Occasional Papers eBook

Richard William Church
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 447 pages of information about Occasional Papers.

His anxieties are characteristic.  The paper shows, we think, that it has not escaped him that disestablishment, however compensated as some sanguine people hope, would be a great disaster and ruin.  It would be the failure and waste to the country of noble and astonishing efforts; it would be the break-up and collapse of a great and cheap system, by which light and human kindliness and intelligence are carried to vast tracts, that without its presence must soon become as stagnant and hopeless as many of the rural communes of France; the blow would at the moment cripple and disorganise the Church for its work even in the towns.  But though “happily improbable,” it may come; and in such a contingency, what occupies Mr. Gladstone’s thoughts is, not the question whether it would be disastrous, but whether it would be disgraceful.  That is the point which disturbs and distresses him—­the possibility that the end of our later Church history, the end of that wonderful experiment which has been going on from the sixteenth century, with such great vicissitudes, but after every shock with increasing improvement and hope, should at last be not only failure, but failure with dishonour; and this, he says, could only come in one of two ways.  It might come from the Church having sunk into sloth and death, without faith, without conscience, without love.  This, if it ever was really to be feared, is not the danger before us now.  Activity, conviction, energy, self-devotion, these, and not apathetic lethargy, mark the temper of our times; and they are as conspicuous in the Church as anywhere else.  But these qualities, as we have had ample experience, may develop into fierce and angry conflicts.  It is our internal quarrels, Mr. Gladstone thinks, that create the most serious risk of disestablishment; and it is only our quarrels, which we have not good sense and charity enough to moderate and keep within bounds, which would make it “disgraceful.”

The main feature of the Letter is the historical retrospect which Mr. Gladstone gives of the long history, the long travail of the later English Church.  Hardly in its first start, under the Tudors, but more and more as time went on, it instinctively, as it were, tried the great and difficult problem of Christian liberty.  The Churches of the Continent, Roman and anti-Roman, were simple in their systems; only one sharply defined theology, only the disciples and representatives of one set of religious tendencies, would they allow to dwell within their borders; what was refractory and refused to harmonise was at once cast out; and for a certain time they were unvexed with internal dissensions.  This, both in the case of the Roman, the Lutheran, and the Calvinistic Churches of the Continent, requires to be somewhat qualified; still, as compared with the rival schools of the English Church, Puritan and Anglican, the contrast is a true and a sharp one.  Mr. Gladstone adopts from a German writer a view which is certainly not

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Occasional Papers from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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