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usually called the Act of Supremacy, a statute which, in the first place, provides that no foreign prince or potentate, spiritual or temporal, shall exercise any manner of jurisdiction or privilege, spiritual or ecclesiastical, within this realm or the dominions thereof; and next, that such jurisdictions and privileges as had before been exercised by any spiritual or ecclesiastical power, for visitation and correction of the Church, shall for ever be united and annexed to the imperial crown of this realm. But the Act of Elizabeth was merely declaratory ; for the ecclesiastical supremacy of the Crown had been before claimed by the 26 Hen. 8 (1531), c. 1, and indeed, prior to the Reformation, by the Statute of Preemunire, 16 Ric. 2 (1392), c. 5 (e).
The new regulations thus introduced by parliament, taken in connection with other legislative enactments of the same era, but of subordinate importanee, and in connection also with the canon law, (which still gives the rule where the statutes are silent,) have constituted, from the period of which we speak, and still constitute, the standard of faith, worship, and discipline in the Church of England; and for a beneficed clergyman advisedly to maintain any doctrine in derogation of the king's supremacy, or of the Thirty-nine Articles, or of the Liturgy as by law established, or to neglect to declare his assent publicly to such Articles and Liturgy at the time and in the place appointed for that purpose, or to use any other form of prayer than that contained in such Liturgy, is ground for deprivation.
And if we now consider, whether this standard is binding merely on those who claim the benefits of the church establishment, or generally on all the subjects of the realm, we shall find that the law has passed through some very remarkable changes on this head. For, though the Act of Supremacy effected an emancipation from the papal
(e) 4 Inst. 42, 331, 341. Henry VIII. claimed the title of Supreme Head of the English Church : Elizabeth modified this to supreme gorernour.
yoke, and may therefore be justly considered as having laid the foundation of our spiritual freedom, it was not till long afterwards that the nation learned the lesson of religious toleration ; and in the mean time, our temporal laws proceeded not only to imitate the persecutions of the Popish time, but in some respects to surpass them. For while our law continued to punish (in aid of the ecclesiastical authorities) the offence of heresy as before, employing for that purpose the writ de hceretico comburendo, which was not abolished until the 29 Car. II. (1677), c. 9, it began also to exercise new rigours of its own in dealing with the offence of nonconformity,-.e., dissent from the worship and ceremonies of the reformed Established Church. So early as the 5 & 6 Edw. VI. (1551), c. 1, non-conformity was made a highly penal offence ; and even to be present at any other form of worship than that which was by law established, rendered the offender liable to imprisonment. By the same statute, and by the Act of Uniformity of 1558, a fine of twelve pence, to be levied by the churchwardens for the use of the poor, was imposed on such as failed to resort to their proper parish church on Sundays and holidays. And the penal portions of these statutes, though for a long course of time fallen into neglect, yet remained in our statute book, till (in common with many other penal and disabling laws in regard to religious opinions) they were swept away by the Religious Disabilities Act, 1846, to which we shall make further allusion before we close this chapter. In the reign, moreover, of Queen Elizabeth, a schism began to develop itself in the newly-established Protestant Church, certain persons, who received the appellation of Puritans, deserting the use of the Liturgy, and (in defiance of the above enactments) betaking themselves to forms of worship of their own institution (f); until ultimately, as they increased in number, they branched out into various divisions of
(f) Hallam, Const. Hist. vol. i. pp. 246, 251, 280.
religious opinion, and into various modes of religious ceremonial and Church government. From which stock have indeed descended all those Protestant seceders from the Established Church, described at a later period as Nonconformists, and in modern times, as Dissenters, and being also variously designated and distinguished by the specific names of Wesleyans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and the like (q).
The jealousies to which these growing innovations gave rise, and the alarm from time to time excited by the enterprising spirit of Popery, gave birth to a variety of enactments, which had for their common object the repression of non-conformity and the discouragement of Papists. Thus, by the Act of Uniformity (14 Car. II. c. 4), it was enacted, that the Book of Common Prayer should be used in every place of public worship, and that every teacher of youth should make a written declaration that he would conform to the Liturgy, and should obtain from the ordinary a licence to teach ; and by the Act against Conventicles (22 Car. II. (1670), c. 1), all meetings consisting of five persons or more (exclusive of the family), assembled for the exercise of religion in any manner other than according to the Liturgy and practice of the Church of England, were prohibited, subject to pecuniary forfeitures.
The Revolution of 1688, however, was the commencement of an era of more liberal legislation in matters of religion ; and by the Toleration Act of 1689, persons dissenting from the Church of England (except Papists and Unitarians) were allowed freely to assemble for
(9) The figures are given in Whitaker's Almanack. It is often claimed that dissenters are members of the Church of Eng. land. They have certain rights in their parish church ( Taylor v.
Timson (1888), 20 Q. B. D. 671), but they are not therefore in law members of the Church of England. See Re Perry Almshouses, [1898) 1 Ch. 391.
religious worship according to their own forms, and in places of meeting duly certified (R.), on condition, however, of their taking the oaths of allegiance and of supremacy, and making a declaration against transubstantiation, and in the case of dissenting ministers) subscribing also to certain of the Thirty-nine Articles. By the Nonconformists Relief Act, 1779, dissenting preachers or teachers were entitled to the benefits of the Toleration Act (without signing any of the Articles), on subscribing a declaration professing themselves to be Christians and Protestants, and expressing their belief that the Scriptures contain the revealed will of God, and the rule of doctrine and practice. Then, by the Places of Religious Worship Act, 1812, the Act against Conventicles was repealed, and dissenters were relieved from the necessity of taking any oaths or subscribing any declaration, unless required so to do by some justice of the peace ; and by the 53 Geo. III. (1813), c. 160, that clause of the Toleration Act, which excepted Unitarians from the benefit of its enactments, was repealed, and, by the Nonconformists Chapels Act, 1844, the benefits of the above three Acts, viz., the Toleration Act, the Nonconformists Relief Act, 1779, and 53 Geo. III. c. 160, were extended to endowments for dissenters made prior to those Acts. Ultimately, in order to render the benefits of the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham more freely accessible to the nation, it was, by the University Tests Act, 1871, enacted, that any person might take any degree (other than a divinity degree), in any of these universities, and hold any office therein, or in any college thereof, without either subscribing any article or formulary of faith, or making any declaration or taking any oath respecting his religious belief or profession, or conforming to any religious observance, or attending (or abstaining from) any form of
(h) The Toleration Act has been amended by the 18 & 19 Vict. (1854), c. 81, and 19 & 20 Vict. (1856), c. 119, ss. 17, 27.
public worship, or belonging to any specified church, sect, or denomination ().
As regards Roman Catholics, most of the severer penalties and disabilities to which they were at one time subject were removed by the 18 Geo. III. (1778), c. 60, the Roman Catholic Relief Act, 1791, and 43 Geo. III. (1802), c. 30, on condition of their taking such oaths or making such declarations as in those Acts were provided ; and, in particular, assemblies for Roman Catholic worship were legalized on condition of their being held in places duly certified (k). Later, by the Roman Catholic Relief Act, 1829 (1), Roman Catholics were enabled to exercise any franchise or civil right whatever, except in certain cases where their doing so would presumably be prejudicial to Protestantism, as in the case of presenting to a benefice (m); and, therefore, since the above statute, Roman Catholics have been able to hold any office whatever, with the following exceptions : viz., the office of guardian or regent of the United Kingdom ; of lord chancellor, or keeper of the great seal ; of lord chancellor of Ireland ; of lord lieutenant, or other chief governor of Ireland ; of lord high commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland ; and any office in the Church of England, or in the Church of Scotland, or in the ecclesiastical courts, or in the universities, colleges, or public schools of this kingdom (n). Finally, by other Acts, and principally by the Religious Disabilities Act, 1846, and (as to the Lord Chancellor of Ireland) by the Office and Oath Act, 1867, almost all the personal disabilities of Roman Catholics were removed ; and, by the
(i) R. v. Hertford College (1878), 3 Q. B. D. 693.
(k) 18 & 19 Vict. (1855), c. 81, s. 2.
(1) The Earl of Shrewsbury v. Scott (1859), 6 C. B. (N.s.) 177 ; also Test Abolition Act, 1867.
(m) 10 Geo. 4 (1829), c. 7, s. 16; and see Benefices Act, 1898 (61 & 62 Vict. c. 48), s. 7.
(n) 10 Geo. 4 (1829), c. 7, ss. 12, 16, 17.