[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]
A WHOLE book might be written on the iniquities of the penal side of the Establishment. Manuscript copies of the ancient records of the Ecclesiastical Courts have been made, and these form in the eyes of Manxmen in America an interesting souvenir of the land of their ancestry, so widely separated are we in mind and outlook from the stern processes of servitude of Bishop Wilson's ' discipline' of little more than a century and a half ago.
Sir James Gell, one of the clearest -headed lawyers we have had, did a generous and a graceful thing in 1871, when Mr. Richard Jebb, on the abolition of his office as counsel to the Public Works Commission in London, was unexpectedly appointed Vicar-General. Mr. Jebb was an able lawyer, but he was utterly bewildered when suddenly required by the duties of his office to thread his way through the intricacies of Manx law. In the dilemma Sir James Gell came to Mr. Jebb's aid, and prepared a clear and succinct explanation of the leading features of our jurisprudence.
From the manuscript copy before me I find that the Episcopal Courts had jurisdiction in all matters relating to the Church, the clergy, religion, and morals-the latter term covered a wide field, including heresy, Sunday labour, sexual sin, etc.slander, matrimonial causes, probate of wills, appointment of guardians, etc. In criminal cases the court punished the offenders by excommunication, open penance, imprisonment, and by requiring a bond with sureties.
The priestly power in temporal matters was much more extensive than that exercised by the English Ecclesiastical Courts, at all events since the Reformation. Then in the Isle of Man the offender found it impossible to escape. He must not leave the island or someone else would assuredly come under censure for having aided him in his wicked flight.
The infallibility of the Church was a natural presumption of the theocracy. By a regulation passed at Convocation in 1617, it became a serious offence on the part of a victim to cast doubt upon an accusation laid to his charge. To slander the clergy, to question their word, to traverse even the sworn testimony of a churchwarden were offences subject to the 'payne of the churches censure in the highest degree.' And further, the Church did not merely seek to hold the people in slavery, but endeavoured to convert them into common spies, by directing them to ' keep watch upon their parson and upon the clerk' to see that each should do his duty.
If an offender refused to accompany the sumner to gaol, he was apprehended by a soldier of the garrison, by whom he was lodged in the loathsome cell called the Crypt, beneath the Cathedral of St. Germain at Peel Castle. The so-called Bishop's Prison' was, however, under the charge of officers of the Lord. An Act of Tynwald in 1737 imposed limitations on the priestly power, but the Spiritual Courts were not to be so easily reduced, and there are various instances subsequent to 1737 showing how penalties were still imposed according to the former practice.
The truth is that the decline of the Episcopal Courts dates, not from any growing sense of justice or mercy in the mind of Bishop Wilson, as has been so constantly said, but from 1704, when Bishop Wilson, in the first flush of his zeal, sought, by virtue of the powers of an Act of 1691, to abolish commutation, and to permit no distinction in the treatment of offenders, irrespective of their station or rank.
So long as Church ' discipline' was reserved for the poor and the weak, it was suffered to remain; but when Bishop Wilson sought higher game, he came into violent collision with the civil power, and at the first opportunity the Governor clapped him into gaol, and kept him there until the Privy Council ordered his release.
This attempted usurpation of the sovereign power is a feature of the autocratic reign of nearly all the Bishops. Respecting the sixteenth, seventeenth, and the first half of the eighteenth century we have abundant data. Let one instance suffice.
In England marriage by mere consent was a legal and binding arrangement down to 1753, when the Act of 26 George II., c. 33, was passed. It was a civil contract even in those Christian communities who regarded it as a sacrament, and not in any way affected by the superinduction of religious ceremony, except so far as the sovereign power had so annexed it.
In early Christian times the custom grew up of making the marriage promise in public, the parties obtaining at the same time the benediction of the priest on the union. But even this slight religious observance was neither desired nor practised when one of the parties had been married before, the attitude of the Church towards second marriages being that of toleration without approval. The Church would not yield to that more ancient faith which asserted marriage to be eternal, covering this life and the life to come; neither did it declare against remarriage or polygamy, though there is no question as to its abhorrence of polyandry.
Human frailty thrust into the hands of the priests a weapon of which they were not slow to learn the use. The invocation of God's blessing came to be regarded in the minds of the ignorant as an essential feature of the marriage rite.
In the Isle of Man there is a lamentable lack of early information on marriage customs. There is no record of the decline of polygamy, and only by a process of deduction am I led to conclude that it was never universal, and that monogamy established itself as a matter of convenience rather than of custom or of law. (There is an instance that approximated to polygamy as late as 1868.)
Not until the Stanley regime are we entitled to draw any reliable conclusion. Then we find the priests using the marriage rite, without any scruple, to suit their own ends. Even in later history we see the Church, under Bishop Wilson, exerting the whole weight of its prestige and power to thwart the legitimate aspiration of the people in marriage, save on hard-and-fast terms drawn up by the Bishop's own hand-terms that were as much a violation of Christian usage as they were of the laws of charity, civilization, and human nature.
By reference to the Canons of February, 1704, we find the ' good' and ' saintly' Bishop Wilson ordaining that no one should be permitted to ` enter into the holy state of matrimony till he had received the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.' Then the candidate could not attend the Communion unless he had been first confirmed by the Bishop. Confirmation next had its obstacles. He had to be prepared and examined by a priest of his parish, and he had to give evidence of his instruction and knowledge, learning by heart various prayers. He had to give proof of entire freedom from ecclesiastical censure-of having performed all the 'discipline' set down for his misbehaviour, nonattendance at Church, labour on saints' days, and the like. Baptism, too, had its difficulties. The sponsors must be communicants also.
Marriage, therefore, was conditional on Communion ; Communion was conditional on Confirmation; Confirmation was conditional on Baptism; Baptism was conditional on qualified sponsors. Round the whole fabric of the human family the Church wove its web.
The presumption of Bishop Wilson was that he was promoting virtue and godly living. He was in reality engaged in an elaborate scheme for promoting vice, irregularity of union, or hypocrisy.
I find it not a little difficult to realize the basis of the adoration with which Bishop Wilson's memory has been enshrined even in the most modern history. Charity covers a multitude of sins. Bishop Wilson gave in charity with both hands. But it requires more than ordinary charity to cover his offences. And I should have liked him better if he had been just before he was generous.
The most conspicuous case of wilful and woeful wrong-doing laid to the charge of the spiritual courts in general, and of Bishop Wilson in particular for his degrading punishment of a woman, was that of Katharine Kinrade, to whom reference has been already made. The records provide many others, earlier and later, but this one cannot escape more detailed mention, partly because it has seized the popular imagination, and partly because it is now rendered for ever memorable in a poem of searching pathos, delicacy, and boundless charity. Katharine Kinrade was a poor, frail, and beautiful woman, comely even when the bloom of youth was only a legend. It is unnecessary to account for her frailty, though the student of our village lifewith its repeated story of consanguineous marriagehas not far to seek for a solution of that part of the riddle. Without subscribing to all that is said of the evils of endogamy, I feel that marriage and remarriage within the bounds of a small parish, until everybody was related, had much to answer for in the prevalence of moral sin, consumption, and other growths springing from that common stem.
According to the records, Katharine Kinrade was affected with such ' a degree of unsettledness' and ' defect of understanding' as to evoke pity rather than censure. But the Bishop, turned Inquisitor, imposes his torture, and elects that his victim's degradation shall be, as I have described, at high market on the Fair of St. Patrick, with the constables and soldiers of the garrison aiding and assisting in seeing the penance duly performed; and penalties on all who shall refuse their help. With 'submission and discretion' was the punishment suffered; but the Bishop's prophecy of ' utter destruction' is not fulfilled.
The Rev. T. E. Brown never penned anything more audacious, tender, and true than this vision of Heaven, with which the subject may fittingly end:
None spake when Wilson stood before The throne,
And He that sat thereon
Spake not; and all the presence floor
Burnt deep with blushes, as the angels cast
Their faces downwards. Then at last,
Awe-stricken, he was 'ware
How on the emerald stair
A woman sat, divinely clothed in white,
And at her knees four cherubs bright, That laid
Their heads within her lap.
Then, trembling, he essayed
To speak:-' Christ's mother, pity me!'
Then answered she:
' I am Catherine Kinrade. Even so- . . .
And from her lips and from her eyes there flowed
A smile that lit all Heaven; the angels smiled;
God smiled, if that were smile beneath the state that glowed
Soft purple-and a voice:-, Be reconciled!'
So to his side the children crept,
And Catherine kissed him and he wept.
Then said a seraph: 'Lo! he is forgiven.
And for a space again there was no voice in Heaven.