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THE HISTORY, CHARACTER AND EVILS OF CONSECRATION IN RELATION TO
THE PAROCHIAL BURYING-GROUNDS.
Sir,-Your Bill proposes that the projected Cemeteries shall consist of two parts, the one consecrated, and the other unconsecrated ; an arrangement which will be deprecated by every pious and patriotic man in England, whether Churchman or Dissenter, who really understands the subject of consecration. Surely you, Sir, are not acquainted with it. Have you made it a matter of inquiry? All who have, pronounce it a contemptible imposture on the credulity of mankind, a baneful weed, planted by the hand of Antichrist in God's vineyard, and which ought, long ere now, to have been torn up by the roots in every portion of Protestant Christendom. Nothing shields it from universal scorn and ridicule but its antiquity, and its incorporation with such solemn realities. As you propose to extend and perpetuate the superstition, we will examine its history, character, and effects: and, by way of prelude, we invite your attention to the opinions of a staunch churchman, the late Rev. John Wesley. We remember nothing which more strikingly illustrates the mental independence and moral magnanimity of that truly great man, than his strictures on consecration.
“I do not know," says he, “any law that either enjoins or even permits it; and certainly, as it is not enjoined by the law of the land, so it is not enjoined by the law of God. Where do we find one word in the New Testament enjoining any such thing? Neither do I remember any precedent of it, in the purest ages of the church. It seems to have entered, and gradually spread itself, with the other innovations and superstitions of the Church of Rome. Do you think it, then, a superstitious practice? Perhaps it is not, if it be practised as a thing indifferent; but, if it is done as a necessary thing, then it is flatly superstitious. For this reason, I never wished that any Bishop should consecrate any chapel or burial-ground of mine. Indeed, I should not dare to suffer it; as I am clearly persuaded the thing is wrong in itself, being not authorised either by any law of God, or by any law of the land. In consequence of which, I conceive that either the clerk or the sexton may as well consecrate the church or the churchyard as the Bishop. With regard to the latter, the churchyard, I know not who could answer that plain question. You say, this is consecrated ground—so many feet broad, and so many long; but pray how deep is the consecrated ground ? Deep! what does that signify? Oh! a great deal ; for, if my grave be dug too deep, I may happen to get out of the consecrated ground; and who can tell what unhappy consequences may follow from this? I take the whole of this practice to be a mere relic of Romish superstition ; and I wonder that a sensible Protestant should think it right to countenance it; much more that any reasonable man should plead for the necessity of it! Surely it is high time, now, that we should be guided, not by custom, but by Scripture and reason.
Sir, these remarkable words will have no ordinary weight with those who duly estimate the character of the writer, while careful inquiry and profound reflection will infallibly conduct all men of sense and candour to the same conclusion.
It is not pretended that consecration is a thing derived from the Apostles. You will, doubtless, remember the affirmation of our highest ecclesiastical law authority, “ that the first who decreed that churches should be consecrated was Euginus, a Greek, and priest of Rome, who was the first that styled himself Pope.”+ But how came this consecration of churches to be enforced in this realm? The same great authority tells us, “it was by a constitution of Otho.” But since churchyards are the main subject, what of them? The custom of burying in and around places of worship was also a Romish practice, originating in priestly cupidity, and brought into England about the year 750, by Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury. Originally there was no connexion between edifices for Christian worship and places of sepulture ; and the practice of burying in remoter spots of ground continued to the age of Gregory the Great, when the priests began, for fees, to offer sacrifice for departed souls; and, in order to their convenience, the bodies of their people were buried near at hand. The British clergy, taking up the matter with great zeal, did not only not wait for an Act of Parliament to authorise them, but went directly in the face of the statute De Religiosis, (7 Ed. I., st. 2)-conduct which was thus expressly condemned by the 15th R. II. c. 5: “ Now of late, by subtile imagination, and by art and engine, parsons, vicars, and other spiritual persons, have entered into divers lands and tenements, which be adjoining to their churches, and of the same, by sufferance and assent of the tenants, have made churchyards, and, by bulls of the Bishop of Rome have dedicated and hallowed the same, and in them do make continually parochial burying, without license of the King or the chief Lords."* Is not this an absolute demonstration of the fact, that churchyards were, in the first instance, “ dedicated and hallowed" by the “ bulls of the Bishop of Rome;" that is, by Antichrist? The Reformation, however, put an end to the power of the Pope, and the Protestant Bishops had to take the matter into their own hands.
* Works, Vol. X., p. 511. + Burn, Vol. I., p. 323.
Thus much for the origin of this Popish rite, Let us next inquire into the present position of the practice in England. Mr. Wesley asserts, " it is not enjoined by the law of the land.” This witness is true. Not only has the law not provided for its observance, but it has left it a mere phantasm, without even the verbal body of a settled form. The Convocation of the Clergy, which was held in 1661, drew up such a form; but it did not obtain the sanction of Parliament, neither was it published. Again, in 1712, a fresh form was adopted by the Convocation, “ which form again, as it did not receive the Royal assent, was not enjoined to be observed.". The result, therefore, is, that, “ in the Church of England every Bishop is left to his own discretion, as to the form of consecrating churches and chapels."S In Ireland, it is otherwise. During the Lieutenancy of the Earl of Strafford, a law was made for the consecration, not only of churches, but also of churchyards; and a form of consecration for both was inserted in the Common Payer-Book, which is now in use in that part of the United Kingdom, and which much resembles the form used by Archbishop Laud, the great patriarch of the Puseyites. Were a Convocation of the Clergy now to
* Burn, pp. 345, 346.
of Gibs. 189; Johns 20.
# Burn, Vol. I. p. 357.
be held, Laud's form would, undoubtedly, be approved by a great majority of the lower House, and perhaps also of the higher. It was in substance as follows:- The Bishop approached the edifice at the western door, where persons specially appointed stood, and cried aloud, “ Open, open, ye everlasting doors, that the King of glory may enter in.” Immediately, parties within threw back the doors, when the Bishop entered, and fell on his knees, and, with uplifted eyes and outspread hands, pronounced the place to be holy. Rising up, he next approached the chancel, several times throwing dust into the air ; and, when he arrived at the rails of the communion table, he repeatedly bowed towards it; and then he and his clergy went round the church, repeating the 100th Psalm and a form of dedicatory prayer. Returning to the communion table, he pronounced bitter curses against all who should profane that place, at every curse bowing to the east, and adding, “ Let all the people say, Amen." After the same manner, he pronounced blessings on all who should be benefactors. Then came the sermon, followed by the sacrament. When he approached the “ altar,” he bowed seven times, and, coming to the bread, he gently lifted up the cloth, but, suddenly dropping it, retreated a step, and again bowed several times; then he uncovered the bread, and bowed as before. He did the same with the wine. Having first taken of the bread and wine himself, he gave them to some of the principal men.
To all this succeeded a number of prayers; and thus the ceremony of consecration ended. * Such, in its most finished form, is the rite of consecration. As performed at present, it is considerably reduced in point of length and ceremony; but, in spirit and essence, it is unchanged; and, when the people of England can bear more, they will have as much more as they can bear. When the evening draws on, the candles will appear. The Bishop of London would not have the altar lighted up till it be dark; but the night seems to be at hand!
Now, Sir, what think you of this ceremony of consecration ? As a piece of Popish folly merely, it might perhaps be endured, or passed by in scorn; but the fraud involves a principle of great power and most pernicious influence. Confined to old parochial burial-grounds, it was sufficiently offensive, and abundantly mischievous in its working; but men bore with it as a hoary abuse, a reverend absurdity, supported solely by blind custom and stupid apathy, without a particle of foundation in law, reason, or Scripture. But the introduction of the modern Joint-stock Cemeteries, in addition to making men think, has clothed the whole subject with a new character, and presented it in a new aspect. The rite of consecration has, by this means, at length obtained a footing which it never before possessed. This unreflecting course of the Legislature has exalted it into importance. In all the Cemetery Acts, it is acknowledged as an exercise of the Episcopal function, as a high and awful ceremony on which certain great consequences and important circumstances are made wholly to depend. But, if this superstitious custom is so pernicious as connected with such Cemeteries, what will it be in conjunction with the parochial Cemeteries which your Bill proposes to form ? The three states of its existence will then stand thus,-bad, worse, worst. In the close of this letter, we will state the law of the case respecting the old system, and reserve the other two points for our next, which will, for the present, release you from further attention.
* 2 Rush. Hist. col. 77.
The old church-yard system was wholly, execrably bad. The mass of the public have no conception of the extent of the plunder that has been practised for ages on the English nation, especially in great towns. In the beginning it was not so; the evil crept on imperceptibly, till it has reached a height which fills the serious inquirer with astonishment. The clergy have no just claim to one farthing of the sums which they exact. This is well known to ecclesiastical lawyers, and, on fitting occasions, is freely expressed. With them, we have gone to the fountain head, and find it so. 6. The soil and freehold of the church is only in the parson, and in none other;"* and so likewise is the “churchyard.”† His position, however, is not that of a proprietor, but of a trustee, who is not permitted to profit by his trust. Hence the language of the law is: “ Any person may be buried in the churchyard of the parish where he dies, without paying anything for breaking the soil." I
66 We do firmly enjoin that burial shall not be denied to any one, upon Burn, Vol. I., p. 256. + Ib. p. 349. Ib. p. 257. Degge, p. 1, c. 1, 2.