Project Canterbury



MARCH 3, 1905



Ars est artium regimen animarum




Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2013

IT has always seemed to me that what lies at the basis of all preparation for the ministry is the sense of a Call from God. I do not, however, wish to narrow the sense of the word "vocation." There are only two ways of looking at life for everybody. Either we are here in the world to carve out a career for ourselves, to push along as best we may, regardless of God and man; or else we have to respond to a Call from God, to listen for God's voice—remembering how very complex are the ways in which God speaks to men—and then to obey, and to obey actively, energetically, and to the end.

[8] Hence it often seems to me deplorable how late men are sometimes in deciding what they are to do in life. "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" is the prayer that should be put into a child's heart very early in life. It should be taught to listen and then to respond. But I may assume here and now that most of those to whom I am speaking have finally settled that God is calling them to the ministry, and the question that we want to consider is how a man can best prepare himself.

First of all let him realise that he must prepare himself. A vocation does not act mechanically. God will not even give you demonstrative proof that you are called. He will put into your heart certain desires and aspirations, and set before you ideals, but you have a task before you in rising up towards these ideals and aspirations, and that means real work and a steady desire to make the best of yourselves for God. [8/9] It means the exercise of will-power in no small degree. God calls but man must answer, for His calls never operate mechanically. We must prepare ourselves. There is what we may call the remote preparation and the immediate preparation. I will say a few words about the first, and then pass on rapidly to the second, which we will consider more at length.

Under the head, then, of remote preparation, let me say briefly study men, study the world, and study yourself.

Study men. See how complex man's nature is, and realise that you will have a message for the whole of man and for all sorts of men. Study men, and get to know as many men as you can while here in Oxford. Do not merely get to know men who talk de rebus ecclesiasticis, but all sorts and conditions of men. See what their interests are—their deeper as well as their superficial interests—and then there will be no fear of you being [9/10] afterwards a mere clergyman's parson, or a lady's parson. Study men and realise what their ways are and what their temptations. See how different their characters may be to yours, but also understand how the same human nature is yours and theirs, and that one man's trials and temptations are by no means so unlike another's as you might think to be the case at first sight.

Study men, and see what it is that makes them irreligious or seem to be so. Consider that great and wholesome dread of unreality which there is in every healthy Englishman, and you will find it true in a sense that 'every fellow, when you get to know him well, is a good fellow.'

Study men, and if you have friends or brothers who are not inclined to think much of parsons, find out why it is; and remember once for all that when you become a clergyman you do not cease to be a man.

Then study the world. By which I mean, [10/11] try and learn how much the world wants you. Go, if you can, to the Oxford House, or to work in some parish for a few months, or even weeks, and you will understand how much the world wants you, how much there is to be done. How ready the harvest, and how few the workmen! Many a man has been helped by going to some parish, and so seeing what the clergy are doing. For then he realises how much he is wanted; and it is a great thing for any man to feel he is wanted.

Study the world. Go round it if you can, and see what other religions can make, and fail to make, of man. I know certainly of one case where a man's sense of vocation has been very much deepened by his having gone round the world. It prevents our outlook being cramped, and it enables a man to see that Christianity is the only power for uplifting men from moral degradation.

And then study yourself, and I would add [11/12] resolve to make the best of yourself so as to be as efficient a clergyman as you possibly can.

This brings us to the central part of our subject, viz, the immediate preparation for Holy Orders, and that can be summed up in a few words, viz. Go to a Theological College; and get the best training that you can.

I do not think you will expect me to apologise for this advice; at all events you cannot accuse me of vagueness. If your brother wants to go into the army, you do not think it necessary to apologise for Sandhurst, or if he goes into the navy you do not question the wisdom of a course of training on board the Britannia. If a man wants to be an engineer he must go through a long course of training in steam and electricity, and if he is to be a doctor he must study medicine for several years and walk the hospitals. Mutatis mutandis, it is the same with the aspirant to Holy Orders.

[13] "If you wish to be efficient, you must go through the discipline of learning all you can beforehand about the special work to which you aspire to devote your life."

By what theory of common sense can this rule be set aside in the case of the ministry? Why should we act as if theological knowledge could be acquired by intuition, and that the Priesthood is the only profession for which no discipline of character is required?

It has indeed been one of our great weaknesses—a weakness which even now we have not entirely outgrown—that men at Oxford and Cambridge have passed straight from the "cricket fields and the river to the altars of the Church of God." You cannot value the course of study at Oxford and all that that implies more highly than I do; you cannot love Oxford with a more filial devotion than I do, but which of us would seriously contend that an Oxford or Cambridge course is an adequate preparation for the work of a priest?

[14] I would say then to every one, whatever else you do by way of preparation, go to a Theological College. You will need the help that you will get there; you will need it intellectually and morally.

(1) Intellectually. Vacare considerationi. Get time to think. Remember that a theological college is not a cramming institution for passing the bishop's examination. The lecture list is, of course, framed as far as possible to meet the requirements of the bishops; and this is an easy matter, since all the English bishops have practically agreed to adopt the same subjects.

But the main thing that we have to realise is that there is a coherent body of revealed truth which the clergy are commissioned to teach; that Christian theology is not a series of detached propositions or truths, but is a coherent whole, whose various parts are intimately related to one another; and that if God has really spoken to man, if there [14/15] has been a Revelation of God to man it is important for us to know, as exactly as we can, what He has said. We have then to study systematically the fundamental doctrines of the Faith—the ever-blessed Trinity, the Incarnation of the Eternal Son, His atoning work for us men, the Person and the Procession of the Holy Spirit, His mission in time, the Sacramental channels of communication between God and man, the meaning of Justification, of the Church as the storehouse of divine grace and as the home of truth. We have to see how all these truths hang together as one consistent body of doctrine.

Why is it that we find so many Churchmen, "men in the pew," who do not know (have not any intelligent reason to give) why they are Churchmen and why they are not Dissenters? Why are there so many who know so little about the Faith, about repentance and pardon, about the Sacraments, [15/16] about the Church, about the Church of England, her position and her claims?

Is not one reason, and that not the least important one, that the clergy have not mastered these things themselves? "Like priest, like people."

Conspicuous ignorance of the Prayer Book and of the obligations taken with regard to it, of what its real meaning and teaching involve—all this largely comes from bishops consenting to ordain men who have had no theological training and no systematic preparation for ordination.

Churches shut from Sunday to Sunday, infrequent celebration of the Blessed Sacrament, these are signs of what has been lost to the Church by the neglect of some period of special training on the part of her ordinands. Do the clergy know their subject as a doctor, a soldier, a barrister, know theirs? Vacare considerationi. Get time to think and to consider.

(2) But it is when we turn to the moral [16/17] and spiritual side of the question that we can best learn what a theological college may do for a man.

"Teachers of language," Dr. Liddon once wrote, "teachers of the natural sciences, teachers of pure mathematics, say what they have to say, ascertain whether what they have said is understood by their pupils; and then everything is over." But with theology it is wholly different. Theological and religious truth addresses itself not merely to the intellect, but also to the conscience—the moral sense. If we would understand God's Revelation of Himself to any real purpose, we must begin by fearing and loving Him—"Pectus facit theologum."

The Ten Commandments and the Creed must go hand in hand. You cannot divorce morality and doctrine; character must be based upon Creed. If you do not fear or love God, and if you are not seeking to sound the depths of your own sinfulness and of His goodness, [17/18] what meaning can the doctrines of redemption and grace have for you?

The aim, then, of a theological college is to deepen and strengthen the moral character, as well as to teach the truth. It is to get men to lay deep and strong in penitence the foundation of their character. It is essentially a place of retirement, where they can fit themselves by discipline and training for the difficult and responsible work of teaching and guiding souls. The regular hours for prayer, study, meditation, and recreation, will teach a man what it means to "dispose of, and to lay out life from first to last under the eye of Christ." The whole system of the place, and still more its tone and atmosphere, will teach him an ideal of life which he will have opportunities while he is there of carrying out, and which, when he has left the college, he will be able to reach out to in after-life.

To form character, to brace and strengthen the moral life, to teach men the value of a life by rule, [18/19] to inspire them with high ideals and lofty enthusiasms, to illustrate the overflowing joy and happiness of a life really given to God—all this is the supreme work of a theological college; and all this goes hand in hand with the systematic and definite teaching of the Catholic Faith, till at last "the passion for goodness and loyalty to the Faith blend into a whole which absorbs and governs the whole moral being."

Not unseldom, I think, men look forward to their course at a theological college with some degree of dread. The life is so different from anything that they have hitherto experienced. But solvitur ambulando. Ask any man who has been through such a course, and who is now working in a parish. If I may allude to my own experience, let me tell you I have known more than 350 men who have passed through one college, and I think I shall be understating my case if I say that [19/20] 90 per cent will tell you that the year spent there was one of the happiest—perhaps the happiest in their lives. Why is this? Why is it that from the turmoil of a busy parish the heart so often turns to it with tender and affectionate interest analogous to what we feel when we think of our own homes?

Is it not because they found there a veritable home—a home of training and discipline fitting them for their future work; a home where they first learnt what it meant to surrender their lives to God, where they learnt more and more something of the true significance and the dignity of life, of the joy of living and working for others, of the true meaning of the Fall and the terrible havoc which it has wrought in our poor human nature, and the consequent need of applying to the souls of men the gracious remedies of redemptive love? Is it not because they there had the will braced, the affections purified, and the intellect quickened, as on [20/21] their knees they pondered again and again the great mysteries of the Christian Faith?

Is it not because there they came to understand and to appreciate the value of friendships, the most close and most disinterested because based upon a unity of conviction in regard to those things which most nearly concern the soul? Is it not because there they realised, in a way apprehended but dimly before, the gladness and buoyancy of the Christian life as in the frank freedom of social intercourse "they that feared the Lord spake often one to another"?

Is it not because there they sought with sincerity of purpose and singleness of heart to prepare themselves for spending themselves, and whatever gifts God had given them, upon our Lord Himself in the persons of His brethren?

"We speak that we do know." We are not experimentalizing. A genuine enthusiasm for the work which lies before him in [21/22] life is generated or stimulated, and a man leaves a theological college determined, by God's grace, "to apply himself wholly to this one thing."

It is the same, let me repeat, mutatis mutandis, with the army, the navy, medicine, the bar. The special training required in each case gives a man an insight into his profession. He learns its methods and details; he absorbs its spirit. A soldier, if he is a real soldier, is wholly a soldier; he is fully alive to the greatness of his call; he sees what its discipline may do for his own character; what he may do in it for his country; he knows its history—the long record of heroic deeds, the stories of endurance and courage, of self-discipline, of devotion to duty, of singleness of purpose and simplicity of life; and he is keenly alive to the responsibility which "the service" puts upon him—he becomes in fact a thorough soldier, and we do not wish him to [22/23] be anything else, and we do not call him narrow!

It is not otherwise with the special preparation for the ministry. At a theological college a man learns more than he could elsewhere (and in a very much shorter time) the real meaning of the ministry—its work, its joys, its trials, its responsibilities. It is his great opportunity for looking well in front of him, for sitting down and counting the cost before he embarks on so great an enterprise as the cure of souls, for testing his vocation—for making sure of his ground.

If he has a real vocation to the priesthood, then his sense of it is immeasurably deepened, in the quiet seclusion which such a place affords; he gets increasingly to realize what it means to be a clergyman, and to wear the livery of Jesus Christ.

The ministry has its heroes in every age, and as the theological student looks back at its long line of saints and martyrs, [23/24] his imagination is fired and his heart glows and his will is invigorated to rise up to the greatness of his calling; he looks forward to the joy and privilege of being joined by the grace of Ordination to those who in successive centuries have, in the deepest and truest sense, "magnified their office" by the surrender of their lives to our Lord. He makes up his mind that if it is worth while to be a priest, he will give himself wholly to this work. He will, through evil report and good report, be as thorough and as efficient a priest as he can.

For consider what is the work of a priest? Is it not to carry on and apply to individual souls the work of Jesus Christ? And what was the work of Jesus Christ but to unite man to God, to bring man back again to God; to make God and man one? And this, too, is the end of all our ministrations—whether in the sanctuary or out of it—to bring man back to God. [24/25] It is a message of salvation, and a ministry of divine grace.

It is a message of salvation. The Gospel is a Gospel of good news. We are heralds of a divine message, "glad tidings of great joy"—the good news that God has come down to earth and taken our nature upon Him and died for us men! That is the good news.

But it is also a ministry of divine grace. Christ has not only died for us and left us an example of human life, but He is also the source of our new life; His God-united, uplifted Humanity is the well-spring to us of new life, and His Church is therefore not only a home of divine truth, but a storehouse of divine grace, and it is this grace of which we are to be ministers.

We have to remember that in the Church of God we are everywhere surrounded by the "powers of the world to come," that nothing we do as ministers of so wondrous [25/26] a dispensation can be insignificant or commonplace. Day by day you will go in and stand before God to repeat the prayers of the Church. Day by day, as you visit the sick and sorrowful, you will find yourself on that mysterious borderland which lies between the living and the dead. A child is brought to Holy Baptism. What a simple ceremony, but how vast a change passes over the unconscious infant as it becomes, through our instrumentality, "a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." [The Church Catechism.]

As the years pass you will be learning more and more of the "infinite pathos" of human life—the deep sorrows, the perplexities, the moral problems, the strange questions, the terrible struggles. Men will come to you for advice, and comfort, and encouragement, and for absolution. A tale of struggle and sin is poured into our ears [26/27] from a broken and contrite heart, photographing, it may be, our own miserable experience in bygone years. A few words of advice, a few more of absolution and benediction, and the angels rejoice over a soul washed anew in the Blood of the Redeemer. Or, "highest and most characteristic act of a priest," we ascend the altar to celebrate the Eucharist . . . Everywhere and on all sides we are touching mysteries which pass altogether beyond our comprehension, even as they are a constant reminder of our own unworthiness.

We must reflect often "into how high a dignity, and to how weighty an office and charge we are called . . . to be Messengers, Watchmen and Stewards of the Lord" [Ordination of Priests.]—so we have to beware lest we narrow down our conception of the priestly office. We want proportion. A study of the Ordination Services, whether of the ancient Church or our own, [27/28] as well as the patristic treatises on the ministry, will teach us to take a wide view of our duties and responsibilities. We are pastors as well as priests, teachers as well as clergymen, we have responsibilities to the rich as well as to the poor, to our brethren in the ministry as well as to the laity. I would ask you not to take a one-sided view of this great office. Do not divorce its prophetic and pastoral or its missionary aspect from its sacerdotal aspect.

Because we understand better than our immediate predecessors the place of the sacraments in the Christian system, why should we disparage preaching? Because we understand the importance of public worship, why should we be so foolish as to neglect the priceless opportunity of house to house visitation? Because we realise that the Holy Eucharist should be the chief service, why should we put Matins and Evensong in a corner? Because we want to be true to Catholic principles, why should we ride roughshod [28/29] over the feelings and prejudices of others or neglect to strive to "commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God?" Because we are to "banish and drive away erroneous and strange doctrines," why should we forget that other promise, "to maintain and set forward, as much as lieth in us, quietness, peace, and love, among all Christian people, and especially among such as are committed to our charge?" [Ordination of Priests.]

You will remember Hooker's words, "Is not God alone the Father of spirits? Are not the souls the purchase of Jesus Christ? What angel in heaven could have said to man, as our Lord did to Peter, Feed my sheep; preach; baptize; do this in remembrance of ME; whose sins ye retain they are retained, and their offences in heaven pardoned, whose faults you shall on earth forgive. What think ye? Are these terrestrial sounds, or else are they voices uttered out of the clouds above?

[30] "The power of the ministry of God translateth out of darkness into glory; it raiseth men from the earth and bringeth God Himself down from heaven; by blessing visible elements it maketh them invisible grace, it giveth daily the Holy Ghost, it hath to dispose of that Flesh which was given for the life of the world, and that Blood which was poured out to redeem souls; when it poureth malediction upon the heads of the wicked, they perish; when it revoketh the same, they revive. O wretched blindness, if we admire not so great power, more wretched if we consider it a right and notwithstanding imagine that any but God could bestow it." (E. P. v.77. I).

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