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The deprivation of the Puritans was only one step in the execution of the Canons of 1604 and put into operation only a fraction of their provisions. The practical application of their provisions to the administrative troubles of the Church was yet to be made. Indeed, the most important question of all awaited solution. Could Bancroft put into operation the codification which he had so successfully made? Canons in plenty had hitherto been promulgated but they had been void of good effect because they had never been adequately executed. According to the well-established traditions of the Church, Canons and ordinances were to be actually enforced by the visitatorial system and Bancroft, therefore, made in 1605 an Archiepiscopal Visitation of his Province, which did in fact accomplish much that was important. But such results were unexpected and unhoped-for.
The visitatorial system, like most administrative forms developed during the Middle Ages, seemed to the sixteenth century man a failure, partly because, thanks to the interplay of forces since the Reformation, it did not work as its framers had intended, but chiefly because, to the sixteenth century mind, it was not an administrative system at all. It was, in fact, nothing more nor less than a method of asking questions of the churchwardens. True, the scope of the Visitation Articles was as wide as that of the ecclesiastical law itself, or as the exigencies of the situation, and extended from obedience to the Act of Supremacy and the subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles to the failure of some layman to pay the clerk's wages or to the existence of decayed planking in the floor of the church and of broken glass in its windows. Their sum and substance invariably was,- What is the condition of religion in your parish ?-and any reply was germane. True, also, every member of the ecclesiastical hierarchy could visit his inferiors and must submit to the visitation of his superiors. It was a form for
general use. The rural deans should visit their deaneries; the archdeacon every three months was to go the rounds of his archdeaconry; the bishop should send his officers round the diocese every year to investigate the conduct both of deans and archdeacons; while the archbishop every three years, in similar manner, ought to inquire into the diligence of all diocesan officials.
But the presentment registered at Visitation by the churchwardens convicted no one of any crime and exposed him to no penalty. It established, indeed, a legal presumption against him, but it was not a process nor even a part of the process by which he was or could be convicted. The Visitation was purely and simply a method of obtaining information, and the guilty person was punished, not for a breach of the Visitation Articles, but for disobedience to the Canons, which the culprit should have obeyed and his disobedience to which the Visitation had revealed. The Visitation Articles then were not law; they were not even orders issued by either archbishop or bishop with the idea that any one ought to obey them as law. Moreover, they inquired only into breaches of the law and assumed, in medieval fashion, that the great majority of the clergy willingly conformed to its provisions. They were ex post facto, and were aimed at detecting, not at preventing, crime. They were negative, not positive; the passive rather than the active element of the constitution. Nor did they furnish the only information upon which the ecclesiastical courts might proceed, for a man might be convicted quite as legally upon information given by a private informer, or could be tried ex officio mero upon the knowledge which the judge himself possessed.
Yet, while it was perfectly true that the old system of Visitations was cumbrous, awkward, and on the whole a failure, it was the one administrative link which bound the Church to the past; it was the one method of inquiring into the condition of the clergy which was sanctioned by precedent and tradition. Its weakness had. in truth, been at the root of the Puritan demands for the erection of a live Presbyterianism which should really rule the State ecclesiastical; had been the cause of the scorn of the bishops; and had, in turn, engendered in the minds of the clergy themselves, bishops included, a belief that, admirable as was the theology and dogma of the Church, it was, as an institution, in no sense what it ought to be and really merited no consideration. Institutionally, this very
belief was the worst possible weakness. The old visitatorial system might be neither symmetrical nor desirable, but it did represent the vitality and reality of institutional life, not only to the Church itself, but to the laity. It alone stood for the continuity of administrative life, of administrative forms and traditions, and kept the Reformers in touch with the medieval church. To Bancroft, it was a potentiality, a form to be vitalised by a spirit of interdependence, welling forth from and binding together a clergy enthusiastically loyal to the Church as an institution. In the old and despised system lay, he believed, that embryo from which the new administration must be developed ; out of the ecclesiastical formalism of the past could be constructed an institution of power and symmetry, harmonious with past traditions, adequate for present needs, commanding the respect of men, and representing in England the Visible Church of early Christian antiquity.
As an ultimate coercive force, the High Commission might at the moment be indispensable; but in the long run, it must supplement, not supplant, the old system. The new vigour, if it must come from such a body, should be imparted through the recognised ecclesiastical channels, for something more was at stake than the convicting of Puritans and the settlement of divorce cases. In last analysis, the reconstruction of the administrative fabric of the Church depended for its success upon the maintenance of those traditional, administrative forms which, to clergy and laity alike, were synonymous with the very institution itself. If the medieval system was moribund, it was important to know it; if vigorous use and a careful attention to details could awaken a spark of life, that was a fact of profound significance. Most of all, let no vicar or bishop attribute to the system the weakness really resultant from his own ignorance, indifference, and inefficiency; poor officials could not operate the best planned institution without confusion or trouble. The chief fault was not in the system but in the men who pretended to administer it.
Such was the courageous fiat which went forth in effect, if not
1 The Puritans will find that “the Honourable Function of Bishops, manifold corruptions which they haue (London, 1608.) See also, Bancroft taken notice of in the gouernment of to the Bishops, April 30, 1605, Wilour Church, being the personal de. kins, Concilia, IV, 414; and his letter faults not so much of the Bishops to the Bishops of July, 1610, in Cardthemselues as of their officers.'' G. well, Annals, II, 158. Downame, A Sermon defending the
in actual words, from Lambeth Palace in the spring of the year 1605. It embodied a new policy, for it placed the blame for the state of affairs not upon the bishops, where Elizabeth had been inclined to put it, nor upon episcopacy as an institution, where the Puritans declared the fault lay, but upon the lower ecclesiastical officers and the parish clergy whence in reality the trouble came. True, it was no direct and personal fault of theirs, for the men who were responsible were dead long since. The problem which Bancroft faced was not that of explaining or extenuating the state of the Church but of finding some remedy for it. In truth, the condition of the establishment rested upon the efficiency and good intentions of the parish clergy and lower ecclesiastical officials and for their failings they were now to be called to account in every thing where reform lay within their power. An ignorant man with a cure worth five pounds a year could not preach learned sermons, but he could wear the surplice, read the whole service, subscribe to the Thirty-sixth Canon, and see that the communion table was decently covered and placed as the law required. It was necessary that learned men should hold two benefices and be nonresident, but they need not absent themselves for ten months in the year and leave incompetent curates to do their work. The abuses were bad, although unavoidable, but abuses of the abuses were not to be tolerated.
The Archbishop further pointed out that the Visitation had other objects than simply enforcing the law. The great enemies of the Church lay entrenched in the ignorance of the clergy as to what the law was, and in the ignorance of the higher officials as to where
1 The Council to the Bishops, Nov ton, Cranwell, Boothby Pannell, ember 7, 1573. Cardwell's Annals, Louthbesk and Ludburghe, MarI, 387.
broughe, Hallington, Cockerington. 2 Especially W. Travers, A Full and (Archdeaconry of Lincoln, 1600); Plaine Declaration off Ecclesiasticall eight cases in Calcewaithe ArchdeaDiscipline. Geneva, 1574, 1580. conry, (diocese of Lincoln, 1601); Bo
3 In the following instances, the zeatt, (Archdeaconry of Bothwell and vicar or wardens were presented by Higham, Peterborough, 1605); Mopthe parishioners for not informing at hall, (Archdeaconry of Ely, 1606); the previous visitations of notorious Camlingaye, Ely, parish of St. Anmisdemeanors. Ryall, (Peterborough, drews, (Archdeaconry of Ely, 1608-9); 1589); Parson Drove, (Archdeaconry Bardney, Beelesbye, (Archdeaconry of Ely, 1593); Kirkbecke, (Archdea of Lincoln, 1611.), etc., etc., etc. conry of Lincoln, 1594); Fendrayton, 4 Bancroft's orders on this point Kingston, Trumpington, Over, (Arch are in his letter to the Bishops of deaconry of Ely, 1596); City of Nor April 30, 1605, printed in Wilkins, wich, parish of St. Julian, 1597; Nor Concilia, IV, 414, from the Registrum.
the law was infringed. Experience had shown that many and many a vicar who was breaking the law, thought he was conforming to it,' nor was he usually to blame for his ignorance. Most of the parishes had no copy of the latest Canons, many had not even a copy of the Queen's Injunctions, which, though half a century old, still contained much of the law of the Church.? Where the changes had been as rapid as they had been since the Reformation and where modifications, some of them of the first importance, were made every few years, by statute, by Canon, or by episcopal regulations, it was of the utmost importance that the clergy should know to what they were expected to conform, and it was far more essential that the church wardens and laity should be told in plain terms, stripped of legal verbiage and statutory circumlocutions, what they and their vicar were supposed to observe. Even if the parish had procured the needed volumes and had read them, there was much in the early Elizabethan enactments which would bear several interpretations, and to leave the local authorities at liberty to pick and choose was a sure method of spreading nonconformity under the guise of observing the law. The difficulty of communication over the rough roads of a sparsely populated diocese prevented the spread of information as to the technical requirements as well as news about disobedience to them. Without the Visitation, the officials, comfortably seated in the Episcopal Court, would know of a certainty less about the affairs of the parishes twenty miles off than those parishes would of matters in London.
1 Ely, 1578, (among the Consistory 30, in some, more) that it would be Court Books) parishes of Spelfod a very strange thing and therfore Magna; Pampfford; Dullingham; also very scandalous to bring them 1579, Sawton, Madingley; 1598, into use againe. Some idea of the Peterborough, Northampton Archdea irregularities in practice
be conry, Epton; 1605, Peterborough, gathered from the Admonition to ParArchdeaconry Bothwell and Higham, liament, the Certain Articles, and Bozeatt; 1606, City of Norwich, St. other Puritan tracts, lately reprinted Ethelred; 1606 Archdeaconry of Suf by W. H. Frere, and C. E. Douglas folk, Londham; Lincoln Archdeacon as Puritan Manifestoes. (1907) ry, Ludford Magna, 1611, etc., etc. 3 Parker wrote in February, 1567,
2 Dialogue between an old Protes to Lady Bacon of some shocking tant and a new Formalist, 55, (1606). abuses in the diocese of Norwich and “As the subscription hath not been concluded “this matter had been long much urged of late for many yeares tossed among the people of the two togither, save upon some few men places thus ased. Which I knew not whom the Bps favoured not: so the of, till my visitors came home again. Ceremonyes haue growne to such a A clergyman told him that another disuse in very many Churches (in abuse
common in all
the some, 10 yeares, in some, 20, in some, country.” Strype, Parker, I, 495.