THE Church in England is a branch of the aristocracy. Bishops rank with viscounts and archbishops go before dukes. The first personage in the land, after the royal family, is "his Grace, the Right Honorable and Most Keverend, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, by divine Providence Primate of all England and Metropolitan." The other Bishops are not by "divine Providence," only by "divine permission." Bishops, too, are only right reverend, but an archbishop is most reverend. The heirs of the fishermen of Galilee are punctilious about their distinctions and their precedence.
Nevertheless, most of the prelates are low-born. They rise sometimes by dint of subserviency, sometimes, it is true, by force of talent and learning; but, on the whole, the worldlier arts count for more than intellectual traits, and I never heard that charity, humility, long suffering, or the other Christian graces were considered at all. These are virtues which the Prime Minister leaves to be their own reward.
For it is the Prime Minister who settles the succession to the Apostles and determines on whom the Holy Spirit shall be invited to descend. He appoints every bishop and primate in the Establishment, and selects them from his own party as regularly as when he makes a judge or an ambassador. If, like Mr. Gladstone, he is a man with a religious turn of mind, he is, of course, more likely to choose from his own ecclesiastical clique ; but as most Premiers are not troubled with a strong religious bias, they care little whether the bishop is high church or low. The question with them is, first, whether he will support or oppose them in ordinary politics, and, next, whether he will make trouble in Church affairs. If they have no personal favorite to place and no political debts to pay, they look for a moderate man, who will not lean too strongly to either faction, but keep peace among the brethren. A mild and amiable person, without too much zeal, who will neither entangle the Premier in polemics nor inveigle him into crusades, is the sort of man most likely to be made Archbishop of Canterbury.
There is, however, a world of manoeuvring and back-stairs influence, female devices, royal intrigues, and all sorts of political and diplomatic chicanery at once set in motion whenever a bishop has been promoted to a better place or a better world. The vacant post is the object of ambition to half the important clergy in the kingdom (and their wives), and one man, as human as the rest, is to decide.
There are, of course, men of ability and learning on the episcopal bench, and there are none today who disgrace it by their lives ; but there are many who would never have been selected by Him who appointed the Apostles, nor by laity or clergy, if these had a voice in choosing their leaders. The brightest lights in the English Church are not in the golden candlesticks. The Bishop of Exeter, like the late Bishop of Manchester, has adorned his place, though the appointment of each was bitterly opposed; the Bishop of Gloucester is learned, and the Bishop of Peterborough eloquent, but both are partisans; and Liddon, like Stanley and Milman, has remained unconsecrated, while a crowd of his inferiors received the mitre which he deserved.
The Queen, it was said, repeatedly urged the elevation of Dean Stanley to the bishops' bench, but had not sufficient influence to carry her point. The story may not be true, for Gladstone certainly was Stanley's friend, and the Dean probably preferred his independence and the life of London society, in which he was a brilliant figure, to the precedence and responsibility of episcopacy, and exile to the provinces for half of every year. More than once I heard him boast that as Dean of Westminster he was subject to no diocesan. If it had been otherwise, he might perhaps have aspired to a see, for the deans often quarrel with their bishops, especially about the control of the cathedrals. There have been fierce fights over the figures on the reredos and the ornaments in the choir.
The story was also current at one time that the canon who gave up a Princess to Lord Lome was to be rewarded for his sacrifice with a bishopric, and many a diatribe was pointed with the taunt of so discreditable a bargain. This tale also may have been without foundation, but that the rumor should have been afloat at all shows that ecclesiastical preferment, like more mundane prizes, is believed to go by favor.
A bishop often begins his career as tutor to a lord, who in due time presents him to a benefice; or perhaps he has been master at a public school, where he made acquaintance with the parents of his aristocratic pupils. If, after a while, ambition stirs within him, he begins to write political pamphlets, or preaches political sermons, or makes himself in various ways acceptable to the dispensers of sees; and finally, when a diocese falls vacant and his patron is in power, the adroit calculator and courtier is converted into a Father in God.
Even then his struggles are not over, for there are degrees in the episcopacy. One see differeth from another see in glory and emolument. The pay of an ordinary bishop is only $25,000, while that of the Archbishop of Canterbury is $75,000 a year. One bishopric has a seat in the House of Lords attached to it, another is without this distinction ; and though every bishop is by courtesy styled My Lord, and none of them disclaim the title, only certain fortunate ones are in reality peers of the realm. Of late years, in order to restrict the number of spiritual aristocrats, only two or three of the most important prelates are allowed permanent seats in the House of Lords; all the others are obliged to take turn and turn about in being peers. This makes the lesser hierarchs strive earnestly for the prize that is set before them. They declaim eloquently in favor of the minister who can promote them ; they preach and pray for him; they vote for his measures when they have the chance; they talk for him in society, and finally perhaps attain the goal of their ambition, that highest seat at feasts which their Master declared is not to be desired.
But there is a drawback to their grandeur. The glory is very much like that of the monarch and the lords, a show and a sham after all. Not only because the mitres, like the coronets and the crown, are trembling on the heads of those that wear them ; not only because of the imminence of disestablishment and the certainty of approaching change ; but even while it lasts the glitter is tantalizing and unreal.
The great prelate who crowns the sovereign and performs the marriage and the burial service over the royal family, has few functions of higher importance than these. In the union of Church and State the Church is subordinate, and the lesson is constantly inculcated. If the State endows and supports the Church, it must also govern and control. Parliament determines the doctrines and regulates the rubrics of the Establishment. It settles not only what vestments shall be worn and if candles may be used, but whether there is a real presence in the Eucharist, and if baptismal regeneration shall be believed. A Parliament including Catholics and Jews and infidels legislates for the Protestant Church of England, creates and deposes its dignitaries, decides upon its rites, pronounces upon its creed; and all the consecrated Fathers in God accept its decisions and conform to its commands, rather than lose their terrestrial advantages.
When this mighty fabric of time-serving and worldliness, called an Establishment, shall have passed away; when the money-changers have been swept from the temple, and the example of the Founder of the Church is followed by the Church and in the Church ; these spiritual peers who now sit beside dukes and viscounts, and, for the sake of their dignities and their incomes, submit to the yoke of politicians in things spiritual and eternal; who are told by Parliament what doctrines they shall preach to their flocks, in what belief they shall worship, with what form they shall approach the Holy Table in the most sacred right of their religion, will be pronounced the veriest Esans that ever sold a celestial birthright for a mess of earthly pottage that the world has seen. [As Written]
RANK AND TITLE
THE PRINCE OF WALES
AMERICANS AT COURT
THE CROWN IN POLITICS
QUEENS' PERSONAL CHARACTER
SERVANTS' HALL PRECEDENCE
THE HOUSE OF LORDS
THE PRINCESS OF WALES
A NOBLEMAN INDEED
POMPS & VANITIES OF CHURCH
CHURCH & STATE
HOUSE OF COMMONS
LITERATURE & THE LORDS
THE LONDON SEASON