Project Canterbury

After the Tractarians
by Marcus Donovan
From the Recollections of Athelstan Riley

no place: Philip Allan, 1933.

XIV. Conclusion.

IT MAY BE WONDERED whether we are not unduly preoccupied with the progress, the set-backs and the triumphs of the Anglo-Catholic Movement. Is it really so important as it appears to those who are celebrating its centenary? Or is it merely a domestic concern of an obscure minority in one of the less important churches of Christendom?

Hardly this: for ever since its beginnings, the Movement has aroused widespread interest far beyond the confines of the Church of England. The more thoughtful have always recognized that it has been much more than an attempt to brighten the services of the Anglican Church, or to revive antiquarian usages, or to assimilate the outward appearance of the English Church to that of the Church of Rome. In a sense, it may claim to have a world significance. It is neither antiquarian, aesthetic, nor ultramontane. Historically, it may be regarded as a development of the Counter-Reformation.

The charge, rather thoughtlessly made, that the aim of Anglo-Catholics has been to 'go behind the Reformation' is in a sense both true and justifiable. No one really imagines that it is possible to undo the work of the Reformation. Many of its results are accepted with gratitude. The Reformation (or, more accurately, the Renaissance) was a movement of emancipation, and, as the Archbishop of York has pointed out, "It would be impossible to enumerate what we owe to the practical assertion of this principle, all the wealth of art and literature, all the enterprises and achievements of science, all the equipment and organization of life which these have made possible, we owe, in part at least, to this principle." Yet, he adds, "the life so equipped and organized is felt by many to be purposeless . . . everything is fugitive and futile. All discipline is repudiated, but the result is boredom rather than exuberance." That is the impression conveyed by contemporary literature, and whether that term is taken to include the poets and the novelists, or whether it refers to the journalism so scathingly criticized by Fr. Ronald Knox in Caliban in Grub Street, the result is the same.

The Archbishop puts his finger with unerring instinct upon the real cause of this profoundly disquieting and disappointing manifestation. Instead of attributing it, as so many facile thinkers do, to the aftermath of the War or the reaction from Victorian strictness, he goes back to the great break-up which we know on its secular side as the Renaissance, and on its spiritual side as the Reformation. "The great Middle Ages were a period of unification. . . . Men were eager to bring purpose and system into their lives. From this point of view, three names are of supreme importance: Hildebrand, who became Pope Gregory VII, Innocent III, and St. Thomas Aquinas. . . . Hildebrand stands for a great reformation in which he was the central figure. Hildebrand had the vision of a purified Church giving order to the world. Innocent III stands for the achievement of the Papacy by which that order was most nearly realized. St. Thomas is the greatest of those scholastic philosophers who provided the intellectual expression of this vision and achievement by mapping out the whole area of thought and conduct... under the controlling sovereignty of Theology, queen of the sciences."

We might be inclined to add Dante who charted, by the aid of his powerful imagination, the realms of the spiritual universe much in the same way as the encyclopaedic Aquinas mapped out this life.

So vast a scheme laboured under three obvious disadvantages. First there was the obvious gap between aim and achievement. Practice lagged far behind theory and the majority of men fell far short of the demand which such ideals made upon them. In addition, the system, majestic and impressive as it was, was scarcely flexible enough to expand in response to new knowledge. Hence, when new knowledge presented itself, it met with suspicion and persecution. Most dangerous of all, the system was imposed upon men from above. There is a vast difference between a unity thus imposed and a unification brought about by synthesis. This distinction is well brought out by Fr. Knox, who points out that 'dogma' does not come from 'docere', to teach, but from dokei, 'it seems' or 'it is agreed'. The great framework into which it was sought to fit all knowledge and experience took little account of the consent of the governed. And then came revolt.

Politics rebelled. Machiavelli taught that the realm of politics fell outside the range of religion. That left public life to pursue its independent way and soon the idea of Nationalism stepped in to take the place left vacant by Religion. Then Science revolted, and no longer was willing to submit its conclusions to the tribunal of the Church.

Then Art, which hitherto had been pursued under the aegis of religion, became secular. Meanwhile personal conduct was still amenable to the laws of God, but it was the only sphere left. Religion, which had formerly taken every human interest for its province, was now become essentially a private affair 'between a man and his Maker.' As SirJ. Seeley puts it "The plan of relegating religion to the private sphere did not begin to be adopted till the Reformation had introduced two Christianities where there had been but one before." Last of all, personal behaviour has sought emancipation and we have 'self-expression' and the glorification of the individual as the final manifestation of a revolt which has been spread over four centuries.

"Now, more than ever, the chief need of Humanity is for some principle that will bring unity into life," says Archbishop Temple. No one can feel particularly gratified at the state either of the world or of human society. And as politics began the break away from unity, it almost seems as if statesmen must lead the way back. They have begun to find out the perils of Nationalism. The War revealed the end of self-expression on the part of peoples, and now we are trying, by means of the League of Nations, to find our way back to brotherhood and unity--but without religious sanctions. The basis which assures stability can only be found in a common consciousness of membership in the family of God. Hear Sir John Seeley again on the danger of leaving out religion. "In England, the ideas of the multitude are perilously divergent from those of the thinking class ... so long as churches were efficient, the idea of the continuity of civilization was kept before the general mind. A grand outline of God's dealings with the human race, drawn from the Bible and Church Doctrine, a sort of Map of History, was possessed by all alike."

It is useless to try to unite mankind on the basis of self-interest. Industrial class-war and inter-racial jealousy inevitably ensue. We are back in the old sectionalism and departmentalism which, as we saw, resulted from the break-up of Christendom.

Nor can we unite men under the standard of 'Service'. It is too vague until we have settled what ends we intend to serve. Mr. Chesterton has described the cult of service as "the idolatry of the intermediate to the oblivion of the ultimate. It is like the jargon of the idiots who talk about Efficiency without any criticizing of Effect. . . . There is a sense in serving God, and an even more disputed sense in serving man: but there is no sense in serving Service. To serve God is at least to serve an ideal Being."

Dr. Temple's line of thought converges at the same point. "We are in search, then, of something which is wide enough to cover every human interest, august enough to claim absolute allegiance, and connected by an intimate, but also an identical relation with every individual and every race." This last qualification is plainly necessary because obviously it will not do to impose a British ideal upon a Frenchman or enforce a French ideal upon U.S.A. "What we want," continues Dr. Temple, "can only be found if the ultimate ground of all existence is somewhere or somehow made known otherwise than in the partial and fitful apprehensions afforded by the experience of different men and races. In other words, if there is a God Who is the Father of all men, and if He has revealed His character in some way that we can understand. . . . The Gospel is precisely the proclamation of the good news that God exists and is eternally what we see in Jesus Christ." Christ is not simply an historic figure like Caesar or Shakespeare: He is the Catholic Man, i.e. the manifestation of that Universal Spirit which creates and sustains us.

Now our aim begins to come into view. It may be described as Integration, "to bring every thought into captivity to Christ." And Christ is known to us not only in the pages of the Gospels but in the experience of the Catholic Church. Thus we get back to the ancient ideal, magnificent in its range and grasp, by which social and political life, art, science, literature and all human interests, are unified under the banner of Christendom, but with this difference, that it is no longer imposed from above upon a race scarcely capable of grasping its meaning and value, but voluntarily and intelligently purposed by men whose whole outlook is that of loyalty to Christ.

"I believe," says Dr. Temple, "that life and the world constitute one single whole. I believe that the word of God--the Mind and Character of God--is the principle of its unity: I believe that the mind and character of God are fully expressed in the Person of Jesus Christ as set forth in the Gospels and as known in the experience of the Christian Church."

It is by the building up of that Church that we make our contribution towards the re-integration of human interests under the standard of Christ, and every step that has been taken to restore the ideal of the Church to our country has been of profound significance. Those engaged in the work have achieved something of far more than importance. The Catholic Revival has a far wider reference than the mere restoration of decency and order to the Church's worship and methods: it is a contribution to the building up of the body of Christ.

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