Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the market cross on week days, wrapped in a long white sheet and wands in their hands, with a schedule of their offences round their necks, and repeating a prescribed form of humiliation ; this was the process which seemed to the venerable diocesan calculated to deter men from sin and win souls to heaven. And doubtless he had here again much to advance in his favour. Penance was a punishment known to our English courts, and prescribed alike by canons and by statute. The statute of circumspectè agatis ' had directed mankind to use themselves circumspectly concerning the Bishop and clergy, not punishing them, if they hold plea in Court Christian of such things as are merely spiritual, as of penance enjoined for deadly sin; and our own Commination Service declares to this day, that it is a thing much to be wished for that the ancient discipline of penance observed in the Primitive Church were restored. It had been expressly ordered by the canons of King Edgar, and had been anciently exercised in our own as well as in foreign churches, with much the same ceremonial as that which Wilson prescribed, and seems to have fallen into desuetude with us, rather than to have been abolished by any law. It was one of those safeguards of the elder church which he could not part with, and could not bring himself to suspect the beneficial use of. Here at least there could be no deception. Every one might judge of the sincerity of the penitent, by the way in which he underwent his sentence. Every eye was upon him: the churchgoers on the Sunday, and the marketgoers on the week day. And confession was the process from which flesh and blood most revolted. The exactness of the punishment squared with the methodical turn of the Bishop's own mind. Accordingly, it was largely resorted to. There were the still more unpleasant varieties of it for extraordinary occasions, the bridle for the tongue which ‘no man can tame,' and the boat's tail, in imitation of the cart's tail for criminals; but these were even in Man specialities, and reserved for the most incorrigible. Even in Wilson's keeping it is clear that such a terrible amount of power was not safe. But most Bishops have not been Wilsons.

Mrs. Puller's case, as it was called, was a good illustration of his favourite test of guilt and innocence-Purgation. had been refused the Holy Communion by Archdeacon Horrobin upon the accusation of Mrs. Horne, the governor's wife, that an undue familiarity had existed between Mrs. Puller and a Sir James Poole. But both the accused parties having begged the Bishop to permit them to take their oaths, on the Holy Evangelists on their knees, of their innocency, and having sworn to it accordingly, and several friends and witnesses having

also

also deposed on their oaths in a similar manner to their belief that the parties were innocent, and that they had deposed the very truth in the oath of purgation, Mrs. Horne was adjudged guilty of slander, and ordered to acknowledge her offence in church, asking forgiveness for the same. This she refused to do. Other parts of the case proceeded further, as we shall presently show; but thus much is sufficient for our present purpose. This was in 1721.

Canonical purgation, so called to distinguish it from the kindred and older expedients of ordeal and trial by battel,—one of the last remnants of the age of superstition, and of which it has been well said, .one cannot but be astonished at the folly and impiety of pronouncing a man guilty unless he was cleared by a miracle, and of expecting that all the powers of nature should be suspended by an immediate interposition of Providence to save the innocent whenever it was presumptuously required'-was this. When the laity who could read had, after branding, and the real clergy had, before it, been discharged by reason of the privilegium clericale, or benefit of clergy, from the sentence due to their crimes in the temporal court, and were delivered over to the Ordinary to be dealt with according to the ecclesiastical canons, the Ordinary, not satisfied with the proofs adduced in the 'profane' secular courts, set himself to work the purgation of the offender by a new canonical trial; whereby the party was required to make oath of his own innocence, and to produce the oaths of twelve compurgators who swore they believed he spoke truth. The doctrine had, it is true, been abolished in England, but not till 1662, the Act of 13 Charles II. c. 12, having provided that no Bishop or Ecclesiastical Judge should administer to any person any oath whereby he might be compelled to confess, accuse, or purge himself of any criminal matter whereby he might be liable to any censure or punishment.' But the Act does not appear to have extended to Man: and even in England it had been held that it did not exclude persons from voluntarily offering to purge themselves, which was the case of Mrs. Puller.

The Bishop, indeed, grounded his defence of the practice on Scripture. The Jewish dispensation had said, “Then shall an oath of the Lord be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour's goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good.'—Exod. xxii, 11. Therefore it was good to observe it under the Christian dispensation. And he defended it in these words : 'It is far from being complained of as a grievance, for if common fame has injured any one, he has an opportunity of being restored to his good name,

and

and a severe penalty is laid upon any that shall after revive the scandal. On the other hand, if a man will not swear his own innocency, or cannot prevail with others to believe him, it is fit he should be treated as guilty.'

But letting alone the absence of any conclusive reason for thinking that the Jewish ceremonial law can be any precedent to us, we must protest against the latter portion of the Bishop's reasoning; an idea more abhorrent to the spirit of English jurisprudence it is impossible to conceive. Thank God the inference of our law—and may it ever be so-is just the other way, and it presumes a man's innocence until he be proved to be guilty. Well might a learned English judge of the seventeenth century declaim with indignation at the vast complication of perjury and subornation of perjury in this solemn farce of a mock trial, which resulted in the almost constant acquittal of felonious clerks.

And yet even here how difficult it is to hold the scales of justice evenly between the contending parties; between, on the one hand, the 'just Lot vexed with the filthy communication of the wicked, vexing his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds, and feeling bound in conscience to carry out the system entrusted to him as a sacred deposit; and on the other, 'precious human nature refusing to be driven, although, perhaps, willing to be led; kicking against the pricks, and claiming the right of man to go the broad road to the bottomless pit if and as he chooses !'

Now we do not say that the Bishop's conduct in the case just stated was illegal, though it was certainly a rather high-pressure system. Neither does it appear to have been surmised as one of the grounds of appeal in Hendricks' case* that he had exceeded the bounds of law so far as the excommunication went, though some question might have been made (and in a similar case was afterwards made) of his right to deliver the party to a soldier ; which amounted, in fact, to penal servitude for life, or until the offender reconciled himself. Excommunication was at that time in force even in England, as the Prayer Book in the preface to the burial service teaches us that it still is. By this law, which was of two sorts, no excommunicated person could sue to recover land or goods, be a witness in a court of justice or serve on a jury, -the lesser excommunication excluding him also from the participation of the sacraments and divine worship, the greater, from the company of all Christians. Nor was it until 1813 that the civil disabilities were in any way removed. Even then the Act which lessened them, so that no person could henceforth be

[blocks in formation]

imprisoned under it for more than six months, left excommunication in other respects (where pronounced as a censure for offences of spiritual cognizance), much where it found it; and the Act was expressly contined to England.

But it does appear to us that the repeated and wholesale enforcement of the sentence (we have taken only one case, as having been from its consequences the most remarkable,) is a proof of that ignorance of human nature which so often betrayed itself in the Bishop's acts. The value of excommunication, if any, as a punishment, depended surely on the tone of society and on the way in which society received it, and upon the general standard of morals. When the first Christian company were all of one mind and one heart, and had all things common, and there was in reality as well as in name one communion of fellowship among them-a company gathered out of the world, and not, as in the case of professedly Christian nations, embracing all societyto be cut off from that company, like a lopped-off bough, and to be cast out of the synagogue, was a terrible sentence, and had a mighty significance about it. But when iniquity aboundedwhen the world was no longer professedly heathen, but Christian -when lay and clerical delinquencies were rife, and adultery, adultery, adultery, was the prevailing sin of the island, and the one cry that rose to God for vengeance against it, as the records of the Consistory Court and Mr. Keble's pages prove to demonstration-how could a man of reasonable judgment expect that excommunication would be anything but mere brutum fulmen, the launching of which did but alienate those minds which it was the Bishop's duty, as we doubt not it was his wish, to attach to himself.

But however delicate the adjustment of such questions as the foregoing, it is impossible not to speak with indignation of the conduct of his enemies in that most trying ordeal of his life-his imprisonment. A prelate of thirty years and an elderly gentleman of sixty-three, taken from his palace by force, and hurried off by three common soldiers to a felon's dungeon for nine weeks, for an alleged disobedience to an illegal order of an illegal tribunal ! These serious consequences arose, as is well known, out of Mrs. Puller's case.* On February 2nd, 1721, the Bishop was called on by the Governor to appear on the 9th at Castle Rushen and answer to the three charges of having summoned convocations at his pleasure, of having proceeded against a Mr. Bridson, for calumny, and of having censured' persons alleged to be exempt from spiritual jurisdiction-viz. Archdeacon Horrobin, who was the

* Supra, p. 183.

Lord's

Lord's chaplain, and Mrs. Horne the governor's wife. And yet to meet in convocation without licence from the Crown had ever been one of the privileges of the Manx Church, of which it was deservedly proud. Bishop Wilson's own canons are a remarkable instance of this. Bridson, himself a clergyman, had been suspended, as he richly deserved (what English Judge would not have done the same?), for having flatly called the Bishop a liar, admitted a person to the Holy Communion while under the Bishop's censures, and otherwise conducted himself in an insolent manner;' whilst as to the exemption of the lord's household, though the following Report of the Vicars General in 1610 (specially met to consider the subject with the Governor, Deemsters and Keys) looks at first very much like an authority against the Bishop, at least as regards the Archdeacon: “The punishing of soldiers or any other that receive pay of the Lord for criminal causes doth not by law belong to the Bishop, or spiritual jurisdiction; this we say doth agree with the ancient law of the Lord,'-yet the Bishop's counsel could produce, on the other hand, a better precedent in an actual customary law, that no appeal shall be made from Church censures to the Staff (i. e. the governor and council), and none to be privileged from them.' The Bishop, thereupon, demanded a reference to the House of Keys and Deemsters as to the points in dispute, and refused to

answer' till the law had been so deemed.' The governor and four of his officers met at Castle Rushen on February 9, and, the Bishop not answering the impeachment, the Comptroller coolly asked him whether he understood the consequences of stat mutus, that is, in effect, threatening him with the punishment for refusing to plead, the most terrible penalty known to the law, and which Blackstone describes as consisting in being remanded to prison, put into a low dark chamber, and there laid on one's back on the floor naked-in having placed on one's body as great a weight of iron as one could bear, and more—in having no sustenance save only the first day three morsels of the worst bread, and on the second day three draughts of standing water, that should be nearest to the prison door, and in this situation this to be alternately his daily diet till he died, or answered! The Governor and four officers proceeded ex parte to condemn him on the three charges above mentioned, and ordered him to retract and cancel his proceedings against Bridson, Mrs. Horne, and the Archdeacon. This order of February 9 was not made known to the Bishop till May 24. On the 25th June the governor and his four friends assumed to hold a Tynwald Court, or rather, after the proper court had broken up and the Keys, an important part of it, had gone to their homes), staid behind, the former putting his

hand

« AnteriorContinuar »