I. The Inner Life of the Priest
II. The Intellectual Life of the Priest
III. The Social Life of the Priest
THE young man not long from the Seminary and just ordained to the priesthood finds himself in charge of a parish and tries to understand what that means and what are the demands that are going to be made upon him. Of necessity he feels a sense of the awful responsibility that is his, and asks himself with a keener appreciation of the situation than has been possible before, what is his fitness to meet it, and how far his training has qualified him for his work. The words of the bishop's exhortation are still fresh in his ears, impressing upon him at once the dignity and the responsibility of his vocation. "And now again we exhort you, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye have in remembrance, into how high a Dignity, and to how weighty an Office and Charge ye are called: that is to say, to be Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord; to teach, and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord's family; to seek for Christ's sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever."
That is what the priest is called to. He has had that before him for years as the objective of his life. And as he stood before the bishop and heard his question, "Do you think in your heart, that you are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . .to the Order and Ministry of Priesthood?" he readily answered, "I think it." Now he is, so at least we picture him, in the empty church--his church--where he has been given authority to minister, and is reading over once more "The Form and Manner of Ordering Priests." These words especially press upon him. "We have good hope that ye have well weighed these things with yourselves, long before this time; and that ye have clearly determined, by God's grace, to give yourselves wholly to this Office, whereunto it hath pleased God to call you: so that, as much as lieth in you, ye will apply yourselves wholly to this one thing, and draw all your cares and studies this way; and that ye will continually pray to God the Father, by the mediation of our only Saviour Jesus Christ, for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost; that, by daily reading and weighing the Scriptures, ye may wax riper and stronger in your Ministry; and that ye may so endeavour yourselves, from time to time, to sanctify the lives of you and yours, and to fashion them after the Rule and Doctrine of Christ, that ye may be wholesome and godly examples and patterns for the people to follow."
I have no doubt that the first Mass that the newly ordained priest will say will be a Mass of self-oblation, of entire consecration of himself to the work to which he believes that the Holy Spirit has called him. If his preparation has been at all adequate to his vocation it will be clearly before his mind that the result of his ministry, its effectiveness in God's sight, will be the outcome of the sort of priest he is; that the first necessity of his opening ministry is that he be something, that he have ideals of priesthood that are adequate in his life. He will feel as he has never felt before his own inadequacy, his own immaturity in spiritual experience, the limitations and faults of his preparation, the extent to which he has light-heartedly wasted time that should have been concentrated on his preparation. He will realize that he has taken advantage of the indifference of his bishop and of the very incomplete nature of the course prescribed for his training, to remain spiritually undeveloped and ignorant of much that he now for the first time completely realizes as his pressing need. He has handed over to him a cure of souls, so many unknown people whom it is his "bounden duty to bring. . . .unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you, either for error in religion, or for viciousness in life."
With these things before his eyes and pressing upon his conscience he will naturally be thrown back to consider how he is to meet his newly and possibly lightly assumed obligations. He will perhaps in his first meditation in his new parish ask himself once more, and with a keenly aroused sense of the need of a complete answer, what it means to be a priest--what actually a priest is. He has heard of what is expected of a priest, he has been told what are his responsibilities, how he ought to conduct himself in view of them. But what is he? What change was effected in him when, in the midst of the Mass, the bishop laid his hands upon him and said: "Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained." What is a priest?
The spiritual writers upon priesthood have for the priest this title--alter Christus, another Christ: a man therefore who has been brought into such relation to Christ that Christ manifests Himself through him in a special way. There is a true sense in which the priest is what Christ is and does what Christ does: so close is their union that their operation is one.
Jesus Christ is a Priest forever, the One Mediator between God and man. By His One Sacrifice forever He has opened the gates of heaven to all who believe on Him; and because His sacrifice is for ever He forever holds the gates open and the way into the Holiest is clear. He ever liveth to make intercession for us, and His intercession is the pleading of the sacrifice made once for all upon the Cross. Looking through that door--the door which the sacrifice of the Cross set wide--the seer of the Apocalypse beholds "and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain." This Lamb Who is the eternal Sacrifice is also the "Priest forever" Who offers the Sacrifice: both Priest and Offering are one.
But this which S. John beholds in heaven--this marvel of the Eternal Priest Who is also the Lamb of the eternal Sacrifice--is not simply a part of the glory of heaven reported to us for our encouragement, but is also a fact of the experience of earth. The Sacrifice that is there is also here, for there and here are one. The worship of the Church is on earth as well as in heaven: the Priest that offers there, offers here. The difference is that there the elders and the living creatures and the multitude of the redeemed see face to face; here we see in a glass, enigmatically. Here therefore the invisible Priest is made visible in one who is set apart to represent Him, in one who has been raised to union with Him and to participation in His Priesthood, so that the acts of the visible priest, rightly performed, are the acts of the invisible Priest, Whose medium of action the human priest is. What the earthly priest does rightly, that the heavenly Priest actually does. There is in fact only one priest in the full sense of the word; the human being is priest only by virtue of his being merged in Christ. When the priest baptizes it is Christ who baptizes; when the priest pronounces words of absolution it is Christ that absolves; when the priest offers the Sacrifice it is Jesus Christ who is at once Priest and Victim. The function of the priest is to be the visible instrument through which the Eternal Priest acts.
These things we conceive our newly ordained priest, kneeling by the first altar at which he is called to minister, to be going over in his mind, trying to make them real to himself. This is what it means to be a priest; this is what he is called to; this is what the words of the bishop meant; this is what is implied in the questions he answered; this is the life before him--a priest forever, alter Christus! "Who is sufficient for these things?" he asks; and his answer is, as the answer of the Apostle, "our sufficiency is of God; who has also made us able ministers of the new testament" and therefore "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." He cannot, he realizes as he kneels here, plead unworthiness or inability--it is too late for that. Moreover by the fact of his ordination he has been made worthy and able, he has been, not endowed with a new office, but raised to a new state. Gifts of the Holy Spirit have been bestowed upon him that he may fulfil the vocation wherewith he is called.
As the young priest goes on to think out how his immaturity is to be ripened into the fulness and maturity of the priestly life, how he is to become the man who can represent Christ to His flock, how he is to gain the experience which is to give him the knowledge and wisdom to guide the flock over which the Holy Ghost has made him overseer, the first answer to himself will be, "it must be done systematically"; in other words, he will seek to prevent waste by imposing upon himself a rule of life. A rule of life of some sort is absolutely necessary if one is not to waste a great part of one's time. In the case of the business man the rule is imposed by the nature of his occupation: he has to spend a stated time in doing stated things; he cannot drop into his place of business when he feels like it, stay as long as he likes and do what appeals to him while he is there. Any business would fail in six months which is conducted with the lack of system which quite commonly is the reflection in a parish of the lack of personal discipline in the parish priest. To make calls when one feels like it, to get up a sermon when it can no longer be put off, is a clear indication of a lack of interior discipline in life.
A rule is not an end in itself; it is an instrument for the accomplishment of certain results. In itself a personal thing, the form it takes will be imposed by the nature of one's work. A general rule to fit all lives is impossible, and failure in rule-making is often due to the attempt to apply to one's life a rule that was intended for a life otherwise circumstanced. One's rule must be made after consideration of one's circumstances and modified as circumstances change or one finds the rule not productive of the best results.
Yet inasmuch as there are certain fixed elements in a priestly life there are certain elements which of necessity will enter into any rule. We are at present concerned with those elements which have to do with the spiritual discipline of the priest. The first of these is of course the rule of prayer, using prayer in the broadest sense. Routine daily prayer we need not touch upon. The intercessions which arise out of a priest's work and are constantly suggested by that work need stated time and place if they are at all profitably to be offered. I read of someone--I think it was a Protestant minister--who was accustomed to go into his empty church and standing successively by each pew pray for a few moments for those who sat there. That is very suggestive: personal intercessions of that sort are no doubt helpful both to people and priest. In any case personal needs suggest themselves whether through request or otherwise, and the priest's life must make room for them. Unless the prayer-life is ordered by a rule many of its obligations and opportunities will be missed. Often the close of a meditation will suggest subjects for intercession, as the meditation so commonly brings one's thoughts about to the obligations and neglects of one's life. Any resolution for action can quite easily flow out into a period of intercession for which the meditation has prepared one. It is always well to bring the meditation thus into touch with the daily experience.
The meditation seems the central point of the devotional rule of the priest, especially of the young priest. The experienced priest may very well substitute other and more advanced forms of prayer, at least in great measure; but the priest whose spiritual character is still in the process of formation can hardly dispense with meditation. This is primarily an attempt, renewed day by day, to understand and personally to apply the truths of the Christian religion. What method shall be followed is a matter of personal temperament and training. By the time one reaches the priesthood one ought to be familiar with the technique of meditation and ready to choose some special line if one has not already done so. I am inclined to think that the form may very well be changed from time to time to avoid monotony. I am wholly in favor of writing a meditation; this compels concentration on the subject and prevents waste of time in dreaming. Often we are just letting the mind drift when we imagine that we are thinking. Naturally, not every word of the meditation need be written; but an outline can be jotted down of sufficient fulness to prove that we have been consecutively thinking during our half-hour and not drifting off to the planning of a Sunday School party or memories of the last meeting of the altar guild.
Books of helpful outlines and worked out meditations are not very abundant in English. There are plenty of them and most helpful ones in French. The prepared outline is perhaps the best introduction to the practice of meditation, not of course to be slavishly followed but used as suggestion. The great mistake in using an outline is that of attempting to limit one's thought to and by it either in breadth or length. One does not have to get through a given meditation this morning: if the first point prove suggestive one need go no further. And if any point proves suggestive of a helpful line of thought it is best followed even if it lead off at a tangent. The point is that one is learning to think spiritually, to penetrate into the depth of Christian truth and to apply such truth to one's own circumstances. It is wholly to be avoided that we apply truth to other lives: we are trying to see ourselves; in the end, no doubt, ourselves in relation to others, and so we can pass, as has been suggested, to intercessory prayer.
The outlines we use are always founded on Holy Scripture and by the use of them we are learning to use Scripture devotionally. The time will come sooner or later when we can drop, for a time at least, the outline and make our own Scriptural studies. To be helpful the start from the text of the Scriptures takes more time as the outline ought to be prepared before we begin the meditation; to attempt to meditate directly from the text without preliminary study is a method inferior to prepared outlines--the man whose meditations we are using did do the preliminary study. Commentaries are probably the least helpful form of religious literature, but a brief commentary will help us to the meaning of the text--perhaps; but our preparation is to read the text in its content and then to think out the meaning and put it in such form that we can use it for the basis of our meditation. We ought not to use the meditation period for this work; if we are pressed for time it is better to make an outline one day and a meditation the next.
The routine of the priest includes daily offices of some sort. If he can recite Morning and Evening Prayer in the church at such times that he can hope for a few of his people to join him, that is well. He is then acting as the priest of the parish and presenting to God the devotions of the parish. Reciting these offices at odd times in his study he is in a measure doing the same thing, but less helpfully and hopefully. I do not feel that the recitation of Morning and Evening Prayer in this Church are of absolute obligation, or that they are very helpful forms of devotion as the priest's private office. The priest may very well find it more helpful to use in private the Breviary or some of the Breviary offices. The steadiness of some formal office is much to be desired.
The devotional life of the priest himself as well as that of the parish centers in the Mass. He will as a normal part of his priestly action stand morning by morning at the altar offering the Sacrifice. I am convinced that there are almost no parishes in the Church where a priest may not have a daily Mass; and if there are any such parishes Catholics are justified in avoiding them.
The priest's life leads up to the Mass when as the representative of Jesus Christ--or, as he indeed is, the instrument of His action--he offers the one eternal Sacrifice for the living and for the dead. The very nature of his action almost compels the priest to be a certain sort of man. It is inconceivable that a priest should stand day by day at the altar and not feel a constant impulse to improve his life. The very act of offering the Mass imposes preparation and thanksgiving, imposes a type of life which we describe as sacrificial. No doubt there are evil priests and careless priests; but normally the daily Sacrifice will demand and insure a life striving to offer itself ever more perfectly. This is especially true under the circumstances of the Anglican Communion where no one is compelled to offer the daily Sacrifice.
There is, to be sure, always the danger that one may fail to make the best of one's privileges; that one's preparation may be careless and one's thanksgiving meaningless. These are faults to be guarded against and sins the effects of which are soon obvious in the life. A special danger is that of dropping (if one may use the word) the Mass as soon as one ends one's thanksgiving--the failure to carry the Mass with us through the day. The devotional day centers at the altar; the Mass has meant the offering of oneself, one's soul and body; it has embodied certain intentions; we cannot without spiritual loss abandon them and lose them from our thoughts. The life of the priest through the day is purified and strengthened as he carries the Mass with him wherever he goes. The interior prayer, the ceaseless prayer of the day, its recurring intercessions, its ejaculations, its aspirations, go readily back and connect themselves with the Mass. They may be described as the outgrowth, the fruit, of the Mass during the day. So the day which takes its spring from the Mass is rich and fruitful and plenteous in good works.
Each Mass has, of course, its special intention. It is here that the parish priest gathers up all the threads of the parish life. It is here that he constantly presents his people and their needs before God. The Mass is not his private office; it is the offering of the Catholic Church in this place, the means of the Church's worship and approach to God. There may be no one present but priest and server, but that does not make it a "private Celebration"; it is still the worship of the parish, all the more needed that the members of the parish take small heed of it. It is here in this morning hour that the priest collects and lays before God all the manifold needs of the people committed to his charge. Here the names of the sick and the sorrowful, the needs of the sinner and the wanderer, are spread out upon the Sacrifice. All that he has learned during the preceding day of the needs of his people are presented here. Here at the altar he prays for all those who have asked his intercession and also for that pathetic class, so many in every parish, who feel no need of prayers at all. The life of a parish without the Mass is a desert; the life of a priest who does not say his Mass has missed the main source of its possible energy.
The use of the Sacrament of Penance is an essential element in the discipline of the priestly life. I am not concerned with the theology of the Sacrament of Penance, or with its obligation, but only with its disciplinary value. It is taken for granted that any priest at all likely to read these pages will from time to time as need has arisen resort to this Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins. Aside from this, the primary use of the Sacrament, there are certain elements involved in its use which are of high value in the discipline of the character. In the first place there is the emphasis placed on the knowledge of self which is implied in the preparation for confession. Starting from this necessity the careful priest will extend the practice of self-examination till it covers much more than the immediate preparation for confession. He will arrive at the understanding that in order to know his sins he needs to know much more than his sins; he must know himself in his innermost motives and impulses. He must be a thorough student of his own psychology.
What the priest is concerned with is not to avoid such and such sins, but with the development of a character to which sin of any sort will less and less appeal. One's power to resist temptation does not lie in strength of will which may be called out in the face of some actual temptation--an immediate spiritual reaction, as it were--but in the careful training of the spiritual powers into obedience to the known will of God. Temptations, no doubt, have to be resisted one by one as they arise; but they will be resisted successfully only when they meet the opposition of a prepared life. The habitual preparation of the soul, the drawing out and maturing of its spiritual powers, alone prepares one for the sudden onset of temptation. In the case of a person living a careful life almost all sins are the result of surprise. Such a person as a priest who takes his priesthood seriously will not plan and execute even small sins. He will yield from time to time to the sudden onset of temptation; he will be taken unawares and without time for deliberation. In such sudden and unforeseen temptations the defence must be what is called remote preparation, the cultivation of a type of life in which the thoughts and imaginations as well as the activities are directed godward, resulting in a character which is sensitive to any approach of sin and thereby thrown on its guard. Such a character is habitually watchful with a defence through which temptation finds it difficult to force an entrance.
The type of self-examination which underlies such a character formation is of necessity of a very broad kind. It is watchful over the expenditure of time and the direction of energy. It is much more concerned with the practice of virtue than with the avoidance of sin. It looks on life as positive, not negative, as directed to acquisition and growth, not to the barren work of dodging the undesirable. There are many people whom we rather thoughtlessly call good people whose goodness upon analysis turns out to be negative; they never commit sin, but then they never do anything at all! They drift through life making and receiving a minimum of impression. But goodness is not that futile and invertebrate thing; it is godlikeness, the development into activity of the spiritual capacity which is one consequence of our incorporation into Christ and of our being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is therefore our progress in virtue which is the essential subject of our self-examination when our lives are rightly directed to the development of Christian and priestly character.
Having our ideals of priestly character and an earnest desire for growth cleared up by a knowledge of self which is not a knowledge of defects and weaknesses but a knowledge of powers and possibilities, our advance will be energized by our use of the sacraments. The Mass, certainly, is the daily renewal of our union with our Redeemer and the constant ministry to us of sanctifying grace. But also the Sacrament of Penance has its place in the upbuilding of the spiritual life. The effect of that Sacrament is not simply negative--the removal of guilt. All Sacraments have a positive quality, in that they impart sanctifying grace to the soul that rightly receives them. A reason therefore for the regular reception of the Sacrament of Penance even by those who are not in mortal sin is found in this ministry of healing and invigorating grace. The wounds of sin are healed and the powers of the soul are strengthened to meet the demands of life.
"It is difficult to keep the youth of the soul and the vigor of a supernatural life," some one has said. As the priest grows older he feels the truth of this. In the first years of his ministry he meets the problems of his ministry with a light and bouyant heart; but the years pass and the experience of disappointment and failure in dealing with others, and still more in dealing with himself, press him toward pessimism and tempt him to lassitude and indolence. A wise old bishop who was at one time my confessor said to me one day, I suppose for my consolation: "Middle-aged priests rarely have much spiritual development; they are too much taken up with external things, with the details of their work." That no doubt is a very menacing danger and one to be guarded against. There are priests who are so busy helping others to be saints that they have no time to be saints themselves. Spiritual writers on the priesthood abound in warning to such, and they are needed especially in our time and country. The priest is judged to-day by what he does and not by what he is; and he is only too likely himself to acquiesce in this standard of judgment. But to do so is to disregard the meaning of his vocation and the true significance of his work. For all work is the work of a certain kind of man, and though the character of that work to the superficial observer may not seem different, whether done by an unspiritual or by a spiritual man, there is nevertheless a very deep difference and one that ultimately will make itself felt. Every item of one's spiritual training is ultimately translated into one's work. The parish work of the holy priest and of the ordained social worker will be strikingly different in their results. The sermon of the saint will easily be distinguished from the discourse of the Rotary Club orator. The saint may be less interesting, but in the priesthood he is more worth while.
PROBABLY the greatest danger that the priest, especially the young priest, has to meet, is the danger of disorder, the danger of a badly administered life. This danger is much greater in the life of the priest than in the life of the average layman. The business man has specific duties to perform at specific times and they must be performed under penalty of loss of business or position. The competition of the modern business world does not permit of either slackness or disorder. The life of the priest permits of both. He feels in no danger of losing his position even though he conduct his priestly and pastoral life in a manner that would ensure immediate cessation of employment if he were a layman. He can put off his work or scamp it or neglect it altogether with very small risk. One of the wonders of the world is the small amount of accomplishment that is expected of the parish priest.
Aside from sloth and carelessness the work of the priest is not without temptations: his very energy at time constitutes a danger. For the alert and energetic priest will commonly throw his energy into certain specified works which seem to him (and no doubt rightly) of great importance, at the expense of others for which he will explain that he has "no time." The result will be a one-sided development. He may be by temperament a student and stress the intellectual aspect of his work, the preparation of sermons and so forth; or, more commonly, he will be attracted by problems of administration and find himself overwhelmed in the details of multitudinous organizations. Having started the machinery he has to keep it going, and because he is rushing about a good deal and "busy here and there" he seems to himself and to most others to be living a most effective priestly life.
Just because the life of the parish priest contains so many more elements than that of the business man it is much more difficult of adjustment; it requires thought and foresight and careful training to ensure that no one element shall be excluded. The priest needs constantly to examine himself to be sure that he is not filling his life with occupations that he finds congenial, and discovering in the fact that he is fully occupied an excuse for the neglect of those priestly occupations to which he is not naturally attracted. It is for this reason that we hear so many priests say that they have no time for reading or study; that they much regret that they are unable to pursue some consistent course of study; but really the details of parish life, the meeting of guilds, and so on.....
What has to be faced, of course, is that the proper functioning of the priestly life demands adequate attention to a variety of obligations and interests. As time is limited this is largely a matter of wise adjustment. The priest has to face the fact that his day is not an eight hour day, or even a ten hour one. And he must understand that his intellectual life and the cultivation of it is not a taste to be indulged in the intervals of guilds and calls, but a serious obligation to be seriously and steadily pursued. If he is accustomed to say, "I have no time for study to-day because there is a meeting of the guild," he had better begin to say "I cannot attend the guild to-day because I am getting behind in my studies." He will do well, if that be necessary, to plan his time from week to week so as to insure that the various elements of duty are proportionately attended to.
Assuming life so planned and time assured for intellectual work we are only at the beginning: the intellectual work itself has to be planned. Perhaps the first thing to be realized is that mere reading is not intellectual work, and that as time is limited the preliminary discipline will deal with the elimination of the useless. Such discipline will reduce the newspaper to the lowest terms and will cut out the popular magazine wholly and will put the novel in its proper place; thus the deck will be cleared for action. The time that is allotted to intellectual work will be a regular time--there is small use in saying, "I will read and study so many hours a day." Certain hours must be definitely set apart and protected. Naturally, the fence will now and again be broken down; but we can gradually make it secure if we want to. One must insist that in the freedom of his life, almost entirely released from exterior control, the priest does what he wants to and does it when he wants to.
In his studies the parish priest, in the first years of his ministry at least, will beware of following his inclination. The Church has need of specialists--a few; but a young priest cannot afford to specialize. There is a tremendous field that he must in some sort manage to cover. This not a matter of taste but of duty. He cannot assume that he has finished any subject because he has passed an examination on it in the Seminary. He has to preach to a mixed congregation and to deal with all sorts of people. They will present a great variety of questions to him for solution and in many perplexities will need guidance. The fact that he is a student, even a profound student, in liturgies or in history will not help in all cases. He must make a valiant attempt to be "an all around man." This ideal, of course, will always remain an ideal, but as time goes on he may approximate to it.
Primarily the intellectual obligation of the priest is to be a theologian. There is no greater reproach to the American Church to-day than the lack of theological knowledge among its clergy. Theology is an inexhaustible subject, when you come to consider it in all its branches; and there is no branch that the parish priest can afford to neglect wholly. Dogmatic theology is the necessary basis of his teaching, but in order to know how to bring dogmatic theology into energetic contact with life he must pursue the study of theology into all its ramifications. That of course means that the priest shall be a student of the Bible--which would seem to be a superfluous, not to say an impertinent, suggestion, but unfortunately is not. It ought to be that the student entering the Seminary should be familiar with the contents of the English Bible: commonly he knows nothing about it; commonly, too, I am afraid, he goes out of the Seminary without having greatly increased his familiarity with it. Therefore he is handicapped at the outset of his teaching, for his teaching needs to grow out of the background of the Bible. No doubt critical study of the Bible is a necessity, but the amount of religion thereby attained would seem to be negligible. If the Bible conveys a revelation, and if the New Testament presents facts and teachings which constitute the essence of our religion, it would seem rather plain that familiarity with the Bible would be the first step in a priest's education, and that that familiarity should be with the Bible as a manual of the spiritual life and not as the battle ground of criticism. It may be important--from a certain point of view it is, no doubt, important--to know that such and such a passage is not in all the manuscripts, and that this other is thought by Prof. X to be a late insertion, though his conclusions are disputed by Prof. Z. But having determined these questions, let us go on to perfection; let us at least find out the spiritual value of our Bible when we have got it reconstructed in terms of modern scholarship. If we are going to teach the Bible it will be because there are spiritual values therein discoverable which are of present use in life. To the discovery of these values I am inclined to think that criticism contributes little: the priest must look for them in the Bible itself by patient study and meditation.
Systematic theology in all its branches is the ordering of the thought of the Church, the harmonious statement of its mind, as to the meaning of revelation. Theology has been a developing science because the mind of the Church in all ages has been a growing mind--has been so intent on drawing out and applying to life the meaning of the revelation committed to it. Dogmatics is the first step in this process and the priest needs to master the outline of the Catholic system of dogma. This is not a very difficult task nor one that requires much time. Endless time may be spent, and indeed well spent, in tracing the history and development of dogma; but to gain a firm grasp on the elements of dogma, a working knowledge of the subject, is not a lengthy task. Dogmatic theology is so finely adjusted, so nicely articulated, it passes from one stage to another in so lucid a development, that the student soon has it fixed in his mind. Until he has accomplished this he must stick to his books.
Having accomplished this, rather than wander into the fascinating fields of the history of dogma, the field of the specialist, he will do well to pass on to one of the other developments of theology in application to life. As a parish priest he is not a student seeking to satisfy an intellectual curiosity, however legitimate, but is seeking to fit himself to be a teacher and a guide of souls. He may very well then turn his attention to the study of morals with a view to fitting himself to preach and direct. Most of the morals we read or hear preached are not Christian morals at all, but the traditional customs and group conventions of the time. There is such a thing as Christian morals, though for the present largely ignored. The young pastor will do well from the start to make it plain that Christian morals rooted in the life and teaching of our Lord is what he is commissioned to teach. That will no doubt cut pretty sharply across much that his congregation believe and are living by and will not conduce to his popularity; but if he is to teach what the Church sets him to teach it must be done. I am inclined to think that he will not get very much help from Anglican literature in this matter. He will perhaps do best to try to understand his New Testament unglossed by the assumptions of modern industrial civilization. Latin treatises there are which will help him to understand the mind of the Church, and also to understand the compromises that moralists have resorted to under stress of contemporary opinion. The social pressure of contemporary conventions is tremendous, and it requires clear thinking and courage to detach oneself from the "every body does it" which is the sole standard of the average Church member, and to present the teachings of the Gospel whether men will hear or whether they will forbear. Much of the detail of the morality written in books needs revision in the light of our Lord's teaching, needs to have the glosses wherewith the centuries have overlaid it blotted out that the truth may appear. The young priest with an ambition to become a specialist will find vast fields here awaiting him.
Ecclesiastical morals, the science of Christian conduct, touches only certain sides of life. It deals much more, as it is treated, with the negative than with the positive. The priest must go on, if he is to learn to apply dogma to life with thoroughness, to the wide subject of spiritual theology. This includes the broad fields of ascetic and mystic theology without knowledge of which the priest is ill equipped for his work. These branches of theology deal with the development of the spiritual life, with the discipline and growth of the soul. We may say roughly that ascetics deals with discipline and mystics with development.
Discipline is not a word in much favor to-day. We no doubt hear from all sides--pulpit, platform, bench--of the need of it, of the decay of it, of the disaster of the loss of it; but get not much positive help to the regaining of it. In fact the very people who are loudest in their lamentations over the loss of discipline are precisely those who have done most to destroy it. What are the forces which have destroyed discipline in this country! Certainly the most conspicuous are the Protestant churches and the public schools and the lax and sentimental administration of justice. In the face of these forces, still actively operating, it requires courage and optimism to insist that the Christian life is essentially a disciplined life; that conduct by principle rather than by law is its method, that in place of the narrow self-regarding life of current teaching the Christian needs to attain life that is God-regarding and neighbor-regarding, that the call of the Christian is not a call to self-indulgence and self-pleasing, but a call to the Cross. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me."
Life as an art: the discipline of a Christian training and education--these are what ascetics is concerned with. The business of the priest as teacher and guide is to show that the Christian life is a distinct form of living--that it is not a worldly life with a veneer of practices. Neither is the Christian life a miscellaneous collection of beliefs and practices gathered haphazard as one goes on, but a life governed by definite principles and seeking to develop on definite lines. What is the discipline that will develop a Christian life as distinguished from other forms of living? To teach that is the business of ascetic theology. It presents an ideal of life which is orderly and consistent, in which there are definite means adapted to the ends sought, in which one starts from a certain point to gain a certain objective. Perhaps the priest has no harder task than to impress upon people this orderly character of the Christian life, this fact of its being a distinct mode of living as distinguished from a collection of beliefs and practices. Yet it is certain that Christian character results, and can have its best and complete results only from an orderly and disciplined living. Regularity lies at the bottom of spiritual accomplishment. The ascetic is the Christian who succeeds. How can the priest hope to break through the thorn-hedge of inhibitory prejudices and deeply rooted ignorance which is called into activity whenever the words discipline and ascetic are pronounced, unless he has himself so far mastered ascetic theology as to present it as the normal science of spirituality in the formation of Christian character?
Ascetic theology is the theology of discipline; mystic theology is the theology of growth. Essentially it has to do with the growth and development of the life of union initiated in baptism wherein the baptised person is born again and made a partaker of the divine nature. What is involved in this new life, the laws of its growth, the means it makes use of, the ends it seeks to attain, are the subject matter of mystic theology. The Christian religion is a mystical religion, that is, it is the religion of the manifestation of the life of God in the soul of man. It is a great mistake to confound the study of it with the study of certain "mystical phenomena." Such things as visions, voices, levitations, and other physical phenomena undoubtedly attend certain mystical states but they are no essential part of the mystic life, nor are they phenomena that the mystic seeks or desires. The mystic life is simply the unfolding of the normal Christian life, a life which is supernaturally engendered and supernaturally sustained. The parish priest needs to have this very clear in his mind for it will control the content of his preaching and define the end to which he is seeking to lead people. Failing this understanding, he is liable to substitute one or another modern system of thought or action for Catholic Christianity. He will fall into the error of assuming that Christianity is the same thing as orthodoxy--the holding of a creed without the good works and life which are its Catholic outcome; or of thinking the Christian religion to be sufficiently expressed by moral action, meaning usually by moral action conformity to the conventional standard of conduct current about him. Both creeds and morals have their place, but by themselves they are not adequate expressions of the Christian religion. That religion is a life: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." The Christian is called to be a saint--nothing less; and the meaning of sanctity is the expression of the divinely imparted Life in our lives. Because this is Christianity, and because mystical theology is the theology of the imparted and manifested Life, the priest must needs be well read in that subject.
And let him not be led astray either by the fact that his seminary course has neglected this branch of sacred studies, or by the fact that he will be warned against mystics as impractical and unsuited to the temper of the twentieth century. If his education has been worth while it will at least have taught him not to take things for granted. He must study for himself; and so doing he will soon perceive that the mystical presentation of religion is its historical presentation; that, in fact, it is the only presentation of it that does not evacuate most of the Gospel of its meaning and render wholly unintelligible the sacramental system. He will also learn that great Christian mystics, so for from being the idle dreamers of popular semi-religious imagination, were the most active and practical of Christian leaders. If the student will read the lives of S. Catherine of Genoa, of St. Catherine of Siena and of S. Theresa; if he will study the daily life of S. Francis of Assisi and of S. Vincent de Paul, he will get his mind cleared of any superstitions about the "idleness" of the mystic life. He will find that as a mode of activity it will soon exhaust the most enthusiastic advocate of base-ball or the movies as a mode of Christian activity and teaching. A "hike" à la S. Theresa would, one fancies, tire the most indefatigable leader of camp-fire girls.
History, naturally, must be widely read. Our Christianity is not a late invention but an historic religion, and cannot be understood save as its development is studied. It cannot be understood except its whole development is studied. To study the first century and then leap to the Reformation or to modern times is in fact to know nothing of the Christian Church. It is not much better to study some imagined "primitive Church" and then make the leap to Anglicanism. That is the easy way to misunderstanding--to a misunderstanding which has been fruitful in the creation of the myth of "national Churches," and has injected into Anglican theological writings much that it is impossible to defend. If the Church failed or became so utterly corrupt that we need pay no attention to it after some ill-defined "primitive period," or if, as a Protestant historian has alleged, no one understood S. Paul's teaching till the time of Luther--then there is little to say for the Church as a divine institution. The study of the history of the Church as a whole and not of some selected period, is the study of the unfolding life of a divine organism. It clears our brains and teaches us to cease to look with suspicion on everything that is new in the development of the Church's life. The Church, a living, thinking being, must grow to a better understanding of its meaning and mission as the years go on. Just because it is living, its life will continue to express itself in changing ways. It will have certain fixed ends but it will develop new means for the attainment of those ends. It will no doubt experiment and retain what it finds useful and abandon the unsuitable. No sane student will draw arbitrary lines, and accept or reject purely on the ground that this is Eastern and that Roman or Anglican. What the student will seek is the means which experience has approved as the best, as helpful to the attainment of spiritual results.
For the priest is studying not for the purpose of establishing this or that theory but to discover how best he can present Christian truth to his people and aid and lead in the development of their spiritual life. His study of history therefore will tend to be largely a study of Christian practice and experience. He knows that Christianity has come through the centuries as an experience, as a thing lived and done, as a force in the shaping of life. What, he wants to know, has aided in this; what has fostered and developed experience! Is his own ministry, he asks himself, failing in effectiveness because of badly apprehended truth or because of truth unapplied or clumsily applied? What light does the experience of the past throw on the solution of the problem on which he is engaged? In his study of spiritual experience he will not ask the date at which a certain means came into use: he will ask the effect of it--did it actually help? Did it aid in the spiritual growth of people? If it helps, what sane person cares when it was first used or who first used it? It may have been used by S. Francis or S. Ignatius, by John Wesley or Gen. Booth--who cares? One does not study the history of ceremonial or practice from the archaeological standpoint, one does not seek to know of a prayer or a devotion the period of its author; one wants to understand the history of it as a force in life, as an aid to holiness.
The parish priest needs to be well read in apologetics. Some priests seem to avoid the subject, whether because of its difficulty or because they scent danger in it, I do not know. To me, it is the most fascinating of studies. One may very likely have to force one's attention to a book with which one agrees, but when one disagrees, when one finds one's pet beliefs and deepest prejudices attacked, one comes awake! Marvelously stimulating reading are many of the attacks on one or another aspect of Christianity or on religion as a whole: marvelously amusing are others in their utter futility. But the futile need attention as well as the others because the minds of so many human beings are the ready instruments of futility. Criticisms have to be answered; one needs to formulate in one's own mind at least an answer to all the attacks one meets. It is to show oneself futile to turn one's back on them as though they had no existence.
The modern attacks on Christianity are no keener than the ancient. One sometimes thinks that Celsus said all that is to be said. But each generation has its own form of attack, brings up new material or presents the old in a new way.
The Christian apologist needs first of all to be certain of what it is that he has to defend. It has turned out as the result of centuries of experience in controversy that a good deal that was taken for granted as an essential part of divine revelation and of the Catholic faith is not such. The best result of the attacks has been the increasing clearness of the demarcation of the line of defence. We have come to see that many widely held beliefs were not a part of, but were imposed upon, our faith. I suppose no Churchman at least would to-day insist on the historical character of the early stories of Genesis or the book of Jonah. That does not mean that we have jettisoned large parts of the Old Testament, but that we have arrived at an understanding of those parts that enables us to use them with better effect. A belief in the historical character of the book of Jonah, for example, leaves it quite useless spiritually, and leaves it on our hands as a heavy obligation, while our present understanding of it leaves it a delightful and inspiring document: we can now attach some sense to the word inspiration in connection with it.
In another field, the whole controversy with the exponents of science has gradually cleared the ground. Much no doubt remains to be done before we come to a complete agreement. The scientist has to learn to remain a scientist and the theologian a theologian. It has, however, become clear that scientific description of phenomena yields no final truth but only provisional hypotheses, and moves in a region where theology has nothing to say. Theology, for its part, deals with truth of another order, that is, with truth of revelation with which science has no contact. What is at present needed is the recognition that the universe is a whole, including both orders of truth--that it cannot rightly be split into warring sections each refusing to recognize the other. The question as to miracles, for example, ceases to be troublesome when it is recognized that God is not a power apart from the universe, intruding on its action from the outside, but a power manifesting Himself within the universe, of whose action both the natural law and the miracle are modes. From the point of view of religion one mode of action is as "natural" as the other.
The present "war of religion" is not so much with natural science as with psychology. The psychologist has succeeded to the cocky attitude which was the attribute of the scientist in the eighties. At present he seems quite certain that he has put religion as a supernatural fact out of court. He is, however, much more certain of this negative than he is of any positive system of psychology so far developed. We are at present in the stage in which we are told that "psychology teaches" with much the same accent as we were told a generation ago that "science teaches." Religion however still goes on and probably will for some time go on in quietness; and after a little the psychological tutor will calm down and recognize the proper limits of his science. In the mean time the books are stimulating and with due care helpful. Also they give rise to many crude sermons which have the form of knowledge without its power.
All this, no doubt, is very sketchy and fragmentary; its one object is to indicate the extent of the field with which the young priest has to deal and from the study of which he cannot excuse himself. If he has to limit his activity in any field the intellectual field is the most tempting in which to begin and the neglect of which is followed with the most disastrous consequences. The apostolic exhortation is that we be "ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you," and the answers that will be demanded are manifold. Our vocation requires that we be prepared.
THE circumstances of the life of a parish priest necessitate a wide social activity. This is for him at once an opportunity and a danger--the opportunity of coming to know intimately the lives and characters of his people, the danger of losing sight of his own character as priest in his immersion in social affairs. It is here especially that his vocation--in the world and- not of it--needs to be guarded with great care. The parish priest must be in society and yet not of society. His social contacts must be of a distinct order, of a temper that cannot be mistaken. He moves through the social group not as an outside observer or as a critic but as a sympathizing friend; yet it must always be obvious that there are limits beyond which he does not go. His not passing them is not necessarily criticism of those who do; there are quite innocent and harmless things which nevertheless are unbecoming in a priest. His character as the servant of God and the ambassador of Christ must always be preserved.
For the life of the priest must be one that at all times and under all circumstances commands respect. There must be no abrupt transitions in his life. His parishioners must not have forced on them a contrast between the man who teaches in the pulpit and ministers at the altar and the man they meet at the club and at dinner. The priest must be obviously the same mom in both places, professing the same principles, guided by the same ideals. The words he speaks in a sermon, the advice he gives in the confessional, must not seem strange to those who have met him under other conditions of life.
In order to live his social life successfully the parish priest must be utterly convinced of his representative character. He is presenting Christ to his people; he will therefore be concerned that they do not mistake the representation. He will in his meditations dwell on the social mission of our Lord. Jesus Christ moved among men during the years of His ministry, touching human life intimately, and in so doing left us an example. Much in the way of the conduct of the priestly life can be learned from a minute study of our Lord's intercourse with men and women. There are wonderful pictures in the Gospel, impressionistic sketches, rapidly outlined for us with a vividness that leaves them printed on the soul. There is the wedding feast at Cana where our Lord moves quietly observant among the guests, ready to do the kindly thing and relieve the embarrassment of His host. There is the night interview with Nicodemus, the searching dealing with a single soul. We recall the scene in Simon's house, with the dramatic entrance of the "woman of the city" with her unguent and her tears. We go with the crowd that surges about the door of Jairus' house when the Master and the chosen disciples go in to the recalling to life of the dead child. These and many other scenes from the pastoral life are filled full of teaching which is easily translated into terms of the parish life of the twentieth century.
The life of the priest is a life given, and given for all the members of his parish. He must be as our Lord was, and indeed still is, of open and ready access to all his people. He has in a degree, no doubt, his own private life and his own personal friends, but these must not occupy and absorb him to the neglect of his parochial life. They lie outside that and belong to his leisure. We are not now concerned with that but with his public relations. In these he will be guided not by his own taste and inclination but by the needs of his people. When and how can he be helpful?
One of the dangers of the young priest is lest his social interest lead him to identify himself with some special social group. This is quite natural in a man without pastoral experience finding himself in a strange environment. He has just come out of an intense social life in college and seminary; he is cast on his own resources and is very likely lonely. There are indeed few more lonely situations than that of a young priest in a small town or country parish. It is difficult to find anyone who is in true sympathy with, or has any true understanding of, his work and ideals, one who can take his point of view. He has yet to learn that loneliness is one of the outstanding modes of sacrifice of the priest's life. He is necessarily lonely if he hold to the ideals of the Christ-life which he is ordained to interpret. It is often a hard lesson to learn, but learn it he must. In his new parish then he finds himself in his not very luxurious room in church-house or boarding house, and he does not know just where to begin or just where to turn. At this point very likely well-disposed and kindly people will take him in hand. They will offer him society;--which is well--but the society will be what they are accustomed to. They will offer to take him into their circle; they will invite him to dinner; they will introduce him at the club. And, quite naturally again, they will expect him to be interested in what they are interested in and they will expect him to do what they do.
Now what they do may be quite innocent for them and it may be quite innocent in itself and still be impossible for the priest who wishes to preserve his priestly character among his people. He is in these first days even more than in other days an object of observation: he may not be conscious of it, but the people who are being kind to him, the parish as a whole, the entire community if it be a small one, are observing him. He will be criticized whatever he does--he cannot escape that; but within limits he can choose the kind of criticism he will have. Let us suppose that after he has been in the parish a short time this is what takes place. It is remarked between two ancient and devout maiden ladies that Fr. Adam danced three times with "that Hemon girl" at the club party last Monday night. A Presbyterian lady remarks, "I understand that that new Episcopal minister plays cards." At lunch at the club Jones remarks, "That new minister of ours is some sport; sat up and drank his cocktail last night like a little man." "He will get on all right with the young people," Smith puts in; and Robinson adds, "That's so; hear he can play a pretty stiff game of bridge, too."
But on the other hand, suppose that when well-intentioned parishioners come forward to help him kill loneliness he repels them? That is quite as fatal in the opposite direction He will gain the reputation of a crank and a snob. He will be left alone but with a reputation difficult to live down.
His problem is the problem of being a priest and spiritual leader among people who have small understanding of either. He may, to be sure, be fortunate in meeting a few people who do understand, but he had better not count too much on so doing--the opposite sort is more common. A priest told me the other day of going to supply in a parish to which he hoped to be called as rector. He stayed his first Saturday night with one of the vestry. After dinner the wife of the vestryman proposed bridge, and when the priest said that he did not play, she remarked, "Then you would not be of much use in this parish." A vestryman of another parish explained that what they wanted as a rector was a "good club man." Unfortunately the membership of the Protestant Episcopal Church is largely drawn from that type of society--the country club, bridge, have-a-good-time type. And just for that reason the parish priest needs to be on his guard. He needs not to be deceived by appearances and to understand that though they want that type of priest, they do not respect him when they have got him. They want him because (though this may not be explicitly felt) his tolerance and cooperation confirms them in their way of life. They have carefully and successfully at the outset muzzled their rector and reduced him to the necessity of preaching platitudes about social service, which no one takes seriously, or which they conceive themselves to have fulfilled when they attend a bridge given in behalf of the altar guild, or make a subscription to the boy scouts. They want this type of man because they know that they can comfortably go to matins on Sunday and be in no danger of hearing from the pulpit anything that can be construed as a criticism of their way of life.
Thoroughly compromised and out of court as a spiritual teacher is such a priest. He cannot speak plainly and openly to those with whom he is associating socially, and those who do not belong to that set will not listen to him. A young priest who has blundered into such a situation, if he still retain the ideals of priesthood, will best resign and begin again elsewhere, now enlightened by a dearly acquired experience. He will now know better than to identify himself with any set. He can now begin in the relation that his quality as the representative of Christ suggests.
It is quite possible to retain one's self-respect as priest and to gain the respect of the community without immersing oneself in the world. The priest may mix in any society, may be present at any lawful amusement, without compromising the respect that is due to his office. He can indeed bring the influence of that office so to bear on those with whom he associates that their respect for him will be increased and his influence over them deepened. He pan, as we say, make his presence felt, and felt in such wise as to be a purifying influence upon society. This is his social mission--to raise the tone of society; to make it more Christian, to discourage all that militates against the Gospel standard of life.
From the Christian point of view the essential weakness of American social life is the ignoring of Christian standards. The members of the Church when they pass from the Church to the affairs of daily life, pass (no doubt in most cases quite unconsciously) into another moral atmosphere. The moral principles that they have heard enunciated in the Holy Scriptures which are embodied in the Liturgy and which are declared from the pulpit are largely ignored in daily life. The life of business and pleasure reverts to a set of conventions which have little in common with the teaching of Christ and His Church. The transition is unobserved because it is habitual and has been so from childhood. The Church has taught (if it has at all taught) a set of moral principles which the child rarely saw applied in his family or governing life among his friends. So far as moral principle was grasped at all it was as intellectual theory. Real life was led on another plane. Hence life when it was not openly anti-christian was non-christian. The teachings of the Gospel were unreckoned with in its conduct. That was habitually done, practiced, indulged in, with it would seem a clear conscience, which would have been shocking to an instructed Christian conscience. There are no greater offenders in this way than the members of the Episcopal Church. Society is largely dominated by them. No doubt this will be less so in the future owing to the break with the Church which follows from the social tolerance, not to say approval, of divorce.
In this society the parish priest has place. He is related to these people as their rector. His position is only less conspicuous, not at all less difficult, if his work lies in a country town rather than in a large city. It is fatal to his influence--to his priestly and spiritual influence--if either he break utterly with society or if he lose himself in it. Many priests actually conform to the standards that society sets them without protest--I mean the silent protest of a man obviously living by principles differing from those of the people among whom he moves. He does not appear to his people to be different, and yet they are conscious that he ought to be different. They sometimes feel when their conscience is troubled or when they are irritated by criticism that their path of justification is to convert their priest openly to their manner of life. It is not unknown that they deliberately do this to vindicate action that they know has been criticized. This happened not long ago in a large city parish. Irritated by criticism of her conduct and angry against the prohibition law, a conspicuous society woman said that she was going to give a dinner and was going to serve all manner of drinks and was going to ask her rector and her critics would see that he would drink all that was offered. And she did, and he did.
While such a woman might regard her rector as a valuable social ally, it is quite impossible that she should respect him as a spiritual guide. Quite possibly she never thought of him in that capacity. In this particular case the action of the priest gave grave scandal to some who knew it, for the woman naturally boasted of her triumph. And it must be so always when the priest conforms to a mode of life which is obviously unchristian. One has to insist continually that life--a priest's life most of all--cannot be governed by the rough and ready rules of right and wrong, but must be directed by ideals, by what is harmonious with his vocation. It is not a question whether one may do this or that without violation of any explicit moral laws, but whether the act contemplated is harmonious with a priestly life--with a life that is seeking to present Christ to men. Judged by that standard the action of the priest cited is almost unthinkable; and it is only to insult common sense and ordinary intelligence to talk about the marriage in Cana of Galilee. It would have been more in harmony with the priestly character to have declined silently the proffered drink, leaving the impression of protest as the best response that under the circumstances could be made to the insult offered to the priestly character embodied in the spirit of the invitation.
Open protests other than by conduct are rarely desirable. Open protests of principles belong to the sphere of public teaching, and a priest need be in a parish but a brief while to make it evident to all where he stands. He had best quietly and as unobtrusively as possible define his understanding of the priesthood and what that office involves as soon as may be. He need not be flamboyant about it; he need not, as a certain priest whom I recall, announce from the pulpit on his first Sunday in the parish, that he was a celibate and not a candidate for matrimony. It is not hard to let one's principles be known, and when they are known people will, as a rule, respect them. The worst men and those of the laxest principles, expect a high standard in their priest and respect him for having definite principles and for adhering to them. They may find themselves more at ease with a social compromiser, but in their hearts they utterly despise him Their attitude is that of Charles II, who promoted to the episcopate the man "who would not take Nellie in." One may, to be sure, offend this or that person through the way in which one presents the angles of one's character; but in the long run steadiness and definiteness of principle will win. I am of course not considering the priest whose principles of conduct are the same as those of the worldly society of which he is supposed to be the spiritual guide.
"You only lose people by being too stiff." Of course one loses people from time to time in any case. The question here raised calls for a definition of "too stiff." "Stiff" one necessarily must be; "too stiff" one ought not to be any more than "too" anything else. Our Model lost continually through stiffness in the assertion of truth until it seemed that He had sacrificed all hope of the success of His mission through His alienation of possible followers, and He raises the question to His disciples, "Will ye too go away?" One has to face this possibility of apparent failure, of seeing oneself looking out some morning over empty pews. But the apparent failure may be the most brilliant success. After all one is not teaching one's private opinions or sticking stiffly by one's prejudices, but one is administering a sacred trust. Our rule is that which S. Paul enunciates to S. Timothy: "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." And in another place the great Apostle gives his disciple the rule of priestly life: "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of believers, in word, in manner of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity." A judge has to administer the law though his doing so bring upon him the criticism of all the newspapers. And the priest has to teach the Christian religion, an important element in which is Christian morals, whatever may be the result in his parochial life. He can of course teach harshly, or he can teach with charity, but teach he must. However compromise may grease the wheels of parochial life it ends and can only end in spiritual disaster to the priest himself. "As long as thou doest well unto thyself, men will speak good of thee"--but how about God?
The giving of scandal is a very serious matter in the possibilities of a parish priest's life. Conduct that can cause legitimate criticism of the ministry is to be guarded against with extreme care. One of the minor, but by no means negligible, grounds of criticism of the priest is the way in which he spends his time. A very obvious danger arise from the fact that the priest is under no exterior control: within wide limits he spends his time as he will. The men of his congregation are, as a rule, occupied all day; they have definite hours of work, and they are apt to think that they discover in their priest a wholly shiftless and lazy mode of life. This no doubt is partly due to the fact that many things which are part of the priest's duty do not seem to the layman work in any intelligible sense--they may be very hard and tedious work to the priest, but to a layman it seems not so. This cannot be helped. But also criticism grows out of the obvious irregularity of the lives of not a few priests. A priest is understood to be always at liberty not only to be called upon, as is right, for parochial duty, but also to be at liberty to take part in any social function or amusement. A priest who can always be depended upon to turn up at an afternoon tea, or is available for tennis or golf, lays himself open to suspicion as an idler and a waster. This can only be avoided by the introduction of order into life so that he cannot be found available at all times. It is useless to say in excuse or explanation that it is a part of the priest's business to go to teas, and that he has a right to recreation and exercise such as are found in tennis and golf. That may be perfectly true; but if these things are to come into his life without harm to it, they must come in an orderly and disciplined way. A priest cannot well respond to invitations as though he were a member of an idle class: his response to invitations must make it clear that his life is occupied and orderly.
Amusement no doubt the priest is entitled to and relaxation he must have; they are part of his duty to himself. The perplexing questions are about what sort and how much. Naturally no strict rules can be laid down; life in these matters must be governed by order and proportion. There can be no sane objection to the priest's attendance at opera or theatre; but as, unlike a business man's, the priest's evenings will be largely occupied, indulgence in these will be limited. The priest ought not to be known in the community as the devotee of any sort of sport; he must not be the one man who can be depended upon to make up any sort of a party or outing. The priest's explanation of over-indulgence in amusement or sport is that he thus gets to know people and is better able to influence them. I doubt very much whether the right sort of influence is ever gained in that way. It is in fact commonly the other way about--it is the priest who is influenced to lower the standard of the priestly life. The way in which the world obtrudes in life to its detriment is evidenced by the adoption of clichés which are current to the effect that we are not Puritans, and so forth. It would perhaps be better for us in some ways if we were. There are members of the Anglo-Catholic group who appear to think that complete Catholicity is attained only when certain limits which have been customary among English speaking peoples are overpassed,--limits both of conversation and conduct. Epater les bourgeois is not a desirable form of clerical amusement; and the cocktail drinking, card playing parson is not likely to commend the example of Jesus Christ to his people. The impression produced by some of our clergy is not the best possible. A young priest told me of the following experience during a call in a wealthy suburb. He was calling with the intention of finding material for the beginning of a new work there. He found a lady, late in the afternoon, sitting on her verandah. He introduced himself and the lady asked him to sit down. Then she pressed a button and the butler appeared, and the following dialogue ensued:
The lady: "Have a whisky and soda, Mr. X--" Mr. X.: "Thank you, no." The lady: "A little Scotch, then?" Mr. X.: "Thank you, but I do not care for any." The lady: "Then have a glass of wine." Mr. X.: "Not now, thank you." The lady: "Well, you are the first Episcopal minister I ever met who would not take a drink!"
Nowhere is greater care needed by the priest in the ordering of his life than in his relations with the women of his parish. The obvious rule is--no intimacies; no special friendships with young women, whether married or not. The circumstances of parochial life where so much of the work of the parish is carried on by women make relations with them constant. Our multitudes of guilds and societies throw the priest into almost daily contact with one or another group of women or girls. Perhaps it would be well to attempt a break with the parochial tradition which requires that the rector shall always be present at the meeting of guilds. Now that we have so many efficient women, now that women have achieved their independence and acclaimed their equality with man, it might be well to recognize this fact and accept this proclamation at its face value and leave them to carry on much of the guild work by themselves. There is really no point in requiring that the rector shall be present to open the guild with a collect. Among the acquisitions of female independence ought to be the ability to say a collect at the opening of a guild. Probably nothing disastrous would happen if no collect were said. But saying collects on all sort of occasions is a rooted Protestant Episcopal superstition which it might be difficult to eradicate; and therefore I would not recommend anything so radical. Neither can it be necessary that the rector should "drop in" at all assemblies of female parishioners. Here again it would be as well to introduce order and have it understood that the priest has important work to do and may not waste his time--though perhaps "waste his time" would not be the best or most tactful way of putting it to the ladies. Of course it must then be known that he does not waste his time but is seriously at work. The rule being established that the guild goes on by itself and reports to the rector through its president no harm will be done if he drops in at the last moment from time to time for a few moments harmless chatter. It is alleged that the value of the rector's presence at guild meeting is that it tends to eliminate gossip and elevate the conversation; but that would seem to be the function of the officers of the guild who, if there be need, may take council with the rector. In any case possibly not much is gained by the process of dimming a disease. A gossip is a gossip even when she (or he) is silent, and an enforced silence of an hour or two a week will not be of much value.
The young priest will best confine his relations with women to seeing them in their own homes and as little as possible elsewhere. He had best get rid of the illusion that he is developing the religion of the young ladies of his congregation and guiding their spiritual life by semi-sentimental talks with them as they wander through woodland paths or sit watching the moon rise over the sea. The daughters of men are still fair and the sons of God are still innocent and guileless--and the consequences are what we see about us. When I had been a short time in my first parish an old lady with the obvious intention of guiding the new rector into the right path, said that my predecessor had been accustomed to take the young ladies of the guild out boat-riding (wonderful expression). Her intentions were no doubt good and, in the feminine manner, pious--but I disappointed her and am still unmarried. No doubt the Writer of Proverbs was not stating a general truth when he said: "Surely in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird," but occasionally he is right. It is a shiftless priestly life that is apt to get into difficulties. A well laid out and busy life escapes from the fact that it is busy. The things that we have to do in the way of devotion and study and active parish work keep one's hands so occupied that the devils finds small chance of entrance. If the obligations of the priesthood are clearly realized from the start and a valiant effort is made to meet them, the social side of life will almost automatically takes its proper and proportionate time and place. We shall not become habitual diners out, expected faces at every social function, haunters of the country club, because we have things to do which take up our time and have settled a rule of life which puts first things first. The danger is that we mistake what is first, and substitute first in inclination for first in obligation and importance. The success of our work requires constant and varied human contact? No doubt: but we shall get that through persistent calling and getting to know people in their families. The best human contact for the priest is not with the brainless set that haunts the country club but with the quiet hardworking people who never appear in "society" at all. Let the priest visit carefully among these latter folk; let him get in touch with men and growing boys; let him be intimate with the children, and he will get just the contact and inspiration that he needs. It is with such people that he can talk freely and simply about the things which are his real interest--the things of the spirit. A priest to whom the Christian religion is an utterly absorbing interest must feel quite astray in a society in which it is bad form to speak of religion. There are places where the only possible mention of religion is in the form of ecclesiastical gossip which is deadening to the soul.
The ultimate test of whether a priest has any right to be in a place is a very simple one--can he be a priest there or has he to put off his priestly character and present himself in disguise? Can he speak naturally and freely of his own interests as the lawyer and the physician speak of theirs? If so, then he not only presumably has the right to be there but is also bringing the right influence to bear there. Wherever Jesus Christ was He was plainly a spiritual Person intent upon spiritual interests. If the priest be indeed the minister and ambassador of Christ his interests must be identical with those of his Master. He must give the impression, not of an idler and trifler who lays aside his spiritual interests with his vestments, but of one who, always and in all places and under all circumstances brings Christ to his people.
The sum of the matter is that the priest must conduct his life as one whose primary interest is in the spiritual education and guidance of his people. He is not presenting himself as one who is seeking his own interests or reputation or promotion. He preaches not himself but Christ Jesus his Lord. If this be not his true end he will fail as a priest no matter how popular he may he as a man. Therefore he must know himself; for it is very easy to conduct life on one set of motives or principles while ostensibly we are conducting it on another--deceiving ourselves rather more easily than we deceive others. A true zeal for souls will sometimes lead a priest to compromises he ought not to make, but they will be compromises for others and not for himself. He will never gain any souls to God by anything that derogates from his priestly life.