Sacramental certificate

Pages 351-352

Middlesex County Records: Volume 4, 1667-88. Originally published by Middlesex County Record Society, London, 1892.

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Sacramental Certificates, of which there are many thousands among the Middlesex County Records, are the outcome of the Act of Parliament, 25 Car. II. c. 2, known as the Test Act.

By this it was enacted that any person that should bear any office, or receive any pay, or hold any office from his Majesty, should take the Oath of Allegiance in one of the High Courts and receive the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the usage of the Church of England. Every one admitted to any such office was required to take the oath at the next Quarter Sessions and to receive the Sacrament within three months. He was also to deliver a certificate, at the time of taking the oath, of having received the Sacrament, signed by the minister and churchwarden of the parish and attested by two credible witnesses, and at the same time to make and subscribe a declaration, "I, A B, do declare that I do believe that there is not any transubstantiation in the Lord' Supper or in the elements of bread and wine at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever."

As every official person receiving the Sacrament had thus to be attested by two witnesses in addition to the minister and churchwarden, it was a common practice for three persons more or less known to each other to attend together for mutual attestation. Of A B and C, A and B would attest C, A and C do the same for B, and B and C for A. The certificate was then to be sworn to in court, and deposited with its Records. The result was an accumulation of a vast number of Sacramental Certificates in the archives of the various courts containing, if the whole series were complete, the autograph signatures of all the distinguished churchmen and laymen who at any time during the continuance of the Act held any public office. The certificate, of which a facsimile is here given for the sake of the form, contains the autograph of Sir Isaac Newton, who on the 5th of July, 1702, (it is not clear on what occasion), received the Sacrament together with Sir John Stanley, Bart., and Isaac Gamier, the three reciprocally attesting each other as above. The Rev. William Wake, the attesting minister, was successively Dean of Exeter, Bishop of Lincoln, and Archbishop of Canterbury. He is best known for his strenuous but futile efforts to unite the English and Gallican Churches. The titles of his pamphlets on this and kindred subjects fill two or three pages of the British Museum Library Catalogue. Though this certificate does not itself fall within the dates of the present volume, it is an exact counterpart of the many that do.

The employment of such a test must be looked upon in any case as a profanation, though in that of a man of reverent spirit like Newton it might be less objectionable than in others. There is something of almost diabolical grotesqueness in the spectacle of a ruffian like Colonel Percy Kirke receiving the Sacrament of peace and love as a qualification for setting off with his "lambs" on some bloodthirsty expedition like that against the Somersetshire peasants who had been deluded into following Monmouth in his rebellion.

The Test Act was not repealed until 1829.