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Title: Clerical Subscription and the Act of Uniformity
Author: Hoare, Edward N.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from the 1864 Hatchard and Co. edition by David Price, email

                          CLERICAL SUBSCRIPTION
                          THE ACT OF UNIFORMITY.

                                * * * * *

                                  BY THE

                         REV. EDWARD HOARE, M.A.,


                                * * * * *

                    HATCHARD AND CO., 187, PICCADILLY.

                                * * * * *

                             ALEX. MACINTOSH,
                        GREAT NEW-STREET, LONDON.

                                * * * * *


As it has pleased Her Majesty to appoint a Royal Commission to consider
the subject of Clerical Subscription, the time has clearly come when
those who regard the principle of Subscription to be one of essential
importance to the well-being of our Church should consider carefully by
what arrangements that principle may be best maintained and carried out.
It is the opinion of many that the wisest course is to endeavour to
secure the present system without alteration, and earnestly to oppose any
change of any kind whatever.  Under many circumstances, I could believe
in the wisdom of so doing; but if it can be shown that there are great
objections against the present practice, then I think that, for the sake
of the principle, we ought to be prepared to receive with gratitude such
a change as may remove well-grounded and reasonable objections.  The
principle and the practice are so intimately connected in people’s minds
that they are almost sure to stand and fall together; so that if there is
any great defect in the practice, there is danger of the principle being
made to bear the blame of it; and if the practice is such as to give
reasonable dissatisfaction to reasonable men, it is almost sure to weaken
the hold which the principle has on the public mind.  On these grounds I
am anxious to call the attention of those Churchmen who believe in the
importance of the principle of Subscription to the practice as at present
imposed by the Act of Uniformity on the beneficed clergymen of the Church
of England; and I do so under the very strong conviction that, in order
to maintain the principle and, I might almost add, on every other ground,
there should be an united endeavour amongst English Churchmen without
delay to effect a change.

                                * * * * *

My reasons are as follows:—

(1.)  The Subscription, as now required of all incumbents, is required
not by the Church, but by the State.  The Church of England is in no
sense responsible for it, having never either sought or sanctioned it.
As the Church of England has always held the principle of Subscription,
so it has provided a form.  This form was first prepared in Convocation,
and then sanctioned by James I., by virtue of his prerogative royal, and
supreme authority in causes ecclesiastical.

This is the form embodied in the thirty-sixth Canon, and is as follows:—

I.  That the King’s Majesty, under God, is the only supreme Governor of
this Realm, and of all other his Highnesses dominions and countries, as
well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes as temporal; and
that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate hath, or
ought to have, any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or
authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within his Majesty’s said realms,
dominions, and countries.

II.  That the Book of Common Prayer, and of ordering of bishops, priests,
and deacons, containeth in it nothing contrary to the Word of God, and
that it may lawfully so be used; and that he himself will use the form in
the said book prescribed, in publick prayer, and administration of the
Sacraments, and none other.

III.  That he alloweth the Book of Articles of Religion, agreed upon by
the archbishops and bishops of both provinces, and the whole clergy in
the Convocation, holden at London, in the year of our Lord 1562; and that
he acknowledgeth all and every the articles therein contained, being in
number nine-and-thirty, besides the ratification, to be agreeable to the
Word of God.

                                * * * * *

But the Church’s form was too temperate for the vindictive spirit of
Charles II. and his Parliament; and therefore, without consulting the
Church at all, the King’s Majesty, with the consent of the Lords and
Commons, enacted a new form of Subscription, and imposed it on all those
who either held any benefice at the time, or should hereafter be
presented to one.  No one, therefore, need fear that his allegiance to
the Church would be in any manner compromised by his disapprobation of
the form of Subscription required by the Act of Uniformity; for the
Church has never had anything to do with it beyond bearing the blame.  It
is a test imposed on Churchmen by Act of Parliament, without the
concurrence of the Church itself, and virtually supersedes the form which
the Church has provided.  It appears to me, therefore, that loyalty to
our Church would lead us respectfully to petition for the repeal of the
Parliamentary enactment, that so our Church may be permitted to carry out
her own principles, and make use of the form deliberately drawn up by
Convocation, and sanctioned by the Crown.##

(2.)  It is impossible to prove a negative; and I may be mistaken: but I
am not able to discover that such a form of Subscription as that required
by the Act of Uniformity was ever known in the whole history of
Christendom.  Churches, one after another, have drawn up Confessions of
Faith, and employed them as tests of opinion in the admission of their
ministers.  Most Churches have prepared liturgical forms for devotional
purposes, and required the use of these forms in public worship.  The
Confession of Faith has been carefully drawn up for one object, and the
Liturgy for another; the one to secure sound doctrine, and the other pure
devotional worship.  So the Church of England, in _its_ form of
Subscription, has kept the distinction perfectly clear.  It requires the
new incumbent to subscribe “that he alloweth the Book of Articles to be
agreeable to the Word of God,” thereby giving a positive acknowledgment
of their truth.  But of the devotional book, the Book of Common Prayer,
it requires him to sign,—“That it containeth in it nothing contrary to
the Word of God, and that it may lawfully so be used, and that he himself
will use the form in the said book prescribed, in publick prayer and
administration of the Sacraments, and none other.”  The Book of Articles
is employed as a Confession of Faith, or test of opinion; whereas all
that is required respecting the Book of Common Prayer is the promise to
use it, with the declaration that there is nothing wrong in so doing.
But this temperate spirit of the Church was not sufficient for the
purposes of Charles and his Parliament.  The persons whom they wanted to
turn out believed in the Articles, and were, many of them, quite willing
to use the Prayer-book.  Thus the Church’s principles were insufficient
for their ejection, and, in order to get rid of them, the plan was
devised of omitting all specific mention of the Articles, and making use
of the whole book as the test or confession of faith.  A long devotional
book of 400 pages, containing prayers, Psalms as pointed for chanting,
rubrics, addresses, and special services, some of which can be used by
the Bishops only, are all massed together, and made into a new exclusive
creed.  There is no exception made for anything.  “All and every thing”
is alike included, and the language is made as stringent as possible.  It
is as follows:—

    “I, A. B., do hereby declare my unfeigned assent and consent to all
    and every thing contained and prescribed in and by the book
    intituled, The Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the
    Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, according
    to the uses of the Church of England; together with the Psalter, or
    Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be said or sung in Churches;
    and the form or manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating of
    Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.”

Never, I believe, was a more flagrant misuse of any document.  The book
was prepared for one purpose, and then, for party ends, employed for
another.  Prayers were made into creeds; the pointing of the Psalms into
a test of opinion; and rubrics into confessions of faith.  Fortunately,
there is wonderfully little in the book, taken as a whole, to wound the
conscience of those who subscribe to the Articles.  But that is not the
point.  The real question is, whether prayers, pointings, rubrics, &c.,
should be employed as creeds.  My own belief is, that they never ought to
be; for, if there is the accuracy of the creed, there cannot be the
devotional warmth of the prayer; that they never have been, except in
this instance; and that they would not have been, even in 1662, had it
not been for the spirit of retaliation, which, unhappily, induced the
King and Parliament to agree in passing the Act of Uniformity.

(3.)  But as the form of Subscription is Wrong in principle, so to many
conscientious minds it becomes painful in practice.

In a long devotional book it is next to impossible that all and
everything should be exactly to the mind of any one, and of all the
thousands of clergymen who regard the Liturgy as amongst the most sacred
possessions ever given to a Church I believe there are very few who would
not rejoice over a slight change here and there, if only they could be
sure that no changes which they disapproved would be introduced with
those they would approve.  Looking at the book in its comprehensive
character, as containing a Calendar of Lessons, a vast number of rubrics,
the Psalms pointed for chanting, and several occasional services, it is
vain to expect that every point of detail shall be exactly to the mind of
any man.  However decided the general approval, there must of necessity
be points of detail which grate, to say the least, on the feelings, if
they are not opposed to the judgment.  Thus there are many persons who
believe that there is nothing contrary to God’s Word in the Prayer-book,
and that it may be lawfully used, who still consider that “assent and
consent to all and every thing” is too strong a term to express their
state of mind respecting it.  The result is that some are deterred from
entering the ministry, others decline or resign preferment; while many
others would consider it a great relief if the form in the Canon were
substituted for that in the Act of Parliament.

(4.)  But there is another objection of a much graver character, and one
which, in these days of loose opinion, is, I believe, far more important
than any already mentioned.  By the confusion of the Articles and the
ritual in one form of Subscription the door is opened for great laxity as
to doctrine.

To meet the difficulty which conscientious persons may feel with
reference to the ritual, our Church, in the preface, claims for the book
that it shall “be allowed such just and favourable construction as in
common equity ought to be allowed to all human writings, especially such
as are set forth by authority.”  It is supposed, therefore, by the
Church, that each clergyman will put his own favourable construction on
the details of the book, which, as a whole, he greatly values; and,
provided that he does not consider any portion contrary to God’s Word,
she is prepared to entrust him with the use of it in the public ministry.
Now, such a principle as this is all very well with reference to forms,
but becomes inexpressibly dangerous when applied to doctrines.  It is
only right that men should be allowed to entertain their own opinion
respecting the selection of lessons in the calendar; but the very life of
the Church is imperilled if we admit a similar latitude respecting the
essential truths of Christianity.  Thus, the Act of Uniformity, by
confusing the two in one form of Subscription, practically opens the way
for laxity of religious belief.  It puts those who do not believe in the
Thirty-nine Articles in the same position as those who think that
mistakes have been made in the calendar, or that the mind of the Church
would be better expressed if two or three sentences amongst the
occasional services were omitted or slightly modified.  The favourable
construction which is necessary for a comprehensive ritual is claimed
equally for the confession of faith, and the denial of revealed truth is
placed on the same level as a scruple about a rubric.  To the mind of
Charles and his advisers I am inclined to think that the two were of
equal importance, or possibly the forms were more important than the
doctrines.  But men of all classes are now, thank God, waking up to the
conviction that all matters of ritual are as nothing when compared with
the truth as revealed in Scripture; and it is lamentable to think that
those who deny such a doctrine as the Atonement should be no more
condemned by their Subscription than are those conscientious men who are
made uncomfortable by a few trifling matters in the ritual.

The conclusion, therefore, is that, just in proportion as we value Divine
truth, we should endeavour to fall back on the wisdom of our forefathers,
who kept the two things quite distinct; and that there ought to be two
forms of Subscription, as directed by the Canon, instead of one, as
required by the Act of Uniformity; that so our adhesion to the great
scriptural and essential truths of the Gospel may stand out, as the
Church has placed it, quite distinct from our approbation of the various
details of the ritual.

But it is frequently argued that, if we touch any portion of the Act of
Uniformity, the whole would be endangered; and it is regarded as so
sacred a bulwark around the truth that no risk must be incurred
respecting it.

Now, I believe that this respect for the Act of Uniformity arises simply
from the fact that no one reads it.  The greater part has long since
become a dead-letter, and if the whole were swept away our position would
be very slightly changed.  The following is a short summary:—

1.  That the Book of Common Prayer as revised in 1660 should be used
instead of that of Edward VI.

2.  That all parsons, vicars, or other ministers should subscribe,
according to the form above given, before the Feast of St. Bartholomew,
1662; or within one month be deprived, _ipso facto_, of their spiritual

3.  That every person who may hereafter be presented to any living make
the same Subscription.

4.  That every resident incumbent, where a curate is kept, read the
common prayers and service at least once a month, or forfeit 5_l._ to the
poor of the parish, on conviction before two justices of the peace.

5.  That all deans, canons, &c., and even tutors in private families,
shall subscribe a declaration against rebellion, a promise to conform to
the Liturgy, and until the year 1682 a renunciation of the Solemn League
and Covenant.

6.  That no person shall act as schoolmaster or private tutor in any
family without a licence from the Bishop, and that any person teaching
without a licence shall be liable to imprisonment for three months and a
fine of 5_l._

7.  That no person shall be admitted to any benefice who is not in holy
orders by episcopal ordination; or administer the Sacrament of the Lord’s
Supper unless he be ordained priest by episcopal ordination, upon pain of
a penalty of 100_l._

8.  That the penalties in this Act shall not extend to foreigners or
aliens of the Foreign Reformed Churches allowed, or to be allowed, by the
King’s Majesty, his heirs and successors in England.

9.  That all heads of colleges read the Morning Prayer in their college
chapel at least once in every quarter, upon pain to lose and be suspended
of and from all benefits and profits belonging to the same Government or
Headship by the space of six months.

10.  That all lecturers or preachers shall, on their admission and on the
first lecture day in every month afterwards, read the prayers for the
time of the day, and shall afterwards declare their unfeigned assent and
consent to the Book of Common Prayer according to the prescribed form;
that if they neglect to do so they shall be disabled to preach the said
or any other lecture; and that if they preach when so disabled they shall
suffer three months’ imprisonment in the common gaol without bail or

11.  That whenever a sermon or lecture is to be preached the common
prayer and service for that time of the day must be read.

12.  That previous statutes be not repealed.

13.  That the parishioners of the several parishes procure copies of the
Prayer-book before the Feast of St. Bartholomew, 1662.

14.  That the Book be translated into Welsh.

15.  That provision be made for the preservation of the Book in
Cathedrals and other places.

16.  That the Thirty-sixth Article be understood as applying to the book
mentioned in this Act as it did heretofore to that of Edward VI.

17.  That the form of prayer heretofore in use shall remain so until the
Feast of St. Bartholomew, 1662.

                                * * * * *

Now what is there in all this that is worth preserving? and what barrier
does it present against the inroads of error?  The greater part was
intended only for the day, and had done its work before the close of the
year 1662.  Of the remainder there is very little which has not long
since fallen into abeyance.  Rectors are never fined 5_l._ if they fail
in reading prayers once a month.  Tutors in private families never
subscribe any declaration against rebellion, and are never imprisoned for
teaching without the licence of the Bishop.  Heads of Colleges are
neither suspended nor deprived if they fail to read prayers once a
quarter in their college chapels.  Lecturers never repeat their
declaration of assent and consent on the first lecture day in each month,
and yet are never imprisoned.  And the Litany is constantly used even by
our Bishops in the place of Evening Prayer.  All that we want to preserve
as of present and practical importance is the adoption of the Liturgy as
revised in 1660, and the necessity of Episcopal ordination.  For aught I
know these may be secured by other statutes; but if not, there would be
no difficulty in securing them, though the whole Act of Uniformity were
repealed.  Or if it is thought desirable that so celebrated an Act of
Parliament ought to be preserved as a curious specimen of bygone
vindictive legislation, let an amendment be introduced substituting the
form of Subscription in the Canon for that required by the Act.  If this
were done, the Church would be permitted to guard its ministry according
to its own principles; many tender consciences would be relieved, and an
important step would be taken towards the attainment of the great object
of Her Majesty’s Commission, viz., the simplification of Clerical
Subscription “consistently with due security for the declared agreement
of the clergy with the doctrines of the Church, and conformity to its

                                * * * * *

              Macintosh, Printer, Great New-street, London.

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