Project Canterbury

The Catholic Revival and the Kingdom of God
Addresses and Papers Delivered at the Sixth Catholic Congress of the Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, October 22 to 26, 1933

Milwaukee: Morehouse; London: A.R. Mowbray, 1933.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2011

The Revival of Personal Devotion
Bishop of Vermont

IN HIS MEMORABLE SERMON preached at Oxford on July 14th, 1933, Fr. Talbot said: "The Movement . . . brought back into the currency of our Church's conviction the great article of the Creed—'I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.' . . . The leaders of the Movement did not propose to give the Church a Catholic character. That they were sure it had always possessed; . . . Lethargy and worldliness had done their best to blur the lineaments of the Church's face; now, therefore, it was for its faithful sons to set clear its outline, to vindicate its divine origin, its autonomy and distinctness, to stir up the gift that lay unused within it; above all, by the power of holiness in lives taught and sustained within it, to illustrate its supernatural character."

With such a statement in the background of our thinking we can at once realize the close connection that exists between Catholic doctrine and Catholic devotion. To develop this idea of the interrelation between doctrine and devotion we have singled out for special consideration three ideas from Fr. Talbot's notable words: (1) The vindication of the divine origin of the Church of England; (2) Stirring up the gift within us; (3) The power of holiness, the best illustration of the supernatural character.

We should like to refer to some of the devotional writings of Dr. Pusey and Fr. Benson and to show how they followed this general line of development, how they returned to Holy Scripture and to the early Church as the starting point of all revelation, and how this relation resulted inevitably in the response of the individual soul.

[29] We should like to point out how the interplay of these two movements: revelation and response; God seeking man and man seeking God, inevitably results in the fruit of the spiritual life which is true devotion, the goal of the individual even as it is of the Church. This thesis we believe the early Tractarians set forth clearly, and it is this same concept of moving love, centered in the will of God and in the will of man, which has been growing for the past century in the Anglican communion, expressing itself in individuals, in religious communities, in social ministry, and in missionary activities. It is this same moving love which has come down to us and is the heart of this great Congress here today. Neither time nor ability allow me to do more than outline what seem to be the essentials of this revival of personal devotion. But we believe it is these spiritual principles that connect the Tractarians with the Religious communities, which in turn connect them with the Retreat Movement; and it is this movement especially which is bringing the revival of devotion most intimately into the life of individual souls. It is this inner pulsing spiritual vitality that seems to be the heart of the revival, so far as personal devotion is concerned.

In a little book edited by Canon Liddon containing the private prayers of Dr. Pusey [Private Prayers (Longmans).] we learn much of his devotional life. It is significant to note how he places the sign of the Cross at the beginning of all prayers, and how he inscribes them "in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." But most significant of all is the way all his devotions, centered in the Holy Communion, lead up to and came from that great act. It is noteworthy how he weaves into his private devotions the words of Holy Scripture. For instance, after the prayer of Consecration he says:

"My Jesus, I adore Thee, I love Thee, I trust in Thee, [29/30] I glorify Thee with my whole heart, I lie at Thy sacred feet with Magdalen that Thou mayest look on me. Say, dearest Lord, to my soul, Thy sins are forgiven Thee. Like the woman with the issue of blood, let me touch Thy sacred robe, and let virtue come forth from Thee to me. Like St. Thomas may I touch that sacred side and let me know and feel that Thou art my Lord and my God."

Here we can partly realize how closely identified were his Communions and his meditations. Prayer to him was always the great work of the Christian. All his power seemed to come from that one source; and all his difficulties were borne by that solace. In one of the most intense moments of his life, shortly after Newman's going over to the Roman Church, Pusey writes:

"May not we have forfeited him because there was comparatively so little love and prayer? And so now in this critical stage of the Church, the most perilous crisis through which it has ever passed, must not our first lesson be increase of prayer."

Then he goes on with those memorable words which show so clearly his faith in the organic conception of the Church:

"The gift of life in our Church has not been the mere stirring of individuals, the life has sprung up in our Church and through it. Thoughtful persons abroad have been amazed and impressed with this. It is not through their agencies or through their writings, but through God's Holy Spirit dwelling in our Church, vouchsafed through His ordinances, teaching us to value them more deeply, to seek them more habitually, to draw fresh life from them, that this life has sprung up, enlarged and deepened. He who loved us amid negligence so as to give us the earnest desire to please him will surely not forsake us now that he has given that desire."

We see here how Dr. Pusey holds to the divine origin of the Church of England; how he centered his devotion in the Bible and in the Church's discipline. He repeatedly shows how we must learn to give ourselves to God, to break with [30/31] self and to deny self in all ways. In these counsels Dr. Pusey teaches us that the center of devotion is in the will and that devotion and discipline are intimately interlocked. We realize this when we remember that he frequently said his Mass at four o'clock in the morning, not to mention his great emphasis on fasting and on other austerities. Even a superficial knowledge of this great master makes one realize that the life of personal devotion is among the very highest of all the arts. It is little wonder that Canon Liddon, his great biographer, when preaching to candidates for holy orders, should have urged them to adhere most strictly to the Church's law and discipline. He knew full well that the laws of the soul as they came to us through the Church must be obeyed if we are to find peace and joy. Surely this we learn most vividly from Dr. Pusey.

We have singled out Dr. Pusey as one of the great masters of the spiritual life and as one who was typical of the early Tractarians. These holy men handed on such examples of devotion and learning that it is little wonder that many souls early regained the vision of complete self-dedication to God under the vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience. The devotional life as it has come on to us through the religious communities is perhaps the loveliest flowering of the Revival. Of the great leaders, men and women, who founded religious communities we can here refer only to one—Richard Meux Benson. Through him the principles of the devotional life which we have been trying to learn were set forth with special clearness and effectiveness. Like the masters before him, he was very simple and very searching. He seemed the entire syntax of devotion in the Lord's Prayer. He spoke of it as: "The germ of all other devotions, the summary of all divine colloquies, given to us not only that we might say it when it suited us, but for us to say at all times, because a want which it did not suit would be a want unmete for expression at all."

[32] In his remarkable little book called Divine Rule of Prayer, or "Instructions upon the Lord's Prayer, with various forms of analysis and paraphrase," one is able to perceive some of the underlying laws of the devotional life. One is led on more and more to realize that prayer is in very deed a science, and that the discipline and development of the soul is the highest form of theological study. Catholic devotion inevitably tends to a correspondence in the life of the individual to those great principles, which like all other laws have existed in the divine order from Eternity. So Fr. Benson goes back and quotes the fathers and shows how St. Cyprian taught that there was nothing omitted from this prayer; nothing that is not included in this compendium of heavenly teaching. He quotes from St. Augustine and from St. Thomas Aquinas, and from many other masters as he sets out on his great work of showing the hidden meaning of this most perfect of all devotions.

Perhaps most enlightening of all his treatment is the way he shows the interrelation between the words of the Lord's Prayer and countless passages of Holy Scripture. This prayer sets before us the principles of the divine order of the new kingdom. Again the concepts of the divine origin of life and redemption, of complete self-giving, and the way of spiritual growth are clearly taught.

The divine prayer was in truth the germ of all true prayer, but it had to be pondered over and interpreted through experience before it could really penetrate our minds and transform our character. So it is with grace itself, all is given at baptism but only years of discipline can enable us to realize the meaning of that gift. Fr. Benson one time said that the religious vows added nothing to the baptismal vows, they simply sharpened the nails which bind us to the Cross. The science and art of our response to God's call, this growing inner awareness of His presence, is the secret of all Christian vocation. This was the special work of Richard Meux Benson [32/33] and he accomplished it most wonderfully in his Retreats. Year after year for four weeks at a time he would lead his Retreatants through the great exercises of the spiritual life, following the way of the masters in strict obedience to Catholic tradition, always aiming to further personal holiness, "without which no man shall see the Lord."

The revival of the Religious Life has meant among many other things the revival of the quest for the ordered life, both on the part of the clergy and of the laity. Thousands have caught the vision from monk and nun of a simple and complete dependence upon God and of a supernatural peace. This has resulted in a quickened sense of Christian vocation. Many are now coming to realize that holiness through obedience to spiritual law is the one goal for all Christians. This goal can only be attained through devotion and this in loving free obedience to the laws of the spiritual life as set forth in the Catholic Church. What the religious did in communities, secular priests have been striving in one degree or another to do in private life. As the rule was the structural plan of the community, so must it be in the ordered life of priest or layman. Devotion cannot be left to chance but must be deliberately grounded upon those abiding principles which have been tested through the experience of the Church and have proved to have within them the power to bind the soul ever more closely to Almighty God. The essence of this abiding devotion or obligation has ever centered in the will to pray. The careful adherence to the laws of the Church is not incidental to the development of true devotion, it is of the essence. So the rule of life is of vital importance in the building up of personal devotion. This the Religious Orders and Retreat conductors have repeatedly taught. Here the Revival comes most intimately in touch with personal devotion in the Church today. The underlying principles of the Retreat Movement are in the main the same as those taught [33/34] in the early days of the Revival, and those carried on and exemplified in Religious communities. This movement then deserves our careful consideration. The Retreat is in the life of the individual what the Religious community is in the life of the Church at large. The withdrawal from the world is a vivid reminder of God's claim on all. Separation from the natural order emphasizes the contrast between the Creator and His creation. Silence is to the soul the symbol of the Eternal. In Retreat all speaks of the divine origin and all calls forth a complete response. In such an atmosphere the words of Holy Scripture, the work of the Holy Spirit, the witness of the Holy Church, the call of the Holy living, the reality of Holy dying, all united as one great upward pull upon the soul. The recent growth of this movement is indeed noteworthy.

In 1856 Dr. Pusey gave his first Retreat. In 1879 Retreats had become popular in England, but it was not until 1911 that there was a first regular Retreat House established. But in 1925, eight hundred priests made Retreats, fifteen hundred men and boys; and during the year a total of eight thousand people in England had gone off on this quest—a closer walk with God. The Retreat Movement as we have said has been the expansion of some of the principles of the Religious life. It has come directly from those ordered communities and is pulsing today into almost every diocese in the Church of England.

In passing it would seem fair to say that we in this country have been very slow in learning the lessons which the Mother Church of England has to teach in the life of devotion; lessons which the Religious communities are ever witnessing to; lessons which the Masters of the devout life make clear in everything that they set forth; lessons which we must learn if we are to take our part in building up the Kingdom of God.

What in brief, then, is this Retreat Movement? [34/35] It is indeed the Catholic Movement reproduced in the life of the soul. It is the personal recognition of the Eternal threefold way of God's enfolding love—the Eternal God—Creator—Redeemer—Sanctifier—the Abiding Revelation—the Changeless One—the Divine Head of Wisdom—the Foundation of Knowledge—the Source of All Life—the One upon whom all depends. Words are too small for such concept. Only the one living word can suffice. He comes in the silence by His Spirit; He calls; He leads; He teaches; He conducts the Retreat, even as He would conduct each individual Retreatant through life. Thus this Eternal foundation, this divine origin of all, this givenness of love, demands all and calls forth again a more perfect response. Here the second stage of the movement is from man to God. It must be definite, it must be thorough. The cleansing process or purgation above all else must be honest. Of course the revival of devotion according to this plan results in increased confessions. This is the normal stage in the process of the soul's growth. All must be built on that which is true, for God is true. Surely the time has come for us to have done with the idea that confession is partisan. It is not only Catholic but today we know it is scientific and practically often necessary for the life of the soul. We must ever remember in deep humility that no individual or group originates anything in the Divine Order of Redemption. We as groping children learn through our failures and through our tears, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, ultimately to find our way back unto Him who is the Way, the Truth, the Light.

The spiritual leaders today, in particular Fr. F. P. Harton in his able book, Elements of the Spiritual Life, [Macmillan, 1932.] like those of old, are showing how the laws of the Kingdom and the laws of personal devotion must correspond. They originate in God; this is the Faith; this is our Faith. [35/36] They return to God; this is the Hope; this is our Hope. They are bound by God; this is His Love and it is our Love. We here begin to ascend the ladder that connects earth with heaven. Thus every soul is little by little learning to take his place in the great procession, the pilgrimage homeward. If the present situation has in it one lesson which stands out more clearly than others, is it not that all false words, all lawless and faithless professions, are already doomed; even as all true and honest efforts, all loving obedience and fidelity are already blessed and victorious? Here is the source of Catholic courage, "Love never fails." Here is the power of the endless life. He says to us as He said of old: "Fear not little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." With faithful hearts for a glorious heritage we may all be sure that there are none too low for Him to raise, none too weak for Him to strengthen, no limitations that He cannot work through, if through all we can remember that all comes from Him, is to be lived with Him, and is to be given back to Him, even as all is done for Him. How beautifully Dr. Pusey expresses this thought in the following words:

"If we be faithful and humble, God will increase our faith by enabling us to obey more faithfully, and will strengthen our sight by enabling us to do what we now see. As in our daily walk we come nearer towards heaven, He will open to us more of heaven. And so the veil which sin laid upon our sight being taken away, 'we all with open face beholding, as in a glass, the Glory of the Lord,' studying His countenance, watching His looks, seeking to have His gracious and compassionate look cast upon us in the midst of our frailties and infirmities, may catch some faint reflections of its brightness, and be changed into the image whereon we gaze, which we love, which in our weakness we would long to copy and so be transfused into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord."

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