This generation has seen no such momentous change as that which has suddenly appeared to be at our very doors, and which people speak of as disestablishment. The word was only invented a few years ago, and was sneered at as a barbarism, worthy of the unpractical folly which it was coined to express. It has been bandied about a good deal lately, sometimes de coeur leger; and within the last six months it has assumed the substance and the weight of a formidable probability. Other changes, more or less serious, are awaiting us in the approaching future; but they are encompassed with many uncertainties, and all forecasts of their working are necessarily very doubtful. About this there is an almost brutal clearness and simplicity, as to what it means, as to what is intended by those who have pushed it into prominence, and as to what will follow from their having their way.
Disestablishment has really come to mean, in the mouth of friends and foes, simple disendowment. It is well that the question should be set in its true terms, without being confused with vague and less important issues. It is not very easy to say what disestablishment by itself would involve, except the disappearance of Bishops from the Upper House, or the presence of other religious dignitaries, with equal rank and rights, alongside of them. Questions of patronage and ecclesiastical law might be difficult to settle; but otherwise a statute of mere disestablishment, not easy indeed to formulate, would leave the Church in the eyes of the country very much what it found it. Perhaps “My lord” might be more widely dropped in addressing Bishops; but otherwise, the aspect of the Church, its daily work, its organisations, would remain the same, and it would depend on the Church itself whether the consideration paid to it continues what it has been; whether it shall be diminished or increased. The privilege of being publicly recognised with special marks of honour by the State has been dearly paid for by the claim which the State has always, and sometimes unscrupulously, insisted on, of making the true interests of the Church subservient to its own passing necessities.
But there is no haziness about the meaning of disendowment. Property is a tangible thing, and is subject to the four rules of arithmetic, and ultimately to the force of the strong arm. When you talk of disendowment, you talk of taking from the Church, not honour or privilege or influence, but visible things, to be measured and counted and pointed to, which now belong to it and which you want to belong to some one else. They belong to individuals because the individuals belong to a great body. There are, of course, many people who do not believe that such a body exists; or that if it does, it has been called into being and exists simply by the act of the State, like the army, and, like the army, liable to be disbanded by its master. But that is a view resting on a philosophical theory of a purely subjective character; it is as