Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

(Christchurch Press, February 6.)

page 9

(Christchurch Press, February 6.)

All persons who care for the welfare of the Episcopal Church in this colony, and, indeed, all who are even well affected towards religious organizations of any kind, must sympathise with the tone of the letter from Dean Jacobs, published by us yesterday, relating to the disgraceful—the very disgraceful—disputes about the Primacy. The conduct of the Bishops of Wellington and Nelson is nothing short of scandalous. That is by no means too strong a term to use, and we are sure that we only echo the general feeling of the community when we make use of the phrase. We are not concerned to enquire which of the Bishops is the most to blame. The general public, both the religious and the irreligious, care but little about the merits of the dispute, if indeed a shameful quarrel about technicalities can be said to have any merits at all. Ecclesiastical lawyers and Laymen of an ecclesiastical turn of mind may find it a labour of love to discuss the pros and cons, and argue upon the interpretation of Canons, but we are sure that the vast majority of persons anxious for the welfare of the Church of England in this colony fee nothing but shame and anger in watching the progress of the struggle between these two Christian prelates for the possession of an empty title. If any men more than others in the Church are expected to set an example of Christian charity and unselfishness, surely two aged Bishops, neither of whom can expect a much extended lease of life, are those men. But, as it is, there is no half fledged curate in the colony who would not be ashamed to have caused such embarrassment to the Church as they have done. The Bishop of Wellington forfeited much of the respect due to his long services and high position when it was discovered that he was the secret slanderer of Mr. Bryce; and the Bishop of Nelson's love of political controversy has, ere now, got him into hot water. But we certainly never expected that these Bishops would, in this manner, raise their hands against the Church which they have both for so long served. We do not agree with those who attribute the conduct of the Bishops to even the meaner motive of a desire to impede the acceptance of office by Archdeacon Julius, fearing that his reputation for vigour, eloquence, and well directed zeal would cast their own into the shade. But it is, perhaps, as well that the Bishops of Wellington and Nelson should know that there are many uncharitable persons who give them credit for no higher motives than this, and it must be admitted that the Bishops' conduct lays their motives open to this misconstruction. We see in their action nothing but a proof that Bishops are but mortal after all, and have their full share of vanities and follies. Still it is distressing to find that the vanity of two Bishops should have been brought into such bold relief by this unhappy quarrel. We entertain no doubt whatever that the Bishop of Wellington, morally, at all events, had originally the best of the dispute. He can at least claim to have been the chosen Primate, and his claims to assume that dignity are, if invalid, invalid only on technical grounds. Had the Bishop of Nelson not endeavored to take advantage of these technicalities, no trouble would ever have arisen, and we think that his action was wholly unworthy of his position as a high officer in the Christian Church. But, of course, the action of the Bishop of Wellington, in disputing the action of the Standing Committee, again on technical grounds, and still claiming to be Primate, and endeavoring by the suggestion of further technical difficulties to impede the consecration of the new Bishop, brings him quite down to the level of Bishop Suter. We are simply amazed that the Bishops do not see the error of their ways. The contention that they are only asserting their claims in order to avoid confusion hereafter is akin to the excuse which some men make for going to law or doing other harsh things when they claim to be acting on principle. The only safe principle for a Christian Bishop to act upon in matters relating to his own position is the golden rule of the Divine Head of their Church.

We believe that the Bishops have very likely been led astray by that little knot of satellites and parasites who always surround persons in high office with high-sounding titles, and they may possibly have been induced to believe that the public were anxious that the dispute should be settled by a binding decision as to who is legally in the right. But if so, their Lordships have been most woefully misled. In the first place, it is a matter of very little consequence who is primate. It is of some consequence who should be a Bishop, but as the Primate must be a Bishop, and is really nothing more in this colony than the titular head of the Bishops and the Chairman of the General Synod, it is not of much consequence which of the Bishops is Primate. Nor does it matter to anybody but persons with a diseased appetite for argument as to the construction of Canons, whether the Bishop of Wellington was rightly or wrongly elected Primate, But page 10 it does matter very much that there should be two persons at the same time claiming the Primacy, and it is of the utmost importance that the dispute should be ended at once, and peace restored to the Church.

The question then is, How is the matter to be settled? for as the dispute has arisen some decision must be arrived at. The Bishop of Nelson's proposal preposterous and insulting to everybody of intelligence. One suggestion which found a considerable amount of favor was that the three Bishops should call together the General Synod, An alternative proposed by Dean Jacobs, which has a great deal to be said in its favor, is for the Bishop of Wellington to resign the Primacy. If he will do so, he will have made the best amends now in his power for whatever ill he has done, and he will earn the gratitude of all who are anxious for the welfare of the Church. If Bishop Hadfield takes this course, then Bishop Suter will, beyond all doubt, become the acting Primate, or, at any rate, become entitled to call together the General Synod, and if he should then decline to summon it for the election of Primate he will deserve universal condemnation, and will render it most manifest that his only object is to grasp, by an accident, a position and power which he feels he would never acquire in the proper way by the suffrages of the Clergy and Laity of the Synod.

There can be no doubt that this is the course which the Bishops will follow it they have any regard for their Church. But we do not think it is well to proceed on the assumption that the Bishops have come to their senses, and will do what is right without pressure. We think, therefore, that Churchmen, both Clerical and Lay, should take care, either by public meetings or petitions, to let the Bishops know at once what is expected of them. If, unhappily, the Bishops or either of them should still prove obdurate, we feel sure that their conduct will lead to large secessions from the Church. The Constitution of the Church will have been proved to have been too autocratic for this democratic age, and there will be many Churchmen who will desire to worship God in some other Church, where their endeavors for its progress and welfare cannot be thwarted by the high handed and autocratic conduct of any vain or arrogant Bishop.

We deeply regret that the closing days of Bishop Harper's episcopacy should have been embittered by this unseemly dispute, and we are glad to bear testimony to the fact that he is to be acquitted of all blame in the matter. It is a pity that the Bishops of Nelson and Wellington had not more regard for their venerable colleague than to bring all this trouble about his head just as he is closing his long and useful career as a Christian Bishop.