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Original Documents on Aborigines and Law, 1797-1840

Document 104

Original Document 104






It is the object of the following Remarks, to shew that the constitution and practice of the Church Missionary Society are in strict conformity with Ecclesiastical principles, as they are recognized in the constitution and practice of the Church of England.

   Throughout the system of the Church of England there is a recognized co-operation of temporal and spiritual functions in matters Ecclesiastical ; that is, the Laity and Clergy have not only their separate and distinct provinces, but, in many important respects, the unite their agency for the accomplishing of Ecclesiastical acts.

   For instance, in supplying a vacant church, a Lay-Patron selects and presents "his Clerk" (as the Clergyman is technically called) to the Bishop; who thereupon invests him with authority to minister in that Church.   So, also, there are certain Lay-officers appointed to every church (the Churchwardens or Sidesmen) whose duty it is, not only to guard, in conjunction with the Minister, the temporalities of the Church, but also to watch over the due performance of Divine Service, the morals of the parishioners, and the conduct of the Minister, and to report from time to time, on each of these matters, to the Ecclesiastical authorities.   The duties of these officers is implied in the old appellation, "Sidesmen," or "Synodsmen," - men summoned to attend and give information at Synods and Visitations.

   The distinction and co-operation of lay and spiritual functions in the Church of England might be further illustrated in the case of the Ecclesiastical Courts, and various relations which arise out of the principle that the Sovereign is the Supreme Ruler of the Church.

  Keeping the foregoing distinction in view, the Church Missionary Society may be regarded as an Institution for discharging the temporal and lay offices necessary for the preaching of the Gospel among the Heathen.   It is a strictly Lay Institution: it exercises, as a society, no spiritual functions whatsoever.

   Such being the constitution of the Society in theory - are its proceedings conducted in conformity with this theory, and with the ecclesiastical principles of the Church of England?

   In order to review these proceedings, they may be conveniently arranged under the FOUR following Heads:-


These acts are altogether within the province of Laymen.


               In this department there is no necessary encroachment upon spiritual functions.   The Colleges in our Universities are Lay-Corporations, and may, in many cases, be presided over by Laymen.

Yet it may be urged, that in this department there is an approach to the peculiar province of Clergyman; because, spiritual persons seem the more proper judges of a Candidate's fitness for Missionary employment; and it is generally admitted, that a Bishop may exercise a control over the education and training of Candidates to be advanced by himself to Holy Orders.   Now, in both these particulars the Church Missionary Society has been carefully guarded in its proceedings.   The examination of Missionary Candidates is referred to a Clerical Sub-Committee; and the general Committee consult and act upon the report of this Clerical trial and judgement.   In respect of the other point, the education and training of Candidates for Holy orders, the Church Missionary Society at Islington has the sanction and approbation of the Bishop of London; who, in this country, admits to Holy Orders all the Society's Candidates; and his Lordship has repeatedly expressed his satisfaction at the results of the system of instruction, as they have been manifested in his examinations for Holy Orders.


   Now, here an objection against the Society has been founded on the use of the term "sending forth:" - it sounds like an exercise of Ecclesiastical power.   But, Ecclesiastically speaking, the Bishop of London 'sends forth' every Missionary ordained by him.   The Law of the land has sanctioned the Two Archbishops, and the Bishop of London, in ordaining persons to officiate abroad.   The Secretary of the Church Missionary Society requests, by Letter, the Bishop of London to ordain, in conformity with the provisions of the Act of Parliament, such and such persons, whom the Society is willing to support in some Foreign station.   The Bishop, by the imposition of hands, gives them authority to preach the Gospel, with a view to their foreign location. - In the case of persons already in Holy Orders , whom may join the Society, they may be said to go forth by their own voluntary act; but their Letters of Orders, given by a Bishop of our Church, are their mission and commission, Ecclesiastically speaking.

   Hence, to calls the Acts of the Church Missionary Society - in selecting the station, paying the passage-money, and agreeing to provide the Missionary's salary - to call these acts a sending forth of Preachers, in an Ecclesiastical sense, is to confound names with things, and to lose sight of all true Church principles.

IV.    The fourth general head under which the proceedings of the Church Missionary Society may be arranged, is, THE SUPERINTENDENCE OF MISSIONARIES IN THEIR LABOURS AMONG THE HEATHEN.                       

[786] Here a distinction must be made between the case of those Foreign stations which lie within the jurisdiction of a Colonial Bishop, and other stations, which are not so situated, and may therefore be termed extra-diocesan.

   In the first case, the Church Missionary Society has expressly determined, that all its ordained missionaries shall be submitted for licence to the Bishop of the diocese in which they may be stationed; and that no Missionary shall exercise his spiritual functions in such diocese without a licence.   The Society has further recognised the uncontrolled discretion of the Bishop to grant or withhold his licence, and the propriety of specifying in such licence a particular district as the field of labour; so that a Missionary cannot be removed from one district to another without the sanction of the Bishop.

   These principles were stated in a Letter from the Society to the Bishop of Calcutta, signed by the Right Honourable the President (December 17, 1835), in a manner so satisfactory to the Bishop, that he embodied them in the four following Rules, expressed for the most part in the words of the Society's Letter; which were, at the Bishop's request, entered upon the Minutes of the Calcutta Corresponding Committee, as the recognized Rules of their practice:-

-  The Bishop expresses-by granting or withholding his licence, in which the sphere of the Missionary's labour is mentioned-his approbation, or otherwise, of that location.

-  The Bishop superintends the Missionaries afterwards, as the other clergy, in the discharge of their Ecclesiastical duties.

-  The Bishop receives from those (the Committee and Secretary) who still stand in the relation of Lay-Patron to the Missionary, such communications respecting his Ecclesiastical duties as may enable the Bishop to discharge that paternal superintendence to the best advantage. - The Archdeacon of Calcutta or Bombay acting under the Bishop's immediate directions, when he happens to be absent.

-  If the Bishop * or Archdeacon fills, at the request of the Society, the offices of Patron, President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary, &c., he receives, further, all such confidential information, on all topics, as the Bishop officially neither could nor properly ask (to receive).   

It will be perceived, that the Missionaries, thus licensed, stand towards the Bishop in the relation rather of stipendiary Curates, than of Beneficed Clergymen.   For a Bishop in England cannot refuse a licence ort Institution to a benefice, without assigning a reason which will bear investigation before a Court of Common Law; nor can he deprive a Clergyman of his benefice without a judicial process.   But no law has provided any such check in the case of Missionaries: the Bishop has the power of withholding a licence, or of withdrawing it, at his sole discretion, without assigning any case, as in the case of Stipendiary Curates in this country.

   If it be asked, What are the checks and safeguards against the undue exercise of this discretionary power of the Bishop? - it may be replied, in the words of the Bishop of Calcutta, in a Letter to the Parent Society, April 12, 1837: -

"We are not to take for granted that discretionary power will be abused; but on the contrary, to provide, by a cheerful and friendly spirit and conduct, against the likelihood of such an occurrence.   If the event of arbitrary conduct should arise, or be supposed to arise, the remedies are-public opinion-an appeal to the Archbishop-and the Society's refusing to make other appointments and locations than those unreasonably objected to.   Nothing is the least likely (and probability is the guide of life) to arise to impede or cramp the Committee, since they unquestionably and avowedly possess, The choice of men-The appointment of spheres of labour-The temporal power, including pecuniary support."

   But though the Bishop's licence is at once the pledge and proof that the Society's Missionaries are under Episcopal superintendence and jurisdiction, and that the spiritual oversight rests altogether with the Bishop; yet the Society may seem, to some persons, to

keep up a kind of spiritual jurisdiction and oversight, by requiring accounts from the Missionaries of all their proceedings, and by giving them directions, from time to time, which may bear upon their spiritual duties.   But it must be remembered, that the Society stands towards its Missionaries in the relation of Trustee of the fund out of which their salaries are paid.   In the case of a beneficed Clergyman in this country, the Minister is the guardian and possessor of the temporalities of the benefice, because the benefice is an endowment; and the Patron has no further connection with the Minister whom he has once presented to the Bishop.   In our case, the office of Patron is in a sense perpetuated by the payment of the salary, and the possession of all the temporalities of the Mission.

   This matter has been well explained by the Bishop of Calcutta, in a Letter to the Calcutta Corresponding Committee, May 26, 1837: -


"The Missionary Committees (says his Lordship) have a far greater latitude in India than any Lay-Patrons at home.   Upon presenting his Clerk to the Bishop, the Patron at home is functus officio .   The Clergyman is removed, on being once instituted and licensed, totally and for ever from the Patron, and is transferred to the superintendency of the Bishop.   The Patron has nothing whatever more to do with him.   But in India, the Committee is (1) the continued paymaster of the Missionary after he is duly licensed: - for institution and induction there are none. (2) They correspond with him.   (3) They supply him with Catechists. (4) The report his chief proceedings home. (5) They propose removals and changes of station to the Bishop. (6) They exercise, unavoidably, an influence which does not belong to the mere Lay-Patron; and are aiding, in a variety of ways, to the comfortable and honourable discharge of the Missionary's most exalted and most spiritual duties."


It remains to consider the case of those stations which are Extra-diocesan; i.e. where there is no Colonial Bishop of the Church of England having jurisdiction over them.   

[787]    In these cases, the Society has endeavoured to procure for such stations the benefits of the Episcopal office from the nearest Bishop of the Church of England.   Application was made by the Committee both to the late and to the present Bishop of Madras, to extend, as far as circumstances would admit, these benefits to the Mission in Travancore; which, as an independent state, was not included in the diocese of Madras.   A similar application was made, on behalf of the New-Zealand Mission, to the Bishop of Australia; who at once acceded to the request, and kindly promised to visit New Zealand as soon as his other duties would permit; stating, in a Letter to the Society's representatives at Sydney, "It is highly satisfactory to me, that our friends at home are taking a view of these things which proves them to belong, not only to a Missionary , but also to aChurch Society."   (See Annual Report, 1838)


Such is a General View of the Constitution and Proceedings of the Church Missionary Society.

It is not intended to assert, that errors are not sometimes committed in the application of these principles to matters of detail.   It must be remembered, that Missionary operations are, alas! new and anomalous in the system of the Church of England; and that it is not always easy to draw a definite line between the two provinces which belong respectively to the Bishop and the Committee.   It has been observed by the Bishop of Calcutta (Letter, May 26, 1837): "The boundaries of the power of Committees, as they approach to those of the Bishop, can be ascertained in many points, only by time and observation."    Perplexities have consequently occurred; and unhappily misunderstandings have sometimes arisen between the Representatives of the Society abroad and Ecclesiastical Authorities.   But these are the principles by which the Home Committee have endeavoured to guide the proceedings of the Society: and they confidently responded to a sentiment expressed by the Bishop of Calcutta - "The principles of our new relations are now fully recognised; the details will soon find their level." - (Letter, 9 th June, 1836.)


In reviewing the Ecclesiastical relations of the Church Missionary Society, there are two or three points which it seems very important to notice.

   1.   Missionary operations, as they are conducted by the Church Missionary Society, though apparently anomalous in the system of the Church of England, are yet in strict conformity with its constitution and principles: they are analogous to many other instances of voluntary exertion for the extension of true religion within the Church, in which Ecclesiastical authority and Lay co-operation unite for the accomplishment of the same end; so that these operations may be regarded as the acts of the Church of England, putting forth its energy for the Conversion of the Heathen World.   For its has been shown, that the Bishops of the Church, under the authority of the laws of the land, ordain and send forth our Missionaries-that these Missionaries are licensed and superintended abroad in every case where it is practicable, by Colonial Bishops of the Church of England; as are the other Clergyman of the Church officiating in the same colony.   The Services which the Missionaries perform are in strict conformity with the Ritual and discipline of the Church.   Even in the few cases in which Lutheran Clergymen are employed, this rule is observed; and all the congregations which are gathered into the fold of Christ are trained up as Members of the Church established in this land.   

   And here it may be observed, that nothing less than the sanction of a duly-assembled Convocation can more fully identify the acts of any Missionary Society, within the Church of England, with the Church. *  Without such sanction, all associations of Churchmen must stand in the same position.   Still further, not to notice the present abeyance of Convocations, it may be asserted, that even if the Church were to assemble in her provincial Convocation, and to decree and to regulate Missionary operations, such proceedings could not essentially add to, or alter those important particulars which, under present circumstances, entitle the operations of the Church Missionary Society to be regarded as Missionary operations of the United Church of England and Ireland.     

-  It must ever be borne in mind, that Missionary operations are, in their very nature, temporary and preparative: - that they are to be gradually but eventually superseded by a different order of things, when the Heathen Nations shall have become christianised.   In some cases, as in the West Indies, this change is further advanced than in others.   Now, it must be expected, that, in proportion as this change advances, difficulties and perplexities will arise in our Ecclesiastical relations, peculiar to this transition state -from Missionary operations, to that happy consummation when there shall be an endowed and established system of Christian Instruction, and a territorial division of Ministerial labour.   This consummation the Church Missionary Society has ever kept in view, and devoutly desired; and, as far as possible, has prepared for its approach. -   In an interview with the Bishop of Barbados   (April 1835), this point was expressly alluded to; and it was stated by the Committee to his Lordship, "that whenever a district should be brought into the state of an organized Christian community, it should assume entirely the Parochial form, and cease to be occupied as a Missionary Station. - The Bishop entirely acquiesced in this view; and only expressed his anxiety that it should not be acted upon so as prematurely to deprive a district of the Missionary's services." ( Extract from Committee's Minute. )

3.   Lastly, it must be evident, from a review of the whole subject, that our Ecclesiastical relations depend, in many important respects, upon a mutual confidence and good understanding between the Committee and its representatives, and the Ecclesiastical Authorities both at home and abroad.   This must be the case, to argue upon no higher grounds, while those relations are governed by Ecclesiastical laws and canons made, without reference to Missionary operations, for an Established Church in a Christian country; and where so much is also necessarily left to the discretion of both parties.   If we look to our Home operations, the Committee places confidence in the Bishop of London, that he will continue to ordain the Missionary Candidates introduced to his Lordship by the Society according to the provisions of the Act; and the Lord Bishop of London relies upon the Committee's using every means to select, train, and duly qualify proper candidates to be thus introduced to him.

[788]   So also, in its Foreign operations, the Society places confidence in the Colonial Bishops (as it has been already shown, in a question from the Letter of Bishop Wilson), that they will not exercise an unreasonable or arbitrary discretion, in withholding or withdrawing licences and ordination from our Missionaries, or in refusing ordination to our Candidates.   And the Bishops, by granting licences and ordination to the Missionaries of a voluntary Society, whose income is liable to fluctuations, and whose agents are constantly changing, manifestly place confidence in the Committees, that they will use every endeavour to keep up the Missions once established; and that they will not, on their own part, act in an un reasonable or arbitrary manner, or withdraw the salary from a licensed Missionary, without reason sufficient to prove to the licensing Bishop the necessity of the proceeding.

  It seems impossible to supersede this Conventional understanding (as it may be termed), till Missions are supported by endowments, or till a code of Missionary canons can be established by competent authority.

   This mutual confidence and good understanding now exists, it may be thankfully asserted, between the Committee of the Society and the Ecclesiastical Authorities of every Colonial Diocese in which Missionaries are labouring.   And may He, who is the God, "not of confusion, but of peace," and the great Shepherd and Bishop of Souls," unite together the hearts and hands of those who are labouring in this Holy Cause-"that all and every of these may, in their several callings, serve truly and painfully, to the glory of His Name!"

February, 1839.                                                                                                              H.V.

This paper was drawn up by a Member of the Committee of Correspondence, in reply to a Letter on the subject from an influential friend in the country.   It has since been adopted by the Committee of the Society, and is printed as an Appendix to the 39th Report.


* Footnote in original: The three Bishops of India and the Bishop of Australia are the Presidents of the Corresponding Committees in their respective dioceses.

* Footnote in original: The American Episcopal Church has, in Convention, thus identified itself with a Missionary Society.

Published by the Centre for Comparative Law History and Governance of Macquarie University, and State Records NSW