Monday, May 9, 2011

The Gorham Case

GORHAM CASE, THE. According to the judgment of the Privy Council in the case of Gorham v. the Bishop of Exeter, the validity of the doctrine of the conditional (or hypothetical) regeneration of infants in baptism was declared consistent with the teaching of the Church of England. The Gorham Case proved to be one of far-reaching importance in the history of the Church of England. It was the first great decision on a doctrinal question since the Reformation, and though its effects were minimised by the leaders and sympathisers of the then incipient Tractarian Movement, the decision of the Court was nevertheless viewed by them as a serious blow to their theory of Sacramental Grace. The circumstances of the case were as follows.

The Rev. Geo. Cornelius Gorham, B.D., Fellow of Queen’s College, Cambridge, and a clergyman of over thirty years standing, incurred, when vicar of St. Just, Cornwall, the displeasure of his diocesan, Bishop Henry Phillpots of Exeter, on account of certain phrases,such as "National Establishment, "used by him in a circular relating to a new church in Pendeen, and in advertising for a curate "free from Tractarian Error." The vicar, on his part, protested against the bishop's determination to institute a particular inquiry into any curate nominated by him. This was the first indication of that friction which developed into a serious and protracted controversy. In 1847 Lord Chancellor Cottenham offered Mr. Gorham the living of Brampford Speke in the same diocese. The required signatures of three beneficed clergymen were, on his acceptance of the offer, appended to the Letters Testimonial. These, on being submitted to the bishop for his counter-signature, were endorsed to the effect that he must conscientiously withhold his signature, inasmuch as he considered that the affixing of his name would imply his personal belief that the party to whom it relates had not held, written, or taught anything contrary to the doctrine of the United Church of England and Ireland, and that his own experience attested that Mr. Gorham did hold, write, and maintain what was contrary to the discipline of the said Church. This drew forth a remonstrance from Mr. Gorham. The bishop refused to alter his determination. The Lord Chancellor, on being appealed to, ordered the Presentation to be made out, which was done on November 2nd. Mr. Gorham in due course applied to the bishop for institution. That application led to a correspondence which resulted in the signification of the bishop’s intention to test the presentee’s soundness as to doctrine by examination. This examination began on November 17, 1847, lasting six days in spite of Mr. Gorham’s protest against its continuance, "on the ground that his doctrine-had been sufficiently tested, and that the examination was becoming over-minute and inquisitorial. "Notwithstanding, for three days in the following March (1848) it was resumed, and finally terminated on the llth of that month. The examination was conducted partly by written questions and partly viva voce. When the latter method was used, the bishop’s chaplain and Mr. Gorham took down both question and answer. The whole examination was eventually published by Mr. Gorham, and acknowledged to be correct by the bishop, who subsequently incorporated the book in his Act of Petition to the Court of Arches. No less than 149 questions were put at this examination, most of which were answered by Mr. Gorham, while some were declined on the ground of irrelevancy.

To Questions V., VI., and VII., which were to the effect, "Does the Church hold, and do you hold, that every infant lawfully baptized is by God made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven that such infants are born again of water and of the Holy Ghost, and received by the laver of regeneration into the number of the children of God? " Mr. Gorham replied that these propositions being stated in the words of the Book of Common Prayer must be held to contain nothing contrary to the Word of God or to sound doctrine, "and therefore may be deemed to be fairly defensible, if 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." (See Preface to Book of Common Prayer.)

"Just and favourable construction" of passages like these must be sought, argued Mr. Gorham, (1) by bringing them into juxtaposition with the precise and dogmatical teaching of the Church in her explicit standard of doctrine, the XXXIX. Articles; (2) by comparing the various parts of her Formularies with each other; (3) by ascertaining the views of those by whom her services were reformed and her Articles sanctioned.

The real point involved in these questions was the efficacy of the Sacrament of Baptism, not merely in infants, but in adults, and that question could not, he argued, be fairly dissevered from the efficacy of the other Sacrament, that of the Lord s Supper. (See Article XXIX.) The Articles were cited as teaching that, in addition to right administration of both sacraments, "worthy reception" is essential to their becoming " effectual signs of grace." No distinction is made in this respect between adults and infants. "They that receive baptism rightly (recte baptismum suscipientes, i.e. not merely by lawful administration, but by worthy reception) are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sins and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed."

Such, Mr. Gorham contended, is the doctrine of the Articles on the efficacy of both Sacraments—where there is no worthy reception, there is no bestowal of grace.

The Formularies fairly construed are consistent with the Articles. In the Catechism "the inward and spiritual grace" is carefully distinguished from "the outward and visible sign" which is its token, pledge, and manifestation when rightly received. The conditions of repentance and faith " are expressly required even of infants, who must enter into these stipulations by their representatives. Faith and repentance are declared by the adult in his own person, and are stipulated by the infant through his sponsors as dispositions which exist, or shall hereafter exist, in the mind of the candidate. The whole Baptismal Service, therefore, is constructed on the assumption that these promises are sincere, and are pledged on behalf of the infant by its sponsors as conditions which should be forth coming in the mind of the candidate for baptism. In this charitable hope the Formularies of the Church affirm that the subject of baptism is "a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven" (Question V.).

Question VI. In the same strain of charitable hypothesis it is affirmed that infants" so baptized," namely, not merely according to the institution of Christ, but, with "the stipulation (the answer) of a good conscience towards God," are born again of water and of the Holy Ghost; (Question VII. ) it being impossible that such dispositions and fruits should exist, except when the Holy Ghost has imparted a new nature, which He may do before baptism, in baptism, or after baptism, "as He listeth."

The examination resulted in the refusal on the part of the bishop to institute Mr. Gorham. on the ground of the unsoundness of the doctrines enunciated by him.

In compelling the bishop by legal proceedings to grant institution, the form known as Duplex Querula was adopted, which consisted of a complaint tendered to the archbishop against his Ordinary for some alleged denial of justice. The Dean of Arches (Sir H. J. Fust) issued a monition to the bishop to institute Mr. Gorham within fifteen days, or show cause for refusing; institution to be proceeded with by default. The bishop responded by what is called an "Act on Petition," in which he included the book published by Mr. Gorham containing a detailed account of his examination. The bishop expressed himself convinced that Mr. Gorham was of unsound doctrine in respect to the efficacy of the Sacrament of Baptism, inasmuch as he held that spiritual regeneration is not given or conferred in that Holy Sacrament. This elicited a defensive rejoinder from Mr Gorham. The case came on for hearing in the Arches Court in February 1849, and judgment was given in the following August in favour of the bishop. Sir H. J. Fust concluded his judgment by stating that "the doctrine of the Church of England undoubtedly is that children baptized are regenerated at baptism, and are undoubtedly saved if they die without committing actual sin. Mr. Gorham has maintained, and does maintain, opinions opposed to that Church of which he professes himself a member and a minister."

From the decision of the Court of Arches Mr. Gorham appealed to her Majesty in Council. The case came on for hearing on Appeal, before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, December 11, 1849. The appellant’s points, as put by his Counsel, were principally these: The Articles are the Code of Doctrine in the Church of England, the Prayer Book the Code of Devotion. It is not imputed to Mr. Gorham that he holds anything inconsistent with the Articles, but that he holds doctrine inconsistent with opinions gathered by the bishop inferentially from the Services of the Church. The doctrine which Mr. Gorham is alleged to contradict may be stated as that of unconditional regeneration in baptism, which is substantially the same as that opus operatum of the Council of Trent, which Article XXV. condemns, as is shown by the version of that Article in the edition of 1552 (their Article XXVI.), where the words used were "and in such only as worthily receive the same, have they a wholesome effect, and that not on account of the work wrought, "idque non ex opera (ut quidam loquuntur) operate."The present Article XXV., though leaving out the particular words ex opere operato, as effectually condemns the idea of unconditional grace. The question is not whether the doctrine of Mr. Gorham is laid down in the Articles, but whether it is tenable consistently with them.

A true view of the baptismal services shows that they all admit of explanation on that same charitable hypothesis which is confessedly the true explanation in the service for adult baptism, and which charitable hypothesis necessarily pervades the entire Prayer Book from Morning Prayer onward to the close.

Mr. Gorham, on his part, denied the allegation of the bishop that he maintained, or had at any time maintained, unsound doctrine respecting the efficacy of the Sacrament of Baptism, or that he had held, or persisted in holding, any opinions thereon at variance with the plain teaching of the Church of England in her Articles and Liturgy.

The construction put upon Mr. Gorham’s doctrine by the Judicial Committee was as follows:--

"Baptism is a Sacrament generally necessary to salvation, but the grace of regeneration does not so necessarily accompany the act of baptism that regeneration invariably takes place in baptism; that the grace may be granted before, in, or after baptism; that baptism is an effectual sign of grace, by which God works invisibly in us, but only in such as worthily receive it in them alone it has a wholesome effect; and that without reference to the qualification of the recipient, it is not in itself an effectual sign of grace. That infants baptized, and dying before actual sin, are certainly saved; but that in no case is regeneration in baptism unconditional."

The concluding words of the judgment given in the Court of Appeal, reversing that of the Court of Arches, are as follows:--

"The judgment of their lordships is, that the doctrine held by Mr. Gorham is not contrary or repugnant to the declared doctrine of the Church of England as by law established, and that Mr. Gorham ought not, by reason of the doctrine held by him, to have been refused admission to the vicarage of Brampford Speke. We shall therefore humbly report to her Majesty that the sentence pronounced by the learned Judge of the Arches Court of Canterbury ought to be reversed, and that it ought to be declared that the respondent, the Lord Bishop of Exeter, has no shown sufficient cause why he did not institute Mr. Gorham to the said vicarage.

"We shall humbly advise her Majesty to remit the cause with that declaration to the Arches Court of Canterbury, to the end that right and justice may be done in this matte: pursuant to the said declaration " (March 8 1850).

As the result of this judgment, the Dean of Arches, acting for the archbishop, duly instituted Mr. Gorham to the living of Brampford

Literature.--Brodrick and Fremantle’ s Judgments of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, London, 1865. Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury from the Bishop of Exeter, 91 pp., London, 1850. By the same to the Churchwardens of the Parish of Brampford Speke. A Pastoral Letter by the Bishop of Exeter to his Clergy on " The Present State of the Church," 126 pp., London, 1851. This last contains an Address of sympathy from thirty-seven ministers in Prussia. J. B. Mozley, Review of the Baptismal Controversy, new edition, 1895, and his Primitive Doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, 1856. Among Mr. Gorham s publications relating to the case, the following maybe quoted: "Examination before Admission to a Benefice, by the Bishop of Exeter, followed by Refusal to Institute," London. This is the book mentioned as having been filed in the Register of the Court of Arches. The Rev. W. Goode issued a remarkable pamphlet by way of comment on the Bishop of Exeter’s Letter to the Primate above mentioned, 107 pp.

Rev. W. Heber Wright, M.A., of Trinity College, Dublin, Vicar of St. George's, Worthing.

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