Chapter IX. The Priest in the Community
By the Rev. John Brewster Hubbs, D.D., D.C.L.
Rector of St. Peter's Church, Geneva, N.Y.
THE Priest, guided by the summary of the law, should be interested in two sciences: Theology, which is the science of God--"Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind"; Sociology, which is the science of society--"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." The Church Catechism calls these two sciences in practical language, "Duty towards God," and "Duty towards thy neighbor."
The word "community" is a noble one. It speaks of common interests, common hopes, common labors. It suggests a brotherhood in which every individual has a share of work and responsibility for the highest moral development of the whole. The life of the community is a necessity for man. This is where he lives and is educated. He thinks and works by the agency of the interests and the industries and the institutions that the community furnish him. These august forces effect the destiny of man in a mechanical way from the outside. They also are mighty subjective influences, pervasive and penetrating, which constantly touch and mould character. Hence it is supremely necessary for the salvation of man that the whole environment of life, which so potently affects character, be redeemed. It is a hopeless task to save men engaged in an immoral business or profession and living in an ungodly community. The world necessarily is the subject of redemption. "We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
What has the Priest of the Church to do with the varied life of the community, and whence gathers he the authority to do anything?
The authority of the Priest to be officially interested in the social institutions and relations of the community is centered in the Person of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. The Incarnation, which is the central fact in the life of the world and the most far-reaching event in human experience, is "a revelation of human duties." Jesus was made MAN. He does not take the nature of any one man, but He tabernacles in human nature in its integrity, and so gathers up into Himself everything that man is and thinks and does and desires. The Incarnation touches to hallow all finite life. The process of civilization and the development of institutions that make for the progress of mankind issue from the Incarnation of Jesus. "He came unto His own" to deliver the creation from "the bondage of corruption," and to gather up in the one Perfect Life all the beauty and truth and righteousness that there is in the philosophy and poetry, the science and art, the industry and government of the world. It is the purpose of God to reconcile and reunite all the constituent elements of life now at war and scattered by the power of sin, "that in the dispensation of the fulness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him."
St Athanasius said that Christ came "to recreate the universe." The Bishop of Durham wrote, "We are not Theists." The commission of the Priest "is not simply to call on men to believe in God, but to believe in God manifested in the flesh." It is the Incarnation that gives to the Church the virtue to free the world from the tyranny of materialism and selfishness, to imbue all human activities and institutions with the Master's spirit of sacrifice and service, and to sanctify them to the worship of the Ideal. The highest claim that the Gospel has to be called the Religion of Humanity, is that it is the Gospel of the Son of Man. The Son of Man would hide in the measures of society the leaven of the divine righteousness. The saintly Law once said: "As our salvation depends as certainly upon our behaviour in things relating to civil life, as in things relating to the service of God, it follows that they both equally are matters of conscience and salvation." This earth is to be the scene of the consummation of the work of Christ. This thought should inspire the Priest to diligence of labor, that he may regenerate somewhat the life of his community, now so deranged and degraded by sin. Redeemed man will live on the redeemed earth. The earth fell with him; "all nature felt the wound." It will be redeemed with him. The saving virtue of the Incarnation is to extend as far as the effects of sin. "For He hath put all things under His feet." The creation "delivered from the bondage of corruption" becomes the kingdom of heaven. Hence it is that "the Gospel of the Kingdom" deals with every earthly and social problem by the very virtue of its mission and ministry. Social works, which would discipline the completest life of the world to give the answer to the unanswered prayer of our Lord, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," and prepare the way for the coming of "Thy Kingdom," and earthly obligations and duties, which have for their service the salvation of "the organized constitution of things," form the burden of the Lord in both the Testaments.
"One is our faith and one our longing
To make the world within our reach
Somewhat the better for our living,
And gladder for our human speech."
The moral and social problems of life have been created by Christianity. They have been called into existence by Christian ideals. There are no problems of marriage and divorce, of capital and labor, of science and education, of crime and penal reform, of poverty and politics, in a pagan land. These urgent questions arise only within the horizon of the Gospel's hope. They have been given being by Christianity. The only power that can solve them is "the Gospel of the Kingdom." The ultimate responsibility for this solution rests with the disciples of Christ, and centers in the application to the whole life of man of the principles of the Incarnation.
The early Church very readily recognized and realized the far-reaching virtue of the Incarnation. The pioneers of the Gospel believed that the salvation of God was a deliverance from the tyranny of sin, for the physical and the material, as well as for the moral and spiritual. St. Ignatius summed up the social doctrine of the early Fathers when he said: "Indifference to social wrongs and woes is a note of heterodoxy." They interpreted Christ's acts in healing the sick, raising the dead, and satisfying the hungers of the body, as their sanctions to minister to the physical and social needs of life. The Church was concerned with the social evils of slavery, infanticide, divorce, and the degradation of woman, almost before a resting-place for the lever of the Gospel was found. Believing that "the Priest's lips should keep knowledge," it was interested in education, and established schools and colleges. It built hospitals and asylums and fostered the healing art. It nourished science and art and philosophy and literature, and made them Christian. It was interested in politics and, in go far as it followed the Master's spirit, stood for the righteousness of liberty. The Magna Charta is the result of the political activity of an Archbishop. The early Christians believed that the Kingdom of God was advanced in the same ratio that the institutions of the world were redeemed for righteousness. The highest historical evidences for the divine virtue of Christianity are its works for the common well-being of man in society. The strongest influence for humanity, fraternity, and social betterment in the experience-of man, is the religion of Christ.
The work for the redemption of the activities and institutions of life went on until the Reformation. The true Priest of the Catholic Church was not only busied about the saving of individual souls and lengthening the cords and strengthening the stakes of the Church, but he was also for his community the minister of charity and education and justice and government. With the Reformation came a philosophy which narrowed the ancient interpretations of the Incarnation, and gave to man the misconception that "the order of things in which we live is permanently, necessarily, and incurably corrupt." An intense subjective individualism went abroad. Missionary work and efforts for the regeneration of social institutions were as relics of the past. Science, art, philosophy, pagan literature, music, were denounced as the works of the Devil. The Priest must devote his energies to religious controversy and the functions of ecclesiasticism, transfer his hopes to the other world, and be in no way concerned with the salvation of the activities and institutions of this present world.
To-day the Church is getting back to the old starting-place. The ancient interpretations of the Incarnation and the scriptural conceptions of salvation, are now prevailing. The disciples of Jesus see that the Cross is the way to service, and that consecration to God means devotion to "the ministry of reconciliation," which is to reconcile the institutions of the world "unto Himself." The revived antiphonal of the Church is:
"Christ for the world we sing;
The world to Christ we bring,
With loving zeal."
The first institution in the life of the community to claim the ministry of the priest, is the family. The family is the social unit. Its integrity is now attacked. So severe are these movements that an eminent social scientist has said that the next amendment to the Constitution of the United States should relate to the family.
Marriage, divorce, intemperance, crime, gambling, poverty, the hours and places of labor, child-labor, sanitary measures, tenement-house reform, every question and activity that affect the stability and sacredness of the family, are subjects for the study and service of the Priest. In this department of social righteousness he should be "the chief speaker."
There is no work which so affects the life of the family and the Church as education. Upon education Christianity put a moral value. In the early ages schools were the creation and the care of the Church. Priests were the school masters. They set Christian ideals for intellectual discipline, and sanctified pagan literature to the service of moral and mental regeneration. For various causes the school has become separated from the Church. The influence of the Christian ideal is to a great degree lost. Our schools to-day are called "godless." If this be true, the situation is serious. It is not enough for the Church to have a few colleges and diocesan schools. It should have more of them. The urgent practical need is for the Priest, in his community, to do his best to breathe into the public school system the Christian ideal. He should have a watchful interest in the schools. It may be that he can become a trustee, or a member of the Board of Education. All Churchmen delight to honor the princely Bishop in the Empire State who, acting as the Vice-Chancellor of the Board of Regents, has put his gifts and graces to the service of leveling up the educational system of that commonwealth to the Christian standards. [The Rt. Rev. W. C. Doane, Bishop of Albany.--Ed.]
The work of charities and correction should supremely appeal to the Priest. "The most fearful words in Holy Writ," as Sadler calls them, make the procedure of the day of judgment to center in the corporal works of mercy. These works hold the place of honor in the code of the Catholic Faith. Modern society has a growing army of destitutes, defectives, and delinquents. It is created both by the inherited results of sin and the environments of life. The redemption of the criminal, the reformation of prison methods, the regeneration of the tramp and the social conditions which make him, the establishment of correct conceptions of charity, the care and the cure of the defective, demand the consecrated study and energy of the Priest. By the sanctions of Christ's ministry, they should be considered the most urgent works of "the Gospel of the Kingdom." It is a sad and suggestive fact that in this country the work of charities and correction has, in a large degree, passed into the hands of Jews and agnostics. Only here and there is there a Bishop or a Priest who, having gathered a scientific and scriptural knowledge of this department of Christian activity, is moved to sanctify his energies for the salvation of the bodies of men, marred by sin, and for the creation of a cleaner environment for the discipline of character. One of our most honored Bishops, whose works will follow him forever, has held for many years the Chairmanship of the Board of Charity and Corrections of his State. In this sphere of Christian labor he has done as much probably "to hasten Thy kingdom," as by his more canonical episcopal acts.
"Thy touch has still its ancient power."
The industrial question, which carries with it every problem that centers in capital and labor, claims to-day the anxious attention of the Priest. Bishop Westcott says that "the labor question is in the fullest sense a religious question." It is the question which very largely determines the environment and the associations of life, which produce character. The Priest, guided by the Old Testament prophets, will view every problem which affects the social life of the community as a religious question. Labor, which is a discipline of humility, was sanctified by Christ. The Priest is bound, therefore, to the ministry of imbuing all labor with the Christian ideal. It has been said that every policy for the regeneration of society and the hallowing of life has been tried, save that of the divine Love. Is it not the duty of the Priest to apply to the wrongs in the market, in the shop and the bank, the remedy of the law of love and love as the law, and to redeem from the tyranny of selfishness and materialism the code of economics? Does not the settlement of all these urgent industrial questions center in the principles of the Incarnation? "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?" It is an inspiring source of hope for the future to know that the Bishop of a great diocese, because of his knowledge of the industrial problems of the age, has often been chosen to settle the puzzling questions which so frequently arise between capital and labor. [The present Bishop of New York.] These opportunities are golden chances for the Gospel of the divine Love.
"Our life, with all it yields of joy and love,
And hope und fear,
Is just our chance o' the prize of learning-love,
How love might be, hath been, indeed, and is."
What shall we say of the Priest's relation to the kingdoms of philosophy and science and art and literature and amusement and music? The time would fail us to tell how, in all these departments of human activity, he should be the ablest minister for their righteousness. He should not be willing to surrender the generalship in the struggle for social liberty and the salvation of the world, to the local editor, or a materialist philanthropist.
The life of the community may be limited in its material and opportunities, but the work of the Priest is universal and boundless. His ministry should consecrate all life. His word of pardon should effect the redemption of the world and hasten the "restitution of all things." The Catholicity and the superiority and the saving virtue of the Gospel which he preaches can never be transcended. It proceeds to give a religious significance and solution to every problem of life; for it is destined to go on with its universal spiritual regeneration until the seventh angel sounds. Great voices in heaven will then declare the victory: "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever."
"The day is short,
The work is great,
The reward is ample,
The Master urges."