The Third Annual Catholic Congress: Addresses and Papers
Albany, New York, October 25, 26, 27, A.D. 1927
Philadelphia: The Catholic Congress Committee, 1927.
The Missionary Charter of the Church
THE REVEREND ROBERT F. LAU, D.D.
Assistant Secretary of the Foreign-Born Americans Division
of the National Council, New York City, New York
THE Missionary Charter of the Church is not to be found written in faded characters on fragments of papyrus or beautifully inscribed on sheepskin covered with clearest glass, suitably framed and hanging on the walls of the Church Missions House, the Phanar, or the Vatican. It does not lend itself to such treatment. Not that the walls of the places mentioned would be unworthy backgrounds, for I would not speak with less than reverence of any one of these differing but characteristic centers of Catholicism. Perchance you do not share with me in a veneration so distributed. It is possible that you are spellbound by the Vatican; that you have decided to look up the Phanar in an encyclopedia; and that you designate the Church Missions House, as the State does criminals, by a number.
It is almost three years since I became a member of the family housed in the building which indeed bears the number 281, which is topped by another symbol of crime, the Cross, and in which the Holy Sacrifice is daily offered. It is a building in which, as a Catholic, I find myself at home, on the walls of which the original missionary [110/111] charter of the Church might indeed find proper sanctuary,—if there were such a document.
But there isn't. The Church had no written commission to justify the initiation and continuance of missionary activities. The New Testament is not the foundation of the Catholic Church, and no one sentence or group of sentences in it can constitute the missionary charter of the Church. In other words, it is not historically correct to say that the Church added missions in foreign lands to her varied activities because she found that, according to the New Testament, our Lord had said "Go ye therefore and make all nations my disciples." A study of the life of the Church from the very beginning shows beyond all possibility of doubt that she considered worldwide evangelization far more than a duly chartered duty and privilege. To fail in this direction did not mean the omission of a task imposed but the very negation of her existence. The Church could not cease to be missionary without ceasing to be. Brought up to the present, our conclusion must be that the non-missionary church is non-Catholic; the non-missionary "Catholic" has achieved Nirvana, or to be more charitable, is suffering from temporary amnesia.
We have only to turn to the writings of that eminent Adoptionist-Protestant historian Harnack to find abundant evidence of the position just stated. In his first volume on The Mission and Expansion of Christianity we find depicted the spread of the Faith as though by centrifugal force. Whatever there may be of legend in the stories of the spread of early Christianity, Harnack acknowledges that there can be no question of the tremendous energy employed. "The facts of the case justify the impression of the church fathers in the fourth century,—that their faith had spread from generation to generation with inconceivable rapidity." Our Lord, he [111/112] points out, had denationalized religion and the very content of the Good News demanded its propagation. According to this same critic the Apostles "went" even though our Lord had never said "go." They went with singular unanimity, counting riches, position in society, even life itself, well lost for the possible spread of the Gospel.
To me it seems beyond question that our Lord had said far more to them than is contained in the one sentence on which we are accustomed to base our missionary addresses. The unremitting energy displayed by the early Church proves her consciousness of the fact that evangelization was the justification of her existence. The words Catholic and Missionary are often interchangeable. St. Paul, who extolled the evangelistic sacrifice of the altar, gloried in self-sacrificing evangelization. He considered both indispensable to Christian living. The Protestant Episcopal Church, therefore, must exhibit her Catholicity not only by insistence upon Faith and Order but by missionary zeal. Ardent, unabating, unbounded evangelization is as true a note of Catholicism as the increase of the Religious Life in convents and monasteries. Has the Church, whose children we are, such zeal?
We may turn to the pages of The Spirit of Missions, for the magazine has not yet been placed on the Index by the Central Conference of Associated Catholic Priests. Here we find pictures of altars with candles, bishops in copes, priests in chasubles, yea, Indian priests wearing birettas in the presence of President Coolidge. And just a year ago the word "mass" found place under the heading: "The Presiding Bishop's Appointments."
But there is another side. Here are pictures of communion tables without a cross, duplicates almost of one in the Dominican Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, New York City. [112/113] Here are bishops in turn-down collar and necktie, looking exactly like recently arrived Roman prelates from Mexico. In some articles may be found the implication that two sacraments only are generally necessary to salvation, when St. Thomas Aquinas pronounced only one absolutely indispensable.
If you look to The Spirit of Missions as a rival of the Picture Books for Young Catholics produced by the Society of Saints Simon and Jude you are due for disappointment; and you deserve it. But if as earnest, mature Catholics you hope to ascertain whether the Episcopal Church is justifying her Catholic character by unceasing evangelization you will arise from a perusal of a year's issues with the desire to arrange for a solemn Te Deum, not without incense. Don't judge a magazine by one issue, any more than you wish to be judged by one sermon, or one missionary address.
I am broaching a subject grave in import, for our interest in the missionary programme of the Church is the acid test of the sincerity of our claim to be Catholics. You and I are present at this Congress because we believe firmly that the Church of England emerged from the reformation a truly Catholic Church. It is our position in and our allegiance to the American Episcopal Church that constitute us Catholics. We must justify our existence as Catholics here on earth by sharing in the missionary endeavors of this Apostolic Communion. Otherwise we have a name that we are living and are dead.
Fortunately it is not so necessary for me to stress the point of participation in the world-wide activities of our Church as it would have been three years ago. There is little to choose in this respect between Catholic-minded Protestants and Protestant-minded Catholics of this American Church. Both groups are, in the main, striving to carry out the programme laid down by the National [113/114] Council in accordance with the mandate of General Convention; in fact, there is a curious agreement in attitude even where one might least expect it. Are we perhaps being influenced by contact with the Protestant spirit?
I have in mind the general satisfaction expressed over the Pay-as-you-Go policy. That policy is the most non-Catholic principle that our Church has ever adopted. It is, doubtless, good business; but the calm acceptance of it in many quarters is symptomatic either of ignorance of the Church's work or else of a most deplorable pathological condition of Christianity. Considered in the abstract, as a policy it is safe and sane and it gives evidence of a moderate missionary zeal. "Safe, sane, moderate!" Need I say more? We can but condemn the policy, or at least our own smug complacency with it.
It may be said, and it has been said, that cuts in the budget are all to the good if they imply the elimination of unnecessary activities. I am not quite certain what is meant by "unnecessary." Those of us who are in some measure burdened with the onerous, unenviable task of applying cuts, in the face of heartrending letters from bishops and priests, undergo an experience the memory of which is ineradicable. The priest who has worked in the Department of Missions will surely go back to a parish with intensified enthusiasm for the programme of the Church; but he will forever bear the scars of wounds which seared his soul.
It may be said, and it has been said that, after all, priests and sacraments, Bible and Prayer Book, alone are necessary for evangelization. As a complete Episcopalian I should include a bishop; as a thrifty individual I should eliminate both Bible and Prayer Book. Surely a bishop, with priests of retentive memory, with water and bread and wine, and oil, where it may be had, are sufficient?
One can sympathize with such a point of view when [114/115] it emanates from an overburdened priest in charge of an under-equipped country mission. Ordinarily, we do not rest content with priests, sacraments, Bible and Prayer Book in our endeavors to convert one hundred per cent. Americans. We have been known to use all the art, not to say artifice, of modern civilization. Is it not possible that we are overestimating the value of the Nordic soul? If paid choirs are (as it would seem) essential in the United States, are hospitals permitted in China? Nothing stirs some of us more than the offering of adequate music at High Mass. Perhaps the remembered devotion of a faithful nurse adds to some Chinese woman's understanding and effective use of the Holy Sacrifice.
Do I hear it said that only priests are needed? Bring on your priests!
Father Rose is alone at Sagada, except for the help of a priest temporarily released from China. Even though Father Hartzell, who is home on sick leave, returns, one or two additional men in Holy Orders are needed. At Bontoc, Sibley needs an associate. At Zamboanga, the only exclusively Mohammedan work under the American flag, a Chinese missionary is in charge, but a permanent appointee is desired. Bishop Campbell appeals for three men to act as Archdeacons and to assist in a plan of organization which will mean much for the future of the Church in Liberia. He also needs a priest capable of assuming charge of the business office, to act as his chaplain and executive secretary, with headquarters in Monrovia. Bishop Nichols asks for a priest who can be entrusted with the development of extensive plans throughout the District of Kyoto. Some of you here tonight ought to volunteer for Haiti and Porto Rico, ready to go to these fields whenever vacancies occur; [115/116] others for Hankow and Anking, ready to go whenever conditions make possible the restoration and strengthening of our work in China.
Here are immediate opportunities for at least ten men in fields where, I have no doubt, priests will be welcome whose zeal for souls does not lag behind their ardor for Catholic accessories of worship. Other fields there are, where a definite Catholic can be entirely happy. But why seek for comfort and ease in the mission field when we do not always find them at home? Why look for freedom from the obligations of common sense and tactfulness abroad when we cannot dispense with them in the United States?
It is true that priests are needed, and the Department of Missions would welcome applications from men who are attending the Catholic Congress.
Did I read that only Bibles and Prayer Books were needed? The latest number of The Spirit of Missions complains of the lack of such books in the mission stations of Liberia. What have you done about it? And, if I may be permitted to go beyond the minimum above laid down, why should our heroic native priests in Mexico be limited to mere elements of theology in their reading? Here are young men, who at their Bishop's word, would go with a smile to death. Who would not be loyal to Dr. Creighton, a priest of God who accepted, with apostolic spirit, the Church's call to the episcopate in a land seething with revolution, in a land apparently devoted to the persecution of religion? Apostle, yes, and also statesman; winning the trust of the government without earning the resentment of the Roman Church. Here is a challenge to someone present tonight to arrange for the publication of at least one of Dr. Barry's invaluable books, in Spanish, e.g., Meditations of the Apostles' Creed. Such an undertaking would be not a wise venture [116/117] in business but a glorious adventure in Christianity. The King's business requireth haste.
Only a non-Catholic Church can rest content with a policy which cuts down the number of young men and women who can be sent out to carry the Good News to all nations. It is not in accordance with facts to say that the Church is suffering from a lack of laymen with economical instincts; it does want sufficient priests with missionary vision. It is one thing to chafe at our material limitations; it is quite another to be satisfied with an expenditure which gives evidence of an impoverished spiritual life. There is a jarring, clashing discord when "Pay as you Go" is heard on the same wave-length as "Go ye into all the World." They ought to be kept at least five hundred kilocycles apart, the former on a low wave, in the graveyard of radio stations which have little of general interest to broadcast.
Catholics cannot and will not endure so intolerable a situation. When the sacrifices, the zeal, and the solidarity which we employ in other directions are brought to bear upon this problem and the whole Church aroused not only to its Catholic character but also to its Catholic raison d'être—namely, world-wide evangelization—then our Congresses will be bearing eternal fruit.
Is not this indeed our objective? There should be no absence of zeal on our part, for there is no dearth of stimulus in the written record of the Church's work. The Spirit of Missions is filled with thrills. There is heroism: heroism to meet sudden, startling, unreasonable, unmerciful demands; heroism to endure the long-drawn torture of loneliness. It is not of this, however, that I speak. The message of the living, loving God preached to those who have put their trust in stone and stubble; the guiding hand of the Incarnate Christ leading men and women to Light; the Baptism of souls into the [117/118] Kingdom of God; the picture of thousands kneeling to receive devoutly the very Body and Blood of our Lord from the hands of our priests:—when we cease to be stirred by such romantic facts, when we forget to thank God for his thrilling spread of His saving Gospel, it is high time to inquire into the exact nature of the joy we experience on learning that another parish has introduced incense or Benediction. Surely we can recognize essentials and appreciate the fact that our Church is spreading abroad a Gospel which does "Open the eyes of the Gentiles and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me." These words of our Lord to St. Paul, I maintain, are truly descriptive of the purpose and result of the labors of the Episcopal Church. It isn't a question of God's ability to bless Protestant missions, for the Episcopal Church is Catholic—not because we think so, but because she is.
At this point it may not be improper for me to share with you a possible secret. The Board of Missions in the past, the National Council in the present, have actually been guilty of errors of judgment. Under our present system every item is scrutinized by soft-hearted clergymen and hard-headed laymen as carefully as atoms are by scientists. A Committee on Evaluation has out-Congressed Congress in investigating "281." In turn this Committee has been evaluated by sub-committees. Even so, it is possible that the members of the National Council will blunder in the future, despite Committees to the right of them and Catholics to the left of them. The Church cannot afford to delegate her essential missionary character. Constant watchfulness and criticism are essentials of true progress. Is it entirely out of place to suggest that criticism by those who are not playing the game, [118/119] is ordinarily resented by mere mortals? In the very forefront of those entitled to a respectful hearing we may place the monks of the Order of the Holy Cross, for they resolutely and enthusiastically "play the game." They are Catholics.
I plead for a true estimate of the soul-saving activities of this Catholic Church. I plead for renewed zeal and enthusiasm on your part, such as will lead the Church out of the mire of complacency into which at present it seems to have sunk. Will you not do it? God knows we can!
* * * * *
Doubtless, some of you, perhaps many of you, are disappointed in this attempt of mine to speak to Catholics on the Missionary Charter of the Church. I might have linked a chain of expository paragraphs, emphasizing in turn the tremendous importance of each one of the following words: Go, Ye, Into, All, etc. In place of so Protestant a procedure, I have tried to deal with fundamentals. We can indeed find reflected in the New Testament words of our Lord which, gathered together, would seem to construct a charter. There is that wonderfully human appeal, "I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: naked and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me." There is the passage, previously quoted, in which our Lord reveals His purpose to St. Paul. The parables would find a place, and surely the Lord's Prayer. At the end, not at the beginning, the Marching Orders of the Church. A strong case may be made out for a charter. But what need have we of a charter when the New Testament as a whole and the writings of the Fathers show that missions are of the very essence of Catholicism? Evangelization is the immediate cause, not [119/120] merely an important incident, of the Church's existence. It is of the very substance, of the very life-stuff of Christianity; it is the rhythm of the heartbeat of the Church.
As a new guest, I promise that I shall not overstay my welcome, for much that might be said will be left to another visitor in another year, and what must be said tonight will be compressed most rigorously.
Are you cognizant of the Church's missionary policy in lands where the Eastern Orthodox Communion and the lesser Eastern Churches are at work? In those countries we strive, so far as the means at our disposal permit us, to strengthen these ancient Churches. Do you know about Father Bridgeman who is teaching in the Armenian Seminary on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, whose support comes from the Good Friday Offering? Do you know about Father Panfil, who in Mosul is endeavoring to re-establish the ancient Church of the East, whose people today use the very language which flowed from the lips of the Christ? This is far from being a new policy, for the very first article in the first number of The Spirit of Missions in 1836 describes a mission of help to the Church of Greece.
Are you acquainted with the Church's policy in this country, in her dealings with these ancient communions? Greek and Russian, Serbian and Syrian, Armenian and Assyrian, Bulgarian and Rumanian and others,—we hope to see them all united in one American Orthodox Catholic Church with a liturgy in English. It is not a vain hope, for necessity is forcing its realization. We of the West will find ourselves neighbors to American Orthodoxy whose bishops will, as almost all of them do even now, look upon us as fellow churchmen. Has this any bearing on Church unity? I am content to leave the answer even to non-vivid imagination.
 What about our Church's policy in Central and South America, where the Roman Communion is represented? I am not sure that there is a definite policy. However, as one of those who protested most vigorously against our participation in the Panama Conference of 1915, I submit that complete reunion of Christianity will not be within the scope of realization until Rome welcomes our endeavors to strengthen Catholicism in places where her representatives have not sought first of all the Kingdom of Heaven. The American Church, I am convinced, cannot face God with the proverbial excuse of a New York policeman: "Sorry, it's off my beat."
All too briefly have I touched on certain missionary policies which testify to the Church's consciousness of her character. They have been mentioned in order to give force to my main contention: that the Episcopal Church is driven by the divine energy of the Holy Spirit into the glorious adventure of evangelization by her recognition that only so can she find a Catholic excuse for existence. These policies are in full harmony with the missionary object of the Church as set forth by the Lambeth Conference of 1920. "We aim immediately at the planting of Church life and order in all lands, at the formation of Churches, not only the conversion of individuals; Churches which from the very first shall be active centers of evangelization; at extending not the Anglican Church with its special characteristics, but the Holy Catholic Church in its essentials, which each new Church, as it grows up, may exhibit under characteristics of its own. Ultimately, we aim at all that is hoped for in the coming of the Kingdom of God."
The spiritual needs of the world are tremendous, the problem of meeting them often perplexing, the number of men and women interested far too small to augur success. But we have the promise of the day by day [121/122] assistance of the presence of our Lord, who said, "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." It is helpful to realize that this promise is fulfilled in the daily mass and in the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament; but we dare not forget that it followed immediately upon the command, "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."