Friday, June 04, 2004

More on the Surplice Riots...

Thanks to Quenta Nârwenion who brought to my attention the fact that Ven. Newman commented (I almost wrote blogged! Would Newman have blogged?) on the Surplice Riots in his Difficulties of Anglicans.
When clergymen of Latitudinarian theology were promoted to dignities, did the faithful of the diocese, or of the episcopal city, rise in insurrection? Did parishioners blockade a church's doors to keep out a new incumbent, who refused to read the Athanasian Creed? Did vestries feel an instinctive reverence for the altar-table, as soon as that reverence was preached? Did the organs of public opinion pursue with their invectives those who became dissenters or Irvingites? Was it a subject of popular indignation, discussed and denounced in railway trains and omnibuses and steamboats, in clubs and shops, in episcopal charges and at visitation dinners, if a clergyman explained away the baptismal service, or professed his intention to leave out portions of it in ministration? Did it rouse the guards or the artillery to find that the Bishop, where they were stationed, was a Sabellian? Was it a subject for public meetings if a recognition was attempted of foreign Protestant ordinations? Did animosity to heretics of the day go so far as to lead speakers to ridicule their persons and their features, amid the cheers of sympathetic hearers? Did petitions load the tables of the Commons from the mothers of England or Young Men's Associations, because the Queen went to a Presbyterian service, or a high minister of state was an infidel? Did the Bishops cry out and stop their ears on hearing that one of their body denied original sin or the grace of ordination? Was there nothing in the course of the controversy to show what the nation thought of that controversy, and of the parties to it?
Yes, I hear a cry from an episcopal city; I have before my eyes one scene, and it is a sample and an earnest of many others. Once in a way, there were those among the authorities of the Establishment who made certain recommendations concerning the mode of conducting divine worship: simple these in themselves, and perfectly innocuous, but they looked like the breath, the shadow of the movement; they seemed an omen of something more to come; they were the symptoms of some sort of ecclesiastical favour bestowed in one quarter on its adherents. The newspapers, the organs of the political, mammon-loving community, of those vast multitudes of all ranks who are allowed by the Anglican Church to do nearly what they will for six, if not seven days in the week,—who, in spite of the theological controversies rolling over their heads, could, if they would, buy, and sell, and manufacture, and trade at their pleasure,—who might be unconcerned, and go their own way, for no one would interfere with them, and might "live and let live,"—the organs, I say, of these multitudes kindle with indignation, and menace, and revile, and denounce, because the Bishops in question suffer their clergy to deliver their sermons, as well as the prayers, in a surplice. It becomes a matter of popular interest. There are mobs in the street, houses are threatened, life is in danger, because only a gleam of Apostolical principles, in their faintest, wannest expression, is cast inside a building which is the home of the national religion. The very moment that Catholicism ventures out of books, and cloisters, and studies, towards the national house of prayer, when it lifts its hand or its very eyebrow towards this people so tolerant of heresy, at once the dull and earthly mass is on fire. It would be little or nothing though the minister baptized without water, though he chucked away the consecrated wine, though he denounced fasting, though he laughed at virginity, though he interchanged pulpits with a Wesleyan or a Baptist, though he defied his Bishop; he might be blamed, he might be disliked, he might be remonstrated with; but he would not touch the feelings of men; he would not inflame their minds;—but, bring home to them the very thought of Catholicism, hold up a surplice, and the religious building is as full of excitement and tumult as St. Victor's at Milan in the cause of orthodoxy, or St. Giles', Edinburgh, for the Kirk.
"The uproar commenced," says a contemporary account, "with a general coughing down; several persons then moved to the door making a great noise in their progress; a young woman went off in a fit of hysterics, uttering loud shrieks, whilst a mob outside besieged the doors of the building. A cry of 'fire' was raised, followed by an announcement that the church doors were closed, and a rush was made to burst them open. Some cried out, 'Turn him out,' 'Pull it off him.' In the galleries the uproar was at its height, whistling, cat-calls, hurrahing, and such cries as are heard in theatres, echoed throughout the edifice. The preacher still persisted to read his text, but was quite inaudible; and the row increased, some of the congregation waving their hats, standing on the seats, jumping over them, bawling, roaring, and gesticulating, like a mob at an election. The reverend gentleman, in the midst of the confusion, despatched a message to the mayor, requesting his assistance, when one of the congregation addressed the people, and also requested the preacher to remove the cause of the ill-feeling which had been excited. Then another addressed him in no measured terms, and insisted on his leaving the pulpit. At length the mayor, the superintendent of the police, several constables, also the chancellor and the archdeacon, arrived. The mayor enforced silence, and, after admonishing the people, requested the clergy-man to leave the pulpit for a few minutes, which he declined to do,—gave out his text, and proceeded with his discourse. The damage done to the interior of the church is said to be very considerable." I believe I am right in supposing that the surplice has vanished from that pulpit from that day forward. Here, at length, certainly are signs of life, but not the life of the Catholic Church.

I shan't apologise for the lengthy quotation - this is the satirical side of Newman so little appreciated today.

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