ADDRESS BY THE RT. REV. HORACE W. B. DONEGAN
September 13, 1969
Digitized by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2016
James Albert Pike born in Oklahoma City, February 14, 1913, died accidentally two miles from the Dead Sea on September 5th, 1969 at the age of 56.
Of many lives the simple facts of human existence that they were born and died, are about all that needs to be said. The Burial Office of the Book of Common Prayer recognizes this by making no provision for a eulogy since death levels all men.
Despite that it seems fitting today that we do not let this soul go on his way without a recollection of amazement for his diverse and brilliant accomplishments; of gratitude for the many persons to whom he was a guide, a creative leader and friend; an articulate voice on behalf of those who from their own point of view want the church to be relevant and reform itself to meet modern needs, and yet be loyal to the basic truths of Christianity; of thanksgiving for his unflinching devotion in the search for truth. That is to say we come to praise, and not to blame.
One needs only look at the record of those 56 years to catch a glimpse of this accomplished life; holder of a doctorate in jurisprudence and of honorary degrees in other disciplines; he practiced and taught civil law; was author and co-author of more than a dozen books and innumerable articles; fellow and tutor of General Theological Seminary; Rector of Christ Church, Poughkeepsie; Chaplain of Columbia University, on my nomination, and with the unanimous consent of the Trustees, one-time Dean of this Cathedral; and sometime Bishop of California. In between writing, administering and preaching he was all over the country supporting avant-garde causes. He offended the right wing of our country; to them he was subversive, a menace, and a disturber of the peace. But to those who understood change he was a voice, a fore-runner of things that were to be.
He tried to tell the new generation something they do not ordinarily hear, but which they desperately need to know, namely that Christianity is relevant and has a solution to their problem—the only solution if we can get people to take it seriously. He both disturbed and strengthened the faith of many.
I sincerely believe he was endeavoring to say in a new way to the new generation that dogmas are not mathematical formulas, but descriptive statements of what is really transcendent mystery which, while it cannot be completely understood, can be experienced and lived.
It is a fact that his writings and his extemporary statements, often reported out of context, have disturbed, distressed and offended many people within and without the church. I would agree that many of his readers and hearers have renewed their faith,—and some of them have lost their faith,—because of his views. Yet it is my conviction that Bishop Pike is trying to say, even if in a radical and often irritating way that the seriousness and the importance of the gospel is something far superior to mere acceptance of the creedal formulae.
We all know that formal creedal statements can be accepted, and firmly held, without in the least changing one’s life.
Dr. Pike’s life deserves our gratitude for that better understanding of a new generation.
There are people in this congregation today who can personally testify to the power this creative intellect, this free-wheeling seeker for truth had upon the direction of their lives. He is a man of great charm and penetrating intellect, easy to disagree with, impossible to dislike.
Those of us who know him and care for him have watched these last years with fear and trembling. He saw the crises of our times; the moral dilemma of nations and the racial turmoil. Beset with his own internal and personal tragedy, his endlessly restless mind ever bent on a quest which led him down strange by-ways and startled and frightened his enemies. But he was unafraid of the truth nor should any Christian be, if he be firm in the foundation of his faith.
I sincerely believe James Pike remained to the end of his life a Christian.
In the words of his most favorite book of Holy Scriptures the Greek wisdom of Ecclesiasticus, “My son if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.”
Ducis, the early 19th Century playwright once said to a friend, “Why do you talk to me of making up tragedies, when tragedy herself is stalking the streets.”
One of Jim’s greatest admirers, Max Lerner, in a discerning and friendly article on our friend’s death, noted that the last chapter was a last ordeal for him and his wife in the area of Christian origins.
One may not approach the thought of our friend alone in that desert, without remembering that it was in that same desert our Lord decided everything forever.
The definition of tragedy in our day is that it is characterized by the conflict between the forces of a strong human nature and outside forces, either blind and physical, or moral and spiritual; extremity and desperation are the results, the fatal issue of a hopeless struggle.
This would be true if it were not for a simple man of Galilee, known as Jesus of Nazareth who, for internal reasons, knew that the judgements of this world, are not the judgements of the only world which matters.
Indeed, what it is all about is in Yeats’ splendid phrase, “The light of lights looks always on the motive, not on the deed, the shadow of shadows on the deed alone.”
It is of small importance that you and I apart from our own souls’ sake remember James our ecclesiastical brother, and our friend.
The important thing is, that God himself shall remember him and you, and me. This is the only memory there is—the memory of God.
Therefore, we pray for him, as ultimately for ourselves, memory eternal.