CANON WILFRED KNOX, who is one of the Catholic leaders in the Church of England whom thoughtful people listen carefully to today, has written an article in the October, 1933, Green Quarterly in which he criticizes the critics. He criticizes the statements that have been made about the Catholic Revival by the Dean of Exeter, Lord Hugh Cecil, and Canon Barry of Westminster. Lord Hugh Cecil wants the Church to go back to the Tractarians, without realizing that no movement ever goes back. But most members of the House of Lords want every movement to go back. That attitude of mind has a lordly atmosphere. The Dean of Exeter wishes us to throw the past away more bravely. But we are mindful of the fact that no Christianity can survive unless its roots are in the past. Christianity is an historic religion. The Canon of Westminster, however, has a more potent criticism. He wishes us "to abandon our introverted Churchmanship, and make the Church a force for carrying out God's work in the world, and not just a refuge for old people who want to escape from its wickedness." With some limitations Fr. Knox agrees with Canon Barry, and Canon Barry knows his young people. He was for years rector of the University Church at Oxford.
Again, speaking in Boston recently, that well known Indian missionary, Dr. Stanley Jones, said that "if we were to apply the principles of Jesus Christ to the world in which we live, we should produce a society so radical that it would make Bolshevism appear conservative, and at the same time preserve those values of human liberty and individuality which make personality touched by Christ a noble and beautiful thing." I am ready to agree that every word of this is true, and I should like to add that it is perfectly possible to change the statement in such a way as to say the same thing about the Catholic religion. No understanding of the Oxford Movement is complete without the realization that, in the realm of doctrine, it implied a change in the axis of Christian thought. It is well for us to remember that the Movement did not come to a Church that was completely dead, as so many of our superficial handbooks would seem to imply. The Evangelical Revival had stirred the Church to its depths, and Evangelical religion had restored devotion to the Passion of Christ. It had reincarnated many if not all of the moral values of the Christian religion. It had stirred the hearts of men and women to a renewed devotion to the Person of our Lord. But the axis of Evangelical thought was the Passion. Salvation by the Cross and the power of the Precious Blood to heal and to restore human character in Christ were the great themes of its preaching mission.
The Oxford Movement, when it appeared upon the scene, could utilize a great deal of what had already been accomplished, but it had to restore to Christian thought the great and true principle that man is saved not alone by the Passion of Christ, isolated from the rest of Christian revelation, but by the whole cycle of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and heavenly priesthood of Jesus Christ, acting through the Church throughout the ages. In other words, the Incarnation, and not the Passion, is the true axis of Christian thought. It is not unkind to the Oxford fathers to say that they could not be expected to realize the implications of what they were beginning to accomplish. Even the sacramental message of the Catholic religion was not the main theme of their teaching, however much they believed in it, and they did. It was the restoration of Catholic thought which they were concerned with, even more than the restoration of Catholic ceremonial and Catholic practice.
But the Catholic religion had implications which they hardly realized. When the Movement was suppressed in Oxford, it burst into life in the dark places of the slums. It brought the message of the Incarnation to the wounded hearts and souls of those oppressed people of England who were suffering because of the inequalities of an economic and social order, which they did not understand, and whose injustices the eyes of the men and women of the day were not keen enough to perceive.
It is well that we should remember that the great names of the Movement all through its history were the names of men who in their day and generation were keenly alive to human needs, to the terrible inequalities of social and economic life, to the sufferings of the poor and oppressed; the Pollock brothers of Birmingham, Mackonochie and Dolling, Stanton, Stewart Headlam, Frank Weston, and Scott Holland, Charles Marson, Studdert-Kennedy and Charles Gore, and all the bishops and priests who, according to their courage, "followed in their train." They are the names of men who had a cast-iron determination to apply that religion to society, to interpret life in terms of the Poor Man of Nazareth and His Church, and to make no compromise with the powers of evil, or with spiritual wickedness in high places.
If the doctrine of the Incarnation be the axis of Christian thought, where is its focal point? Is it not the great Reality that impels us to fall upon our knees in the midst of the Creed, and again before the priest leaves the altar at the end of the last gospel, "God was made man." "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." That is what we begin with, and with that message we go back to a sorrow-stricken world. If He was made man?why? Man is a curious animal, and it is this divine curiosity, given to us by God, that is the background of every advance that humanity has made. Why was God made Man? St. Anselm wrote a book about it, Cur Deus Homo? But the Church has given us the answer in the Creed: God was made man "for us men and for our salvation." The fact that He was made man is the center of Catholic thought, and the reason why He was made man is the motive of Catholic action. It was all for us. For us He came. For us He lived. For us He died, and rose again. For us He ever liveth to make intercession. But we do not stop there. For us the Church exists. All that the Church does is for man. Every sacrament is for man, to heal him, to restore him, and to make him one with God, and having done that, to make him one with the brethren. There is more dynamite in that message than there is in the message of any secular social order. That is why Fr. Talbot, preaching in St. Mary's, Oxford, on the actual day of the centenary of Keble's Assize Sermon, reminded us that "Christianity does not exist merely as a means of saving civilization, for, in the purpose of God, civilization as we know it may not be meant to be saved." But it does mean that if we in the Church today forget the social message of the Catholic religion we shall be false to one of the most sacred trusts which we possess.
Let us then for a moment look at the world. Catholics believe that God has promised that "the gates of Hell shall not prevail" against the Church. That does not mean that they may not prevail in parts of the Church in any land where it is false to its social mission. Let us face the facts. The Church is dead, or almost dead, in Russia today. It is only a part truth to say that the Communists have killed it. You cannot tell the whole truth without making the counter-statement that the Church in Russia died because it had all too long been in the grip of a decadent imperialism, and was too anemic to adjust itself to the demands of a new day.
The Catholic religion is losing ground every moment in Spain, where the Church owned more than one-fourth of the land, and was the worst landlord in the country. We have before our eyes the picture of a devout Roman Catholic in the presidential palace in Madrid having to fight against his own Church because he is so keen about changing for the better the world in which he lives.
The Church is all but dead in Mexico, where she was given over to ignorance, superstition, and reaction.
In Germany the voice of prophecy has been silenced, and Protestant Christianity has become unrecognizable as Christianity at all, because it is the mere tool of a dictator who has defied every principle which our religion stands for. [This was written before the German Evangelical Church took its brave stand against the oppressive nationalism of the Hitlerized State.] And even the Holy Father himself has approved a concordat whereby the Roman Church only exists there on condition that she say nothing against the state. Priesthood goes on, to be sure, but prophecy signs a contract with Satan.
How sad it is to realize how often in her history the Church has forgotten why she is here?yes, why her Lord came and why she is here?"For us men and for our salvation."
If we have suddenly begun to discover that the Gospel of the Incarnation has social power, what shall we say of the social power of the message of its extension in Church and Sacrament? Here again we have often yet to discover that we possess the very dynamite of heaven, and we are to ask ourselves to what extent we are using it for man.
If today you could sit in the midst of a group of scientists, possibly with a psychiatrist, and a physicist, and a chemist, and an astronomer, and listen to their conversation you would find that the conception of matter is being revolutionized. You would find them saying that the line between matter and spirit is fast breaking down. You would find that matter is becoming spiritualized and spirit is becoming materialized, and yet in the last analysis we really know nothing as to what matter is, or whence it came. This does not mean that science is becoming more materialistic. It means rather that it is becoming spiritualized. It is creating a world of thought that is more friendly to a social and sacramental gospel. At some stages of human thought the deepest mysteries sometimes become the deepest realities.
And sacramentalism is a mystery, but it is also a reality. Sacramentalism means that matter, and the created world of matter must be used, not to destroy spirit, not to wreck idealism, not to enslave man, but to free him, that he may pursue the divine quest unhampered, that God may touch him, and bring him into a new relation with his brother.
Let us consider what this means. It means that sacramentalism lives in a world of thought where the machine must be used, not to enslave man, but to free him. It must not be used to exploit him. It must not be used to destroy his spirit or his creative activity. It must belong to God and man; which is only another way of saying that it must belong to Jesus Christ, for He is both. Sacramentalism has too often meant merely heated arguments about two sacraments or seven; heated metaphysical discussions about the nature of the Real Presence; groups of clergy sitting up all night in heated arguments about where the Gloria in Excelsis should be said, while the world passes on its way, and we with the stupendous gospel have been living with spiritual dynamite in our cupboard, and no thoughtful realization of how it can be applied to the world. We have been living in a world where men were made for machines, where machines have been used to destroy the human spirit, where grain elevators have been full of bread, and men and women have been starving. The next time you go to Mass, think what is happening. Think who is there, and why you are there. Think of the person who is kneeling beside you when you are receiving the Blessed Sacrament, and realize how the Blessed Sacrament in its stupendous truth gives the lie to all that. It is so true, so powerful, so real, so mysterious that, when you realize that truth, the world about you suddenly looks ridiculous. Matter is here to be the channel of the spirit. The worst materialists of the world are not really those who believe in the economic interpretation of history, but those who do not know that the material things of this world are not here to be destroyed or to be misused. They are here to be used for the glory of God and the welfare of His children. We have blessed bread at the altar, but we have not blessed it in the grain elevators. Every starving man and woman should remind us of that, should make us want to make the Mass more real. Sometimes it is not the most complex expressions of the Catholic religion which are the most real. It is rather that the gigantic simplicities, which are before us day by day, should be made real, and released to bear their witness in human life and in society. One of the great war cries of the Catholic Revival has been, "It is the Mass that matters." We have made every effort to get it back into our churches. We have tried to make it more beautiful. We have used the sacramental principle to surround it with the material beauty of the world. But sometimes we have been so busy putting diamonds on our chalices that we have forgotten the precious character of its social message. We have remembered its origin. We have seen Jesus breaking Bread on the night in which He was betrayed. We have even remembered the miracle of His Presence, but we have disassociated it from the miracle which He performed that day on the hillside, when the hunger of the multitudes touched the Heart of Jesus, and He fed them. It took very little that day to feed a great multitude. If the Church could awaken to her task today it would take very little to feed twelve million unemployed, because the people who hold the destinies of society in their hands would realize that Christ is here.
Let us then for a moment look at the Anglican communion. The Church of England is awakening to the day in which it lives, with astonishing rapidity. The determination to apply the Gospel to the world in which we live is dawning in people's souls from archbishop down to the poorest priest in England. The slums are being destroyed and rebuilt with clean, wholesome homes. The great social movements are being fearlessly proclaimed. But when we look at our own country, the picture often seems discouraging beyond endurance. Here, even far more than in England, ever since our birth as a national Church we seem to have been the respectable communion of the privileged classes. Many a row between Catholic and Protestant, within the borders of the Episcopal Church, has no rhyme or reason in the realm of theology, but can only be understood from the vantage point of economics. Parish after parish has permitted dictatorships; the mill owner in a New England town; the banker, whose business is more important than his religion; even the bishop, in whose eyes and mind the apportionment looms so large that it seems to have displaced the Gospel. But the truth is mighty, and it can no more perish in this world than can He who said "I am the Truth."
In the early days of the Revival in America, Fr. Ewer wrote a book called The Failure of Protestantism. That book was a prophetic utterance. Everything he predicted in it has come to pass. Protestantism in America has failed. I do not belong to the small group who are just willing to sit around and gloat over what has happened. To destroy any great spiritual force so suddenly is a serious thing unless one has something to put in its place. We have not been strong enough, either spiritually or numerically, to put the Catholic faith in its place. But the interpretation of the failure of Protestantism is part of our business, and the failure of Protestantism is just as much a social and cultural phenomenon as it is a spiritual phenomenon. Protestantism is individualism in the realm of religion. Catholicism is socialized religion. Protestantism in England and America is the expression of the industrial revolution in the sphere of religion. The industrial revolution is the background of the competitive and acquisitive society in which we have been living. When the acquisitive society begins to fall, the ecclesiastical, cultural, and spiritual structure begins to fall.
Ten years ago there were few people in the Church who realized that when H. L. Mencken was attacking Protestantism and Prohibition, with vituperative ridicule, he was really attacking the whole cultural situation which the American scene presented. You were shocked when Sinclair Lewis was given the Nobel prize. But one must realize that the real reason why he was given the Nobel prize was because, in rather a prophetic fashion, he had attacked a decadent culture. He had attacked the spiritual fruits of the industrial revolution. He had attacked Protestantism. He had attacked the acquisitive society, and his novels have made all these things ridiculous. Do you not see what happened? The Rotary Club was organized for the profit motive. They wanted to get everything behind that motive. They wanted to get the Church, and the pastor, whatever his religion. He was flattered, and needed money for his church. So he came in and weakly said, "You must be good." The Rotarian replied, "That is all right, but we must make money." And so we evolved the glorious gospel of being good because it pays. We lost our cultural soul as well as our spiritual soul.
Some of you are old enough to remember Bruce Barton, his book, The Man Nobody Knows. His was a last desperate attempt to get Christ into the Rotary Club. They had got the parson for their chaplain. Now they wanted his Saviour for a president. And when the book came out there was not a single prophet in the whole land, nor a single spiritually-minded person, nor a single novelist, nor a single essayist, nor a single intelligent and loyal parson, who did not know that Mr. Barton was trying to manufacture a new Christ in terms of American commercialism. No man of ideals, no man of prayer, no Christian who understood the Cross and its eternal meaning wanted to know the cartoon that Mr. Barton had drawn, but they did want to know Christ, the Christ of the Gospels and the Church.
Do you know the reason why many Anglo-Catholic priests used to read the American Mercury, and even enjoyed the novels of Sinclair Lewis in the postwar years? It was because they saw the Mr. Babbitts all around them, and they didn't see how Mr. Babbitt's soul could be saved unless one got him out of his business and cultural environment. His whole life was concerned with profit, and we were trying to teach him the meaning of the Crucifix, which is exactly the opposite of profit. We could not make the Mass real to him because he was trying to make as much as he could out of the man kneeling beside him at the altar rail. We were blessing bread at the altar, and giving him the Bread of Life, and his whole attitude toward bread was wrong. We were blessing wine, "that maketh glad the heart of man," but we were only blessing it in church, and not in society. Instead of consecrating it to God, we repudiated it and ran away from it. We espoused the cause of prohibition. We were untrue to sacramentalism. It is Protestantism that did this. It is this mistake of Protestantism that has given us our gangsters, our bootleggers, our hijackers, our cocktail parties, and our night clubs. The prohibition period is the last period in the history of a dying cultural order. Catholics should realize that, and know how to interpret it. Catholics we hope have a crucified Lord, a socialized religion, and a world outlook. Moreover they have a religion which, because of the primary doctrinal assumptions of its message, cannot possibly be reconciled with an acquisitive society. Wherever the Church has been the tool of an acquisitive society, there has been economic prosperity and spiritual disaster. It is our work to break that bond.
The real reason why our pulpits are so un-prophetic today is because so many bishops and priests know that they have the great reality, but they cannot preach it in the unreal world in which they live. And the unreal world is always apparent at meetings of standing committees, and meetings of vestries, and in the hearts of those priests who know where their salaries come from.
At this juncture there are two scenes in the Gospel that burn in upon my soul. I wonder if you have ever realized how closely they are related to our situation today. One day our Lord met a rich young ruler.
You remember the conversation. The rich young ruler wanted some things our Lord had to give, but he didn't want to pay the price: to sell what he had and give to the poor, and follow the Master. He departed because he had great possessions, and our Lord was sorrowful because He loved him. He loved his possessions more than he loved Jesus Christ and His poor. I am very much afraid that the scene will be re-enacted in the world in which we live.
But there is another scene. The money changers had changed the Father's House into a house of merchandise. This situation was not just a situation where greed and covetousness came between God and man. Here the commercial spirit was coming between the City of God and the Father to whom it belonged, and when this happens the commercial spirit becomes blasphemy. Jesus did not simply stand aside sorrowful, as He did when he watched the rich young ruler walking away down the road. He took a whip of small cords. He went into His Father's House, and He used force.
We have a glorious opportunity. We have the Catholic religion in that free condition in which it first appeared in the early Church, when it brought joy to the hearts of the down-trodden and oppressed. We have the Catholic religion free from the shackles of Italian imperialism. And we know very well that we do not have to face the difficulty of being the richest people in the Episcopal Church. Anglo-Catholics are poor, especially in America. Well and good! How much easier it is then to understand the poor! Many Anglo-Catholics are among the unemployed. But possibly they have preserved just enough of a sense of humor to smile at the old lady who remarked that all the unemployed were wicked, and really wouldn't work if you did find them a job. But you and I perhaps know that many of these unemployed have enough of their religion in their hearts to smile that smile charitably in the truest sense, and to love the old lady, and to realize that she is just the product of a by-gone age that can never, never return.
There is nothing so awful or so decadent as a religion that is divorced from life. It is like a hollow shell. Its shallowness and its unreality are always apparent to the eyes of the idealist. I am absolutely certain in my own mind that the reason why so many young people of today turn their backs upon the Church is simply and solely because we give them a sense of unreality, and that unreality is directly in proportion to. the degree in which we are separating religion from life, usually our own life, be it personal or corporate. The type of mind and soul and spirit that thinks the Catholic religion is a department of life, and not life itself, produces a false picture of the gospel, which looks all too much like an ecclesiasticism without Jesus, and an ecclesiasticism without Jesus has no converting power, much less a social message. The new day that is dawning needs brave spirits and courageous hearts. Its leadership must be in Christian hands, or the new world will be no better than the muddle we are now trying to climb out of. Those Christian hands that are to hold that leadership must be the hands of bishops, priests, and laymen that are stigmatized by the Passion. These leaders will be people to whom Christ is more important than their bank accounts or their dividends, whose hearts belong to Jesus and are not locked in the strong box at the bank.
LET ME CLOSE with a true story, a true story but a sad one. Last winter, before the election, a group of priests and laity who were enlightened enough to be interested in social problems were called to one of our great cities to see if the Episcopal Church had very much to say about social problems. I was not there, but I have been hearing about it and thinking about it ever since. At one point during the conference these gentlemen sat and listened to a former cabinet officer of the United States, and a layman of the Church, who kept saying, "We must say nothing to disturb confidence." Confidence in what? one wonders. In bankers? That had almost departed from the American mind. Confidence in the social order? That was shaken to its foundations. One hears these things, and listens to these stories, and then looks back over the centuries to that strange and wondrous Figure, who through that marvelous ministry of three years did nothing but disturb confidence?the confidence of the world in itself, the confidence of the Scribes and Pharisees in themselves, the confidence of a predatory government in itself. And then one thinks of the early Church, the persecuted Church, that went out and shook the confidence of an Empire in itself, and got thrown to the lions for doing it. If we have eyes, we can see the world before us today. We can see the great steel corporations the world over, in Germany, in France, in England, yes, in America, too, preparing for the next war, paying the Hitlers to organize movements to crucify Christ anew in His own people. All summer long we had the sorry picture of the great munitions corporations lobbying at Geneva, in the interests of Hitler, Japan, War. The British Armstrong-Vickers Corporation was fighting England's own representatives at the League of Nations. [The Living Age, Oct., 1932; "The Man Behind Hitler." The Secret International (Union of Democratic Control, 34 Victoria St., London, S. W. 1). This Bloody Traffic, A. Fenner Brockway (Gollancz, London).] All the Kruegers are not dethroned yet, nor the Insulls in prison. Is this the Church's business or not? Shall she be silent? Shall the Church of the future fall into the great betrayal, or shall she, on the other hand, be willing to die that she may live with that Master who stedfastly set His face like a flint to go up to Jerusalem?
"For us men and for our salvation" He was made man. "For us men and for our salvation" He came and lived and died. "For us men and for our salvation" we are fed with that super-substantial Bread that came down from heaven by Him who fed the multitudes in His day, and who has never turned His back upon them since. We are here to do His work that the world may be won for Him; and that work, that message, that Church, those sacraments, must not be divorced from the life of a world that hungers for justice. Love without justice is not love at all, for it does not reach down far enough to tear out sin by the roots.
I am not much of a psychologist, either personal or social, but I know what an escapist is. An escapist is one who tries to avoid the ugly facts of the world in which he lives. It is much easier and simpler to forget the tragedies of the world in which you live; you will be happier if you do, but you will not be like Christ. You will be the kind of a person who is trying to get to heaven without stopping at Calvary. You may get a happy religion but it will get you no further than a house-party at the Waldorf-Astoria. If you really look at this world it will break your heart; so was His heart broken on the Tree. But if you stand by Him while He suffers today in His poor; if you stand by Him who is the Lord of the Catholic Church?you will know that that Church has a social mission and in the fulfilment of it lies the hope of the world. We cannot understand the spiritual situation unless we realize that if we desert the poor today, we are not only deserting them, not only deserting their Saint, but we are deserting their Saviour.
Will ye betray the Mission of your Master,
The Poor Man who once hanged upon a Tree?
To do so would not only betray Francis,
But stab Him who once died for you and me.