The English Church in the Eighteenth Century eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 807 pages of information about The English Church in the Eighteenth Century.

Nor should we forget that if the clergy were inactive and unsuccessful in one direction, many of them at least were singularly active and successful in another.  There was within the pale of the Church at the period of which we are speaking a degree of intellect and learning which has rarely been surpassed in its palmiest days.  When among the higher clergy were found such men as Butler, and Hare, and Sherlock, and Warburton, and South, and Conybeare, and Waterland, and Bentley, men who were more than a match for the assailants of Christianity, formidable as these antagonists undoubtedly were—­when within her fold were found men of such distinguished piety as Law and Wilson, Berkeley and Benson, the state of the Church could not be wholly corrupt.

And, finally, it should be remembered that if England was morally and spiritually in low estate at this period, she was, at any rate, in a better plight than her neighbours.  If there were Church abuses in England, there were still worse in France.  If there was too wide an interval here between the higher and the lower clergy, the inequality was not so great as there, where, ’while the prelates of the Church lived with a pomp and state falling little short of the magnificence of royalty, not a few of the poorer clergy had scarcely the wherewithal to live at all,’ where ’the superior clergy regarded the cures as hired servitors, whom in order to dominate it was prudent to keep in poverty and ignorance.’  If the distribution of patronage on false principles and the inordinate love of preferment were abuses in England, matters were worse in France, where ’there was an open traffic in benefices; the Episcopate was nothing but a secular dignity; it was necessary to be count or marquis in order to become a successor of the apostles, unless some extraordinary event snatched some little bishopric for a parvenu from the hands of the minister;’ and where ’the bishops squandered the revenues of their provinces at the court.’[706] If the lower classes were neglected here, they were not, as in France, dying from misery and hunger at the rate of a million a year.  Neither, sordid as the age was in England, was it so sordid as in Germany, where a coarse eudaemonism and a miscalled illuminism were sapping the foundations of Christianity.

Moreover, England, unlike her next-door neighbour, improved as the years rolled on.  A gradual but distinct alteration for the better may be traced in the later part of the century.  Many causes contributed to effect this.  After the accession of George III. a growing sense of security began to pervade the country.  An unsettled state is always prejudicial to national morals, and there were henceforward no serious thoughts of deranging the established order of things.  Influences, too, were at work which tended to raise the tone of morality and religion in all orders of society.  The upper classes had a good example set them by the blameless lives of the King and the Queen.  In the present day, when

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The English Church in the Eighteenth Century from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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