Project Canterbury Holiness: A Note of the Church
By the Reverend J.G.H. Barry
New York: Gorham, 1915
THE HOLINESS OF THE BODY OF CHRIST
Of the four notes of the Church enumerated in the creeds, three have been the subject of frequent and exhaustive discussion. What constitutes the catholicity of the Church, and what defects of doctrine or practice destroy the Catholic character of a Christian body and reduce it to a status of the sect, are familiar topics of inquiry. The unity of the Church as theory, and methods of restoring external unity in a Christendom weakened and made ineffective through its divisions, are increasingly felt to be among the supreme religious problems of the day, upon the solution of which many other problems of importance wait. Closely bound up with all practical efforts to restore the broken external unity of the Church is the nature of our belief in the Church's apostolicity--all plans for church unity have sooner or later to reckon with this note of the Church, which involves not only the assertion of the Church's historic continuity, but a belief that the powers conferred upon the Church by its Founder are by His will transmitted through certain sacramental media. There remains one note of the Church--the note of holiness. This, it appears to me, has escaped the attention that it deserves. It is no less fundamental to the well-being of the Church than either of the other notes: it cannot be considered but as a necessity of its being. Without it, neither arguments as to definition, though they be world-wide in acceptance, nor unimpeachable lineage, will avail to constitute a sound and health-giving Christendom. The Church must preserve and manifest the holiness conferred by its Founder, or it is dead. A profound and growing conviction that the problems upon the solution of which depend, if not the life, at least the usefulness, of the Christian Church in the immediate future can only be hopefully approached from the ground of its holiness, has led me to select this note of the Church as the subject of these lectures. I do not believe that anything less than the holiness of the Church manifested in the life of its members will avail to remove the obstacles which exist to the reunion of Christendom. Holiness is the only quality that can dissolve age-long prejudice, correct traditional misconceptions, do away with the blindness and self-will which prevent men from even considering the possibility of their being mistaken, destroy pride of intellect, and confer the humility which sees both self and others as they truly are.
The holiness of the Church flows directly from the holiness of its Head. Its essential holiness results from this: that it is the Body of Christ. The Christian religion is not a theory, a philosophy, a morality, but a life, the life of Incarnate God which is imparted to all those who receive Him, and by which they are knit into a unity with Him, which is His Body. The Christian Church actually came into existence when the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took our flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and our nature was forever united to God. This Incarnation of the Son of God is a dynamic fact: when the God-man has undergone the transformation of the resurrection His spiritualized humanity becomes the source from participation in which our humanity is regenerated and endowed with new powers. The regenerate man through his incorporation into Christ becomes a partaker of the divine nature.
It is through this extension of the Incarnation by the incorporation of the regenerate into Christ that this mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, is built up. The Body of Christ reaches greater extension with each succeeding baptism. Every child who receives the sacrament of baptism passes into a new sphere of being--is a new creation by virtue of this sacramental action. In it is manifested a life which was not there before, and this life flowing forth from the Risen Head of the Body unites all the baptized to Christ and to one another with a unity which is independent of the superficial divisions which hinder the manifestation of this unity in the exterior life of the Church.
And this Body which is gradually built up by the extension of the incarnate life of our Lord in the regenerate is a Holy Body because it is His. Through it is propagated a holy life which is the life of God in the souls of men. Those means of which the Church makes use in the carrying on of its work have reference, primarily, to this life: they are the organs by which this life is transmitted and sustained.
This seems less true, perhaps, in regard to the teaching of the Church than it does in the case of the sacraments. The teaching function of the Church seems directed to the education of the Christian and his guidance in the matter of conduct. Those who find in conduct, that is, in the moral life, the supreme meaning of Christianity, who minimize belief and maximize action, find small place for the sacraments in the Christian system. The lesser sacraments are neglected entirely, and the greater sacraments tend to become insignificant and of infrequent administration. Teaching becomes moral instruction as distinguished from instruction in the theory and practice of religion, that is, of the spiritual life. Exhortation aims at stimulating to the performance of daily human and social duties; till in the end the ideal of the good citizen is substituted for the ideal of the good Christian--or, rather, the two ideals are confused.
But in reality the teaching office of the Church has reference to the teaching of revealed truth. The Church has not been commissioned to teach the ordinary branches of human knowledge which men may learn from observation of the world. Its mission is not even to teach rules of conduct in the ordinary sense. Its mission is to make known the revealed will of God, a will which is revealed with a definite object, our sanctification. This is the will of God, even our sanctification. Revelation makes known the meaning of God in His relation to human life, and the necessary response of human life if it will realize God's ideal for it. There are made known to us our possibilities, in that power is given us to become the sons of God. And living in this relation as God's children requires something quite different from and far higher than the observance of moral rules, which is but a form of legalism. It requires a response of life to life. Its fulfilment is the reproduction of the Christ-life in the individual Christian, the recapitulation in him of the Christ experience. This is the spiritual life which progresses step by step from birth through death and burial to resurrection and ascension, till as a present experience it is lifted up to dwell with Christ in heavenly places. Thus the holy life of the Incarnate is not set before us as the object of our admiration and distant imitation through the exercise of our own powers, even when those powers are supplemented by something which we vaguely call grace; but it is set before us as a life to be reproduced experimentally, and for which no other type of life can be accepted as a substitute. A moral life, no doubt, finds its motives re-enforced by the principles of Christian living; but its maxims cannot be accepted as a substitute for those principles. Holiness is not integrity of moral life, but a supernatural creation of God the Holy Spirit. The teaching of Christianity is not the mere proclamation of truths; but those truths when responded to, accepted by faith, are found in experience to be dynamic and filled with creative energy which lays hold upon life and transforms it.
This energy which vitalizes Christian teaching is the informing energy of God the Holy Spirit, Who is the indwelling Spirit of life in the Body of Christ. He is preeminently the Spirit of Holiness, that is, the Spirit which is not only possessed of essential holiness, but Who imparts and produces holiness in all the members of the body. We suffer grievous loss when we permit our thought to stray from His immediate and personal relation to us as the Spirit of Christ sent forth to carry on the work of the Incarnate in the edification of the body. As the Holy Spirit was present in the material creation, imparting to it the gift of immaterial life, so is He present in the new creation, ministering the gifts conferred on it by its Risen Head. His work is the work of the Inspirer and Sustainer of all good purposes and actions; the work of the Encourager and Strengthener. He is the Administrator of the body; and whenever the work of the body follows His will, it is successful. The failures of the Church are failures to seek the will and guidance of the Holy Spirit and the substitution for these of the maxims of earthly wisdom. The weakness of the Christian Church to-day, and no one can deny that it is weak, is due more than all else to this: that it is attempting to find substitutes for spiritual power in the rules of prudence which guide men in their material interests.
If we consider more in detail the means which are used by the Holy Spirit to create the holy life of the Body of Christ in its members, we find that the initial means is baptism. It is impossible to over-rate the significance of baptism. As the sacrament of regeneration it effects that new relation of the soul to Incarnate God which is the basis of all subsequent sacramental action. Other sacraments only restore, enlarge, or sustain what baptism has initiated. The cleansing of our nature and its union with God lifts man to the level of the spiritual life which is henceforth nourished and developed by the ministries of grace. The baptized person is possessed of a "character," which is indestructible. The new relation to God upon which he has entered may be hindered in its development, may be profoundly affected by sin; its normal results may be nullified; but there is one result which cannot be nullified--the baptized person cannot become unbaptized: he abides God's son forever. Under whatever circumstances of self-wrought exclusion from the privileges of the Kingdom, or of self-inflicted penalties, he abides God's child, capable of restoration to all that sonship means as long as he is capable of repentance. And even in that state of final loss in which repentance is no longer able to restore the forfeited capacity for the beatific vision, it is possible to think of the now submissive soul as participant of some conscious possession of God which springs from a not utterly destroyed sonship--thus enjoying so much of the divine blessing as can still comfort it in its aeonian disaster.
This holy life which is the possession of the baptized as the result of their incorporation into the Body of Christ, normally and by God's intention, grows to strength and maturity with the progress of Christian experience. We who are created in Him grow up in Him, by a steady advance in the practice of the spiritual life. This advance to Christian maturity--to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, to the status of the full-grown spiritual man, should be unchecked, but, alas, is not. The growth of the Body of Christ to which our spiritual growth should contribute, is in fact checked and partially hindered by our failure to deal adequately with sin and temptation. The body which should be manifested to the world as obviously the holy body of the Incarnate fails partially of its witness and conveys a testimony which may be doubted and even denied because of the imperfect nature of our response to the divine life. The obvious fact of our sin supervenes to invalidate the truth of our professions. We have to argue about the holiness of the Church when that holiness should be a matter of self-evidence. Just as the life of the individual Christian bears an uncertain and disputable testimony to the claim that he makes to be the child of God, so the sins and failures of the Christian Church make it possible that at any moment its claim to be the Body of Christ may be disputed. Instead of the self-evidence of explicit holiness we are driven to fall back upon faith in the revelation of God's mind, buttressed by the witness of saintly lives here and there, and the inferences to be drawn from a partial experience which we recognize as being partial, and therefore significant of the ideal whole.
It is with foresight of the necessities of our fallen nature, the certainty of our failure to meet sin successfully, that the Divine Wisdom has provided the sustaining and restoring grace of the sacraments other than baptism. It has provided that in our struggle with temptation we should be constantly supported by the divine strength ministered through simple and easily accessible ways. In the first place, the primary gift of son-ship is completed and supplemented by the manifold gifts of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation. The effect of that sacrament is a fuller impartation of the Holy Spirit to the soul of the regenerate than took place in baptism. And this permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit is intended to strengthen us in our Christian warfare, through the strengthening of our wills to withstand temptation and the illumination of our intellects to perceive the nature and meaning of the conflict whereupon we have entered. In the Church's intention this gift is to be imparted at entrance upon years of discretion, when the soul first discerns the meaning of good and evil. But beyond informing the conscience and strengthening us for our contest the indwelling presence is effective of a work of positive creation. It is the office of God the Holy Ghost to create in us the virtues of the Christian life. Those virtues, or fruits of the Spirit, as the apostle calls them, are not of natural growth, but of supernatural production. The natural man has his own virtues; but the natural man is incapable of the fruits of the spirit--he distrusts and dislikes them. In the new moralities which from time to time are proposed to us they are absent. But our Lord taught them in the Beatitudes and exemplified them in His own life; and the Holy Spirit creates them in the lives of those who yield themselves to Him.
It is a striking evidence of the holiness of the Body of Christ that it values and aims to produce these virtues--that it makes them its test of individual sanctity. When--and the when is of frequent occurrence--these virtues are neglected or slighted, the evidence for the holiness of the Church is obscured. To attempt to substitute another type of life for the Christian type is popular to-day. I think, indeed, that I am not wrong in saying that the Christian life, as taught in the Sermon on the Mount and exemplified in the life of our Lord, is neither considered nor understood by the greater part of even the Christian community. What men live by in reality is social convention. The type of conduct that passes current as a "good life" is accepted without thought or discussion as an adequate expression of Christianity. In reality it can hardly be regarded as an expression of Christianity at all. Certainly its whole character is different from the Christ-life of the Gospels. Its motives are motives of decency and social order; its aims reputation and respectability. There is nothing supernatural about it. It is a creation of public opinion and varies as public opinion varies.
But the life of holiness which it is the function of the Church to create is distinctly supernatural in its motives and ends. It is created and sustained by the divine action; it seeks the approval of God. It aims to reproduce the life of Christ in the personal experience of each individual Christian. To it sin is not so much the transgression of the law of precepts and commandments, as the refusal of the Christ-ideal as such, the acquiescing in a lower type of life. There are "good men," that is, men who conform carefully to the current social standard of morality, who are not righteous men; and there are those who display manifold defects of character and action who are nevertheless earnestly striving to live the life of righteousness and in some degree succeeding in their attempt. From the Christian point of view human life must be estimated by reference to its ideals and efforts, rather than by its absolute success. The man who really wills to be a great Christian and succeeds only partially is a better man, in the Christian sense, than the man who attempting a merely social ideal succeeds in attaining it.
The Church views the Christian not as in a final but in a growing and progressive state. It is interested in his progress and provides the means for his support and continuance. It provides, too, ,for his failures. Sin is not an irreparable disaster but a foreseen accident which can be dealt with by the powers inherent in the Body of Christ. Without in the least underestimating sin, estimating it, indeed, as much more significant and harmful than it is possible for the worldly ideal to estimate it--for it regards it, not as a violation of law but as a violation of love--it provides a method of treatment which is healing and restorative. This method of treatment is known as repentance; and it is the only hopeful method of dealing with sin. Social morality either rejects the sinner, as an utter failure, from ordinary social life; or regards sin as unimportant, a necessary accident in the process of human evolution. But the Body of Christ brings to bear upon the sinner the resources of the divine love. It teaches the sinner to look upon his sin as a wound to Him Who loved him and gave Himself for him, as the scorn and rejection of the divine work for his salvation, as the revolt of the child from his Father. The motives it urges for repentance are not the social motives of injury inflicted on self or others, but the supernatural motive of the divine disappointment of the Father in His redeemed child. The sorrow it seeks to excite is sorrow after a godly sort, sorrow, that is, for having failed to justify the trust that God has reposed in him. This sorrow being excited, the soul is led to the use of the healing sacrament of penance, which is the application of the divine love to the healing of the soul that has sinned and repents of its sin. The suppression of the sacrament of penance through large sections of the Anglican Communion is an indication of its reduced vitality. It is an indication of the under-estimate or false estimate of the nature and resources of the Body of Christ. It is inconceivable, from the point of view of theory, that means should be provided for the sacramental application of the work of Christ in the one instance of sin before baptism, and that no provision of a sacramental nature should be made for sin after baptism. If pre-baptismal sin is to be normally dealt with sacrament-ally, we should reasonably expect that post-baptismal sin should be dealt with in the same way. And if a minister of the word and sacraments is capable of administering and applying effectively the divine forgiveness in the one case, we may certainly expect that he will be capable of the like ministry in the other. And such indeed is the method by which the Church has treated post-baptismal sin throughout the ages. By what name this ministry is called, whether the sacrament of penance as it has come historically to be called, or otherwise, is unimportant; the important thing is that "Almighty God hath given power and commandment, to his ministers, to declare and pronounce to His people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins." His promises of pardon and absolution of the penitent do not hang in the air, as it were, but are applied by definite persons through definite instrumentalities which are at once means whereby we receive this grace, and pledges to assure us thereof.
This ministry of the divine forgiveness is of tremendous importance to the development of the life of holiness, as generating in the individual at once a deep sense of the guilt of sin and a new attitude of hopefulness toward the spiritual life. The oft-repeated allegation that frequent resort to the sacrament of penance destroys the sense of the sinfulness of sin and makes repentance superficial and unreal, is founded upon an inadequate observation and implies a lack of actual experience in the reception and ministration of the sacrament. There are no facts of observation back of the conviction that those who "go directly to God" repent in a deeper and more sincere way than those who make use of this sacrament.
Nor is it true that those who decline the sacrament go more directly to God than those who make use of it. Superficial and light-minded persons will be such under all circumstances; but the use of the sacrament will not increase either their superficiality or light-mindedness. On the contrary, all the circumstances and surroundings of the sacrament are such as tend to produce seriousness of repentance and stir the depths of contrition. And inasmuch as the divine response is pledged to us in the sacrament, it is the basis of hopefulness. The weaknesses which we find in ourselves impress us with the constant need of grace, if we are to overcome them, and the sacrament of penance is the constant ministry of grace to the soul which has found its need. For the sacramental action is not limited to> the removal of the guilt of sin. There is also in the sacrament of penance, as in other sacraments, the impartation of sanctifying grace. The spiritual faculties are vivified and edified, the wounds inflicted by sin are healed, and hindrances to the life of union with our Lord having been removed, the life is restored to the stability and energy which had been impeded by sin. The life of the body is normal only when this constant exercise of its cleansing and healing power goes on unhindered. The sacrament can be thought of as of exceptional application only in the sense in which sin can be thought of as of exceptional occurrence.
Just because sin has to be reckoned with as a steady factor in human experience the ministry of grace that meets it and provides for its removal and healing must be constant. To put it otherwise, repentance is not an occasional act but a continuous spiritual experience. The life of repentance is one aspect of the life of the Body of Christ--that aspect which reveals it as seeking increasingly to purify itself and gain in depth of spiritual experience and positive holiness. The branches abide in the vine on condition of their progressive purgation. While the body, as such, is essentially holy, the members are of relative holiness and must grow up in the body with an ever deepening participation in its life. And because the members of the body are not only members of Christ but, through their common inherence in Him are members one of another, there must be an interaction of their penitence as of their other spiritual activities. The members not only rejoice together but suffer together; and their inter-communion means that their energy is diffused throughout the body, and that the various members are affected by the experience of one another. No member lives an isolated life, but shares in the experiences of the others. In this sense we repent for one another, that is, our spiritual activities, transmitted through the body effect certain releases of spiritual energy in the lives of others. The Christ-experience is reproduced throughout the body, and the members of the body enter into and participate in His atoning work. Our Lord is, as has often been pointed out, the great Penitent--His assumption of the sins that were not His, and His suffering on behalf of them, is essentially a penitential act. Through His self-identification with us in the Incarnation He is enabled to become our representative: potentially the representative of the race, actually the representative of all those who are brought into union with Him by their incorporation into His body. And this incorporation is an incorporation into His work, a participation in His experience, by which the life and action of Christ are recapitulated by the body as a whole, and by each living member of the body. There is no ground for excluding our penitence from this totality of experience. We repeat the penitential experience of Christ, and make up that which is behind in His sufferings, because such action on our part is not isolated action but the corporate action of the members of Christ. Looked at from another point of view, it is the repentance of Christ which is individualized in us, and our repentance is in reality Christ repenting in us; just as none of our spiritual activities have their origin in us, but are the activities of the Christ Who dwells in us. The life of God i? imparted to us through our union with our Lord.
Another phase of the divine action in creating and sustaining the life of union comes into view when we look to another sacrament--the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. This sacrament, considered as a communion, is the continual offer of Himself by Incarnate God to the members of His Body. If one may venture so to express it, it is the continual pouring of Himself into the soul of the believer that He may abide with him as the principle of his life. It is the means of the indwelling and abiding Presence in the soul of the Christian. Life is the meaning of the divine mission. I am come that they might have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. He that eateth me, even he shall live by me. Whosoever eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life. It is chiefly by constant participation in the Sacred Humanity of Christ that the gift of eternal life which was communicated to us through the sacrament of regeneration is perpetuated and sustained. Minimizing interpretations of the meaning of the Holy Communion not only render null and void the entire body of the teaching of the Church from the days of St. John and St. Paul onward, but they render the sacrament itself a meaningless thing, a clumsy instrument of altogether inferior ends. It is only as we view this sacrament as the means whereby an actually present Redeemer imparts the reality of His Incarnate nature to the regenerate soul that we are able to understand it as a further and crowning act in that process of sacramental action which we have been following.
The sacred humanity of our Lord is revealed in this sacrament as that which communicates and sustains that gift of everlasting life which our Lord came to impart and which is our bond to the eternal life of God. When we think of the Body of Christ as the Spirit-filled body, we think of it as a body in which God the Holy Spirit is operating the sacramental actions which remove all obstacles which hinder our union with our Lord, and effecting that "our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us." This process by which the life of the body is extended and intensified, is the edification of the body, its expression toward its ideal, which is the inclusion of the race which has been redeemed, by actual participation of redemption. We must bear in mind that the purpose of the Incarnation is not fully realized as long as any human being remains out of Christ; that is, is not incorporated in the Body of the Incarnate. This of course means that the scope of the Incarnate work is wider than the earthly church in which it has its starting point, and reaches to all human life, in whatever state of being, unsatisfied till that life, in its degree and capacity, has through the body been brought into relation with God. The impartation of the sacred humanity to us necessarily goes on as long as we are imperfect, and yet retain the capacity for perfection; and is therefore one of the divine operations in our soul which continues beyond the present life--continues until the saved soul becomes competent of the beatific vision. And even beyond that, as Christ remains incarnate forever. His Incarnation is the continuous support of our continuous union with Him; the approach of the creature to the pure divinity of the Blessed Trinity is continuously mediated by the humanity of our Lord. And we may believe that all progress in the "other world" is due to an increasing participation in the divine-human nature of the God-man, begun in sacramental action here and continued by what heavenly action we know not. But we do know that He which hath begun a good work in us, will perform the same until the day of Jesus Christ--until that day, when perfect in body and spirit with a perfectness never attained on this earth, we are presented in Him to the Father, the perfect outcome of His Incarnate work.
And even in our imperfect state, while the body is still in the process of its edification, we are presented to God in Him. There is another aspect of the Holy Eucharist by which it is the continuous presentation of the Incarnate in a sacrificial aspect, His self-presentation with His mystical body, that is, with all those who are incorporate in Him. This is that sacrifice which is continuous in heaven and is, not repeated, but presented on the altars of the earthly Church; "the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world." Incapable of repetition because incapable of cessation, this one sacrifice is forever the source of hope to sinful men. We forever plead the eternal merits of this one sacrifice as the basis of our hope and our confidence in our approach to God. And the Church as the extension of the incarnation of Christ itself becomes merged in the sacrificial offering of its Head and is able to offer itself in union with Him; and each individual member of the Church participates in the offering, and presents himself, his soul and body, "to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice," with the well-grounded hope that being accepted in the Beloved, he will receive an increase of His grace, and "be filled with grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body in Him, that He may dwell in us and we in Him." The earthly Church, passing the time of its preparation and probation here, will be presented in Him, its Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, as the living and heavenly Body of Christ, His Bride, forever knit to Him in the participation of an indissoluble life.
It has been my purpose in this lecture, by setting out the essential nature and inner life of the Church, the Body of Christ, and in sketching its operation in regenerating, renewing, and developing the spiritual life of man in growing union with that body, to present the holiness of the Church as the manifestation of the holy life of its Head through the members whom He has incorporated into Himself. Holiness is not then an accidental quality of the Church, but is of the very essence of its being. Inasmuch as it is the Body of Christ the Church needs must be holy, and all the members of the Church must share in the holiness of their Head. And from the point of view of the present lectures, holiness, a note of the Church, must be a thing capable of recognition and estimation. It must be not only theoretically of the essence of the Church; but it must be a quality manifested in the life of the Church, a quality so evidently manifested that it, so far forth, indentifies the body possessing it as a manifestation of the Body of Christ. A body, if we can conceive such, which did not care for nor seek holiness, which was content with some lower ideal of life--let us say social goodness--could lay no claim to be identified as the body of Christ. However good and worthy its purpose, we should see in it something other than the Church of the living God. A claim on the part of such a body to proclaim the true doctrine of the gospel, or its possession of certain ordinances, would not of itself constitute a valid claim to recognition as the Church. It must further show that its teaching and ordinances are so connected with the incarnate life of our Head, as to be means of manifestation and transmission of His life to His members, so that His holy life may be in them, and by them be manifested to the world, so that their witness shall be evidence of the reality of their union with the Incarnate.
We must therefore proceed to a description of the life of the Church, or certain phases of that life, as means of the manifestation of the holy life of Incarnate God in His members.