Project Canterbury Three Sermons by Dr. Barry
2. Farewell Sermon as Rector of the Parish, December 9, 1928. THE FAREWELL SERMON ST. MATT.: 7:29. "He taught them as one having authority."
FROM many directions we are told today that if the Church is to survive it must adjust itself to modern conditions of life and thought. We are not living in the early centuries of the Christian era when the creeds still in use were formulated; we are not living in the Middle Ages when the doctrine of the sacraments and the devotional practices which we still adhere to were worked out. We are living in a new world of rapid change and progress and it is absurd to assume that in such a world religion alone can remain static. The old formulas are outworn, the intellectuals cannot think in terms of the past, the new generation cannot accept, etc., etc.--you are familiar with all the contemporary clichés. One gathers that if the new generation cannot accept the old formulas, it is because they are being taught by the old generation that they ought not to accept them, that it is unintelligent and not at all up-to-date to do so. One further gathers that all this talk about the new generation and the outworn dogmas is a variety of smoke-screen sent up by the older generation to hide their own laxity. But let that pass.
It is no doubt true that each generation has its own problems and that to meet them the Church needs to make certain adjustments. That does not mean that it has to have a new theology in each generation, but that it needs to present the facts of divine revelation in the language of the time. As a matter of fact, the Church has always done this. The Church's presentation of its faith has been anything but static. The unorganized theology of the New Testament was formulated in the creeds and in dogmatic decrees of the conciliar period. The sacramental system was thought out in its implications in the Middle Ages. The present time is seeking a fuller social application of the Gospel in relation to labor, world peace, and so on. But these various changes and adaptations have not and do not necessitate any departure from the fundamental dogmas which are the essential basis of Christianity. One suspects that much of the demand for restatement and reinterpretation is in reality a demand for abandonment.
However much social conditions and fashions of thought may change, there is one thing that does not change--human nature. The fundamental human problems remain the same. The fact of sin and need for salvation through Christ is not affected by the invention of the radio or new developments in mathematical physics. Sin is a permanent fact, and the fundamental lack of originality of the human race, notwithstanding its proud boast of progress, is evidenced by the fact that it does not even succeed in inventing new sins. All the sins there are, all the virtues there are, have been known for centuries. All the modern mind has been able to do is to invent new ways of committing the old sins. If the medieval man wanted to defy the Church's ideal of Sunday observance, he went to a bear-baiting or a cock-fight. The modern man attains the same end by motoring out into the country or going to the club to play golf.
Each age has its own obsessions. The obsession of the Renaissance was classicism. It attempted to hark back to an assumed golden age of intellectual freedom and perfection of life. It really did not know much about the classical civilization, it only succeeded in producing pinchbeck imitations. Still, it enjoyed itself enormously. The obsession of the Reformation was the Bible only, the simplicity of the Gospels and the freedom from medieval corruptions. What it really achieved had little resemblance to the religion of the Gospel, and it did destroy much that was valuable to medieval life. The eighteenth century was enthusiastic over enlightenment and rational deism, and actually achieved the most corrupt and unintelligent society of any century since the fall of Rome. Today we are strong and going stronger in our assertion of freedom from moral standards of the past. Personal liberty and self-determinism are our war cries. The results so far are not encouraging from the point of view of social betterment.
Therefore, if the Church today is to do what it is constantly exhorted to do--meet the problems of today by translating the religion of Christ into terms of modern life--it must deal clearly and in no faltering terms with modern moral problems. It must know its own mind and take a determined stand. We are constantly told that people are tired of dogma and dogmatic preaching. I believe quite the contrary to be true. They rather like dogmatic preaching because it does not touch their lives. They may not be deeply interested, but they are not disturbed, by sermons on the Trinity or the Incarnation. What people do not like are sermons which get under their skins, which deal frankly with problems of moral living. Therefore the preacher ought not to tolerate drowsy quietude in his congregation, and must direct his preaching in quite plain terms to the problems of contemporary life. He must bring it up-to-date, as he is told to do by people who do not want him to do so. Latterly we have heard a great deal of protest against the preacher concerning himself with social problems, with the programs of political parties. These are very often questions which are fundamentally questions of social morality. It is precisely on such problems that the Church should have and express a mind. If it has nothing to say on such problems, it had better close its doors and go out of business.
I say the Church must know its own mind, and take a decided stand on all questions which touch religion and morals. It has lost much in the past through failure to do this. Through the inaction of its leaders, who visualize a crisis as a situation to be met by silence and waiting to see what will happen, they fall in with the tail of the procession after it has passed the reviewing stand. The Churches of the Anglican Communion, with which we are now concerned, have lost much in the past and are still losing today, through lack of competent leadership. In the last century much confusion was produced in the popular mind by questions of biblical criticism. The leaders of the Church long failed to meet this situation, failed to make clear what is essential in a belief in revealed religion and what is non-essential. One result has been a loss of confidence in the Bible as a vehicle of revelation. The question of evolution arose, and Christian leaders showed the same lack of vision as to what is involved in this hypothesis. They failed to make it clear that it is of no sort of importance from a religious point of view from what kind of an animal man is descended, and that the matter of evolution is a purely scientific concern. The leaders of the Church do not face questions on their merits, but with an attempt to estimate possible results. We are afraid, with the haunting fear of democracy, that it will alienate someone from the party. We see the intellectual falling away, and we hasten to remodel the creed and leave out the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. We fear to alienate the "best people," with a vision of subscriptions falling off. We do not say, "Let thy money perish with thee." Today we are failing to speak out on questions of education, of divorce, of prohibition. We do not insist on Sunday observance, lest we lose the motorist and the golfer. We compromise, and tolerate laxity. Today we read signs before churches of early services for golfers. Tomorrow we shall most likely see signs reading "Ten Minutes Meditation for Motorists." The Church does not lead, does not assert its inherent authority, but acquiesces in the popular.
The business of the Church is to witness to Christ, to his ideals of life and conduct. To do that effectively, there must be adequate leadership, which today we lack more than anything else. Naturally there is not in the deposit of divine revelation explicit teaching, rigid formularies, on all questions of belief and conduct which may arise. The teaching work of the Church consists in the study of principles and the adjustment of them to human problems as they arise. The problems involved in biblical criticism, evolution, prohibition, are modern in form, but the principles that govern conduct in relation to them are eternal and are found explicitly stated in Christ's teaching. The duty of the Church is to make this clear, to apply the principle, and not to wait to see which way the uncertain mind of democracy will shift. That is what the first Christian teachers did. The fundamental principle of social conduct was enunciated by our Lord, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." St. Paul applied this, "It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth." St. John amplifies it, "If a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen?" St. James illustrates it with his sketch of a scene at a church service, with the obsequious usher conducting the rich man to the front seat and putting the poor man in the back pew.
Christ is the supreme Teacher. He is not an adviser, but an authority. We must make that very clear. We do not want an expurgated edition of Christ, nor a Christ watered down and made innocuous for the modern man. We must expect the Christ of the Gospel to come into antagonism with much in the twentieth century, as he did with much in the first. We cannot avoid the issues he raises, we cannot avoid his criticism of our lives. He challenges, as he challenged in the beginning, and we have, whether we will or no, to answer his challenge. "Will ye too go away?" We have to decide whether we will run away with St. James, or deny him with St. Peter, or stand by the Cross with St. John and the Blessed Mother.
The voice of the Church is deadened and made uncertain by our present divisions. We live in a time of crisis. Western civilization is tottering and ready to fall. Our rulers seem to have learned nothing from the experience of the War. They are playing the same political game, with the same selfishness and lack of intelligence. Peace treaties are but a gesture which will be abandoned when our crude nationalism thinks it worth while. If anything can save us, it will be a revived religion, a religion which does not divorce itself from politics, but demands that politics be regenerated and humanized. But we cannot have such a religion if we remain divided. The immediate future will decide whether Christianity as it exists in the West will go down in the collapse of western civilization, or whether it will revive and offer a solution of our difficulties. The immediate outlook is not very hopeful. It shows the same lack of intelligence in ecclesiastical leading. Rome still listens to nothing but submission. "I am the whole Church." Protestantism is just waking up to the disaster of its fissiparous character. But in the awakening there is hope. The first and essential lesson that we have to learn is that unity is not of necessity uniformity. If we are to insist on uniformity, the battle is lost. We must go back to the old motto, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty."
It is not my intention to discuss the question of unity. I would only express my own belief that the hopeful path to unity leads through devotion, through worship, that, while our theological problems are in some sense fundamental and must be dealt with intelligently, they will be solved not by argument, but by a common vision of Christ.
Christ is fundamental. What is needed is a deeper understanding of the approach to him through worship, a keener vision of him as the object of our worship. We need to go back and study our problems together, to return to the conception of worship set us in the Revelation of St. John. What we see there is what we need here. There we see the throne, high and lifted up, spanned by the emerald of the rainbow, the throne of God Most High. Before the throne is the altar, and upon the altar is the I/amb as it had been slain. About the altar, prostrate in adoration, are the hosts of heaven, the cherubim and seraphim, the angels and archangels, the multitude of the redeemed, and from them goes up the ceaseless chant of praise veiled in the incense clouds, which are the prayers of the saints. That is the unveiling of the present reality of heaven. Here we must find the same reality repeated, the same object of worship, the same adoring host. If we can see this vision, if we can learn to join in the worship, our present clouds of controversy will melt and be dissipated.
For the Mass is primary. It is the one act of common worship our Lord commanded us. It is the way of approach to him, of union with him and with our brethren. Our daily life flows out from the energy of it, and from the study and understanding of it flow many applications and developments. It is difficult to understand how those who are so insistent on the adaptation of religion to modern conditions can miss this. It is no doubt true, as we are told in the Articles of religion, that the holy Sacrament was not instituted to be lifted up or carried about, and so on. But neither was it instituted as a monthly appendage to Matins. The wisdom and experience of the Church have seen new applications and uses of it. It has found that it could stimulate and develop the spiritual life by services of blessing and devotion, by Benediction and Processions. Controversy on such devout practices is disheartening, but it is forced upon us. One finds it difficult to understand present controversies, especially in England, but to understand the mind of the English episcopate, it is necessary to study a psychological treatise on fear.
One finds it difficult to be patient with a ruling which permits reservation of the Sacrament for the sick, but forbids devotion to the Reality of the Sacrament. If no change is made in a wafer by the act of consecration, one finds it difficult to understand why it should be carried to the sick at all. If a change is made, it can only be the change indicated by Holy Scripture and the formularies of the Church, in which case the devotions which the practice of the Church has thought proper would seem to be indicated. There would seem to be no need of a definition of the mode of the Presence. If we can agree in the belief expressed in the three words, "Jesus is here," we then can worship together, and so be brought to unity of spirit in the bond of peace.
I have been Rector of this parish for nearly twenty years--a third of its existence. Whatever my failures have been--and no doubt they have been many--I call you to witness that through all these years I have stressed the centrality of devotion and of the life that flows from it. Never for one moment have I encouraged a lax Catholicity. I have a clear conscience in that matter. I have stood for the whole Catholic faith as the ground of full Catholic practice. I have no use for a twenty-minutes-a-week religion, I have no use for a Mass-and-motor or a Mass-and-golf religion. Such religion will get no spiritual results. It will not maintain St. Mary's. I beg you now to stand fast for conduct. Translate your creed. Adapt the Gospels.