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The English Church in the Eighteenth Century eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 665 pages of information about The English Church in the Eighteenth Century.

Bishops, both as fathers of the Church and as holding high places, and living therefore in the presence of the public, cannot, without grave injury not to themselves only, but to the body over which they preside, suffer their names to be in any way mixed up with the cabals of self-interest and faction.  At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Episcopal bench numbered among its occupants many men, both of High and Low Church views, who were distinctly eminent for piety, activity, and learning.  And throughout the century there were always some bishops who were thoroughly worthy of their high post.  But towards the middle of it, and on to its very close, there was an undoubted lowering in the general tone of the Episcopal order.  Average men, who had succeeded in making themselves agreeable at Court, or who had shown that they could be of political service to the administration of the time, too often received a mitre for their reward.  Amid the general relaxation of principle which by the universal confession of all contemporary writers had pervaded society, even worthy and good men seem to have condescended at times to a discreditable fulsomeness of manner, and to an immoderate thirst for preferments.  There were many scandals in the Church which greatly needed reform, but none which were so keenly watched, or which did so much to lower its reputation, as unworthy acts of subserviency on the part of certain bishops.  The evil belonged to the individuals and to the period, not by any means to the system of a National Church.  Yet those who disapproved of that system found no illustration more practically effective to illustrate their argument.

Throughout the whole of the eighteenth century, almost all writers who had occasion to speak of the general condition of society joined in one wail of lament over the irreligion and immorality that they saw around them.  This complaint was far too universal to mean little more than a general, and somewhat conventional tirade upon the widespread corruption of human nature.  The only doubt is whether it might not in some measure have arisen out of a keener perception, on the part of the more cultivated and thoughtful portion of society, of brutal habits which in coarser ages had been passed over with far less comment.  Perhaps also greater liberty of thought and speech caused irreligion to take a more avowed and visible form.  Yet even if the severe judgment passed by contemporary writers upon the spiritual and moral condition of their age may be fairly qualified by some such considerations, it must certainly be allowed that religion and morality were, generally speaking, at a lower ebb than they have been at many other periods.  For this the National Church must take a full share, but not more than a full share, of responsibility.  The causes which elevate or depress the general tone of society have a corresponding influence, in kind if not in degree, upon the whole body of the clergy.  Church history,

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