The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 34
Ritual and Ritualism.*
Ritual and Ritualism.*
For some months past, and particularly during the closing weeks of the Session of Parliament, the word Ritualism has had, in a remarkable degree, possession of the public ear, and of the public mind. So much is clear. The road is not so easy, when we proceed to search for the exact meaning of the term. And yet the term itself is not in fault. It admits, at first sight, of an easy and unexceptionable definition. Ritualism surely means an undue disposition to ritual. Ritual itself is founded on the Apostolic precept, "Let all things be done decently and in order;" in right, graceful, or becoming figure, and by fore-ordered arrangement, 1 Cor. xiv. 40. The exterior modes of divine service are thus laid down as a distinct and proper subject for the consideration of Christians.
* From The Contemporary Review for October, 1874.
All this is intelligible enough; and, if we start with such a conception of Ritualism, we, as a people, ought to know what we think, say, and do about it. But there is another and a briefer account which may be given of it. There is a definition purely subjective, but in practice more widely prevalent than any other. According to this definition, Ritualism is to each man that which, in matter of ritual, each man dislikes, and holds to be in excess. When the term is thus used, it becomes in the highest degree deceptive; for it covers under an apparent unity meanings as many as the ripples of the smiling sea; as the shades of antagonism to, or divergence from, the most overloaded Roman ceremonial. When the term is thus employed, sympathy flies, as if it were electricity, page 7 through the crowd; but it is sympathy based upon the sound and not upon the sense. Men thus impelled mischievously but naturally mistake the strength of their feeling for the strength of their argument. The heated mind resents the chill touch and relentless scrutiny of logic. There could be no advantage, especially at the present time, in approaching such a theme from this point of view.
But perhaps it may be allowable to make an endeavour to carry this subject for a few moments out of the polemical field into the domain of thought. I have but little faith in coercion applied to matter of opinion and feeling, let its titles be ever so clear. But a word spoken in quietness, and by way of appeal to the free judgment and reason of men, can rarely fail to be in season. I propose, accordingly, to consider what is the true measure and meaning of Ritual, in order thus to arrive at a clear conception of that vice in its use which is designated by the name of Ritualism.
Ritual, then, is the clothing which, in some form, and in some degree, men naturally and inevitably give to the performance of the public duties of religion. Beyond the religious sphere the phrase is never carried; but the thing appears, and cannot but appear, under other names. In all the more solemn page 8 and stated public acts of man, we find employed that investiture of the acts themselves with an appropriate exterior, which is the essential idea of ritual. The subject-matter is different, but the principle is the same: it is the use and adaptation of the outward for the expression of the inward.
It may be asked, Why should there be any such adaptation? Why not leave things to take their course? Is not the inward enough, if it be genuine and pure? And may not the outward overlay and smother it? But human nature itself, with a thousand tongues, utters the reply. The marriage of the outward and the inward pervades the universe.
They wedded form with artful strife,
The strength and harmony of life.
And the life and teaching of Christ Himself are marked by a frequent employment of signs in which are laid the ground, and the foreshowing, both of Sacraments and of Ritual.
True indeed it is that the fire, meant to warm, may burn us; the light, meant to guide, may blind us; the food, meant to sustain, may poison us; but fire and light and food are not only useful, they are indispensable. And so it is with that universal and perpetual instinct of human nature which exacts of page 9 us, that the form given externally to our thoughts in word and act shall be one appropriate to their substance. Applied to the circle of civilized life, this principle, which gives us ritual in religion, gives us the ceremonial of Courts, the costume of Judges, the uniform of regiments, all the language of heraldry and symbol, all the hierarchy of rank and title; and which, descending through all classes, presents itself in the badges and the bands of Foresters' and Shepherds' Clubs and Benefit Societies.
To make good imputations of any kind against page 13 ourselves is but an invidious office. It would be more agreeable to leave the trial to the impartial reflection and judgment of each man. But one of the features of the case is this, that so few among us have taken the pains to form, in such matters, even a habit of observation. And, again, there are certain cases of exception to the general rule. For example, take the instance of our rural habitations. I do not speak of their architecture, nor especially do I speak of our more pretentious dwellings. But the English garden is proverbial for beauty; and the English cottage garden stands almost alone in the world: Except where smoke, stench, and the havoc of manufacturing and mining operations have utterly deformed the blessed face of Nature, the English cottager commonly and spontaneously provides some little pasture for his eye by clothing his home in the beauty of shrubs and flowers. And even where he has been thus violently deprived of his lifelong communion with Nature, or where his lot is cast in huge cities from which he scarcely ever escapes, he still resorts to potted flowers and to the song of caged birds for solace. This love of natural objects, which are scarcely ever without beauty or grace, ought to supply a basis on which to build all that is still wanting. But I turn to page 14 another chapter. The ancient ecclesiastical architecture of this country indicates a more copiously diffused love and pursuit of beauty, and a richer faculty for its production, in connection with purpose, than is to be found in the churches of any other part of Christendom. Not that we possess in our cathedrals and greater edifices the most splendid of all examples. But the parish churches of England are as a whole unrivalled; and it has been the opinion of persons of the widest knowledge, that they might even challenge without fear the united parish churches of Europe, from their wealth of beauty in all the particulars of their own styles of architecture.
Still, it does not appear that these exceptions impair the force of the general proposition, which is that as a people we are, in the business of combining beauty with utility, singularly uninstructed, unaccomplished, maladroit, unhandy. If instances must be cited, they are not far to seek. Consider the unrivalled ugliness of our towns in general. Or put Englishmen to march in a procession, and see how, instead of feeling instinctively the music and sympathy of motion, they will loll, and stroll, and straggle; it never occurs to them that there is beauty or solemnity in ordered movement, and that the instruction required is only page 15 that simple instruction which, without speech, Nature should herself supply to her pupils.
Quid facerent, ipsi nullo didicere magistro.
Take again—sad as it is to strike for once at the softer portion of the species—the dress of Englishwomen, Which, apart from rank and special gift or training or opportunity, is reputed to be the worst in the 'European world, and the most wanting alike in character and in adaptation. Take the degraded state, in point of beauty, at which all the arts of design, and all industrial production, had arrived among us some fifty years ago, in the iron age of George IV., and before the reaction which has redeemed many of them from disgrace, and raised some to real excellence.
But, indeed, in too many cases, our repentance is almost worse than our transgressions. When we begin to imbibe the conception that, after all, there is no reason why attempts should not be made to associate Beauty with usefulness, the manner of our attempts is too frequently open to the severest criticism. The so-called Beauty is administered in portentous doses of ornamentation sometimes running to actual deformity. Quantity is the measure, not quality, nor proportion. Who shall now compete with page 16 the awakened Englishwoman for the house of hair built upon her head, or for the measureless extension of her draggling train? Who shall be the rival of some English architects plastering their work with an infinity of pretentious detail in order to screen from attention inharmonious dimension and poverty of lines? Or—that I may without disguise direct the charge against the mind and spirit of the nation, embodied in its Parliament and its Government—what age or country can match the practical solecisms exhibited in the following facts and others like them? Forty years ago we determined to erect the most extensive building of Pointed architecture in the world; namely, our Houses of Parliament, or, as they are called, the Palace of Westminster. We entrusted the work to our most eminent Italian architect. Once was pretty well; but once was not enough. So, twenty years ago, we determined to erect another vast building in the Italian style; namely, a pile of public offices, or, as some would call it, a Palace of Administration; and we committed the erection of it to our most experienced and famous architect in the Pointed species. Thus each man was selected for his unacquaintance with the genius of the method in which he was to work. Who can wonder, in circumstances like these, that the spirit and soul of style are so often page 17 forgotten in its letter; that beauty itself unlearns itself, and degenerates into mere display; that for the attainment of a given end, not economy of means, but profusion of means, becomes our law and our boast; that, in the Houses of Parliament, dispersion of the essential parts over the widest possible space marks a building where the closest concentration should have been the rule; and that the Foreign Office, which is a workshop, exhibits a Staircase which no palace of the Sovereign can match in its dimensions?
If from the work of creation we turn to the world of action, the same incapacity of detecting discord, and the same tendency to solecism will appear. In what country except ours could (as I know to have happened) a parish ball have been got up in order to supply funds for procuring a parish hearse?
I shall not admit that, in these remarks, I have gone astray from the title and subject of the paper. What is Ritualism? It is unwise, undisciplined reaction from poverty, from coldness, from barrenness, from nakedness; it is overlaying Purpose with adventitious and obstructive incumbrance; it is departure from measure and from harmony in the annexation of appearance to substance, of the outward to the inward; it is the caricature of the Beautiful; it is the conversion of helps into hindrances; it is the attempted page 18 substitution of the secondary for the primary aim, and the real failure and paralysis of both. A great deal of our architecture, a great share of our industrial production has been or is, it may be feared, very Ritualistic indeed.
Let us now trace the operation of the same principle in the subject-matter of religion. We encounter the same defects, the same difficulties, the same excesses; the same want of trained habits of observation; the same forgetfulness of proportion; the same danger of burying it under a mass of ornament.
It must be admitted that the state of things, from which the thing popularly known as Ritualism took historically its point of departure, was dishonouring to Christianity, disgraceful to the nation; disgraceful most of all to that much-vaunted religious sentiment of the English public, which in impenetrable somnolence endured it, and resented all interference with it. Nakedness enough there was, fifty and forty years ago, of divine service and of religious edifices, among the Presbyterians of Scotland, and among the Nonconformists of England. But, among these, the outward fault was to a great extent redeemed by the cardinal virtues of earnestness and fervour. The prayer of the minister was at least listened to with a pious attention, and the noblest of all the sounds that can reach the page 19 human ear was usually heard in the massive swell, and solemn fall, of the united voices of the congregations. But within the ordinary English Parish Church of town or country, there was no such redeeming feature in the action of the living, though the inanimate treasure of the Prayer-book yet remained. Its warmth was stored, like the material of fire in our coal seams, for better days. It was still the surviving bed or mould, in which higher forms of religious thought and feeling were some day to be cast. But the actual state of things, as to worship, was bad beyond all parallel known to me in experience or reading. Taking together the expulsion of the poor and labouring classes (especially from the town churches), the mutilations and blockages of the fabrics, the baldness of the service, the elaborate horrors of the so-called music, with the jargon of parts contrived to exhibit the powers of every village roarer, and to prevent all congregational singing; and above all, the coldness and indifference of the lounging or sleeping congregations, our services were probably without a parallel in the world for their debasement; and as they would have shocked a Brahmin or a Buddhist, so they hardly could have been endured in this country had not the faculty of taste, and the perception of the seemly or unseemly, been as dead as the spirit of devotion. page 20 There were exceptions, and the exceptions were beginning slowly to grow in number: but I speak of the general state of things, such as I can myself recollect it. In some places the older traditions and spirit of the Church had survived all the paralysing influences of the first Hanoverian generations; in others they were commended to the people by the lofty spirit and English pluck of men like Dr. Hook; in many cathedrals, with stateliness, a remnant of true dignity was preserved; and in a third class of cases the clergy known as Evangelical had infused into their congregations a reverent sense of the purpose for which they met together. For this and other services they were pointed at with the finger of scorn by the very same stamp of people as those who are now most fervid in denouncing the opposite section. And it was for reasons not very different; both were open to the charge that they did not thoroughly conform to the prescriptions of the Prayer-book; both were apt to slide into the attitude and feeling of a clique; both rather abounded in self-confidence, and were viewed askance by authority; both, it must be added, were zealous, and felt, or held, to be troublesome. But of the general tone of the services in the Church of England at that time I do not hesitate to say, it was such as when carefully considered would have shocked not only an page 21 earnest Christian of whatever communion, but any sincere believer in God, any one who held that there was a Creator and Governor of the world, and that His creatures ought to worship Him. And that which I wish to press upon the mind of the reader is, that this state of things was one with which the members of the Church generally were quite content. It was not by lay associations with long purses that the people were with difficulty and with much resistance awakened out of this state of things. It was by the reforming Bishops and Clergy of the Church of England. And, though the main source of the evil without doubt lay deeper, such an amount of effort could hardly have been needed, had the faculties and life of Art been more widely diffused in the country.
* Il, iv. 405.
The truth is, that, in the word Ritualism, there is involved much more than the popular mind seems to suppose. The present movement in favour of ritual is not confined to ritualists, neither is it confined even to Churchmen. It has been, when all things are considered, quite as remarkable among Nonconformists and Presbyterians; not because they have as much of it, but because they formerly had none, and because their system appeared to have been devised and adjusted in order to prevent its introduction, and to fix upon it even in limine the aspect of a flagrant departure from first principles. Crosses on the outside of chapels, organs within them, rich painted architecture, that flagrant piece of symbolism, the steeple, windows filled with subjects in stained glass, elaborate chanting, the use of the Lord's prayer, which is no more than the thin end of the wedge that is to introduce fixed forms, and the partial movements in favour of such forms already developed, are among the signs which, taken all together, form a group of phenomena evidently referable to some cause far more deep and wide-working than mere servile imitation, or the fashion of the day. In the case of the organ, be it recollected that many who form part of the crême de page 25 la crême of Protestantism have now begun to use that which the Pope does not hear in his own Chapel or his sublime Basilica, and which the entire Eastern Church has ever shrunk from employing in its services.
With this I will mention a familiar matter, though it may provoke a smile. It is the matter of clerical costume; on which I will not scruple to say that, in my judgment, the party of costume is right. A costume for the clergy is as much connected with discipline and self-respect as an uniform for the army, and is no small guarantee for conduct. The disuse of clerical costume was a recent innovation; but thirty-five or forty years ago the abuse had become almost universal. It was consummated by the change in lay fashions—a very singular one—to a nearly exclusive use by men of black. The reaction began in the cut of the waistcoat, which, as worn by the innovators, was buttoned all the way up to the cravat. This was deemed so distinctly Popish, that it acquired the nickname of "The Mark of the Beast;" and it is a fact that, among the tailors of the west-end of London, this shape of waistcoat was familiarly known as "the M. B. waistcoat." Any one who will now take the pains to notice the dress of the regular Presbyterian or Dissenting minister will, I think, find that, in a page 26 great majority of instances, he too, when in his best, wears, like the clergyman, the M. B. waistcoat.
* [Another case almost exactly similar has recently been reported in the newspapers at East Harborne, near Birmingham.]
This is matter of fact, and of the very widest reach, compassing a field of which but a little corner was covered by the recent Act of Parliament; and now the question rises to the lip, Ought this matter of fact, which will scarcely be disputed, to be viewed with satisfaction or with displeasure?
In my opinion this is a question extremely difficult to answer; and I will not affect to be able to give it a complete reply. It seems to me that ritual is, in what amount I do not attempt now to inquire, a legitimate accompaniment, nay, effect, of the religious life; but I view with mistrust and jealousy all tendency, wherever shown, either to employ ritual as its substitute, or to treat ritual as its producing cause. All, however, that I have thus far endeavoured to insinuate is, that the subject is a very large one—that it cannot be dealt with offhand—that it is exceedingly significant and pregnant in the manifestations it supplies. If we do not live in one of the great thinking ages, we live in an age which supplies abundant materials of thought; and with the many problems, which we shall leave to our children for solution, we may hand down to them the cordial wish that they page 28 may make more profitable use of these materials than we have done.
If we survey the Christian world, we shall have occasion to observe that ritual does not bear an unvarying relation to doctrine. The most notable proof of this assertion is to be found in the Lutheran communion. It is strongly and, except where opinion has deviated in the direction of rationalism, uniformly Protestant. But in portions of the considerable area over which it stretches, for example, in Denmark, in Sweden and Norway, even on the inhospitable shores of Iceland, altars, vestments, lights, (if not even incense) are retained: the clergyman is called the priest, and the Communion Office is termed the Mass. But there is no distinction of doctrine whatever between Swedish or Danish, and German Lutherans: nor, according to the best authorities, has the chain of the Episcopal succession been maintained in those countries. Even in this country, there are some of those clergy who are called Broadchurchmen, some who have a marked indifference to doctrine, and something like a hatred of dogma, yet who also are inclined to musical ornament, and other paraphernalia of Divine service. From these facts, as well as from the growing ritual of the non-Episcopal Christians of this country, we may perceive that the unqualified breadth with page 29 which the argument has been drawn from ritual to doctrine in our discussions has evinced something of that precipitancy to which, from the narrow and insular character of his knowledge, as well as from the vigour of his will, the Englishman is particularly liable. Here also, from that deficiency which I have noted in the faculty of adapting the outward to the inward, he is apt to blunder into confounding what is appropriate and seemly with what partakes of excess or invidious meaning. At the same time, an important connection between high doctrine and high ritual is to be traced to a considerable extent in the Church of England, and in commenting on over-statement I do not seek to understate. This connection is, however, for the present hopelessly mixed with polemical considerations, and therefore excluded from the field of these remarks.
But there is a question, which it is the special purpose of this paper to suggest for consideration by my fellow-Christians generally, which is more practical and of greater importance, as it seems, to me, and has far stronger claims on the attention of the nation and of the rulers of the Church, than the question whether a handful of the clergy are or not engaged in an utterly hopeless and visionary effort to Romanise the Church and people of England. At no time since the sanguinary reign of Mary has such a scheme been page 30 possible. But if it had been possible in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, it would still have become impossible in the nineteenth; when Rome has subisttuted for the proud boast of semper eadem a policy of violence and change in faith; when she has refurbished and paraded anew every rusty tool she was fondly thought to have disused; when no one can become her convert without renouncing his moral and mental freedom, and placing his civil loyalty and duty at the mercy of another; and when she has equally repudiated modern thought and ancient history. I cannot persuade myself to feel alarm as to the final issue of her crusades in England, and this although I do not undervalue her great powers of mischief. But there are questions of our own religious well-being that lie nearer home. And one of them is whether, as individuals, we can justly and truly say that the present movement in favour of ritual is a healthy movement for each of us; that is whether it gives or does not give us assistance in offering a more collected act of worship, when we enter the temple of the Most High, and think we go there to offer before Him the sacrifice of praise and prayer, and thanksgiving? Of one thing we may be quite certain, and it is this. To accumulate observances of ritual is to accumulate responsibility. It is the adoption of a higher standard of religious pro- page 31 fession; and it requires a higher standard of religious practice. If we study, by appropriate or by rich embellishment, to make the Church more like the ideal of the House of God, and the services in it more impressive, by outward signs of His greatness and goodness, and of our littleness and meanness, all these are so many voices, audible and intelligible, though inarticulate, and to let them sound in our ears unheeded, is an offence against His majesty. If we are not the better for more ritual, we are the worse for it. A general augmentation of ritual, such as we see on every side around us, if it be without any corresponding enhancement of devotion, means more light, but not more love.
Indeed, it is even conceivable, nay far from improbable, that augmentation of ritual may import not increase but even diminution of fervour. Such must be the result in every case where the imagery of the eye and ear, actively multiplied, is allowed to draw off the energy, which ought to have its centre in the heart. There cannot be a doubt that the beauty of the edifice, the furniture, and the service, though their purpose be to carry the mind forward, may induce it to rest upon those objects themselves. Wherever the growth and progress of ritual, though that ritual be in itself suitable and proper, is accepted, whether consciously page 32 or unconsciously, and whether in whole or in part, by the individual, as standing in the stead of his own concentration and travail of spirit in devotion, there the ritual, though good in itself, becomes for him so much formality, that is so much deadness. Now there are multitudes of people who will accede at once to this proposition, who will even hold it to be no more than a truism, but with a complacent conviction, in the background of their minds, that it does not touch their case at all. They may be Presbyterians or Noncon-formists; or they may be Churchmen whose clergyman preaches against Popery open or concealed, or who have themselves subscribed liberally to prosecute the Rev. this, or the Rev. that, for Ritualism. No matter. They, and their clergyman too, may nevertheless be flagrant Ritualists. For the barest minimum of ritual may be a screen hiding from the worshipper the Object of his worship: nay, will be such a screen, unless the worshipper bestirs himself to use it as a help, and to see that it is not a snare.
In the class of cases supposed, the ready aquiescence of a few moments back has by this time probably been converted into a wondering scepticism. And there is at first sight something of paradox in the assertion that all ritual, not only elaborate but modest, not only copious but scanty, has its dangers. It seems page 33 hard to preach suspicion and misgiving against what is generally approved or accepted by the most undeniable Protestants. But the very same person who errs by making his own conscience in ritual a measure for the consciences of other men, lest they should run to excess, may be himself in surfeit while he dooms them to starve, for what is famine to them may be to him excess: what they can assimilate may be to him indigestible. It is difficult, I think, to fix a maximum of ritual for all times and persons, and to predicate that all beyond the line must be harmful; but it is impossible to fix a minimum, and then to say, up to that point we are safe. No ritual is too much, provided it is subsidiary to the inner work of worship: and all ritual is too much, unless it ministers to that purpose.
If there be paradox in this assertion, the explanation of it is not far to seek. It will be found in the removal of a prevailing and dangerous error in kindred subject-matter. It is too commonly assumed that, provided only we repair to our church or our chapel, as the case may be, the performance of the work of adoration is a thing which may be taken for granted. And so it is, in the absence of unequivocal signs to the contrary, as between man and man. But not as between the individual man and his own conscience page 34 in the hour of self-review. If he knows anything of himself, and unless he be a person of singularly-favoured gifts, he will know that the work of Divine worship, so far from being a thing of course even among those who outwardly address themselves to its performance, is one of the most arduous which the human spirit can possibly set about. The processes of simple self-knowledge are difficult enough. All these, when a man worships, should be fresh in his consciousness: and this is the first indispensable condition for a right attitude of the soul before the footstool of the Eternal. The next is a frame of the affections adjusted on the one hand to this self-knowledge, and on the other to the attributes, and the more nearly felt presence, of the Being before Whom we stand. And the third is the sustained mental effort necessary to complete the act, wherein every Christian is a Priest; to carry our whole selves, as it were with our own hands, into that nearer Presence, and, uniting the humble and unworthy prosphora with the one full perfect and sufficient Sacrifice, to offer it upon the altar of the heart: putting aside every distraction of the outward sense, and endeavouring to complete the individual act as fully, as when in loneliness, after departing out of the flesh, we shall see eternal things no longer page 35 through but without a veil. Now, considering how we live, and must live, our common life in and by the senses, how all sustained mental abstraction is an effort, how the exercise of sympathy itself, which is such a power in Christian worship, is also a kind of bond to the visible; and, then, last of all, with what feebleness and fluctuation, not to say with what wayward duplicity, of intention we undertake the work, is it not too clear that in such a work we shall instinctively be too apt to remit our energies, and to slide unawares into mere perfunctory performance? And where and in proportion as the service of the body is more careful, and the exterior decency and solemnity of the public assembling more unimpeachable, these things themselves may contribute to form important elements of that inward self-complacency which makes it so easy for us, whenever we ourselves are judge and jury as well as 'prisoner at the bar,' to obtain a verdict of acquittal. In other words, the very things, which find their only sufficient warrant in their capacity and fitness to assist the work of inward worship, are particularly apt to be accepted by the individual himself as a substitute for inward worship, on account of that very capacity and fitness, of their inherent beauty and solemnity, of their peculiar and unworldly type. So that ritual, because page 36 it is full of uses, is also full of dangers. Though it is clear that men increase responsibility by augmenting it, they do not escape from danger by its diminution: nothing can make ritual safe except the strict observance of its purpose, namely, that it shall supply wings to the human soul in its callow efforts at upward flight. And, such being the meaning of true ritual, the just measure of it is to be found in the degree in which it furnishes that assistance to the individual Christian.
The changes, then, in our modes of performing Divine service ought to be answers to the inward call of minds advancing and working upwards in the great work of inward devotion. But when we see the extraordinary progress of ritual observance during the last generation, who is there that can be so sanguine as to suppose that there has been a corresponding growth of inward fervour, and of mental intelligence, in our general congregations? There is indeed a rule of simple decency to which, under all circumstances, we should strive to rise—for indecency in public worship is acted profanity, and is grossly irreligious in its effects. But when the standard of decency has once been attained, ought not the further steps to be vigilantly watched, I do not say by law, but by conscience? There are influences at work page 37 among us, far from spiritual, which may work in the direction of formalism through the medium of ritual. The vast amount of new made wealth in the country does not indeed lead to a display as profuse in the embellishment of the house of God, as in our own mansions, equipages, or dresses. Yet the wealthy, as such, have a preference for churches and for services with a certain amount of ornament: and it is quite possible that no small part of what we call the improvements in fabrics and in worship may be due simply to the demand of the richer man for a more costly article, and thus may represent not the spiritual growth but the materializing tendencies of the age. Again, there is a wider diffusion of taste among the many, though the faculty itself may not, with the few, have gained a finer edge; and, with this, the sense of the incongruous, and the grotesque, cannot but make some way. Here is another agency, adapted to improving the face and form of our religious services, without that which I would contend is the indispensable condition of all real and durable improvement—namely, a corresponding growth in the appreciation of the inward work of devotion. But a third and very important cause, working in the same direction, has been this. The standard of life and of devotion has risen among the page 38 clergy far more generally, and doubtless also more rapidly, than among the laity. It is more than possible that, in many instances, their own enlarged and elevated conception of what Divine service ought to be in order to answer the genuine demands of their own inward life, may have induced them to raise it in their several churches beyond any real capacity of their congregations to appreciate and turn it to account.
Even in the theatres of our day, the spectacle threatens to absorb the drama; and show, which should be the servant, to become the master. Much more is the danger real in the sanctuary, for the function of an audience is mainly passive, but that of a congregation is one of high and arduous, though unseen, activity.
But it is time to draw together the threads of this slight discourse upon a subject very far indeed from slight. Whatever may be said of the merits of authoritative and coercive repression in matters of ritual—and I am not very sanguine as to its effects—assuredly they never can dispense with the necessity, or perform the office, of the moral restraints of an awakened conscience. Some may be found to dispute the proposition that their gripe is hard, where a tender touch is needed; but who can question that they will reach but few, where many require page 39 a lesson? Attendance on religious services is governed among us to a great extent, especially in towns, and most of all in the metropolis, by fashion, taste, and liking: but no preference is really admissible in such a matter, except the strict answer of the conscious mind to the question, What degree and form of ritual is it that helps me, and what is it that hampers and impedes me, in the performance of the work for which all congregations of Christians assemble in their several churches?
If we consider the nature of Divine Service altogether at large, the presumption is against alteration, as such, in the manner of it. For the nature of God and the nature of man, and the relation of the one to the other, are constant; and in this solemn subject-matter, mere fashion, which is a principle of change questionable even in other departments, and which may be defined as change for its own sake, ought to have no place whatever. The varieties required by local circumstances or temperaments can be no novelties, and will probably in the lapse of time have asserted themselves sufficiently in the subsisting arrangements.
|1.||Is it legally binding? an inquiry, in which the element of desuetude cannot be absolutely excluded from the view of a clergyman or of his flock.|
|2.||Is it in its own nature favourable to devout and intelligent adoration of God in the sanctuary?|
|3.||Will it increase, or will it limit, the active participation of the flock in the service?|
|4.||Is it conformable to the spirit of the Prayer-Book?|
|5.||Is it agreeable to the desires of this particular congregation?page 41|
|6.||Is it adapted to their religious and their mental condition; and likely to bring them nearer to God in the act of worship, or to keep them further from Him; to collect or to disperse their thoughts, to warm or to freeze their affections?|
It seems to me that, as a general rule, an answer to all these questions should be ready before a change in ritual is adopted: and that, where law interposes no impediment, still, if any of them has to be answered in the negative, such changes can hardly be allowable.
Except in the single case where the standard of decency has not been reached, I am wholly at a loss to conceive any excuse for contravening the general sense of a congregation by optional changes in ritual. If the clergyman thinks the matter to be one of principle, should he not instruct them? If he sees it to be one of taste and liking, should he not give way to them? Should he not be the first to perceive and hold that unsettlement in matters of religion is in itself no small evil: and to reflect that, by making precipitately some change which he approves, he may prepare the way and establish the precedent for a like precipitancy in other changes which he does not approve? Especially, what case can there be (except that of decency, and such a page 42 case can hardly be probable) in which he will be justified in repelling and dispersing his congregation for the sake of his service? Doubtless it is conceivable, that Divine Service may be rendered by careful ritual more suitable to the dignity of its purpose. But let us take, on the other hand, a church where a ritual thus improved has been forced upon a congregation to whom its provisions were like an unknown tongue, and whom it has therefore banished from the walls of the sanctuary. Is it conceivable that such a spectacle can be a pleasing one in the sight of the Most High? Did Christianity itself come down into the world in abstract perfection and in full development? or was it not rather opened on the world with nice regard to the contracted pupil of the human eye which it was gradually to enlarge, unfolding itself from day to day, in successive lessons of doctrine and event, here a little and there a little? The jewels in the crown of the Bride are the flocks within the walls of the temple; and men ever so hard of hearing are better than an empty bench.
I will, however, presume to express a favourable inclination towards one class of usages, with a corresponding aversion to their opposites. I heartily appreciate whatever, within the limits of the Prayer page 43 Book, tends to augment the active participation of the laity in the services: as for example their joining audibly in the recital of the General Thanksgiving; or the aid they may give the clergyman (often so valuable even in a physical point of view) by reading the Lessons.*
Again, if ritual be on the increase among us, ought it not to receive at once its complement and (in one sense) its counterpoise, in a greater care, fervency, and power, of preaching? Nothing, in my opinion, is of more equivocal tendency than high ritual with a low appreciation of Christian doctrine. But if there be high ritual and sound doctrine too, these will not excuse inadequate appreciation or use of the power of the pulpit. If ritual does its work in raising the temper of devotion, it is a preparation for corresponding elevation in the work of the preacher: and if the preacher is able to warm, to interest, and to edify his hearers, then he improves their means of profiting by ritual, and arms them against its dangers.
* [I notice with pleasure that this practice has not yet suffered the blight of association with party. It is observed truly that there is no pointing of the clauses in the General Thanksgiving, as there is in the General Confession. But the epithet general, used in both cases, appears to suggest like practice in each; though I admit it may also mean a thanksgiving for blessings generally, as distinguished from particular blessings. Without presuming to give an opinion, I may be allowed to hope the practice is not illegal.]
But if self-will and want of consideration for others have been, and, in a diminished degree are still, a snare to the clergy, have not we of the laity the same infirmities with far less excuse? Is it not strange to see with what tenacity many a one of us will, when he casually attends a church other than his usual one, adhere to some usage or non-usage perfectly indifferent, but with the effect either of giving positive scandal or of exciting notice, that is, of distracting those around him from their proper work? How is this like the Apostle's ride, who was all things to all men? Or have we found out that the rules of Scripture were made, as well as the discipline of the Church, for the clergy alone? But even if it he the layman's privilege at once to rule the Church and to disobey it at his will, how is it that he does not respect the feelings of other laymen by decently conforming in all matters indifferent to the usages of the congregation to which he has chosen for the nonce to attach himself? It is much to be feared that when the clergyman has unlearned his own unreasonableness, he may still have to endure much from the unreasonableness of some handful of units among his flock. But if he be indeed worthy of his exalted office, he will see in the first place how little charity to the recalcitrant there will be in forcing page 45 on them even improvements which to them can only be stumblingblocks. Next, if he put on the armour of patience and of love, he will soon become aware of its winning efficacy. Lastly, there is an expedient which is in his own hands, and to which he cannot be prevented from resorting. Those defective perceptions of the outward manner of things, which I take to be national, must often make their mark on the clergy as well as on us of the laity. I remember long ago hearing a clergyman (who left the Church of England a few days later) complain of a want of reverence in his choir boys, with a demeanour, though it was in his beautiful church, fit for a tavern. The first, and last, and most effective article of ritual is deep reverence in the clergyman himself. Nothing can supply its place; and it will go far to supply the place of everything. It abhors affectation; and it does not consist in bowings and genuflexions, or in any definite acts: nequeo monstrare, et sentio tantum. The reason why this reverence is the most precious part of ritual, is because ritual in general consists ex vi termini in symbol; but reverence means, together with a sign, a thing signified. It lives and moves and has its being in a profound sense of the Divine presence, expressing itself through a suit- page 46 able outward demeanour. But if the demeanour be without the sentiment, it is not reverence, it is only the husk and shell of reverence. The clergyman is necessarily the central point of his congregation. Their reverence cannot rise above his; and their everence will if insensibly yet continually approach his. If this be the key-note of the service, questions of ritual will adjust themselves in harmony with it. And one reason why the point may be more safely pressed is, because reverence need not be the property or characteristic of any school in particular. It distinguished the Margaret Chapel of forty years ago, when the pastors of that church were termed Evangelical. It subsisted in that same chapel thirty years ago, when Mr. Oakley (now alas! ours no more), and Mr. Upton Richards gave to its very simple services, such as would now scarcely satisfy an average congregation, and where the fabric was little less than hideous, that true solemnity which is in perfect concord with simplicity. The Papal Church now enjoys the advantages of the labours of Mr. Oakley; who united to a fine musical taste, a much finer and much rarer gift, in discerning and expressing the harmony between the inward purposes of Christian worship and its outward investiture, and who then had gathered round him a congregation page 47 the most devout and hearty that I (for one) have ever seen in any communion of the Christian world.
And now, for my last word, I will appeal to high authority.
In the fourteenth chapter of Saint Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians may be found, what I would call the code of the New Testament upon ritual. The rules laid down by the Apostle to determine the comparative value of the gifts then so common in the Church will be found to contain the principles applicable to the regulation of Divine service; and it is touching to observe that they are immediately subjoined to that wonderful effusion describing "Charity," with which no ethical eloquence of Greece or Rome can suitably compare. The highest end, in the Apostle's mind, seems to be (v. 5) "that the church may receive edifying." At present there is a disposition to treat a handful of men as scapegoats; and my fear is not only that they may suffer injustice, but lest far wider evils, than any within their power to cause or cure, should creep onwards unobserved. As rank bigotry, and what is far worse, base egotistic selfishness may find their account, at moments like this, in swelling the cry of Protestantism, so much of no less rank worldliness may lurk in the fashionable tendency page 48 not only to excessive but even to moderate ritual. The best touchstone for dividing what is wrong and defining what is right in the exterior apparel of Divine service will be found in the holy desire and authoritative demand of the Apostle, "that the Church may receive edifying," rather than in abstract imagery of perfection on the one hand, or any form of narrow traditional prejudice on the other.
Note.—I subjoin to the article, now reprinted, Six Resolutions, in which, when the Public Worship Bill was before the House of Commons (July 1874), I endeavoured to set forth what appeared to me to offer a more safe and wise basis of legislation.
|[1.||That, in proceeding to consider the provisions of the bill for the Regulation of Public Worship, this House cannot do otherwise than take into view the lapse of more than two centuries since the enactment of the present Rubrics of the Common Prayer Book of the Church of England; the multitude of particulars embraced in the conduct of divine service under their provisions; the doubts occasionally attaching to their interpretation, and the number of points they are thought to leave undecided; the diversities of local custom which under these circumstances have long prevailed; and the unreasonableness of proscribing all varieties of opinion and usage among the many thousands of congregations of the Church distributed throughout the land.|
|2.||That this House is therefore reluctant to place in the hands of every single Bishop, on the motion of one or of three persons howsoever page 49 defined, greatly increased facilities towards procuring an absolute ruling of many points hitherto left open and reasonably allowing of diversity; and thereby towards the establishment of an inflexible rule of uniformity throughout the land, to the prejudice, in matters indifferent, of the liberty now practically existing.|
|3.||That the House willingly acknowledges the great and exemplary devotion of the clergy in general to their sacred calling, but is not on that account the less disposed to guard against the indiscretion, or thirst for power, or other fault of individuals.|
|4.||That the House is therefore willing to lend its best assistance to any measure recommended by adequate authority, with a view to provide more effectual securities against any neglect of or departure from strict, law which may give evidence of a design to alter, without the consent of the nation, the spirit or substance of the established religion.|
|5.||That, in the opinion of the House, it is also to be desired that the members of the Church, having a legitimate interest in her services, should receive ample protection against precipitate and arbitrary changes of established custom by the sole will of the clergyman, and against the wishes locally prevalent among them; and that such protection does not appear to be afforded by the provisions of the bill now before the House.|
|6.||That the House attaches a high value to the concurrence of Her Majesty's Government with the ecclesiastical authorities in the initiative of legislation affecting the Established Church.]|