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 Worth of the Individual
of the Order of the Holy Cross

IT MAY SEEM SUPERFLUOUS and unnecessary to say that the meaning of the title of this paper is the Worth of the Individual Person. In common parlance the two words "individual" and "person" are well-nigh interchangeable. I could say that there are so many individuals in this hall, or so many persons; the expressions would mean to you precisely the same.

Yet, upon further consideration, it becomes clear that it is not only possible, but highly important, to distinguish between personality and individuality, and that to speak of an "individual person" is not tautology.

It will be well to illustrate this at the start.

To call a man an individual is to declare that he is in a certain sense complete in himself, that he is one and only one. No degrees are possible. A man cannot be more an individual or less. He cannot be partly one individual and partly another. Whatever changes he may undergo, he is still an individual; one, unique, and single, "one all alone."

On the other hand, there may be many degrees of personality. An infant is as much an individual as he will ever be, but he is not yet conscious of himself as a person. His personality is nascent and undeveloped. He is already involved in many natural relations—to his father and mother, to his brothers and sisters, to the nation in which he was born, to the whole human race. Above all, he is an immortal soul, created to be a child of God. But at first he is only dimly conscious of some of these relations. His thought, such [49/50] as it is, is objective. He is not "self-conscious." He speaks of himself in the third person—"Johnny wants it." It is an hour of immense significance and of eternal import when the child for the first time says "I." Tennyson states this in poetic form:

"The baby new to earth and sky,
What time his tender palm is prest
Against the circle of the breast,
Has never thought that 'this is I.'

"But as he grows he gathers much,
And learns the use of 'I,' and 'me.'
And finds 'I am not what I see,
And other than the things I touch.'

"So rounds he to a separate mind
From whence clear memory may begin,
As thro' the frame that binds him in
His isolation grows defined."

And of course personality can grow, can develop. As first suggested, "personality is the possibility of fellowship," and is constituted in relation to other persons. As these relations increase, not merely in the number of persons with whom contact is established but in the depth of these relations—their intimacy, and fruitfulness, for human values—so personality enlarges, so does a man become more of a person.

In the history of the Old Testament we find that the individual Israelite came into relation with Jehovah through his place in the Chosen People, and the will of God was mediated to him through the divine commands issued to the whole people, or made known through some divine messenger.

It was by the development of Israel's morality and religion that a new emphasis was laid upon the individual [50/51] person. There is an increasing recognition of the moral responsibility, and the consequent spiritual dignity, of man as man, of each and every man. Responsibility and authority must go together. In holding the individual accountable for his own actions, he was made conscious that he was the arbiter of his own fate. He could make a choice. He could say "yes" or "no" to God, acknowledge his dependence upon God, or act in contradiction to His will.

We need to appreciate the witness that the Old Testament progressively bears to the worthfulness of the individual person before we consider the fuller testimony that comes to us in the great facts set before us in the New Testament.

Dr. H. Wheeler Robinson, in his work on the doctrine of man in the Scriptures and the Church, says:

"The close relation of man to God marks him off from the rest of Nature, and elevates him above it; the moral demands upon him witness to the deep meaning of human life; the sense of sin is the shadow cast by a religious experience that lifts man at his highest moments into fellowship with his Maker. Clearly we have here a presupposition of the greatest significance for the comprehension of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; humility and dignity are here met together."

One further consideration is necessary. The development of the individual was not allowed to suppress the truth involved in the recognition of "corporate personality." That truth found shape in the conception of the Kingdom of God. The phrase does not occur in the Old Testament, although the idea of God as the Ruler of all things is everywhere present. "God is the King of all the earth." We meet the phrase "the Kingdom of God" first in the Apocrypha, and constantly in the gospels of the New Testament. And in all the descriptions of the Kingdom of God the individual is seen more or less in personal relation with God and with others in Him.

[52] The New Testament carries on and completes the Old. Vinet says: "The glory of the Gospel lies in strengthening (the sense of individuality) in a few, awakening it in the majority, purifying it in all." There is nothing in the doctrine of Christ "for which the Old Testament does not supply a beginning and basis."

But another conception had been finding place in the Hebrew religion. God was not only the Creator and Ruler; He was also the Father, first of Israel as a people, then of David and his royal descendants, then of each individual Israelite. So the way was opening for the revelation to be made, in the Incarnation of the Only Begotten Son, that every soul is created to be the child of God.

It was this growing sense of God as "the Father" which tended to intensify the distinctiveness of the individual. "Around the two conceptions of divine Kingship and Fatherhood were destined to gather two primary principles of the Christian relation to God—the duty of absolute obedience, and the privilege of absolute trust."

The whole presentation of the individual in the New Testament centers round the Person of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. His teaching is the commentary on His own life. St. Luke speaks of all that Jesus "began both to do and teach." It was the fact that God had become Man, had made Himself, as Man, the Head of all men and of every man, which was to give unique and peculiar worth to human life in every individual, however poor, or ignorant, or debased, or degraded. It was the fact that the Son of Mary was the Eternal Son of God which was to establish the fact that every individual soul is created to hold a personal relation to God, the relation of Sonship.

The fundamental teaching of Jesus as to the individual is his supreme value as made in the image of God, made to attain to the likeness of God, made to become and to be a son of God. This is what is set forth in such parables as [52/53] those of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. "It is to the unrealized possibilities of human nature that Jesus appeals in seeking the 'lost'; the parables that portray this emphasize at once the attitude of the Father, the mission of Jesus, and the value to Both of what is 'lost.'"

But our Lord was not content with teaching this essential truth in WORDS; His whole active ministry illustrated it. "In His work among the poor and degraded classes of the society of His day, no depth even of moral degradation (as in the Magdalene) can hide from the eyes of Jesus the golden possibilities of a child of God."

But we should fail to appreciate the worth and importance of the individual person if we did not see that a personal relation must be mutual, that there must be activity on both sides.

The relation of God and man as Father and child requires of man, of each man, a free response to God. "The ideal son of God is characterized by this spirit of trustful obedience." Here the ideas of the kingdom and the family merge into one and the authority of the Father is His "kingly rule." This is what our Lord, in His perfect human nature, most completely disclosed as true in regard to every individual. "The kingly Fatherhood of God claims both trust and obedience on man's part. . . . The temptation of Jesus in the desert is to abandon the spirit of absolute dependence; the achievement of Jesus in Gethsemane is to manifest the spirit of absolute obedience."

Along with this new declaration of the Fatherhood—new in the emphasis placed upon it in our Lord's teaching, but infinitely more in our Lord's revelation of His own eternal Sonship in terms of His perfect Manhood—there is declared the importance of the individual person in his relation to his fellow men. This is what we mean by "the brotherhood of man." That phrase has become a cant expression for the solidarity of human nature. But that solidarity, [53/54] which makes "the whole world kin," has been corroded and dishonored by human selfishness and sin—"the inhumanity of man to man." If we are to consider the individual in his true estate, as made to be the child of God, then we must see that there can be no true brotherhood on earth save as it is made possible by a divine Fatherhood in heaven, and by the reconstructing of the broken unity of the race by the redemption of all human nature in the Crucified Son of Man. In Christ our nature has been brought back to the Father. As His sons—redeemed, regenerated, risen, in Christ—we can be actual brothers, "blood-brothers" in the Precious Blood of Jesus. The individual man or woman, baptized into Christ, can see in every human face that of a brother or sister, or one who is potentially such, and whom he is to be eager to welcome into the "blameless family of God."

Before we go on to consider the worth and importance of the individual person in his place in the Catholic society, it may help us to appreciate that importance if we note briefly some of the systems of thought or action which have minimized or denied that importance. I have taken extreme instances as furnishing an effective foil to the true value of the individual.

Chattel slavery in the social order and materialism as a philosophy in the academic field deprive the individual of the exercise of, or claim to, true personality—both of them deny the moral worth of the individual.

Chattel slavery has passed away in this country, but industrial slavery remains.

To an extent which it is impossible to estimate, the restiveness of man in the Western hemisphere, and the feverish dissatisfaction that is now stirring the vast undistinguished of the East, is due to the more or less conscious conviction that the opportunities for a life of developing personality are held in the grasp of the few; that the millions are [54/55] condemned, as the very price of existence, to relinquish their true freedom, to forfeit their privileges as creative personalities, to toil for others' wealth, and leave behind them the heritage of darkened spirits and bodies exhausted by unfruitful toil.

The economic theories of John Ruskin, scorned in his own day, are becoming commonplace. And his sarcasm has not lost its point. For example, take this passage:

"Nothing appears to me at once more ludicrous and more melancholy than the way people of the present age usually talk about the morals of the laborer . . . quietly assuming that he is to possess, at starting, as a small moral capital to begin with, the virtue of Socrates, the philosophy of Plato, and the heroism of Epaminondas."

After summarizing the kind of advice often given to the laborer, he continues:

"Before giving this advice so confidently, it would be well if we sometimes tried it practically ourselves, and spent a year or two at some hard manual labor, not of an entertaining kind—plowing or digging, for instance with a very moderate allowance of beer; nothing but bread and cheese for dinner; no papers nor muffins in the morning, no sofas nor magazines at night; one small room for parlor and kitchen; and a large family of children always in the middle of the floor. If we think we could, under these circumstances, enact Socrates or Epaminondas entirely to our own satisfaction, we shall be somewhat justified in requiring the same behavior from our poor neighbors; but if not, we should surely consider a little whether, among the various forms of oppression of the poor, we may not rank as one of the first and likeliest the oppression of expecting too much from them."

Is it necessarily "socialistic" to speak of such conditions as "wage slavery"? Are they not, in the great majority of individuals, fatal to an advancing personality?

It may be said, in rejoinder, that the NRA and the code [55/56] will change all this. No doubt technical science endows us with vast potentialities of achievement, but shall we be able to use this new endowment for individual lives? Why, then, this sense of futility and frustration? "The world asks whether Oswald Spengler and Bertrand Russell are right in denying that there is any meaning in history; whether there is any value or significance in the individual, as Communism and Individualism agree in denying."

The reference to Communism suggests the philosophy—one finds warrant in saying the "religion"—of Bolshevism. This goes far beyond the materialism of the last century in its extinction of the individual person. In a very striking article in the Hibbert Journal for last autumn (1932) Miss Petre describes "a gentle, humane youth" whom she had met and found to be "a genuine living product of Bolshevist philosophy, early soaked in its principles as much as the most convinced Christian in the truths of Christianity." She says:

"I found in this young Bolshevist such a renunciation of individual claims as could only be equalled by the highest types of sanctity among Christians, and yet that self-renunciation is, in the two cases, of a totally different character. The renunciation of the Christian consists in the wilful [Miss Petre must surely mean the willing or voluntary] sacrifice; he gives himself to God, he gives himself to his fellow men, and puts himself and all that he has at their service. The renunciation of the perfect Bolshevist, or Communist, could not properly be termed self-sacrifice; he does not give himself, but he is taken; he allows himself to be taken, and his sacrifice is completed by his wholehearted acceptance of his fate. If one were to employ theological terms to describe the subject, one would say that it would be a form of blasphemy, according to the Bolshevist creed, to speak of his renunciation as self-sacrifice. He is too wholly a part of the living mechanism, for and by which he exists, to be capable of wilful self-sacrifice. The ultimate recipient, the real substitute for the Christian God, is collective humanity. There is an absoluteness and inevitableness in the relationship of the individual [56/57] to society which there cannot be where the notion of personal relationship prevails."

One illustration will serve to clinch this statement. In a modern Russian play, a young wife is distressed by the infidelity of her husband. An older woman, a more complete Bolshevist, seeks to comfort her by saying: "Why should you mind? You know we are just female animals."

Animals, even human animals, are not persons; one wonders if, in such a philosophy, they are even individuals.

We have many lessons to learn from the gigantic experiment going on in Russia, and not all the lessons are warnings. But one lesson he who runs may read; that, as Miss Petre says: "It is God who just makes all the difference, for without Him there is no personality, and without personality there is, for us, no God. We always knew that He is our Beginning and our End—from Bolshevism we have learned that He is also our Escape."

Yes, the issue is becoming pellucidly clear. A choice must be made. The individual must be regarded as a means to an end within this created world—to increase the capital of an employer or a corporation, to gratify the ambition of autocratic rulers, or to satisfy the appetites of the strong—in other words to secure a larger supply of drabs, cannon fodder, or economic cogs. Or, on the other hand, the individual person must be held to be an end in himself, that is to say, created for no lower purpose than "to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever"; "to praise, reverence, and serve God, our Lord, and by this means to save his soul."

Only in seeking that end can the individual attain true freedom. As was said in a recent editorial in the Church Times:

"The only thing that can bring color and humanism into life is the realization of spiritual ends and their expression by material means. . . . Our demand is that the infinite worth of [57/58] human personality should not merely be respected but be made the basis of the social order. On every side there are forces at work which aim at reducing man to the level of the ape, the ant, and the domestic cow. This is not the true goal of human evolution. On the contrary, the crown and flower of evolution has been revealed in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. The only force which can bring security to human personality and recreate the civilization of mankind is the force of His Personality. There is no middle path. The world of these days must choose between being Christian and being sub-human."

From Bolshevism we may pass to the extreme opposite, to find there also the suppression of individual values. For here, as so often in human error, "extremes meet." The absoluteness of Bolshevism is almost equalled by the absoluteness of Calvinism. "The essence of religion [certainly of any true religion] is bound up with the duality of the Creator and the creature." If either the Creator or the creature is eliminated, there is no room for a personal relation, which is certainly essential to the Jewish-Christian faith. Protestantism, in its wide extent, represented a drift that went on, from the thirteenth century to the eighteenth, in many other fields besides that of organized religion—a drift away from autocracy and authority, and in the interest of self-assertive individualism. Yet in Calvinism there was the declaration of an inscrutable and resistless Will which left no place for man as a "certain center of self-determination." If in Bolshevism God was nothing for man—the "collective humanity"—was all, in extreme Calvinism "man was nothing where God was all."

This finds expression in one with whom we cannot in all respects agree, but who has the gift of clear and effective statement, Paul Elmer More. "Behind all faith," he says, "beyond all reliance on the arms of power and mercy outstretched to help from the invisible heavens, undisturbed by any dogma of vicarious atonement, lies the plain fact that [58/59] man, as a creature possessed of free will, cannot shirk the ultimate responsibility for his own fate. That may not be the whole truth, indeed no fact at the last is quite simple and one-sided, but it is an aspect of the truth, an element of experience, which can be neglected only at a terrible risk of spiritual agony, if not despair. Cowper and other ruins along the path of Christianity show what may happen when salvation is referred to the will of God alone. To deny the human will is to leave man the prey of fluctuating and in the end wrecking emotions. He who desires happiness and peace must exercise the will to happiness and peace; that is the law of our being which can no more be evaded in religion than in secular wisdom."

There was a good deal in New England Puritanism—which has been described as "Augustinian predestination acidulated with Genevan fatalism"—which warrants this warning.

But it is time that we considered the worth of the individual person in the light of the Catholic faith, and as having his place in the Catholic Society.

It is not too much to say that the very heart and core of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England was the sense of the inestimable and eternal worth of the individual soul. The assertion of the Church as a spiritual organism, as the Mystical Body of Christ, as the very Presence of Incarnate God in this world, was not to exalt the Church in itself but to set it before men as the divinely-instituted means whereby the individual person might attain to the Vision of God, in time and in eternity.

In the year 1860 Dr. Liddon, in a sermon preached at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Munster Square, spoke these words, and they set forth the very genius of the Church in all ages and lands. He reminded his hearers:

"The Church throws herself upon the masses; she deals [59/60] with each individual soul as if it alone were entitled to all her labor and all her love. Never, when the Church has comprehended her mission, has she affected to win souls by general measures which ignore the individual needs of each. The soul of man is not a mere part of a machine, which moves because you set the machine in motion. It is a living force, a center of separate undying life. . . ."

He continued:

"The Good Shepherd," he continued, "calleth His own sheep by name. Individualizing work is a matter not of taste but of necessity. A religion which does not attempt this may succeed in adding to the stores of the understanding; it can never win the heart. It may cover up the wounds of society; it can never bind and heal. It may soften men's manners, or at least their natural fierceness; it cannot teach love."

This classical passage is quoted by a writer in the volume Northern Catholicism; [* Edited by N. P. Williams and C. Harris (Macmillan, $2.50).] and he goes on to say:

"The great object of the Church, therefore, is the salvation of souls, nor could this be effected [he is speaking of the pioneer priests of the Catholic Movement] by any general scheme of merely secular benevolence, however valuable these might be in their own place. Attempts to brighten the surface of society by plans of amusement, or social recreation, or classes to teach physical exercise or domestic economy, or by friendly meetings of the poor, by lectures, concerts, or tea-meetings, were not regarded . . . as sufficient to meet a need which was primarily spiritual. They considered it not enough to get people in large numbers to church, and to make some profession of religion, without any corresponding inward change of heart and life. They realized that if the work is to be solid and lasting, society must be brought to Christ one by one, in true repentance, and built up on the whole faith of the Catholic Church, and in all the duties of the Christian life."

[61] To dwell, in this fashion, upon the importance of the individual does not imply any depreciation of other elements in pastoral work, but simply to "put first things first" and to set them in their right proportion.

For instance, the Ordinance of Preaching, "the authoritative delivery of a message from God to man for the salvation of souls" can never be lightly regarded by a true Catholic. But preaching is not an end in itself; it is an agency for awakening repentance; and repentance should normally result in sacramental confession. Preaching implies a group of persons large or small. "Preaching" to an individual—especially if under twenty—generally defeats its own purpose. But the Sacrament of Penance deals with the individual soul.

Indeed that is true of almost all the sacraments. The words of their administration are in the singular: "I baptize thee," "I absolve thee," "Defend this Thy child," "Preserve thy body and soul," "Be thou a faithful dispenser of the Word and Sacraments."

If this individualizing in the sacraments were appreciated, any conception of them as merely formal or perfunctory observances would tend to disappear. Moreover, the consideration that a sacrament is to be administered to each several soul should suggest to any serious priest the "importance of the individual" and the congruity of preparing individuals, one by one, to receive each sacrament. The Offices of Instruction begin with "What is your Christian name?" Nothing is said about "confirmation lectures."

Something must be added in regard to the great subject of Prayer, as beginning with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and involving the spiritual movement of the whole Body of Christ, the Church, toward God, "the whole Church, striving and suffering here on earth, waiting in expectant rest in the intermediate state, triumphant and glorified in heaven." Does this in any way lessen the importance [61/62] of the individual? Far otherwise. It vastly exalts and glorifies the individual, by revealing the fact that each separate soul is indwelt and energized by the same Holy Spirit who is acting throughout the whole Body of which that soul is a member.

"Human nature in Christ is placed on the high road of prayer, the high road of direct access to God. The Church, united with Christ, and living by His Life, draws nigh to God corporately through Christ. The Church prays through Christ and in Christ, and Christ, who on earth prayed in His own Person, now prays in and with the Church. And in that whole action of prayer of Christ and the Church the prayers of each member are a part."

How great, then, is the importance and responsibility of the individual, to be thus the mouthpiece of the Spirit of Christ. We can say to our Incarnate Head:

"Deep through the springs of heart and soul
Thee the great Comforter inspires;
Thy glorious thoughts our thoughts control
Thy Love our love divinely fires."

The Paternoster is the great prayer of the whole Church, and includes within its seven petitions all that the Church is called to say in vocal prayer. Yet how perfectly also it is adapted for each single soul. So Newman, in his sermon "The Apostolical Christian" describes it as the "Prayer of the Pilgrim" through earth to heaven. "Evil round about him, enemies and persecutors in his path, temptation in prospect, help for the day, sin to be expiated, God's will in his heart. God's Name on his lips, God's Kingdom in his hopes; this is the view it gives us of a Christian. What simplicity! What grandeur! and what definiteness!"

We have been aiming to bring before us the worth of the individual person. Yet the supreme responsibility and privilege, [62/63] and consequently the consummate value and worthfulness of the individual soul, have still to be stated.

One of the Fathers of the early Church has comprehended the ideal of every life in the famous phrase "Vivens homo gloria Dei," "A living man is the glory of God." This destiny finds fulfilment in any truly Christian soul. For that soul has been made a member of Jesus Christ, Incarnate God, and in that soul Jesus Christ is seeking to show forth the actual virtues of His sacred Humanity. In Christ the eternal purpose of the Father for His whole creation has been gloriously accomplished. But it is in His mystical Body, the Church, that the Kingdom of God is to be manifested in all its perfect beauty. And the Church does not exist outside of, but in, the souls which have their place in it. It is thus in and through the growth in holiness of each soul that Christ is to be discovered ever more and more fully, not only in time but in eternity. "He comes to be glorified in His saints and to be admired in all them that believe."

But, while we bring before us the value of the individual in the progressive disclosure of the everlasting will of God for His whole creation, let us not limit our thought to certain famous characters—canonized saints and victorious martyrs, whose names blazoned in the calendars of the Catholic Church. These, along with their own peculiar excellencies, illustrate for us what is true of each individual who passes from this world into the multitude which no man can number before the Throne of God. Rather, we should be prompt to recognize and confess the worth of each and every humble believer, who, in the midst of the temptations and trials of this present life, have witnessed a good confession. As a bishop of the last generation has said of such an one:

"He may have been an obscure man, capable of achieving very little, but if his moral sympathies have been such that his heart has throbbed in harmony with a great and good cause, has [63/64] been capable of honest indignation against wrong, of earnest desire for the victory of right, of simple pity for sorrow and weakness, of hunger for the good, then no matter what his lot has been, or how little known or noticed his actions, that is a man of worth—a man of the Kingdom."

And to what does all this look forward? What is the true goal for every life? It is "a society of free spirits, actuated by a love of God which answers His love for them revealed in Christ, and in that love for the Father of all, united in love to all others to whom equally His love goes forth."

To that consummation each individual soul can make its contribution. And in that consummation each soul will find its own destined perfection. "Gloria hominis visio Dei," "The glory of man will be the Beatific Vision." To that may God bring us, one and all, in His own time and way.

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