Occasional Papers eBook

Richard William Church
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 378 pages of information about Occasional Papers.
might have given.  An ecclesiastical tribunal, unless it had been packed or accidentally one-sided, would probably have condemned Mr. Gorham.  An ecclesiastical tribunal would almost certainly have expelled Archdeacon Denison from his preferments.  Indeed, the judgment of the Six Doctors on Dr. Pusey, arbitrary and unconstitutional as it may be considered, was by no means a doubtful foreshadowing of what a verdict upon him would have been from any court that we can imagine formed of the high ecclesiastical authorities of the time.  It undoubtedly seems the most natural thing in the world that a great religious body should settle, without hindrance, its own doctrines and control its own ministers; but it is also some compensation for the perversity with which the course of things has interfered with ideal completeness, that our condition, if it had been theoretically perfect, would have been perfectly intolerable.

It would be highly unwise in those who direct the counsels of the Church of England to accept a practical disadvantage for the gain of a greater simplicity and consistency of system.  The true moral to be deduced from the anomalies of ecclesiastical appeals seems to be, to have as little to do with them as possible.  The idea of seeking a remedy for the perplexities of theology in judicial rulings, and the rage for having recourse to law courts, are of recent date in our controversies.  They were revived among us as one of the results of the violent panic caused by the Oxford movement, and of the inconsiderate impatience of surprised ignorance which dictated extreme and forcible measures; and as this is a kind of game at which, when once started, both parties can play, the policy of setting the law in motion to silence theological opponents has become a natural and favourite one.  But it may be some excuse for the legislators who, in 1833, in constructing a new Court of Appeal, so completely forgot or underrated the functions which it would be called to discharge in the decision of momentous doctrinal questions, that at the time no one thought much of carrying theological controversies to legal arbitrament.  The experiment is a natural one to have been made in times of strong and earnest religious contention; but, now that it has had its course, it is not difficult to see that it was a mistaken one.  There seems something almost ludicrously incongruous in bringing a theological question into the atmosphere and within the technical handling of a law court, and in submitting delicate and subtle attempts to grasp the mysteries of the unseen and the infinite, of God and the soul, of grace and redemption, to the hard logic and intentionally confined and limited view of forensic debate.  Theological truth, in the view of all who believe in it, must always remain independent of a legal decision; and, therefore, as regards any real settlement, a theological question must come out of a legal sentence in a totally different condition from any others where the true and indisputable

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