Project Canterbury

Conversion, Catholicism, and the English Church

By Walter Carey, D.D.
Bishop of Bloemfontein

London: Mowbray, 1923.

The Hopefulness of the Future

I FIND it difficult to express my sense of the hopefulness of the future if we can only suppress some of this eternal fault-finding and criticism, and settle down to teach out to the full all that can be built on our sound principles. This continual nagging at each other comes from the fact that people have not known where they really stand. They have depended largely on "stunts." Just as one sees a picture in a shop and feels that one will never be happy till one gets it, so that for the moment all our interest and energy goes into the means of acquiring that picture; and yet when it is on our walls it soon becomes ordinary, so it has been with us. If only we could get vestments: then the Mass as the central service: then, perhaps, devotions or an altered Mass or some other change: then all our people are going to fall down and worship God in spirit and in truth.

One of my great disillusionments has been the experience that when you have got all you want, the walls of Jericho still persist in standing in spite of your trumpets.

There is no short cut or easy method. The only sound method is to get clear about your principles, e.g. you know why you believe in God and in Jesus and in the Church. You bring to bear on your people, seriously and evangelically, the truths of Christ and the Church, and you buttress the claims of the Church--as far as necessary truths for the soul's health are concerned--by the Scriptures.

You add, as useful and inspiring though not necessary for salvation, such other doctrines as seem to have commended themselves to the instincts of the Church. You give to the decisions of Councils, Synods, and the rulings of individual doctors and saints such weight as their authority rightly deserves. But you never irritate or madden by claiming for non-scriptural doctrines that essentiality which is reserved for Catholic-cum-Scripture dogma. I never see the difficulty of holding some truths as essential, and others as just inspiring and helpful.

For instance, I believe in the Deity of Jesus, and teach it as essential for the soul's health on the authority of the Catholic Church and Scripture. I believe that I must say Matins and Evensong on the authority of the Church of England and of the Province of South Africa. But I never confuse the authority of the two. The first is of the essence: the latter is an "accident"; and though I obey both, yet one is "of salvation " and the other is not.

I do not see why we cannot teach in the English Church all those things by which the soul of man lives, and then add on, as inspiring and helpful, such other doctrines and customs as are permitted or enjoined by rightful authorities.

In the English Church one can, indeed must, if one is faithful, be baptized, confirmed, and a communicant. One is free, and in certain cases urged, to go to confession. One can live a life of the utmost Christian holiness and love. All the seven Sacraments are Catholic and scriptural. And you can add as helpful, and corroborated by the consensus of Catholic Christendom, all such doctrines and practices as purgatory, invocation of saints, vestments, and all sorts of occasional services which receive the sanction of properly constituted authority.

Personally, I object to nothing which is helpful provided it doesn't lead to superstition, and does not contradict some Catholic-cum-Scriptural doctrine. What I do object to, is the attempt to excommunicate or treat with scorn the people who, while not denying them, cannot find a home for them in their own religious life.

It is this attempt to make obligatory on all, as a matter of conscience, things which S. Paul expressly leaves open to individual judgement which makes all the mischief. People devote so much energy to making their congregations obedient down to the last iota, that they have no time for the wider horizons of Truth, Goodness, and Love.

We do not need to be too tight. A reasonable liberty outside the necessary things is good: and many a man comes to believe things heartily .directly an overforced attempt to coerce him is removed. This forcing business captures the no-character people, the docile, the fusei douloi, the "accept anything Father tells me" people, but it leaves outside the virile and the lovers of liberty.

And in the long run an equal amount of harm is done by priestly disobedience. I found a total distrust of an excellent priest in one of my "dorps" because he takes the Ablutions after the Communion of the people. The practice is known in "spike" circles as "tarping." T. A. R. P. = Take Ablution, (in) [Right/Roman] Place.

One of the congregation, a very forcible soldier, said to me, "Why does he tarp?" I said, "Fancy you in this remote spot knowing anything about these intricacies." He replied, "In these days we are not fools, and we know perfectly well if our priests do things without authority. Tell me, by what authority does he do this?" I replied, "Solely by his own." I tried to be as loyal to my priest as I could by explaining that he wished to finish the sacrificial side of the service, and to treat the last part as thanksgiving, etc., but I was bound to say that it was outside my province, as well as my wishes, that any priest should alter the rubrics ad lib.

And I may say that in the result the excellent work of a devoted priest was marred because his being detected in one bit of self-choosing bred distrust of all he taught. The people began to suspect that there might be other things he was teaching them without authority.

I look upon this effort to force authority by claiming a long-continued disobedience as one of the most fatal things ever attempted. It would only coerce weak bishops, and I am sure does not impress God.

I distrust, beyond words, this spirit of disobedience and disorder. And if it is argued, "We only made our way in the past by disorder," I answer:--

(1) That you have every right to insist on what is commanded by the Church and Scripture.

(2) You have every right to use the Prayer Book to its fullest comprehensiveness.

But that even so, I think that we have gained less because of a certain defiant spirit of revolt which has crept in, than we should have done by a greater patience in the past. A quiet insistence on rights and duties honestly covered by the Prayer Book, with a recognition gradually gained of permitted extra services, would have taken longer to be effective, but might not have left the heritage of suspicion and antagonism which is still ours.

I still think this defiant and desperate spirit of "I mean to get my own way" is largely founded on ignorance of the fundamentals of the English position.

It works out as a sort of queer syllogism--

I don't want to go to Rome,

But if I am to stay I must be an (unlimited) Catholic,

Therefore I will make the Church of England (unlimitedly) Catholic.

"Whatever the Church of Rome does, I must be at liberty to do. If she has a cult of S. Joseph, then so must I"; and so you have the absurdity of hymns to S. Joseph beginning, "Dear father of Jesus."

So much of this defiance and disorder comes from non-recognition of the fact that our fundamental basis is not the same as Rome's. We qualify by the Scriptures, and they do not. It is no reproach to the Romans to say so. They are quite capable of defending their own point of view, and I expect they have far more respect for us if we have definite and thought-out reasons for differing from them, than if we play at imitating them, but shrink from taking the final step we ought to take if they are right. It isn't really the question of Orders that holds us back. We might easily have Orders and yet be heretical and schismatic. It all comes down to whether the infallible position of the Pope and his claim to unlimited jurisdiction are scriptural.

If I could, I would try and persuade those who defy their bishops and Prayer Book alike to think out their basis again. They won't listen to me, I expect, because (1) they think me wrong, and (2) I am getting old and therefore old-fashioned; I have to appeal outside the law-breakers to that vastly wider audience who want to know the truth, and are not afraid of soberness, discipline, and sound history.

I ask again: Is there any sound basis for the English Church except what I have tried to lay down? Is it not a sound and sane basis? Can you not be content on that basis to look to wider issues than those of a rather narrow ecclesiasticism, and to try to win not only some English Churchmen, but all English life? It does not mean that we abandon all hope of reunion with Rome. But we shall be far nearer reunion if we know exactly where we stand. Rome, I am sure, does not want reunion with a mere imitation of herself, which acknowledges neither her authority nor its own authorities, and seems simply to funk taking the logical step of submission.

And why I head this chapter with "hopefulness " is because I meet an increasing number of English Churchmen who are quite satisfied with our intellectual basis, and from that basis are converting and strengthening souls in a very satisfactory and convincing way.

It is really quite amazing what can be done. I see here in Africa, with fresh eyes, what can be done by the English Communion--the thousands of native converts, well taught and well shepherded; the serious, manly type of Churchmanship in many a scattered dorp; the extraordinary stand for justice to the natives, taken up here by the Church as a whole, and by men like Bishop Furse in particular. Here are no little narrow ecclesiastical affairs, but the crux of a whole nation's life and future; and I maintain unflinchingly that of all the influences which have made for the uplift of the native in South Africa the work of the English Church comes first, and easily first. The natives know it themselves. Two months ago we had a Native Conference, representative of South Africa from the Cape to the Zambesi. It was a conference on the possible means of uplifting the whole of native life. They came to me naturally and spontaneously to ask me to open the Conference. I was the only white man there, and I couldn't even speak their language. They didn't come to me personally, but because every native knows that when it is a question of uplifting the native they can come with confidence to the English Church--the Church of the Province of South Africa. I knew then that the English Church is not spent. She can still uphold the twin banners of real authority and real freedom. She still carries a light for the peoples, when it is not obscured by theological and ecclesiastical animus, or dimmed by the faithlessness of her own people.

If we believe in our own basis; if we can lift up our eyes to the wide horizons of Truth and Goodness and Love; if we can work on quietly, slowly, soberly, we have yet a message to the world than which none is greater.

God will give us reunion when He sees fit, but till then we need not be ashamed of what is, in sober reality, a goodly heritage.

Project Canterbury