Gorham Case

Gorham Case a case in law involving the doctrine of the Church of England as to baptismal regeneration. In August 1847, the lord chancellor (lord Cottenham) offered to present Mr. Gorham to the vicarage of Brampford- Speke. The bishop, on being requested to countersign his testimonials, stated on the paper his doubts as to Mr. Gorham's views, both of discipline and doctrine. The lord chancellor, however, presented Mr. Gorham, who applied for institution. The bishop then intimated his intention of examining Mr. Gorham before he instituted him. The examination took place, and continued for several days. The result was, that the bishop of Exeter declined to institute Mr. Gorham to the vicarage of Brampford-Speke. "The alleged ground of this refusal was, that after examination the bishop found Mr. Gorham to be of unsound doctrine as to the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism; inasmuch as he held that spiritual regeneration is not given or conferred in that sacrament in particular, that infants are not made therein 'members of Christ and the children of God,' as the catechism and formularies of the Church declare them to be. The case was brought before the Arches Court of Canterbury, which decided (1849) that baptismal regeneration is the doctrine, of the Church of England, and that Mr. Gorham. maintained doctrines on the point opposed to those of the Church, and that consequently the bishop had shown sufficient cause for his refusal to institute, and that the appeal must be dismissed with costs. From this decision Mr. Gorham appealed to the judicial committee of privy council. The committee complained that the bishop's questions were intricate and entangling, and that the answers were not given plainly and directly. Their decision was in substance, as follows, and it must be noted what points they undertook to decide, and what not. The court declared that it had no jurisdiction to settle matters of faith, or to determine what ought, in any particular, to be the doctrine of the Church of England, its duty being only to consider what is by law established to be her doctrine upon the legal construction of her articles and formularies. It appeared that very different opinions as to the sacrament of baptism were held by the promoters of the Reformation; that differences of opinion on various points left open were always thought consistent with subscription to the articles; and also, that opinions in no important particular to be distinguished from Mr. Gorham's had been maintained without censure by many eminent prelates and divines. Without expressing any opinion as to the theological accuracy of Mr. Gorham's opinions, the court decided that the judgment of the Arches Court should be reversed. Mr. Gorham was accordingly instituted to Brampford-Speke. During the two years that the suit was pending, the theological question was discussed with all degrees of ability and acrimony in sermons and pamphlets." — History of Christian Church (Encyc. Metrop., Glasgow, 1858, page 387 sq.); Chambers, Encyclopaedia, s.v.; Theological Critic, April , art. 3; English Review, volumes 13, 14; Marsden, Churches and. Sects, 1:42; Cunningham, Discussion of Church Principles (Edinburgh, 1863), chapter 6.

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