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Religious Tests In Universities

Volume 117: debated on Thursday 19 June 1851

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, in rising to move that the House should resolve itself into a Committee to "consider the religious tests originally imposed, either by the authority of the Crown or by Act of Parliament, as a qualification for any civil corporate privilege in the Universities and Colleges of Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin," said, he must express his gratitude to the noble Lord at the head of the Government for having recommended the recent appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the state of the Universities. In addition to that inquiry, however, he thought it extremely desirable that the House should consider the nature of the religious tests which were imposed at the Universities. It was well known that the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge were very ancient institutions, and that in the early periods of their history they were much dependent upon the Crown, which exercised a kind of fatherly control over them, that was not much known in the present day. The result of this was, that a great number of religious tests had been introduced, which he now desired to see inquired into. For instance, the ancient plan which had been pursued in them, was to devote seven years to the study of secular knowledge, and seven other years to the study of divinity; and fellowships had been established, with the object of enabling fellows to remain and study theological knowledge. But this had now become a mere form. In the College to which he had the honour to belong, Trinity College, Cambridge, the fellows took an oath that they would make theology the end of their studies. Many eminent laymen had taken that oath solemnly before God, who had no intention of making theology the end of their studies, and only about one-third of the whole number of students were divinity students. That was one of the oaths which he wished to see abolished; and if the House should consent to go into Committee upon the reliligious tests of the Universities, that was one of the oaths to which he should direct attention, because he believed it to be a question that affected every layman to have it abolished. The oaths had undergone considerable alteration. In the time of Edward VI. there was no such clause in it. In the reign of Queen Mary, when the Roman Catholic was the religion of the State, Dr. Crisp had drawn up a new code of laws. In Queen Elizabeth's reign this clause was adopted, but preceded by a declaration that the student believed in the sufficiency of the Scriptures. In the reign of James I. it at last assumed a settled form. The thirty-six Canons, and the Articles of the Church of England, had also to be signed by those persons who intended to become ministers. James I., who made this order, also recommended to the students those studies that be in his wisdom thought desirable. In the reign of Charles II., Archbishop Laud introduced several tests into the statutes of the universities, and among others that of signing the Thirty-nine Articles and the Declarations. It was most absurd that a number of young men just leaving school should be called on to sign thirty-nine abstruse articles, which it required very learned men to comprehend. With reference to surplices, he would make the wearing of them voluntary. If persons had a conscientious objection to wearing surplices, why should it be insisted on? Another of the canons of the University provided that the communion should be administered four times a year. That might be got over by the payment of a small fine, and surely there could be no necessity for the continuance of that practice. In fact, these ancient rules were not in harmony with the spirit of the nineteenth century; and he thought that the natural result of the superstitious regard that was paid to old observances, especially at Oxford, was that high notion of Church discipline which was known as Tracta- rianism, and which prevailed in that University. With reference to the University of Dublin, it would be found that an Act passed in 1793 opening degrees to Roman Catholics and to persons of all denominations. In consequence of that Act a number of Roman Catholics were educated at that University, but they were still subjected to many inconveniences and annoyances. After the recent extraordinary aggression of the Papal See, he knew that this was a difficult subject to touch; but he did think that in this matter some concession ought to be made to the people of Ireland. By the present regulation students were required to take the sacrament before they could accept a scholarship. He was not aware of any corporation but the University of Dublin where such a practice existed; and he thought that the compulsory taking of the sacrament ought to be abolished. He looked forward to the time, at no very distant period, when the tests imposed at the Universities would be greatly modified. He also thought that some alteration ought to be made in the regulation directing that no other service than that of the Church of England should be celebrated in the college chapels. The present rules of the colleges operated with great harshness. Some years ago a Jewish gentleman, Mr. Rothschild, entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was obliged to attend the service of the Church of England in the college chapel; and he (Mr. Heywood) was informed that the attendance of that gentleman gave great pain to one of the college authorities who was acquainted with his religious views. Another Jewish gentleman, who entered at another college, was excused in his third year from attendance at chapel, and that gentleman attained the distinguished post of second wrangler. He (Mr. Heywood) thought it was only just that the community at large should have the same opportunity with others of their fellow-subjects of obtaining those honours which were in the gift of the universities. He believed Oxford and Cambridge were the only universities in the world in which admission was not given to all properly qualified persons who chose to avail themselves of the education they afforded. The statutes of the University of Oxford ordained that the tutors of colleges should instruct students in the Thirty-nine Articles, which, along with the Greek Testament and other subjects of study, were termed "rudiments of religion." He (Mr. Heywood) was quite ready to allow that the Greek Testament, and other works, required to be studied. It contained rudiments of religion, but he certainly did not regard the Thirty-nine Articles as rudiments of religion. They were rather the results at which scholastic theologians had arrived after much consideration. He advocated the removal of the existing tests, not merely on account of the community at large, who were not members of the Church of England, as Roman Catholics and Dissenters, but because he believed such a measure would be advantageous to the laity generally, and to the Church of England itself, and he hoped the House would consent to go into Committee on this subject.

seconded the Motion, which he did with great respect for the University at which he was educated, and with great regret that he did not profit more by the instruction which was there given. So far from its being prejudicial to the Universities to abolish these tests, he thought it would greatly benefit them. If they were national institutions, they should adapt themselves to the condition of society in the nation. When these institutions were founded, the people of this country were Roman Catholics. They ought now to accommodate themselves to the change that had taken place in the spirit of the nation, and not close their doors against all classes but one of the community. The University of Oxford was most flourishing when it was most national. It was stated that in the thirteenth century, no fewer than 30,000 students attended the University of Oxford; but now, in consequence of the happy freedom of opinion which prevailed in our times, there were persons of all religious denominations, and tests operated as an exclusion. What he wanted was, that they should be made really national institutions. It was stated in the work of a learned German, which had been edited by his hon. Friend (Mr. Heywood), that in former times Oxford was far in advance of the times. That could not be said now. He (Mr. Ewart) wished that it could be said of it that it was even parallel with the times. Even in a moral point of view, he thought that the portals of the University should be thrown open as widely as possible. The subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles was not required till the time of that Solomon, James I. Now he believed that when these articles were read to the students they could not understand them, and they were read over as rapidly as possible. He went through the form, and he could say experto crede. These tests did not serve the cause of education, religion, morality, or the Universities themselves, and therefore he seconded the Motion of his hon. Friend with great pleasure.

Motion made, and Question proposed—

"That this House will resolve itself into a Committee, to consider the religious tests, originally imposed either by the authority of the Crown or by Act of Parliament, as a qualification for any civil corporate privilege in the Universities and Colleges of Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin."

would not have risen to address the House, if it were not that no other hon. Gentleman had proposed to do so, and if a personal experience of both the English Universities had not enabled him to gather the materials of some opinion on the question. The hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lancashire (Mr. Heywood) had in point of fact raised three issues to-night: first, whether, on abstract grounds, a change in the religious tests of the English Universities was proper; secondly, whether, to accomplish it, it was on the whole expedient for Parliament to intervene; thirdly, whether it would be judicious for Parliament to intervene at a moment when Commissioners appointed by the Crown were conducting an elaborate inquiry into everything which related to the famous seats of education which formed the topic of debate. On the subject of religious tests, he (Mr. Campbell) went along with the hon. Member for North Lancashire so far as to believe that the University of Cambridge, in exempting undergraduates from declaration of belief, acted much more prudently, and with far better consequences, than the University of Oxford in requiring a signature of the Thirty-nine Articles from all matriculating students. That was the result of practical comparison, and not of any theoretical inquiry. He would go so far, also, with the hon. Gentleman, as to think it a matter for grave consideration, whether ordinary B.A. degrees ought to be accompanied with a subscription. One anomaly resulted from it in the University of Cambridge. The mathematical distinctions were conferred before, the classical distinc- tions were conferred after, the time of graduating. You might, therefore, have a student of Mahometan impressions for senior wrangler, while even a Wesleyan could not carry off the crown of scholarship and literature. There was not much importance in this remark; the question could be argued very well on other grounds. He certainly inclined to the opinion that Dissenters ought to be admitted to a B.A. degree. When he approached the final grade of academical maturity, the M.A. degree, he differed altogether from his hon. Friend. So long as two principles continued to be sanctioned which no one was ready to subvert—so long as the Universities were bodies founded on religion—and so long as an M.A. had a right to teach and to explain any science to the students, the theological opinions of the Masters ought to be ascertained in the best manner which occurred. Whether subscription to the Articles was the most eligible manner, might possibly be doubted. With regard to the second question, every one felt that reforms of the University came better from within than from without; while he was ready to admit that Parliament might interpose in grave and positive emergencies. When he came to the last question, he had no sort of difficulty in deciding to vote against his hon. Friend. He (Mr. Campbell) could not think that the solemn labours of the two Commissions which the voice of his hon. Friend and the action of the noble Lord had called into existence, could throw no sort of light upon religious tests, and the improvement they admitted. His hon. Friend did injustice to the inquiry of which he was the author. He (Mr. Campbell) took a wider view of its instructions. He doubted very much whether the Commissioners would not look into subscriptions and their influence. It was quite worth while for the House to wait on the contingency of the knowledge they were likely to derive from it; and he (Mr. Campbell) considered the fact of the Commissions a Parliamentary and practical reply to the Motion of his hon. Friend. As he happened then to be addressing them, he would take the opportunity of signalising his approbation of the step by which the Commissions were originated. For some years ignorance and calumny had caused a degree of popular suspicion, and even public apprehension, on the subject of the English Universities, which was calculated to alarm their most insensible adhe- rents. Nothing but political inquiry could disperse it; nor did he believe that inquiry could have taken a shape more happy than it had, or have gone forth under the auspices of any Prime Minister less adapted to create dismay, or better to inspire confidence, than the noble Lord at the head of the Government.

then said, that before the House proceeded to a division, he would state very shortly the view he took of the Motion as it at present stood. His hon. Friend had moved for a Committee of the whole House, to consider the religious tests imposed cither by the authority of the Crown or by Act of Parliament as a qualification for any civil corporate privilege in the Universities and Colleges of Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin." It was a good many years since any question upon this subject had been raised in the House; but he remembered that at one time it occasioned a great deal of interest in the House, more particularly because many of the most distinguished members of the University of Cambridge sent a petition, which was presented by his noble Friend Lord Monteagle, in which they expressed their wish that further advantages should be given to Dissenters in that University. Upon that occasion, the late Mr. G. W. Wood proposed a Bill, by which persons dissenting from the Established Church, either Protestant Dissenters or Roman Catholic Dissenters from the Church of England, should have the power of being admitted to both the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and that they should proceed with their studies in those Universities, and be admitted to a degree, if otherwise qualified, always excepting a theological degree, without taking any religious tests. He (Lord J. Russell) supported that proposition, which seemed to him to be founded upon right principles, and to be only giving the Dissenters that which was the proper distinction and reward of studies in which they might acquire a right to such reward. The Bill was supported very strongly in a very able speech by the present Lord Stanley, and there was a distinction which he drew between that Bill and a measure that some Gentlemen were inclined to support, to which he (Lord J. Russell) wished to draw the attention of the House, as he thought it bore upon this Motion. Lord Stanley said—

"That while he was ready to admit the Dissen- ters to the full benefit of a university education—to the full benefit of the civil privileges which might attend and accompany the attainment of a university degree—he would sedulously guard those institutions from the admission of Dissenters as part of the governing body of the University. 'I do hold (continued he) that there is between these two as broad a line of distinction in principle, as it is possible for the imagination to conceive. Further, it is a line we see drawn in the actual practice of two of the universities. Trinity College, Dublin, is indiscriminately open to Protestants and Catholics, as far as regards the distinction conferred by degrees, but not as regards the government of that institution, which is in the hands of Protestants alone. In Cambridge, again, although we are told, that if Dissenters were admitted to the Universities, there would be an end of all discipline, of all religious instruction, do we find that the admission of Dissenters to study in that University produces any of the bad effects which it is said would result from their admission? Do they not go through the whole of the undergraduates' studies as a matter of course? Do they refuse to conform to the discipline, or to shrink from compliance with the rules and regulations, of the respective colleges into which they are admitted? Not at all; but at the very moment when, as my right hon. Friend observed, the honours of a degree appear waiting to crown his exertions, and send him with distinction in an honourable profession into the world—at that very moment the University interposes, and says, 'You must sign the Thirty-nine Articles, or go without the reward you have so well deserved.' There is no objection raised on the score of the religious instruction of the University not having been received; and, therefore, the plain and simple question for the House to consider is, whether you will require this test to be taken immediately before receiving the degree, or, having received it, on the party presenting himself as a candidate for university honours?"
Now, he (Lord J. Russell) thought, as Lord Stanley stated, that there was a great distinction between admitting persons dissenting from the Church to study at the University and obtain all the assistance which could be given, not only by the museums, but by the instruction given by the learned members of the University, and allowing them afterwards, having distinguished themselves for proficiency in those studies, to obtain a degree as a mark and reward for that proficiency—there was the greatest distinction between that, and admitting them to become part of the governing body of the University by receiving the fellowships or the offices which belonged to it. He thought, considering how many there were in this country dissenting from the Established Church, who might obtain those honours, and who would find them of great use to them in their after-life, that such an admission as he had first stated might very well be made. He thought it a misfortune that the author of the Credibility of the Gospel History (Dr. Lardner) could not receive a degree in Cambridge or Oxford. That was a totally different question from admitting persons who were opposed to the Church with respect to their religious belief, and their views of church government, as part of the governing body of the University. If this last concession was made, he should be afraid it would introduce confusion into the discipline of the University. He could not see how persons differing so much in their views could cooperate harmoniously in carrying on the system of government, and that discipline which was absolutely necessary for the welfare of the University. Now, he was afraid that the Motion before the House went to this latter point. It seemed so to him; and while, therefore, to such a Bill as that formerly introduced by Mr. Wood, and supported by Lord Stanley, he should give his cordial support, he could not give his assent to this Motion. He should, perhaps, add, that though he should give his cordial assent to such a proposition as that to which he had referred, he did not think it a peculiarly convenient or fit time for the introduction of such a measure. He should give his vote for it, but certainly could not be an active party in bringing forward the question at such a time.

said, it was most inconsistent to admit Dissenters to the highest civil offices, such as that of Lord Chief Justice, for instance, and yet exclude them from the Universities, where it was considered that they might obtain the best education to fit them for filling those offices. But, apart from this, as a Churchman, a member of the Church by law established, he objected entirely to making youths of sixteen give a blind declaration of belief in the Thirty-nine Articles. Paley said the clergy could not give a full and sincere concurrence to hundreds of controverted propositions, and that was a true description of the Thirty-nine Articles. To demand this from the youth of the country was to make them commence their career with a prostitution of their consciences. If there was no doubt that these Articles were right, it would savour very much of a claim of infallibility to impose this blind subscription; but what should we say when the members and bishops of the Church were not able to agree as to the meaning of those articles, and whether they ought to be adopted even by the clergy?

Notice taken, that forty Members were not present; House counted; and forty Members not being present,

The House was adjourned at a quarter before Eight of the clock.