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.
God in the Kingdom: The Practice
of the Presence of God
WILBUR M. URBAN, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy, Yale University
AT THE FIRST ANGLO-CATHOLIC CONGRESS, held in London in 1920, the distinguished philosopher A. E. Taylor opened his address with these words:
"It is assuredly with no careless lightness of heart that I venture to address a few words to a gathering of fellow Christians on the task which confronts a Christian philosopher at the opening of the present decade. So far as our mere human foresight can discern, the fate of our Christianity is visibly hanging in the balance. The gravity of the issues between which our age has to choose cannot possibly be exaggerated, and it is of the first importance to understand this quite clearly."
And now, a dozen or more years later, I, another philosopher, stand before a similar gathering of fellow Christians. I cannot say that it is with any greater lightness of heart. To me also it seems that, so far as human foresight can discern, the fate of our Christianity is still hanging in the balance. The issues between which our age has to choose are still grave.
I think that we who are celebrating this centenary are conscious both of great issues and of the gravity of these issues. A note of exaltation is properly part of our celebration. Conscious as we are of the increasing triumph of Catholic faith and practice [105/106] within our own communion, and of the growing influence of nobler ideals of worship outside our communion, we are filled with a just elation. But our joy has a solemn character. All about us new kingdoms are in the making—new structures, economic, social, and political, whose final lineaments we cannot as yet descry. What of these new kingdoms? These are the kingdoms of this world. On this day of joy and thanksgiving we ask ourselves: What of these kingdoms? Shall they become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ?
The general topic of this Congress is the Catholic Revival and the Kingdom of God. The topic is eminently appropriate, for it was with the fate of this Kingdom that the leaders of this movement were from the very first concerned. The outward causes of the Revival are familiar to us all. Keble's sermon on National Apostasy was the clarion call which awoke men from their Erastian slumbers. Secularization was the cloud that hung over the Church of their day. For him and his fellows, the fate of the Kingdom of God in Great Britain was visibly hanging in the balance.
It cannot be said that the clouds are any less lowering today. It was with national apostasy that the leaders of the movement were faced. It is with the possibility of world apostasy that we, their children, have been confronted in the trying decades through which we have passed.
The onslaughts upon the visible Kingdom of God—upon its external fabric so to speak—are familiar to us all. In various quarters, notably in Russia, they are the expression of an unconcealed atheism. Where there is no God, there is, of course, no Kingdom of God. It is, however, with more subtle forces that our Anglo-American Christianity is concerned. Here the issues are in a sense gravest, for they [106/107] are the more concealed. With us, it is true, the Kingdom of God is not explicitly denied. The words themselves are on every Christian's lips. It is rather what these words have come to mean in many minds and hearts. It is not merely that for many the Kingdom is no longer the Kingdom of God but merely the republic of man. Not merely that for many Christians the life of the Kingdom has ceased to be little more than concern for social and political issues. What I have in mind is something far more fundamental and deep-lying, namely, the entire pragmatic and instrumental conception of religion and the Church. This is the New Erastianism. The old Erastianism, against which Keble and his fellows fought, sought to reduce the Church to a mere arm of the State. The New Erastianism would make of the Church, and of religion as a whole, a mere instrument of social welfare and control.
It is, then, this larger apostasy, this growing naturalization of the Church of God, that constitutes one of the graver religious issues of our time. It is no accident that the leaders of the Catholic Revival were called High Churchmen. They had a high conception of the Kingdom because they had a high conception of Him who is sovereign Lord of the Kingdom. Conversely a low conception of the Church means in the end a low conception of the deity, and, finally, if not an actual, a virtual atheism. The two notions are one—one and inseparable.
And so with this I come to the specific topic that has been assigned to me, namely, God in the Kingdom.
The distinguishing character of Catholicism is the practice of the Presence of God. The prominent feature of the Catholic Revival was the revival of that practice. The national apostasy which was the external occasion of this revival was but the outward sign of the inner spiritual decay. [107/108] The fading of the idea of the Kingdom of God was directly connected with the fading of the idea of God itself.
(a) In a very real sense the heart of Catholic life and faith is the Catholic conception of God. Those of us who understand the Catholic temper and share it, know this to be true.
To the Catholic mind belongs, we are told, "all that acknowledges and adores the one abiding, transcendent, and supremely given Reality, God; believes in Jesus Christ as the unique revelation in personal form of His Mystery; and recognizes His Spirit embodied in the Church, as the everlasting witness of His will and word."
Does it seem to you but an affirmation of the obvious that on the throne of the Kingdom should be placed the one abiding, transcendent, and supremely given Reality? That acknowledgment and adoration of that transcendent Being should constitute the very life of the Kingdom?
Let me say at once that in large sections of nominal Christianity this is no longer by any means obvious—that in many quarters there is a practical denial of the one abiding Transcendent Reality, of the Catholic conception of God. I have spoken of the growing naturalization of the Kingdom, of the extent to which has been substituted the notion of a purely natural human institution. The obverse of this naturalization of the Kingdom has been the naturalization and humanizing of deity.
(b) The period of modern history coincident with the centenary we are celebrating has been a period of naturalism; the Darwinian epoch one of increasing naturalization of everything in the life and spirit of man, of his intelligence, of his morals, and finally of his religion.
This is not the place to tell the story of that process. In its great outlines at least it is known to us all. We know how, beginning with man's body, with its obvious relations to the organisms of the animal world, it proceeded to his [108/109] mind and finally approached his soul, attempting to reduce them all to animal life and intelligence.
Nor is this the place to distinguish between the true and the false in this movement—between the true science which has added so much to our knowledge of the Story of Life on this globe, and the science, falsely so-called, which has degraded man and distorted his entire picture of himself and of his relations to God. Science itself is now separating the chaff from the grain. Thanks to an innate common sense and wisdom and to the working of the Holy Spirit, the Anglican Church, and especially liberal Catholicism within the Church, has long since made that separation, and accepted the story of evolution as science's account of the methods of creation. This is the place, however, to speak of the purely naturalistic philosophy which for a time at least was bound up with evolutionary conceptions. Of this evolutionary naturalism a distinguished French abbe once remarked: It does not matter so much so long as its ideas are confined to the upper levels of thought, but wait until they sink to the lower levels of popular thought. It is this process that we have been witnessing and its effects upon the religious life of men are everywhere before our eyes.
(c) A large part of nominal Christianity has been caught in this naturalistic movement. Much of what is called liberalism and modernism proceeds upon purely naturalistic premises. The inevitable consequence has followed. God himself is cast from His throne and reduced to a part of nature.
How far this degradation of deity has gone can be seen in the movement called Religious Humanism, which temporarily at least is far-reaching in modern Christianity and is not unknown in our own communion. The outcome of the deep-seated philosophical tendencies I have indicated; it was inevitable that it should appear at this time. Having abandoned all but empirical and pragmatic approaches to religion, it was inevitable that men should have ended in purely empirical [109/110] and human notions of deity. It was inevitable that God should become for them merely a name for man's own highest ideals or, at best, a finite being, a part of nature in the making.
It would be unbecoming to pass moral judgment upon either the life or thought of any of our Christian brethren. In this era of intellectual confusion and reconstruction it is our duty, as well as our pleasure, to welcome all the attempts that honest and devoted men may make to harmonize the eternal truths and values of the Gospel with the highest scientific knowledge and insight of our time. It is only proper that we should frankly and wholeheartedly acknowledge the difficult problems with which the liberal religion of the present is struggling. But when all this is freely admitted, it is still our duty also to recognize with equal frankness the gravity of the issues involved. To us Catholic Christians they cannot be other than extremely grave. For God, as thus conceived, there can be ultimately no worship and no adoration. He can not bear the weight of our immortal souls.
The supreme issue of the Religious life of our day is then, I maintain, expressed in the topic of this Congress: God is the Kingdom.
As I have presented it, it may seem to you to be an issue of theology and ultimately of philosophy. In a sense it is, as all fundamental issues are. But it is much more than this. It is an issue of life and of death for the Beloved Community which is the Kingdom of God on earth.
The intellectual issues of Christendom have always been of transcendent practical significance. Of a grave issue of an earlier day, Lord Balfour has this to say:
"Had Arius succeeded, he would have inflicted irremediable impoverishment on the idea of this Godhead which was essentially involved in the Christian life. The truths for which Athanasius contended gave reality and life to the worship of [110/111] millions of pious souls who were utterly ignorant of the controversy of Nicea. The paradox of the Christian life consists in the power of this idea, transcending our own powers of natural understanding, to lift man out of the finite into the infinite."
And now, may we not also say that the degradation of this idea of the Godhead will again inflict irremediable impoverishment in the life and worship of millions of souls who are utterly ignorant of the controversies of the philosophers? It has not escaped the notice of acute observers, many of them non-Christian, that the present confusion in men's morals is due precisely to this growing indefiniteness, and in many minds, degraded and humanized idea of God. Nor has it escaped them that it is the Catholic forms of religious thought that alone stand uncompromisingly for definite and exalted conceptions of deity. By almost universal consent it is this movement alone which, in our English speaking life and thought at least, stands unequivocally for the supernatural, in this era of almost creedless religion stands unequivocally for the great historic creeds.
God is, then, the center of the Kingdom—the one abiding transcendent and supremely given Reality—in all the fulness of the divine Attributes. It is acknowledgment of Him that, humanly speaking, creates the Kingdom. It is adoration of His glory that constitutes the life of the Kingdom. There can, however, be no kingdom without subjects, no practise of the presence of God without practise of the calling of men, that high calling wherewith we are called. As Catholic worship cannot be separated from a Catholic conception of God, so Catholic practice cannot be separated from Catholic conception of man—a corollary of a true conception of God in a true conception of man.
(a) The topic Man in the Kingdom is in other hands. [111/112] And yet it is scarcely possible to speak of God in the Kingdom without saying something of man.
It will scarcely be denied that the whole of man's life is determined by that which he thinks himself to be. The fulfilment of his calling upon what he thinks that calling is—his life in the Kingdom by his idea of what kind of Kingdom it is to which he belongs—whether an animal kingdom or the Kingdom of God. Nor can it be denied that the man of the past century, speaking generally, has been wholly confused as to what that kingdom is. A naturalistic anthropology has grown up all around us. Much of what is called modern psychology and sociology is based upon promises which make it impossible for man to think of himself as more than animal. As this movement has naturalized man's intelligence, and thus made it impossible by that intelligence to reach a transcendent deity, so it has naturalized his conscience and thus cut away the basis of Christian morality.
(b) The moral confusion of the last decades is thus but an expression of our intellectual confusion. And who would be disposed to deny that much of our modern Christianity shares in this confusion? As it has been caught in the naturalistic movement and lost its sense of the transcendent being of God, so it has been overwhelmed by the moral confusion that has followed. In this confusion the Catholic faith comes with its basal notion of the supernatural life of man, of life in a Kingdom that transcends nature and which takes the life of nature up into itself.
To the thoughtful mind it must then appear that the restoration of the full sacramental system is the most significant sacramental life beyond the two "generally necessary for salvation"—the crucial point in Catholic practice is in Catholic faith. Of these, the sacrament of Holy Matrimony is perhaps the most significant. Nowhere is the contrast between the kingdom of nature and the kingdom of grace [112/113] more patent, nowhere is the opposition between Catholicism and Humanism more terribly evident than in this field of Christian morals.
The heart of any ethics is its view of the springs of life. The ethics of sex and of the family are necessarily the very heart of Christian ethics. This, I repeat, is not the place to enter into the vexed issues which gather around this problem. The Church is dealing with these great issues with zeal and conscientiousness. Insofar as they may be part of the discussions of this Congress, the discussion is in other hands. Enough that the sacramental notion of holy wedlock, with all that that implies, is an essential part of the Catholic conception of the Kingdom of God.
(c) I have already said that the Catholic-minded man is of necessity—both by temperament and logic—a High Churchman. He is a High Churchman because he has an elevated conception of the Kingdom of God. He has this high notion of the Church because he has an elevated notion of deity—and now above all he is a High Churchman because he has an elevated notion of man.
It is here, if I mistake not greatly, that the Catholic Revival stands with its most significant challenge amid the confusions of modern Anglo-Saxon Christianity. With no uncertain voice it proclaims the high dignity and destiny of man. Men may not like it, and many of them do not. They may not want to think so highly of themselves. It is often very inconvenient. But there it is, and they must do with it what they can. They cannot away with it.
To what kingdom does man ultimately—and in the last analysis—belong? To the animal kingdom? If so, his morals, like his life, must be "hasty, brutish, short." To a divine, a supernatural kingdom? Then all his customs must, like the kingdom to which they belong, have all the grace and beauty of the kingdom.
One of the salient facts of the present moment is the [113/114] turning of many intellectual and thoughtful men to more Catholic ways of thinking. It is even noticeable among university students. If there is one reason more than another why this return is made it is, I should say, the Catholic conception of man. It alone, many are now saying, stands for the honor and dignity of man.
To many minds ritual and ceremonial have seemed to be the supreme issue set by the Catholic Revival. And certainly around this issue many serious battles have revolved, both within and without the Church.
In a sense, this is, of course, not so. To the leaders of the movement ceremonial was distinctly a secondary matter. If the present interpretation of the significance of the movement is sound, it is still secondary. And yet, in a deeper and more philosophical sense, rite and ceremony go to the very heart of the matter.
Adoration has from the beginning been the deepest note of the movement. It is not strange that adoration of the supremely given transcendent Reality, God, should express itself in transcendent forms, that the practice of the presence of this Mysterium Tremendum should embody itself in tremendous rites. A corollary of an elevated conception of God is an elevated form of worship.
On the other hand, the national apostasy which gave rise to the Revival had its outward and visible signs. If men ignored the altar, if the parson was known to throw his cloak and riding whip upon it, and found these gestures not unseemly, it was because God was in no real sense there. In the days of Laud and the Puritans, men smoked in the churches and fought as to whether the altar should be brought forward or placed against the wall. Was it strange that in certain chapels of the universities High Mass was [114/115] celebrated with full ceremonial and that men felt that tremendous issues were involved?
An exalted conception of the kingdom will always mean that the ways of the kingdom will themselves not only be seemly but exalted in character. The Ceremonial of the Mass is the natural if not the only expression of the practice of the Presence of an exalted deity. Genuflection at the Incarnatus is a natural if not the only expression of that temper which acknowledges Jesus Christ as the unique revelation of the Divine Mystery.
The battles which have raged about questions of ritual and ceremonial have often seemed to the bystander to be but tempests in the ecclesiastical teapot, and the human mind being what it is, it is inevitable that it should often be so. But the issues involved are of a much graver and more fundamental character. They concern our whole notion of God and of God in His Kingdom. The issue involved is often nothing less than that between a supernatural and a purely human and naturalistic conception of religion.
A significant part of the onslaught of naturalism upon the Church is a criticism of all its works and ways. The language which it speaks is, we are told, an archaic language; the symbols which it uses are but survivals of earlier magical levels of human development; the very temper which lies back of that language and symbolism a temper which the modern man has transcended. The growth of democracy for instance has, we are told, made meaningless the language and symbols of monarchy. We belong to a scientific and naturalistic epoch, and if we do not abandon all symbolism we must at least create a new language and a new symbolism. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that we must envisage God as a great machine, a huge dynamo, and not as a King.
Without making too much of the extravagances of this tendency, surely it is clear where the issues really lie. The denial of the ceremonial approach to deity is, in essence and [115/116] spirit, a denial of His exalted and transcendent character. Let us make no mistake, my friends, the question of rite and symbol is no secondary matter, but an integral part of the philosophy of the Kingdom. We of the Catholic mind and temper know this to be so. We may be saddened when, in the hands of little men, it becomes as, alas, it sometimes does, cheap and trivial. As the philosopher, Kant, said: It is wonderful what little minds can do with great issues. But the issue is there. It is great and it is significant. And this, in its deepest heart, the Catholic Revival has always known.
I have sought to present to you certain of the grave issues which confront the Christendom of our time. Forces are at work, both within and without the Christian community, which would secularize and naturalize the Kingdom of God, humanize the deity, and dehumanize man.
It is one of the hopeful signs of our times that the true inwardness of these forces is slowly but surely being realized, and with this the gravity of the issues involved. With this realization men are also coming to see that the Catholic Revival within the Anglican Church involved, not merely theological issues, fundamental as they are, not merely questions of ritual, significant as we have seen them to be, but issues fundamental of the entire life and culture of the modern man. Beneath all the secondary positions for which the Catholic Revival stands is the supreme issue of the Catholic conception of God and of man, which Catholicism shows forth in all its ways, its works, and its words.
This the Catholic Movement has been from the beginning. Among the causes of the movement there is one that is often overlooked, but which, properly understood, is fundamental—namely its intellectual and philosophical side. Philosophically viewed, it was a revolt against the rationalism of [116/117] the French Revolution, which in those days was called Liberalism. In John Henry Newman, at least, this was consciously the driving force. Toward the end of his life, he rejoiced, as he said, that for fifty years he had resisted to the best of his powers this liberalism.
I should put it in this way. With an uncanny prescience the leaders of the Oxford Movement sensed the wave of pure naturalism which, arising out of natural science and entering into biblical criticism, was to sweep over the world and engulf large areas of Christendom. They foresaw how this movement was to dethrone the one abiding, transcendent, and ultimately given Reality, and to substitute for Him a finite God. They foresaw how an evolutionary naturalism was to degrade and denature man.
This at its inmost heart the Catholic Revival was at the beginning. And this it is today. In our English-speaking Christianity at least, it is, I repeat, the one movement that stands unequivocally for the supernatural. It is in this movement also that, as I believe, we find the one attempt to combine the Catholic and philosophic tempers, a combination which, I am convinced, is necessary to any presentment of religion that is to claim the allegiance of the world today. It is for this reason that I rejoice in the name of Catholic Churchman.
I spoke at the beginning of the note of exaltation that is properly a part of our celebration as we are conscious of the increasing triumph of Catholic faith and practice within our own communion, and of the growing influence of elevated ideals of worship without our communion. This note of exaltation is, I think, justified.
The superficial effects of the Catholic Revival are all about us. They are seen in the multiplication of altars and crosses in the worship of our Protestant brethren, and not [117/118] least of all in the multiplication of books which speak of the Reality of Worship.
It is not in any invidious sense that I use the word superficial in this connection, but in its literal sense of surface. The revival both of aspiration for and understanding of Christian worship is an outstanding fact of the Catholic Revival. But back of these surfaces, the seeing eye discovers illimitable perspectives and profounder depths. To many this aestheticism—mere aestheticism as it sometimes is called—alone catches the eye. Even so this aestheticism needs no defense. In an age when the restoration of beauty to life is a great desideratum, when beauty no less than truth and goodness is recognized as an avenue to Reality, even this surface of the movement needs no defense. For back of the beauty of holiness lies the reality of the ALL HOLY.
Back of these surfaces, the seeing eye discerns, then, illimitable perspectives and unfathomable depths. In them it sees, not a substitute for the divine Presence, but a reaching out for the one abiding transcendent and supremely given Reality, God. Whatever the secular mind of man may do with God and His Kingdom, the everlasting Man, everlasting because in Him dwells and works the Holy Spirit, reaches out for the Everlasting Reality.
The times are still grave, the issues heavy upon us. And it is this that gives the note of solemnity to our joy. But the joy outweighs the sadness. On the surface, we are still caught in the backwash of naturalism and humanism, but beneath the superficial currents we are aware of a ground swell which is bearing the hearts and minds of our fellows, often against the superficial and conscious will, into the larger ocean of the divine Infiniteness. We cannot understand the mysteries of the working of the Holy Spirit. We can but acknowledge and adore.