In conclusion we must observe that many opinions have been introduced, from which, we doubt not, our readers will dissent; we regret this, but it is unavoidable. Our object has been Truth, not to compromise with error, nor knowingly pander to any prejudice, aristocratic or democratic. We have an aversion to war, foreign and domestic; nor do we love spoliation either on the part of the People or their Rulers.
The land is full of miseries; we share them not, neither do we profit by them; but it is the impulse of our nature to wish to see them alleviated. In place of a bad government we wish a good one substituted; for it is not individuals, but the power of the State, directed by intelligence, which must administer to the maladies of a nation. And even wisdom and good intentions, without co-operation on the part of the community, would be unavailing. Public disorders of long standing and extremely complicated require deliberation as well as remedial applications.
But while we crave indulgence for an Administration we believe patriotic, it must be an indulgence accompanied with constant watchfulness, and even suspicion, on the part of the People. In our Dedication, written about a twelvemonth since, we expressed a want of confidence in the Whig Ministry. In the interval they have gained on our esteem.
They mean well, but the difficulties they have to surmount are great. Arrayed against them are all the interests identified with public abuses, and which have so long flourished by the ruin of the country; but they must be compelled to yield. The People are quiescent; it is the quiescence of hope: should doubt prevail, they will rise in their might and scatter the band—the factious band that would interpose its selfish ends between the weal of twenty-four millions of persons.
The People have nobly done their duty, and Ministers must do Edition: current; Page: [ viii ] theirs. In the words of their chief, they are individually pledged to the Reform Bill; it is the tenure of administration. They know their power; and to have held office so long without the means and determination to accomplish the public wish, would have been basely perfidious,—it would have been treachery to the nation. Their honour is bound up in the Bill—our patriotic Monarch is faithful—the People are unanimous—and it must be carried in all its integrity.
Every interest in the empire is abased, shaken, or powerless, except that of Reform, and it must triumph: it is essential to the harmony of the Constitution and the peace of the community. Hitherto, in their domestic policy, Ministers have claims on the confidence of the public. In Ireland they have endeavoured to substitute national interests and toleration, for the reign of factions and religious feuds. They have not fomented plots, nor sought by new laws to abridge popular liberties. They have entered on the Augean stable of judicial abuses. They have cut down a part of our enormous establishments; they have even touched their own salaries, and meditate further reductions.
In the work of economy has consisted their greatest difficulty; it tends to generate opposition and discontent among those who ought to be their servants, and, by impairing future prospects, dilutes the zeal of mercenary supporters; but it has conciliated the esteem of the People. Abroad they have maintained peace and leaned to the side of constitutional governments.
The battle of continental freedom is not yet won. A terrible phalanx is couched in the North and East, which waits only the acquiescence or neutrality of this country to open a new crusade against liberal institutions. While England and France are united, the hordes of Tyrants will not break from their ambush.
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Englishmen are awake! Feudal pretexts of national rivalry and hereditary hate will not excite hostile feelings towards a nation with which so many interests in common ought to unite them in amicable bonds. They rightly appreciate the Aberdeen school of foreign politics; they will not again suffer the produce of industry to be squandered and future calamities entailed in support of aristocratic wars,—in support of wars to defend Misrule at home and Despotism abroad! So long as Ministers pursue national objects, they will be supported. They have opposed to them only that delinquent Muster-roll with whose names are associated every lavish grant—every attack on public liberty—every insolence of authority for the last forty years.
That they should be vanquished by a set like this, when supported by the People, is impossible. While, however, we seek for them popular aid, it is, we repeat, an aid accompanied with unceasing vigilance. Government is Edition: current; Page: [ x ] power, and its agents will luxuriate in the enjoyment without strict responsibility.
Its inherent tendency is to abuse, not to improvement. Individuals are slow to reform without imperative motives; governments are still more reluctant: they are always prompt to bequeath the redemption of their follies to their successors; while posterity has cause to lament that justice has not been contemporary with guilt. To the People our labours may be fitly inscribed—they are the tribunal of last resort,—also the victims of Misrule,—and to them, therefore, may be properly dedicated a record of the abuses from which they have long suffered, and of the means by which they may be alleviated.
All the blessings the nation ought to enjoy have been intercepted,—the rewards of industry, science, and virtue have been dissipated in iniquitous wars abroad—at home, in useless establishments, in Oligarchical luxury, folly, and profusion. If we wanted proof of misgovernment—of incapacity and turpitude—Ireland affords a frightful example: it is not Mr. To the wretchedness of Ireland, England is fast approaching, and Edition: current; Page: [ xii ] just as little from the efforts of individual disturbers.
It is not the manufacturing, but the agricultural districts which are now excited; these have always formed the exclusive domain of the Clergy and Aristocracy;—the rural population is exactly what tithes, game-laws, the country magistracy, Church-of-Englandism, and a luxurious and non-resident priesthood have made them. And what do we behold? The people have risen against their pastors and landlords, and have resorted to nightly outrage and revenge—the last resort of the oppressed for wrongs for which neither remedy nor inquiry has been vouchsafed.
We are not of the number of those who inculcate patient submission to undeserved oppression. A favourite toast of Dr. We should at once answer yes, did we not think some measures would be speedily adopted to mitigate the bitter privations and avert the further degradation of the labouring classes. A new era, we are told, is about to commence:—no more liberticide wars—no more squanderings of the produce of industry in sinecures and pensions—and, above all, reform is to be conceded.
We wait in patience. Our diseases are manifold and require many remedies, but the last is the initiative of all the rest, involving at once the destruction of partial interests—of monopolies, corn-laws, judicial abuse, unequal taxation,—and giving full weight and expression to the general weal and intelligence. If Ministers are honest, they deserve and will require all the support the People can give them to overturn a system which is the reverse: if they are not, they will be soon passed under the ban of their predecessors, with the additional Edition: current; Page: [ xiii ] infamy of having deceived by pledges which they never meant to redeem.
We have hope, but no confidence. Public opinion, and not Parliament, is omnipotent; it is that which has effected all the good which has been accomplished, and it is that alone which must effect the remainder. Unfortunately, Government can never be better constituted than it is for the profit of those who share in its administration; they have no interest in change, and their great maxims of rule are,—first, to concede nothing, so long as it can with safety be refused; secondly, to concede as little as possible; and, lastly, only to concede that little when every pretext for delay and postponement has been exhausted.
Such are the arcana of those from whom reform is to proceed, and it is unnecessary to suggest the watchfulness, unanimity, and demonstrations by which they must be opposed. Some of the Ministers are honest—they are all ingenious, and, no doubt, will have an ingenious plan, with many ingenious arguments for its support, concocted for our acceptance,—a plan with many convolutions, cycles, and epicycles—and, perhaps, endeavour to substitute the shadow for the substance!
But it will avail them nothing; the balance is deranged, and it must be adjusted by a real increase of democratic power. The remedy, too, must be one of immediate action, not of gradual incorporation; it must not be patch-work—no disfranchising of non-resident voters—the transfer of the right of voting to great towns—the lessening of election expenses—and stuff of that sort. Such tinkering will not merit discussion, and would leave the grievance precisely in its original state.
We have fully stated our views on the subject in the concluding article of our work: by their accomplishment a real reform would be obtained, and all good would follow in their train. Our last wishes are, that the People, to whom we dedicate our labours, will be firm—united—and persevering; and, rely upon it, we are on the eve of as great a social regeneration as the destruction of Feudality, the abasement of Popery, or any other of the memorable epochs which have signalized the progress of nations. We thought of submitting some observations on the recent reports of the two Houses of Parliament on Irish tithes, and the resolutions founded upon them, but, in looking over what we have written, we find the subject has been nearly exhausted in our copious articles on the united churches of England and Ireland.
If the project of Ministers for converting arrears of tithes in Ireland into debts of the crown, and levying them by government process, be enforced, it concedes at once the important principle in dispute as to the tenure of church property. If an evasion of tithes may be prosecuted by the attorney-general, like an evasion of the excise or revenue laws, then is the income of the church identified with the income of the State, and the clergy admitted to be the stipendiaries of the public. Nothing, however, we apprehend, will ultimately result from the government measure: these are not the times to harden the tithe laws, and convert what has been hitherto treated as a civil delinquency, when committed by a whole body of Christians, into a criminal charge when committed by an entire kingdom.
Ministers in this, as other emergencies, will be compelled to succumb to events. Public opinion obviously points to two inevitable conclusions,—first, the abolition of the Irish protestant establishment as a national church; and, secondly, the appropriation of the tithes and ecclesiastical revenue to the wants of society, and not suffering the former to be amalgamated with the rents of the landlords.
The increasing numbers and wealth of Dissenters indicate that the fate of tithes in Ireland involves their fate in England. Such are the conflicting claims of religionists that in all measures of general improvement, whether as respects popular education or parliamentary reform, the Government is embarrassed rather than supported by its alliance with any; and we doubt not the question will soon arise whether it would not be better policy for the State to withdraw its support from the privileged worship, rather than be compelled to adopt the alternative, which will be speedily forced upon its consideration, of granting a common support both to separatists and members of the national church.
In these movements there is nothing to excite alarm; least of all in the prompt extinction of tithe. It is an impolitic and impoverishing impost condemned by Mr. Pitt and every statesman of eminence, and the only miracle is that it has been so long upheld. The attempt to confound rent with tithe is monstrous. One is as much private property as the wages of the operative, and every one, rich or poor, is alike interested in maintaining its inviolability. The difference between them Edition: current; Page: [ xxxii ] is almost as great as that between useful industry and downright robbery; or the sinecure of lord Ellenborough and the salary of an efficient servant of the public.
The most difficult part of the question is the settlement of existing interests. A substantial difference has always appeared to us to subsist between the claims of the clerical and lay-tithe owner, and we have expressed as much on a former occasion p. Beyond a life interest we imagine no one would claim a compensation for the clergy, and even for this it would be fair to accept a compromise.
It is a plain case of bankruptcy, and in lieu of receiving the full value they must be content with a dividend. If such is their lot, they will not be alone in misfortune. What a sinking in the condition of most classes at this moment, and how many fortunes have been cut from under the possessors within the last twenty years! What fluctuations have been wrought by changes in the currency, the introduction of machinery, and improvements in mercantile law!
The clergy cannot expect to be exempt from the vicissitudes of life. They ought, themselves, to practise the precepts of resignation it has been their duty to inculcate in others, and place their affections on treasures more enduring than temporal possessions. If the occupation of the clergy be gone, it is their own fault, and they have only themselves to blame.
The basis of the contract between Church and State is that the latter shall afford protection, on condition the former affords spiritual instruction, to the people. If, however, the people secede from the established communion, or if its ministers, from want of zeal—correct discipline—or soundness of doctrine—fail to make converts of the community over which they are the appointed pastors; why, then, it may be reasonably inferred that as the duties have ceased, or failed to be discharged, the stipends annexed to them ought to cease also; or, at least, the servants of the fallen or abandoned worship ought only to be paid temporary allowances—as was the case with the Catholic clergy at the Reformation—till such time as they can adjust themselves to the altered circumstances of society.
A consideration of a peculiar nature tends to augment the difficulties of this embarrassing subject, and the apprehensions naturally felt by many at the sinking state of the Irish protestant establishment. Religion and the institution of property, the pursuits of science, literature, and commerce have greatly benefited the human race. Christianity is peculiarly the worship of the people: among them it originated, and to the promotion of their welfare its precepts are especially directed.
Under the influence of its dogmas the pride of man is rebuked, the prejudices of birth annihilated, and the equal claim to honour and enjoyment of the whole family of mankind impartially admitted. Men of liberal principles have sometimes shown themselves hostile to the Gospel; forgetting, apparently, that it has been the handmaid of civilization, and that for a long time it mitigated, and, finally, greatly aided in breaking the yoke of feudality. They are shocked at the corruptions of the popular faith, and hastily confound its genuine principles with the intolerance of Bigotry, the oppression of tithes, the ostentation of prelacy, and the delinquencies of its inferior agents, who pervert a humble and consoling dispensation into an engine of pride, gain, and worldliness.
In spite, however, of these adulterations, the most careless observer cannot deny the generally beneficial influence of the Christian doctrine, in promoting decorum and equality of civil rights, in spreading a spirit of peace, charity, and universal benevolence. As education becomes more diffused, the ancillary power of the best of creeds will become less essential to the well-being of society.
But the progress of science and sound morals renders superfluous the arts of illusion; inventions, which are suited only to the nursery, or an imperfect civilization, are superseded; and men submitting to the guidance of reason instead of fear, the dominion of truth, unmixed with error, is established on the ruins of priestcraft. Even now may be remarked the advance of society towards a more dignified and rational organization.
The infallibility of popes, the divine right of kings, and the privileges of aristocracy, have lost their influence and authority: they once formed a sort of secular religion, and were among the many delusions by which mankind have been plundered and enslaved. Superstition, too, is gradually fading away by shades; and it is not improbable it may entirely vanish, ceasing to be an object of interest, further than as a singular trait in the moral history of the species. Formerly, all sects were bigots, ready to torture and destroy their fellow-creatures in the vain effort to enforce uniformity of belief; now, the fervour of all is so far attenuated, as to admit not only of dissent, but equality of claim to civil immunities.
The next dilution in pious zeal is obvious. Universal toleration is the germ of indifference; and this last the forerunner of an entire oblivion of spiritual faith. Such appears the natural death of ecclesiastical power; it need not to be hastened by the rude and premature assaults of Infidelity, which only shock existing prejudices, without producing conviction: while the priesthood continue to aid the civil magistrate, their authority will be respected; but when, from the diffusion of science, new motives for the practice of virtue and the maintenance of social institutions are generally established, the utility of their functions will cease to be recognized.
Sensible men of all ages have treated with respect the established worship of the people. If so unfortunate as to disbelieve in its divine origin, they at least classed it among the useful institutions necessary to restrain the passions of the multitude. This was the predominant wisdom of the Roman government. The various modes of worship which prevailed in the known world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.
And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord. In their writings and conversation, the philosophers asserted the independent dignity of reason; but they resigned their actions to the command of law and custom. Viewing with a smile of pity the various errors of the vulgar, they diligently practised the ceremonies of their fathers, devoutly frequented the temple of the gods, and, sometimes condescending to act a part on the theatre of superstition, they concealed the sentiments of the atheist under the sacerdotal robes.
Reasoners of such a temper were scarcely inclined to wrangle about their respective modes of faith or of worship. Edition: current; Page: [ 3 ] It was indifferent to them what shape the folly of the multitude might choose to assume; and they approached with the same inward contempt and the same external reverence the altars of the Libyan, the Olympian, or the Capitoline Jupiter. Can it be supposed the statesmen and teachers of the nineteenth century are less adroit and sagacious than those of pagan Rome?
Can it be supposed those whose minds have been enlightened by foreign travel, who have witnessed the conflict of opposite creeds, and who have escaped the mental bondage of cloisters and colleges in the freedom of general intercourse, are less penetrating than the magnates of the ancient world?
Like them too, they will be equally politic in maintaining an outward respect for the errors of the vulgar. In the prevailing worship they recognize an useful auxiliary to civil government; prosecuting no one for dissent, it can as little offend the philosopher as politician; and the topics of all-absorbing interest it holds forth to every class, divert the vast majority from too intense a contemplation of sublunary misfortunes, or from the painful contrast of their privations with the usurpations and advantages of their superiors.
The policy of governing nations by enlightening the few and hoodwinking the many, is of very old standing.
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The result of this sinister policy may be constantly remarked in the proceedings of legislative assemblies: in the discussion of questions bearing on the social interests, especially such as involve the principles of government, the theory of morals, or population, there is invariably maintained a conventional latitude, beyond which if any one trespass, it is deemed more creditable to his sincerity than understanding. It is only the vain and superficial who unreservedly assail popular opinions, and prophane with invective and ribaldry the sanctities of religion.
Hence theological inquiries have lost much of their interest, and are, in fact, placed beyond the pale of discussion. Having made these general observations on the utility of religion, considered as a civil institution for the government of mankind during a period of ignorance, we shall proceed to our more immediate object—an exposition of the Established Church of this country. In our elucidations of this important inquiry, it is not our intention to interfere with the doctrines of the national religion.
We have heard that there are more than one hundred different sects of Christians: so it would be highly presumptuous in mere laymen to decide which of these multifarious modes of worship is most consonant to the Scripture. The main purpose of our inquiries, is not the dogmas, but the temporalities of the Church.
To us the great possessions of the clergy have long appeared an immense waste, which wanted surveying and enclosing, if not by act of parliament, by the act of the people. Like some of our political institutions, the excellence of our religious establishment has been greatly over-rated; it has been described as the most perfect in Europe; yet we are acquainted with none in which abuses are more prevalent, in which there is so little real piety, and in which the support of public worship is so vexatious and oppressive to the community. Most countries on the Continent have reformed their church establishments: wherever a large property had accumulated in the hands of the clergy, such property has been applied to the service of the nation; and we are now the only people who have a large mass of ecclesiastical wealth appropriated to the maintenance of an indolent and luxurious priesthood.
Even in papal Rome the church property has been sold to pay the national debt; so that far more property belonging to the clergy is to be found in any part of England of equal extent than in the Roman state. The cardinals of Rome, the bishops, canons, abbotts, and abbesses, have no longer princely revenues. A cardinal who formerly had thousands has now only four or five hundred pounds a-year. Residence is strictly enforced, and no such thing as pluralities is known; the new proprietors of the Church estates live on them and improve them to the best advantage.
In France, there has been a still greater ecclesiastical reformation. Before the Revolution the clergy formed one fifty-second part of the population. A large portion of the produce of tithe is annually appropriated to the exigences of the State, and the policy adopted of late has dispossessed the clergy of their wealth; and this body, formerly so influential, is now lightly esteemed, and very moderately endowed. Wherever these reforms have been made, they have been productive of the most beneficial effects; they have been favourable to religion and morality, to the real interests of the people, and even to the interests of the great body of the clergy themselves; they have broken the power of an order of men at all times cruel and tyrannical, at all times opposed to reform, to the progress of knowledge, and the most salutary ameliorations; they have diffused a spirit of toleration among all classes, removed the restrictions imposed by selfish bigotry, and opened an impartial career to virtue and talent in all orders; they have spread plenty in the land by unfettering the efforts of capital and industry, paid the debts of nations, and converted the idle and vicious into useful citizens.
Wherever these changes have been introduced, they have been gratefully received by the People, and well they might; for with such changes their happiness is identified, liberty and intelligence diffused. To England, however, the spirit of ecclesiastical improvement has not yet extended; though usually foremost in reform, we are now behind all nations in our ecclesiastical establishment; though the Church of England is ostentatiously styled the reformed Church, it is, in truth, the most unreformed of all the churches.
Popery, in temporal matters at least, is a more reformed religion than Church of Englandism. There is no state, however debased by superstition, where the clergy enjoy such prodigious wealth. The revenues of our priesthood exceed the public revenues of either Austria or Prussia. We complain of the poor-rates, of superannuation charges, of the army and navy, of overgrown salaries and enormous sinecures; but what are all these abuses, grievous as they are, to the abuses of our church establishment, to the sinecure wealth of the bishops, dignitaries, and aristocratical rectors and incumbents?
It is said, and we believe truly, that the clergymen of the Church of England and Ireland receive, in the year, more money than the clergy of all the rest of the Christian world put together. The clergy of the United Church cost at least seven times more than the whole of the clergy of France, Catholic and Protestant, while in France there is a population of 32,,; whereas, of the 24,, of people comprising the population of our islands, less than one-third, or 8,,, are hearers of the Established Religion. Such a system, it is not possible, can endure.
While reform and reduction are in progress in other departments, it is not likely the clergy Edition: current; Page: [ 6 ] should remain in undisturbed enjoyment of their possessions. To protect them from inquiry, they have neither prescriptive right nor good works to plead. As a body they have not, latterly, been remarkable for their learning, nor some of them for exalted notions of morality. It would be unfair to judge any class from individual examples; but it is impossible to open the newspapers without being struck by the repeated details of clerical delinquency.
When there is an instance of magisterial oppression, or flagrant offence, it is almost surprising if some father in God, some very reverend dean, or some other reverend and holy person, be not accused or suspected. In this respect they resemble the clergy of the Church of Rome before the Reformation. It is known that the catholic priesthood in the fourteenth century exceeded all other classes in the licentiousness of their lives, their oppression, and rapacity; it is known, too, that their vices arose from the immense wealth they enjoyed, and that this wealth was the ultimate cause of their downfal.
It is not to the credit of the established clergy, that their names have been associated with the most disastrous measures in the history of the country. In this, too, the episcopal bench was pre-eminent. Watson was the only bishop who ventured to raise his voice against the French crusade, and he, finding his opposition to the court fixed him in the poorest see in the kingdom, in the latter part of his life appeared to waver in his integrity.
In supporting measures for restraining the freedom of discussion, and for interdicting to different sects of religionists a free participation in civil immunities, they have mostly been foremost. Uniformly in the exercise of legislative functions, our spiritual lawmakers have evinced a spirit hostile to improvement, whether political, judicial, or domestic, and shown a tenacious adherence to whatever is barbarous, oppressive, or demoralizing in our public administration.
The African slave-trade was accompanied by so many circumstances of cruelty and injustice, that it might have been thought the Bishops would have been the most forward in their endeavours to effect its abolition. Yet the fact is quite the contrary. They constantly supported that infamous traffic, and so marked was their conduct in this respect, that Lord Eldon was led, on one occasion, to declare that the commerce in human bodies could not be so inconsistent with Christianity as some Edition: current; Page: [ 7 ] had supposed, otherwise it would never have been so steadily supported by the right reverend prelates.
The efforts of Sir Samuel Romilly and others to mitigate the severity of the Criminal Code never received any countenance or support from the Bishops. But the climax of their legislative turpitude consists in their conduct on the first introduction of the Reform Bill. Setting aside the political advantages likely to result from this great measure, one of its obvious consequences was the destruction of the shameless immoralities and gross perjuries committed in parliamentary elections.
Yet the Heads of the Church, in their anti-reform speeches, never once adverted to this improvement; their fears appeared chiefly to centre on the ulterior changes in our institutions which might flow from the Bill, and which might involve a sacrifice of their inordinate emoluments, and under this apprehension they voted against the people and reform. Public education is a subject that appears to have peculiar claims on the attention of the clergy; unless indeed, as instructors of the people, their functions are extremely unimportant, and certainly, in this world, do not entitle them to much remuneration.
Yet this is a duty they have generally neglected. Had not a jealousy of the Dissenters roused them into activity, neither the Bell nor Lancaster plans of instruction would have been encouraged by them. In short, they have generally manifested either indifference or open hostility to the enlightenment of the people, and, in numerous instances of eleemosynary endowments, they have appropriated to their own use the funds bequeathed for popular tuition.
So little connexion is there between the instruction of the people and the Church establishment, that it may be stated as a general rule that the ignorance and degradation of the labouring classes throughout England are uniformly greatest where there are the most clergy, and that the people are most intelligent and independent where there are the fewest clergy.
Compare the state of these districts with that of the north of England, in which it is generally admitted the people are best instructed and most intelligent, and where, from the great extent of parishes, they can have little intercourse with the parsons. It appears that Norfolk alone has a great many more parsons than all these northern counties, containing about one-third of the population of the kingdom.
In Lancashire there are only 70 parsons for a million and a half of people; yet so little detriment have they suffered from the paucity of endowed pastors, that barristers generally consider the intelligence of a Lancashire common jury equal to that of a special jury of most counties. A feeling of charity is the great beauty of Christianity; it is, indeed, the essence of all virtue, for, if real, it imports a sympathy with the privations of others divested of selfish considerations. The rich and prosperous do not need this commiseration; if they are not happy, it is their own fault, resulting from their artificial desires and ill-regulated passions.
But the poor, without the means of comfortable subsistence, have scarcely a chance of happiness, though equally entitled with others to share in the enjoyments of life. It is the especial duty of the clergy to mitigate extreme inequalities in the lot of their fellow-creatures. Yet it is seldom their labours are directed to so truly a Christian object; though wallowing in wealth, a large portion of which is the produce of funds originally intended for the destitute and unfortunate, they manifest little sympathy in human wretchedness.
As a proof of their ordinary callousness, it may be instanced that, at the numerous public meetings to relieve the severe distress of the Irish, in , not a single Irish bishop attended, when it was notorious the immense sums abstracted by that class from the general produce of the country had been a prominent cause of the miseries of the people. The clergy might be usefully employed in explaining to popular conviction the causes of the privations of the people, and in enforcing principles more conducive to their comfort and independence.
In the agricultural districts, where their authority is least disputed, and where the sufferings of the inhabitants are greatest, such a course might be pursued under peculiar advantages. Their remissness in this respect is less excusable, since they are relieved from cares which formerly engaged anxious attention. In the time of Hoadley, Barrow, and Tillotson, much of the zeal and talent of the church was consumed in theological controversy: the removal of civil disqualifications has tended to assuage the fervour of ecclesiastical disputation, and the clergy have only tithes, not dogmas, to defend.
This tendency to religious tranquillity has been also promoted by the indifference of the people, who discovered that little fruit was to be reaped from polemical disquisitions, which, like the researches of metaphysicians, tended to perplex rather than enlighten. Men now derive their religions as they do parochial settlements, either from their parents or birth-place, and seldom, in after life, question the creed, whether sectarian or orthodox, which has been implanted in infancy.
The all-subduing influence of early credulity is proverbial. Once place a dogma in the catechism, and it becomes stereotyped for life, and is never again submitted to the ordeal of examination. It is the inefficiency of the clergy as public teachers, the hurtful influence they have exerted on national affairs, and their inertness in the promotion of measures of general utility, that induce men to begrudge the immense revenue expended in their support, and dispose them to a reform in our ecclesiastical establishment. To the Church of England, in the abstract, we have no weighty objection to offer; and should be sorry to see her spiritual functions superseded by those of any other sect by which she is surrounded.
Our dislike originates in her extreme oppressiveness on the people, and her unjust dealings towards the most deserving members of her own communion. To the enormous amount of her temporalities, and abuses in their administration, we particularly demur. Beneath them are crowds of sinecure dignitaries and incumbents, richly provided with worldly goods, the wealthiest not even obliged to reside among their flocks; and those who reside not compelled to do any one act of duty beyond providing and paying a miserable deputy just enough to keep him from starving. Contrasted with the preceding, is a vast body of poor laborious ministers, doing all the work, and receiving less than the pay of a common bricklayer or Irish hodman: but the whole assemblage, both rich and poor, paid so as to be a perpetual burthen upon the people, and to wage, of necessity, a ceaseless strife with those whom they ought to comfort, cherish, and instruct.
These are part of the abuses to which we object, and which we are about to expose; and as we intend our exposition to be complete, it may be proper to state the order in which the several subjects will be treated. We shall inquire into the origin and tenure of Church-property, clearly showing that Church-property is public property, originally intended for, and now available to public uses. We shall inquire into the tenure of patronial immunities; exhibit the present state of Church-patronage, and show, by examples, its abuses and perversion to political and family interests.
We shall expose the system of Pluralities, Non-residence, and other abuses in Church Discipline. We shall treat on the enormous Revenues of the Established Clergy, from tithes, church-lands, surplice-fees, public charities, Easter-offerings, rents of pews, and other sources. We shall advert to the history, origin, and defects of the Church Liturgy. We shall inquire,—Who would be benefited by a Reform in the Church Establishment? Lastly, we shall give a statement of the Incomes of the Bishoprics and principal Dignities, and an Alphabetical List of Pluralists in England and Wales, showing the number of livings and other preferments held by each individual, the names of their patrons, their family connexions, and influence.
A late dignitary of the church, the Rev. To what parish church Adam paid his tithe, this zealous partizan of the establishment has left unascertained; if Adam paid tithe, he must have paid it to himself, or a very near relation,—a practice which, if tolerated in his descendants, would render them less averse from the impost, though it might be far from advantageous to the church establishment.
The only people who can pretend to place the right to tithe on divine authority are the Jews; but such a right, if it ever existed among them, certainly ceased with their theocracy.
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The Jews of this day pay no tithes for the support of their rabbis; nor, indeed, have any tithes been paid by this nation since the destruction of the Temple and consequent dispersion of the tribe of Levi. It is so inconsistent with reason, that it may be almost affirmed to be an unquestionable fact, that there never was a religion, either Jew or Gentile, which could legally claim for its maintenance a tenth part of the yearly produce of land and labour.
For the clergy to be entitled to a tenth, they ought to form one-tenth of the population; but there never was a mode of worship which required one-tenth of the people to be teachers and ministers. The tribe of Levi had a tenth, because they formed a tenth of the population, and had no other inheritance; but Aaron and his sons had only a tenth of that tenth; so that the clergy received no more than the hundredth part, the remainder being for other uses, for the rest of the Levites, for the poor, the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the temple.
Christianity contains less authority for tithe than Judaism. Jesus Christ ordained no such burden; and in no part of his history is any compulsory provision for the maintenance of the clergy mentioned. Both our Saviour and his Apostles unceasingly taught poverty and Edition: current; Page: [ 11 ] humility to their followers, and contempt of worldly goods. In all this there is no authority for tithing, and the fathers of the Church were equally hostile to this species of extortion. The council of Antioch, in the fourth century, allowed the bishops to distribute the goods of the Church, but to have no part to themselves.
It was only as real Christianity declined, that tithing began. When the simple worship of Christ was corrupted by the adoption of Jewish and Pagan ceremonies; when the saints and martyrs were put in the room of the heathen deities; when the altars, the bishops, prebends, and other corruptions were introduced; then tithes commenced, to support the innovations on the primitive faith.
It is impossible to ascertain exactly the period when tithes were first introduced into this country. During the first ages of the Church, its ministers were supported by charity, by oblations, and voluntary gifts. According to Blackstone, the first mention of tithes in any written English law is in a constitutional decree made in a synod held A.
But this was no law, merely a general recommendation, and did not, at first, bind the laity. Guthrun being a Pagan, it was thought necessary to provide for the subsistence of the Christian clergy under his dominion; accordingly the payment of tithes was enjoined, and a penalty imposed for its non-observance; which law is countenanced by the laws of Athelstan, and this, according to the Commentator, is all that can be traced out with regard to their legal origin.
We are not even satisfactorily informed of the origin of the civil divisions of the kingdom into counties, hundreds, and parishes. These have been commonly ascribed to Alfred; but the researches of late writers have traced them to a period of much earlier date.
One thing, however, is certain as regards tithes, namely, that in England, in France, and, probably, in all Christian countries, they were divided into four portions: one for the bishop, one for the poor, Edition: current; Page: [ 12 ] one for the repair of the church, and one for the priest. Without digressing into any learned research, it may be observed that the quadrupartite division of tithes is still retained in many parishes in Ireland; a point which appears to have been overlooked by the reviewer.
In the Diocesan Returns to Parliament in , the bishop of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh and the bishop of Kildare remarked that in their dioceses is preserved the old episcopal establishment of the quarta pars; that is, a portion of the parochial tithes out of every parish is payable to the bishop. The right of the poor to share in the tithe is established by the tenor of ancient statutes made to protect them from the consequences of the appropriation of parishes by spiritual corporations.
After these appropriations had been effected, the religious houses were wont to depute one of their own body to perform divine service in those parishes of which the societies had become possessed of the tithes. This officiating minister was in reality no more than the curate or vicar of the appropriators, receiving from them an arbitrary stipend. Under this system the poor suffered so much, that the legislature was obliged to interpose, and, accordingly, the 15 Rich.
One or two facts well attested are better than a hundred ingenious deductions and learned conjectures. What we have advanced not only establishes the original fourfold division of parochial tithes, but also the right of the poor to a portion of them. It also incidentally establishes another fact deserving attention, in showing the falsity of those representations made, from time to time, of the charity and hospitality of the abbeys and monasteries. By masses and obits and other sanctimonious pretexts, the monks possessed themselves of a large number of the benefices in the kingdom; instead of applying the revenues of these to the purposes of religion and charity, they perverted them to the enriching of their own fraternities, and a compulsory act of the legislature was necessary to compel them to restore to the poor a portion of their rights, and allow a decent maintenance to the parish priest.
The little charity of the religious houses might be inferred from the general principles of human nature without the aid of facts. It is notorious that they had become the abodes of luxury, indolence, and crime. Who would expect from societies so depraved, either charity or hospitality? Edition: current; Page: [ 13 ] The rich, the sensual, and vicious, rarely sympathise with indigence. For their own ease, and, as a motive to indifference, they are mostly prompt to calumniate the poor with unjust aspersions, and represent a lively zeal in their welfare, either as undeserved or mistaken benevolence.
The practice of appropriating livings was first introduced by the Normans; and within three hundred years after, the monks had become the proprietors of one-third of all the benefices in the kingdom, and these for the most part the richest. At the dissolution of the religious houses by the 27 and 31 Hen. Having thus become the proprietor of one-third of the benefices as well as all the plate, revenues and wealth of the abbeys, the manner in which this monarch disposed of the treasure he had acquired accounts for the present state of ecclesiastical property.
With a part of it he founded new bishoprics, colleges, and deaneries; large masses of it he gave to courtiers and noblemen; a portion he retained in his own hands, and the remainder applied to the maintenance of the reformed religion. Individuals, corporations, and colleges, who obtained grants from the Crown, obtained, also, all the rights annexed to them; and the present proprietors of the abbey-lands are proprietors of the tithes and benefices formerly attached to these lands. Hence it is so large a portion of the tithes are in the hands of laymen.
It is calculated there are impropriations in England; that is, benefices, in the hands of persons not engaged in the service of religion, but who receive the great tithes, leaving only the vicarial tithes or other minor endowments for the maintenance of the incumbent,. The effect on society of this new disposition of ecclesiastical property has been differently represented by writers. Discontent is inseparable from the reform of every established practice and institution. Those who profit by abuses, and those who are benefited by their removal must view in different lights and hold forth different representations of measures by which they are oppositely affected.
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The limited extent of the former has been already shown; if the populace could be conciliated by such miserable charity as we have adverted to, their fatuity may be likened to that of the multitude in more recent times, who are often blinded to their just claims by doles of soup or salt fish, or a bonus of guineas out of an enormous civil list. The extreme ignorance of the people was, doubtless, the principal cause of their hostility to the reformation, and disqualified them from duly estimating the advantages likely to ensue from so great a revolution.
While the people continue unenlightened, they must always be subject to their superiors, or those who possess influence enough to delude or direct them. The Forty-Shilling freeholders of Ireland were the alternate slaves of aristocratic landlords and fanatic priests, and in the votes they gave at the instigation of each, as well as in the tameness with which they submitted to be disfranchised, they have manifested a like rational view of their ultimate interests. To this cause we ascribe the popular feeling as regards the dissolution of monastic establishments. The same spirit opposed the opening of turnpike-roads, and the introduction of the cow-pox and machinery.
But it is extremely erroneous to maintain that the Reformation was not a great blessing to the country, and tended, most essentially, to better the condition of the working classes. Had popery such popery we mean as existed at that day continued the established religion, the present condition of the people would have been no better than that of the degraded rabble who have restored Don Miguel and Don Ferdinand, and whose miseries, in spite of the almsgiving and hospitality of convents, are sufficiently acute to prevent an increase in their numbers.
From the general poverty of the Peninsula, and the state of its agriculture, commerce, and population, fettered and oppressed by aristocratic, ecclesiastic, and corporate immunities, we may form an idea of what England would have been without the Reformation. Knowledge was incompatible with the power of the monks, whose influence was founded on the general belief of miracles, the sanctity of relics, and other pious frauds, to which popular illumination would have been fatal.
Without, therefore, the excitement produced by their dispersion, and the freedom of discussion with which it was accompanied, the people would have remained intellectually debased; their ignorance was necessary to the ascendancy of those in whose hands they were, and of course they would have been kept in that state, and withheld from the only means by which their condition in society could be ameliorated.
If more substantial benefits have not resulted from the Reformation, it may be easily traced to other causes. That great event certainly put Edition: current; Page: [ 15 ] the people in possession, by removing the mental incubus of a degrading superstition, of the most powerful instrument, by which they can be obtained. It is to be regretted that, at the dissolution of the abbeys, the immense revenue at the disposal of the Crown was not appropriated in a manner more advantageous to the community.
One of the great evils in our social economy is the unequal division of property—the vast masses in which it is accumulated by entails and rights of primogeniture in the hands of individuals. This evil was aggravated by transferring the endowments of the monks to the aristocracy, and thus was lost a favourable juncture for obtaining better security for the liberties of the people, by a more equal partition of proprietary influence.
Instead of wasting the spoils of the church on rapacious courtiers, it might have been appropriated, as in Scotland, to the establishment of a system of parochial education; or, it might have been applied to sustain the dignity of the Crown, or defray the charges of government without burthening the people, or to other undertakings of general and permanent interest. Of the magnitude of the opportunity thrown away, we may form some idea from the almost incredible wealth of the monastic institutions. Upon good authority it is stated the clergy were proprietors of seven-tenths of the whole kingdom; and, out of the three remaining tenths, thus kindly left to king, lords, and commons, were the four numerous orders of mendicants to be maintained, against whom no gate could be shut, to whom no provision could be denied, and from whom no secret could be concealed.
Cobbett often amuses his readers by exclamations of astonishment, in contemplating the splendid cathedrals of Lincoln, Ely, Canterbury, and Winchester; considering them incontestable evidence of the great wealth and population of the country at the period of their erection. But it would be quite as correct for future generations to refer to Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace as evidence of the general contentment and prosperity of the kingdom under the government of the Boroughmongers.
The fact is, it was not necessary either the population or general wealth of the community should be very great to enable the Catholic priesthood to erect those magnificent, but comparatively useless, structures. Pious souls! Such have been the religious propensities of the English, at all times, that Edition: current; Page: [ 16 ] the fervour of their piety has oftener required checking than encouraging by their rulers. Had the vast amount of landed property acquired by spiritual corporations, previously to the passing of this statute, remained tied up in their hands, it must have formed an insuperable obstacle to the development of the productive powers of the country, and under such a system neither the riches nor numbers of the people could have greatly augmented.
The statements of church property before the Reformation would appear exaggerated, had we not illustrative proof in the present state of Ireland and other countries. The mere remnant of the estates of the church, now held by the Irish Protestant Establishment, is calculated at two elevenths of the entire soil of the kingdom. In Tuscany, before the French Revolution had partially regenerated the dukedom, the priesthood was found, from inquiries instituted by the grand duke, to enjoy seventeen parts in twenty of the land.
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