Project Canterbury

The Priests’ Convention

Philadelphia, April 29-30, 1924

From The American Church Monthly, June, 1924, Vol. XV, No. 4.

Edited by Selden Peabody Delany, D.D.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012

The Essentials of the Church

THE man 'from without' who, seeking God, finds Him in the person of Jesus Christ; is filled with the irresistible desire to come into close and intimate fellowship with Christ; desires to become His disciple and to be incorporated as a member of His Body; is confronted with the grave problem of how to accomplish that for which his soul longs. Different voices—some arrogant and mandatory, some loud and declamatory, some shy and deprecatory—invite him to attach himself to this or that group of Christians as possessing the essentials of Christian fellowship.

The whole situation is perplexing to the sincere, and would seem hopeless were we not warned by the Master that exactly such a situation would confront disciples.

For He tells us that the Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations and that one of the baffling phenomena which will confront the seeker after Christ is exactly that which exists today, "For many shall come in my name, saying, 'I am Christ' and shall deceive many" "and if any man shall say unto you 'Lo! here is Christ or there;' believe it not."

What has happened is exactly what happened to His own divine person. He has suffered, as He prophesied that He would, from the human instruments to whom He entrusted His sacred Body. Apostles who have been told to watch, have slept; Apostles who have been entrusted with sacred treasures have betrayed Him; apostles to whom much power has been given have denied Him; and at times nearly all the Apostles have forsaken Him and fled from the critical test of their devotion.

In consequence of these human derelictions, the raiment of Christ has been divided and His mystical Body has been wounded and the little remnant at the foot of the Cross has been very sorrowful and perplexed.

As a result of this débâcle, Christ has not appeared to the world as a mystical Body, but has manifested Himself to the [374/375] faithful. "He is the tru light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" and it is still true that "He is in the world and the world receives Him not." He reveals Himself to His own in an adequate manner.

Whatever the Church may be or may not be, it is not something which the world can appreciate or understand for it baffles the methods of human observation and can be apprehended only by those who seek righteousness and who have faith in the Person of the Christ.

The failure of men to receive Christ is not due to any failure on His part adequately to reveal the Father, but is due to the dullness of men's spiritual perceptions. It is for this reason that the Catholic Church has shown the same mercy that the Christ exercised toward Samaritans and sinners, and has set forth the principle that Christ Himself ministers to those who through pastoral neglect or their own inability, have never identified themselves with the external body of Christ. One cannot think of Christ without attributing to Him, that personal largeness which caused Him to answer the prayer of the Syro-Phoenician woman and to approve the virtues of the Good Samaritan.

He does not confine His grace to those channels through which it flows so generously to those who love Him and keep His commandments.

We cannot confine the idea of Grace to this or that particular ministry, sacrament or creed without fully appreciating the fact that Christ is a Person who has not bound His mercy, however much He may have placed the obligation upon those who have the opportunity to keep His commandments.

This thought compels us to pause in our consideration of the essentials of the Catholic Church and to ask ourselves whether we are justified in approaching Christ merely with a logical syllogism as to the constituent elements of Catholic truth, failing to apprehend that the primary essential of the Catholic Church is that it reflect not only "the truth" as taught by the Master, but even before that "the grace" that won souls to the reception of "the truth." "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" and Graciousness before teaching.

There are certain essential attributes of the Master without [375/376] which His teaching is ineffective. Permit me therefore to lay down three characteristics of grace, without which men cannot be in any true sense His ambassadors.

They are the qualities of His person which must accompany the winsomeness of His Message. (1) There is a gentleness about Christ, which made Him accessible to the humble and the meek; whereas it is the weakness of much ecclesiasticism that it carries a fussy self-importance which acts as a barrier between the minister of Christ and the least of those whom He ever identified with Himself. An ecclesiastical hierarchy which encourages a haughty distant attitude toward the humble condemns the message which it arrogantly asserts by lacking one of the essential credentials of the true ambassador. (2) There is a geniality about Christ which manifested itself more in that which He approved in others than was always consonant with our conception of the man of sorrows who bore the sins of the world. No one can note the good natured patience of the Syro-Phoenician woman, who turned an opprobrious epithet into a charming retort; and no one can meditate upon His approval, "Woman, great is thy faith!" without at once realizing that Christ expected geniality in those who understood him.

An irascible, ill tempered ecclesiasticism has no share in His purposes.

(3) Jesus Christ was always generous with heretics and aliens from His household. It was one of the causes of hostility which developed against Him on the part of the Jews that He spoke charmingly with Samaritans, and was appreciative of their virtues; although He could frankly tell them that "they worshipped, they knew not what."

No ecclesiastical system can in any real sense represent Christ which is merely mathematically accurate in the mechanics of truth and fails to emphasize the fact that the Body of Christ must possess the Spirit of the Master.

I believe this failure is more responsible for the downfall of ecclesiastical systems than are the attacks of heresy and schism. Christ has not so abandoned his personal Characteristics that He will not still send His grace more readily through the humanity of a good Samaritan than through the carcasses of priests and Levites, however orthodox, who "pass by on the other side."

[377] The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not an automatic device for justifying logicians and mathematicians who take comfort in their adherence to orthodox standards and statistical computations.

And next the essentials of the Catholic Church deal with the question of services rendered. Back of the Catholic Ministry there must be something beside aesthetic rhapsodies and ascetic practices. Christ is not satisfied with a Church composed of either stoics or epicureans. The Church will reflect the essential characteristics of the Master's life only when it gives the kind of service that the Master rendered.

There must be study and sacrifice and serviceability in addition to mere emotional Pietism.

There is no worse breeder of devils than a mere sentimental hysteria as a substitute for work. It was the service rendered by a Father Lowder and a Father Dolling and a Father Staunton that made Catholic practices genuine and Catholic truth a dynamic power.

If any man thinks he can reflect Christ without mental and spiritual effort, he is none of His. There is no patent monopoly granted to Greeks or Romans or Anglicans to box the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in an iced compartment of cold logic.

Intuition comes before logic in our common life and the spirit of Christ must inhabit the Body of Christ, if grace in abundant measure is to flow from that Body in response to faith.

The unity of Christ's Church is not lost, because ecclesiastics hurl anathemas at one another. He has never so far lost control of His own Body that He will submit to a perversion of His spirit in order to justify the logic of His disciples.

And so in approaching the subject of the essentials of the Catholic Church, we cannot adopt methods of philosophy which He never employed and ignore the sphere of human relationships which he always invoked.

The essential unity of Christ's Church lies in the fact that whether they will it or not, the priest at each font and the priest at each altar throughout Christendom, says the same words, performs the same act, does the same thing whether he be Greek, Roman or Anglican, and the logical unity of a visible Church gives way to the actual oneness of Baptism and Communion [377/378] in the Body of Christ, even if the hand says to the foot, over and over again until it has obsessed itself by a process of auto-suggestion, "I have no need of thee." Christ is still the Head of His Church. He is not an absent landlord, and, no theory of Christus ex Machina can satisfy the demands of a Catholic theology.

Neither is He dependent upon the wisdom of man expressing itself in logical syllogisms to justify Himself in the methods by which He still protects His sheep against the exploitations of those who in times past too often have acted as hirelings and not as shepherds.

The body of Christ has been wounded in the house of His friends and His vesture has been divided, but neither the one nor the other has destroyed the unity of that body, for that unity consists in the fact that He has made of one blood, through His blood, all nations of the earth. We stand face to face with an apparent division of the Body of the Christ, but this apparent division is really a failure of the various parts of His body to function in harmony with the other parts.

The Historic Church has certain well known marks or characteristics which are common to all these branches. We have the same ministry, the same creeds, the same sacraments, the same Scriptures. They are marks which denote that these branches of the Church have carried out the Savior's injunction to be witnesses unto him and to preserve as a sacred deposit the treasures imparted to our care.

It is a significant fact that those in our own communion who flout the idea of a Church that is sacred or divine, are most anxious to use the credit of the trust company whose principles they deny in order to float their own speculative theories which will not float themselves.

They remind me of curb brokers who find themselves in the directorate of a solvent trust company and who are anxious to use the assets of the old company to finance their own speculative enterprises.

But these common assets of ministry, creed, sacraments and Scriptures have received a different valuation by Greek, Roman and Anglican.

They have all preserved their sacramental contact with [378/379] Christ and in this they have preserved the real unity, for they have all incorporated their adherents into the Body of Christ and all partake of His Body.

But each has given its own disproportionate emphasis to the other trusts that they have received. They have not rightly divided the word of truth. To the Greek with his preponderance of philosophical activity, the Creeds have been the vital thing. In the Holy Orthodox Church, the uniformity of belief in each formal statement of the faith is the sine qua non of orthodoxy. It was the "filioque clause" which was the unpardonable sin of Rome. It is the XXXIX Articles with their turbid phraseology which is the bar to corporate union with Anglicans.

It is not so much the hierarchical or the liturgical unity which they demand, but the symbolic unity measured by the recitation of the identical words as a test of orthodoxy.

To the Romans it is vital that there be a single hierarchy dominating and directing the agencies of the Church, through all the Earth.

Obsessed by the sovereignty of the Roman Empire which they fully believe that they have inherited, they have made hierarchical unity the Shibboleth of their position.

As the Council of Chalcedon rightly decreed, the Bishop of Rome had the primacy because Rome was the imperial city and not because Rome was the See of Peter.

And the Bishop of Rome seeks the supremacy because of a theory that the Petrine theory and the Roman inheritance are one and the same thing.

To the Anglican the Bible is the vital thing and nothing is to be received as necessary to salvation, but that which we are persuaded may be concluded and proved by Holy Scripture.

It is this Scriptural hypothesis that has made us more tolerant of religious sects who claim a scriptural foundation than of those groups who look to orthodoxy and hierarchical supremacy as the test of visible unity.

In a sense we are all, Greek, Roman and Anglican, claiming something that is a distortion of the reality.

And so, because of over severity in a formal demand for uniformity in credal statements, the Greek Church has been the [379/380] mother of heresies. And because of over severity in a formal recognition of a papal supremacy which we are assured is most liberal and kindly, but which we Anglo-Saxons have found quite Italian and rapacious, the Roman Church is the mother of schisms.

And because of our over severity in a theory of Holy Scripture we Anglicans in our demand for the authority of an oracular Bible, have become the mother of all parties and curious cults.

It is the penalty of disproportion that those who are guilty of it are never conscious of it, and those who are estranged see nothing else.

At the same time neither Greek, Roman nor Anglican has gone so far as to obliterate the other essentials of Catholicity in their ardor to feature their own peculiar panacea for human ills. Each branch of the Catholic Church has produced and still produces those whose saintly lives testify to the fact that they are made members of Christ in baptism and receive His nourishment in the sacrament of the altar.

We of this generation are not responsible either for the causes which divided the garments of Christ nor for the inveterate prejudices of those who feel that their portion of the Vesture is the source of true grace.

Christ still rules His Church; is conscious of its aberrations; and is secure in His solution of the puzzle.

He never called in Greek Sophists, or Roman Governors or Jewish Rabbis to solve the problems of His incarnate life; and yet He won a victory which even His apostles found it difficult to believe.

I do not think that He requires today, Logicians or Hierarchies or Bible Experts to save His Church or to heal its gaping wounds. He is Alpha and Omega and so will finish His work as He began it—in such a way as to make the Unity of His Church to be seen of all men—even though it seems impossible to us.

It will not be solved, however, by the Edicts of hierarchies or the theories of philosophers, but by the Grace of God working through the humble that no man may glory in His presence.

The other story of reforming efforts to reconstruct the [380/381] divine institution which Christ founded is a curious record of ecclesiastical disintegration.

Sectarianism always has begun in the disregard of our Lord's warning to let the tares alone until the harvest.

In every age those who are assured of their own righteousness and admit their own impeccability start with confessing the sins of the other man, especially the failure of the clergy to show superhuman virtues.

It is a tedious inversion of the House that Jack Built.

These are the clergy all forlorn,
Who offend the taste of the newly born;
Who reject the faith so sadly torn
And erect an ark which they adorn
Which fails to satisfy in turn
And so their sons, its creeds do burn
And bid their sons a new one learn
Changing it all from stem to stern
Until they erect in every age
A brand new cult and with holy rage
Condemn the faith on the previous page
Until they reach the absurdum stage.

May I complete this survey of the situation with the statements furnished me by a young priest whose keen analysis of the present situation between Rome and Canterbury is illuminating:

"To Rome, truth is the ultimately important thing. Personality is passive and plastic,—its primary function is receptivity with consequent accurate reproduction of the formulae. So, the Roman is professional, informed, accurate,—eminently logical and dominantly intellectual.

"In the Anglican scheme, personality is the ultimate value. It is of great importance that one should be the kind of a person who apprehends the truth than that one should actually possess the truth. So the Anglican is amateurish, ill-formed, confused, but moral in dominant stress.

"That while to both Rome and Canterbury the ultimate authority is the sacred Humanity, this authority comes to Rome as the absolute sanction of a mental behavior and to the Anglican as a contagion of a character."

It may be well that the adherent of either group should be [381/382] more worried about the limitations of his own qualities than the shortcomings of the other party.

To sum up the essentials of the Church in fulfilling its divine mission:

It must as a Body reflect the Graciousness of Christ. Its spirit must be one of gentleness to the humble, genial toward that which irritates, generous to those who err.

It must render the service of Christ and make its contribution through study, self-sacrifice, and social service as the basis of spiritual integrity.

It must preserve the deposit of faith, the order of the ministry, and the integrity of Holy Scripture in obedience to the Master's commands.

But above all it must be true to the sacramental principle of the Incarnation which perpetuates the grace that flowed from His Person in the sacraments which He instituted; for it is the reality of His mystical Body which makes the oneness of His Church.

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