Project Canterbury









Trinity College


The Right Reverend HENRY C. POTTER, D. D., LL.D. (Cantab.)




Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2007

"And Gallio cared for none of those things."--ACTS xviii. 17.

THE "things" referred to here were undoubtedly things with which Gallio was not officially concerned. He was a Roman pro-consul in the year A. D. 52, and he happens to be a personage of whom profaner histories than the book of the Acts are able to tell us a good deal. Resentment has been expressed by some modern critics because so often he is represented in connection with the incident of the text, as rude and contemptuous in his indifference. I do not believe that he was rude. He was, in our modern phrase, a very accomplished gentleman; and he is universally reputed to have had a singularly genial temper. The brother of Seneca, Seneca himself wrote of him--(a remarkable testimony certainly, from one's own brother!) "No mortal man is so sweet to any single person as is Gallio to all mankind. [* Seneca's Quaest, Nat. iv., Praef. Sec. xi., 10.] Even those who love my brother Gallio to the very utmost of their power, do not love him enough." Contemporaneous testimony confirms this seemingly extravagant praise in a very unmistakable way, and there can be no doubt that Lucius Junius Annaeus Gallio, as he is generally known, was a man of distinguished gifts and of most gracious manners, uniting in his own person a Roman dignity and a Grecian "sweetness and light."

But, all the same, I fancy we may safely accept St. Luke's description of him. A critical authority has [3/4] pointed out that his rulings in the two cases which the context brings before us were eminently sound and discriminating. Unquestionably they were. In the one case he was asked by a mob to punish a Jewish stranger for teaching contrary to their religion. But he had no jurisdiction over questions of Hebrew ecclesiasticism, and he promptly said so. In the other case, the Greeks, who were not so much St. Paul's friends as they were their Jewish neighbors' enemies, take the ruler of the synagogue, Sosthenes, and beat him before Gallio's judgment seat. I do not believe they beat him very badly. They hustled him, and buffetted him after their volatile Greek fashion; and Gallio, looking idly on, probably thought that it was, on the whole, in the interests of good order, that the Jews and their leaders should learn, even if somewhat roughly, that arresting innocent strangers and dragging them before the pro-consul, was an unwarrantable proceeding. In the earlier case, he states the legal aspect of the matter with great clearness and precision; and in the latter, he illustrates the true attitude of a Roman pro-consul with a large and liberal impartiality.

But, so far as he was concerned, that was the whole of it. Some one has suggested that after the affair was over, he probably wrote to his brother Seneca: "I had scarcely arrived here when the Jews tried to play on my inexperience by dragging before me one Paulus, who seems to be an adherent of Chrestus, or Christus, of whom we heard something at Rome. But I was not going to be troubled with their malefic superstitions, and ordered them to be turned out. The Greeks, accordingly, who were favorable to Paulus, beat one of the Jews in revenge for their malice. [4/5] You would have smiled, if you had been present, at these follies of the turba forensis; saed haec hactenus." [* Life and Works of St. Paul, Farrar, Vol. I., pp. 572, 573]

Yes, so much by the way; and in some such words we have a tolerably perfect image of the man. The whole incident to him was eminently insignificant. If any one had told him then that the man who had stood a little earlier before him was destined to exert an influence only second to the mightiest that the world has known, if any one had told him that that insignificant, feeble, and half-sighted Jew was the incarnation of a moral and intellectual force, whose effects would be felt two thousand years away; above all, if anybody had told him that he himself would pass into the history of the world as chiefly noteworthy for his contemptuous indifference to a movement which was to revolutionize human society, can you not guess the light laugh, the smiling jest, with which he would have dismissed so preposterous a statement?

And therein he becomes a type, my young brothers, at once tragic and prophetic, of that indifference to great issues and grave questions, which will not go beneath the surface. Here was a scholar, a statesman, a thinker. It is impossible to read the contemporaneous testimonies to his gifts and his attainments; it is impossible to recognize the distinguished position of responsibility to which he had been promoted, without admitting this much of him. Suppose now, that he had used his gifts and his opportunities to try, at least, to understand this obnoxious foreigner. Suppose that he had consented to hear his plea and to weigh honestly his claim. Ah! what a long vista of noblest possibilities for this accomplished Roman opens as we think of what might have been. But, no! the clever [5/6] magistrate, the brilliant man of letters, the accomplished gentleman, "cared for none of these things," and that, so far as Christian history is concerned, is the end of him.

You will not wonder, gentlemen, if I make a personality, in many aspects so interesting, and in many more so profoundly pathetic, the occasion of some suggestions as to the loss out of our common manhood of its enthusiasms. There was a time, I imagine, even in the history of Gallio, when the stranger from Tarsus would have interested him profoundly. He was not an ignorant and coarse-natured person. He had an instinct of justice, a love of truth, a reverence for duty. But that had come to pass in him which more and more comes to pass, I think, in a highly cultivated society, and which is more and more evident and apparent here and to-day. As communities grow more prosperous and luxurious, they grow more artificial and indifferent. In earlier and simpler days, in those epoch-making times of a nation's history, when it is struggling up out of a condition of ignorance and inferiority--when it is contending for the establishment of great principles--when it is breaking the yoke of long-existing and intolerable tyrannies--when life and fortune and honor are at stake, and when no man may shrink from the issue without eternal infamy, there is no room for dilettanteism. The type of person who would treat grave questions with a fine indifference, and dismiss momentous issues with gay badinage, is in such an age so rare as to be practically unknown. If the founders of the republic had among them such characters, they swiftly made them feel their grotesque incongruity with the solemn and searching emergencies with which they had to deal.

"Yes," we say, "but the times are changed, and men [6/7] must be expected to change with them. How absurd it would be to order our modern life here in America on the lines laid down by the men who came here, sore and almost savage with a sense of injustice, with a bitter impatience of monarchical frivolity and licentiousness, and who had to take even their 'pleasure sadly' because the sorrowful element in their lives was so large and so ever-present." There is force in such a contention, and I frankly admit all that there is in it. What we call the Puritan era in this country was itself a reaction, and it was inevitable that it should be followed, sooner or later, by a counter reaction. But the peril of our modern drift and habit, in the matter of what I may call the higher enthusiasms, is that, in recoiling from what it accounts as earlier exaggerations, it seems sometimes as if it were in danger of getting rid absolutely and utterly of everything like earnestness.

You cannot be ignorant, my brothers, of what I have in mind. There is a social stratum, sometimes called the highest, but as recent occurrences in another hemisphere, with their very dubious and disreputable revelations, would seem to indicate, in some sense at any rate, the lowest, where to be greatly interested in anything at all is accounted "bad form." So far has this curious phenomenon extended in certain directions, as almost to seem to threaten the extinction of good manners. For it cannot be forgotten that one of the chief charms of what we call urbane manners is the prompt recognition of an emergency, and the equal promptitude of the courtesy for which the emergency calls. But that languid indifference which some youths of both sexes mistake for good breeding--that assiduous cultivation of the habit of nil admirari, which is the chief effort of some minds, eventuates presently in a stolid apathy [7/8] which provokes the often suspicion that it is the convenient refuge of stupidity. When it is, it may be excusable; but, when it is not, we shall do well to remember that convictions and manners work in opposite directions, and both work. In other words, if it is true that our convictions from within influence our outward behavior, it is no less, though not so immediately and obviously, true that our manners working in ultimately influence our convictions. We begin by affecting an indifference to certain things, not because we feel it, but because we think it the becoming and well-bred thing to do, and we end, as very often in other things, by exchanging an affectation for a habit.

Now, in the case of some things, this may seem to be a matter of very small account. But there are others wherein great interests are involved, and where indifference means, sooner or later, personal shipwreck and general demoralization. I propose to speak of one or two of them, and to indicate what, as I believe, the attitude towards them of a Christian manhood ought to be.

(1) And first, what I may call, for want of a better name, our Social Order. As society emerges out of barbarism it takes on certain regulated and defined modes of action and expression which are in fact the characteristics that differentiate it from that barbarism which it has left behind it. It circumscribes our liberty, it forbids our selfishness, it chastens our extravagance, it defines not alone our rights but the equal rights of other people. The old robber-baron, perched in his eyrie castle on some inaccessible crag of the Rhine, and swooping down from time to time upon the defenceless peasantry below him becomes in time a picturesque figure in poetry and art, but ceases [8/9] to be a personage in fact. And yet we may have him back before a great while, my brothers, unless you and I are awake to our individual responsibility and vigilant for the common well-being. It is a colossal blunder to imagine that, because the robber-baron's castle is no more, that unscrupulous gentleman has become, himself, an extinct species. As a matter of fact, he is very much more alive, and, in some aspects of him many people believe, very much more of a gentleman than ever before. In other words, the best ordered government, the most conservative society, the most venerable institutions, are not safe from the personage to whom the higher aspect of the existence of these things is a matter of profound indifference. He sees in them the opportunities for his own convenience or aggrandizement, and he sees no more. Official position with such an one is a throne of patronage which is to be used, not to secure the most competent service, but to take care of one's friends. Social relations, that delicate framework which binds together families and neighborhoods in gracious and mutually respecting comity, is employed as a stepping-stone to promote a personal or family ambition. The church and the college and the various organized agencies of beneficence, are all alike institutions concerning which the last consideration is that they shall fulfill their high mission, and set forward the greater good of men. I cannot, happily, appeal very largely to your own experience in this matter, for, as yet, you have but infrequently encountered the situations which I have in mind, but there are those here who are your seniors who can tell you as well, or better, than I, how inevitably it will come to pass, as you go forth into the larger work and world that await you, that every social institution, no matter [9/10] how sacred, will reveal itself to you as the theatre of questionable or unworthy motives. Take the most sacred of them all and you will see in a moment what I mean.

There have been eras in the history of the church when her highest offices were the reward of services the least worthy and the least honorable. There have been times when the cure of souls was a matter of purchase or exchange like the trade in cattle or corn. There have been times when to be an incorruptible public servant in the State was surely to be the victim of disappointed intrigue or official malice. There have been times when a scruple of honor has been regarded as a social impertinence, and when a nice sense of propriety was supposed to unfit a man for the service of either the church or the State. Read Ranke's History of the Popes, and it will tell you what I mean. Read Macaulay's History of England, and it, too, will no less plainly tell you the same thing.

Indeed, when one sees, as we saw the other day in the capital of the most powerful representative of our modern Christian civilization, a public trial in which was involved not only the honor of a distinguished soldier, but no less of royalty itself, conducted as though it were a dramatic spectacle in which silly women of not wholly unquestioned reputation crowded the judge's bench and jostled the officers of the law, while wretched people were tortured in the witness box to make an English holiday; one wonders how far off we may be from a day in which, as with Gallio, the most tremendous interests may awaken only a languid curiosity, or be dismissed with gay indifference. Believe me, my young brothers, if such a day, so dark in its portents, so dreary in its prophecy of social decay and dishonor, is not speedily to come, it will be because you and [10/11] others like you have awakened to the gravity of the emergency, and to the courage and the outspokenness which it demands. I can understand and make allowance for that wayward judgment which excuses or apologizes for low and sordid views of our social order, though I cannot admire it. But there is something worse than that, and that is that fine contempt for all nobleness and chivalric feeling, whether it affects the questions of our ambitions, our amusements, or the varied aspects of our complex social relations, as if all these were matters, equally and absolutely, of indifference.

(2) And so even more of those still higher questions of moral conduct. These are involved, in many cases, in those questions of social order to which I have already referred. But occasions, and a good many of them, will come to you, my young brothers, when the primary issue will be, not, "Is it expedient or inexpedient?" nor even, "Is it 'good' or 'bad' form?" but, "Is it right or wrong?" There is an old paganism masquerading just now in the garb of a new philosophy, which tells you that, after all, there is no such distinction as these words imply, and there is a wayward and vicious instinct in human nature which is extremely ready to believe it. Be afraid of that instinct, and of every sophistry that appeals to it, as you would be afraid of the leprosy or the plague. There are two volumes of human history--one of the deeds of men, and the other of the soul of man. The former is what historians, in the ordinary sense of the word, are most largely concerned with. But the latter--the story of the soul, its struggles, its hopes, its fears--that is written in the poetry, the imaginative literature, as it is called, in the tragedy of human life, and in a language never to be mistaken. [11/12] It is written in such poetry as the Psalms of David, and in such tragedy as Othello and Hamlet and Macbeth. And why do men read the one or see the other, silent, spellbound, and smitten with emotions indescribable, but that in their awful portraitures of the innermost workings of these wayward human hearts of ours they see an awful fact? No, no! Belittle it as men may, there are some hours when the most careless of us knows that there is a power of evil in the world; that its fruits are seen in the dreadful dominion of sin; that every day and every hour is, somehow, a challenge to every soul among us to hate the evil and cleave to the good, and that out of that choice comes the peace or the shipwreck of our souls. And yet--who, alas! does not know it over against that fact, a fact of human experience at once universal and undeniable, there still stands the spirit of the modern Gallio, treating all moral questions as if they were questions of the shape of a shoe or the color of a cravat. It invents dainty names for dirty things as when a friend of a royal personage in the last century, applying in the House of Commons for a grant for a king's mistress, described the poor creature as under the king's "protection" (some of you will remember, perhaps, the stinging rebuke which Wilberforce administered, a little later, to the speaker),--it cleverly confuses simpler and less adroit minds by enveloping a plain question of duty or decency in obscure or equivocal terms; it sets over against the clear and strenuous precepts of God the custom of what it calls society; it quotes the example of some one that we are tempted to follow or admire; and then it ends as Gallio ended, with a fine contempt for the mawkish and overscrupulous hesitancy, as it calls it, of some clean and honest young soul, saying, "Well, after all, [12/13] what of it?" or, worse still, I think, "Yes, yes, I know. But you must not come to me with such a question as, What ought you to do? That is your affair, not mine;" or, "This is what everybody does in college, or in business, or in these days, and you can take it or leave it, as you please, only I must be excused from any moral discussions concerning this or anything else. They do not interest me, and I cannot stop to talk about them." Men and brethren, if you want to see the final issue of such indifferentism as that, you must read it in the story of Sodom, of Babylon, of Pompeii, of France under the Louises, and of England in the time of Charles. What saved the State, what redeemed society, what purged the church, what rescued manhood and womanhood then, even as they must rescue it now, was the courage of people who did care; was, in other words, that profound sense of the supreme consequence of moral issues on the part of men to whom "I don't care," and, "Well, what of it?" or, "It is not my affair," came to be, in all such issues, the synonyms of treachery to duty, and of faithlessness toward God.

(3) And so, finally, of that other thing from which conduct must forever derive at once its most enduring sanctions and its highest inspirations. You are living, my brothers, in a generation greatly unfavorable to a clear, definite, and steadfast faith. The disintegration of many man-made symbols of belief seems to many to threaten even those venerable and primitive statements of the Christian faith which are contained in the Catholic creeds. For myself, I am in no doubt about an issue which can only end at last in identifying the facts of history with the church's belief. The presence in the world's best and noblest life, the dominating and transforming presence, of [13/14] those supernatural facts which center in the Incarnate God, these, I am profoundly persuaded, can only be challenged or denied to shine forth with still more irresistible splendor. But, meantime, the air is rent with the cries of controversy, and the mutual recriminations of the critics; and, in an age so pre eminently flippant as our own, there is much to tempt one to treat not alone the vagaries and extravagances of theological antagonists, but the great issues which too often they themselves but feebly and imperfectly recognize with equal and complete disdain. "If this be Christianity," one finds himself moved to say, "this malignity of innuendo, this indifference to things venerable and sacred, this cleverness which mistakes smartness for originality on the one hand, and this dogmatism which mistakes assertion for the truth on the other, then, verily, I want none of it." Nor I, my brothers, nor any honest seeker for the truth in the spirit of candor and charity. But none the less you and I do want to realize that there is a truth to be believed, a Credo to be affirmed, a Leader and Master and Saviour to be owned, and trusted, and followed, and a fellowship which is His fellowship, in which to know and follow Him.

And so, for one, I thank God for the witness of this college, and for every venerable tradition which binds it to a great and glorious past, and pledges it to a yet more glorious future. It does not seem, perhaps, to the casual observer, as if there were much in our American situation to-day to encourage those whose work it is, as is theirs whose is the work of your Alma Mater, to maintain a training-school for the intellect, based upon the principles of the Catholic faith. But to one who looks below the surface there are many signs which may not be mistaken, and [14/15] which to any but an undevout mind seem all to point one way. There is a widespread indifference concerning the things that are most precious, and it infects alike our literature and our life. But, underneath this impatience with human half-statements or mis-statements of the purposes and decrees of God and the origin and destiny of man, there is a groaning which cannot be uttered, and which affirms that "the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope," a conviction that the realm of God is a realm of order and of light, a conviction that God has revealed that light, and founded the fellowship in which we are to seek it, and, most of all, a conviction that, along lines and through agencies by means of which He has wrought from the beginning, we are to watch for its manifestation.

In that high purpose, then, my brothers, let me ask you to go to your work. The realm of social order, the realm of moral obligation, the realm of religious faith, these await your endeavors and bid you to your great opportunity. Go forth to that opportunity, I entreat you, determined to be ashamed, most of all, of a temper of disdainful indifference. In the face of the great questions of life, have an opinion, and do not be afraid to utter it. The men who have moved the world have not been the social or moral or religious indifferentists. The men who have left their mark upon their time have not been men who accounted it a fine thing to be without a serious conviction. It is not a fine thing. It is a detestable and cowardly and unmanly thing. May God give you wisdom to see and own your highest, your noblest calling, and then the courage to follow it.

Project Canterbury