Ritualism has very commonly been regarded by English Church people as a system of ceremonial practices supposed to enliven and brighten, the Church services. Looked at in this light, it has been condoned by many to whose taste the practices did not appeal, as harmless to congregations and as giving to clergy who liked ceremony a greater interest in their routine of work. They will get tired of it when the novelty has worn off, laymen have thought with a half-kindly, half-contemptuous smile, and in the meantime we will let it alone. Of late, however, the Church has awakened to the apprehension that the Ritualist ceremonialism has a very definite doctrinal meaning, and that Ritualist ceremonies are not introduced as a matter of aestheticism but to teach a faith. What is that faith? Is it the faith of the Church of England or is it something different? Is it the faith deliberately adopted by the Church and accepted by the State as the Church’s doctrine in the sixteenth century, or does it go behind the Reformation? Lord Halifax and the English Church Union do not allow us any doubt on this point. They claim as their own the doctrines and practices of the pre-Reformation Church except where they elect to dispense themselves in respect to a doctrine, such as the Papal Supremacy in its extremest form, or a practice, such as the celibacy of the clergy. They claim their right to hold all doctrines which they think proper to designate as Catholic ; but the one Mediaeval dogma around which their whole ceremonial system clusters is that of the Objective Presence of Christ in the Elements (as distinct from His Presence at the Ordinance) in the Lord’s Supper. This they teach by word of mouth in sermons, hymns, and children’s Eucharists, and this it is that gives a meaning and explanation to their multiplied ceremonies, which fall into order only when looked at from this point of view. But it was to testify against this very doctrine that Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley laid down their lives at the stake, and it was pre-eminently in opposition to it that the English Reformation was founded. It is seen, moreover, that this central doctrine of Mediaevalism brings with it all other Mediaeval teaching and a contempt and depreciation of the Reformation.
Have such sentiments as these ever prevailed in the reformed Church of England before? Not in the sixteenth century when Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley died to resist them and the Elizabethan divines, represented by Jewell, firmly repudiated them. Not in the eighteenth century when the Church and nation had settled down to an unimpassioned Protestantism. Not in the seventeenth century, as, I believe, is proved to demonstration by the following pages.
Then there is no precedent for the disloyalty to the principles of the Reformation, the acceptance of Mediaeval doctrines and the adoption of the ritual and ceremonies naturally accompanying those doctrines such as we see now prevailing and called by the ill-chosen name of Ritualism.
Englishmen, lay and clerical, are firmly resolved not to narrow the comprehension of the Church of England, but they are equally resolved that the boundaries which she has laid down in the direction of Rome shall not be transgressed. They see that liberty has passed into licence, to the danger of all that they hold dearest, and they demand that that licence be restrained and the Church freed from complicity with teaching which has not been, and is not, hers.