Project Canterbury

Lord Halifax:

A Tribute

by Sidney Dark

[Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing, 1934; 86 pp; hardbound]

Chapter One

‘Let us praise famous men.’ It is a fascinating and edifying pursuit. But the difficulty is to determine the quality of the fame that properly demands our praise. To have lived for even an average span of years is to have seen the passing into obscurity of a wilderness of men who held for a while positions of supreme importance among their fellows. This is particularly true of politicians. When I was a boy, Mr. Gladstone and Lord Salisbury were the dominating figures in English political life. To-day they are just names, and one of them hardly a name. Not only were their achievements of little permanent importance to the nation – what actually did Gladstone do besides disestablish the Irish Church? – but the tradition of dignity and punctilious honour for which they stood was thrown overboard long before the war. Other names come back to my memory: Bright and Joseph Chamberlain, Randolph Churchill, Arthur Balfour, Kier Hardie. History makers? What history have they made? Kier Hardie supplied the moral fervour that made the Labour Party for a term of years a great political power. But now? Hardie sowed, other sedulously watered; and Ramsey MacDonald and James Maxton have rooted up the increase.

So with the men of to-day. For whom among them would one predict any permanent place in the minds of coming generations? Perhaps Lloyd George – for the blunders of the peace treaties far more than for his energy in the war. Perhaps, in a small and modest way, the present Lord Halifax, for the bold official initiation of a new and revolutionary policy in India. Certainly Lenin and Mussolini, the successful antagonists of the democratic idea.

And as one thinks backwards, it is clear that there were as few giants in those days as in these. how many men have there been, kings, statesmen, soldiers, who have vitally affected the world’s destinies? Generally, as to-day, the ‘great man,’ raised by accident to eminence, has been swept off his feet by a combination of circumstances which he has rarely understood, and been made famous against his will. The history of intelligent, constructive statesmanship could be written in a very thin volume.

The men of real influence in human history are the men who have taught their fellows to pray, to dream, and to think; and this is true even when the prayers have been addressed to false gods, the dreams have been nightmares, and the thinking based on fallacies. The makers of history are Isaiah, Confucius, Buddha, S. Paul, Mahomet; S. Francis of Assisi, Savonarola, S. Teresa, S. John of the Cross; Homer, Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare; Plato, S. Thomas Aquinas, Voltaire, Karl Marx. All the crises in human history have resulted from the travail of the human spirit. The secular story of mankind is essentially a spiritual story. When Luther nailed his protest to the church door at Wittenberg, he wrote the first paragraph of the first chapter of the history of the modern Western world. All the events that have happened since, the intellectual developments, the wars and the revolutions, derive directly from that deplorable essay in histrionics.

Religion is, and must always be, the most important of all the influences that affect society, and this is implicitly admitted by the critics most antipathetic to Christianity. Le clericalisme voila l’ennemi has always been the slogan of the would-be destroyers of the society created by the Catholic Church. Lenin set himself to the colossal task of destroying God as the first step in the constitution of a communal stet, and Hitler finds Christianity a tiresome hindrance to the development of Nazi-ism. Always religion bars the way – or clears the way!

It follow, therefore, that the men who matter most are those who are able either to strengthen or to weaken the power and authority of the Church. And, so far as we are concerned to-day, their influence cannot be estimated, without a clear comprehension of the contemporary position of the Church.

In England it is, I think, not unfair to assert that Protestantism as a quickening spiritual influence and as a social and political force is dying, and in some respects, is already dead. Until the war, Nonconformity had been for over thirty years the most important political power in this country. It was never so powerful or so unscrupulous as American Methodism, which forced prohibition on to the United States and surrendered the country to gangsters. But it was practically identical with the Liberal Party and Liberal Ministers were compelled to dance when Dr. Clifford piped. Now the Liberal Party is an impotent rump, and the Nonconformity has no political influence. At the same time, it has largely lost its spiritual fervour. The ‘old Gospel’ is no longer preached. The ministers are Modernists when they are not Unitarians. The chapels are ethical societies.

Similarly in the Church of England. Extreme Protestantism is pitifully feeble. Its few elderly adherents have well-stuffed money bags, and it still buys advowsons, organizes sacrilegious riots in remote villages, and passes resolutions denouncing ‘Popish practices’ at sparsely-attended public meetings, generally with a retired Brigadier-General in the chair.

The more intelligent Evangelicals have largely abandoned the religion of the Prayer Book for the religion of the Y.M.C.A. They are eager to be all things to all men. The ideal of Liverpool Cathedral and S. Martin-in-the-Fields is a religious Selfridge’s where all tastes are catered for, except the faithful children of the Church who hold with Andrewes and Laud, Cosin and Ken, Keble and Pusey, Church and Gore, that the Church of England is the Catholic Church in England. But ‘stunts,’ however well intentioned, weaken religion and make its real mission impossible. It were better to pull down churches and bar the doors of cathedrals rather than to make them places of entertainment and not places of worship. When a dean permits a Unitarian to talk from his pulpit, a church becomes a lecture hall.

And the result! What has Liberal Evangelicalism done for the unemployed? What are the Modernists doing to arouse public indignation against the slums? The truth is that in England the two really alive religious bodies are the Roman Catholic Church and the Catholics in the Church of England. The Roman Catholic Church is constantly building new churches and new school. To a large extent it holds its adherents; and it makes numbers of converts, though rarely from the class that is indifferent or hostile to religion. On the other hand, Anglo-Catholicism remains a fervent spiritual movement which is increasingly concerned with contemporary social problems. The Anglo-Catholic slum priest is the indignant spokesman of the slum victim. The Church Union is heading a crusade against the existence of slums. The Catholic Revival, which began a hundred years ago, has affected and is affecting the whole life of the Church. The worship in many of its cathedrals has regained the dignity and beauty of Catholic worship. And when the Metropolitans of the Provinces of Canterbury and York call on the faithful or admonish the nation, they speak with the conscious authority of princes of the Catholic Church.

The situation in England has its counterpart on the Continent. Outside Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and Scandinavia, Protestantism has been since the Counter-Reformation little more than inherited eccentricity. To-day in Switzerland Catholicism is a very alive religion and Protestantism a more and more disregarded convention. In Holland, Catholicism has made great strides in the past two decades, and Protestantism is stagnant. In Germany, Lutheranism lost its social and political influence with the fall of the Hohenzollerns, and a considerable proportion of its pastors promptly accepted the definitely anti-Christian neo-paganism of the Nazis. So inconsiderable did the Nazis deem the faithful minority that it was not until the Lutherans appealed to the Pope that the government professed to suspend the war against the Christian religion. In Germany, as in England, the Catholic Church is the only effective defender of Christian civilization.

It would be absurd to suggest that the Tractarians foresaw the events of the coming century. They did, however, vividly realize that the State was encroaching into the territory of the Church; that, indeed, in England, the Church had been shackled and its authority and influence impaired by the accepted Erastianism. The Tractarian Revival was primarily a revolt against Erastianism, and in this connection it is to be noted that the Nazi ideal in matter of religion is a sort of super-Erastianism. The State and the Church are in persistent contest for the control of the soul of man.

To recover its freedom in England, it was necessary for the Church to rebuild on its divine charter, to acclaim the ghostly authority of its minister. To the Whigs the Church was the ecclesiastical branch of the Civil Service. Such a man as Dean Stanley wanted it to be a comprehensive national ethical society. To Pusey and Keble, it was the mystical Body of Christ. In so far as it accepted this contention, the Church of England, basing its claim to Catholic authority on the Apostolic succession of its bishops and priests, claimed, as by divine right, a supreme spiritual authority which can never be conceded to Christian societies that do not possess the Apostolic succession.

The recovery to a considerable extent of its character naturally led the Church to the teaching of traditional Catholic doctrine that had been neglected or misrepresented, and to Catholic practices which had been discarded at the Reformation. And the life work of Charles Wood, second Viscount Halifax, was to defend the Tractarian position and to resist all attempts to prevent Catholic teaching and Catholic worship in what to him was the Catholic Church. His success during the fifty years that he was President of the English Church Union is indicated by the fact that all the practices condemned under the Public Worship Regulation Act are now commonplaces even in ‘moderate’ churches, and even those things declared illegal in the Lincoln Judgement–an obvious Catholic triumph, though it did not seem so at the time to Lord Halifax–are tolerated if not explicitly permitted by Evangelical bishops.

It was said of Lord Halifax after his death that reunion with Rome had been the chief pre-occupation of his long life. It would be truer to say that it was always his most fervent hope. His first business always was with England and the English Church. But fervently convinced, as he was, that it divinely ordained that the salvation of humanity should be secured through the ministry of the Church, and oppressed as he was by the ever growing power of Antichrist, it seemed to him an appalling tragedy that the army of the Lord should be disunited and should be rendered comparatively impotent by the divisions in its ranks.

It was always easy for Lord Halifax to realise the points of agreement between men of good-will. He always underestimated the importance of the points of disagreement. I think it was probably true that he declined to consider the modern developments in the Roman Church that are peculiarly antipathetic to Catholic of the English obedience. I can find no public reference by him to Roman fundamentalism or to the obscurantism of the Index. He admitted, as all Catholic admit, many of the Roman claims, though, of course, he could not admit the claim that the Roman Church alone is Catholic. He admitted, as all Catholics admit, that His Holiness the Pope is at least primus inter pares; indeed, he went even farther than that. He realized the immense addition of moral and spiritual authority that would result from the return of the provinces of Canterbury and York to communion with Rome, while such a return was, I believe, in his opinion, necessary before England could be won back to her old faith. And with all this in mind, reunion with Rome seemed to him the legitimate and vitally important consequence of the Tractarian Revival. Finding, as he did, considerable agreement from distinguished continental Roman Catholic theologians, he was convinced that reunion was possible within a comparatively few years.

Lord Halifax was no mere dreamer. He was, in many respects, a practical man of affairs. At the same time, he did not appreciate the forces in both Churches that regarded reunion as impossible and rejoiced that it was impossible. But he was entirely justified in his convictions – and each succeeding year adds to the proof that he was justified – that without Catholic union there can be no Catholic triumph/

Let us praise famous men! The Catholic Revival has transformed the Church of England. It has had its influence outside the Church and, indeed, outside England. It is destined to have still further and much more momentous repercussions in spiritual and secular affairs. In a very real sense, it is the most important religious influence in the modern world. Let us therefore praise Newman, Keble, Pusey, and Froude, father of the Revival, and Halifax, to whom it owes more than to any other of its lay adherents.

As I write these lines, there occurs to me the comparison between Archbishop Lord Davidson and Lord Halifax, the two most distinguished ecclesiastical statesmen with whom I have been acquainted. Randall Davidson was tremendously impressive – a short, square, courageous man, an Erastian more than a Protestant, and opportunist who was, at the same time, prepared to take what he knew must be the unpopular line, as when he gave semi-official approval to the Malines Conversations. Davidson, for me, stands rather magnificently for the Church of yesterday at its very best. Lord Halifax was in every way a contrast – spare, gentle, and yet emphatic, ethereal and yet deliberate, incapable of compromise, the man of conviction and faith, the saint and the statesman.

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