Project Canterbury

The Pastoral Letter of the Bishops to the Clergy and Laity.

no place: no publisher, 1916.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008

To the people of this Church, we, your Bishops, give counsel in the name of Christ.

America is involved to-day in world-wide confusion which finds its most acute expression in the battle fields of Europe. No self-isolation on our part is possible. The fortunes of the nations of the world are interwoven as the threads of a tapestry. To ignore this fact is folly; to reckon with it frankly is to give due recognition to the fundamental unity of the human race and to hasten the dawn of that day in which the armaments of war shall be beaten into the implements of peace.

It was but a moment ago that we were basking in the thought that the human race was steadily coming to recognize the community of its interests the world over. The crime to-day of acting as if this were not so, is the greater because the doctrine of brotherhood has progressed from a local theory to a universal conviction.

Interests can never again be sectional. The world is henceforth one from North to South and from East to West, for the time being in a disturbed and suffering unity, in days to come in a unity where order and health will reign. "Here" and "there" are merely terms of lifeless space. The longest distance in the human brotherhood is but from the head to the feet of its quivering, sensitive body. Sympathy reaching to the ends of the earth is not the voluntary offering of a few, but the humane obligation of all. It is the instinctive thrill of fellow-feeling that rushes through the entire organism when a single member rejoices or suffers. Political expediency may in war time require neutrality of the State, but it cannot hold in leash the sympathies of the individual citizen. A man cannot be passionless and retain his manhood. "No heart is pure that is not passionate, no virtue safe that is not enthusiastic."

The fact that our Nation is not at war affords no ground for smugness, much less for self-applause. It throws upon us the searching responsibility of exalting the true ideals of peace and incorporating them in our national life. Nationalism too often assumes the ugly role of group-selfishness or false patriotism. Local conditions determine what form this disease will take. Yonder it breaks forth in the scarlet rash of war; here in unconsecrated prosperity which is bound to cause manhood to decay. The Nation that in some quarters, for the sake of gain, still chains to the wheels of industry the bodies and souls of her little children, that allows human life to be sacrificed to the inventions of speed and production from lack of costly safeguards, that heeds listlessly the cry of the poor and oppressed, is not at peace even though she be not at war. If presently we aspire to act as peacemakers in behalf of the warring nations on the ground that we are not caught in the meshes of the actual conflict, let our aspirations be tempered by the reflection that we are tainted with the common disease of which the eruption of war is a symptom not a cause. God hates a godless and empty peace as much as He hates unrighteous war. Let it be sadly said that, in proportion to her swollen wealth, as figures show, America's contribution toward the alleviation of innocent sufferers in Europe is the merest pittance. A few have given lavishly even to the laying down of their lives, many in due proportion to their substance, the vast majority little or nothing. But the opportunity has not yet swept by. Christ is calling men to sanctify their wealth by offering freely of their substance to God's cause everywhere. The wounds of Armenia, Poland, and Belgium still lie gaping to the sky and offer their dumb appeal to God and man. If America comes out of this day of world disorder richer in purse and poorer in manhood, she will invite, and bring upon herself, the penalty of a debased national life or even of losing her very soul. The peace that smothers the souls is as ruthless and inexorable as the war that mangles the bodies of its victims.

So far as war is a discipline which man has imposed upon himself, he must look to himself to get rid of it. Movements and associations to promote peace are not to be ignored or undervalued, especially those which emphasize the deep likenesses, and give second place to the surface differences, of the race. America is still in danger of race antipathy flaming into hatred, which always constitutes an angry call to arms. Her blood connection with the whole of Europe is a glorious heritage, making in the main for peace. Whatsoever dangers may lie lurking beyond our Western horizon, they can surely be averted by a spirit of justice which has not always prevailed in our dealing with the Orient, the multitudinous Orient which presently will be the centre of the world's attention.

Again, no nation, least of all so vast and diversified a one as ours, is justified in trusting to chance for the creation of her national character. She must expect of everyone of her citizens some true form of national service, rendered according to the capacity of each. No one can commute or delegate it; no one can be absolved from it. National preparedness is a clear duty. If this service assumes the form of mere military defence, it can easily become a menace, and will surely fall short of pacific effect, unless all the productive forces of manhood are at the same moment developed and shaped into social order and righteousness. The only thorough preparedness is that exemplified and taught by Christ, the preparedness of character based upon life with God.

Would that our peace to-day were like a river and our righteousness as the waves of the sea! Then should we be indeed an ensign to the nations. But how different a case it is! The nations now at war, whom thoughtless people pity, have as much to teach us as we have to teach them. They rebuke our worship of comfort and money by their daily offering, upon a reeking altar, of life and treasure, in behalf of what each believes to be a spiritual ideal; they declare to us that intoxicating liquor which is so freely and carelessly drunk in our land is a national menace to be dispensed with at the cost of lowered revenue but with the gain of heightened virility; they teach us that food is the staff of physical life, not an invitation to daintiness or gluttony; they rebuke our spiritual poverty by the splendor of their spiritual eagerness, which out of their tragedy brings new visions from God and breeds new virtues in men; they shame our self-indulgence by a degree of self-sacrifice which is royal in that the priests that offer are the victims offered.

We now come to a study of the causes of our social disorder, whether they express themselves in war or in diseased peace. Whatever apology may be made, or local explanation offered, at home or abroad, for the world confusion, it is "none the less an outcome and a revelation of unchristian principles which have dominated the life of Western Christendom and of which both the Church and the nations have need to repent." We well know that force, be it physical or moral, cannot by itself uproot evil; nevertheless we have no right to place in the same class all the belligerents, aggressive and defensive, in this or every war. There are even occasions when the cleansing of the temple of human life must be begun with scourge, and driving power. But it is the duty of the Church "to place supreme reliance upon spiritual forces and in particular upon the power and method of the Cross."

St. James, were he speaking to-day, could not use more pointed and telling words than those he wrote centuries ago: "From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts which war in your members? . . . know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." Greed of possessions, greed of honor, greed of pleasure have literally dethroned God from His supreme place among men. The sole cure is to exalt God. The Church of earliest days met her unprecedented responsibility of converting and enlightening a bewildered and depraved world, first by proclaiming God as revealed in Jesus Christ, and then by moral precept as exemplified by His character and word. The order is, from God to righteousness, rather than from righteousness to God.

The world of men is athirst for the knowledge of the living God. If we need evidence of this, we have it in the experience of the Nationwide Preaching Mission. We therefore solemnly enjoin upon pastors and preachers that their first duty is to retire periodically within the veil, and walk with God, in order to come forth and proclaim His clear revelation of Himself made through the ages; and to reaffirm in this our day of distress that He understands and rules the race which He shaped with His own hand, and with which He irrevocably identified Himself when He became the Son of Man. Experienced in dealing with the age-long waywardness of men, He is not baffled or embarrassed by the widespread disorder of our times. Experienced equally and victoriously in suffering, His hand of compassion is skilled and ready to "comfort and succour all those who in this transitory life are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity." The awful writhing mass of suffering which men are now facing does not tax, much less exhaust, His pitiful mercy. In the calm certainty of His saving power, He moves among the pain-stricken everywhere without haste and without rest.

With the Incarnation as the corner-stone of the Faith, our common humanity contains in itself God's assurance that we have capacity for universal brotherhood. God's executive agency for bringing in His Kingdom and His righteousness is the Church of Jesus Christ. Out of the natural human family our Lord's mystical body is shaped into a fellowship which transcends all the divisions of nationality or race. Thus far the Church has been only strong enough to see and covet, not strong enough to consummate, her ideal. Her own disunion dims her hope, weakens her arm, and hinders her progress. Nevertheless in her missions throughout the world, often in conditions of extreme difficulty, she has steadily borne witness to her regenerating power and has welded living links uniting to one another distant and diverse members of the human family, as well as won individuals to the love and service of God. But it is only flame that can kindle flame. A divided Church is powerless to create an undivided world. There must therefore be no relaxation in our steady efforts to bind up her wounds and manifest her unity. The breakdown of secular efforts to maintain stable order constitutes a special call to her so to equip herself as to fulfil her conciliating office among individuals and groups of men.

We close our words of counsel and exhortation to the Churches with our faces set toward the dawn. History makes plain to us that man's extremity is God's opportunity. Beneath every pall of tragedy lies hidden the glory of God--new visions of faith, new counsels of virtue--to be revealed to and discovered by those who look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen, and who wrestle with God for a blessing.

We commend you with confidence, brethren, in this day of our peril and opportunity, to the safekeeping of Him who was dead and is alive for evermore. Amen.

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