THE recovery of the religious or monastic life in England has come about more slowly than other pieces of recovery since the sixteenth century. That is naturally the case, for many reasons. Monasticism is always a slow growth, as the history of its original establishment in the fourth century shows. Also in England in 1533-5 the severe knife of the surgeon cut deeply into this portion of the Church, removing practically the whole of the organ of community life, because of the disease that had laid hold of some parts of it. The seventeenth century witnessed several attempts to restore the religious life: but none had any lasting success. No such attempt was to be expected in the eighteenth century, for that was a time of great spiritual weakness, and even deadness, throughout Western Europe; and in England, in particular, the Church was systematically being repressed and weakened by the State. Early in the nineteenth century came the day of revivals. First came the rebellion against the indifference and latitudinarianism of the previous century, which was successfully carried through by the Evangelicals. In consequence of this movement religion became again a great reality; it laid hold afresh of the rich and influential, as well as of the poor. It laid the foundations of a deep piety, a whole-hearted consecration to God, a personal striving after holiness, and a new enthusiasm for works of mercy, evangelization, and reform. The prophet prophesied; and, as of old, bone came to bone, and flesh to flesh, in the valley which had previously seemed to be only an abode of death.
This was great, but incomplete. Again the voice of prophecy was heard, as the Catholic revival followed upon the Evangelical revival, and the Holy Spirit carried further His work. Just as the Evangelical movement had revived prayer, the Catholic movement requickened the sacramental life. As the former had taught individual and personal holiness, the latter re-emphasized the holiness of the Church and the sacred obligations of membership in it. As the former had restored domestic religion, the latter reopened for daily use churches that had been closed from Sunday to Sunday, and recommenced in them the neglected daily services. As the former had glorified a living personal faith and the simple biblical belief, so the latter, following on the lines of the Fathers, and largely through recourse to them, exhibited the developed teaching and the expository tradition of the Church to a new generation, that desired to know not only what to believe, but also why.
Thus the Evangelical Revival and the Catholic Revival in the nineteenth century followed one another, supplemented one another, and have given us a revived vitality. It was very characteristic that this great double reviving should come to us, as it did, along the lines of the two parties which had so long been, not rivals, but co-operators in the destiny of the English Church. As the Blessed Spirit breathed upon Evangelicals--or the "Low Church party"--to use the well-known but rather offensive nickname--they rose up to contribute an element that was indispensable to the future. An equally indispensable element was contributed, when the catholic-minded, or "High Churchmen," who had been, for some time previously, the stiff, and rather wooden, maintainers of an old tradition, themselves caught the inspiration in their turn; and brought out afresh from the treasury of God all the old catholic faith and discipline and practice, and commended it afresh to the English nation.
The English church life in its vigour of to-day is the result of the quickening, which came mainly from these two movements; though there were also many subsidiary forces that entered into co-operation as well. The result may be described as a "Catholic Evangelicalism "; for everywhere in the best activities among us now, a blending of these two forces is noticeable. Consequently there is now a unity about English church life, greater than there has been for four centuries at least; and it is becoming greater still year by year. I do not say that the parties have ceased to exist. I cannot say that we have, or desire to have, that monotonous uniformity, which the Latin mind is apt to mistake for unity. We would rather have the unity of a body of patriots, than the uniformity of a regiment of soldiers. But I do say that even the extreme wings of church parties have for the most part ceased to be rivals, and have become devoted partners, each bringing its own contribution to the common task of making up our many deficiencies.
These are the circumstances in which the revival of the monastic life has, in God's great mercy, become possible for us. In many ways it would be true to state, that the Evangelical movement gave the spirit, and the Catholic movement the form, for this revival. This statement might easily be exemplified, either from the early days of that revival; or, again, from the present position of our community life. In our own Community, for example, there are Fathers whose antecedents are entirely Evangelical, side by side with those of High Church antecedents; while not a small proportion have come to the Community out of Nonconformity.
But before I go on further to speak of community life in England in detail, I must remind you of the different development of the monastic ideal that has gone on in the West, as compared with the East.
The early Western monasticism was organised in that Eastern form, of which St. Athanasius brought us knowledge from Egypt, when he came an exile to the West. Again, it was the same form as Cassian learnt in the East and established in Gaul. But Western monasticism did not remain in this form. St. Benedict in Italy developed further the conception of corporate life, out of the beginnings made by Pachomius and Schenoudi in Egypt. More or less independently of him Caesarius in Southern Gaul did the same. A new type then confronted the older and traditional forms; and for a time it was not clear which of the two would predominate. A sign of the ultimate result was seen, when St. Gregory the Great, of I Rome, adopted the Benedictine ideal. Thenceforward the career of Benedictinism in the West was one of victory. For a time the two ideals went on side by side. In the evangelization of Central Europe St. Columban and his monks represented the old, just as St. Boniface represented the newer. In England, too, both forms of monasticism were prominent: for the Celtic monasticism was of the old type, while the Roman missionaries had at their back the Benedictine training. But everywhere it was the latter that survived, and became most effective. It is difficult to describe in a few words the difference between these two forms: but I will indicate two points which are illuminating.
1. St. Benedict designed his rule to be a moderate rule, so far as asceticism went: he wished to discourage that competition and rivalry in fasting and disciplinary hardships, which he found was undermining the sound foundations of the monastic life.
2. But if he seemed to incline to mildness in that respect he pulled up the level of strictness in all that concerned the corporate side of life. The Benedictine monk was always to be in community, never alone. He ate, slept, worked, and worshipped with the convent. He was to be a member, not an individual. Besides, the rule as to property was far-reaching. He had nothing of his own, but all was in common. Thus the individualism, which remained over from the hermit life in the other forms of monasticism, was rigidly excluded by the Benedictine system. So Western ideals of monasticism came to differ from Eastern, in a systematic way, as early as the fifth century.
But, further, the West has developed the life of religion in other forms than those of the monk or the hermit. There came in the thirteenth century the movement that led to the founding of the Orders of Friars; and this had an effect on the religious ideals of the West, which was no smaller than that of monasticism. Here we encounter a very different form of dedicated life, and one which is not so familiar to the East. The Friar is dedicated to a life in the world: he does not go apart; he goes into the thick of the hot and bustling activities of men, especially in cities, in order to win them for God. Not separation and calm, but activity and accessibility, are his ideals. And thus they have become the guiding principles of a new and different form of religious life.
Two other developments must also be noted that have powerfully influenced religious orders in the West.
First there are the ideals of the Jesuit Order, which is military in character, individualistic in working, and offers itself to be the advance guard of the Church militant, in whatever directions the papacy may send it.
Secondly, there are the ideals of the later Orders, especially those of French origin. In them less stress is laid on vows than on a permanent adherence to the Order. In many of them clerical ideals very largely shape and colour the monastic ideals. In all of them work takes a prominent place, and often in a highly organized form, e.g., in education, or in missions to the heathen.
The traditions, which we have had before us in reviving the religious life in England, are thus very rich and varied. What I have said so far about them, applies first and foremost to men, but parallel developments for communities of women have in most cases come about; and, indeed, especially in French convents, the varieties of type, which have been before us, are still greater among women than among men.
Thus it comes to pass that, during these last seventy years, the recovery in the English Church of monastic and religious orders has taken very varying forms: for the works of God are very manifold. Of pure Benedictinism there has never been much; and misfortunes have pursued the chief attempts that have been made by men in that line so far. Of Friars we have no exact example, though the Society of the Divine Compassion at Plaistow is in many ways very Franciscan in its ideals. The Society of the Sacred Mission at Kelham has a good deal in common, as its name might suggest, with the great foundation of St. Vincent de Paul. But, in fact, none of our larger orders for men follows at all closely any one form of earlier days.
For while the principles of the religious life remain always and everywhere the same, the application of those principles in current life must naturally vary with different circumstances. For a long time the Society of St. John the Evangelist at Cowley was practically the only form of such life available among us for men in England. But there seemed a need for other societies as well, in which the main principles would be the same, but the application of them would be in some ways different. So there arose the two other societies which I have just mentioned, and also the Community of the Resurrection, of which I am a member. All these four are, in varying degree, active communities; that is, they have a good deal of the ideal of the friar blended with that of the monk. In most of them the priests outnumber the laymen. In our Mirfield Community there are none but priests.
You would notice considerable variety of practice in our different orders, but much unity of idea. All have a strong corporate life, and common offices at the seven hours of prayer in the day. The works undertaken are evangelistic, educational, and pastoral, besides special missionary activities among the heathen in India, Africa, and China.
The sisterhoods are older, more numerous, and in every way larger: and, further, they present an even more varied appearance. Some of them have drawn much from the example of modern French Orders: one or two are Benedictine in character; some have adopted the Franciscan standard of poverty: but for the most part their immediate models are those of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries abroad. Some few are contemplative and enclosed: the greater number are active communities, though in some of these there will be sisters whose main activity is, not that of works, but that of prayer and meditation. In most of them there is a considerable blending of classes, the well-to-do and the poorer each contributing some sisters to the community. Sometimes within the community there is a division made, according to antecedents or education, between one sort of sisters and another: but sometimes there is no such division. In the larger sisterhoods all the different faculties or disqualifications can be utilized or allowed for, as the range of work which is undertaken is a wide one. In the smaller sisterhoods this is less the case, and some are more specialized. There is one, for example, which is almost wholly occupied with the higher education of girls and women; and there is another which lives entirely on what it can beg and spends its time in nursing the poor.
Another very beautiful outcome of the revival of the religious life is an Order of Penitents, in which some of those, who have been reclaimed from a life of sin, find a vocation and a lifelong dedication to holiness.
I will not speak of the manifold activities that come out as the results of such a life of dedication as is found in our sisterhoods. The practical works of love and mercy, of evangelization, rescue and protection, are countless. They are the fruits of the tree which God has blessed. But the tree itself which bears these fruits is more excellent still. For the religious life itself recalls that Tree of Life in the Paradise of God, planted hard by the waters of the River of Life, which bears its fruit every month, and whose leaves serve for the healing of the nations. It is a gift of God, for the recovery of which we cannot be too thankful. May God preserve it for us in all purity, effectiveness and holiness.
I must carry you on now to some two other institutions of our English Churchlife, which, by their spiritual power, have been and are great forces in its recovery and progress. Three specially deserve our consideration: Parochial Missions, Conventions and Retreats.
Parochial missions, during these last fifty years and more, have had a very great value in recovering the careless and the alienated, and in quickening the vitality of the faithful flock in the parish. This work has been one of the principal occupations of our community for these twenty years: so I must try and describe a typical mission, in order to show what is done, and wherein lies its value.
Nothing is harder than to give a general description of a mission; for the more one sees of missions, the more one realizes that no two missions are alike. Still, certain methods and plans are generally employed; and those at any rate I can try to describe.
First, what is its object? A mission is an exceptional effort to win back to God the careless and sinful people of a parish; and, incidentally as well, to quicken the spiritual life of those who are already living in grace. It is therefore an occasional supplement to the ordinary parochial work. When the rector sees his people ready for such a forward move, and ascertains in consultation with them that the moment has come for a special effort, he invokes the counsel and help of some priest skilled in this work, inviting him to come and deliberate further with him and his people as to the advisability of such a step. Meanwhile the parish prays for God's guidance in the matter. Then the visit of the missioner comes, and he has the opportunity of investigating and consulting with individuals on the spot, as well as preaching in church and discussing in public with the people as a whole.
If, as the result of this preliminary visit, it is decided to embark upon the mission, detailed plans for it at once begin to be laid. Probably a suitable date has already been fixed provisionally: and there are still some six months or more to run before the time comes. Probably, also, the parish has already for some time been looking forward, interceding, and preparing: but from this point forward the preparations become more definite and wide. The people undertake a special visitation of the whole area. Some one is sent to every family weekly, for a month or more, before the mission, to carry an invitation, to make the coming mission known, to get the people to pray for God's blessing upon it, and so forth. Probably also there are special services of intercession in church and elsewhere: and there is some fresh music of a suitable and popular kind, which is to be learnt with a view to its being used at the mission. The men and women of the parish, as they go from house to house, carry with them some tracts, or paper, or letter, which they can leave everywhere for the family to read at leisure. Usually the clergy of the parish issue a letter of explanation and invitation; the bishop also sends a word of commendation; and the missioner, who is coming with his assistants for the mission, issues a third letter, all of these being distributed thus from house to house. Many preparations also are required for some of the methods that will be used at the mission. Employers are visited, to ask them to give special facilities to their employees to come, or to give an opportunity for services in their factories and works. The necessary preliminaries for outdoor services and street processions are arranged, and so forth. A very busy month, or more, is spent over the final work of preparation. Hopes and expectations are raised high: prayer becomes more urgent; and the work of the people in this crusade of evangelization becomes, bit by bit, more skilled and more intense.
At last the long-expected day arrives for the beginning of the mission itself. The bishop comes, if possible, to give his blessing to the missionars, and the work. If the mission goes on simultaneously in a number of parishes in one place, many missioners and clergy will gather together for the bishop's blessing in the principal church of the place; and thence disperse to their various spheres. This opening service is usually on a Saturday, so that the mission may begin with the Sunday. The preceding days of the week, or some of them, are often observed as days of continuous intercession; and it is arranged that some one, or a number of people, shall always be keeping up the chain of prayer from early morning till late at night.
On the Saturday night the missioner meets at the opening service in the church, the inner circle of people who have been most zealous in the preparation, and can be relied upon to co-operate all through. He reviews his forces and the plan of campaign in his opening sermon on that evening. It is the eve of the battle. On Sunday is a general communion of all those who have undertaken to bear the brunt of the campaign; and with that the mission proper begins. It is not possible to say how long it will last; the length of time depends upon circumstances: but the parish may reckon that it has before it at least twelve days or a fortnight, or more, of concentrated spiritual effort.
The mission relies upon the power of the Holy Spirit; and upon His working through two chief agencies, namely, prayer and preaching. It probably attempts in some degree to reach all sorts of people: therefore side by side with the general services, there will usually be others for special groups--for men, for women, for children, and so on. In many parishes outdoor preaching will be of great value. Perhaps it will merely take the form of giving an invitation to the church services; but perhaps also, if the weather is fine and the parish is an industrial one, a substantial service will be held in the open air, and preaching on this scale may become of great importance. Many people will at times stay and listen in the street, who have lost the habit of entering any church: and so they will be drawn in. It is possible that objections may be raised by people standing round, though as a rule such services are treated with great respect even in the roughest of places. Then the objections may give the preacher a very valuable opportunity of pressing home his point, and even of winning over the objector. These outdoor gatherings are chiefly at night, but in some places the dinner hour in the middle of the day is also very valuable for speaking in the streets or else in the factories. Sometimes there is only a chance of speaking to people in the works individually, but at other times there may be a short general service for any of the work people to attend, where the authorities are friendly, and give facilities for this.
Another method of awakening interest, and also of drawing the careless to church, is the outdoor procession. This is most valuable, and especially so if it is a real witnessing on the part of some hundreds of the most important people of the parish, and not merely a procession of clergy and choir. In richer parishes neither processions nor outdoor preaching are of much value. Accordingly the hour before the evening service is the opportunity for visiting, as systematically as possible, those who are alienated, but who show signs of a disposition to amend.
But it is time now to describe the work that goes on inside the church. The chief missioner is responsible for all the conduct of the mission; but he probably has assistants with him to do the outdoor work and some of the sectional services, while he himself undertakes the principal work in the church itself. Each day begins with one or more celebrations of Holy Communion, so that the blessing of God may be invoked upon the work of the day. Some of these services will have to be very early--it may be at 5 a.m., or even earlier still, for the benefit of those who go early to work. An opportunity is given, as far as possible, for all to join in this intercession; and those who cannot be present in the church are invited to join privately with the church's prayer, wherever they may happen to be. Thus the greatest stress is laid upon the united prayer. Very likely also at other times of the day there will be a quiet intercession service of a very simple sort, at which people present their special petitions; and the individual needs, as well as general ones, are prayed for. Prayer will again form a great feature of the evening service; and very often, after the preaching is over at night, the day will end, as it began, with great efforts of prayer.
The missioner's chief preaching opportunity is at night. On Sunday evening he begins his prophetic work in the spirit of St. John the Baptist, proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven, and pointing to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. His mission sermons all through the early part of the mission are in one or other form, a call to repentance and conversion. Beginning with the Love of God, he next sets forth the sin of man, then the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Parables, miracles, and scenes from the Gospel, the Passion and Death of our Lord, His Resurrection, Ascension and return as Judge--all these are his subjects. As the Holy Spirit takes the preacher's message and enkindles through it the souls of the hearers, they are brought by one road after another into living touch with their Master; so that He can do His work for them--recovering, healing, encouraging, pardoning, sanctifying--according to the opportunity and their own need.
The trained and skilled missioner, as a rule, divides his evening preaching into two parts. One is meant to appeal more to the head, by instruction; the other to the heart by exhortation; but both are intended to move the will of the hearer that he may make a definite advance in the road of salvation. The order of these two parts will probably vary. Some congregations dislike teaching, but like exhortation. For them the exhortation had better precede the instruction. Others take the opposite view; and the reverse procedure is best for them. In either case the preaching 'will take up the greater part of the evening service. In other respects also the service will vary greatly in order and in contents. There will probably be some reading of Scripture; some singing of hymns, bearing on the preacher's subject, or otherwise calculated to help forward the impression that is to be made: notices will be given of services, and some explanations of what is being done or is contemplated. Perhaps some time may be given to answering questions, which are sent in to the missioner beforehand in writing. In any case there will be devotional exercises in one form or another, and probably some silence for private and individual prayer.
The whole evening service lasts less than one and a half hour as a rule, and probably there is an opportunity before the end when people who wish can go out. For it is not our custom in England, as it is abroad, for people to go in and out of church while the service is going on. Unless there is exceptional reason to the contrary, people are expected to be there when the service begins, and to stay attentively to the end. But this general rule is relaxed at mission services like these. They cannot be regarded like the usual services; they are exceptional, inasmuch as they go on at some length, on week nights, and for many days continuously. So some persons perhaps may leave when the opportunity is given. On the other hand, some will stay on, when the main service is over, because they are moved by what has been said, and wish to remain for further prayers. Thus the main service will often be followed by a smaller "after-meeting," which is a great occasion for the strong workings of the Holy Spirit. When all is finished some will stay behind to get personal help from the missioners, the parochial clergy, or other experienced helpers.
The preaching and teaching of repentance will occupy all the early part of the mission; and penitence may be for a long time its main message, especially if fresh people are being brought in night by night, who have to be won over to a new life. Repentance must not only be talked about and explained; still more it is necessary that it should be practised. The missioner must secure that there is a real searching of conscience, a true contrition, and a hearty confession to God. Some will need sacramental absolution before they can really begin afresh, and they must be brought to seek it, and to make a good confession.
Sometimes it is found valuable to encourage people to lay public claim afresh to that position of Christian privilege, which as baptized persons they already hold, by making a renewal of their baptismal vows. With us these vows are three: for we have not only (like yourselves) the renunciation of Satan, and the profession of Christian faith; but also the promise to keep God's Holy Will and Commandments. It is a solemn stage in the mission when those who are so minded are called up by the missioner to the altar, and there, before God and the congregation, renew these solemn obligations which lie at the very foundation of their Christian life. Those who can begin by going so far as this, will go yet further in response to the call for God, before the mission is done.
For the scope of the mission does not end with the renewal of old promises, or the work of repentance. It is necessary that everyone should be started, in some way or another, in a new life. Those who have all along been devout, soon find that a great new prospect is being held out to them; and they are eager to advance. Those who have been careless or godless, whose hearts God has now newly touched and reclaimed, will be zealous to enter on the new road of grace, peace and joy, that they see stretching out before them. The most backward people will probably prove to be those, who have been hitherto neither one thing nor the other; and who do not see why they should not continue in their indefinite condition. But they, too, must be brought to "walk in newness of life."
So the third principal feature of the mission will be the resolutions of amendment. These are written down and brought to the clergy for their signature and blessing. Often a cross is then given to those who come, which they wear conspicuously during the mission (and often later too) as a reminder to themselves and as an encouragement to others.
The days fly by very fast, and as the mission works through its course its note changes. Penitent souls rise up forgiven, and joy takes the place of sorrow. Some who have found the Peace of God for themselves, go forth eagerly to bring others also to find the same pearl of great price. Those who have begun their new life, are thirsting to drink in the spiritual teaching for which before they had no capacity or taste. Consequently the devotions turn to a great extent into thanksgiving. The sermons and instructions also change in their nature; exhortation and warning give place to encouragement and enlightenment. And so the end is reached: and in a mission faithfully undertaken and carried through under the miracle-working power of God's grace, there is at the close a great chorus of praise, which finds its expression in the final Eucharists, and echoes on for many years to come.
Individual parishes, and whole towns as well, have been greatly inspired by missions such as I describe. The work is easier in a parish which has a mixed population, or a poor population, than in one that consists in the main of wealthy people. But in these,too, some such efforts have proved of great value. Quite recently the power of missions has been proved also at the universities. Last year I was privileged to take part in a mission at the University of Cambridge, which was a very remarkable instance of spiritual movement and power. Also since I have been in this country I have received news about the similar mission, held in the University of Oxford last month, which tells the same story. In each college a committee made careful preparations. The students responded with enthusiasm to the call that summoned them to special efforts of prayer. When the day came for the opening, the atmosphere was already pentecostal. The students at Cambridge, both men and women, came in great numbers to an afternoon service; and in the evening the great university church was crowded with the men only, night after night. The afternoon services were somewhat more "apologetic" than those at night. They were partly intended to expound and justify the faith to the abler students, and especially to those who are surrounded by hostile criticism of orthodoxy and even of Christianity itself, and perhaps were yielding to it. All day long the missioners were busy with private interviews, solving problems of faith and morals for enquirers, hearing confessions, blessing new resolutions, and the like. The effect on the university was immense; and now Oxford, too, has the same story to tell. Please God, the spiritual reality and power, that has thus come upon these two groups of the ablest of our young men, will be of untold value in many parts of our Empire for many years to come.
We come now to another sphere of the Holy Spirit's working, in what is called a Retreat. This also is an occasion of great spiritual movement, but it is of a different character. The mission is like the preaching of St. John the Baptist: the retreat is like our Lord's invitation to His disciples to come apart awhile into a desert place with Him.
Quiet and close communing with God are the essential features of a retreat. Some experienced priest will "conduct" the retreat, just as a missioner is called in to undertake the mission. But different qualities are required of him. Not conversion, so much as growth in holiness, is the object to be attained. Those who assemble will be among the most devout of the laity, or else a group of clergy or religious. There will not be a large body; it should be less than one hundred, if the priest is to have enough time for the confessions and other private ministrations that they are seeking. It is a gain if those who come together are already linked in some sort of association: but, even if not, they are allied by the fact that they assemble for a common purpose.
These are the main features, common to the plan. In other respects retreats vary very much from one another according to circumstances. Some last for three days: some for less, a few for more. Some are held in town, some in country: some in monasteries, others in different places where accommodation can be got, e.g. in schools or colleges during holiday times. Sometimes a bishop will gather his clergy together at the cathedral or elsewhere for a diocesan retreat. A theological college generally gives opportunities not only to its present members, but also to its past students. A guild or society will have its annual retreat, and so forth. Indeed, an annual retreat is becoming increasingly a regular piece of spiritual refreshment, not only for the religious, but also for clergy, and for men and women of the laity.
A three days' retreat usually begins on a Monday night and ends on the following Friday morning. Daily there are celebrations of the Holy Eucharist; five or six other services at intervals, and three addresses or meditations given by the priest, who conducts the retreat. These addresses form a closely connected whole, either dealing with some topic or series of topics, or expounding a book or passage of Holy Scripture, or the like. They are not so much sermons, as stimulating material which is to be used by the hearers in their private meditation after the address has been given. They are probably planned to form a progressive series, so that the retreatants are guided on from one point to another. Thus they advance, or led up, as Moses was, to see the Promised Land, or climbing the Holy Mountain of Transfiguration in company with the Master Himself.
Spiritual guidance of a varied kind is thus given in the addresses. There are also some special devotions made, or suggested, as appropriate to the subjects which are handled: and, further, there is private and personal guidance available for all who seek it. Such are some of the duties of the priest who conducts the retreat. Much is required of him; but the main benefit that comes of the retreat is the soul's own communing with God. Silence is kept throughout the time, a devotional book is read during the meals, and everything is done to facilitate detachment from all worldly occupations and ordinary duties.
For people who have little leisure, or for those who are beginners, a similar devotion, shorter in duration, is often held, lasting only one day. Indeed, "Quiet Days," as they are called, are becoming a very common feature of our devotional life, in parishes and elsewhere. For those who are very busy, even shorter periods are utilised in the same way. On some Saturday afternoon, when there is the weekly half-holiday in mills and factories, people will assemble who cannot get more time free, and will spend their half-day in retreat.
At our house at Mirfield we have long been able to have a better plan than this for busy people. Several times a year we collect men of the busiest classes to spend a Sunday in retreat. This lasts from Saturday evening to Sunday evening, when most of them have to return home in order to begin the new week's work at 6 a.m. on Monday morning. For a long time our accommodation has been inadequate, and we have not been able to receive all those who wished to come for these Sundays. We are, however, now building a new wing to the community house, which will give us thirty rooms for retreatants. This movement is spreading all over England, and new retreat houses are being established elsewhere. Increasingly in these busy days men welcome the opportunity of quiet and devotion. Men who have come once, soon come again, and bring others. Piety is warmed and cheered by the spiritual atmosphere; cares and troubles are laid down for the moment, and grace is won wherewith to take them up again. God is sought; and He is found, by those who seek Him, to be very near, and to abide with those who entrust themselves to His grace and love and protection. When the retreat is over, the people go back stronger and warmer, able to help in raising the spiritual temperament of their whole surroundings, and to lead more boldly in the fight for God.
We use the term "Convention" to describe another form of spiritual refreshment of more recent origin. It is not perhaps so valuable as a retreat, but it has a value of its own, especially for those who are not yet spiritually ready for the effort and strain of a retreat. A convention is usually the joint effort of a town. Three or four days are set apart for it, a large public hall is engaged, well-known bishops and priests are invited to come as speakers, and a plan of subjects is drawn up. Thus, though the speakers are designedly varied, a certain unity is ensured by the programme. A great number gather, especially at night. In a big town there may be two or three thousand present then, and perhaps an overflow meeting as well. The enthusiasm thus gathered is very inspiring, the singing is very moving, and the spiritual atmosphere may be very helpful.
In many places a number of Nonconformists will come, and freely join with the Churchmen in these gatherings. In this way they afford a meeting point in prayer, which is very valuable. Conventions have done much to remove suspicions and prejudices, to destroy party rivalries in the Church, and to bring Nonconformists to a better view of church teaching and practice. All this is very useful. But there is none of the quiet of the retreat. The common meals, the common Liturgy and services, the common silence are lacking. The solemnity of the church, the personal guidance of the priest, the opportunity of confession, the silence--these things, and many more too, the retreat offers and the convention does not. But, for all that, conventions are doing a valuable work for us of a different kind. So they deserve mention side by side with retreats and missions as pieces of spiritual machinery which God has greatly blessed.
You may be thinking perhaps that in these lectures I have said much too much about machinery, movements, organization, methods and the like. You may have been wanting all the time to hear of something different. You may have been saying to yourselves perhaps, "That is all very well! It may suit these bustling, tiresomely practical English people: but it does not attract us. It is quite remote from what we love and look for in religion." Well, well! I quite recognize the point. I know enough at any rate about Russia to see the difference of religious outlook and to appreciate very highly the Russian point of view. But I would like to say three things briefly in anticipation of such criticism: they shall be my apology for these lectures, and so I will bring them to an end.
First I would plead that my task was to try to give you some account of English religious life. That is what I have tried to do. I know that in many ways it is a very defective life, full of faults and failings and sins: but there it is, and I do not wish to make it out better than it is. The Church, as well as the individual, needs to take to heart the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Because it has not done so in past days, these grievous divisions have come: and they go on because in our different quarters of the globe we still are inclined to go on saying, "God, I thank thee that I am not as others are." It is penitence that churches want. When each broken part of Christendom can smite upon its breast and say, "God be merciful to me a sinner," then they will all find themselves at one again. Some words have been running in my head ever since I was honoured by your invitation to come here: they are these of St. James, "Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed." They seem to me to go to the root of the matter and to apply to churches as well as to individuals.
Secondly, I would say that I am well aware that much of what is valuable to us would not be so to you. It is not to be expected, or desired, that everybody should be exactly alike. The Body of Christ is made up of many members, and there is great diversity among them. It is not desirable that the eye should try to become like the ear, or "vice "versa. But it is highly desirable that both the ear and the eye should understand one another's different ways and gifts and functions, and should co-operate together.
To facilitate that understanding is the object of these lectures and of our twin societies, the English and the Russian. So that, even if much that I have said may seem to you strange, it is all to the good, that we should have had this opportunity of saying it and hearing it.
Lastly, if I have said much of activities, movements and the like, I would plead in justification that my subject was Life in the English Church, and that such things are characteristics of life. Life is activity, movement, and power of adaptation. The opposite is death. The Body of Christ is a living body: therefore while there is an element of it which is permanent and unchangeable, nevertheless all the rest is in a perpetual state of change. It adapts itself to its surroundings; it absorbs new material; it grows upon what is good, it discards what is useless or harmful. By such processes as these it continues in living union with Christ the Head, and continues to be the organism through which the Holy Spirit brings the world progressively to a fuller and fuller knowledge of the one perfected Revelation of God once for all accomplished in Jesus Christ.
And within this living Body, too, diversity is (within limits) just as much a characteristic as unity. Another great cause of our disunion has been that we have forgotten the infinite diversity of life, and have constantly been trying to force God's diversified universe to fit in to narrow little categories of our own. The spirit of legalism and papalism has continually said, "What we do is right; and anything else is wrong." And this spirit is by no means peculiar to Rome: it is shared by many of the fractions of Christendom, if not by all. Therein lies another cause of our disunion.
The great task of orthodox and catholic Christianity is to discern in every age what parts of its activities and powers belong to that portion of itself which is permanent, unchanging, and inalienable, and to maintain those inviolable: while at the same time giving free play to all those moving, progressing, developing forces within itself, which life, just because it is life, exhibits in a continual state of energetic and purposeful change. The Church must keep what is fixed, fixed: and leave what is free, free.
It is only by the co-operation of all parts of the Body that this task can be properly carried out. At present it is not done. Some people over-value movement, and are ready for the sake of change to alter what is unchanging, or to surrender what should be inalienable. Others who value stability, are slow to learn or to unlearn, slow to rise at God's call, slow to progress to new fields of knowledge or conquest. This is true of individuals in all ages and it has been equally true of churches. Now, when there is disunion, the peril is enhanced. Then a restless fever alternates in the Body with numb paralysis, where there should be a well-balanced health and vigour. The static and dynamic forces of life seem to be alien to one another, whereas they should be conjoined and complementary. Further disunion is the result. And it must be so until stability and movement, unity and variety, each have their due valuation. At this opening of the twentieth century, the Holy Spirit is bringing us to see this more clearly. May we be obedient to the heavenly vision!
So I would plead for our bustling English ways in Religion, that, whether attractive or not, whether of great importance or not, they at least have a place in the Body; and they, with many other characteristics that go along with them, may be, after all, some little contribution to the fulness of the life that is hid with Christ in God.