Project Canterbury

The Catholic Life

Addresses and Papers Delivered at the Fourth Annual Catholic Conference
New York City, November 13th to 15th, 1928.

Auspices of the Central Conference of Associated Catholic Priests.

Milwaukee: Morehouse
London: A. R. Mowbray, 1929.

Sermon at the Opening Service in Church of St. Mary the Virgin

Lord Bishop of Algoma

CONGRESSES no longer possess the charm of novelty, for quite a number have now been held in London, in other great cities of England, and in various parts of the Episcopal Church. In spite of this, however, I think we do well to begin our Congress by asking what we are setting out to do. The object of our Congress is twofold—to deepen our own hold of the Eternal Verities, to unfold more and more before our eyes the beauties of the Catholic Faith; and to a second, but not less important degree, to proclaim to the world what it is that we live and are prepared to die for, in order that the truth we hold may spread out into wider and ever wider circles.

It seems to me a useful thing then, that, at the outset of such a Congress, before we come to the discussion of some of the great articles of our belief, we should in the opening service ask ourselves where we stand and what we stand for—in fact, why we are Anglicans and yet call ourselves Catholics. What does the Catholic Movement—I hate to call it a party, since the very idea of Catholicity transcends all bounds of parties—what does the Catholic Movement in the Anglican communion stand for, and why are we so insistent in giving up our whole lives to its propagation in the world?

First of all, then, let us clear our minds by mentioning one or two things that we emphatically do not stand for. For, just as the Faith in the primitive ages of the Church was hopelessly misunderstood, during the first three centuries of our era, by the civil authorities of the Roman Empire, by the Jews, and by the philosophers of the heathen world, none of whom had the slightest idea what Christianity stood for, so our aims, since the days when the Oxford Revival began to spread in so remarkable a way, have been persistently misunderstood, are still persistently misunderstood, even by many of our fellow Churchmen, certainly by the daily press, and by that mythical addict of the open-air life, the "man in the street."

We do not stand, then, for any insidious attempt to bring the Anglican communion under the yoke of the Vatican, to tie ourselves down to the decrees of the Council of Trent. We are Catholics, but Anglican Catholics, and Anglican we mean to remain until the day dawns, as it will assuredly dawn in God's good time, when union with the See of St. Peter is possible without absorption into the modern Roman system.

Neither are we mere Medievalists whose desire is to roll back the scroll of history, to cut ourselves off from the stream of modern thought, to repudiate all that the centuries of Science and Philosophy have taught us, and to concentrate our energies on restoring the tone and temper, the ritual and ceremonies of the Middle Ages. We Anglicans are twentieth century men and women aiming to keep ourselves abreast of the best thought of our day, citizens of the modern world in which we would fain bear a worthy part of its toil and take our share in solving its problems.

Why such things should be thought and said about us is rather remarkable for, so far from being members of some secret body of conspirators engaged in a deep-laid plot, our aims are singularly simple and clear, our principles clear-cut and incisive, and it is our earnest aim and constant endeavor to make them as widely known and publicly recognized as possible. Otherwise why hold Catholic Congresses at all, unless it be our intention to proclaim as widely as we can the vital truths on which we lay so much stress? But to come at once to the positive side of our subject: First, then, we hold that the Catholic Faith is the full faith—Christianity in all its fulness—and that Protestant belief presents only a partial view of the teaching of the Christian Church, an emasculated Christianity. For too long has our Church been brought up on Protestant negations. It is no doubt a good thing, and sometimes a positive duty, as at the time of the Reformation, to protest against evils, but one cannot live on protests. As well might we try to feed a man by telling him what foods are dangerous and which of them contain no nourishment. Under Divine guidance the Church has been led to insert in her chief Creeds nothing but affirmations. The Apostles' and Nicene Creeds contain no negations—they are collections of positive statements. Even in days of bitter controversy the Church has been guided to see that the right way to combat false teaching is to insist positively on the statement of the truth. But there are many forms of religion, enjoying great popularity nowadays, which, in their desire to protest against error, omit whole tracts of the teaching of the Bible even where they do not actually contradict them. Even among ourselves there are those who would concentrate on the Sermon on the Mount and practically ignore the whole Sacramental System. Yet the Sacraments are every bit as much a part of the Gospel as that Sermon or the Lord's miracles; and modern scholarship has proved, what the Catholic Church always has known, that the religion of Saint Paul and the other Apostles of the Lord is Sacramental through and through. The same Lord who said, "Blessed are the pure in heart," also said, "Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," and, "Do this in remembrance of Me." This attenuated type of Christianity makes but little, too, of the Apostolic Orders of the Ministry as if these were something that does not greatly matter, and regards all creeds as practically negligible. It is the full faith of the Catholic which lays proper stress on all these points, regarding the Sacred Ministry as the divinely ordered means through which our Blessed Lord conveys to His people those spiritual gifts which He ascended up on high to bestow upon us, and the Creeds as the very foundation upon which the Christian plants his feet in his passage through a dark world. The Catholic faith differs from all desiccated Christianity by teaching the faith in all its richness and fulness.

Secondly, our faith is the ancient faith of the ages, the only firm basis on which doctrine can be built. In this generation of continual change, old land-marks are being altered with astonishing rapidity, old customs changing, opinion is in a perpetual state of flux, theories grow into systems and are again destroyed over-night. But the old faith does not alter, for Religion deals with the relation between man and his Maker, and God knows no change, "the same yesterday, today, and for ever." Neither does human nature change in what is fundamental, and though old customs pass away and are succeeded by new, though outwardly man's life alters from age to age, often most profoundly, yet the fundamental needs of man do not greatly alter. And it is deep down to these that religion makes its appeal—it is man's profoundest needs that it satisfies. His relationship to his God, then, does not change fundamentally, and he still needs, and always will need to the end of time, the old Catholic faith. We see no necessity, therefore, to invent a new religion for every generation as it passes across the scene of human life and endeavor; old faith will satisfy every want and we believe that what many call the "reconstruction" of Christianity means a destruction of Christianity.

Yet, in the third place, we nevertheless hold that it is the duty of the Church to be continually taking the old unchanging Catholic Faith and applying it to the changing problems of the day in which we live. One and unalterable as it is, the Faith needs to be explained in terms which the modern man can understand and appreciate, and to be applied to the solution of the problems of the men and women of our time. A recent writer has well said, "Catholics have nothing to fear, but everything to gain, from a fearless facing of modern knowledge. Cautious we must be, and our very Catholicity helps us to hold fast to that which has proved of spiritual value to former generations. But let us not be obscurantist. The spirit of free enquiry is abroad, and if we would commend historic Christianity to the twentieth century, we must present it in twentieth century terms." [A good example of this attitude is afforded by the great Bible Commentary recently issued under the editorship of Bishop Gore, which exhibits Anglo-Catholics as ready to accept whole-heartedly the results of the most modern scholarship.] There is a true modernism and it is found in the teaching of Catholic theologians and preachers. What is wrong with the spurious modernism of so many in the present day who call themselves Modernists is that in claiming to explain the faith they altogether explain it away. For what else but explaining away is it when we are told that the Lord Jesus did not actually come forth alive from the empty tomb but that the dead Master still lives in the lives and memories of His followers, and this is all that the resurrection means; that all men are sons of God and that the Saviour was only so to a more perfect degree than you and I—this is not to explain the Incarnation but to explain it away; or that on the Cross all that our Lord did was to give the supreme example of what is meant by self-sacrifice, a sacrifice superior in degree, it is true, but not different in character from that of one of our boys who lays down his life on the battle-field. What is this but simply to explain away the doctrine of the Atonement? But to take these fundamental truths of the old Catholic religion, the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Resurrection, and to show what they should mean to the modern mind, how wonderfully they satisfy modern needs, what should be their influence on modern practice and the uplift which they give to modern aim and endeavor—this is what the true modernism aims at. And this attitude towards dogma is, I believe, the supreme contribution which our Anglican Church has to make to the sum-total of the religious forces of our day. Holding fast to the faith of the ages, the faith of the Catholic creeds, neither correcting them here and there nor altogether supplanting them by new faiths" (which after all are mainly a re-hash of heresies as old as the second century of our era), our mother Church at the same time guards herself alike against the unbending orthodoxy of the Eastern Churches which would squeeze themselves into the mould of the first nine centuries of the Church as if thought had stood still since then, and against the hard legalistic spirit so characteristic of the modern Roman Church. This is why so many profound thinkers have from time to time thought of Ecclesia Anglicana as a divine instrument in the fulness of times for bringing together and repairing the torn rents in the seamless robe of Christ, the "bridge Church" by which reunion is to be effected.

My fourth point is that the Catholic movement stands for religion as a guide to the every-day life. To study the Faith, to seek to expound it, to lead men to love, admire, and desire it, to see in it the solution to life's deepest problems—all this is worthy of the best endeavors of the greatest minds among us, but it is not in itself enough. We must live the Catholic faith. It is only when men see what a difference it makes to our lives, how it uplifts and ennobles and beautifies our characters that they will be attracted towards it. Religion of the study, the library, and the lecture room will never of itself convert the world. For in religion there is always something to be done. Justification by faith alone is one of the most precious doctrines of the religion of Christ, yet it was the great Apostle of Justification by faith who, when uplifted by the heavenly vision that changed the whole current of his life and turned Saul the persecutor into Paul the missionary, asked the question, "Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do?" The sacramental system lays stress upon this, for in sacraments there is always something to be done—the water to be applied in Baptism, the sins to be confessed in Penance, the preparation to be made and the hands to be stretched forth in Communion, the offer of the consecrated life to be made in Ordination, and so on. Grace has been won for us by the Precious Blood, it is true, but grace has to be appropriated by the individual believer and taken to himself and made use of.

My Brethren, only by example shall we convert the world. We Catholics are being watched, continually watched, alike by friend and foe, and the ultimate success of the Catholic movement depends on the estimate of the value of our religion which men gain from seeing its influence upon our lives. Does a belief in the power of prayer, in the value of the sacramental life, of coming regularly to Confession and Communion, of assisting at the great Eucharistic offering, of taking part in the worship of the Risen and Ascended Master truly present upon our altars—does all this result in a life of personal holiness and gentleness and Christian love? As Dr. Barry said in his inspiring sermon at the Albany Congress last year, "The Church is here in the world for the purpose of creating saints." Well, are you and I on the road to becoming more like saints?

The last point which I have time for today is this—We Catholics stand for Evangelism. The Faith is no mere individualistic matter, a means for saving our own souls. Its social side is an integral part of our religion. We cannot be true Catholics so long as we are content to share in our beautiful services of Adoration, to be uplifted and inspired by our most Holy Faith, and yet to hold ourselves aloof from the sin and ignorance and vulgarity of the world. Into the slums we must go, on fire to save souls for Christ. Yet must we not confess that our Protestant brethren often put us completely to shame in this? Catholics are too apt to be satisfied so long as the wealthy, the educated, and the refined are won over to join our ranks. It was not so with the great leaders of our movement. Lowder spent his life in tending the festering sore of London, the London docks; Dolling labored for years amidst the horrible poverty and vice of Portsmouth; Mackonochie and Stanton began their work in a coal-cellar in one of the poorest slums of London, where the roughs disturbed the services by shouting Halleluias through the grating. And countless others, leaving all that they held dear, have gone out to carry the faith into the wilds of Africa, to the teeming millions of India and China, to the Japs poisoned by their materialistic atmosphere, to the head-hunters of Borneo, the cannibals of the Southern Seas. Zanzibar Cathedral stands on the spot where men and women were sold like cattle. My brethren, we are no true Catholics unless we recognize our duty towards the poor and the heathen and are on fire to do all that we can to fulfil that task. The Catholic movement in our Church will die out unless it includes, not merely a handful of rich and cultured souls, but a vast army of the poor and ignorant and dirty who join with us in worshipping Christ as the Supreme King and Saviour of all mankind.

I often think that one reason why the Catholic revival made such wonderful strides in its early days was because its priests went to the poor and were persecuted. Mobs invaded their churches, egged on by the keepers of beer-houses and owners of houses of vice. Mud and stones were thrown at them. They often had to be protected by the police in the streets. The rulers of the Church, who should have known better, were suspicious of Romish practices, did their best to prevent their teaching and worship, and at best ignored them. The praise of men seldom came their way. Preferment and promotion in the Church was never theirs. Our circumstances are, of course, quite different; and we have to endure none of that on this continent, and I believe we suffer from not having it. A little persecution would do us a world of good, would weed out the half-hearted, would brace us up, would harden us.

All the more reason, then, that we should discipline ourselves, that we should not be simply men who like the Catholic presentation of religion because it is so beautiful, because it satisfies the artistic side of our nature with its music and incense and flowers and lights and gorgeous robes and dignified ceremonial. Helpful as all this is, it is not enough. The Catholic faith means, above all, the humiliation of confessing our sins, the hardness of fighting against them, self-denial and fasting, self-restraint, sack-cloth and ashes. The Church calls upon us each year, before taking part in the great festival of Christmas, to pass through the heart-searching days of Advent, with its reminder of judgment to come; before rejoicing at Easter, to subdue the flesh by the long fast of Lent. The Catholic faith, my brethren, must be taken as a whole, otherwise it is merely another form of choosing in our religion just what we like and ignoring what is difficult and unpleasant. And this choosing for ourselves just what pleases us is of the very essence of all anti-Catholic heresy and will never produce in our lives the kind of character which Christ our Master longs to see in us.

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