Project Canterbury

The Church in Bondage

By R. A. Hilary Knox
Chaplain Fellow of Trinity College Oxford

London: The Society of SS. Peter and Paul, 1914.

Three Sermons on the Church of England in the Past, in the Present, and in the Future

Sermon 3. Windows in Heaven. The Future

THEN A LORD ON WHOSE HAND THE KING LEANED ANSWERED THE MAN OF GOD, AND SAID, IF THE LORD WOULD MAKE WINDOWS IN HEAVEN, THEN MIGHT THIS THING BE. These words are written in the second verse of the seventh chapter of the second book of Kings.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

TWO Sundays ago I tried to convince you, by an appeal to the history of the Reformation Settlement, that the Church of England came to us, not by any divine revelation, but as a compromise framed in the face of an awkward political situation in the sixteenth century; that, consequently, its constitution is not an unalterable decree, fixed for all time, but a thing which is capable of being changed and adapted to the needs of each generation in turn. The Church of Constantinople has stood still, the Church of Rome has developed, the Church of England has been in a continual state of flux. We, this present age of Church-people, are shaping its destinies, and determining what it is to become. Last Sunday, in examining the condition of the Church of England as it is at present, I urged that it was useless for us to give ourselves up into the hands of the Bishops, fixing the present state of our religion as its state for all time, and regarding ourselves as an independent Church, superior to any Continental institution. This, I said, was impossible, because a Church so governed would have no real centre of authority, and would therefore be powerless to deal with the claims of modernism, daily growing in insistence, to revise our outlook on matters of doctrine, of discipline, and even of morals. In a word, it is no good trying to remain what we are, and it [17/18] is no good trying to become what we are, only rather more so.

What, then, is to be our outlook for the future? I will begin, if I may, by adducing one or two very commonplace considerations. Christianity is beginning to have a new situation to face. Instead of being, in its various forms, the only possible alternative to agnosticism, it is beginning to have rival systems to face, with their own dogmas and their own creeds, such as Spiritualism and Christian Science. These systems, which are for the moment toys of the upper or leisured classes, will soon begin to make a wider appeal; and in the face of this opposition it is before all things necessary that Christianity should present a united front, and be able to answer the question, What exactly does Christianity ask me to believe? Missionaries in Eastern countries, who have to present Christianity as an alternative to heathen religions which have long flourished, find the same difficulty already acute. The result is a cry on all sides--much stronger than has ever been the case since the Reformation--for the Reunion of Christendom. The Reformation created a Babel of warring sects; it is time now, so we hear on all sides, that we should have a new Pentecost. Everybody wants Reunion of some sort. Take four representative Churchmen of different schools, Lord Halifax, Canon Scott-Holland, the Dean of Durham, and the Dean of Canterbury. Do you suppose that there is any one of those men who does not pray to God, night and day, for Reunion of some sort? The only difference is that, whereas some of us want reunion, by hook or by crook, with those sects who have separated from us, there are not a few of us who think it more imperative to aspire to Reunion with that Church from which we have separated.

About two months ago I was reading in a foreign hotel a copy of the Daily Mail. I saw there an account of the proceedings of the minister at the Grace Methodist Church, New York. The heat-wave was in [18/19] progress, and he therefore contrived, before the evening service, to surround the pulpit with large blocks of ice, and provided the congregation, as they entered, with a fan apiece all round. Having thus fortified them against the elements, he gave a lantern lecture on Sport in Norway, and the service then concluded with a collection, the results of which were most gratifying. I rose from the perusal of this to attend the service of Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament in a small, and not very rich, Belgian parish church. It was a weekday, but I think the congregation was as large as you would find at weekday evensong in the greatest of our English Cathedrals. No fans were provided, and no ice. We came away knowing nothing more about the habits of the tarpon than we did when we entered the church. All we saw was a curate in a rather shabby cope, on his knees in front of something which looked like a circular piece of bread. All we heard was a few hymns, with rather Moody and Sankey tunes, in honour of a carpenter's wife who died nearly nineteen hundred years ago. But I do not think I grudged the Methodists their evening service.

The issue is much clearer than we are accustomed to think. Modern Evangelicalism is not the blood and hell Evangelicalism of Calvin, of Richard Baxter, and of Dr. Spurgeon. It does not believe in salvation by grace apart from works, and the damnation of all those who do not approve of its tenets. Rather, it tends more and more to accommodate itself to the convenience of the world; it drops the belief in sin which scandalizes so many of our own generation, and preaches instead a gradual progress of the human race. The whitewashed barn, the joyless devotions, are being replaced by comfortable, theatre-like buildings, and solos by professionals, and magic-lantern entertainments. Instead of directing men to flee out of this miserable and naughty world, it makes the world comfortable for them in order to keep them straight. Do not mistake my meaning; I am not suggesting that it is a bad, or an insincere thing for them [19/20] to do. However I disapproved of it, I would avoid interfering with the religion of the Nonconformist sects in the way the Nonconformist sects think it their duty to interfere with mine; but, more than this, I will say that their ideas are in every way admirable. Only, it is not what I mean by religion. It does make men happier, I have little doubt that it makes men better; it does, in a certain sense, do honour to God. But it is not the safeguarding of a great deposit of doctrine handed down through the ages. It does not involve, what true religion involves, crossing not merely your evil habits, but actually your natural human inclinations. The Evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience are not there. The Church remains to them as an idea, but not as a family, rich in heirlooms of self-sacrifice and devotion, in which the Christian should live and move and have his being. It is not our Religion.

But the Roman Catholic Church, however much she may consult in detail the convenience of her children, does still hold up to them a standard which is not of this world. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you--that is the hall-mark of historic Christianity. Wherever she goes, the world still hates the Church of Rome. Thank God, there are still people who hate the Church of England. If I could put the whole of my religion before a body of unbelievers, holding back nothing, and they replied, "How perfectly delightful! Won't you come and teach that to the children in our Board School?" then I should hesitate, then I should wonder whether my religion could be right, remembering my Saviour's words, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but ye are not of this world, therefore the world hateth you." But, thank God, there are still those who hate the Church of England.

Well, which is it to be? Surely we aren't going on for ever with choral evensong. Are we going to gather round ice-bound pulpits, and fan ourselves as we drink in their comfortable doctrines? Or are we going [20/21] to fling ourselves on our knees with the little Belgian children, and cry out, Holy Mary, Mother of God, give us our Purgatory now? Are we going out to catch tarpon with the Episcopal Methodists, or are we going out with Peter to fish for the souls of men?

For it is Peter who beckons us. I know that there are a good many people nowadays who are honestly convinced that we ought to be looking towards the Greek Church for Reunion. Now, I don't want to criticize that idea in any way which misses the ultimate point. I make no mention of the hopeless difference in national outlook between the Levantine and Slavonic peoples on one side, and ourselves on the other. I do not wish to remind you that all the criticisms which are levelled at the Roman Church can be levelled with still more force at the Church of Constantinople and Moscow; that the alliance of Church and State for the purpose of persecution is quite as strong in St. Petersburg as in Madrid; that doctrinal rigidity reigns as firmly on Mount Athos as at Loretto; that the atrocities of the Balkan war far outstep the massacre of Saint Bartholomew, and the superstition of the Russian peasantry could not easily be matched in Naples. All I wish to point out is this: that as a matter of history, and also as a matter of ecclesiastical theory, the breach between ourselves and the Patriarchate is far wider than that between ourselves and the Papacy. From the Greek point of view, we are doubly in schism, for we separated ourselves first of all, with the other Western nations, from the Churches of the East, and then separated ourselves again, at the Reformation, from the very schism we had helped to found. Twelve times a year, in the Creed of Saint Athanasius, we solemnly anathematize their beliefs. We are, to them, simply an apostate part of the apostate Patriarchate of the West. And when we ask for Reunion, they naturally meet us with the objection, "Peter I know, and John I know, but who are ye?" We can only treat with them through our Patriarch, [21/22] the Bishop of Rome, and unfortunately he is willing to treat neither with us nor with them. It is frequently-alleged, that in spite of these difficulties of theory, the Greek Church is, as a matter of fact, becoming more and more willing for reunion with ours. But if that is so, it surely argues an amount of doctrinal muddle-headedness about them, which makes it very doubtful whether it is right to be in communion with them. If Reunion with the East means--what I am afraid it does mean to many people--an offensive and defensive alliance against Rome, is it not rather doubtful whether the cause of Christian charity is served by advocating it? Especially when the practical advantages of a reunion in that direction are distant and minute.

"But," I have no doubt I shall be told, "if reunion with the East is difficult, reunion with the Church of Rome, in the sense in which you mean it, is impossible. You may look forward to corporate submission to the Papacy, but not to corporate reunion. And corporate submission will mean denying all the history of the Church of England, acknowledging, not merely that you were heretical and schismatic, but actually had no valid orders, or valid sacraments; that you were hopelessly in error all the time, and ought to have made your submission, individually one by one, long before. The history of the Church of England will be of purely historical interest, as the story of a great national sin, entirely unconnected with the life of the Church. When the Church of England returns to its old allegiance, it will not merely cease to be, it will cease to have been." To this I can only reply, that Saint Aidan lived and died as a member of a Church which administered Holy Baptism by a rite which the Roman theologians of that day considered defective; yet Saint Aidan has taken his place, a place of honour, in the Calendar of the Church of Rome. It is still within the competence of the Holy Father to declare our orders valid, and to admit us to Communion on the strength of a mere recognition of [22/23] his authority for the future. The condemnation of our orders is not really in point, since it was pronounced at a time when the Church of England was, to a very large extent, obstinately Protestant.

"Ah," you say, "but will there ever be a time when it is not? Can you look around at the Church of England as we see it, with its careless and slovenly priests, its feeble insistence on the Sacrament of Penance, its arrogant denial of the claims of Peter, its weak hold on doctrine, its scant regard for Catholic practice, and still look forward to a day when these obstacles will be removed? If the Lord would make windows in heaven, then might this thing be." At last we have got to the real difficulty; at last we see why it is that people in our Church calling themselves Catholics decline to look forward to corporate Reunion. "You will never make the whole Church of England Catholic; there will always be divisions, always scandals; when the Son of Man comes, he will find us still a household divided against itself." Of course, it may be so, for he may come to-morrow. But if you mean to say that this thing is impossible with God, then you are guilty of the pessimism of that lord on whose hand the king leaned, and you are rendering yourself liable to his fearful punishment. It may take years, it may take centuries, before the consummation can be reached; we shall come to it through persecution and obloquy from our own Church, derision and impatience on the part of those with whom we seek to be reunited. We ourselves shall be despised, perhaps, and half disowned by those who come after us. Our foes will be they of our own household; the horrors of civil war within the ramparts will be added to the constant menace of our ghostly enemy without. We shall become hard and unspiritual in the course of it; our interior life will be starved and pinched through controversy. Those whom we have loved and trusted will weary of the desperate struggle, and make their own submissions, joining the ranks of [23/24] those who wonder at us and misunderstand us. And we can only cry, as the Jews cried in captivity, "Turn thee again, thou God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold, and visit this vine, and the place of the vineyard that thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest so strong for thine own self. And so will not we go back from thee, O, let us live, and we shall call upon thy Name."

It is not for us, the glamour of the Seven Hills, and the confidence of membership, living and actual, in the Church of the Ages; we cannot set our feet upon the rock of Peter, but only watch the shadow of Peter passing by, and hope that it may fall on us and heal us. We shall bear the reproach of the Catholic name, without enjoying the full privileges of the Catholic heritage. And yet, even now, we are not left without hope. Our needs have still a place in the compassionate heart of Mary, where she sits by her Father's side; she has not forgotten her children, just because they have run away from their schoolmaster, and unlearnt their lessons, and are trying to find their way home again, humbled and terrified in the darkness. Some of us have forgotten her, nay, blasphemed her; but she does not pray the less for them. May her intercession, through whose child-bearing salvation was restored to an apostate world, restore unity to a divided Christendom, and by her Son's infinite merits bring all those who strive faithfully according to their station in this life, to a reward, not deserved but desired, in the life to come.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Project Canterbury