Addressed to Gathorne Hardy, then Conservative Home Secretary.
RIGHT HONORABLE DEAR SIR, –
Two reasons induce me to address this letter to you. The first is, your being the Member of Parliament for one of the most ancient seats of learning in the world; the other is, the noble stand you took in the late Debate on the Irish Church. I must at once declare that I am no politician, and therefore plead ignorance of the many subterfuges under which hon. members take refuge in order to advance their political creed and increase their popularity with their constituents. In these days of scepticism and infidelity the Church of Christ seems to be a favourite object of attack, and many of our legislators obtain their popularity on account of their animosity for things belonging to God. The war-cry of a party for many years past has been the ‘iniquity’ of church-rates, and every stratagem has been used to arouse the people of England against what they call this ‘impost’. Integrity of principle has been entirely left out of the question, and anything but truth has been used as an argument to abolish this ancient patrimony of the Church. And what, after all, will be gained by the abolishment of church-rates? Will dissenters of any kind be eased of any burden, freed from any money payment? We must give the opponents of church-rates the credit of possessing superior knowledge. I believe they are not ignorant of the fact that whenever church-rates cease to be given for the repairs of the church and the maintenance of God’s service, the money will go to secular purposes, and find its way into the landlords’ pockets. (This is self-evident, in the face of the great pains which have been taken to convince the public otherwise.) A noble lord, for instance, has been at the trouble to ascertain the sum paid for church-rates on his estate, and has candidly made it known to his tenantry that should church-rates be abolished as a payment to the Church, the sum will be added to the rents. The intentions of the Church’s enemies are covered with too thin a veil to be hidden from an observant eye.
The Resolutions lately brought before the House of Commons for the disestablishment of the Church in Ireland is but a prelude to the confiscation of the Church’s property. It is argued that this step will be a means of restoring peace in the Emerald Isle, and reconciling the disaffected portion of the people to English rule. This is an erroneous proposition, and, carried out, will be found so. That Parliament has the power to sever the Church from the State, I am not going to deny. That it has the shadow of a right to do so is another question. The simple severance of the Irish Church from the State will not affect the Church so much as it will ultimately injure the State. The advantages to the State which are to ensue, were the Church thrown overboard, are visionary, and, I doubt not, the advocates of this policy think so. One thing is certain, God Almighty is able to protect the Church, and He is not lacking in power to punish a nation who wantonly would refuse the recognition of the Church of the living God. The Church is only to a certain degree protected by the State. The Church has been the salvation of the State. It is undoubtedly a fact, that because the State has recognised and protected the Church, has listened to her admonitions, and ruled the nation by ‘Christian’ laws, that we stand so high in the scale of the nations of the world. Let the State divest itself of the Church, and as surely as we have risen to the pre-eminence we hold, so surely shall we fall from our high position, if not rapidly, step by step, until we become a bye-word among the nations of the world.
If the Established Church of Ireland be the Church of the minority – and this is used as an argument for her destruction – it leads to the issue that, were Mahometanism in the ascendant in that disturbed country, the Cross must bend to the Crescent. Oh, sad delusion! oh, happy would it be if politicians would let God’s inheritance alone, and not meddle with things which are evidently too high for them. That the disestablishment of the Irish Church is but a preliminary step to the confiscation of her revenues, her enemies boldly aver. On this head the subject becomes not only serious, but awful. Parliament may sanction this sacrilege, but woe to England and its possessions if our rulers proceed to this step! ‘Will a man rob God?’ Yes ! we have a painful instance of robbery before our eyes (a precedent it may be called) in the sacrilege which took place in the sixteenth century. How many of our nobles are now in possession of Church property – given to God, never to be alienated. What a futile plea it is to argue that what the State gave it can take away! ‘What I ask is a gift.’ Supposing the State gave the Church her property, a gift is a thing which the donor cannot take back again with anything like propriety, much less take it by force. But how, in what way, or when, did the State give this property? Even Mr. Gladstone cannot answer this question to his own conscience.
When the Saxon King Ethelwulph, in the ninth century, granted the tithes to the Church, he only gave to God what God had expressly commanded to be given to the Levitical priesthood. It is granted that what Ethelwulph gave, the secular power to a certain extent protected, up to the time of the Reformation, on the same principle that secular property was protected. But how much of that which has been given to God was at the Reformation (with the same plea which is now made) sacrilegiously wrested from the Church, let those confess who now hold Church property, and at the same time answer to their own conscience these questions: ‘Have we made better use of this property than the Church did? and on what tenure do we hold it?’ But how very much of the Church’s property was left by private individuals – not only by the will of the donors (a most sacred document in all ages), but in thousands of cases presented to God at His holy altar. How were these sacred gifts treated by secular hands? Henry VIII., with an arbitrary power, wrested it from the Church, and gave it to needy partisans of a licentious court. Such is the title by which many of our nobility hold their possessions. Which title is the better, I leave for the impartial mind to judge. If a precedent of robbery and wrong can lawfully justify its repetition, then let our great landholders look to themselves, for we may bid farewell to the security of all sorts of property, however obtained. The Church holds her property in stewardship only, but her Master is the great head of the Church – Jesus Christ. I ask, then, Right Hon. and Dear Sir, by what authority can the property of the Church be confiscated; who has the right to take it from God and apply it to secular purposes? I have said above, Parliament may have the power, but the right, never. It is a ‘principle’ too generally admitted, that the property of the Church was taken from the Church of Rome, and secured to another Church, called Protestant. This principle is erroneous. The Church of England and Ireland had not their origin at the Reformation. The Catholic Church in England and Ireland then merely divested herself of certain errors and superstitions which, in her passage through the medieval times, she had contracted. The hierarchy of the Established Church of Ireland trace their origin to St. Patrick.
The Roman Catholic Church in that island can make no such claim; their orders are traceable only through a foreign Church, bestowed posterior to the Reformation. It is readily confessed that the Irish Church has not done her work of evangelisation, and it is as clear as noonday that the reason she has not done so is because she has kept out of sight her real position, and been contented with her negative character in protesting against Roman errors, without realising her position as the branch of Christ’s holy Catholic Church in Ireland. It is, perhaps, more than probable that, if the bishops and priests of Ireland had manfully contended for Catholic principles, and carried out the teaching of the Book of Common Prayer, we should not have heard of the attack on her revenues, and the attempt to remove her ‘candlestick’ out of its place. There is, however, no valid reason why she should be despoiled on the plea that she has not faithfully done her work. It would indeed be a Christian work, worthy of a Christian legislature, ‘as a nursing mother,’ to deal with the Irish Church, correct her abuses, and use its influence to awaken her from her slumbers. To disestablish and disendow her will not contribute to the pacification of Ireland, for it will neither satisfy the Roman Catholics nor gratify the Fenians. Things are at a pitiable pass with England when men of all creeds can propose to rob God and secularise property over which they (argue as they please) have no real authority. Our Russels, Bright’s, and Gladstones may, with a high hand, hold up to scorn God’s inheritance, and put out their hands to confiscate it, but He who dwelleth on high, though He may suffer them to accomplish their object, will eventually bring them into judgement for their robbery and wrong. It indeed seems strange policy (from a Christian point of view) for professed Christian rulers to take away the means of propagating the Christian religion in order to secure the tranquillity of a Kingdom. I could better understand their wishes for the welfare of Her Majesty’s dominions were they to introduce a Bill for the restoration of Church property wrested from her by violence, instead of wishing to repeat such violation. I can well think how different a face the country would put on.
The property of a monastery well known to me has changed hands a dozen times since the sixteenth century, and upwards of 20,000l. have been spent in litigation by its present possessors, which has distributed the property into petty freeholds. This is no solitary case, and I have no hesitation in saying there is a curse on every acre of land given to God and wrested from the Church by secular power. In hundreds of cases the curse may not even now be apparent as to its working, ‘for a thousand years are but as one day with God.’ But it will certainly come. Assuredly, most assuredly, will God call the perpetrators of ‘sacrilege’ unto a severe and just account. It is indeed self-evident to any thinking Christian man that, should Almighty God suffer the British Legislature to pass a law for the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, and wrest from her her just possessions, it will be in His wrath to punish the Church for her lukewarmness, but he will as surely punish the perpetrators, either in their individual capacities, or the nation as a whole, for this great crime of robbery; yea, as surely as He will bring them into judgement on the great day of general doom. May I, though a very humble subject of our most gracious Queen, most earnestly advise every member of the House of Commons to meditate devoutly and long upon the passage of Holy Scripture with which I close this letter, ere he gives his voice in the matter of the ‘despoilation’ of the Irish Church? –
‘Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, . . . and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.’ – Malachi, iii. 8,9,10.
I am, Right Hon. and Dear Sir,
Your most obedient servant,
W. P. MANN.
MIDDLEHAM: May 13, 1868