Chapter 3. Views of the Lower House in opposing the Upper

{373} I AM fearful of tiring the reader with the minute details of the quarrel which took place between the two Houses in the Convocations of 1700 and following years; yet it has been my object, as it shall be in what has to come, to confine my account of it to those points which involved some question of right or privilege between them, or between both and the Crown. In continuing the history, I will only remark that such a dissension scarcely can occur again. It arose from a new Upper House being grafted by a new King on an old clergy; whereas, in a settled state of things, there is a regular and close connection between the Bishops and the Lower House, the great majority of the members of the latter being appointed either by the Crown or the episcopal bench. I say it scarcely can recur; because it is not to be supposed that the great body of the clergy will ever again find themselves called upon to shift their allegiance to new Bishops at the command of a foreigner scarcely seated on the throne.


Comparing the two Houses with each other, the dignified and temperate conduct of the Upper House forces itself upon the notice of the reader. However, it should be remembered that nothing is so easy as composure, good humour, and good sense, when we have matters in the main our own way. "Let those laugh who win" is a {374} familiar proverb. The Bishops were at this time on the winning side; they had the King with them, and their political principles had gained the victory. Besides, a sort of constitutional tranquillity and clearness of head are often the attendants on the cold, unenthusiastical temper which had, at that era, triumphed in Church and State, as may be illustrated in the case of some well-known writers of that and a more recent date. At the same time, there were members of the Upper House as free from the reproach of placidity and insensibility as any of the Lower. On one occasion, Burnet, whose writings had been attacked by the Lower House, was provoked to interpose, in answer to a question from the Prolocutor to the Archbishop, on some immaterial point of dissension. "This is fine indeed," he said, "the Lower House will not allow a committee to inspect their books, and now they demand to see ours!" and on the Prolocutor replying that he asked nothing but what he was concerned to know, and what of right he might demand, Burnet returned, "This is according to your usual insolence." "Insolence, my lord!" said the Prolocutor, "do you give me that word?" "Yes, insolence!" replied the Bishop; "you deserve that word and worse. Think what you will of yourself, I know what you are." This Prolocutor was Hooper, soon afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells, whom Burnet repays in his History, for reporting the above conversation, with a line of description in aggravation of what he then said to his face; saying, that he was "a man of learning and good conduct hitherto," but "reserved, crafty, and ambitious."

The Convocation of which I have hitherto spoken came to an end by the dissolution of Parliament. A fresh one, summoned in the beginning of 1702, was first interrupted by the death of the Prolocutor of the Lower {375} House, and then dissolved by the King's death, in spite of Lord Rochester's attempt to give it the same continuance of existence as the Parliament enjoyed, as if it were a constituent part of the civil assembly.

Little need be said of the proceedings of the Convocation for the following nine years. Their dissensions continued unabated, and the situation of the Church and kingdom was such as to supply abundant matter for jealousy and factiousness to act upon. In the opening of the new reign, the Bishops offered, byway of accommodation, to allow the Lower House, during the intervals of Sessions, to appoint committees for preparing matters; and, further, when business was brought before them, to give them sufficient time, before their prorogation, for debating upon it. The Lower House would not accept these terms, and wished the controversy referred to the Queen's arbitration; which the Bishops declined, lest they should compromise that right of supremacy over presbyters, inherent in the episcopate. The Lower House then addressed themselves to the Commons, but could only obtain from them a general promise of standing by the just rights of the clergy. Then they addressed the Queen, who referred them to her ministers, and the premier being with them, and the judges (as it was supposed) against them, nothing was done. Lastly, they passed a declaration that episcopacy was of divine and apostolical right; but the Bishops, apprehensive of incurring a præmunire by what would have seemed the enactment of a canon, declined to assent to it.

The sessions of 1705-6 were scarcely begun when a protest was presented to the Bishops against the majority in the Lower House by forty-nine of its members. In this document the following innovations are specified: (1) Their Prolocutor's proroguing the House with the {376} consent and authority of the House itself, not by authority of the Archbishop's schedule (a practice begun in the last Convocation of King William), and the consequent introduction of intermediate Sessions; (2) their claim of a power of putting the Prolocutor into the chair before he was confirmed by the Upper House, and so beginning debates without formal leave from it; (3) their giving leave of absence to members, and of voting by proxy; (4) their electing an actuary, in prejudice of the Archbishop's right, whose officers, the registrar of the whole Convocation, had constantly received fees from the Lower House, in which he acted by deputy; and, (5) their insisting on drawing up an address to the Queen, at the opening of the then Convocation, instead of accepting or amending that sent down to them from the Bishops. It is observable that among these forty-nine protesters, only ten were proctors of the clergy; whereas, in the counter-declaration, subscribed by the majority of the Lower House soon afterwards, there are twenty-nine such, out of seventy-five signatures.

In the Convocation of 1707, the Archbishop was armed by a letter from the Queen (who had already interfered in 1705-6), declaratory of her intention to maintain her supremacy, and the due subordination of presbyters to Bishops in the Church of England. When he sent for the Lower House to communicate it to them, few of them were found assembled, and the Prolocutor was absent; so that the Archbishop found it necessary to communicate it to the clergy generally, in a circular letter, addressed to the Bishops of his province.


However, it is but fair to state the circumstances which led to these strange irregularities on the part of {377} the Lower House. In truth, they found, or thought they found, that their obedience as presbyters to Bishops was to be made use of in order to betray and destroy the Church; they were in a net from which they could not disentangle themselves, and having lately had their Bishops' sanction to the doctrine that, in extreme cases, it was lawful to renounce the Lord's anointed, and his heirs after him, they were tempted to believe that on similar grounds, and much more in a case of conscience, it was religious to engage in a systematic opposition to the successors of the Apostles. In the year 1707, the Act of Union with Scotland was passed, and the body of the clergy saw in it what the event has proved, the depression of the Church Catholic, their own bone and flesh, in that country, and the practical recognition of the kirk by English Protestants. Lords North and Grey had moved the addition of the following proviso to the bill:—"Provided always, that nothing in this ratification shall be construed to extend to an approbation or acknowledgment of the truth of the presbyterian way of worship, or allowing the religion of the Church of Scotland to be what it is styled, 'the true Protestant Religion;'" but it was rejected on the second reading by fifty-five to nineteen, only one Bishop (Hooper, of Bath and Wells,) voting in the minority. The Lower House of Convocation had taken the alarm, and were proceeding to make application to the Commons against the Union, when the Queen (contrary, as the clergy maintained, to the custom of the Church ever since the Reformation,) prorogued the Convocation, while the Parliament sat, for three weeks, that is, till the Act of Union had passed both Houses and received the royal assent. Their indignation at what they considered tyranny added to treachery, occasioned the Queen's {378} letter concerning her own supremacy, and their absence from the Convocation, when the Archbishop communicated it in form, as above related.

Again, their refusal of the Upper House's address to the Queen, in 1705, disrespectful as their conduct was, and irregular, arose from the wish of the Bishops to represent that the Church was in no danger; while the Lower House, fully as they might trust the Queen, did consider that there were parties in the State very hostile and dangerous to its interests.

Nor must it be forgotten, that to the Lower House (aided by the Nonjurors externally) we are indebted that no change was made in our services and discipline in 1689; the innovations contemplated being such as would literally have been fatal to us as a Church, such as cannot be contemplated by any churchman without indignation and affright, and gratitude to a merciful Providence, which ordered things otherwise. What they were shall be given in Mr. Hallam's words:—"The Bill of Comprehension, proposed to Parliament, went no further than to leave a few scrupled ceremonies at discretion, and to admit presbyterian ministers into the Church without pronouncing on the invalidity of their former Ordination;" as if the recognizing them as ministers were not pronouncing [Note 1]. Is it then the case that we have a second time risked the Succession? the thought of this, while it is frightful, is consolatory in our present uncertainties. This good act the Lower House of 1689 has done for us; and, while doing it, and attempting other services, its members also gave the alarm that the Government was aiming at the suspension of Convocation, and the Government party denied it. We have the event before us. {379}

Moreover, with all their faults and mistakes, they certainly had an enlarged view of the duties of an Ecclesiastical Synod; and grasped the principles, and aimed at wielding the powers, of the Church with a vigour that the court Bishops could not comprehend. The aspect of latitudinarianism and infidelity was very threatening; and they felt these principles of evil were to be met, not by mere controversy, not by individuals relying on what is called the force of reason, nor again by mere civil authority, but by the moral power of the Church, whether as a body, or in its authorities, by Bishops or Convocations; by that high influence, in fact, which broke the power of paganism and baffled the schools of philosophy. But so far from exercising this their special gift, the very heads of the Church were in terms of friendship with its enemies. Firmin, the Unitarian, was the friend of Tillotson and Fowler; and the writers of his party are recommended by Burnet for their "gravity" in the management of controversy, for their temper, and judgment. Sherlock seemed extravagating towards tritheism, Clarke towards Arianism, and Hoadley towards a legion of heresies. Even where orthodoxy was preserved, the depth and fervour of the Laudian era was being supplanted by a cold, dry, and minute theology. A few years after the date under review, the Bishops of the province of Canterbury were all but unanimous in favour of openly recognizing lay baptism; and were only stopped from declaring themselves on the point synodically, by the Lower House, and, as Bishops, by the opposition of Sharp, Archbishop of York. Such was the less alarming side of things; but on the worse the prospect was fearful. The rationalism which has appeared in Germany seems in great measure to have originated in England at the period under consideration. {380} Hickes, in 1707, speaks of pamphleteers of the day, who wrote

"against making of creeds, and creed-makers who impose upon men articles of faith. These men of large minds and free thoughts will not have them confined and tied up to forms and summaries of belief ... If they durst, they would write against Scripture-making, as you may perceive by the table-talk which the reputed author of the Rights, and some other Grecians, had of them, at a dinner, the 29th of November last ... They began with Balaam and his ass, and, with scorn and scurrility enough, asserted the ass to be the fittest of the two to see an angel, and to have divine inspirations and revelations ... Then, for the prophets, they did God and them the honour to compare them to the Camisars, and prophecy to deliriums in fevers, and told a story of a physician who cured a patient of his prophetical deliriums and was refused his reward. They also said it was a disease proper, it may be, to certain places and constitutions, as agues, and ... observed, that drunkenness and prophecy was the same thing ... The passing over the Red Sea, they said, was not miraculous, but natural ... The pillar of fire, they said, was some sort of artificial preparation in the nature of a phosphorus ... Elijah's sacrifice, they said, was by artificial fire ... The marriage in Cana was a merrymaking; and He, meaning our Lord, made the water wine with spirit of wine."

Such being the state of things, the plans of the Lower House have, at least, the merit of energy and boldness. They appointed, in 1700, committees for examining certain attacks upon Christianity; for inquiring into the causes of the corruption of manners, and the means of reformation; for making inquiries into seminaries set up in opposition to the Universities; for the means of promoting religion in the plantations, and among seamen; for introducing our liturgy to the notice of the French and other Protestants, and for considering the grievances of ecclesiastical cognizances. They desired to restrain the licentiousness of the press, and the profaneness and {381} immorality of the stage; to reform the church discipline, to hinder clandestine marriages, to remove the inconveniences in the mode of recovering church rates, and legal difficulties which lay on the clergy as to the administration of the Lord's Supper. In short, they undertook, as was their duty, all those matters which have ever since either been neglected or taken up by improper parties, whether the Parliament, the public press, or private societies. With some account of their attempts to proceed against irreligious and unsound publications, I shall close this paper and the history of their career.


In 1700, they presented an address to the Upper House, on the subject of Toland's "Christianity not Mysterious," praying for their lordships' judgment on certain extracts they made from it. The Bishops, upon taking advice of counsel, returned answer, agreeably to a former decision in 1689, that since the famous Act of Submission they could not censure judicially any such books without a license from the King, "which they had not yet received." It was conceived that a judgment on opinions was of the nature of a canon, as indirectly making doctrinal statements, and that thus the Articles of the Church would be liable to continual alteration and variation by successive decisions or precedents; that, though Coke had decided that the Convocation is a court, nevertheless to judge matters without the King's leave was interfering with his prerogative, which the Act of Henry VIII. especially guarded; and that, in the great Council of Clarendon, 1164, it was resolved, among other things, that no servant or dependent of the King could be excommunicated without his leave; and that, in case of appeals, the King had the right of final decision. At the {382} same time, it was admitted that each Bishop, in his own court, might proceed against exceptionable publications.

The Lower House was obliged to acquiesce in this determination; but before long they appeared before the Bishops with an attack upon Burnet's Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, which, as divers members of the episcopal bench had sanctioned the publication, was, in fact, an attack upon those to whom they were appealing. The Bishops referred their complaint to a committee of themselves, who reported that the Lower House had no power judicially to censure any book; that they ought not to have entered upon the examination of the work of one of the Bishops without acquainting the Upper House; that they ought to have been specific in their accusations, which, in the form in which they were presented, were a mere vague defamation; that the Bishop of Sarum's "History of the Reformation" had been approved by Parliament, and, with his other works, had done great service to the English Church, and deserved the thanks of their Lordships' House; and that it did not rest with the Convocation to pass an opinion upon private expositions of the Thirty-nine Articles. Thus matters rested for nine years.

In the summer of 1710 a change of ministry took place, and Parliament was dissolved soon after. This was the consequence of Sacheverell's affair; and, of course, the accession of the Tories to power was favourable to the wishes of the Lower House of Convocation. The description given, in an address of the new Commons to her Majesty, of the retiring ministry, is curious; and, though beside my present purpose, I cannot help quoting it. "These ministers framed to themselves wild and unwarrantable schemes of balancing parties, and, under false pretence of temper and moderation, did really encourage {383} faction, by discountenancing and depressing persons zealously affected to your Majesty and to the Church, and by extending their favour and patronage to men of licentious and impious principles, such as shake the very foundation of all government and religion." However, they had now been dismissed from the Queen's councils, and one of the first effects of it was the grant of a license to Convocation to frame canons for the exigencies of the Church. Two bishops, Compton and Hooper, both defenders of the privileges of the Lower House, were delegated, in succession, to supply the place of the Archbishop in his absence, and Atterbury was chosen Prolocutor. The subjects assigned by the Queen for discussion were, the state of religion, with reference to infidelity, heresy, and profaneness; the reform of the proceedings of the courts in the matter of excommunication; the preparing forms for the visitation of prisoners and convicts, and for admitting converts from popery and dissent, and restoring the lapsed; the establishment of rural deans; the providing terriers of glebes, tithes, etc.; and the prevention of clandestine marriages; on all which subjects committees were appointed in this and subsequent years, and delivered in reports. One important measure was actually passed in this Convocation. A correspondence commenced between the Commons and Lower House on the subject of the want of churches in the metropolis, which ended in a vote of the Commons of £350,000 for the erection of fifty additional ones, according to a scheme drawn out by Atterbury and the Lower House. If that House had done no other service to the cause of religion than this, it would deserve to be kindly remembered by posterity, in spite of the temper which it displayed towards the Bishops. On the other hand, it would not be fair to {384} impute it to the latter that no great measure had hitherto been carried in behalf of the Church. In their reply to the Lower House, in 1701, on the subject of censuring Toland's book, they observe, "that there had been several obstructions and stumblingblocks laid in the way" of their showing their zeal; and we can readily understand how Queen Anne's Tory ministry might be more ready to co-operate with the heads of the Church than a monarch of foreign birth and prepossessions.

Passing over these subjects, we are here more especially concerned with the conduct of the Lower House, in consequence of the first of the recommendations made by the Queen, viz., to examine into the state of religion. They first drew up a report, in which they attributed the growth of irreligion chiefly to the encouragement given in the former reign to men of latitudinarian principles; but, the Upper House objecting to what seemed like personalities, especially in what had gone by, the matter dropped. Next, the Lower House proceeded to censure Whiston, whose heretical opinions had made great talk at the time; and, upon this, the question of the judiciary power of Convocation revived, which had been stirred in the case of Toland's publication.

Whiston had been expelled the University of Cambridge for Arianism, in October, 1710; and the Lower House of Convocation addressed the Bishops, praying for their lordships' opinion how they might best proceed in relation to him. They received the request graciously, and referred it to the Archbishop. Tenison, in consequence, addressed to them a circular, explanatory of the state of the case. He observed that there were three ways in which a person could be proceeded against whose writings called for censure:—by means of Convocation; by Archbishop's court of audience, in which {385} his suffragans were assessors with him; or, thirdly, by means of the Bishop's court to whose diocese the accused party belonged, on report of Convocation. He considered the first method to be attended by serious difficulties: first, because the Convocation was a court of final resort, which would interfere with an act of Elizabeth, vesting all ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the Crown; next, because there had been no such proceeding for the last one hundred years, during which time an Act had passed abolishing the High Commission and all like courts hereafter; thirdly, because, in the statute annulling the writ "de hæretico comburendo," in Charles the Second's time, all established courts, and therefore that of Convocation, were made to give way to episcopal jurisdiction; lastly, because the Upper House, in 1689, had been advised by counsel to leave such matters to other courts. He ended by recommending an address to her Majesty, praying her to refer the matter to the judges. This was done, and the judges were divided in opinion. Eight were in favour of the jurisdiction of the Convocation in such matters as by the laws of the realm were declared to be heresy, on the ground that an appeal to the Crown from all ecclesiastical courts was implied in the royal supremacy, whether expressly provided for in particular statute or not; so that the Convocation might exercise its ancient and constitutional powers without incurring a breach of the act of Elizabeth. The other four judges considered that such judgments lay within the ordinary episcopal jurisdiction, and concurred in the apprehensions Tenison had expressed in his letter; however, they allowed that heretical tenets and opinions might be examined and condemned in Convocation, without convening the authors or maintainers of them. Such a public judgment was accordingly passed in Convocation {386} upon Whiston's work, and all Christian people were warned against it; it being thought prudent, in spite of the Queen's encouragement to them to proceed judicially, to abstain from further measures.

In 1714, another lamentable occasion occurred for the Lower House to exert itself in maintenance of the orthodox faith. Dr. Samuel Clarke having published his "Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity," a work especially adapted to harass and confuse sensitive minds, they presented an address to the Bishops, praying them to take the matter into consideration; to which they added, at the Bishops' request, a list of objectionable passages in the work, arranged under distinct heads. The Upper House were unwilling to move in the matter, and professed themselves satisfied with a so-called submission, which Dr. Clarke was prevailed on (chiefly, it is said, by Smalridge,) to offer; in which, without retracting any position he had published, he shut up his sentiments in an ambiguous form of words, and proposed to keep silence for the future. The most natural submission would have been for them to subscribe the Articles before the Convocation; but Bishop Burnet had at that time great influence in the Upper House, and I have been told by a very learned person [Note 2] (though he did not refer to his authority), that such was Burnet's relative regard for the Church and his Whig friends, that he wrote to dissuade Archdeacon Welchman from answering Clarke, on the ground of the embarrassment which such a procedure would occasion to Protestant politics. This agrees with what we know of the conduct of the Government in the matter, before the publication of the offensive work; when Godolphin and others of the Queen's ministers sent Clarke a message, to the import "that the {387} affairs of the public were with difficulty then kept in the hands of those who were at all for liberty; that it was therefore, an unseasonable time for the publication of a book which would make a great noise and disturbance; and that, therefore, they desire him to forbear till a fitter opportunity should offer itself." Four years after the introduction of his name into the Convocation, he ventured on altering the Doxologies in the Psalm Books used for singing in St. James's parish, which brought upon him the animadversion of the Bishop of London.

In 1714, George the First succeeded to the throne, and the final suspension of the Convocation soon followed. George began his reign with an address to the Archbishops and Bishops on the subject of the "great differences" which had arisen "among some of the clergy of the realm, about their ways of expressing themselves in their sermons and writings concerning the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity," and of the "unusual liberties which had been taken by several of the said clergy in inter-meddling with the affairs of State and government, and the constitution of the realm;" and, accordingly forbad them preaching either heterodoxy, or politics, except in defence of the regal supremacy. The next year the Convocation was opened with a license to debate, being the third assembly which had been so favoured. This license was, so far, the result of a more liberal and enlarged policy towards the Church, than Burnet and his friends had advised previous to 1710. The subjects for consideration were (in addition to some of those already specified in former licenses) the preparing a form for consecrating churches and chapels, the better settling the qualifications of candidates for orders, the enforcing discipline on the clergy, the providing more effectually for curates whose incumbents were non-residents, and the improving {388} the catechetical instruction given prior to confirmation. But the career of the Convocation was close on its termination. It soon came into collision with the ruling powers, on the subject of Hoadley's doctrines, and though truth was on the side of the clergy, the interest of the government was against them, and it was easy to see which way the contest would terminate. As early as 1705, the Lower House had ventured to attack a sermon of Hoadley's, as "containing positions contrary to the doctrine of the Church, expressed in the first and second parts of the Homily against disobedience or wilful rebellion;" but the Upper House suffered the matter to drop. In 1715-16, Hoadley was made Bishop of Bangor; and, in the course of the following year, published his "Preservative" and Sermon, which gave rise to the famous Bangorian controversy. These writings were at once brought before the Lower House of Convocation who made a representation of them to the Bishops, on the grounds of their "tendency, first, to subvert all government and discipline in the Church of Christ;" next, "to impugn and impeach the authority of the legislature to enforce obedience in matters of religion by civil sanctions." Before this representation could be taken into consideration by the Upper House, a special order come from the King for the prorogation of the Convocation; and from that time to this, it has only existed as a formal appendage to the first meetings of Parliament.

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1. [Was not a conditional ordination intended?]
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2. [I think it must have been Dr. Routh.]
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