 Pastoral Letter.

yet at the same time facing the centre of the broad
side of the table. And, curiously enough, the advocates
of opposite sides, e.g. the Dean of Bristol, Canon Trevor,
and Mr. Morton Shaw, in very able arguments, contend
that this fact will decide the question in their own
favour respectively. I believe that distinguished lawyers
have agreed in this opinion, and I know that it has
weighed with persons in very high position and of the
highest intellectual eminence. I shrink fi'om express-
ing strong dissent from an opinion so supported ; but
I have no manner of doubt that it is incorrect. I will
give my reasons for saying so, and I am open to con-
viction if they can be shown to be unsound.

The rubric at the beginning of the Communion
Service stood in 1549 as follows : —

' The priest, standing humbly afore the midst of the
altar, shall say the Lord's Prayer, with this Collect.'

No one doubts that ' afore the midst of the altar '
here meant in the centre of the west side facing east.

In 1552, and ever since to this day, the rubric has
stood as follows : —

' The table, having at the Communion time a fair
white linen cloth upon it, shall stand in the body of the
church or in the chancel, where Morning Prayer and
Evening Prayer be appointed to be said. And the
priest, standing at the north side of the table, shall say
the Lord's Prayer, with this Collect following.'^

The changes thus introduced were obviously
these : —

First. The name is changed from altar to table.^

' In our present rubric there is added * the people kneeling.'
^ This, it is said, was done in consequence of the remonstrance
of Hooper.



Pastoral Letter. 35

Secondhj. A white cloth is to be placed upon it.
Thirdly. It is (at communion time) to stand either

in the chancel or in the body of the cliurch,^

and is, therefore, to be moveable, not fixed to

the east wall.
Fourthly. Tlie priest, instead of standing ' afore '

it, is to stand at its ' north side.'
To my mind the fact that ' afore ' is changed into
' north side,' of itself proves that they are not conver-
tible terms ; bnt the point of chief importance to be
noticed is this, that though there is a direction to place
the holy table either in the chancel or in the nave
(so clearly implying that it shall be moveable, like a
table, not like an altar) yet neither here nor ever after-
wards, by rubric, canon, or Act of Parliament, was there
any injunction whatever by which the table, which had
always stood north and south, should be turned round
through an angle of 90° and stand east and west. If
there ever was such injunction, I have overlooked it,
and have tried to find it in vain. The custom was
universal that the altar or table should stand with its
ends to the north and south, with its longer sides to the
east and west. The only effect of theEubric of 1552,^
and of any subsequent legal inj mictions that I can find,
was to make it moveable and to place it, sometimes in
the chancel, sometimes (when more convenient to com-
municants) in the nave ; but no hint is given that it
should be twisted half-way round. The effect was, no

' Reading-desks had not yet obtained, and the whole service
was said at the Communion-table.

^ Let it be observed that the meaning of ' north side ' in the
Rubric of 1552 must rule the meaning in all subsequent rubrics,
and it can hardly be contended tliat in 1552 holy tables had already
been turned east and west.



36 Pastoral Letter.

doubt, to give it a ' table-wise ' iu coiitradistiiictiou to
an ' altar-wise ' position ; for it was only ' altar- wise '
according to mediseval custom when it stood at the east
end, and was fastened immoveably to the ground or to
the wall. But, I think, there can be no reasonable
doubt that in the year 1552, when first the Second
Service Book of Edward VI. came into use, all the holy
tables were standmg north and south; that when they
were first removed they were simply moved forward, re-
taining the same position relatively to the points of the
compass ; and that if the priest stood ' afore ' the table
he could not stand at the north of it, and if he stood at the
north of it he could not stand ' afore ' it.^ By degrees,
no doubt, and while Puritan opinions were rapidly
gaining ground through the reigns of Elizabeth, James
I., and Chatles L, the holy table being removed into
the nave and the nave becomino- crowded with large
pews, the custom grew up of tiurning the table east and
w'est, both to accommodate it to its place in the church,
and to make it look less and less like an altar. By de-
grees, probably, this altered position relatively to the
points of the compass came to be called the ' table-
wise ' in distinction to the ' altar-wise ' position ; and at
length we find the most Puritan-minded bishop of the
seventeenth century, Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, in
1627, instructing one of his clergy that the table was
to stand * table-wise,' by wliich he meant east and west,

• Of course, we are all aware of the difficulty of calling the end
of a table a ' side.' I confess I see no solution of it but by admitting
that the rev iseis used ' side ' equally of what we now call 'ends.'
A mathematician would now speak of the four ' sides ' of a rect-
angle or other parallelogram, whether the sides were equal or un-
equal ; and the Scotch Prayer Book did undoubtedly identify north
bide with north end. The holy tables in those days, too, were more
nearly square than they are now.



Pastoral Letter. 37

and the clergyman at the north side of it — not ' aUar-
wise' and the clergyman at the north end of it.^ Had
Bishop Williams any legal autliority for saying this ?
Even if the Eoyal Commissioners who removed the altars
and substituted tables for them had always placed them
table-wise (and I doubt if there be proof of this), still
many such acts were performed with no sufficient
authority of law. It requires proof that the action
and language of one arbitrary prelate is of more
weight than the language of another, living at the
same time, of higher rank and greater influence ; and
it is undoubted that Archbishop Laud, in the Scotch
Prayer Book, explained north side by north end. It
appears to me that there is no manner of doubt but
that the meaning of the Eubric of 1552 was that, when
the table was moved forward from the wall to the
middle of the chancel, it should be moved as anyone
would naturally move it, not altering its orientation,
but carrying it simply in its original position ; and that
when it was moved into the nave it should be placed
just before the chancel screen or chancel steps, at the
east of the nave, still with the same orientation, and
just as, I am told, is the custom now in many of the
Lutheran churches on the Continent.

The Injunctions of Elizabeth are exactly to the
same effect as the Eubric of 1552, only still more
favourable to the view which I am taking. ' The holy
table' is to be 'set in the place where the altar stood'
. . . . ' and so to stand, saving when the Communion of
the Sacrament is to be distributed ; at which time the?
same shall be so placed in good sort within the chancel,
as whereby the minister may be more conveniently
heard of the communicants in his prayer and ministra-

' ' North side or end.'



38 Pastoral Letter.

tions, and tlie communicants also more conveniently
and in some number communicate with the said minis-
ter. And after the Communion is done, trom time to
time the said holy table be placed where it stood
before.'^ When the table was placed against the wall,
without doubt it stood north and south. It was moved
forward from that position farther westward in the
chancel when necessary, and then moved back to it
again. Why should the injunction mean that on every
such occasion it was not only to be moved forward,
but also to be twisted round ? I am the more con-
vinced that there was no authority for this, from the
fact that of the many able and learned writers and
speakers, who maintain that the legal position was the
east and west position, not one has referred to any one
authoritative document in its favoitr. The only ap-
proach to authorities are the private injunction of
Williams, the great opponent of Laud, who was sure to
take the view favoured by the Puritans, and the order
of Parliament in 1640, that every Bishop should 'take
care that the communion-table in every church in his
Diocese do stand decently in the ancient ^j»/ac^ where
it ought to be by the law, and as it hath done the
greater part of the threescore years last past,' ^ Even
this order of Parliament says nothing, whatever it may
mean, as to the orientation of the Holy Table ; and it
only speaks of the practice which it enjoins as of nearly
sixty years' prevalence, whereas the original rubric of
Edward's Second Prayer Book was nearly ninety years
older.

' Cardwell Boc. Ann. vol. i. p. 201.

' Second Report of Ritual Commissioners (556;, quoted by the
Dean of Bristol, p. 27-



Pastoral Letter. 39

I maintain, then, that there neitlier is nor ever has
been any authority for placing the table east and west,
though the custom of so placing it prevailed very gene-
rally at the time when Williams tried to enforce it, and
when the Laudian bishops equally tried to break
through it.

When we come near to the time of the last revi-
sion, what do we find ? We find, first of all, Laud,
supported by the Order in Council of 1633 and tlie
Canons of 1640 (cap. 7), trying his utmost to restore
the tables to their ancient position at the east end.
The Laudian prelates stood, and encouraged others to
stand, at the north end, and, in the Scotch Prayer
Book, explained 7iortli side to mean no7'th end. To
what extent they succeeded it is not possible to say.
One difficulty they appear to have encountered, viz.
that in many churches the chancels had been pulled
down, though, perhaps, the chief destruction of this
kind may have been done during the Commonwealth.'
When the Rebellion came, of course, everything was
upset, and the churches and services came to the hands
of the revisers of 1662 in a state of chaotic confusion.
But this cannot possibly be doubted, viz. that the
bishops, who drew up the rubric concerning the position
of the celebrant before the Prayer of Consecration, as
much desired and as fully intended that the original
position of the table {i.e. north and south, against the

' Bishop Wren says on the words of the rubric to the Com-
munion office : ' Those words, or in the chancel xoheve Morning and
Evening Prayer he appointed to he said, are very ambiguous. Many
churches have now no chancels; and in the most that have, thongli
the desk for reading the px'ayers doth stand in the body of the
church, yet they use to go into the chancel to receive the Coiu-
muniou.'- -Bishop Jacobaou's Fragineniari/ Kluslralions, p. 7-1.



40 Pastoral Letter.

east wall of the chancel) should be restored, as did
their predecessors, the Laudian prelates. Such a
restoration was, no doubt, but very slowly effected ;
but is it conceivable that, whereas Laud and others
had been steadily striving to restore the ancient posi-
tion of the holy table, and whereas the bishops of
the reign of Charles II. (many of them having pre-
viously co-operated with Laud) equally desked that
til at restoration should be carried on, yet that those
very bishops should have worded their new and most
important rubric, concerning the position of the cele-
brant, in such a manner that it should correspond only
with that position of the holy table which they de-
sired to alter, which position, too, had never been given
to it by rubric, canon, or statute ? Surely it was im-
possible. If their new rubric had been applicable only
to the east and west (or, as it had come to be called, the
' table-wise ') position of the holy table, then that
rubric would have not onl}' given new sanction to that
position, but would have fastened that position for
ever on the Church.

That the Caroline Bishops would never have done
tliis is infallibly certain. The history of this rubric
itself further establishes the certainty. Whatever the
rubric may mean, it undoubtedly had reference to
what had passed in the reign of Charles I. Laud and
Wren had then been accused of consecrating eastward,
with their backs to the people ; and tlie defence set up
was that persons of small stature could not conve-
niently consecrate the elements and reach the sacred
vessels from the north end of the table. Laud, no
doubt, intended that some rule should be enacted which
would provide for standing in front of the table, at



Pastoral Letter. 41

least to arrange tlie vessels and break the bread. The
words of his MS. notes are : ' The presbyter who con-
secrates shall stand in the midst before the altar, that
he may with the more ease and decency nse both his
hands, which he cannot so conveniently do standing at
the north side (end) of it.'^ And Wren's proposal for
the new rubric was : ' Then the priest, standing before
the table, shall so order and set the bread and wine
that, while he is pronouncing the following Collect, he
may readily take the bread and break it, and also take
the cup, to pour into it (if he pour it not before), and
then he shall say. Almighty God, our Heavenly Father,
who of thy tender mercy didst give, &c.' ^


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Online LibraryChurch of England. Diocese of Winchester. Bishop (The position and parties of the English church : a pastoral letter to the clergy of the Diocese of Winchester (Volume Talbot Collection → online text (page 3 of 5)