Project Canterbury

Love in the Churches

By Percy Dearmer

From The Constructive Quarterly, 1913, pp. 676-691.

We are divided at the present day, not because we love schism, but because our forefathers were half barbarous. From the first great separation between East and West to the subdivision of the West at the Reformation, the story is the same. Men acted with the petulance of children, with the unreasoning hate of savages. They made the worst of everything; they hugged their prejudices, glorified their ignorances, made no attempt to understand their opponents, and turned small differences into vital dogmas. There were doubtless saints in plenty at all times; but the saints were seldom public men; and it must be confessed that even the saints were not always untainted by the belligerent atmosphere of society. Christendom as a whole went cheerfully on in an unchristian manner; for Christendom was but partially christianized--less Christian than it is now, and less civilized. The child and the savage quarrel at the least provocation, and quarrel bitterly. Society showed this characteristic because it had not reached maturity and was very far short of the measure of the stature of that manhood which is in Christ.

It does not matter to us what our own particular Church did at any particular period. We may be pretty certain that if our predecessors did not persecute, it was because they had not the chance. We need not "bow our heads in shame" (as some people are fond of doing, or of saying they do) because two or three centuries ago the authorities of our Church did something disgraceful. We had better keep our shame for our own sins, [676/677] negligencies, and ignorances; and find out how far it lies in our power to undo the evils we have inherited. We need not be ashamed of our ancestors, nor blame them, because they had not emerged further out of the cruel childhood of our race. That we have emerged further than they is due to the fact that they went before us, and that among them were saints and seers who were slowly educating the world out of the evils which they had inherited from primitive man, and which primitive man had inherited from the beasts.

Neither let us any longer make party capital out of the past sins of any other Church. The dead past may bury its dead; and the lesson of it all is that Christianity is far above the natural bent of man, and that it takes humanity long to become Christian, so that the religion of Jesus is still today far in advance of us, and is still the goal of human progress. Our task is to recognize that we still inherit the evil, in less brutal but in very real forms--the evil of the past. Now this evil is precisely as our Lord said, that the natural man loves his friends and hates his enemies. He exaggerates the virtues of his own party or his own Church; he exaggerates the faults of other parties or other Churches; and thus he puts the gospel of hate in the place of the gospel of love. This was almost taken for granted until a few years ago. It is still common enough.

Now certain profound intellectual changes in our own time have put mankind in the way of accepting the gospel of love. The superficial effects of these changes in upsetting many people's beliefs are small compared with the fact that they are bringing mankind as a whole a great stage towards the fulness of Christ. They are: first, the creation of the historic sense (both in history proper and in the doctrine of development), which is probably the greatest achievement of the nineteenth century; and, secondly, the growth of the scientific habit of mind, which is spreading in ever wider circles a new [677/678] sense of the inviolability of truth. Largely as a result of this modern praeparatio evangelica, we all find ourselves drifting from the partisanship of yesterday into the growing charity of tomorrow. THE CONSTRUCTIVE QUARTERLY is a sign indeed of the new spirit.

It will be noticed that the same spirit is at work in the still more difficult sphere of Nationalism. Here, surely, more than anywhere else, to love your friends and hate your enemies, used to be a generally accepted principle. Yet here too we are learning that you can love your friends without hating your enemies. It has quietly become a commonplace that you can love Englishmen without hating Frenchmen (a state of mind almost inconceivable to the John Bull of a few years ago); it has become vulgar to decry other nations, and natural to admire them; and yet we English love better than ever our little island in the sea; and we love its inhabitants also better than we did, are less indifferent to their miseries, their poverty, diseases, oppressions and afflictions. To patriotism we have added internationalism, which is so modern an idea that the very need of the word was not felt till Jeremy Bentham coined it a century ago. A handful of people had then begun to realize that nations have rights and duties like individuals; that there are other possible relations between them besides those of ambition and war; that nations can be made amenable, like individuals, to law, and like individuals can consider questions of equity and honour without necessarily resorting to the duel. In quite recent years this has become a commonplace. We now understand patriotism not only as love of one's own country, but also as including respect for the patriotism of others.

Churches may continue schismatic; but if they do, they will be the only schismatic element left in Christendom. Legislation, statesmanship, capital, labour, science, art, and every form of social well-doing, from education to garden-cities, are becoming more and more international.

[679] Well, are the Churches going to remain as the surviving apostles of negation, prejudice, ignorance, exclusiveness, partisanship, enmity--in a word, of Schism? If they are, there is the end of the Churches. Baron von Hugel has recently deplored, and rightly deplored, the decline of Institutional Christianity. But does not the cause lie precisely in the faults of the Churches, in their want of Christianity--in their outward Schism (a scandal which puts the killing weapon of contempt into the hand of the unbeliever), and in the results of their Schism? In their inability, for instance, to remove abuses which have been intensified by the withdrawal of counteracting elements (as Anglicanism became reactionary because of the loss of the democratic element in Puritanism), and which they have hugged because of opposition; their one-sidedness, in their exaggeration of their own distinctive tenets, and their ignoring of the experience of other Christian bodies; their inability to, improve by mutual and international conference (as medicine, and all departments of science habitually do), and their consequent obscurantism. Liberal theologians are apt to imagine that they at least are free from this last defect; yet how many are guilty of it in their prevalent insensibility to devotion, beauty, fellowship, to those essential elements, indeed, in religion, Cultus and Communion. The Churches are in fact blinkered by Schism; they can only see their own well-worn bit of track which is immediately before their eyes, So one talks about our great Big-ender principles, another, about the Little-ender faith for which his fathers lived or died. We so often ask, Is this true to Big or Little-end principles?--and thus we forget to ask, Is this true to the truth? It is extremely difficult to remember in an age of separation that the egg has two ends.

But above all we are weakened by the want of charity consequent on schism. The deepest moral sense of mankind is revolted by it, quietly but profoundly [679/680] revolted. Men turn away from Institutional Religion; they turn elsewhere for consolation. And indeed they turn elsewhere in vain, which makes our failure the more pathetic.

Now the remedy for all ills is to be more Christian. And the remedy in this case is so simple, that but for the lingering power of the ape and tiger in our hearts it could never surely have been missed. We have only to practise the gospel of love.

We do not need to practise argument, or to perpetuate the complaining in our streets; we do not need might or power, but only the spirit of Christ. We do not need to quarrel with our friends and leave our own Church: we only need not to quarrel with anybody. We need to love our friends without hating our enemies. And, one step more, we need to love our enemies. How different would Church history have been if the Churches had even tried to act on the principle, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you." It is so simple! But it is also so difficult, because it is a reversal of the instinctive habits of man. The ape and the tiger outhowl it in our hearts.

If to love our enemies is a practicable Christian duty, to love those who are only alienated from us by belonging to another Church ought to be at this period of the World's history by comparison easy. But it involves certain acts and qualities which are not always easyprayer, study, imagination, the quality of friendship, the practise of courtesy, and a certain boldness. To love another Church involves taking the trouble to understand it--involves the question, "Millions (or thousands) of people love that Church. Why do they love it? What is there that they find in it to love? This something must at least be worthy of my apprehension." Now to answer that question requires some consistent [680/681] effort: many never even ask it: many will only apply such a principle of intelligent charity to a Church with which they already have much in common. We all know, for instance, the type of Anglican who gains himself a reputation for broad-mindedness by fraternizing with the Free Churches, and attacking Roman Catholics and those who rejoice in the name of Catholic within his own Communion. We know the type of "reunion" gathering which assumes Christianity to be commensurate with Protestantism, and ignores the Church of Rome. And in England, where the Eastern Church is so little in evidence, we find it extremely difficult. to overcome the tendency to think of the problems of reunion as if they concerned only the Church of England, the Free Churches, and the Church of Rome--forgetting that vast Eastern Church, so deeply rooted in the lives of its people, and destined, unless some cataclysm intervene, to be by far the largest as well as the most consistent Church in Christendom before the end of the present century. The Eastern Church, even in these days of travel, is so remote from us; in the Middle Ages it was ignored altogether; and Western Europe still inherits that habit.

There remains a yet more difficult case, that of "unorthodox" Christians. The Nonconformists who left the Church of England carried with them the faith of the General Councils. That amount of common Christianity seemed to be secured. But it is no longer so. One of those Nonconformist Churches became Unitarian; and today schools of "heterodox" theologians are immensely powerful everywhere--and are beginning to spread even among Eastern Orthodoxy. At the present moment many High Church Anglicans are holding out the hand of friendship to their whilom opponents of the Low Church party, with a view to joining forces against Liberalism. It may well be in the future that the whole of Christendom will have. moved in the same way, and that there will be two camps--the Orthodox [681/682] and the Liberal. The result would, I fear, be disastrous to Christianity; and the fruits of victory would probably be reaped by some new power from outside. What can we do to prevent it? To my mind the law of Charity still applies. We cannot, we dare not, we must not, allow the name of Christian to be denied to those who cannot accept the Deity of Christ. This is the difficulty that led to the recent impasse over the Divinity Degrees at Oxford. The position of the Professors was that they wished to throw the degrees open to Nonconformists, but that it was impossible to define a Christian, and that therefore the degrees must be thrown open to men of every religion and of no religion. They thought that there was no danger of the opponents of Christianity taking advantage of this. Personally, I believe that this is the first thing an Indian Mohammedan or Buddhist student would do, if he determined to devote his life to a war against Christianity. He would go to England, and return to his own country with an Oxford D.D. degree--or perhaps he would remain as a teacher in England. But the point we are immediately concerned with is this, it was thought impossible to define a Christian, because of the degrees of unbelief in dogma which exist among Christians.

But is it impossible to define a Christian? Our Lord has surely answered that difficulty also for us. He accepted all who followed Him, all who acted in His Name. He did not set up dogma as a standard: He set up love. Above all He accepted and rejoiced in the personal devotion of a handful of men, none of whom believed in His Divinity at first, and all of whom in the hour of failure lost what little faith they had acquired. Surely, it is our duty, in this age especially when our traditions and our thoughts are in chaos, when men cannot think alike if they would, to accept as Christians all who proclaim themselves such, all who use the name of Christ, who love Him and try to follow Him. Men like [682/683] Albert Schweitzer not Christians! Heterodox they may well be--bold, destructive, brilliant, exaggerated. But Schweitzer himself has answered the question by giving up his great positions in Europe to go out as a simple medical missionary among the heathen.

It is, then, our duty to practise the art of loving those who are furthest removed from us in their form of Christianity,--of appreciating them and reverencing them, to begin with. Doing this, we shall grow also in appreciation of the fellowship to which they belong. For it is true that to love the men of a particular society is also to grow in loving appreciation of the society itself to which they owe their characteristics. To like Germans is to like Germany; to foregather with Nonconformists is to get respect and admiration for the special virtues of Nonconformity. We cannot love the members and hate the body. The whole history of nationalities shows us this: When Englishmen hated France, they hated Frenchmen; when they came to admire Frenchmen they admired France. The hatred in Christendom of one Church for the other would not have been possible if the hatred of individuals had not been so bitter. There would still have been differences, but the differences would not have become unmanageable; and time would have solved them.

Thus, the duty of loving those who differ from us means the duty of loving them in the plural, and of loving them in their corporate capacity. The duty of the Churches, in a word, is to make friends, and that of the individual to seek always for grounds of friendship, to look for excellencies, to practise admiration, and to shun contempt as the very spirit of evil. And this we have to practise where it is least easy. Doubtless it is better to make friends with those Churches that we have most in common with, than to remain in stiff-necked isolation; but there may be an admixture of mere strategical motives in this--the desire to strengthen our group as a [683/684] weapon of offence against another--and the Christian spirit requires of us precisely the attempt to appreciate those forms of Christianity against which we are tempted to combine.

The world is learning Internationalism. The Church has to learn Interdenominationalism. That is a much more recent word--is it more than ten or twenty years old?--because the phenomenon is so recent. It is quite an ugly word, because it is so very modern. But it ex-. presses a valuable definition of the word Catholic, which will perhaps in time replace it.

Now Interdenominationalism means a recovery of that lost article of the Creed, "I believe in the holy Catholic Church." These individual Christians whom we have to love--and not to love merely as human beings, with the love we ought to bear to all heathens and nonChristians, but with the special "love of the brethren"--these individual Christians whom we have to love as the partakers with us of Christ, in their collective millions form His mystical body, the holy and catholic Church. This is the Jerusalem which is the Mother of us all, the fellowship to which our fullest and highest love belongs--every Christian in the Church, and the Church in every Christian, and all in Christ, the head of all. Here we have the final reason for our love of all the Churches, as well as a regulation of that love. We are to love other Churches, not only because we are to love the members which they contain, but also because we are to love the Catholic Church in which they are contained. It is not into our own Denomination that we baptize our children, but into the Catholic Church: in this at least we have remained faithful to Christ. That many of us should still think that our own Denomination is the one and only Church may be dealt with gently, as an inheritance from past ages. It was common once tö argue thus; it was a natural result of the [684/685] ancient combative atmosphere. But this disposition cannot survive for ever, since it is not in accordance with facts. The stiffest Churches will insensibly modify the idea, as the Eastern Orthodox Church is doing today. The idea, too, that one particular bishop, or metropolitan, or communion, has jurisdiction over one particular portion of the earth's surface, has been destroyed by modern conditions of life. It is difficult to maintain seriously that all the Christian inhabitants of New York owe their allegiance to the Church of A, or of B, or of C, and that those who have been so unfortunate as to prefer A to B, or C to both, are in the sin of schism. As a matter of fact we do not so argue nowadays; we soften whatever doctrine our predecessors committed themselves to by counteracting theories; we use a little charity and common sense. We unite to write articles for THE CONSTRUCTIVE QUARTERLY, and commit ourselves to the principle that there is such a thing as "the Faith, Work, and Thought of Christendom."

America is, of course, the country where Free Churchmen, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and the Eastern Churches have learnt most by the hard logic of actuality to modify their inherited ideas in a Christian direction. Every race and every Church has its representatives, and to refuse some mutual recognition becomes an affectation. In England one learns the new spirit most from Interdenominational Conferences, and especially from the ever growing necessity of acting together on social questions. Facts and personalities make their inevitable impression on those who come, so that people become ashamed of any prejudices or suspicions they formerly entertained; the moral element grows from knowledge, and inherited ideas are quickly modified. Just so it is that foreign travel removes the absurd ideas which the peoples of different nations used to have about one another. One remarkable example of charity through mutual intercourse and admiration is, I think, the village [685/686] of Ober Ammergau. There, thanks to the drama, exists a Roman Catholic population, which is especially well versed in the Gospels, of a simple Evangelical spirit, and in relations of friendship with Christians of all sorts in almost every part of the world. And there one seems to be a century ahead in the spirit of Christian charity. Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants, renew their friendship every year, admire, respect one another, and are good friends. The visitors recognize the excellence of the religion to which the good and talented villagers belong; the villagers respect the religion of the visitors, and appreciate the common devotion to the Master whose earthly life they dedicate themselves to represent.

Two other ways in which the frank recognition of Denominations is brought about must here be mentioned, though their vast importance is too obvious to need insistence. The fellowship of scholars is a real precursor, profoundly strong, of the coming fellowship of Christendom. The library and the encyclopaedia are really doing what the General Councils did in early times; there is no favour in the world of scholarship, no denominational exclusiveness in the co-operation of students; there is an increasing mutual respect and searching after truth even in polemical writings. How far are we removed from the bitter, brilliant, and abusive pamphleteering of the seventeenth century! Even more far-reaching, perhaps, in its ultimate results will be the work of the Mission Field. That work is still in its youth; but already how much charity has been learnt by those whose work compels them to put Christ before all else! And when great national Churches arise in China, India, Japan, they will surely refuse to take over with our gold the dross of our inherited enmities.

So the logic of facts is compelling us to take our stand on the frank recognition of Denominations. There they are. It is useless to pretend that they do not exist. [686/687] We have to accept them lovingly, through our love of their members and through our love of the Catholic Church to which their members belong. There are many knots to be untied--perhaps some to be cut, as the State has cut the worst already by insisting on mutual toleration, on common rights of worship and of citizenship.

Our method of dealing with the situation will be based upon the great working principle that Men are generally right when they affirm, and wrong when they deny--which is partly because they generally know something about what they affirm, and little about what they deny; and partly because the spirit of denial is intrinsically evil--or, as Mr. W. B. Yeats has put it, "Hell is the place of those that deny."

That working principle need not be emphasized here, since it is the rule of this QUARTERLY that its contributors must write positively and constructively. We have abjured house-breaking. We are to build the walls of Jerusalem. Of course we shall have difficulties. We shall be confronted with facts or principles which to the mind of one or other of us seem really to require violent dealing, as being themselves fatal to the cause of Christian charity that we are trying to further. But even then the principle of affirmation will help us, and, though it may divert our action, it may divert it to something better. We can always do as Montesquieu said St. Louis of France always did--"Il ota le mal en faisant sentir le meilleur."

Two practical lines of policy seem to me urgent, in addition to prayer and love which must be the source of all that is to be rightly done.

The first is that we must work for a general abandonment of proselytism--shall I call it a general disarmament? I am quite sure that the principle remaining cause of disunion and uncharity, now that persecution is gone, is the spirit of proselytism. Let every one [687/688] examine his own mind, and he will see that his like or dislike for other Churches is largely influenced by the extent to which they mind their own business and leave his own Church alone. In the common arena of ordinary public life this feeling is predominant. Indeed, if another Church is attempting the loyalty of your own members, you cannot avoid marshalling forces in your own defence: you cannot avoid, in fact, a state of war, with all the bitterness and prejudice that warfare involves. An Anglican is perhaps better able to appreciate this from both sides than most other Christians. He knows the force of the argument, "Why did these men leave us, and fill the country with sects? Let us entice back their members and destroy the sects." But he has learnt, if he is wise, that the separations of the past were not more due to those who seceded than to those who were left, and that in any case the living are not responsible for the sins of the dead. The fact of many Churches remains. It is a fact of the present day. It is no use blaming people for it. It is also no use (and this we are just beginning to learn) trying to remove it by attempts at proselytization. Proselytizing Churches do not increase. We are just learning this from that modern department of knowledge--statistics. And we find our breath taken away by the discovery. Whether we have tried to proselytize or not in the past, the discovery must profoundly affect our view of the problem.

It may indeed be that some Churches will disappear, but that will never be due to efforts at their destruction from the outside; such efforts would give them a new lease of life. It may also well be that some Churches will grow much larger; but such growth will not be due to any hunting for converts from other Churches, but to their winning a general love through their very lack of the proselytizing spirit, and through the quiet concentration of their members on worship and good works. This may well be the reason why proselytism fails. It [688/689] is at least a law of God that it does always fail ultimately. Here too we have our Lord's own words to guide us: there was that in the proselytizing habit which excited His deep scorn, which roused Him to one of His most biting ironies, when He denounced the Pharisees who compassed sea and land to make one proselyte.

We have then to resist the very human temptation of the natural man (who is a hunting man) to make captures. We then find that we begin to make friends. Again, we Anglicans have cause to know this. Nothing is so remote from us as the Eastern Church--language, customs, distance, ways of thought, all should keep us alien. Yet our friendship grows. And in no case could any Englishman of whatever creed look with anything but friendliness upon the Greek and Russian Churches in England; the stiffest Anglican would not dream of thinking them schismatic, and even though he held the most geographical theory of the powers of the Bishop of London over that city, he would regard the Greek Church in the Moscow Road as legitimate. The Eastern congregations in England bring no complications, effect no possible kind of schism, secure universal good will. And why? Because their priests confine themselves to their own people. Yet the formulas of the Eastern Orthodox are at least as stiff as those of any other Church.

The other line of practical policy that I would suggest is that we should all increase the occasions of worshipping together, and of interdenominational sermons and ad dresses. Many acts of this kind are prevented by actual laws or rules; but so far we have done far less than these rules allow. Let me refer only to a few ways in which Anglicans could hold fellowship with other Churches, without any sacrifice of principle. We could occasionally attend the worship of other Churches, and thus learn something of them. This has commonly been stigmatized as schismatic; but we have to recognize that, with the [689/690] removal of the geographical idea, and with the growth of the frank and friendly recognition of other Churches, it is the reverse of schismatic--it is charitable. Similarly, our priests could occasionally preach in the churches of other religious bodies--a custom I believe less uncommon in America than in England. There is no law, either of our Church or nation, to prevent it; and though Bishops have often disliked the attempt of an Anglican priest to preach in a Nonconformist church, they have been powerless to prevent such an act. Or why should not Nonconformists sometimes preach in our Anglican churches? It would often be a great spiritual blessing, and it would remove a host of misunderstandings. Laymen can preach with the Bishop's licence. Why should not his licence be given sometimes to Nonconformist ministers? The idea arouses the anger of a powerful section of the Church press. But is not this just one of those unchristian states of mind which we have inherited from a more barbarous past, and which we have to overcome? No principle is involved in itexcept the principle of Christian charity. A principle would indeed be involved in any proposal for corporate communions in the Eucharist; and well intended actions like that of the Bishop of Hereford may stir up more uncharity than they settle. But even here something may be done in the way of non-communicating attendance. Years ago I was staying with a college friend who had become a Congregationalist minister; and we went together before breakfast and "heard Mass" at the Anglican parish church; it was a "ritualistic" service, and we enjoyed it very much. It is surely a good thing sometimes to make a spiritual communion at a Eucharist where yet we should not wish otherwise to participate, because we respect the laws of our own Church and of the Church whose temporary guest we are. The strongest doctrines about Apostolic succession or the Real Presence do not in themselves prevent such acts of fellowship as I have [690/691] suggested. It is not so much doctrines that stand in the way as the spirit in which they have been used.

Why, again, should not members of other Churches be asked to speak at Church Congresses, or for that matter at smaller gatherings, such as Diocesan Conferences, also? Here no principle is at stake, only we allow ourselves to be ruled by the rather stockish traditions of past times. The great Edinburgh Missionary Conference was a wonderful revelation of what can already be done. We have now to grasp the principle that we should join together as much, instead of as little, as possible, and to guide our future policy on those lines.

I have suggested enough, and perhaps more than enough. Christendom will surely use the new charity which is pouring into our hearts, the new wisdom which modern science and statesmanship have taught us, to make atonement for the ancient sins, to undo the longestablished wrongs, to set up the banner once more of peace and good-will, to unravel the desperate tangle of Christendom, to lead the world in love and guide it along the ways of peace. And we, joyful to be alive in a time so rich in opportunity, will keep our hearts quick, our minds imaginative and alert, to hear and to apply the oft-repeated words of the aged Apostle, "Little children, love one another."

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