[From Ellan Vannin, 1895]
THE Manx Established Church is part of the Church of England, with the peculiarity of a petition in the Litany for "the blessings of the sea," as well as " the kindly fruits of the earth," with the sanction of the Legislature for its Canon law in Bishop Wilson's Ecclesiastical Constitutions, and the further fact, I believe, that it is not included in the Act of Uniformity. By Bishop Wilson it is termed a Protestant Church. In this chapter it is viewed from its beginning as a Church of the Reformation, though its previous conditions of origin will be within sight, and guidance must come chiefly from the volumes of the Manx Society.
Of the Manx Diocese no mention can be traced before 1098. It is said that there was a Bishopric of "Sodor," in 838,which included the Southern Hebrides, with Iona as centre; that the " Sodor Diocese" included the Islands of Bute and Islay, as well as Iona; that Man was anciently termed" one of the Sodor Islands"; that the twelve Franciscan Brethren at the Friary, in Arbory, are officially noted as within the Sodor Diocese; and that Man and the Sodor Diocese were thus united from 1098 to 1380, when the union ceased, the Manx no longer including the Hebrides, though retaining the " Sodor " as part of its title. A royal charter of the thirteenth or fourteenth century terms the Manx Bishop " the Bishop of Sodor." In the legal appointment of Bishop, care is taken to use the three phrases, " Bishop of the Isle of Man," " Bishop of Sodor," " Bishop of Sodor and Man." In the transfer of the Island from Norway to Scotland, in 1266, " Man " is distinguished from " the Sodors." The western islands of Scotland, north of Ardnamurchan, seem to have been termed " Nordereys "; those south of that point, "Sudereys." From 1098, for some time, the title was " Man and the Isles." The union with the State is from Norwegian arrangement.
The Manx Episcopate has been somewhat confused in its order from an attempt to claim great antiquity. The published list, which did not appear until the seventeenth century, is, in its earlier part, mere invention. It begins with Amphibalus, in 360. One of that name appears in the early history of the Church in Britain, and in his Early English Church History, Dr. Bright states that after the Dioclesian persecutions, a church in memory of him was built in Winchester, afterwards made into a cathedral, but no evidence exists of his being in Man; the list gives him eighty-four years as Bishop. St. Patrick follows in 444, of whose presence we have seen the lack of proof. To St. German some years are given, though it is historic that his sphere was Britain and Gaul, and that he died in Ravenna in 448. St Maughold has given to him from 498 to 648, an episcopate of 150 years. To St. Conan and his three successors are given 241 years, 648 to 889, an average of sixty years . Yet the monks of Rushen had stated long before that nothing was known of Bishops in Man before the time of Godred Crovan (say 1077), and they insert the name of Roolwer as the first Bishop known to them, the last on their record being Duncan, in 1374. In the course of the history of the Bishopric there are intervals when there were no Bishops. In an early case the interval is forty years; under Elizabeth, three years; Charles I., seven years; the Commonwealth, nine years; from 1693, four years; from 1814, fourteen years. It is singular that with these facts Ward should assert in his ancient Records that in the list of Manx Bishops the regular succession was never lost. In the Annals of Ulster for 798, published by Dr. Todd, mention is made of a " Dachonna, a Bishop of Man," but it gives no light to Manx history. With the exception of the nine years of the Commonwealth, there does not seem to be any account of the appropriation of the episcopal revenue during the vacancies. It appears that, until 1348, the Manx Bishops were generally consecrated at Drontheim, in Norway, whose Archbishop was Metropolitan. In that year Bishop Russell was consecrated by the Pope at Rome. Some of the Bishops were consecrated at Canterbury, some at York; some were appointed by Furness Abbey, others by Henry VIII., Mary, Elizabeth, and Charles II., and the lord of the Isle. One of the Bishops was Dean of Chester, as well as Bishop of Man, by the favour of Henry VIII., but without the concurrence of the Earl of Derby.
Until the last quarter of the eighteenth century (1775),the ministrations of the Manx Church included the whole population of the Island. It was said that there were no Nonconformists, but there were Manx Quakers in 1664,who were fined, imprisoned, and banished under the administration of Bishop Barrow, at once Governor and Bishop, while many were cast into prison also, as stated in Volume XI. of the Books of the Manx Society.
But little is known of the religious ministrations of the Manx clergy in the earlier days of the reformed Church . Among the clergy, the vicars had the prefix '; Sir " to their name; the rectors were termed " Parsons." The livings generally were poor, often without a parsonage, or the parsonage in ruins. Some relief came in 1666 by the purchase of the impropriate tithes from the Earl of Derby by Bishop Barrow for £1200, for the benefit of the poorer clergy. In the temporary loss of the Deed the endowment was nearly lost, being claimed by the Duke of Athol, but which was at last found by the son of Bishop Wilson among the documents of the Clerk of the Rolls.
As to the doctrines of the Manx Church from the time of the Reformation, the general position was that of Protestantism. It has been noted that Bishop Wilson termed it a Protestant Church. Whether there was a formal adoption of the Thirty-nine Articles of the English Church does not appear, so far as I have been able to ascertain; they are not included in the Manx Book of Common Prayer, issued the year after its translation under the hand of the Bishop in 1761. Until 1772, after six years of learned toil, the Scriptures were given to the people in Manx. Prior to that date, only a few portions had been translated, and still fewer circulated, while of the 20,000 in the population more than two-thirds knew no language but their own. The Manx version is one of the great things achieved by the Manx Established Church. The work was committed to twenty-five Manx clergymen, who did their duty with adequate scholarship, translating from the original languages of Scripture, often in mutual consultation, and with the critical help, in special cases, of the two most eminent biblical scholars of the age, Bishop Lowth and Dr. Kennicott. Though the Manx translation has now passed out of popular use, it will long be a monument of learning which no educated Manxman will despise; nor will Bishop Hildesley, under whom the scheme was carried out, be forgotten as the Bishop whose administration has not been surpassed in sacred usefulness.
The style of doctrine in those days may be inferred from the sermons of Bishop Wilson, usually taken as the ideal and representative minister of the Manx Church. His position was Protestant towards Romanism. In his teaching, there was a strict enforcement of the morals of Christianity, and the obligation of religious ordinances. To the question," What must I do to be saved ? " his substantial answer was repentance and amendment of life, with the observance of the ordinances of the Church. The doctrine of faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ as the condition of salvation was absent, and, as suggested by the Rev. Hugh Stowell, his first biographer, the system of evangelical truth was but imperfectly unfolded. He held Apostolical succession, priestly absolution, sacramental efficacy by virtue of administration by men episcopally ordained. He was an ideal Bishop with Keble, who remarked with approval that he had not in any of his writings recognised the necessity of sensible conversion and an assurance of present personal salvation for denying the power of priestly absolution, he subjected one of his clergy to discipline. His peculiar views had their influence, probably in leaving his diocese during his long episcopate without the Scriptures in their own tongue. The congregations were left to the off-hand renderings into Manx of the English version in their sermons. Bishop Hildesley took a different view in securing the Manx Bible; he urged his clergy to the study and use of the language, and severely criticised those who deemed it a loss of respectability to know their native tongue. No doubt the prevalent native sentiment was that expressed by a woman in Lezayre, when her son read to her the Manx Scriptures for the first time, "We have sit in darkness until now."
The discipline of the Manx Established Church in its earlier days of reformation was severely oppressive . Its most marked example is found in Bishop Wilson's administration. He had obtained the sanction of the Legislature for his Ecclesiastical Constitutions, which were, in fact, a summary of Canon law, and by him they were strictly enforced by penance, by fine, by imprisonment, by dragging through the sea at the tail of a boat, officially provided by the Governor, by the threat of what would make eternity hopeless. There was penance for parents who did not teach their children the Church Catechism for non-attendance at the Church services, for moral failure where civil law could not interfere. Marriage was denied those who were not confirmed. There was the white sheet of penance at Church or at the market place, varied by the fine, the dungeon, or the sea. More than once poor Kate Kinrade was doomed to the last. For refusal to carry out the Bishop's sentence on a Communicant, the Archdeacon was suspended from office and Benefice. For refusing the sum demanded for tithes the Clerk of the Rolls was sent to prison without permission of self defence. The " Bridle "was in the care of the Sumner for those who failed to govern their tongue. The civil administration of law among the people seemed largely absorbed in the spiritual. At last the Governor refused to execute the sentences of the Bishop, the Earl of Derby accused him of invading his province, the Legislature repealed certain laws on which the Bishop had taken action, and, in the issue, the Bishop and his two Vicars-General were imprisoned in Castle Rushen, though this was disallowed on appeal to the English Government. The moral effect on the people gave the Bishop no satisfaction.
It causes wonder to see so noble a nature perverted by a mistaken system, as in the Bishop, and to see the approval of such methods by the poet of the Christian Year in his two volumes of biography. Relief must be sought in a more general view of his character. For, notwithstanding what has thus far come within view, he was a man of Christian humility, sincerity, and zeal. His faults were those of his age and of his creed and system. He refused promotion, and held to the humbler position, though royalty honoured him, and a leading statesman pronounced him an example of Apostolic times. But his fine, imperial nature was turned from the lines of Apostolic procedure by his wrong idea of duty. Apart from this, there is much to admire . He found Bishop's Court greatly tending to ruin, and changed it into a comely residence, planted its grounds with trees, and gave the farmers a model for imitation in farming their land. He was generous to the poor, the helper of education, restored churches by repairs, and added to their number, and laboured much in preaching and otherwise for the welfare of his diocese and for the Manx people. Had he, with all his other excellencies, been in full possession of the evangelical system, how different would have been his power and success.
At first, the services of the Manx Church of the Reformation were chiefly, if not entirely, in Manx; in later times, partly; in the present, entirely English. The names of some who have held a place in its pulpit are still household words, not to name any yet living: Stowell, Howard, Brown, Cain, Drury. Few Sabbath scenes have been so finely suggestive, as in Braddan churchyard in the open-air service during " the season," with " Parson Drury " as the preacher , belonging to the age when there were giants in the earth, and certainly in excellence as well as in stature, commencing with Cowper's - hymn, " There is a fountain filled with blood," etc.; the old church on the left; the wealth of memories from the graves; the rich frame of trees which have required ages for their growth; the listening crowd around, come from Douglas mostly, and drawn by a twofold beauty, that of the scene and of the service. He was also one of the few surviving masters of Manx. During the first thirty years of this century, the church service was often in Manx, and Drury was to the manner born. I remember the difficulty of an Englishman with a Manx living, to whom a Manx curate was essential. An old Manx friend, who was present at the morning Manx service in Andreas, once told me of an attempt by the English clergyman, who had been studying Manx, to read the second lesson, Luke xv., but he failed in pronunciation. The Manx word for "fatted" is much like the word for " drowned " in pronunciation; "beight" (fatted), "baiht" (drowned). He failed in the shade of difference, and the result to the Manx ear of my friend was" bring hither the drowned calf," etc.
Compared to the last century, when the Established Church stood alone without any Nonconformists, the surroundings are materially different. The growth of a strong Nonconformity, the reduction of the rural population in the parishes, the new political and municipal life, the changes in popular opinions, have largely influenced the relative position of the Manx Church. Still, its social power is considerable, and its prestige peculiar as the State Church. Small and feeble as it is among the great dioceses of England, there has been an idea in higher quarters of blending it with one of them, but sentiments of nationality and antiquity have been too strong to allow the proposal to take effect.
The identity of a Church of the Reformation with the purer Church of the early ages, by the abandonment of the intermediate papal corruptions, is a curious question. The corruption, however, was absorption by the papal system, a change of essence - doctrine, ritual, spirit, government - another gospel, and the moral identity is lost. Succession is not identity. A race intermarrying with another is not the same in the after generations. A Socinian church in the lineal descent from the old Presbyterian is not the Church of the earlier age. If the river be pure from the temple to the Dead Sea, as in Ezekiel, the identity remains; but where other streams of a foul nature enter into the original stream, the identity is lost. There must be a return to the source. There must be a renewal. The true test of a Church is not found in agreement with any age, but in agreement with Scripture; not even external descent, if the theological and moral be corrupted. " I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed; how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me ? "
The clergy number about fifty-eight, of whom some twenty are Manx. In addition to the Bishop and Archdeacon there are four Canons.