صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

to be willing to join in those services. Every English subject pays for the support of the Church, directly or indirectly. Every English subject, whatever his theological opinions may be, is subject to the Ecclesiastical Courts, and has a right to set their process in motion. The bishops, as bishops, help to legislate for the whole nation. Every man, whatever his creed, has a right to be married in his parish church, and to be buried in his parish church-yard. The law, and not community of religious opinion, constitutes the Church. This is proved by the fact that there is just as much community of religious opinion in it as the law prescribes, and no more. There is nothing to prevent a Unitarian on the one hand, or a Roman Catholic on the other, from holding a benefice in the Church of England, except certain Acts of Parliament, which the legislature might, if it pleased, repeal or modify to-morrow. Suppose, for a moment, that the Act of Uniformity, and with it the obligation to sign the Thirty-nine Articles and to read the Book of Common Prayer, were repealed. Would the Church of England cease to exist? By no means. There would still be as many bishops, deans, canons, rectors, vicars, and curates as before, with precisely the same powers, the same incomes, and the same obligations in all other matters than those relating to doctrine. If the rector of a parish were to die, the same patron as before would present a new one. The same bishop would have to examine and to institute him; he would be liable to the same penalties for non-residence or immorality, and he would be under the same obligation to celebrate religious worship in the parish church, though he might have a discretion as to the kind of service to be celebrated. The Church of England is thus differently situated from almost any other religious community in the world. It is an institution of which every Englishman is a member, and in which every Englishman has an interest, whether he likes it or not. That it is at present so constituted that a

large proportion of its members-all Dissenters, namely, and Roman Catholics -are excluded from its direct benefits, is perfectly true; but this is an accidental and not an essential circumstance. The theology of the Church was at one time Roman Catholic. It was at another time (during the Commonwealth) Calvinistic. Parliament might tomorrow make any other change; but, so long as the law of the land makes a public provision for religious worship, confers special powers and privileges upon 'the ministers of religion, and subjects them to a special discipline, administered by special courts, the aggregate of the institutions so constituted may properly be called the Church of England; the institution, that is, which the English nation thinks fit to maintain and support for religious purposes.

[ocr errors]

It is quite a distinct question whether or no any other meaning than this can be attached to the word Church.' Many persons have tried to discover one, and have sought to specify the tests by which a true Church may be known, and to lay down the definition which it must fulfil. Assuming their success to be complete, such a body, if not recognized by law, would not be the Church of England, any more than the first Christian society established in Rome was at the time of its establishment the Church of Rome. No doubt, for its own purposes, it was a Church; but so far was it from being the Church of Rome, that it was a Church unknown to Rome, or known only to be persecuted. It must, however, be admitted that there has been so much difficulty in affixing any definite meaning to the word Church, that, when it is used in any other than the legal sense ascribed to it above, no two persons can be sure that they are talking about the same thing. Let us, then, use the word in the meaning above assigned to it, which is, at all events, perfectly intelligible, and consider whether any other state of the law respecting the Bible, than that which has been shown to exist by the decisions in the cases of Dr. Williams and

Mr. Wilson, would be endurable in the present state of things, or consistent with the retention by the Church of anything like a national character.

If it is admitted that the position of the clergy is to be a legal one, and that they are to be entitled to retain their position until they are removed from it in due course of law for some offence of which the law can take cognizance-and that this is the essence of an established Church is self-evident—it will follow that the law must do one or the other of three things with reference to the Bible. In the first place, it might be laid down that a certain specified volume-say, for instance, a sealed copy of the Authorized Version, like the sealed copies of the Book of Common Prayer, mentioned in the Act of Uniformity—should, for all legal purposes be recognized as the Bible; and that no clergyman should presume to dispute either the authenticity or the authority of a single word of it. Something nearly approaching to this doctrine was laid down by the formula consensus Helvetici, in the latter half of the seventeenth century; and the doctrine of the Westminster Confession on the subject-which is to this day the standard of doctrine in the Church of Scotland-is not much less stringent. Of course such a doctrine might be laid down here, and might be enforced by a court of law; but would any human creature-would Dr. Pusey himself, and the other authors of the Oxford protest-wish such a step to be taken, or assert that it would be in accordance with the practice of the Church? The very notion is monstrous. If such were the law, all the elaborate provisions which have been made for securing a supply of learned clergy would become incongruous and absurd. The study of Greek and Hebrew would be needless, and even dangerous. Every one who collated a Greek MS., or discussed a disputed reading, would do so at the risk of being deprived of his preferment. A writer like Dean Alford would be ispso fucto a beretic. In a word, the scheme is

so monstrous that no reasonable person would propose it, and it may safely be laid out of the account.

Is there, however, any possible legal resting-place whatever between this policy and that which the Privy Council has declared to be the policy of the Church of England? That there are many views intermediate between this and the view that the Bible is a book like any other, which good and reasonable men may take, is proved by the fact that almost every good and reasonable man does take some such intermediate view. For instance, everybody believes that the authenticity of particular passages in the authorized version may be questioned on purely critical grounds. No one, in our day, is blamed for not believing that the text of the three witnesses forms part of the Bible. Others suppose that not only may the authenticity of particular passages be questioned, but that the truth of passages which are not material to religious belief may be treated as an open question. Others suppose that there are different kinds and degrees of inspiration, according to the subject matter treated of. There are, in short, a number of different theories on the subject, all of which have been, and many of which are, honestly maintained by different writers. The question, however, is not, What views may be honestly maintained? but, What views are capable of being legally enforced? Any one who

will take the trouble to examine the works of the different writers who have treated of the subject will be struck with two facts, either of which constitutes by itself a conclusive objection to the adoption, as a legal standard of doctrine, of any of the views referred to. In the first place, no one of these views ever was, or claimed to be, more than a private opinion put for ward by the person who held it; and the number of these opinions is so great that it is impossible to give any one of them a preference over its neighbours. Tillotson, for instance, denied the inspiration of every part of the Bible which might be discovered by natural means.

Warburton taught the doctrine of partial inspiration. Middleton

taught a similar doctrine, in language and with applications nearly as bold as those of the Bishop of Natal. Bishop Heber put the inspiration of the Bible higher than any of these writers, but considerably lower than the Westminster divines. Bishop Wilson, of Calcutta, treated the matter in a spirit very similar to Heber's. Dean Ellicot puts the tongue of the buckle into but not quite through the hole in the strap, for he expressly declines to affirm that every proposition in the Bible is absolutely true; and the list might be indefinitely lengthened. How could a court of law, even if it had been so unmindful of its duties as to assume the functions of the legislature, decide between all these

opinions, and devise a test which would stigmatize some as heretical, and establish the orthodoxy of others?

If, however, such a piece of judicial legislation had been possible, there is a second objection to every one of these views which would make it practically useless as a legal standard of orthodoxy. Not one of them is definite. They all leave the subject at a loose end, and no one of them can be applied to any particular case. Suppose, for instance, the Court had adopted the view which many writers have held-that the Bible is 'perfect in respect of its object; that is, that it is perfect when it treats of religious matters. This is a perfectly tenable view; but how could a court of law apply it? How could such a court say "We think that it is open to a clergyman to disbelieve the story of Joshua and the sun and moon, but not the history of Jonah and the whale; and we doubt whether the account of Elisha and the two shebears falls on the one side or the other of the line.' After ten or eleven weary days of argument before the Court of Arches, Dr. Lushington said to the counsel for the Bishop of Salisbury, 'Do you say that it is illegal for a clergyman to deny the truth of any propositon whatever in the Bible, small or

great; and if not, where do you draw the line? If you can answer that question, I will sit all day to hear you.' The question was answered, in a sort of way, by a quotation which did not meet the point; but it was in truth unanswerable, and is conclusive of the whole matter.

One middle course between the two extremes is conceivable; and the very description of it shows how impracticable it is. If there were issued an authoritative edition of the Bible, with an authoritative commentary on every subject connected with it, that commentary might be enforced as a standard of doctrine. The clergy might be told that they might go so far in criticizing the Bible, and no further; and the Courts might enforce this obligation; but this is the only way in which it is even conceivable that a modified degree of criticism should be legally permissible. Without a standard specifying what is allowed, and what is not, all or nothing must be legal; and to try to make all criticism illegal is simply impossibl and absurd.

Indeed, if nothing but literary criticism were allowed, the legal position of the clergy would be the same as it is at present. The case would then stand thus:-There once were certain perfect books, which have long since been destroyed or lost. There are still certain MSS. which claim to represent them. Such and such a passage occurs in the MSS. It is lawful for me to inquire whether it formed part of the original perfect book. I consider, for such and such reasons, that the statement contained in the passage is impossible or immoral. If I am right in thinking so, it cannot have formed part of a book which was perfectly good and true. The fact that a passage occurs in a MS. is only evidence, to be taken for what it is worth, to show that it formed part of the original; and the character of the passage itself may be such as to overbalance that evidence. Suppose a man, professing to report a conversation which he had with the late Archbishop of Canterbury, were to ascribe to him

unless its continuance shall be needed as a compensation to large traders for some excessive taxation upon them such as would be the effect of the house-duty under consideration.

The proposal here made for the replacement of part of the incometax by this modified house-duty is put forward in the belief that the substitution would be fair; and if it is such, the extent to which the substitution is carried is immaterial as a point of equity, and it is not a matter of importance that we should predict exactly what rate of house-duty, levied in the manner we have suggested, would, with the contemplated increase of the carriage-duty, produce a sum equal to that raised by the income-tax. We believe, however, that if the houseduty, assessed in the mode before described, were increased in Great Britain to 38. in the pound on private dwelling-houses, and 28. in the pound on dwelling-houses having shops; and were therefore levied in Ireland (where there is now no such duty) at 28. 3d., and 1s. 6d. respectively; the additional produce of this duty, with the assistance of the increased duty on carriages, would allow of the income-tax being reduced to 2d. or 3d. in the pound; and whatever surplus might arise in future years of peace, would be better appropriated to the reduction or repeal of objectionable portions of our indirect taxation than to the absolute extinction of the incometax, or the lessening of such a houseduty as is here proposed.

There is no good reason for objecting that a disproportionate cost would be necessarily incurred for the collection of the income-tax if reduced to so small an amount by the substitution of an increased house-duty. As a matter of fact, the trouble of both the income-tax collectors and the collectors of houseduty in makiplications for payments

would be

at the pr the hou down tc

annum :

worth £20

ng receipts,

less than ing that


6 per those

paying collectors of income-tax is foolishly wrong, for they are paid, not so much in proportion to their trouble as to the rate in the pound at which the tax happens to be levied in the particular year. We have seen this to vary from 5d. to 18. 4d.; their trouble in both instances has been really the same, and yet their pay in the one has been three times as much as in the other. It would be far more reasonable if the remuneration for the collection of both house-duty and income-tax were made proportionate to the amount of assessment, rather than to the amount of tax raised in the year. It is upon the former that the trouble of the collector mainly depends; the fluctuations in the rate of tax do not alter the amount of his labour. The two taxes under consideration are indeed collected for the most part by the same persons; the question therefore does not arise in their case, because what they would lose upon the incometax collection they would gain upon that of the house-duty. And where the two collections are distinct, a rearrangement of the commission upon the basis just indicated would prevent the total cost of collection of the two taxes being increased to any noticeable extent. A saving of expense might on the other hand be attained by allowing fresh incometax assessments to be made at somewhat wider intervals of time than now, so long as the tax remains at the low rate which we have contemplated for times of ordinary peace.

The reduction of the income-tax to 20. or 3d. in the pound would also bring with it the great advantage that the batents (commonly involving to persons 1 to having les those wh be redn amount lished, a



the can




[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

rate will then be more productive than would be the case if the present high rate were continued in time of peace. In the exceptional period of serious war, men's incomes from trades and professions are for the most part reduced, and this circumstance commends the relying in such a time on a tax upon their incomes as near as we can get at them. An increased house-duty, on the other hand, is properly a peacetax; it would not be a fitting resource during war, for this would be to tax men according to the most stationary part of their expenditure at a time when their means have become much curtailed. But it happens that this same circumstance of curtailment of income during war just minimizes at such a time the extra pressure of the income-tax upon the industrial classes, because, their incomes being cramped, their savings are diminished, and (as before explained) it is in the double taxation of these savings that the pressure of the income-tax upon these classes consists. When, therefore, in the direst of extremitieswar-we resort to the worst of dionly kept it down to a low rate in rect taxes, we shall find, if we have time of peace, that its power will be fully available, its present costly system of repayments will be saved, the frauds committed under it will be less difficult of correction, and it will be in itself more equitable.

have to be increased, an equivalent
for the non-revival of those abate-
ments of income-tax could be made
by not imposing to so great an ex-
tent as hitherto the extra taxation
usually raised in time of war from
articles of general consumption, and
more particularly tea and sugar.
The returning of tax-money is most
unbusinesslike and most waste-
ful, and it affords another oppor-
tunity for the fraud which charac-
terizes the income-tax. The first
committee upon this tax received
the strongest official evidence that
under the remission clauses a vast
amount of cheating is successfully
effected by persons whose incomes
are really too large to entitle them
to the abatement. On the other
hand, we would withdraw from the
rich and successful the unfair ad-
vantage which they now obtain by
the system of compositions. It is
not too much to say that this has
the effect of legalising fraud, for
none will compound but those who
have every confidence of such an
increase in their gains as shall much
more than compensate them for the
trifling sum at which the assess-
ment is made in excess of their late
income; and thus men who might
shrink from making a false return
for their own advantage are enabled
under cover of the law, to obtain
this advantage at the expense of
their poorer countrymen. Mr. Hyde,
an official of long standing, repre-
sented to the committee just referred
to that the State loses considerably
by the system of compositions, and
that, of a great number of cases
which he had examined, he ascer-
tained that in nine out of ten, the
parties who compounded had found
it a profitable investment.

But beyond the advantages which may be thus secured for the incometax through its partial replacement by a modified house-duty, this duty has every characteristic that can recommend it as a permanent source of revenue. Reasonable in theory, it can be put into practice without arbitrary surcharges; and it is less either inquisitorial proceedings or liable to evasion, and less troublesome in its levy than any other impost. The legacy-duty may be shirked; under the customs-duties evaded, the succession-duty may be the coast-guard must be employed to prevent smuggling, and we have to take precautions against illicit practices for cheating the excise. But in a house-duty all is open, all is notorious; there is no temptation

Above all, by this reduction of the
rate of income-tax, its full strength
will be reserved for the event of
serious wars. Again, as the con-
science under Schedule D, which is
prostrated by a ninepenny tax may
bear up against one of threepence,
's successful exertions in time of
ace may be used to sustain its
lity under the pressure of a war
so that by reserving the tax
we shall gain the further
that every penny of its


« السابقةمتابعة »