The Special Vocation
An Address by
Delivered at the College Work Dinner sponsored
Digitized by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2016
The Special Vocation of the Episcopal Church for
An Address Delivered by
THE VERY REV. JAMES A. PIKE, J.S.D.
Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City, and
Associate in Religion and Law, Columbia University
[Until recently, Dean Pike was Chaplain of Columbia University and Chairman of its Department of Religion. Before going to Columbia, he was in charge of Episcopal College Work at Vassar College and at George Washington University, where he had been a member of the law faculty before entering the ministry. He is a member of the Commission for College Work, Diocese of New York; the Committee for College Work, Province of New York-New Jersey; and the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of The Church Society for College Work. He is author of a number of legal text-books and co-author, with Professor Pittenger, of The Faith of the Church.]
A few years back I was serving in a church which had a cross on one end and a weather-vane on the other. I’ve always felt that this was a pretty good reminder of the two aspects of Christianity’s task in the world: to hold to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” and, in the way we present this faith, to watch “which way the wind is blowing.” More specifically in terms of our concerns this evening, there is one sense in which the task of college work never changes. It is the task of making more mature Christians out of our church members and of converting others outside the Church. But in another sense the task is an always changing one. We must relate our perennial aims to the quite specific climate of opinion prevailing in a given time and in a given place. It is in the light of the contemporary and of the specific that we must plan our strategy and dispose our forces. What I hope to do in the time allotted to me this evening is to sketch out a rough picture of the situation of religion in the academic scene today and then draw out some of the implications that bear on Christian college work, with especial reference to our own Church’s work—since, as is indicated by the title, I believe that our times have special responsibilities in the colleges for those of us who represent Anglican Christianity.
 A very good weather-vane is a thin little volume published a couple of years ago, called “Religion and the Intellectuals,” a series of essays which appeared in The Partisan Review. The sponsorship was not particularly favorable to religion, and in fact, more than half of the score or so of contributors would not be so regarded either. Although the authors varied very much as to their explanation of the return of intellectuals to religion — depending upon their own presuppositions — yet there was unanimous agreement as to the fact of such a return. There is no question but what the tide is turning. This does not mean that there is a wave of conversions, either among faculty or among students. In fact, the casual visitor to a campus would not notice that things are very much different than they were two or three decades ago. The principal difference is in the fact of a new openness to the claims of Christianity. On the part of most, the explicit or implicit secularism is less blatant, less cocksure. There is much more widespread examination, in a sympathetic spirit, of the literature and history of the Judo-Christian heritage. There is a much wider election of courses specifically in the field of religion and much better provision is being made by administration and faculty to provide opportunities which meet this new curiosity.
So much for the majority. There are two vigorous minority groups girding themselves: an active, outspoken Christian group, mostly new converts—from either agnosticism or a merely conventional Christian allegiance, and by way of response to the turning of the tide in favor of religion, a hostile group much more violent in its hostility than heretofore. The activity of the first group is taking most exciting forms. Time will permit but three examples: College teachers are getting together for the study of theology; at three conferences, which the Church Society and the Division helped sponsor, about a hundred professors in the East have given a week of precious vacation to it each year. On quite a different front, in the past year I have been invited to meet with groups of law students at both Harvard and Yale who were interested in studying their Christian vocation as attorneys. In two cities at least, medical students are meeting, under Church leadership, for serious consideration of their religious life. As to the hostile group, the violence of [2/3] their hostility is easy to explain psychologically: it reflects the very fact of the increasing success of Christianity on the campuses. The devil has come down among you, having great wrath, because he knoweth he hath but a short time. (Rev. 12:12). Typical of the outcries of this group these days were the speeches of Professors Sidney Hook and T. V. Smith at the recent conference on higher education in Chicago, their point being that religion as such ought not to be taught at all on campuses. The very attitude of such men in the classroom sometimes furthers our cause, however. When I was at Columbia, an agnostic young lady tentatively explored the idea of taking a course in religion, finally quailed before the thought, and took a course in naturalistic humanism from a man who was in a position to teach this course very objectively (he being one of the nation’s more distinguished naturalistic humanists!) Later on in the semester, I ran into her on the campus, and she said she was going to take a course in religion the next semester. I asked why she changed her mind. She said, “Well, anything that can so upset that man and make him so mad must be very important and I want to learn something about it.”
As to the opportunities being provided for students like her to “learn something about it,” great progress has been made. Back in 1942, when I was working with Episcopal students at George Washington University, some of my students and some of the Presbyterians proposed that courses in religion be offered. The reaction of the chairman of the Philosophy Department was, “Well, if we offered a course in religion, we’d have to get an atheist to teach it, so that he’d be impartial.” That University now has a thriving curriculum in religion, and a few months ago called the distinguished president of a seminary to head its Department. Four years ago at Columbia, an undergraduate could take a course in any branch of the world’s literature you could name—except the Bible. At present, there are some thirty-eight courses in religion open to undergraduates and a new Master of Arts program. These two instances signalize what is happening all over the country.
Equally important is the frame of reference of those who are doing the teaching of religion. At Vassar College five years ago there were three people responsible for religion on the campus—all three of them outside the classical Christian [3/4] tradition and in various ways hostile to it. At that same college for the past three years, three of the four in the Department of Religion stand within classical Christianity and are very much for it. And this change-over is not atypical. There has been a similar increase in vitality in voluntary groups on campuses and the program which supports these groups.
In all of this the campus is a microcosm of what is going on in the nation as a whole. There is a return to religion on all levels. But as Professor A. T. Mollegen recently pointed out to a committee which was selecting a chaplain for a large university, “The question is, what kind of religion?” The fact that the bottom has dropped out of so many earth-bound hopes that a large insecurity hangs over all of our little securities, as though large parentheses had been thrown around our lives and a great ± were put out front of the whole equation—the need for security, the clinging to authority, means that some of the more aberrational forms of religion are in fact the most rapidly growing and even within the more conventional denominations the things upon which people are focusing are often not those things which make the believer a free and mature personality under God. Now it is the intellectuals, the scholars—centered largely in the universities and colleges—who were the pioneers of the secularism which has become the majority religion of our land. (Just as in ancient Rome people like Cicero were sure that the gods did not exist, yet rather hoped that the people would not “catch on;” yet in time the people do catch on.) So, similarly now in reverse, through the scholars in the colleges we have a great opportunity to help lead the nation toward the acceptance of the type of Christianity which will most fully bring the fullest truth and the redemption of all levels of life.
What would be the specifications of such a form of Christianity? First, it should have the Gospel entire and unadulterated. Second, it should have a sense of heritage transcending the moods and mores of our own day and provide a sense of security which comes from feeling that one belongs to an outfit that has seen the nations come and go. Third, it should be a tradition which has a surrounding culture, an art, a literature, a cumulative biography, a history, all of which demonstrates the capacity of Christianity to “baptize” and [4/5] utilize all of men’s noble aspirations and world-affirming instincts. Fourth, it should be a tradition that not only stands in judgment upon the world, but also upon itself. Fifth, it should be one which will bring men more life and not less life, more joy and not less joy, because of its acceptance. Sixth, it should be one which is not bound in its thought-forms and modes of expression to any past period in history, and thus is free to utilize the resources of modern thought in every realm.
Of course every tradition within Christianity in a measure meets some or all of these tests. And having no illusions about ours being “the true Church,” we rejoice and should rejoice when any man becomes a Christian or deepens his Christian experience, in whatever tradition. I suppose it is better to be any kind of Christian than any kind of secularist and there is a sense in which we can agree with St. Augustine’s denomination of pagan virtues as “splendid vices.” Yet there are three reasons for caring as to what kind of Christianity becomes the prevailing influence in this time of shifting intellectual frontiers: (1) A sensitive and intelligent secularist is apt to have qualities which we would like to see him bring into the Church with him—and in some traditions, he would have to park them at the door. I refer to such obvious qualities as intellectual honesty and a real joy in “the life that now is.” (2) If there is going to be a reorientation, it might as well be to the richest and fullest form of Christianity before there is a new mind-set. (3) If indeed the college people can be expected to have a considerable influence upon the nation’s religion of tomorrow, it is important that the college people are backers of a type of Christianity which, if known about and understood, is most likely to commend itself to people at large.
Now I am totally unembarrassed at stating that I believe that Anglican Christianity most fully “fills the bill” when judged by all of these tests. I say I am unembarrassed because I am not in the position of defending some family heritage. I was raised in quite a different tradition, which does not as adequately “fill the bill” (but which is exercising considerable converting energy on both the intellectual and popular fronts). When, after several intervening years of secularism I decided to become a Christian again, I quite deliberately chose the Episcopal Church because I felt that it did meet these very tests. In sorting out the possibilities there were for me second and third choices, but I was convinced then, and have become [5/6] increasingly convinced over the years, that there is no “close second.” And here I refer not to the way our Church always functions or the way we grasp our opportunities, but to what we are in essence and in principle—in other words, I refer to what opportunities there are to be grasped and what tools there are available for the salvation of the whole man. As to the attractiveness of the Episcopal Church to men generally, I put in a qualifying phrase above “when known and understood.” That qualification should not deflect us, because one of the main aims of the groups represented here is, with as much rapidity as their resources will permit, to remove this qualification—on the college frontier at least, and thus indirectly help remove it in the nation as a whole.
On the campus the Episcopal Church has a unique opportunity and responsibility because it is Catholic, Protestant, and liberal. Some of you may have already seen the little piece on this subject which the magazine of our host Diocese asked me to write for the Convention issue [*The Church Militant, September, 1952 (1 Joy Street, Boston 8, Mass.)], but I hope you will forgive my covering some of the same ground, since these factors seem particularly relevant to the matter at hand.
The Episcopal Church is Catholic. It stands in the main stream of Christian life and thought through the centuries. In its worship, it worships as St. Benedict, St. Augustine, St. Anselm, and St. Thomas Aquinas worshipped, and because of the strong sense of the Communion of Saints, one views such folk not as merely scholars and leaders of the past, but as fellows in the living Christian enterprise, and—to use colloquialisms—”our boys,” “part of the outfit.” The scope of our theological interests is such that the writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers or the medieval devotional classics are just as likely—perhaps more likely—to be found on the bookshelves of the Episcopalian as Richard Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity or the works of the Caroline Divines. One of the consequences of this is that ours is a Church with a culture; that is, surrounding the theological “bare bones” is a whole tissue of art, music, architecture and literature, which has taken its inspiration from the Faith and which in turn [6/7] has embodied the Faith in terms of every realm of man’s intellectual and artistic endeavor.
While we are wary of those who are fascinated by our Church principally because of their intellectual snobbery or their aesthetic bent, it is certainly true by and large that a more cultured mind seeking to integrate his life around a new religious center will find more attractive a heritage in which the best in his development hitherto, the best in his appreciation of Western culture, is validated and deepened, rather than ignored—and indeed offended, as it is by some Christian expressions. A strong sense of insecurity, the great nostalgia for roots, which is following in the train of the playing-out of the secular optimism with its great emphasis on contemporaneity, has caused many intellectuals to want to “go home” religiously in the deeper sense—not in the sense of a return to some childhood denominational connection or in terms of the religious commitments of early American life, but in terms of the tradition which has been the fountainhead of a culture which transcends one’s own family and one’s own nation. It is no surprise then that virtually all of the Christians who contributed to the volume I mentioned a while back and all those discussed in it, when leaving secularism, became Catholics—more of them Anglicans than Romans, I’m happy to say. I think it is clear that when a scholar decides to be a Christian he would like to be in the Great Tradition. That sometimes this has meant acceptance of Roman allegiance often has been, I believe, due to the fact that we have not always put our best foot forward in regard to our Catholic heritage and have not sufficiently made ourselves evident in our Catholic, Protestant or liberal dimensions. Which leads to—
The Episcopal Church is Protestant. There are two senses in which this is so. First, we share the convictions of the Reformation Churches which center around the individual’s direct relationship to God and underline the importance of the individual in his vocation and responsibility for his life. In the academic atmosphere there has been quite properly a stress on the individual and his particular fulfillment. Nothing grounds this feeling better to ultimate reality than the great doctrines of justification by grace through faith, the priesthood of all believers, and the sanctity of the common life.
But there is another sense in which we must understand [7/8] the word Protestant. It means that we believe that the Church always needs critical re-examination and reformation. We are freer for this kind of self-criticism because we do not date our origins from some particular great figure nor have we ever adopted a confession of faith. We are bound by the Gospel but by no particular formulation of it. We have no official theology nor official philosophy; and thus are able to “sit loose” to all systems and are open to the light to be thrown on the meaning of the Gospel in the world by any traditional formulations and by any thought-forms of our day. It is important to note that we have had successive reformations of our thought and practice, rather than a single Reformation.
One of the qualities long furthered in the academic atmosphere has been the critical spirit and since this spirit is part and parcel of the very tradition into which we invite college people, we do not ask them to give up this critical spirit in an attitude of submission to the minds of others. Indeed, we hope that they will retain it (with respect for the minds of others, particularly for those expressions which have stood the test of time), but in real submission only to God and the Gospel. This leads right into the fact that—
The Episcopal Church is liberal. This does not mean that we have committed ourselves to the progressivistic man-centered philosophy cum scientism which for the past half-century has been the hallmark of the so-called “liberal” Churches. We are more liberal than that. We are open to whatever is of value from that direction, to be sure—and there is much that is—but as we have already seen, we are also free to draw from the philosophical and theological insights of all centuries, that is, to roam the whole field.
And there are other senses in which we are liberal. One of the primary reasons for the anti-religious tenor on college campuses since the turn of the century is the fact, which perhaps could be sociologically explained, that a good proportion of the teaching personnel came out of a more or less fundamentalist Protestant background, unable to accept with their minds the bibliolatry and anti-scientific attitudes of these groups and also emancipated in their academic experience from the negativistic attitudes toward the joys of life which have characterized these same groups. They “threw out the baby with the bath water” and ever thereafter tended to [8/9] associate Christianity with scriptural obscurantism and bluenose mores. Then with a closed mind toward religion, quite out of line with their supposed intellectual openness, they never re-examined the issue. The result was a set of generalizations about all Christianity which violated one of the cardinal principles of their own craft, namely, that no generalization should go beyond the empirical base on which it rests.
Now our tradition is free from both of these serious impediments. Because of a tradition of intellectual honesty in the Anglican heritage which preceded the Reformation (one need only mention the names of John Colet and Thomas More to indicate the antecedent influence of the Renaissance upon us), and also because of a view of the relation of Church and Scriptures which relieves the actual words of Scripture of the intolerable burden of being the foundation-stone of the Church but rather sees the great message of the Scriptures as the foundation of the Church and the Scriptures themselves as the production of Churchmen, we weathered the storm of Biblical criticism and of such scientific hypotheses as evolution in such a way that it is fair to say that there are no fundamentalists in the Episcopal Church. And as a matter of fact, there are not, strictly speaking, any modernists (the modernism which washes everything out and which equally has drawn the contempt of many academic folk as being no more worth their commitment than a general vague humanism, is primarily a reaction to fundamentalism). The possibility of a loyal Christian faith without the baggage of fundamentalism is something that is having a larger and larger part in Protestantism generally, but it is much more native to us and is historically normative for us, rather than being a tolerated point of view or an ad hoc solution as it is in the case of the typical American denomination. The same is true of the matter of the right relationship of spirit to flesh, in the sense of the freedom really to enjoy life, within the ordering which a sense of vocation brings. It is true that fairly emancipated members of other Churches are free from the strictures that still form an official part of their traditions, but this is not without a sense of uneasiness and sin, with many hypocrisies and inconsistencies, a telling example of which is the virtual restoration of the medieval distinction between minister and people as to what conduct is permissible. [9/10] (At the last national convention of one of our large denominations it was decided not to bar laymen from drinking but to bar ministers from even smoking!)
Now this represents a heresy as to the doctrine of creation. If the world was good enough for God to make, it’s good enough to enjoy. Contrary to the assumptions of typical American Protestantism, spirit is not nobler than flesh; the real nobility and fulfillment of life is spirit and flesh sacramentally united, that is, the use of flesh in such a way as properly expresses spirit and is a means thereto. There is a real connection between our sacramental understanding of the universe and our attitude toward the joy of life. The unaesthetic visage of typical American Protestantism, the bare-memorialism of the Lord’s Supper, the “don’t smoke, don’t drink” emphasis of its ethic, is all of a piece.
In short, many of our people in the colleges—faculty and students still have the feeling that to be a Christian means to sacrifice both intelligence and fun. Our tradition asks that one sacrifice neither.
In these days of transition, many college people outside of the Christian cause are attracted and repelled at the same time. The things which attract differ in the case of different people, as do the things that repel. Some will decide to forego the things that attract them because of the things that repel them; others are willing to accept some things that repel them because of their need of those things which attract them. But I believe that the Anglican heritage offers a maximum of the things which attract the college person and a minimum of the things which repel him. The versatility of our three-fold heritage means that we have three fronts to offer to the potential convert. If his yearnings and tastes are such that he is eager to be a Catholic, he can be that with us, without having to submit his mind to authoritarianism and superstition. If he is drawn most by the personal experience of conversion, this evangelical opportunity can be his as fully as in any Protestant denomination, without the offenses to his mind and to his natural joyfulness with which the conversion theology usually comes wrapped up. If he is attracted by the liberal spirit, he can have his liberalism with us, in depth; that is, there will be opened up to him the full range of Christian tradition which will save him from the narrowness of the nineteenth-century outlook which usually passes for [10/11] liberalism. And whatever most attracts him into our Church, when he comes in, he will find himself rewarded over and over again as he enters more and more into the fullness of our three-fold heritage.
Some may feel that even to say these things is very un-ecumenical and divisive. Some will say that the main thing is to make the campus Christian, not Episcopalian. True. But the fact is that roadblocks erected by some traditions are such that some people are simply not going to accept Christianity under those conditions. The fact is that there are people who could not become Christians unless they could become our kind of Christian. Impious as it may be to say it, I’m not at all sure that I could have myself. Naturally, we should stress all that we have in common with the other great heritages. But the fact is that some of the things in which we are most markedly different are what will provide the most ready avenue of conversion of many; hence we should also stress quite clearly wherein we are different. And more positively speaking, we should stress in season and out of season that, entirely apart from the quite legitimate differences in ceremonial and in theological emphases permitted in our Communion, the whole Church is fully Catholic, thoroughly Protestant, and genuinely liberal. If, as I say this, you are thinking of some of the brethren who are really not one or another of these things, then after first examining ourselves to be sure that we are, let us simply say that a certain amount of aberration is the price we pay for one very valuable aspect of our liberalism. We don’t like the reins held too tight and we aren’t very fond of heresy trials. We trust the Holy Spirit to work these things out in the long run and, looking back over the many successive reformations in the history of our Church in the last few centuries, we can see that He does.
The college scene is, and for years has been, a great incubator of ecumenical development. It is pretty generally understood in the World Council of Churches these days that we want ecumenicity on a maximum rather than a minimum basis, that is, the sharing of the very best affirmations of all traditions, rather than a lowest common denominator approach. We make a good contribution to this development when we do stress those things which we believe are not only good for ourselves, but are part of the wholeness of the [11/12] truth of Christ, and when we bring to the fore Anglican attitudes which do remove roadblocks to the acceptance of Christianity. When I was teaching Christian doctrine at Columbia to students of all traditions, I often found that explanations which did this very thing, though they were explanations from the Anglican orientation, helped students recapture Christian conviction within their own church affiliations as well as affording them a respect for the heritage from which they were supplied this help. And “the coming great Church” (to use Canon Wedel’s phrase) will, we pray God, be Catholic, Protestant, and liberal. If by chance it is not, I fear there are some of us who will prefer to remain Anglicans. And meanwhile, we can quite properly see in our own Church the microcosm of that which we hope is to come.
Now I’ve been talking about what we have to offer, not how we are offering it. The state of our college work in many places justifies Billy Sunday’s designation of our Church as “a sleeping giant.” To change the figure, we may have the best product, but we certainly don’t have the best salesmanship. If it were simply a case of saying that we ought to work harder so that we get more of these new converts rather than having others get them, I can see why one might be reticent to go all-out for such an effort. But much more is at stake. There are many who will not be reached at all unless they are reached by our form of Christianity. More than that, the future of Christianity in the nation, now that the tide is turning toward religion, depends, as I said earlier, on the kind of Christianity that becomes predominant. With all the new openness there is today, it makes a tremendous difference what kind of Christianity grasps the intellectual leadership of our nation. It is important that it be a faith which not only makes for eternal life, but which endorses and redeems the best that secular minds bring to it, that brings more life—not less life to those who have a vital appreciation of the things of this world. There are some forms of Christianity which seem to make a man less of a thinker, and in terms of joy, less of a man. But Our Lord promised, I have come that men might have life and have it more abundantly. The form of Christianity that can conserve and enhance the best in the critical spirit, the best in [12/13] intellectual honesty, the best in an uninhibited response to all of God’s gifts, will not only be more convincing now for many, but it will be more saving—in the fullest sense of the word—for mankind as a whole.No less than this is at stake. Now any pride that has been expressed in this address is pride in a heritage which was not of our own making. As to what we are doing to make this heritage known on the campuses, we have room for very little pride. Considering the “head start” that we have had in the proportionately larger number of Episcopalians in the colleges, considering that our heritage is a “natural” for dealing with the intellectual difficulties of sincere seekers, considering the ties we have with the whole culture which has the respect of sensitive men, we have done a very feeble job indeed. We are particularly blameworthy because we have had the experience over and over again of remarkable success wherever we have gone to work with consecrated leadership, backed by adequate facilities and funds. Because our heritage is a mighty instrument for God at this crucial time at the turning of the tide, our responsibilities are very great. Here, I believe, we have a special vocation under God. If we exercise it with energy, great will be the increase. If we fail, severe will be God’s judgment upon us. There has never been a time in the history of our nation when it could more be said, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He send forth laborers into His harvest. The college work agencies of the Episcopal Church, if widely supported, can be great tools in God’s hands for the fulfillment of that prayer.