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
"So Sir" said Boswell to Dr. Johnson, "You are no great enemy of the Roman Catholic religion."
Johnson: "No more, Sir, than to the Presbyterian religion."
Boswell: "You are joking."
Johnson: "No sir, of the two I prefer the Papists." Boswell: "How so sir?"
Johnson: "Why sir, the Presbyterians have no Church, no apostolical ordination."
Boswell: "And so you think that absolutely essential sir?"
Johnson: "Why sir, as it was an apostolical institution, I think it dangerous to be without it. And sir, the Presbyterians have no public worship: they have no form of prayer in which they know they are to join. They go to hear a man pray and are to judge whether they will join with him."
The conversation seems to establish the orthodoxy of Dr. Johnson as a convinced Episcopalian: it does not, however, establish our confidence in him as an impartial interpreter of Presbyterianism.
The prime necessity in reconciling religious differences is fairness. And fairness is difficult to maintain in controversy. "To deliver true judgment aright at the instant, unaided, In the strict, level, ultimate phrase,"—that is hard. It is easier to be clever, to be smart, to be epigrammatic, to draw a herring across the trail, to throw rhetorical dust in the eyes, to distort the truth in favor of a bon mot, to avoid an obstacle by somersaulting over on a paradox, to load the argumentative dice, to paint your own position in white and that of your opponents in black, to put wings on your own motives and horns on theirs, to overemphasize your good points and underemphasize theirs, to minimize your own failings and exalt theirs,—in a word to indulge in special pleading. Newman in his "Protestant View of the Catholic Church" made that his introductory plea,—a plea for fairness. You remember his fable of the man and the lion. The lion was the guest of a man who gave him the run of his magnificent palace "richly furnished and decorated and filled with a profusion of [383/384] fine specimens of sculpture and painting; the subjects were various but the most prominent subject was that of the lion itself. And there was one remarkable feature, that man was always victorious and the lion was always overcome. The man had it all his own way and the lion was but a fool and served to make him sport. After the lion had gone over the mansion, his entertainer asked him what he thought of the splendors it contained; and he in reply did full justice to the riches of its owner and the skill of its decorators, but, he added, 'lions would have fared better, had lions been the artists.'"
There are indeed, Newman adds "two sides to everything: there is a Catholic side of the argument, and there is a Protestant. Now Catholic and Protestant are not both right and both wrong; there is but one truth, not two truths; and that one truth, we know, is in the Catholic Religion; however, there are always two sides in every dispute; there is a Protestant side as well as a Catholic side, and if you have heard but one of them, you will think nothing at all can be said on the other." Newman plead with Protestants to be fair with Catholics. Let us then try at least to be fair with Protestantism. Protestants are not, as Kit Marlow remarked, "all hipocritical Asses." They are not to be treated as "heathen men." They are not "enemies of the cross of Christ;" they are not to be regarded as "Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Heretics;" they are not lost souls, or "clouds without water carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea foaming out their own shame; wandering stars to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." They are our brothers beloved in Christ, our "separated brethren," as a great Benedictine called them, who share with Catholics in reciting the Apostles' Creed, who use the Catholic Scriptures, and sing not a few Catholic hymns, who give to Jesus Christ Incarnate God a passionate devotion, who seek to make His life abundantly available to man not only for individual holiness and beauty and power but for social ends of world redemption. And the fruits of Protestantism in Christian life cannot be overlooked. They are there: they are here in abundance and "by their fruits ye shall know them."
Catholics are often inclined to sneer at Protestantism as an unmixed evil, a work of the devil, a foul and pestilential [384/385] spirit of Anti-Christ. But Baron Von Hugel, perhaps the foremost theologian of the Roman Catholic Church today admits that "Protestantism (at least incidentally, in the long run and with other forces) brought considerable and very necessary liberations from certain downright abuses, excesses, or one-sidedness in the latter middle-age practice and outlook." Protestantism has historically something to say for itself. It has stood very positively for the expression of certain great—and I may add—Catholic truths: for individual responsibility, and individual rights; for spiritual liberty as contrasted with ecclesiastical servitude; and for practical and progressive philanthropy. The positive principles of Protestantism have made their mark: their effects are with us, and the world can never lose them. They have been wrought into the warp and woof of the social fabric of the stronger nations in the modern world; and their influence is daily more apparent in places and peoples which have come only indirectly under it. But there is another side to the history. Protestantism is essentially combative, offensive, destructive, fighting not only for a cause but also more or less for love of the fray. "The name, indicating constitutional opposition, has possibly aggravated the tendency by suggesting that strenuous faultfinding is essential to religion."
It would be easy in this paper and at this point to fall foul of many unhappy consequences of Protestantism divorced from Catholicism: the truth torn from its context until it becomes a menace, a half-truth, a lie; the bigotry, and sourness, and cant, and cantankerousness, of Puritanism; the dark Hebraistic legalism and dismal Sabbatarianism of Calvinism; the wild and stupid iconoclasms which divorced the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty, and ruthlessly, sacriligiously destroyed priceless works of art; the vicious antinomianism of Luther; the corybantic excesses of ignorant revivalists like Billy Sunday, "Whose gestures amuse and whose antics delight us. He ain't like Saint Paul, but he is like Saint Vitus;" the violent madness of fanatical reformers, who, professing to correct abuses, undermined foundations of faith; who gouged through barnacles into the underpinning of the ship, who,—to change the figure and use a vigorous phrase,—did not scruple many a time to throw the baby out with the bath-water.
Protestantism however, is today very different from that of [385/386] three hundred years ago or a hundred years ago, or even a generation ago.
Protestantism today is more or less consciously aware of its own defects. According to a Presbyterian divine, writing in The World's Work (February 1924) it is "at the cross roads." It must either break entirely with Catholic dogma, Catholic tradition, Catholic awareness of the supernatural, and become out and rationalistic liberalism, or swing back into the great orbit of Catholic fellowship. Fairness, however, demands that we frankly and fairly consider the Protestantism of today.
It is fissiparous. It has no principle of cohesion. It has no center of unity. As the famous French visitor to America remarked,—"This a strange country,157 different kinds of Christian religion and only one kind of sauce!" Protestantism is in a continual state of fission; new kinds of Protestant churches start up over night. There are dichotomies of dissent and sub-dichotomies of dichotomies. The very names of some of the Protestant denominations are revealing,—Schwenkfeldians and River Brethren, Six-Principle Baptists, United Zion's Children, Zion Union Apostolicals, Life and Advent Unionites, and Old Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarians. The result of this sectarianism is economic waste, intellectual confusion, spiritual feebleness, strategic impotency in making an impact upon a pagan world. It is a scandal and a tragic sin, the divisions of Protestantism, and no Christian can reconcile the situation with the Lord's prayer for His disciples recorded in the 17th Chapter of St. John,—"that they all may be one: as Thou Father art in Me and I in Thee—that they also may be one in Us that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me." "How are you getting along?" the itinerant Methodist district superintendent asks the pious leaders of his little flock in a village. "Well not so well," is the reply, "but thank God the Baptists aren't doing any better!" A noble witness that, to the spirit of Christian fellowship! A pitiful contrast that to the Pentecostal power of the primitive Church with its one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all,—and with its invincible irresistible power to win the world for Christ. It was united Christianity that conquered Europe. It was a Catholic Church, diversified but united, that brought the conquering barbarian to be a "doulos Christou." Whatever else Protestantism is or [386/387] has been, Protestantism is not the Christianity of history, of fifteen hundred years of the Church's amazing missionary success.
Today from missionary fields the imperative demand is coming for the end of Protestant, denominational, sectarian divisiveness. Before the war 78 denominations were working in China to convert the natives; in the eyes of the Chinese that meant 78 different kinds of Christians. The precise points of difference were hard to understand. In one district it was found that the Chinese were referring to the Methodist Church (the M. E.) as "The Me Church," to the Presbyterian Church as "The Church of the Fat Old Gentlemen" (the elders), and to the Baptist Church as "The Church of the Big Wash." But now the belated chorus of protest has begun among Chinese Protestants. Last year they met in Shanghai and presented this polite ultimatum to the foreign missionaries. "We express our regret that we are divided by the denominationalism that comes to us from the west. It is based on historical differences which however real and vital to the missionaries, have no meaning for us Chinese. Instead of being a source of inspiration, the denominationalism has been and still continues to be a source of confusion, bewilderment and inefficiency. Therefore, we appeal to all those who love Jesus Christ to follow his command and unite in one Church. We Chinese desire to effect a speedy unity and we call upon the missionaries to remove all obstacles in order that Christ's prayer for a united Church may be answered here in China."
"To unite in one Church!" Which then shall it be? The biggest denomination, or the richest, or the cleverest at ecclesiastical intrigue? Shall we auction off the situation to the highest sectarian bidder, or parcel out the provinces of China so that the converts to Christianity shall be English Wesleyans in Shantung and Lutherans in Hunan and Wee Free Church of Scotland men in Kwei-chow, or shall we cut the Gordian Knot, scrap the present sects, and foist upon the oriental that cheap and vulgar piece of ecclesiastical art nouveau known as the Undenominational Church? No! In the Name of Jesus the great Head of His Body the Church, No! Let the answer come from Christians out in India. Let the answer come if you will from Anglicans, nay from Bishops of the Anglican Communion.
 "Aha! now the cat will come out of the bag! The same old prelatical cat of the nine lives! Now we shall hear the proposal to make all converts Anglicans and thus achieve the goal of unity!" Well, let us hear the proposal. "We the Bishops of the Province of India and Ceylon would urge upon the faithful first of all and at all times to remember the great spiritual facts which must govern all our thoughts upon this question. Of these facts the greatest is the desire of Our Lord Jesus Christ—"that they all may be one." Our first and greatest desire should be to have our hearts right with His heart, to have them beating in unity with His. The power of giving light to the world He communicated to His Church but the power is sadly diminished so long as the unity is impaired. We must do our part to make the unity of the Body not a matter of word or of profession but of deed and of truth. We must not let our loyalty to the Church of England displace the higher loyalty which we owe to the Holy Catholic Church of which she is only a partial expression. We must offer Indians nothing else than membership in the Catholic Church, putting before them the prospect of development of an Indian expression of all that the Catholic Church stands for. In a word, the sole legitimate aim of our missionary work is to present the Holy Catholic Church in this land. We must never conceive of Reunion as the absorption of other communions in the Church of England; far be that from our thought. Let us conceive reunion as the Reawakening of the Great Church, the Body of Christ, to a consciousness of itself and to an exercise of the power of the life which God has planned for it."
Let us make that clear. Episcopalians, Anglicans, do not conceive their communion as the whole or ultimate or ideal Catholic Church. They are Catholics first and Anglicans afterwards, and they are calling Protestantism to Catholic unity not to mere absorption in the Anglican Communion.
At times we are accused by Protestants of being insincere in this appeal for unity because we will not adopt this or that "flickering expedient" (the phrase is that of Dr. Newman Smythe the eminent Congregationalist) of union services, or exchange of pulpits, or interdenominational mass movements, or federations of Protestant churches. We are not insincere. We take the subject too seriously to imperil Catholic unity by sharing in what seem to us to be rickety make-shifts. All these [388/389] things seem to us, to use Bishop Anderson's phrase, as "so many flirtations. A man doesn't flirt with the woman he wants for his wife. Flirting is immoral. When the churches stop flirting with each other and settle down to the contemplation of holy unity, they will want the genuine article and not a make-believe."
Union, federation, is formal, mechanical, static, artificial and superficial, an amalgam, not a chemical combination. Unity is spiritual, vital, deep, creative, dynamic, explosive. If unity come not at the depth of spiritual faith and experience it will be a union "not of the church, but of the churchyard." Dicker and deal belongs to horse trade. "Protestantism and Catholicism parted in passion: in passion they must come together. It must be a unity based on comprehension not a union based on compromise."
I dare now for the sake of synthesis, to indulge for a moment in analysis. Catholic and Protestant are not necessarily exclusive terms; they need not be exclusive terms. To be sure there are differences, big differences involved. And it would be easy for me, or for anyone, to draw up a series of antithetical propositions which would graphically set forth these differences. They would be sharp and clear and plausible and—false, because not quite true and fair. Let us try.
Protestants look back to Christ: Catholics, like the primitive Christians, look up to Christ and forward to Christ.
Protestants believe in an infallible book: Catholics believe in an infallible Church.
Protestants believe in churches: Catholics believe in the Church.
Protestants believe in churches as human organizations seeking divine ends: Catholics believe in the Church as a divine organism supplying human needs.
Protestants believe in sacraments as merely declaratory symbols of grace already at work: Catholics believe in Sacraments as effective instruments and media of grace.
Protestants believe in the church as a club of saints: Catholics believe in the Church as a hospital for sinners.
Protestants believe in private judgment in matters of faith and morals: Catholics believe in authority. "Hear the Church!"
Protestants believe in doctrines: Catholics believe "the faith once for all delivered to the saints."
Protestants believe in a ministry as a matter of convenience: Catholics believe in a ministerial priesthood which is a differentiated organ of the Body of Christ.
 Protestants are individualistic. It is all "me," "me," "me,"—"O that will be,—glory for me!" Catholics conceive the disciples as sacramentally incorporated Into the Body of Christ and say, "We have erred, we have strayed, Have Mercy upon us!"
Protestants are subjective and emotional in worship. It is a matter of mood of feeling with them whether or not they are saved. Catholics have an objective worship which saves them from mere quietism, or pietism or dreamy dependence upon mere feeling.
Protestants treat children as outsiders until they undergo a rapturous experience called conversion. Catholics treat children as insiders, from the moment of their baptism.
Protestants join the Church by profession of faith: Catholics are born into the body of Christ by baptism.
Protestants have an eclectic theology: Catholics have a great system of articulated theology that hangs together.
Protestants have as their heroic ideal the successful citizen of this world: Catholics have as their ideal the unworldly saint.
And so I might go on if not ad nauseam, certainly ad captandum vulgus, but I shall not weary you further. My point is that there is much truth in such an analysis—much solid honest truth, and much, very much, that is false because it is obviously made to fit.
The Protestant apologist could, and alas he often does, create his own series which is bound to be equally plausible and catchy and suggestive and irritating and unloving and false.
Catholicism is legalistic: Protestantism is free.
Catholicism is a religion of forms: Protestantism is a way of life.
Catholicism is autocratic: Protestantism is democratic.
Catholicism is concerned with externals: Protestantism is concerned with the spirit.
Catholicism is the mother of superstition: Protestantism is the child of light.
Catholics pray to the saints: Protestants worship God.
Catholics go to confession: and get their sins easily forgiven for a price; Protestants confess only to God and "thank God salvation's free."
Catholics thrive on ignorance: Protestants thrive on education.
Catholics are narrow-minded bigots: Protestants breathe a large and charitable air.
Catholicism brings men to their knees: Protestantism brings men to their feet!
 And so on and on, with much more about the dark ages which are strangely confused with those great luminous twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and not a little about the Borgias and the jesuitical Jesuits and sinister plots even now a-brewing to deliver us all, bag and baggage, into the hands of a certain Scarlet Woman said to be pictured in the Book of Revelation and who still sits—though somewhat uneasily—upon the Seven Hills along the Tiber.
This sort of analysis leads not to synthesis but to eristic passion and more and ever more hostility in both camps. Had I the time I would like to point a better way, to give you examples of the fairer spirit and more scholarly method of analysis which both Catholic and Protestant theologians are furnishing today. But I shall content myself with merely referring you to two books which you may read for yourselves. One is by the great Roman theologian, our contemporary,—Baron Von Hügel, whose essay on "The Convictions Common to Catholicism and Protestantism" you will find in his volume of "Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion" (pp. 242-253). The other is a very great book too, a very trenchant piece of honest thinking and lucid writing by Oliver Chase Quick, Canon of Carlisle, entitled "Catholic and Protestant Elements in Christianity." Get it. Read it. Digest it. I think you will agree with him that Christianity, Catholic "Christianity is the salt of the world; in a somewhat different sense, Protestantism is the salt of Christianity. The crime and the tragedy of our unhappy divisions lie in this, that they have separated the salt from the meat. A Catholicism which could endure the sharp criticism of the Protestant, and a Protestantism content to remain within the many sided system which it criticises, might combine to conquer the world."
It is our duty to make it clear and unmistakable that we are Catholics and not Protestants, that we are a Catholic group, though in a Protestant atmosphere. We must make our Catholic credentials clearer. They are not clear to Protestants today. Protestants care little or nothing about our apostolic succession, our historic episcopate. They look upon it not as a center for unity but as a barrier to unity. Or, if they can stomach it, they often misconceive it as in itself and apart from the whole Catholic system, a magical something which can create unity. The [391/392] recent Concordat, which is today as dead as a door-nail, was based on such a misconception. They really look upon us as historically Protestant, artistically refined, numerically inconspicuous, ceremonially unintelligible, homiletically feeble, ecclesiastically unneighborly, financially well-to-do, socially fashionable, morally questionable, and spiritually dead. And no wonder! It is because we have not been definite enough, clear enough, vivid enough, energetic enough, vital enough, Catholic enough, in our own witness to the world. "Don't I argify and sputify," asked the negro minister of his protesting officials? "Yes—yo done argify and sputify but yo don't show wherein!"
Some of the brethren, even in our own household, feel that we shall recommend ourselves to Protestantism by minimizing our Catholic position, by soft-pedaling Catholic dogma, by hushing up Catholic practice, by paring down ceremonial to its lowest terms. I think they are mistaken. They are only confusing the issue. They are like certain well-meaning priests who suppose that by taking off their "clericals" and putting on a layman's collar and necktie, they are getting closer to the people: I think it was Bishop Irving Johnson who punctured that fallacy by aptly remarking that he had never observed that "a shepherd got closer to his flock by disguising himself as one of the sheep."
Protestantism will recognize us as Catholics only when we throw away all Protestant disguises and compromises. We must be unmistakably Catholic in our teaching and practice and flagrantly Catholic in our ceremonial worship.
Honest people admire candor, forthrightness, openness, utter honesty and respond to it. They detest slyness and indirection, and dissimulation and disingenuousness. They have a proper contempt for those who carry water on both shoulders, for those who like the famous judge, try to walk warily "between partiality on the one hand and impartiality on the other!" Protestantism asks us and it has a right to ask,—"What are you anyhow? Flesh, fowl or good red herring? Protestants with a flair for flummery, or are you Catholics out and out and through and through? Do you claim the power of the keys? According to your ordination you do. And, do you hear confessions? Then why not out with it and say so and not leave everybody darkly suspicious of something slyly done in a corner?
 Do you believe in Holy Unction? Then why not be seen like your Master and His apostles hurrying to the sick to anoint them in the name of the Lord? Do you pay to the Mother of God your theological devours? Then why do you shrink from an ave or a shrine or a Lady Chapel in her honor? Do you believe in the Real Presence? Then of course you will lead your people in devotions to the King of Kings sacramentally present in the tabernacle.
It is as you say, the Mass that matters? Then of course you will offer the Holy Sacrifice every morning, nor be content to go on singing Morning Prayer to Barnaby in F, as the main service of the Lord's Day.
Bret Harte is wrong. We do not "build a Christian's hope on incense and on altar lights, on chasuble and cope." We only believe in being natural, in letting roots strike downward and bear branches and blossoms and fruit upward and the roots of Catholic faith always have and always will bear the beauty and blossom of Catholic ceremonial as well as the delectable fruits of the Spirit in Catholic character and life.
But there is another side. If we are to win Protestantism back to Catholic Unity; if indeed we are to make our own credentials clear to them, we must be more neighborly. We must gladly, eagerly, actively share with them in every form of community service which makes for better men and women and children. I have observed that people who are not quite sure of their social position are usually the most intolerable snobs. Their aloofness is frequently the result of a sub-conscious inferiority complex. They live in terror of being compromised, just because their position is insecure. For Catholic priests to isolate themselves from other social leaders is to invite this dark suspicion.
To stand aside from our Protestant brethren when some great moral issue is at stake, to refuse to cooperate with them in enterprises of social betterment is churlish, unneighborly, unrighteous, un-Christian and un-Catholic. It is bad taste, bad tact and bad tactics. We ought to stand cheek by jowl and hip to hip with Jewish Rabbis and Protestant ministers in every good cause which is battling with poverty and disease and sin; we as Catholics ought to be counted on always to stand with every group of decent hopeful helpful men and women who are [393/394] opposed to those forces of political corruption and economic injustice and social vice, which are the recognizable enemies of Truth and Beauty and Righteousness; in other words, of the Kingdom of God. Just because
Heaven to us is of higher worth,
we ought to be quick to respond to the challenge
Come on let's make a better earth!
After all, the supreme credentials demanded of us are the convincing spiritual credentials of the supernatural life. "What do ye more than these?" is a question that will not down.
If Protestants could only see that our Catholic teaching and practice and worship make our people better husbands and wives, better neighbors, better citizens, better Christians, they would be more impressed. The supreme credentials after all, are the fruits of that supernatural life which Catholicism nurtures, and these are clear and unmistakable, Courage, Purity, Humility, Honesty, Love, Abandonment to the Will of God, and Beatitude or Holy Joy. To show these forth triumphantly is to recommend the Catholic religion to the Protestant world.
And then there is the way of Conference. We shall never get together without that. I don 't mean "a weary drip of talk;" I mean Christian brothers getting together to face Jesus Christ with their differences and in His presence confessing their faults; and in His presence, and in the presence of each other facing their differences to see if there be no way of reconciliation. You remember the letter of Oliver Cromwell to the Scots just before the Battle of Dunbar. "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ to believe it possible that you may be mistaken." I don't believe the letter did much good. Letters seldom do. Pamphlets seldom do. But Conference always does. Bishop Brent attended the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh in 1910 and came away from it convinced that the way to Church unity is the way of conference. "A vision of unity" he says, "rose before the assemblage such as never can come to an individual no matter how long he pray, nor how carefully he study so long as he keep in isolation. This time we will try for more daring experiences. We will not play the part of ostriches and hide from the sight of differences, but we will bring all our differences into the full glare of God's sunshine and see just what all our quarrelling is about."
 At the General Convention of our Church in 1910 a Joint Committee was appointed to consider the question of a World Conference on Faith and Order. It reported in part as follows:
"With grief for our aloofness in the past, and for other faults of pride and self-sufficiency, which make for schism; with loyalty to the truth as we see it, and with respect for the convictions of those who differ from us; holding the belief that the beginnings of unity are to be found in the clear statement and full consideration of those things in which we differ, as well as of those things in which we are at one, we respectfully submit the following resolution:—
'Whereas, there is today among all Christian people a growing desire for the fulfilment of our Lord's prayer that all His disciples may be one; that the world may believe that God has sent Him:
Resolved, That a Joint Commission be appointed to bring about a Conference for the consideration of questions touching Faith and Order, and that all Christian Communions throughout the world which confess our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour be asked to unite with us in arranging for and conducting such a Conference."
That Joint Commission, of which the speaker happens to be a member, has made great progress in its work. Commissions have been appointed from more than eighty different Christian bodies. Delegates met in Geneva, Switzerland, August 12-20, 1920, and a continuation committee was appointed to lead in preparing for the World Conference. The Chairman of that Continuation Committee is our Bishop of Western New York. The Chairman of our Commission on Faith and Order is the Bishop of Rhode Island.
This conference is called because of the conviction that "such a conference for study and discussion without power to legislate is the next step toward unity." It will represent Easterns and Westerns, Catholics and Protestants. Its aim is not to reach a compromise agreement but is,—
First, "to try to understand the present difficulties in the way of unity by the clear statement and full consideration of those things in which we differ."
Second, "to bear testimony to the truth as we have found it, truth which must have its place in a reunited Church."
 The proposed world conference, in the words of our own theologian Dr. Francis J. Hall, "has the sanction of the Church, can compromise no one, and ought to engage the enthusiastic support and prayers of the faithful."
Does it engage your enthusiastic support? Are you keen on holding conferences with Protestant clergy in your own community? Do you care? Or are you too big, too broad, too Catholic to be interested in such narrow minded people as Protestants? Remember that a broad man who will have nothing to do with a narrow man is a narrower man than a narrow man who will have nothing to do with a broad man. Are you passionately seeking to achieve Catholic unity? Or are you indifferent?
"O that the armies of God were arrayed,
O joy of the onset!
Sound thou the trumpet of God,
Come forth great Cause to array us.
King and leader appear!
Thy soldiers sorrowing seek thee.
Would that the armies indeed were arrayed!
Oh where is the battle?
Neither battle I see, nor arraying, nor King in Israel
Only infinite jumble and mess and dislocation
Backed by a solemn appeal
'For God's sake do not stir there!'"
"A new commandment give I unto you that ye love one another!" Is that a mere sentiment or a spiritual command? Is that fulfilled in formal politeness between Christians who yet refuse to live together in one house? Or does it call for positive effort, prayer, humility, conference, risk, adventure, sacrifice, to realize it? Listen to a clear voice from the Protestant side:
"The ideal of the One Church wanders among us like an unembodied spirit from church to church until we almost cease really to believe in it. The all-too-common unbelief in this supreme ideal is witnessed by the complaisance with which even broadminded men in all the churches are contented to welcome lower and beggarly substitutes for it. The ideal of one organic Church gone out from the firmament of their faith, they will follow some flickering expedients of fraternal conventions, or courtesies of limited exchange of ministerial functions, and friendly greetings on neutral platforms, and other such manifestations of mutual respect and occasional charity. Such approaches of religious bodies are indeed to be welcomed, as flags of truce may be between long hostile forces: but this is [396/397] not the marching on as one triumphal host of love for the overcoming of the world. The recovery of the ideal, the shining of it as a great light into the eyes of all the churches, even though it be blinding as the vision of the ascended Lord who had been crucified, is our Protestant need, if we are to have in this century a gospel for all men, as Paul had for the Gentiles." (Dr. Newman Smyth)
Yes, and to that challenge of a Protestant leader we reply, Amen! So be it! We share your vision, the vision of the Church "genuinely Catholic, loyal to all truth and gathering into its fellowship all who profess and call themselves Christians, within whose visible unity all the treasures of faith and order bequeathed as a heritage by the past to the present shall be possessed in common and made serviceable to the whole Body of Christ. Within that unity Christian communions now separated would retain much that has been distinctive in their methods of worship and service and through the rich diversity of life and devotion the unity of the whole fellowship would be fulfilled."
These are the words of the Bishops of our Communion assembled in Lambeth in 1920. Faint-heart says its no use,—that Protestants will be Protestants, and Catholics Catholics to the end, and that there never again will be one fold under the one Shepherd. But Faithful believes that the prayer of the Master will be answered, must be answered, because God wills it.
It is a big vision. It calls for a big adventure of good will and of faith. And if we be taunted with attempting the impossible,—"the high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard,"— if we be called impractical visionaries and mystical dreamers of dreams, we can only reply,—
"Dreamer of dreams! We take the taunt with gladness,
Knowing that God beyond the years you see
Will weave the dreams that count with you for madness
Into the substance of the things to be!"
O Lord Jesus Christ, Who saidst unto Thine Apostles, Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you; Regard not our sins, but the faith of Thy Church, and grant her that peace and unity which is agreeable to Thy will, Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.