« PreviousContinue »
and required them * in the fear of God, according to their pastoral care, and for the duty which they owed both to God and his church, to give straight charge to both; and to see that the children, and other ignorant persons, were duly instructed and examined in their catechism, as by the orders of the church they ought to be.
I shall not need to tell you how this matter was settled by the canons of 1604: only with regard to the minister's obligation I must observe, that to se cure his care in this particular, the first neglect was, upon complaint, decreed to be an admonition from the bishop, with a sharp reproof; the second suspension; and the third excommunication. 'Tis true, upon the last revision f of the Book of Common Prayer, there is some change made as to the time when this office is to be performed: for whereas before, both by the rubric of our liturgy, and by the canon made agreeably thereunto, the curate of every parish was directed to instruct and examine the children of his parish before evening-prayer began; it is now appointed to be done in time of divine service, immediately after the second lesson; that so not only the greater number may attend upon this office, but the whole might be performed with the greater care
* Anno 1591. Reg. Whitgift, vol. i. fol. 181. + See Can. lix.
Anno 1661. See the rubric before the Church Catechism.
and solemnity. But still, as to the substance of the duty, it remains as it did; and both the curate is obliged upon Sundays and holy-days, openly to instruct the children of his parish in the Church Catechism; and the fathers, mothers, masters, and dames are required to see that their children, servants, and apprentices, who have not learned their catechism, do come to be instructed by bim. If the minister * neglects bis duty, the penalty of the canon I before mentioned is still in force against him: if the people omit theirs, they are to be suspended by the ordinary; and if they so persist by the space of a month, they also are to be excommunicated.
How wise the constitution of our church in this respect, as well as in its other establishments, is, it would be needless for me to observe to you. The reason of the thing itself sufficiently speaks it: for as by the sermon in the morning, those who are of riper years, and better knowledge in the Gospel of Christ, are edified and instructed ; so by teaching and expounding the catechism in the afternoon, the younger and more ignorant, (who are not yet capable of profiting by sermons) are informed and trained up with such a sort of learning as is suitable to their age and capacities. And yet, alas! how has this prudent and useful method been slighted by many, and neglected by more! and instead of these cate
chetical institutions, a second sermon been introduced for the afternoon, and a new sort of teachers set up under as new a character of lecturers, to preach it, and that (oftentimes) not so much to the real benefit, as to the fancies and inclinations of those by whom they are to be paid for it. I cannot say that this is altogether contrary to our present establishment, because the last act of uniformity* has given directions for the licensing and allowing of them: but sure I am it is a manifest encroachment upon our good old constitution, which knew no such persons, nor made any provision for them. And the result has been, that the ufternoon sermon has almost quite thrown out the much better and more profitable exercise of catechising; which has both the laws of the realm and canons of the church on its side; whereas the other has neither : and therefore if the one must be allowed, I think the other, at least, should not be omitted.
And in this I speak not only my own sense, but the judgment of those whose opinions carry authority as well as weight with them. Such was that of Archbishop Sheldon,t in the year 1672, who by the King's command required his suffragans “to ipforce the execution of such laws and constitutions as enabled them to enjoin the use and exercise of our
• 13 Car. II. cap. iv. § 19, &c.
Church Catechism : of Archbishop Sancroft,* in the year 1688, among whose seasonable and wise articles sent to his bishops in a very critical juncture, the fourth was this: “ that they (the clergy) diligently catechise the children and youth of their parishes, (as the rubric of the Common Prayer Book, and the fifty-ninth canon enjoin) and so prepare them to be brought in due time to confirmation, when there shall be opportunity: and that they also at the same time expound the grounds of religion and common Christianity, in the method of the catechism, for the instruction and benefit of the whole parish; teaching them what they are to believe, and what to do, and what to pray for; and particularly, often and earnestly inculcating upon them the importance and obligation of their baptismal vows." This was what that great and good prelate thought necessary to recommend to the clergy in the time of our utmost danger, and as the best means to prevent the growth of popery, then breaking in like a torrent upon us on every side. And when his late Majesty, of glorious memory, had freed us from the fear, yet still he thought this duty of so much importance, as to give it a particular place in his injunctions, † set forth for
* See his Articles recommended to the Bishops, July 16, 1688.
+ Injunctions: anno 1694, n. 14.
the better establishment of our church in the year 1694. And our present most reverend metropolitan, the
year following, thus prudently reconciled the discharge of this duty with the manners and humours of the times; by directing his suffragans * to recommend it to their clergy, since they must preach (after having examined the children in their catechism, as the rubric requires) “ to preach in the afternoon upon catechetical heads; both that the people may be the better rooted and grounded in the faith, and also kept from other assemblies.
Having thus shewn you what was the foundation of that direction, which I communicated to you by your archdeacons the last year, with relation to this matter; I cannot conclude without acknowledging the very great satisfaction I have received from your readiness to comply with it; and the earnest you have given me of what I may farther expect from you in this particular, in the large subscriptions you have made for the distribution of that Exposition of our Church Catechism, which I herewith send to you, among your parishioners. May the God whom we all serve in the Gospel of his Son, give his blessing both to what I have published, and you shall from thence take occasion more fully to explain to them; that by a more perfect knowledge of their duty, their
• Circular Letter, anno 1695.