English Literature

Church Reform by Richard Carlile

Church Reform by Richard Carlile



“To the Right Reverend Father in God, the Lord Bishop of London.

“62, Fleet Street, November 18,1833.

“My Lord,

“I have long and deliberately thought, that the state of the Country, the state of the Church, and the state of the Public Mind in relation to the Church, calls upon me to offer myself for an interview with your Lordship, as my Diocesan, that your Lordship may hear from me what I have to advance against the present state and condition of the Church, and what I have to propose as an immediately necessary and proper Reform.

“I offer to wait on your Lordship, with your Lordship’s consent; and promise, that my conversation shall be altogether courteous and reasonable.

“I am one of your Lordship’s scattered sheep, wishing for the fold of a good shepherd,—(which is Christ Jesus),—


“P. S.—I may add, my Lord Bishop, that I am altogether a Christian; save the mark at which superstition has been planted upon Christianity.”

“Fulham, November 20,1833.


“I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, in which you propose an interview with me, for the purpose of making known to me your opinions respecting the present state of the Church.

“I beg to say, that I shall be ready to receive, and to give all due consideration to any communication which you may think proper to make me in writing; as being, on many accounts, a more convenient method than that of personal conference.

“I remain, Sir,

“Your obedient Servant,


“To the Right Reverend Father in God, the Lord Bishop of London.

“62, Fleet Street, November 24,1833.

“My Lord Bishop,

“In answer to my proposal to meet your Lordship in conversation, on the state of the Country, the state of the Church, and the state of the Public Mind with relation to the Church, your Lordship has encouraged me to write what I have to say, and has promised to receive it and to give it due consideration. I write as early as my circumstances have afforded me the necessary leisure and composure of mind.

“The first point to which I beg leave to call your Lordship’s attention is—that there is a very numerous degree of dissent from the Established Church among the people of this country.

“The second point is, that this spirit of dissent has led to a very extended opposition to the support of the Church in its fiscal claims.

“The third point is, that there is a preparation of a public mind going forward for the putting of the present Established Church on the same footing as the present Establishments of the Dissenters—the footing of voluntary rather than legal support; and that the preparation of this state of mind is accelerated by the embarrassed state of the country.

“The evidence of these three points in prospect is, that the present state of the Church will be entirely overthrown in the course of two or three Sessions of Parliament.

“On the principle of dissent from the Established Church, I have to observe, that it is desirable there should be no dissent; but then the Church should be invulnerable. There can be no popular dissent from any Institution that can be defended as good and best; and though I am instructed to allow that the general body of dissenters from the Church have dissented on very frivolous, even on indefensible grounds, (inasmuch as the Dissenters have not corrected in themselves the errors of the Church), there still remains the proof that where the Church has been assailed or dissented from, it has not been in a condition to defend and justify itself.

“This incapability of the Church to defend and justify itself, where assailed, must have arisen from a defective state of its doctrine and discipline.

“This doctrine and discipline is founded upon the literal reading of the Sacred Scriptures, or the books of the Old and New Testament.

“I impugn the literal as an erroneous reading: it claims to be local and temporal history, and is not. Not one of its apparent historical subjects can be verified. Every one of them can be falsified, upon the principle that other things were being done at the time, and that other people dwelt in the places; and that nothing of contemporary character, purporting to be history, has corroborated the historical claims of the Old and New Testament.

“It is said of the writings of the Old and New Testament, that they are allegorical, and that they contain the moral of human salvation from evil. Under this view, they may be true, and may be important as a matter of instruction. I so believe them to be true, and to be important as a matter of instruction; but as your Lordship may put me on the task of mentioning some particular facts and grounds on which I impugn the literal reading of the Sacred Scriptures, and may properly suggest that it is necessary this ground should be first cleared before we try them on the other ground, I submit, as two well-weighed and conclusive propositions:—

“1st. That the person of Jesus Christ, or the name, is not in mention by any author of the first century, if the passage in Josephus be excepted as an interpolation; and that this defect in the evidence is fatal to the historical claim.

“2nd. That the people called Jews, or Israelites, neither formed colony nor nation in that part of the earth which is now called Judea, or Holy Land, before the time of Alexander of Macedon; consequently all that is said of their dwelling in and going out of Egypt, their sojourn in the Wilderness, their warfare with the Canaanites and Philistines, their occupation of that country, their subsequent conquest, captivity, and restoration, is entirely fiction or allegory.

“I read it as political and moral instruction veiled in allegory \ and as it is to be desired, that, in the removal of a system, all its defects be made apparent, so it becomes a desideratum, that we account for the origin of the sects named Jews and Christians.

“This may be done in two ways—-one, that they were public philosophical sects; the other, that they were degrees of order in the ancient mysteries.

“The moral of the allegory belonging to each is throughout the same, and is an encouragement to the resistance and overthrow of the tyranny of man, when it appears in the open authority of a King, or in the covert authority of a Priest; and the preparing of a people to do this, and the doing it, is precisely what is meant by human salvation,—which is a sure and certain salvation from earthly evils.

“The absence of a proof of personal identity in the characters sketched in the Old and New Testament, is the presence of proof (if utility of any kind there be in the form of the allegory), that the persons mentioned are like what all the gods and goddesses of ancient religion were—personifications of principles, either physical or moral, or both.

“In so receiving the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, I find them pregnant with the most important political and moral instruction. In receiving them according to the literal or historical reading, I find difficulties insuperable, and such as justify all that Thomas Paine or any other straightforward critic has advanced on the subject, while the moral and the allegory were concealed from their view.

“The point at which this personification of principles begins, is the point at which superstition begins; for though knowledge may justify the poetic licence taken with language, ignorance mistakes and evil design misrepresents, until the personification is extensively dwelt on as a reality.

“Here I trace the fundamental errors of the present doctrine and discipline of the Established Church; the errors upon which dissent has progressed, upon which an outcry of infidelity has been raised, but upon which the Church could not defend itself and maintain its position.

“My remedy for the present difficulties, and my proposition \ for a Reform in the Church is, that no difficulties, mysteries, or superstition be allowed to remain attached to its doctrines and discipline; that the allegory of the Sacred Scriptures be avowed, the personifications taught upon their principles as known principles of nature, and not as personified incomprehensibilities; that the Church, in short, be made a school for the people, than which, if it originally meant any good thing, could mean no other thing, where from time to time all acquired or acquirable knowledge should be taught. On this ground, the utility of the Institution is evident, the benefit to the people certain, the idea of dissent inadmissible.

“In this first letter, I have thought it necessary only to give your Lordship the leading points of objection to the present doctrine and discipline of the Church. With details in proof, I can proceed to a voluminous length; and I now offer myself to submit to the catechism of your Lordship, or to that of any person whom your Lordship shall appoint to see me, with the distinct promise, that I will not evade the giving of a direct answer to any distinct and intelligible question that can be put to me upon any part of this important subject.

“It may not be improper that I now declare to your Lordship, that, after having worn out the spirit of persecution by a large amount of personal and pecuniary suffering, I have never been acting upon any other motive than a love of truth, and honesty, and public good; that it is under such a motive, and no other mixed motive, that I have now presented myself to your Lordship, viewing your Lordship as a public functionary that has inherited and not created the error of which I complain; and hoping that I shall be met with the disposition of a fair investigation, when so much good is at this moment the promised consequence,

“I am, My Lord,

“Your Lordship’s most obedient humble servant,



Categories: English Literature

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