Project Canterbury

Turning Points in My Life.

By William Porcher Du Bose, M.A., S.T.D.

New York, London, Bombay and Calcutta: Longmans, Green and Co., 1912.

Chapter III. Church Influences

IT will be agreed, I think, that my life as so far described was evangelical in its general type and character. It turned upon a well-defined experience of conversion; it was fed and grew upon the Bible; it was essentially a life of subjective, reflective, personal religion. Whatever may be said of evangelicalism, it was in possession of our spiritual world of that time; and with whatever may be its limitations we owe much if not most of our good to it. But however evangelical I was, and am, and would ever more and more be, I was never, either by prejudice or in principle, in sympathy with evangelicalism--that is to say, with the ism, with the name or the thing, as badge or confession of a school or a party. I love its affirmation and emphasis of great truths, but not its dissents, denials, and contradictions of other truths, or sides of truth, contradictory perhaps of itself, but not of its own truth, or of the wider, higher, greater All of truth.

Brought at the beginning under the influence of the most beautiful, refined, and attractive phase of the newer Oxford Movement, I entered upon life with all prepossession in its favor, with all the poetry, romance, and loyalty of my nature enlisted on its side. Before any knowledge, or with little realization, of what the Church is, I was with all my heart and soul a churchman and disposed in favor of everything that is churchly. Call this prejudice, if you please, but one is not improperly or injuriously prejudiced in favor of his home, his own, his native land, the truth or beauty or beneficence into which he has been born. How much of what we are have we received as an heritage and do we rightly and necessarily reverence and value as such! When I was awaked to the more actual assumption of my spiritual selfhood, the older evangelical type took possession, and I cannot say that there was much of the Church visible or sensible in the change that I was conscious of. Nevertheless, there was no discrepancy or contradiction, and my conversion carried with it only an access and heightening of at least the sentiment and inspiration of the new churchmanship: I was not any the less for it a high-churchman. And I am now to trace the help and contribution to my life of this high and loyal sentiment for the Church. Let it be remembered that if the Church was not to me at that time the broad and all-inclusive thing that it is, neither was it the narrow and exclusive thing that it might have seemed to be. In fact I knew little of either the inclusiveness or the exclusiveness: the Church was to me simply the divine institution that claimed and attracted all the fealty and devotion of my heart, mind, soul, and life. The more divine it could be made to appear, the more willing and satisfied was my loyalty. We all find contradictions in ourselves hard to reconcile and unify. My heart is very disposed to faith, to recognition of truth, to trust, and consent, and agreement. But my mind is naturally analytic and sceptical. I have all my life been coming to what of truth I hold, and there is truth to which I have all my life been coming, to which I have not yet come. All the truth of the Church is not yet mine: there are points of it that I know to be true, because I have been all the time approximating to them; but I am still waiting, and shall probably die waiting, for them to become true to me. Truth is not an individual thing; no one of us has all of it--even all of it that is known. Truth is a corporate possession, and the knowledge of it is a corporate process. It enters slowly and painfully into the common sense, the common experience, the common use and life of men. There is a corporate, catholic, Christianity, actually extant on this earth, which no one or no set of us holds all of, or perfectly even what we do hold. Christianity, even so far as actualized in the world, is more and greater than any one or any body of us, and the full actualization of Christianity will come only with the fruition of the world's destiny, in the end of the ages. When a man learns that, he will be modest either about his own truth or about impugning other people's truth.

Without at all defining its meaning or measuring its universality or its authority, I realized from the first that there is a Church, and that there is a faith of the Church, to which my loyalty never wavered, even when I was freely and deliberately setting myself, in the light of it, to determine and establish my own individual and personal faith. I have long since discovered that the actual historical process by which the faith of the Church was originally formulated is the natural and logical process by which the eternal, divine and human, truth of Jesus Christ necessarily defines, defends, and verifies itself in our human experience. My own mind like that of the Church, and under the guidance of the Church, passed successively and in the same order through all the heresies. I was never historian enough to justify my undertaking, as I did twenty odd years ago, to tell the story of the Great Councils, the period of the settlement of the Catholic faith. I was tempted to do so by my interest and my studies in the "Development of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ." The history in my book was second-hand, but the description of the process of evolution of the doctrine was my own. Dorner's great work is an analysis of all living and serious thought on the subject from the beginning down to his own time. The mass of it was too great for my digestion, but I felt more and more the unity, continuity, and inevitable outcome of all truth in the theme, and was under the necessity of ordering my own thought and bringing out my own faith, so far as it had reached. I am convinced in my own mind, beyond all question, that the evolution of interpretation and expression of the truth of Jesus Christ to the end of the Sixth General Council was in the straight line to the inevitable end. I am standing now for absolutely nothing in the Councils but the simple outcome of expression of faith in the one truth of the union and unity of the divine and the human in the one Person of Jesus Christ. After that Council thought ceased, and faith receded to its stage even before Chalcedon. Much of what had been gained for the completeness of the humanity of our Lord was lost, and Christianity became too much a one-sided worship of deity made visible for adoration under the eikon or semblance of humanity. To me the necessary deity of our Lord is there to a thousand-fold more purpose and effect in the actual, realized, and deified humanity in which we recognize all ourselves and accomplish all our destiny.

Truth is not truth when it ceases to be plastic, and faith is faith only in the making. We cannot simply receive it, for then it is not yet ours; and we can never finish making it, for it ends only in all truth and all knowledge of the truth.

I can accept the Church's, or the Catholic, Creed; and could with good conscience accept it, even though it were not yet all my own creed, or though I could not see my way to ever making all the incidents or details of it my own. Shall Christ not be mine, and I His, because I cannot see all the steps of my way to Him?--or all the steps of His way to me? On the other hand, to exact of a man, at any stage, an ex animo acceptance of every point of the Creed, the incidental as the essential, is to demand that which is for any man an impossibility. A complete personal possession of faith, like a perfect personal conversion of life, is an impossibility at any time and certainly at the beginning of the spiritual life. We may confess the faith as the Church's faith and profess the life as the Church's life, but to start out with saying that either of them is all personally ours is either ignorance or hypocrisy. On the one hand, therefore, I would say that for one to suppose that, because the general or catholic creed of the Church is not in every point and particular, in every interpretation or understanding of it, his own personal and actual creed, he has therefore at once to teach or preach against it, or else so to avow and proclaim his dissent as to read himself or be read out of the Church, is illogical and unreasonable. And on the other hand, I should say that for the Church to require and demand that, ipso facto and instanter, her fully developed and complete creed should be ex animo and in every jot and tittle the personal and actual creed of every member, or of any member, is equally irrational and impossible. There ought to be, at the least, as much of divine patience and tenderness on the part of the Church toward the incomplete and even the wilful believer, as there ought to be of modest deference and obedience on the part of the individual believer to the reasonable and rightful authority of the Church.

For my part I have never balked at the raw beginning nor on the uncertain way of faith; I have both pressed on and waited until I could get something of a general view of the end and purport of it all. The creeds mean the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth--the truth of God and of man, and of the eternal, predestined, realized relation between them. Since I have seen that, nothing else has disturbed or bothered me. Either what is crooked in the Church's way of putting it shall be made straight in time--and I do not say that it is not the business of any one of us that can to help make it straight; only let us go about it in the right spirit and way, and in the meantime be modest and patient about it, and take and make use of what we have got--or else, if the fault or defect is in us, the right use of the part we have got will be the best way to the fuller revelation to us of the whole of truth. My own churchmanship, as it happened, did not come to me through Oxford or Anglican sources. I have mentioned how my mind got turned into German channels; there too I discovered and equally followed different bents or leadings. There was, on the one hand, the pure and high spirituality, the personal subjectivism of a Neander; and, on the other, the more objective and churchly, or corporate, but not less spiritual, tendency of an Olshausen. Both of these entered simultaneously into my life, and I felt no discrepancy between them. While the Oxford revival was in progress there was a corresponding "churchly" movement going on in Germany. It extended to this country within the German Reformed, or Cal-vinistic, Church, became more emphasized and defined under one or two famous leaders, and gave place and name to what was called the Mercersberg Theology. This attracted me as dealing with the Church less as an external fact and authority, and more as a necessary principle and a true philosophy.

The churchly principle begins with Christianity, not as a human faith, but as a divine fact, an actual and present life of God upon earth and among men. Faith is indeed an actual necessity for us, but it is necessary only as our appropriation and experience of a prior fact; and the fact must be kept always prior to the faith, the divine conveyance to the human reception. If the extreme and danger of churchliness is a one-sided objectivism, that of evangelicalism is a one-sided subjectivism. Man has not created God in his own image; and as little is Jesus Christ a human creation or production, a human ideal or imagination of what God with us and in us would or should be. Incarnation is just as much a divine act and fact antecedent to our faith in it as creation is a divine act and fact anterior to our sensible experience of it.

Incarnation, again, is not the mere revelation or manifestation of a Life in Jesus Christ; it is the gift and communication of life in Jesus Christ. Its end and operation is not realized and exhausted in the individual human person of Jesus Christ; it is in operation and to be realized in that Mystical Body which is Humanity realized and glorified in and through Him. Consequently the Church is in a true sense Jesus Christ Himself, and relation to it is relation to Him and to the divine Life which He is. The Church is the Life incorporate and corporate in Jesus Christ. The Sacraments of life, or of The Life, are acts not of man but of God, the acts of His incorporation of us into Christ. They are not expressions of our faith but of the divine acts of grace and adoption in Christ which are the objects of our faith and in which our faith stands. When Luther says that Christianity is the simple realization of our baptism, what he means is, not that we are magnifying a mere form or rite, but that we recognize in that rite of divine appointment a word and act of God to our souls. God's words are never mere signs: they are what they mean. To realize our baptism is to see in it, and appropriate to ourselves, and make real in our lives, the thing and the whole thing signified by it. The way not to be formalists is not to reject form--certainly not divinely ordained form--but to see in it only the spirit which it expresses and conveys. The Sacraments, if they are anything, are divine means of grace; and the grace meant by them and wrought through them is the presence and spirit and life of Christ born in us and made ours in baptism and fed, strengthened, and refreshed in us in that sacred and stated feast in which we have communion and fellowship, actual participation of common life with God and with one another in Christ, through His Spirit which is given us. Is it formalism to see and receive all this in the Sacrament?--or is it not rather so to take the Sacrament because it is divinely commanded, but to see in it nothing but a form?

There is a catholic faith in Christianity; but prior to the faith, and the ground and object and content of the faith, there is a catholic life, and that life is the present, living, working Life of God of which the Church is the divine embodiment, the vital organ and organism, and the Sacraments the organic means and channels. When Dean Stanley said that we outgrow Sacraments, and that they are becoming obsolete, the one side of me recognizes in that a certain, perhaps, truth for spirits such as his; but I am glad that the other, the corporate or churchly side of me, has kept me loyal and faithful long enough to know that in the Sacraments I am living at the very perennial springs and fountains themselves of the Life which is Christ.

Upon the revival of life and reality in the Church and the sacraments there followed necessarily a rehabilitation of divine worship. We must not confound the true revival of ritual with the excesses and follies of a shallow ritualism any more than any other truth or reality with its attendant ism--evangelical life with the narrowness of evangelicalism, or the regeneration of the Church with the extremes of Tractarianism. The lawlessnesses and abuses of ritualism are but the foam and scum upon the surface of a very real and true undercurrent and movement of genuine Church life. When I came to Sewanee, I came ignorant and inexperienced in all the fermentation that was then coming to its height in these matters. My one sympathy with the movement that I felt coming might be expressed in these words: The need of more reality in life and in religion, a more actual and real presence of God in His world, of Christ in His Church, of Spirit and power in what were too much become to us mere obligatory forms. I remember writing to a friend on my way to Sewanee, in reply to some questioning about the "Real Presence," that I wanted all the Real Presence, all the "objective" Real Presence, I could get in every act of my religion.

Again, we must not confound the fact or reality of the Real Presence, in the Church, in the sacraments, or anywhere else, with the logomachies or the superstitions as to the modes or the effects of the presence. What I have wished, and wish, to see at Sewanee, as a religious and educational centre, is a high, dignified, and truly typical worship, fully expressive of the reality with which we are dealing and of what we are doing; neither manifesting by our carelessness and indifference our contempt of or superiority to forms, nor, on the other hand, supposing that we have to be oriental or Latin in our exhibitions of reverence. If there were a ritual exactly and distinctively expressive of the truest and most real reverence of our race, it would be a simple and severe one. We are least demonstrative when we think the most seriously and feel the most deeply, and least of all in matters the most sacred. At the same time, the highest good manners in the world are those that show themselves in the presence of divine realities.

As there is a catholic faith and a catholic life and worship, in all which there is an underlying and pervading unity which is their essence and content and of which they are but the expression, so there must be in the Church, if it is one also in effective operation, a catholic order. That the order of the Church, as well as its faith and even its life, is so often and so much broken and divided, and so little at one with itself, proves nothing against this truth. Christianity, the Unity of humanity with and in God, is an ideal which is not ipso facto an actuality; but it is an ideal which it is our whole Christian business in this world, as much as we can and as fast as we can, to bring to actuality. "What is an ideal but an end and a goal, and what is the Christian ideal of a Unity which will be in and of itself all of Holiness and Righteousness and Eternal Life, but an end and a goal which we have the divinest warrant and evidence for believing shall be our inheritance and destiny, just so fast and so soon as we, in faith and obedience, will enter into and possess it? The Church is an organism which must of necessity organize itself for the ends of its proper function and business. Its commission is one and its mission is one, and it must itself be one in order to carry the one or discharge the other; the more so too since its commission and mission is to reconcile, at-one, or unify, the world with God, and with itself in God: "God was in Christ reconciling the world with Himself, and hath committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation." If there is to be in the Church of Christ, as one, any unity, not alone of faith and life, but of order or organization or operation, of influence and effect upon the world, there must be in it some principle and law of order. What that is, or is to be, when the Church is in any organic sense or degree one again, although it must always have been a truth and duty of the past too, is just now the question of the future. The answer to it will have to be submitted to a longer and larger tribunal than is now extant. The several answers that may be already on hand, or even any new ones that are worthy of consideration, in the great solution that lies before us ought to be both urged and considered only in love and amity, not in competition and strife. The one end to be sought, and the one spirit in which it can be found, is unity--whatever, or however great, may be the differences and the difficulties. The time has come--and something of the disposition and the will--for the exercise and the experiment of a universal and supreme act of reason, love, and self-sacrifice in behalf of Christ and of His work of human salvation.

Is it possible that there can be one body of Christians that shall remain deaf to the plea, indifferent to the ideal and the aspiration, that, in fact as in theory and profession, all Christians shall become one in Christ? There is no condition which, if it only remain actual long enough, we cannot become accustomed to and come, not only to acquiesce in, but to defend and maintain as normal and necessary. There is no question that the world around us has taken separation and alienation, even strife and schism, as the natural and inevitable state of things among Christians. There is a somewhat general softening of spirit and relaxing of acrimony now in process, but still even the theory of the one Church of Christ, and anything like a practical unity among Christians, is far from being recognized in our popular religion as a desideratum, much less as an essential principle and a practical necessity of Christianity. Nevertheless, if they are so, however afar off we may see the promise, we must be turning our face toward it and moving our steps in the direction of it. It may be as yet a matter for only the thinkers and the leaders, above all for the seers, the Abrahams of faith and hope; but these are the movers of the world, and if they do not move in the matter the world will not be moved.

We have undertaken, in our measure, to be standard-bearers of mediation, reconciliation, and unity. It is only by example, as representing the spirit, and ourselves walking in the way of these, that we can, exercise any such mission. The attitude which we should take for ourselves, if we would impress it upon others, I would state somewhat as follows: Our claim to be a catholic Church must mean only this, and nothing more, that we desire and intend and believe ourselves to be within all the essential and necessary principles of the catholic faith, life, and worship, and order of the one Church of Christ. We are churchmen as members of this, and not as Episcopalians, Anglicans, or whatever else, in particular, we may also be. As members of The Church, in this its only sense, we are members of all who are members of It--that is to say, not only, visibly, of all baptized persons, but invisibly of all who by the grace of God are in Christ, by which I mean all who are in the saving operation of His Word and Spirit. We have, as churchmen, no right to claim, as in any sense exclusively our own or exclusively the property of any part of the Church, that which is catholic and therefore the right of all--whether or no all are in actual possession or practical use of it. On the other hand we cannot ourselves forego the possession or use of any part of what we believe to be essential to, or even a necessary means or condition of, actual or ultimate unity. On this account, for example, I may not feel myself at liberty under ordinary circumstances to avail myself of the Sacraments of other Christians and yet, still less, to exclude them from, or not welcome them to, participation in my own. What we need in order to know ourselves catholic, or within the Church of Christ, is to be able to answer on the right side such questions as these: Are we, so far as in us lies, in love and sympathy and unity with Christ and Christianity where-ever these may be? If not in actual or outward communion with, are we responsible for and guilty of alienation and separation from, any part of the living and loving and working Body of Jesus Christ in this world? How deeply and sincerely are we wishing and praying and laboring to be at one, and to be one, with God and Christ and all their living and saving presence and operation in our universal humanity?

The time is gone to be dwelling upon or debating past responsibilities, faults, or failures. All we can do now to any profit is to repent and regret them, and go straight on to see how we can best repair them. The present business of every fragment of Christianity is to set itself in preparation and readiness to be at one with every other. But we shall never prevail against any ism or replace it with anything better, until we learn to meet and overcome it with a true and a real catholicity.

All human life, individual or collective, begins under authority and ends in freedom. Human government began monocratic and ends, or is to end, democratic. There was a time when the king ruled, rightly because necessarily, by a divine right--the divine right of an external authority when there was as yet nothing internal on the part of the ruled to direct and control in its stead. But because monarchism, even despotism, was at one stage necessary, it does not follow that individual, personal, popular responsibility and freedom will not be in order at another stage or in the end. It ought not to be doubted that Roman spiritual monarchy and absolutism was a necessity and a world-wide benefit in its time. But equally ought it to be remembered and realized that the law and authority and control of all human faith and life cannot remain in one human head or self. However the sacred oil or chrism was poured upon the head of Aaron, it was not to remain there only, but was to flow down to his beard and finally to the very lowest hem of his garment. The thought, experience, verification, determination of faith, as of all human life, is corporate. It works downward and outward, and there as everywhere else the goal, and the ultimate criterion, is not in the mind and will of one, but in the intelligent consent of all. This is no easy goal to reach, or even to foresee; all we can do is to be looking and moving slowly and wisely in the direction of it. All passage from monocracy to democracy is more or less through conflict and confusion; nevertheless there is nothing to do but to press onward toward it.

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