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.
The Congress Sermon
THE MOST REVEREND JAMES DE WOLF PERRY, D.D.
Presiding Bishop of the Church
"Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord."—MALACHI 3: 7.
IN SUCCESSIVE AGES the current of religious thought and life is stirred by quickening and cleansing streams of faith, of new resolve and pure devotion. Often the experience has been preceded by times of stagnation when the motions of the human spirit have seemed to cease—but even then, unseen, the Spirit of God has moved upon the face of the waters and the voice of God has been heard, calling light out of darkness, life out of death.
One such period of renewal in the Christian Church is commemorated by us now, as it is by the whole Anglican communion, in England, in America, and throughout the world. Though traced by the finger of the historian to a certain date one hundred years ago in Oxford, it can, no more than any movement of the Spirit, be confined by measures of space and time. It was and is part of the eternal process by which repeatedly God's presence and power, incarnate in His Son and communicated through His Church, are realized and claimed by faith.
We need only look into all parts of the earth this year to see how universally the movement, begun a century ago, has made its way into Christian experience. Looking deeper, we may understand wherein lies its significance. The Catholic Revival had its inception in a profound impatience with all that intervened between the soul and God. It penetrated [140/141] through the institutions which bore the name of Christian but were of man's devising, to make clear once more the conception of the Church as the embodiment on earth of the ever-living Lord. It dispelled the human interpretations of Christ which had obscured with partisan and partial definitions the glory of the only begotten of the Father. It brought the Christian world to judgment before the holiness and love of Him whom Christ revealed. Nothing can explain the energizing power exerted by the early leaders of the movement, by Keble, Pusey, Newman, Froude, except the clear vision of the Being, and the splendor of God, which had taken possession of them. And their passion of devotion to the Church was the inevitable result of faith in a mighty and holy One, who is God, not only of the dead but of the living. The movement toward the Catholic ideal began with their response to the divine call, "Return unto me and I will return unto you."
In course of time resistance led to conflict, and conflict to divisions. What began as a Catholic Movement was broken into groups which separated first into different camps and at last into different communions. The story is well known, but it raises a persistent question. How can they, who know that truth is one, seek it under many standards? How can they who believe in the unity of God set their feet in devious paths to find Him?
Here is a paradox, the ultimate solution of which we may find in the way taken by that little company of pioneers in Oxford. The persecution and rejection which they suffered, their inability to realize within their Church the Catholic ideal, give no proof of error nor of failure. Rather we may find in these the mark of true success. Christianity is always a paradox of triumph in apparent defeat. The gospel of the crucified Christ, as interpreted, exemplified, administered by men, has not prevailed, but in its essence it is ever victorious. So the re-affirmation of that gospel a century ago was [141/142] thwarted by prejudice, by adverse circumstance, by relentless hostility. From the beginning of our Lord's appearance among men, His presence, manifest in human form, or in His Church, was destined to be set for a sign which was to be spoken against. Yet through the very struggle with all such conditions the Church steadily reveals itself as it was seen in the light of Him who pervades and ever claims it, one Holy, Catholic, Apostolic.
Among the implications for our time, of the movement begun in England a century ago, this then is the first, the removal of issues which obscure the essentials of faith. Barriers are raised today as then, often in the name of religion, which hide from men's eyes the source of light and divert their minds from the purposes and promises of God. Prejudices grow from inability to understand, into the unwillingness to acknowledge, all that transcends one's experience. Interpretations of the truth based on individual opinion reduce the creed from a ground of conviction to a symbol of conformity.
Ordinances are enacted and enforced for the security of systems that are born, not of the will of God, but of men. Organizations, assuming the name and semblance of a Church, are built to preserve and to promote the teaching and following of successive leaders who have, as once foretold, drawn many after them.
The face of Christendom today is scarred by lines that tell the story of scattered loyalties and of perverted faith. The evil of it is to be found not chiefly in divided fellowship. This human aspect of disunion is serious, but it is obvious and is beginning to touch the conscience and engage the thought of earnest men. It can never be corrected till, deep beneath these superficial cleavages, there is acknowledged the broken relationship between the disciple and his Master, between the soul and God. The followers of Christ with all sincerity and fervor have been echoing His prayer that they may be one. Too often they stop short of the words which [142/143] lift that prayer to its fulfilment, "As Thou, Father, art in me and I in Thee." It is for the restoration of this spiritual link in the structure of Christ's body that every unit in the Church is separately responsible. The way of communion with God is the only way by which Christian reunion shall at last be realized. Meanwhile, it is given to every household of the faithful to cultivate in its integrity and purity the perception of God's Being in the practise of His presence through the means appointed by Him.
Before the comprehensive and universal significance of Catholicism may be understood, it will be known by a quality of faith and of devotion that will so possess each part as finally to permeate the entire Body of our Lord on earth. It is true, as one of our great philosophers has pointed out, that "to us and to our minds everything comes as a fragment torn out of a whole." This has been shown in the religious experience of all mankind. The very statement of the fact, however, proves that the truth of which we prophesy in part waits to be known in all its fulness when that which is in part shall have been done away. Catholic Christianity bears witness to the wholeness of faith, a spiritual condition essential to the vision of God's holiness. Catholic Christianity is by name, by nature, and by necessity, anti-partisan. At certain times, as in the controversies precipitated by the Oxford Movement, it takes and defends positions in resistance to the drift of popular opinion. Always, however, a movement of protest, if it be truly Catholic, has for its goal the ground where partisan divisions disappear. That which is universal in its nature cannot be long confined to sectional or racial areas of life and thought. Such limitations can produce no more than hyphenated Catholicism. The definition of an ecclesiastical system as Roman Catholic or Anglo-Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant Episcopal, is by that token less than what was acknowledged in the beginning and destined in the end to be One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
 Every movement working for the right relation between human life and God is a process of emancipation as well as of union. Minds that have been freed from the bonds of a false partisanship prepare man's will to recognize and to accept the absolute sovereignty of God. To this supreme power a Christian gives his undivided allegiance: to the same divine authority overruling every other the Church gives corporate witness. It makes acknowledgment of one dominion, and prays for its consummation in the words, "Thy Kingdom Come." There can be no confusion between the rule of that Kingdom and of the temporal powers that are themselves ordained of God. They govern different spheres, neither of them possessed of the right to hold the other in subjection. The things of Caesar, that is of the State, are rendered in all loyalty by Church to State, but the things that are eternal must be rendered by the State to God. Civil government, however it be constituted, is founded upon divine laws of righteousness and social purity and liberty and justice. In proclaiming these principles through the office of prophesy, in dispensing things divine through the priesthood, the freedom of the Church is to be respected and protected by the State. Any infringement of this obligation, as through the suppression of the Church in Soviet Russia or the subjection of it to the present rule in Germany, is an offense to the spiritual rights of man and to the law of God.
Organized religion, when regarded as a convenient agency to be controlled and used by public patronage or turned to official advantage, thereby renounces its divine commission and surrenders its place in the Church Catholic. It was the attempt by the government of England, through the suppression of ten bishoprics to bring the Church thus under subjection, that gave occasion to the beginning of the Oxford Movement. It was the voice of one man, John Keble, in the Assize sermon in 1833, which charged the government and people by reason of this act, with direct disavowal of the [144/145] sovereignty of God. It was the assertion by Keble's followers of the trust for which God had made this Church responsible that rendered the Anglican communion conscious once more of its destined heritage.
The restoration of corporate Christianity to its rightful exercise of spiritual authority has only begun. Where the Church and State are linked by ancient establishment, the movement has been hindered through official usurpation. Elsewhere, as in our midst, the obstacles, because moral in their implication, are more deeply seated, and, therefore, more insidious. Strange, is it not, that in a land which so loudly proclaims the rights of religious liberty, the free exercise of religious law is the most readily surrendered. Well-intentioned Christians forever seek some human project to which they may lend the Church as servant, instead of seeking in the Church a divine authority which men must serve. One has only to look now through the length and breadth of America (fortunately not to its depth and height) to see how readily the offices and influence of organized Christianity are given to the promotion of any cause, economic, social, political, which may require the sanction and prestige of religion. The desire to be not weary of well doing leads easily to exhaustion of conscious spiritual purpose. Because, in a last reckoning, the cost of all this scattered energy is not merely the waste of moral forces, devastating though that be; rather is it through loss of the vocation which is committed to the Church alone. She is guardian of a sacred tradition handed on from age to age. In every sound civilization, religion has been the main stream of thought and life. To divert it into tributary channels of secular significance is to remove the source from which the currents of a people's vital powers flow. Where this is sought in God, the nation thus forsaking Him is doomed.
Finally, since it is to God that every movement of Christian origin and aim returns, so from Him are received the [145/146] riches of abundant life. The essence of all true religion inheres in spiritual energies conveyed through instruments which God ordains. The divine, the eternal element in this process of communication, is the sacramental gift bestowed. It is His Spirit who, with quickening life, moves through the Church; it is His presence that is manifested in created things, intended to mediate, not to intervene, between ourselves and Him. There is a pseudo-Catholicism which satisfies itself with expressions phrased in rites and ceremonies. These give the language, not the content of the Christian faith. Sometimes, in the hands of our Lord's ministers, they harden into lifeless forms rid of the power which once inspired them. If we are true to the movement which stirred them with new life, we shall not be content to hold in retrospect a time of renewal once known and then committed to the past. Rather is it ours to bring to fuller and ever fuller realization the spiritual treasures of our priceless heritage. At a time like this, how eloquent they have become with the Word which was with God and was God—in whom was life and the life was the light of men.
Who may not hear it at this hour echoing through a century in the voices of saints and prophets, apostles and martyrs: "Return unto me, and I will return unto you." "Prove me now, saith the Lord, if I will not open unto you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it."