To His Souls Health.
By The Reverend Gordon B. Wadhams
The Reverend Thomas J. Bigham, Jr.
The Church of the Resurrection, New York City
Church Congress in the United States, 58 pp
This exposition of the Christian Sacraments consists of instructions given by the clergy of the Church of the Resurrection, New York City, in the spring of 1943. They are unsigned, and so each of the authors assumes responsibility for what the other has written.
In order to make the reading easier and to secure for the booklet a simpler presentation than would otherwise be possible, quotations from the Scriptures and the Prayer Book, with which it is assumed the reader is more or less familiar, are not as a rule identified.
THE BODY OF THE LIVING GOD
and God saw that it was good
. (Gen. 1: 13b)
There is no more telling guide to a fair appraisal of the works of man, good and bad, than the repeated assertion in the Scriptures about the creation of God, "... and God saw that it was good." Over what he had fashioned the Spirit of God brooded with a tender and quickening love, "... and God saw that it was good." Now this was more than mere approval; it was the love of the artist who sees in his handiwork a reflection of his soul and the imprint of his person; it was God, the divine husband, shaping his creation in the womb of the earth he had but lately espoused, thinking anxiously and tenderly upon it. This creation he bathed in light, and the light was good. On it he set the bounds and borders of the seas, and the seas he called good. From out of it he drew the energies of nature, setting nature to work in beauty and fertility, and he saw that this was good. Living creatures great and small he made, and their teeming life, each in its order and after its kind, he saw was good. And man he made, male and female. "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good."
No one can rightly know himself or his world: no one can truly value a tree, or a grub, or a baby, or a sonata, or an airship, or a tank, or a peace treaty, or a dollar bill, or a collection of books, or a piece of bread, or a drop of wine, unless he makes his own this truth about the world: "And God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good." In this truth both savoir vivre and savoir faire consist. This is the pre-eminent fact of life. Let a man, therefore, make his own the content of this prayer: "O Heavenly Father, who hast filled the world with beauty; Open, we beseech thee, our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works; that rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve thee with gladness; for the sake of him by whom all things were made ..." Let him make his own the great hymn in praise of creation, Benedicite, omnia opera Domini: "O All ye Works of the Lord" (waters, powers, sun and moon, stars of heaven, showers and dew, winds, fire and heat, winter and summer, frost and cold, ice and snow, nights and days, light and darkness, mountains and hills, green things and wells, seas and floods, whales, fowls, beasts and cattle, and all the children of men): let all these bless the Lord that made them; for they are good. Good, because of God and out of God, and so, lovable, eloquent of his power, capable of use by him. This is the plain truth about the universe, about matter (wood, stone, dirt, light and darkness, heat and cold), and about ourselves, souls and bodies. God thinks them very good indeed.
Thus we find, as the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the waters, so continually has he husbanded the human race. Unfailingly, in every age, has he married himself to, and with all his goods endowed, the souls of men and women. By this sacred union he has revealed the workings of his creative power and accomplished his divine purpose. His "marriage" with the fragile, little company: his tender, quickening work in and with his Church: this is a conspicuous, in fact a unique example.
It must be remembered that there is no shrinking on the part of this pure Spirit from associating himself with and using material forms and substances. Contrary to the ideas many of us have received, and to the prevailing heresy of Christian Science, there is with God no horror of matter, no denunciation of the body and its works as evil, and no hesitation to use them as instruments and channels of the divine work. Thus, sin has its origin not in matter or the body, but in the treason and rebellion of the human will. God does not despise flesh, for did not flesh enshrine the very Word of God? So also, God fulfills his presence in and among men by "taking body" in a society, his Church. Thus, the antithesis of spiritual is not material, but carnal. Life "in the spirit" is not a revolt against material things, but life that calls everything God has made good, that is controlled, as it were, "from above" whence every good and perfect gift comes.
"...and God saw that it was good." Here is the clue to the understanding of sacraments, the principle of the universe which we call sacramental. We infer from a picture much, not all, surely, but much, concerning the painter. The picture is a symbol; it represents the painter; it communicates something, much or little, of his nature, as much of himself as he can or chooses to reveal; and so, the picture is both symbol and instrument., both representation and effectual means of communication. So with matter, so with the human body and God. So with the Incarnation. So with the Church. Symbols, that is, representations that are full and uniquely faithful. Instruments, that is, means that are full and uniquely effectual. In an essay contributed to the Malvern conference, Miss Dorothy Sayers writes of the Church:
"If she undertakes to sanctify humanity it must be the whole of humanity. She must include within her sacraments all arts, all letters, all labour and all learning; . . . For she stands committed to the assertion that all human activity, whether of spirit, mind or body, is potentially goodnot negatively, by repression, but positively and as an act of worship. Further, she must include a proper reverence for the earth and for all material things; because these also are the body of the living God."
A sacramental universe: water, oil, bread and wine, human beings, flesh and blood, the human touch, men knit and compacted together in a society, all sacramental, all symbols of God's creative and re-creative energy, all instruments of God's faithful, loving work in, upon, and among men.
This is the point: if we say, as we do, that the holy Communion is the blessed sacrament; if we say, as we do, that holy Baptism is the initial sacrament; then may we not say that the Church the "acted-upon" body, the Spirit-informed society, both representative and instrumental of the Incarnation, the embodiment of Spirit in creation, in flesh of menis the great sacrament? The Church is the sacrament of all sacraments greater and lesser, major and minor, universal and particular. The Church fulfills to a preeminent degree our understanding of a sacrament: " . . .an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us; ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive this grace, and a pledge to assure us thereof."
To the Church, the sacrament of sacraments, is given the authority, in virtue of which it may be trusted rightly to interpret the mind of Christ, to determine the matter and form and effectual means of the particular sacraments. So when we hear that reasonable doubts attach to one or another of the traditional views of the origin and institution of the sacraments, we need not be unduly distressed. For our certainty rests on the rock that is the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. This Church we can trust. On its catholicity, its indefectibility we can with assurance depend. Through its universality the Church gives outward and visible form to what is right and true and good in our common life and fills it with an inward and spiritual dynamic. To its apostolicity, that is, its fidelity to the mind and intention of Jesus Christ, we point with a certainty that its claims are valid, its teachings true, its means of grace effectual communications of the Lord who dwells in it. With God the Church calls all things good that he has made for man. The Church is that sacrament which is in the world "for us men and for our salvation": "outward and visible""ordained by Christ himself""a means whereby we receive" himand "a pledge to assure us thereof."
VERY MEMBERS INCORPORATE
in Baptism; wherein I was made . . . the child of God
The primary fact about a Christian is his baptism.
Say that you are a person who on awaking to any day of your life awake to full consciousness; that you have a reasonable sense of who and where you are, an awareness that this is a new day, and some realization of what its dawning means. Say, too, that yours is a mind that can encompass many things in a brief moment, that can take in the essential facts of origin, surroundings, demands, ends, and possible fulfillment. If you are such a person, then it is not unthinkable that you might habitually engage in some such reflection as the following:
"I am a baptized person and here find myself awake to a new day. The first fact about myself I must recall is that of my baptism. For be this day never so difficult, its demands never so taxing, its temptations and failures never so exhausting, its fears never so terrifying, the one fact to which I must hold fast is that I am a baptized person. And why? Because by my baptism I was made the child of God.
"I will reflect on what that means. It means that I am not just a child, but the child of God. Surely there is point here in the use of the definite article. A cathedral may in a sense be said to be a child of its architect. A book may in a sense be thought of as a child of its author's brain. But the child of God: what do I make of that? I make this of it: I am the particular child of my heavenly Father, of one whose love is such that he loves me indeed as though I were the sole object of his love. Before my baptism I was a child of this Father, a mere creature standing in relation to my Creator as does a tree or a stone or a beast of the field, except that I was a human being, the creation par excellence. But then, too, I was a member of a race whose record is one of continuous sinfulness, a race that now needs rescuing for having through disobedience lost its way and sold itself out to pride and arrogancy and every evil way. Before my baptism I had nothing that all creatures from bugs to Brahmins do not have; I was nothing that all creatures from sticks to stones to the Sengalese are not; but now I am something, now I have all things needful, now I can do all things through Christ who strengthened me. I am a baptized person, and this I will remember today.
"I will remember today, with all the faculties of my mind and heart and will, that on my person was the holy imprint made: "... and do sign him with the sign of the Cross . . . ' I will therefore arise in the power of that sign, as one day I shall arise from the grave to the resurrection life. I will go forth in the power of that sign, as once I arose from sin to newness of life, from the death of Christ's baptism to a new creaturehood and sonship. I will remember today that the Cross makes to me the difference between death and life, hopelessness and purpose, darkness and light, poverty and riches, spiritual stagnation and spiritual vitality. If I forget everything else, if I have no other knowledge, let me remember this: that I am the child of God; that baptism is to my pre-baptismal existence as the resurrection is to the sojourn in the graveand the difference is as appalling as that!"
Now from one who thus habitually recalls his baptism, these reflections need not take the time it has taken to read them. In fact, to be habitually aware of one's baptism is not an intellectual or a devotional exercise, but rather a way of living; it is a steady response to the primary fact of one's life. His baptism declares to the Christian that the beginning, continuance, and end of his life are not what he does in his human power, but what God has already done in him with divine power. So at his baptism prayer is made that a man will "lead the rest of his life according to this beginning", that is, that all his feelings and experiences shall be expressions of what God has made of him.
The fact must be pressed home, for in baptism God has given us something, and has done something in us, that no words can ever adequately convey. It may be hinted at in this thought; namely, that had we died then and there, directly we came from the waters of our baptism, all the grief our death might have caused, all the experience of good things it might have deprived us of, all it might have spared us, is as nothing to the fact that we would have died the child of God, an inheritor of such riches, such a potential, such a fulfillment as this world has not dreamed of, nor life even at its best and most contented can ever supply.
To be a Christian is to be what baptism made us, the child of God in the particular sense of being a member of Christ. There is one, only child of the Father in the complete sense in which a son partakes of the nature and bears the image and likeness of his father. He is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son.
Now as the architect may have a child of his body, substance of his substance, bone of his bone, and at the same time have other "children" in the sense of having conceived plans and built buildings; so God has his only Son, "of one substance with the Father", and other "children", his creation, ourselves. This is perhaps a crude analogy, but it gives an idea of how and where we stand after the Fall in relation to our Father who made us. The wonder of it is, that God wants us to be his sons in the fullest sense possible. So, as we say for want of a better word, he "adopts" us. He takes us into his household, extends the divine paternity to us, embraces us. By this "adoption" we are made one with him; we are raised to a status like that of the Son, if not identical with it. We are admitted into the Father's household and family there to stay always, if we will, not as step-children nor as orphans nor as strangers enjoying a temporary alms, but as sons, inheritors, coheirs with Christ.
Members of Christ, children of the royal House, we became at baptism, members of the true Israel, joint-heirs with the Prince, partakers of the divine nature, bearing henceforth the image and likeness of our Father, carrying in our veins the Blood royal: "children by adoption and grace" with the Son of the divine begetting, Christ, our Brother; "very members incorporate" in him.
Baptism is a "washing". The matter, as we say, is water. The human soul, outcast by reason of its sinful inheritance, is rescued; and the initial step in that rescue is the washing away of the defilements of evil and of the moral weaknesses with which a continuous record of sinfulness has affected the whole race. The outward sign is a washing; the inward effect is a making clean.
This is accompanied by the form, the words, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost I baptize thee. The minister of the sacrament may be anybody. Anybody? Yes, anybody. Properly and wherever possible a priest; but in extremity, anybody, even an unbeliever provided that the lawful matter and form are used with the intent to do what the Church intends shall be done. This is evidence of God's desire to adopt his creatures and to make them his sons, "very members incorporate" in the Son. Such is the Father's love that never need any soul that desires it be excluded from complete sonship.
Not only are the defilements of evil washed away, but a grace, or gift, is also conveyed. That gift is the life of the Blessed Trinity communicated by Faith. God "comes alive", as it were, in the human soul, in him who dwelt in isolation, quite beyond God's known and revealed communication of grace and truth. Baptism, then, is a real act of God who in and by it re-creates us new persons. There is no known means of adoption by God through Christ except Baptism. This is perhaps a hard saying, but it stands the test of all the evidence we possess; none of this evidence can in the least degree contradict it.
But what, then, of the unbaptized?
We shall not speak of hell, despite the vulgar belief that to this supreme negation the unbaptized are consigned. Nor of a limbo can we honestly speak with anything like authority. The state of the unbaptized is better left with God, with those same tender mercies he has shown us, his adopted and rescued children.
But this, surely, we may with reason infer; namely, that if one's baptism is spiritual enrichment, the state of the unbaptized is one of extreme spiritual poverty; that if one's baptism means the overthrow of inherited weaknesses, the state of the unbaptized is a struggle with that inheritance at tremendous odds; that if one's baptism is the gift to the human soul of the full life of God, then the state of the unbaptized is at best a life lived without the gifts of faith, hope, and love; that if one's baptism conveys the divine potential and insures our destiny, then the state of the unbaptized is that of impotent, foundering outcasts, strangers to the Father's house, having (save by his grace) no share in the riches of the kingdom. Damned? We do not say that. Yet far from that complete life with God? Carrying the weight, dragging the anchor, of man's dishonour? Wanting the joy-abounding freedom of the sons of God? Let and hindered in the race? Born into "disadvantage such"? How, with what we know, with what we have been shown by the Father, can we escape the obvious conclusion?
MY BROTHER'S BROTHER
Confirmation is the sacrament of social life. We do wrong to think it more a commencement exercise than a consecration to the full life of the divine society of the Churchas though it were meant only for those children who had completed a course of Church school study, or for adults that have been under instruction. As though it were meant, even for them, only in respect of their learning and not of their living. As though it had no special meaning for the congregation, that they should stir up the gift of the Holy Spirit which is in them by the imposition of hands. We obviously do wrong at a confirmation to think more of the visible presence of a bishop, strangely enrobed, than we do of the invisible presence of the Holy Spirit, mysteriously enriching, as though a prelate were more important than the Paraclete.
Confirmation is in a special way the sacrament of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost, to be sure, is present and active in all the works of God. Just as the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters of Creation and as Christ was conceived of Mary by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit; so one is baptized with water and the Holy Ghost; so the Holy Ghost is invoked along with the Eternal Word to bless and sanctify the sacred elements in the Eucharist; so the Holy Spirit is given in ordination for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God. Indeed, the Holy Ghost is the responsive agent in all actions of heavenly grace, invoked together with the Father and the Son. Confirmation, however, is especially the sacrament of the Spirit of God, for this is especially the sacrament of the society of God. As Saint Paul says, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ brings us the love of God in the communion, the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. This fellowship of the Holy Ghost is the actual, historical fellowship, the Church, re-founded by the Holy Spirit sent of Christ; the fellowship of the old Israel, made over into the new Israel by the fresh ingress of the Holy Spirit, who with our spirits cries to God: Abba, Father.
Confirmation is the sacrament of our social life as Christians. It is the completion of the initiatory rite of the Church, begun in Baptism, whereby we are each made member of Christ, inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, and child of Godmember of Christ's Body the Church, inheritor of the realm of God as adopted son with his only begotten Son. Confirmation is the complement and the supplement of Baptism, making us full members in the full standing of the mystical Body of Christ which is the blessed company of all faithful people. It admits us to the privilege of holy Communion, where our fellowship with God is realized, and our fellowship with each other in God.
Yet it is easy to see how we frequently forget this central meaning of the matter. It is easy to see how we often defend, and insist upon Confirmation as a sort of Episcopalian peculiarity. Other bodies of Christians do the matter so very differently, it seems, conceive the sacrament so differentlyif at all. One major difference of the Episcopal Church from Protestant churches generally, is that we have Confirmation and they have not. In self-defense we often think that this sacrament is "joining the Church" or "joining the Episcopal Church"as though in outward and visible sign we were showing our good sense and our grace in becoming Episcopalians. But this sacrament is God's sacrament, giving his grace. In the Eastern Orthodox Church Confirmation is administered at the time of baptism, and not by a bishop but by a priestalthough with oil consecrated by the bishop. This very ancient Eastern custom seems very strange to us; but we immediately see how it speaks to the essential unity of Baptism and Confirmation, of holy Baptism and "holy Completion", as early fathers called Confirmation. This early custom recalls to us the days when the rites of initiation into the Church were usually for adults converted from a non-Christian world. This custom, so different from the custom of the West, reminds us that we mistake our way and our basis for understanding if we look only to New Testament times and customs, expecting to find there apostolic practice of the laying of hands precisely like our service under present conditions of the world. The early Church itself, not yet full grown in the world, faced very different conditions of the world. We must expect, then, something different, then not yet much developed, then not yet developed according to the needs of a different world, such as oursfor the world now is not a non-Christian world in the old sense of a world not yet Christian, but in the new sense of a world that forgets that it has been Christian. The modern world and modern religion in large part have lost the whole frame of reference, the whole universe of discourse for the appreciation of this social sacramentfor it is in social matters that the modern world can least make up its mind, staggering to and fro between individualism and totalitarianism; yet the modern world needs just the appreciation and the comprehension that the teaching of this sacrament affords. The Roman Catholic Church, of course, observes the Western customs much as we do. Yet we are diffidentand rightlyabout justifying and explaining our customs on the basis of Roman authority or its majority precedent. The great diversity of usage and understanding throughout the Christian world means that frequently we just remain content with being ourselves and going our own way. Yet how wrong it obviously is in a matter of supreme moment, that we should just continue to copy our own customs and not make sure sense of the sacrament!
In the first place, Confirmation is the sacrament of our social being; it is the sacrament of personality. Personality, on the face of it, is something the modern world little understands, for it is deeply infected on the one hand by the impersonality of bureaucracies which deal with men in mass, only statistically as it were, and on the other hand by the impersonality of individualism which sees men as competing economic units, many replicas of Adam Smith's economic man, as though they were never to be themselves or to achieve themselves by living one with another in community.
In opposition to these extremes the Church gives us this ordinance of a golden mean, the sacrament that does not deny but develops personality. As against much modern theory about religion, the Church knows religion to be not a sudden inrush of spirituality into one's life but a growth of life and spirit pari passu, the spirit always and everywhere in real touch with the rest of men's life. Conversion has genuine meaning, and makes genuine difference, only as it stems from, and results in such growth. As Saint Thomas suggests, the way to understand the inward and spiritual life of grace in the soul is by comparing it with the processes of the outward and visible life of the body.
The life of grace is born in us when we are regenerated and born anew by Baptism. It is cured when, mortally sinful, we are relieved and absolved by Penance. It is nursed when, failing, we are restored and blessed by Unction. It is maintained when we are nourished and preserved by the holy Eucharist. It is continued for others and propagated by Order and Matrimony. And by Confirmation, says Saint Thomas, "Man is perfected in the life of the body ... by growth, whereby a man is brought to perfect maturity and strength: and corresponding to this in the spiritual life there is Confirmation, in which the Holy Ghost is given to strengthen us." Confirmation is then the sacrament of the exercise of personality.
Confirmation is given to us for the spiritual "coming of age," the spiritual "coming out" into the world of social relationships, away from the world of individual life within the childhood orbit of self. Confirmation is the rite of religious puberty, the way according to God's law that one ceases to be a minor and an infant, and becomes a responsible individual in the community of the Church. And what is personality except this very thing: responsible individuality in community? This is the true development of self, not to childlike dependence on others, nor to tyrannous control over them, but to life in and through and by means of and with others, each individual gaining from and contributing to all, exercising the freedom of selfhood under the authority of the society.
This is the reason for children being confirmed, when possible, at the beginning of adolescence, at the beginning of the period of the child's special weaning from his family, at the time when there appears in him the new sense of individualitythat this may be defended with heavenly grace in the larger circle of God's whole family against footless and fruitless and utter rebellion.
Individuality in communitythis is the significance of the laying on of hands, the sign of blessing by the chief authority in the divine family on earth, the bishop. That gesture, familiar to us in the friendly placing of the hand upon another's shoulder, or upon the head of a child, in the dubbing of a knight, and in the embrace of loversthis gesture has the significance of transference of authority and power from one to another. Thus Moses laid his hand upon Joshua; thus rabbis ordained their successors. It is the sign of one's identification with another; in this way the high priest stretched his hands over the victim of the sacrifice to make it symbol of self-sacrifice; in this way the priest now stretches his hands over the bread and the wine. It is the sign of blessing, as when our Lord took up the children in his arms, put his hands upon them and blessed them; as when he stretched forth his hands to heal the sick and to mediate his strength to them. The laying on of hands by the bishop is God's action through his Church bestowing the fullness of status and spiritual maturity, that we daily increase in his manifold gifts of grace.
This gesture, with the words which make it into a prayer, is not just an empty gesture or sign of Christian profession, but rather it is sure witness and effectual sign by which God doth work invisibly in us, increasing, strengthening, confirming us. The laying on of hands with prayer is not just a prayer; it is the prayer that answers itself, that does what it signifies, that makes the child a spiritual adult through the action of the spiritual authorities of the community that looks to God for its life and authority.
This authoritive blessing that grants to the child of God spiritual maturity is not the action of the authority only; it is also action of the child of God. For it he makes preparation. He receives instruction. He learns the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and all other things a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul's health. He thinks on the renunciations and allegiances in the vows of his baptism, for he is of years of discretion and of loyalty. Now of such years he can confirm his stand, that God may confirm him with His grace and seven-fold gifts. He no longer calls us servants but friends, as the Johannine Christ puts it, for the servant knoweth not what the master doeth, no longer blindly obedient children but responsible friends. The child of God has come of age, not by individual conversion, not by authority's compulsion, but by freedom under authority. Confirmation is the sacrament of our social being as Christians.
Secondly, it is the sacrament of our actions in the Divine Society. It is ordination to the laity, the taking of one's full part in the worship and life of the Church, admitting one to the altar. For this reason the sacrament is administered by a bishop, for he is the ordaining officer of the Church. This ordination to the royal priesthood of all believers differs from ordination to the holy Order of the Church in regard to the function it has in view and in regard, therefore, to the grace given for the performance of this function. The priesthood, any priesthood, of the Church derives from Christ and is of him. All members of the Church by virtue of their membership share in the priesthood of Christ, the great high Priest. By Baptism one shares passively, for by admission to the fellowship of the Church one receives the effects of Christ's priestly work. By holy Order one shares actively in the priesthood of Christ for the sanctification of others. By Confirmation one shares actively and passively, sanctifying others in an act of sanctifying self. Not only individual, not primarily social, it is both individual and social, a fullness of grace for the office and work of a layman in the Church of God, a full Christian.
To this royal priesthood the oil of the traditional ceremonies bears witness, the oil that anoints prophets, priests, kings; the oil that lights the lamps, the oil that refreshes the body. Of this priesthood the prayer of the bishop makes one member. Confirmation bears witness as against the loss of any sense of priesthood in modern religion, loss of any sense of the offering of life to God, which is the essence of priesthood.
A priest is one who offers sacrifice, the priest in holy Order offering the holy Sacrifice of the Altar, the laity in their priesthood joining with him. And this sacrifice is central for all Christians, for what is more essential to Christian life than the offering of the pure heart to God? And how can such purification come about and how can it be offered to him who is Utter Purity except Christ do it in us, as he did on the Cross, as he does on the altar? But another and a special office is the offering of the laity. Need one say more to indicate its purpose and its dignity, need one say more to demonstrate its place in the modern worldthan to note the tragedy of modern religion: that it is a religion largely confined to Church thoughts and Church matters? God is God, not just of piety, he is God of all the works and ways of the whole earth. To him must be offered in sacrifice the fullness of the world. Who can offer that, save those who have it in hand?
Confirmation is the sacrament of our social being, of our social activity as members within the Body of Christ, and of our social action for the world as members of Christ.
So lastly, Confirmation is commissioning as apostles of Christ. We are made not only priests to offer to God the world as it meets us; we are also made ambassadors of God to go out into the world.
As that famous German Christian, Cardinal Faulhauber says: "Through Baptism we become children of God, through Confirmation we become apostles of Christ. Through Baptism we become stones in the City of God, through Confirmation we receive the summons to be workmen and builders in that city. It is not enough for us to be fishes in the net of the apostles, we must be fishers and apostles ourselves."
What Jesus began to do and to teach, we are to continue. He sent out the seventy; he sent out the twelve; he sends us also. Confirmation is to an apostleship, an apostolate of God to a world apostate from God. As against the individualistic mind which would try to have every individual free from, indeed isolated, from other individuals; as against the totalitarian mind which would try to submerge all individuality into the unit of societywe hear the voice of Christ through the words of the Brother Karamazov: We are all of us responsible for all of us.
Cain, after the primal murder, asks the question of self-centred defense. To this Christ, Victim and yet Victor, makes continuing answer. Christ who is himself the Apostle come to do not his own will but the will of him that sent him, Christ who is himself the great High Priest offering himself eternally to God for us, Christ who is himself the fullness of Person with the Father in the community of the Holy Spirit. Cain said: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Our Lord Christ answers: "I am my brother's brother."
A suggestive study, to which the authors ate indebted, is Matthias Laros's Confirmation in the Modern World, New York, 1938.
SOMETHING AT LEAST
In the Church today, where a not unimpressive proportion of the active membership makes regular sacramental confession, there is no need to hesitate to write about the sacrament of Penance. For while this percentage is not overwhelming, it is not to be taken lightly, and it is great enough to permit those who do not make use of this sacrament of knowing that there is such a means of grace in the Church, and that sacramental confession of sin is an increasing practice among us. The use of this sacrament has not in the history of the episcopal churches since the Reformation been altogether given up, yet in fairness it must be acknowledged that it has been greatly relaxed and even generally neglected. But the number of penitents is great enough to require of the clergy that they speak of it and preach about it much more diligently than they have perhaps done up to this present; and more important still, that they equip themselves to exercise this power of their ministry intelligently and effectively.
We would say, first, that there is no erroneous or inadequate notion of Penance with which we are not fully acquainted, or which we have not ourselves at one time or another held, at least in part. With the mistaken ideas and prejudices of people we are duly sympathetic. But we believe, too, that the people earnestly desire to know how to recognize their sins, how to deal with them, how to draw upon the grace of God to overcome them. We believe that they intuitively sense how in the providence of God and in the promise of the gospel there must be a way of doing so and that, once discovering it, they will actively embrace it. We believe that it is the duty of priests and pastors to lead the people gently but surely into it.
Now of the whole matter of the confession of sins as a basic human need and experience (for such indeed it is) there are certain aspects which demand reverent consideration. The first of these is that, given the existence of sins in a person's life, freedom for the personality as well oftentimes as health for his mind and body, depend in large measure on the honest recognition and confession of these sins. This, in a word, is the record of human experience given us in the Scriptures. It is borne out today in the discoveries and practices of the medical arts. Note, too, how in the Scriptures, almost invariably confession of sin is made before God and man! In fact, the evidence of this is so striking as to allow us to say that it is the ministry of man (the particular confession of sins having been made in his presence) that fully establishes both for the sinner and for the community against which he has offended a necessary evidence of repentance. The confession is, first, particular and specific. For example, in the story of the sin of our first parents God is represented as asking, "What have ye done?" Now God knew very well what they had done! There could therefore be no point to his asking the question unless it was to elicit the particular confession. The full shame, the realization of the gravity of the sin, and presumably, the sorrow were increased by the particular telling. So it is with us.
Cain was thus challenged; we remember how he, instead of telling his sin, evaded the question. Cain was not sorry; he made neither repentance nor confession nor satisfaction. He hedged. "Am I my brother's keeper?"
There is, in addition to the particular confession, the presence of the community, the society of which the sinner is an offending member. Thus David confesses to Nathan, the representative of the community. Nathan pronounces the forgiveness of sins: "The Lord hath put away thy sin." One may multiply the instances from the text of the Bible. There is always the specific question: "What sin or sins have you committed?" There is the particular confession: "I have done this . . . and this . . . and this." And the community is present in the person of its agent. Thus if we take the Bible to be a record of human experience in the light of revealed knowledge, we cannot read the record without concluding that this method of dealing with human sins is both normal and continuous in the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
It is perhaps fitting at this point to say something of how a sacramental confession is made. The act presupposes as thorough a preparation as circumstances and the capacities of the penitent permit. He will have reviewed his life (or that portion of it subsequent to his latest confession); he will have taken account of all the sins he can remember and these he will perhaps have written down in order the more easily and freely to tell them; he will have prayed for a repentant mind and a contrite heart, for these are the primary requisites of an honest confession; he will have considered wherein he must correct his life and mend his ways (and the cost of this amendment). And now he approaches the priest. Kneeling downfor sacramental confession is an act of prayer in which "the matter" of sin is put into "the form" of prayer, in which sins, that is, obstacles to life with God, are made means of access to him, in which our sinful selves are informed and redirected by prayerand using a simple form of confession, he tells his sins, simply and naturally, one by one. The posture at confession is significant. We have said that the penitent kneels as one at prayer. He does not stand, as one accused at a court of law. God does not accuse him; he accuses himself. God does not sentence him, but rather forgives him. He comes thus before the priest, who acts as the agent of Christ, in order "that by the ministry of God's holy Word he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice..." The responsibility of the priest here is very great, for he must know how to give this counsel and advice; his expertness will depend on his knowledge of sinful men, on his sympathy for the sinner, on his "compassion for the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way", on his being himself "compassed with infirmity." After administering correction, after rebuking and exhorting "with all authority", the priest assigns an act of devotion or discipline, called a penance, and then pronounces absolution, generally in this form:
"Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences; And by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." (The Visitation of the Sick, The Book of Common Prayer . . . according to the Use of the Church of England.)
The sacrament of Penance, with Baptism, is known as a "sacrament of the Dead". That is, it is a sacrament applied to those in whom the life of grace has been repudiated by an act of wilful disobedience committed in a reasonable knowledge of what they were doing. As a person lacks this life before his baptism, and so needs Baptism for its reception, so one who sins grievously after his baptism normally requires absolution for its restoration. Penance is the sacrament of restoration. It is the sacrament of reconciliation of those who by their sins have forfeited the life of grace, for by sins committed after baptism membership in Christ is renounced. The branch is, as it were, lopped off; it withers and is in danger of dying. Penance re-engrafts it, so to speak, into the vine. Post-baptismal sin, if it be grievous, nullifies a Christian's adoption; Penance recreates him "the child of God". Post-baptismal sin, if it be grievous, forfeits the inheritance of the kingdom; Penance restores the inheritance. Thus, when it is possible, the sinner, having come to a repentant mind, ought for the quieting of his conscience and the benefit of absolution to make use of Penance in the normal (but sadly not average) way. But note, we have said, when it is possible; for although Penance is a means of grace, and all that we have said it is, and although it effects what it signifies; yet it is contrition, the possession of a "broken and a contrite heart", which is the sole and absolute condition of divine forgiveness! The exercise of Penance derives from the fact that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins; from the fact that he entrusts this power to his Church, the forgiving community, whereby, acting in Christ's name, it binds and looses, declares or, failing to find evidence of repentance in its children, withholds the forgiveness of sins.
Now properly to understand the sacrament of Penance requires that we shall have come to an understanding of sin. There is little purpose to confession of our sins unless we learn to hate sin, desire to forsake it, and do what lies in our power to make satisfaction for it. Nor shall we ever truly understand sin, or really hate it, or begin to make restitution for it, until we have seen it clearly in the light of its social aspect. Sin is first and always an offence against the holiness of God. Its effect, however, since it can and does not affect or alter the nature of God, is invariably injurious to mankind. Both the offence against God and the injury done mankind require justice, satisfaction, and restitution. The sacrament of Penance insures both the forgiveness of God to the sinner on evidence of his repentance and the satisfaction which is owing the society he has injured. In the history of the penitential life from the beginning, there has invariably been required the presence of an agent of the human family. The Christian priest is the representative both of God and that family! He is there with the sinner to elicit the particular confession; he is there to determine the evidence of repentance, the man's forgivableness; he is there to pronounce absolution by virtue of the authority given him by Christ whose agent he is; he is there also to represent the Christian community. He reconciles the sinner to God; he reconciles the sinner to the Christian family. He secures the satisfaction of the divine justice; he confirms the repentance of the sinner towards the other members of the society. This is the difference between the social or sacramental confession of sins and confession in private prayer.
The difference is illustrated by a common experience. We all know instances of the erring son in a family of sons. We all know how, oftentimes, a man outrages his family, betrays its name, brings sorrow to the other members of the house. We know how, oftentimes, such a man refuses to assume any real or apparent responsibility for his misdeeds; how he parades his complacency before his brothers and continues to live with them as though he were altogether a righteous man; how, if he feels any compunction, no one knows it; how this compunction is short-lived; how, in a word, he declines to put himself into the way of being forgiven. There is in him no real sense of sin; certainly there is no sense of social responsibility; there is no disposition on his part to satisfy the justice for which his sins cry out. Thus do many of us fail to acknowledge our sins against the Body of Christ of which we would be "very members incorporate."
And there is the noble example of the son who, coming to himself, repents, confesses openly, is forgiven, and then restored to the common life. He spares himself neither the humiliation of an open acknowledgement nor the penalties of justice nor the satisfaction owing the other children of his Father's house.
In this light, then, the sacrament of Penance is a commendable discipline. (We would not suggest that it is ever easy or pleasant.) It is reasonable. It is sound from every point of view. It is compelling to the thoughtful. It appeals to whatever of justice and integrity is in us. It is both convicting and convincing. It urges us to deal with our sins in the universal manner lest, like unrepentant sons, we bring reproach on the Christian household into which we have been adopted and of which we would be "very members". In this light we look also at our world: it is one thing, and an easy thing, to say, "We have sinned"; it is another thing to say wherein precisely we have sinned, to humble ourselves before God, and then to satisfy our moral obligations to the rest of society. When our world "goes to confession" in this way, in this enlarged and socially responsible sense, then will it have come sufficiently to itself to arise and go to its Father and receive the benefit of his absolution.
There is a corollary to this principle. There is a corresponding response to be made to the sinner who repents and is forgiven. We Christians profess an active belief in the forgiveness of sins. But do we always act on this belief? Our belief in the forgiveness of sins means, surely, that we forgive the penitent sinner. If we are unwilling to restore to the life of the family, the Church, the community, one who has repented and is forsaking his sin, then it cannot be said that we truly believe in the forgiveness of sins. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us", is our daily prayer. Yet by how much we fail here! And by how much, then, does society fail here. The elder brother in the gospel story could not really have believed in the forgiveness of sins, or he would not have taken smug exception to the feast in preparation for his penitent brother. What, then, of the "elder brother nations"? Penance requires us to answer this question "devoutly kneeling".
But the reader will ask, "Must I go to confession?" If by that he means, "Will any one force me to go?", the answer is no. No
one can force him to receive any of the sacraments. "Ought I, then, to go to confession?" We answer, "If ever you have committed a serious sin, yes!" And by this we do not mean murder, adultery, theft, and the like, necessarily, though they are indeed "serious sins". We mean also such serious offences as neglect of the duties of private prayer and public worship, uncharitable thoughts and words and deeds, impurity both personal and social, inordinate indulgence of any appetite, deliberate disregard of the laws of the Church concerning marriage and divorce, unjust dealings in business, and the like. So, then, if you have ever committed, or now habitually commit, a serious sin, you ought (that is to say, you owe it to God, to the Christian family, and to yourself) to go to confession.
The reader is disposed naturally to inquire, "Of what benefit to me is the sacrament of Penance?" This sacrament is of inestimable benefit to him who reverently and regularly makes use of it. The obvious benefit is that of catharsis (that "comfort" many on-lookers detect in those of their friends who are penitents), by which we mean a cleansing of the whole person, a liberation of the whole personality, which the life in grace insures. There is the additional benefit of a training of the conscience and the moral sense, without which no man is altogether a man. For many it has the benefit of a new beginning, always so welcome. For us all there is the solace of being allowed to do something at leastsomething definite and tellingto make up for the injury we have done God and our neighbor, even though we know that our little penance is nothing beside what it cost to redeem man's soul.
But we would not commend the sacrament of Penance on its merits to the individual, for these are a by-product, so to speak, and not by any means the chief benefit. Sin is an offense against the holiness of God, against his justice, his purity and love. Divine justice is a terrible fact which confronts us with terrible impact. Our sins, unrepented of, will have destroyed a priceless relationship, will have broken a divine friendship, will have removed us far from the sphere of divine action upon and within us. We have only to read the sterner portions of the gospels to recognize this. Our sins, unrepented of, will have nullified many a communion, so that we may in truth have eaten and drunk, as Saint Paul warns us, to our damnation. This is a terrifying possibility. We are fools if we ignore it. We blaspheme if and when we assume that God is a "good fellow" and so does not take our bad behaviour seriously. No one in a sober mind can question the right or wrong of the discipline of Penance, or seriously debate the need of this sacrament in the living of the complete and Christian life. Both the discipline and the sacrament are integral to the whole gospel of Christ, whose work in corning to the world was to reconcile all men to the Father.
Seeing that in the baptized is born a new, and that a divine, life; and that to this "God-life" in the baptized soul are given in Confirmation the powers of the Holy Ghost for its growth to maturity; and that by the blood of Christ shed for sinners is wrought another baptism, that, is, the absolution of their sins and their restoration to living membership in the body of the redeemed; what is more reasonable, according to our knowledge of the goodness of God, than that there should be provided us a means of grace (a sacrament) whose ordained purpose it is continually to strengthen, refresh, and renew this "God-life" in us? To strengthen it in its weakness; to refresh it when it grows weary and falters; and to renew it when by our sinning we have brought it to the point of death? This sacrament is the holy Communion, the very, real, and true Body of Christ.
Of this sacrament there is an outward sign, Bread and Wine. There is, too, an inward grace signified, the very and true Body of Christ, "spiritually taken and received by the faithful ..." We see with our eyes, and our hands handle, the outward sign. We are meant so to do, for it is a pledge, an evidence, which our senses perceive. It looks and tastes (as it is meant to do) like bread. But we receive into our selves, our souls and bodies, none other than the Body of the Lord. We perceive the appearance of bread; we receive the reality of Christ's life. It is as simple as that. It is as profound as that. The very simple can understand, the learned can never exhaust it.
"This the truth to Christians given,
Bread becomes his Flesh from heaven,
Wine becomes his holy Blood.
Doth it pass thy comprehending?
Yet by faith, thy sight transcending,
Wondrous things are understood."
Its mysteries are readily grasped; children can and do grasp them. They are grasped by children, yet never, though men come to fourscore years, are they fully embraced. Apprehended they may be at seven years, yet never in this life wholly comprehended. These are mysteries at once simple and incomprehensible. Both the simple and the incomprehensible must be held in symmetrical balance. Jesus, our God, is at one and the same time natural and mysterious. In him are things visible and invisible. He is man and God. We find him simple and natural, only to be stupefied by his mystery. We faintly discern his mystery, only to see that he is most simple and natural. So it is with the form and the reality of the holy Communion: bread is natural and simple and visible; the "God-life" is mysterious, profound, incomprehensible to the senses. What is true of Jesus is true also of his blessed Sacrament. "Living bread", Christians have called it: bread-giving Life, Life-giving bread. These are ideas both simple and profound, mysterious paradoxes like Jesus himself. "Bread from heaven", Christians have called it: bread that is "charged" because it is "changed"charged with the divine life because changed from nature to supernature; charged, yet more than that, because altogether changed from bread to Body, from thing to LifeBut see how words, even simple words, fail!
That Christ "did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of ... his precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again:" that "in the night in which he was betrayed," he broke the Bread with thanksgiving and likewise took the Cup: this is the event from which all subsequent eucharistic life stems. This life, called eucharistic because it was a meet, right, and dutiful return of thanks for the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, developed as it were on two planes: the plane of sacrifice and the plane of presence, of offering, and of. communion. It was a life that continually went to God through Christ that God might fulfil it in Christ. Springing from the life released to men on that first Sunday of the Resurrection, it is a life which on every Sunday gathers up all life, secular as well as spiritual, and all worship, and so perpetuates itself in common work and common prayer. It is the Christ-life in men at work and at worship.
We infer that what Christ did and what he said that night in the upper room must have been but dimly understood by those present with him. Yet we believe that the events of the following day must have caused at least the more discerning of the witnesses to associate the violence of his physical death with his acts and words in the upper room. And we know that when, after the resurrection, they "did this" as he had done it, the reality of his sacrifice and of its "perpetual memory" steadily unfolded and finally made itself clear to the worshipping community.
Still more striking to us who read of those earliest days is the conviction in the communityperhaps, in the beginning, a "feeling", but certainly in a short time a convictionthat the Lord was really present in the breaking of bread and the prayers, that on these occasions and in these unique meetings he was "made known" to them. Here, they perceived, was not only a re-enactment of the passion and death; here, too, was Christ both Victim and Host, offered by their}, and yet present among them after a manner they could and did apprehend.
Theirs was an approach to God in the one, full, and perfect offering. His was a coming to them in the person of his Christ. For them there was union with the Father through the Son, and communion with the Christ, and in him with one another.
The Church was not slow to realize the import of the holy Eucharist. Men can not live without bread for their bodies. The Church could not long survive without this "living bread". None of its children was permitted to think that he could do without this holy food, or sustain the ultimate hunger and thirst of his spirit. Thus we find in a late first-century writing, Saint John's Gospel, this testimony: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me." The holy Eucharist is necessary to the maintenance of this fullest life. It is the means of continuing our membership or incorporation in Christ. As Christ has the God-life in him, so we have it also, because by this sacrament we have the Christ-life in us.
The Church erects altars everywhere. There it continually feeds its children, morning by morning. This is their "daily bread". The Church makes Jesus Christ, as he made himself, simply and naturally accessible to the people.
The presence of Jesus in the sacrament of holy Communion is both spiritual and real. It is not physical. It is not material. It is not carnal. Yet it is a real presence because it is spiritual; for nothing is more real than spirit. One of the surest safeguards of this truth is the teaching that the whole Christ is present in the smallest fragment, that he is "spiritually taken and received" in either the form of Bread or of Wine.
"Wine is poured and Bread is broken,
Yet in either sacred token,
Christ is here by power divine."
To believe otherwise is tantamount to making the presence material, to dividing it, to measuring it, as it were, quantitatively, to limiting it to what either outward form suggests to the eye and to the mind. The whole Christ "is here by power divine" in the tiniest crumb, the smallest drop. It would seem that to insist on receiving both outward tokens, or to speak (as some have done) of a "mutilated sacrament", is really, though surely unwittingly, to hold a material view of the presence. It is a common practice in a conspicuous portion of Catholic Christendom to receive the holy Eucharist "in one kind". The practical advantage of this method of administration, and the practical difficulties it surmounts, without doing violence either to understanding or devotion, seem manifold; whereas the practice of "intinction" neither obviates difficulties (because it creates others), nor appears as yet to improve the people's understanding of these holy Mysteries.
But more to the point, surely, than the methods of receiving are the dispositions to a right receiving. It is Thomas More who, in a stately little treatise on the holy Communion, urges "that we be in the right faith and belief concerning the holy blessed sacrament itself . . . that we verily believe that it is, as indeed it is, under the form and likeness of bread, the very blessed body, flesh, and blood of our holy Saviour Christ himself ..." Often our prayer must be, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief"; but perseverance, with the desire of a right faith and belief, is rewarded by a conviction that of all the realities known and experienced on earth this is surely the greatest and most abiding.
Yet some man will say, "If this be the very body of the Lord, then I am in great danger of an unworthy receiving." He need have no fear of this, however, if he will have a care not to receive "very coldly and far from all devotion". Thus, More, a layman, likens the coming of the Lord to the visit of an earthly prince. "What a business", he says, "we would then make, and what a work it would be for us, to see that our house were trimmed up in every point . . . and everything so provided and ordered, that he should perceive what affection we bear him, and in what high estimation we hold him . . ."
Right belief, fervent devotion, expectation, and freedom from all weighty sin: these are the moral dispositions. There is also a physical preparation (there was anciently; there is currently): the communion fast; for we are asked, those of us who are not subject to the lawful dispensations, to take this holy food before we have taken other and bodily food and drink. This is perhaps the place, gently and yet firmly to recommend to women communicants that, whatever be their method of receiving the holy Communion, they refrain from using lip-rougeand for reasons which surely need no explaining!
"Let us not", says More in this same treatise on this holy sacrament, "let him alone" after receiving. Rather, "let all our business be about him!" Thank him whole-heartedly for coming and tarrying with you. Reflect frequently and joyfully on his coming. Be not like those men, he says, who hailed him on the Sunday and put him to death on the Friday!
This is a holy communion in another and important sense: this is a holy fellowship, a beloved community, also. Three ideas are suggested by three facts: Bread, People, Life. People, hungry and athirst, in the presence of Jesus, to whom he gives the Bread of Life. People: not one man living in self-contained separateness; not one soul working out a private salvation; not I divorced from my neighbour at the rail, or from my work, or from my world; but myself and others; people. Always others. People with whom I live and work. People on whom I depend, who depend on me. People whom I may not like, who may not like me (and with what good reason!). People whom I have injured by my sins, who have injured me by theirs. People of other classes, nations, and races. People to whom I represent (and how unfavourably!) another class, or race, or nation. A holy communion, a sharing, a participation, one inextricably knit together and compacted with another, each with all. A communion of right faith and belief. A communion of warm devotion. A communion of eager expectation, anhungered and athirst. A body one with Christ, "very members incorporate", the only hope for the people.
"I am the food of grown men; grow, and thou shalt feed upon me; but thou wilt not change me into thee, like bodily food; it is thou that wilt be changed into me."
FROM DEAD WORKS
For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God
? (Heb. 9:13, 14).
Sacrifice is of the essence of religion. "Yes, how difficult!" someone agrees, thinking of the self-denial involved. "Yes, how noble and fine," someone else says, thinking of unselfish action for another's good. Yet self-denial or ethical conduct may have nothing to do with religion, and it is of religion that sacrifice is the essence. Self-denial may be irreligious and even not ethical, for it may be contradiction of life (a view of life in which no ethics is possible), or it may be a denial of self (a perversion of Christian ethics into masochism). Ethical self-sacrifice, even if unaffected by these defects, may be irreligious or even anti-religious. Few things are done more unknowingly close, and therefore the more dangerously close, to blasphemy than the irreligious good deed. To do someone else good means an assertion of superiority over him that is devastating to the recipient and disastrous for the doer of the deed, unless the doer know that he is not the source of the thing done. We hide this under the phrase, to be of service; but he who is served knows that the goods distributed by a Lady Bountiful are but unwelcome and self-defeating assertions of her own superiority, unless she knows that of God's bounty she and all are fed.
Sacrifice, then, to be ethically good must be religious. Sacrifice as just "giving up" something, or sacrifice as just "giving to" someone must be in the context of "giving, self-giving to be with" someone. Self-denial and unselfish deeds are negatives that only have meaning in the setting of the positive affirmation of self and other being. The full meaning of sacrifice is therefore the giving of self to God to be with God, that is, sacer-facere, to make sacred. "A true sacrifice," says Saint Augustine, "is every work which is done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship, and which has reference to that supreme good and end in which alone we can be truly blessed." It is the natural praise of the finite for the Infinite, it is the responsive thanksgiving of the creature for his Creator.
Sacrifice is the essential action of religion. It is the self-giving, the self-dedication, the self-oblation to God to be in fellowship, in communioneven, daringly, as the mystics say, in union with God. Never is this union or fellowship of equals, but rather it is the communion of unequals, of the finite with the Infinite, of the creature with his Creator. It is even a communion of contradictories: for it is of the sinful with the Holy! Herein lies the deeper meaning of sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, for a sacrifice takes away sin. Not that sacrifice makes sin as though it had not been, for not even God can undo the past. Sacrifice is an act in the present that takes the sinful past and offers it to God for the future. Not only every good work but every act of man can be given reference to God. Even sins, the obstacles we put between ourselves and God, can be made means of access to him. Sacrifice is an offering, a dedication, an oblation of life; sacrifice is even an offering of sin, a satisfaction for sin (as we say in the Prayer of Consecration), purging our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Service of God is the outward manifestation of, and incentive to, the inward communion with God. Self-giving as attitude toward God requires sacrifice as its action toward God. The state of communion with God leads to and comes from the action of sacrifice. Because it involves finitude in time and space, and because it involves creatureliness and creativity in time and space, self-giving as an attitude toward God requires sacrifice as its action toward God.
It is not surprising then that the Christian religion finds its basis in an action, Christ's historical action on the cross. His cross is not an accidental occurrence but the climactic expression of all that Christ is, of all that he did and does, of all also that was done unto him by sinful men. The main theme of his Incarnate Life is sacrificial. In the manner of his dying he but re-affirms the mode of his living. "All the acts of Christ are the mystery of the cross," says the author of the Imitation. The first recorded word of his announces his fixed dedication: Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve: this is his way in temptation. His deep sense of vocation in utter obedience he shows as he says, I must preach, for therefore came I forth. His self-oblation he announces: I have a baptism to be baptized with and lo, how I am straightened till it be accomplished. And this even to death: the Son of Man must suffer and give his life a ransom for many. He gives himself wholly to this mission and sets his face steadfastly to go up to Jerusalem. The Johannine interpreter can thus say, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me . . . not to do mine own will but his ... His will is that of all that he hath given me I should lose not a thing." Yet in intensity and in inclusiveness this says no more than the sayings of Gethsemane and of Calvary: "Not my will but thine . . . Father, forgive them . . . Into thy hands I commend my spirit." This self-giving is the central theme of Christ's life, whether to live with men for God in sunny Galilee or to die on behalf of men for God in darker Judea; for it is life given, completely and even unto death, life given ethically and for a ransom for others, life given religiously and in obedience to God.
This sacrificial life and death of our Lord, this one oblation of himself once offered, is a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. To affirm our lives and to use them ethically requires the offering of religious sacrifice. What we offer must be suitable to the recipient, and it must be representative of us: those are the two conditions of any sacrifice. But what is suitable to the Recipient, who is Perfect Creative Holiness? It must certainly be without spot or blemish, it must be complete, and it must be the fulfillment of creation. What fulfills creation but man? What man has completed his life save this man whose death is climax of life? What man is perfect save Christ? He alone is offering suitable to God. And what is representative of us men save a man? Even the primitive men saw that and for this reason, by blunt and brutal instinct, had human sacrifices; yet soon they saw the inadequacy of acts that regularly involved cruelty and did not essentially include self-offering, a lesson repeated in the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. So animal sacrifices were substituted in the Temple religion of Israel, yet these proved to be an insufficient substitute because they could never be willing sacrifices or representative sacrifices. Meanwhile synagogue religion in Israel saw with increasing intensity the necessity of the sacrifice freely willed and freely given. The Psalmist thought:
"Sacrifice and peace-offering thou wouldest not; burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required: Then said I, Lo, I am come to do thy will, O my God; Yea, thy law is within my heart."
This insight into the requirement of willing sacrifice did not satisfy the deepest necessities of sacrifice, the fulness and perfection of the offering. Men found they could not of themselves make sufficient sacrifice. Then Christ came and, being with them and in them, made it for them.
All Christians find this historical sacrifice of Christ the way to their continuing communion with God. His is truly the heavenly offering enacted in history by the Eternal High Priest, and we let him offer it of earth in and with each and all of us. This offering is available to us spiritually, as the Evangelical tradition affirms, so that by prayer and meditation, by sermon and proclamation of his dying for us we are converted to new life and dedication. It is also available to us sacramentally, as the Catholic tradition affirms, in outward, visible, material, and social signs of inward and spiritual realities. It is our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. In the sacramental action of the altar Christ avails us of his sacrifice.
The Eucharist gained its sacrificial character at its institution, for at the Last Supper our Lord associates his Jiving and dying with the meal of religious fellowship and dedication, and with the Passover sacrifice of the Temple. Indeed it is in this connection that he gives his interpretation of his action on the cross the next day. He makes his dying explicitly sacrificial, as he makes the supper sacramental: of the broken bread he says, "My Body which is for you", of the poured-out wine, "My Blood of the New Relationship of God and man made possible in me for you and all men."
Just as Christ then took visible and material bread and wine and gave them new meaning, his meaning, meaning of himself; so now his Church does the same. Just as Christ then anticipated in the fellowship of his disciples his sacrifice; so he now commemorates in the fellowship of his followers that same living and dying. He in his Mystical Body does with his Sacramental Body what he did historically in his Incarnate Body: present with us he works the work that is done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship.
Here, then, to Christ's altar Christians bring every good deed that is done, every act of self-denial, costing to themselves, every action done on behalf of others; and they bring their own evil deeds and the sins of the whole world, that they may make for each action the reference to that supreme good of God with man, and gain for each action God's informing grace. They offer their whole selves, body and soul, and all their works, good and evil, for from its Head the Church learns to offer itself through him. In the prayer of the Eucharist the Church re-enacts and represents Christ's sacrifice. It re-presents and offers anew his oblation for its contemporary life. It pleads again his passion for the sins of our world. Christians of themselves are not, the Church of itself is not worthy to offer unto God any sacrifice. We dare not do this, we cannot do this of ourselves; rather he does it in us, he who made man and who was made man, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom and by whom and with whom in the Holy Spirit, all is offered to the Father in time and for eternity.
NOT CONFUSION BUT ORDER
The meaning of the ministry is demonstrated in a ceremony of the altar. The priest turns to the people, extends his hands and says, "The Lord be with you." He then turns to the altar, raises his hands and bowing to the cross says, "Let us pray." This is the clue to the classification of all his functions. Here we see the two-fold meaning of the ministry of the Church. The priest acts as representative and messenger of God in blessing men; he acts as representative and agent of men in addressing God. He is a pastor to bring men to God: thus he holds up the weak, binds up the broken, brings again the outcast, seeks the lost; thus he preaches and teaches, being ready to drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines, and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations, 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 forever. Again he is a pastor and shepherd like the Good Shepherd, to bring God to men, spreading abroad the Gospel, the glad tidings of reconciliation with God, feeding and providing for the Lord's family, Messenger, Watchman, Steward of the Lord.
This is the double duty of the priesthood of the Church, corresponding to the two meanings of the word "priest". Priest is a shortened form of the word presbyter. This means an elder, an elder of the people, who does the service of the altar with the people standing by and sharing it with him. The priesthood of the clergy is distinct from the priesthood of all believers in that they are singled out from, but on behalf of, the whole congregation of God to offer prayer and to make oblation to God. It is for this reason that the priest stands at the altar with his back to the people, or better, that he stands facing in the same direction in which they face, their spokesman and representative.
The other meaning of the word priest is not presbyteral, but sacerdotal. We have no English noun for this word, so we use the same word "priest". Sacerdotal means "giving the sacred gifts"giving God's gifts to men. This means the dispensing of the sacraments, especially the consecration of the oblations in the Eucharist; this means all those actsbaptizing, absolving, blessing, preachingin the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. This meaning is seen in the action of the extending of the hand to baptize, to absolve, to bless. As the presbyteral function is seen in the lifting of the hands in prayer at the altar, so the sacerdotal function is seen in the making of the sign of the cross over the elements. It is seen in the preacher facing the congregation, that is, in the same direction as the representation of our Lord on the pulpit cross, for here the priest speaks as representative and ambassador of the Lord.
The modern carelessness about religion throughout the whole world, and the modern confusion in religion in all churches makes this double meaning of holy Order obscure to us and to others. The fullness of this meaning is often lost to us: the meaning of the presbyteral and sacerdotal acts of offering the sacrifice of prayer and thanksgiving, of exercising the power-of-the-keys in absolving and in blessing, of dispensing the word and mysteries of God to the people. We tend to neglect somewhat both the action of God through the priest and also his place as representative of the whole body of believers. For the fullness of religion, however, the fullness of these meanings must be realized in thought, in word, and in deed.
There is not space here for treatment of a matter which sadly has become controversial and thus requires more than mention; namely, the hope of achieving organic union of the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church. Yet any mention of the presbyteral function of our priests makes necessary some statement. The statement with which here we must be content is the plea that all of us bring out of obscurity the doctrine of the ministry. We must, in order to achieve any genuine union of heart and mind with our Presbyterian brethren, let alone come to any social unity with them, clarify the meaning of the ministry as well as insist upon its significance. We all feel the significance; we must also apprehend and state its full meaning.
The meaning of the ministry to which we must turn our attention is, briefly, to stand as mediator between God and man. How high a dignity and how weighty an office, the Prayer Book says. How irreligious and how anti-spiritual, the modern mind thinks; for this view seems to mean presumption and pride in arrogating to men the work of God himself. It seems to mean the tyranny and shamelessness of some men in their prying into the most cherished privacy of other men's souls, as it were, interposing themselves between God and the souls of other individuals. And surely every man has a rightful sense of modesty and privacy about God's way with him in the secret chambers of his own heart. That God speaks to him, that God comes to him, that God dwells with him and makes him His own: this is the very essence of a man's own spiritual worth as individual.
The fullness of his humanity, however, is that a man is always and everywhere both an individual and a member of a community. His physical life he did not conceive nor nourish himself; his physical individuality depends on others, his parents. His mental life he did not develop by himself; only through the social medium of language, mind meets mind and makes mind; his mental life develops only in the community of minds of his fellow men, from teachers in early days to other thinkers in latter days. So, too, man's spiritual life comes not from himself alone, nor only directly from Godany more than his physical life is by reason of God's direct creative fiat, or his mental life is by the means of direct communication of the Divine Mind. Man's spiritual life comes from, and develops in, the spiritual community of men under God. We are sometimes inclined to think the word society to be a convenient abstraction for describing many individuals; but "society" is no more an abstraction than is "individual". Man attains perfection in his life in two ways, Saint Thomas explains: first, in regard to his own individual self; secondly, in regard to the whole community of the society in which he lives, for man is by nature a social animal. Think how. rapidly Robinson Crusoe was losing his humanity till man Friday came along. Man as religious and social animal requires the religious society, the praying community, the Church, for the full development of himself. And the Church requires order for its functioning. Men need in religion a mediator in respect of their social nature, not in respect of their individual nature. A mediator is not for one but for many, as Saint Paul remarks.
That men need priests in respect of their spiritual and praying community and in respect of their relations to God is, then, no more surprising than that they need parents and farmers and physicians for their physical community, and parents and teachers and experts for their community of thought; that they need workers and business men and economists for their economic existence, and lawyers and legislators and policemen and statesmen for their social and political life. If we are to live full rounded human lives as individuals in community, we need to have our life ordered by such offices. If we are to live full rounded holy lives, we need to be under officers in holy Order. For as the love of God is brought by the Church to men within the world, so it is by the clergy for the laity within the Church.
And here we see the meaning of the vestments of the clergy with which they are clothed at ordination. These are clothes that no man chooses for himself; their style, their shape, their colour are dictated by the Church, by the whole Christian community. They comprise a uniform that symbolizes not individuality, but a man under orders, a man who represents the community, the divine society of the Church.
In style and type vestments are antique, designedly antiquated, that they show this community to be not only contemporary but also historical. In fact these styles of vesture go back to the Mediterranean world, the world of the early Church, the world of the apostles of our Lord. Thus they symbolize the ministry of Christ, bringing men to God, bringing God to men, Christ in whose ministry and priesthood our priesthood and ministry share.
Holy Order, then, means not domination by some Christians over others who are subject to them, which would infringe the liberty wherewith Christ has set us free. Order means spiritual leadership for the good of us all. Order intrudes no spiritual superiorities into the equality of the Christian life, for Order implies superiority not of merit but only of function. This is not a class society but a functional societyas St. Paul says: "even as the human body is one and hath many members, and all the members of the body being members are one body; so also is Christ. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand I am not of the body, it is not therefore not of the body. And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye I am not of the body, it is not therefore not of the body. If the whole body were the eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members each one of them in the body. And God hath set in the Church, the Body of Christ, apostles, prophets, teachers," each called for his own function.
Holy Order is not a sign of merit of life but of function in the Christian community. It is not a recognition by the community of someone's spirituality, but a conferment of authority in the community. A priest gives not grace (Christ alone does that): the priest gives the ordinances of grace, the instruments through which men come into living relationship with Christ. Order demands of a priest's conscience a striving for holiness, but the validity of his ministrations does not depend upon that striving nor, fortunately, upon his measure of success in it. His orders do not depend upon his learning; he is not made minister by his graduation from a seminary and the passing of examinations, although these are required in his preparation. He is made minister by the laying on of hands by the bishop, with the prayer blessing him in the work entrusted to him. That gives him his function, imprints an indelible "character" or status. It gives him jurisdiction, that is, authority in the community, signified by the bestowal of the signs of his office, a Bible, a chalice and paten, a pastoral staff.
Thus holy Order exists in the Church that there may be holy order (for God is a God not of confusion but of order), order in administration of discipline and doctrine, order in the ministration of word and sacraments. Thus we see the reason for both priests and bishops. Both are functions and offices in the community, the one in respect of ministration, the other in respect of administration. The priest is the minister of the sacramental Body of Christ, ministering the word and the sacraments, centring in the sacrament of the altar. The bishop is the minister of the mystical Body of Christ, administering the doctrine and discipline of the Church, that sacrament which is the continuation in time and the extension in space of the sacramental life of Christ. And we see the reason for the office of Deacon as assistance of these officers and preparation for these dignities. As a Russian catechism puts it: "the Deacon serves at the Sacraments, the Priest in dependence upon the Bishop hallows the Sacraments, the Bishop not only hallows the Sacraments but has power to impart to others by the laying on of his hands the gift and grace to hallow them." We see then what holy Order is as a sacrament of the Church, what these holy Orders are in respect of their different functions, and so also we see why there is holy order: that the children of men may (by God's actions through men) be brought to be and to become the children of God; that the Church as spiritual parent may bring forth spiritual children, born in the font, weaned in confirmation, released and relieved in penance, enlivened and fed in holy Communion, preserved in body and soul to everlasting life.
A LITTLE CHURCH
. . . male and female created he them
. (Gen. l:27b)
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they two shall be one flesh
. (Gen. 2:24)
Male and female created he them
. The difference between man and woman in the order of creation is more than one of social or biological function. It is personal, as opposed to functional; it is spiritual, as opposed to physical. It is essentially mysterious. In eachmale and femalethere is a unique capacity for completing the other. The world of our experience cannot be thought of as doing without the endowment that inheres in man as man, or that inheres in woman as woman. We have all seen households wanting the peculiar contribution and influence of one or the other of these endowments and we know that they are less than complete. Man cannot give to the sweet ordering of life what it is the sole power of woman to give; nor woman what it is man's to give. Here is a mystery, surely.
There is a yet deeper mystery: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they two shall be one flesh." Not only is it not "good"; it is not possible for man to be "alone" in this radical sense. Deep-rooted in the divine will, partaking of the ultimate mystery itself, is this fact. Look, then, at your wedding ring, you who wear one, for here is its meaning: the oneness, the indestructible unity, the absolute indissolubility of a relationship essential to the godly ordering of human life. "... and they two shall be made one flesh": the man is completed by this woman, and by no other; the woman by this man, and by no other.
We have seen that Baptism makes one "the child of God" and admits him to the society of God's family, the Church. Confirmation marks the transition from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. Communion keeps the Christian alive, a very member incorporate in the Body. Penance is medicine and healing. Order effects in the Church a spiritual parenthood; it insures that spiritual generation necessary to the continuance of the Body; it gives a "holy ordering" to the life of the spiritual family.
And Matrimony is raised to the dignity of a sacrament because, itself a symbol and an instrument of a unique life in grace, it transmits a gift enabling those who receive and will use it to create a Christian household. As holy Order fosters a family life in the Church, so holy Matrimony (in the words of Saint John Chrysostom) makes "a little church" of the human family. This analogy between the respective sacraments cannot, we think, be too often pressed.
Now it is the significance of holy Order to "order" Church life in terms of common justice and charity. Its intention is the spiritual procreation of successive generations of Christian sons and daughters. It is the significance of holy Matrimony to "order" family life in terms of mutual justice and charity. Its intention is the physical procreation of successive generations of Christian sons and daughters. There is a spiritual parenthood and there is a natural parenthood. No more can man live fully without the one than he can exist at all without the other.
We need to distinguish more precisely between the meaning and the purpose of holy Matrimony. Marriage is a natural state of life, quite apart from the uniquely Christian and sacramental character it may have. Von Hildebrand defines its natural character as "the closest and most intimate of all earthly unions in which, more than in any other, one person gives himself to another without reserve, where the other in his complete personality is the object of love, and where mutual love is in a specific way the theme, that is to say, the core, of the relationship." He then distinguishes the "meeting" we know as friendship from the unique "confronting" of one person with another in marriage. It is a community of thought, he says, which in friendship plays the chief part. Friends meet and walk, so to speak, side by side, hand in hand. Or, again, between parent and child, there is a reciprocal obligation, of responsibility on the part of one, of obedience on the part of the other. And parent and child walk, as it were, side by side, hand in hand. In both these "meetings" and in the life they engender, love (of a kind) enters (to a degree): a love appropriate to the right ordering of friendship, of parenthood, and of sonship. But it is a unique "meeting" that takes place in marriage; it is a unique kind of love that empowers the life; and this love enters to a degree not found in any other earthly relationship.
It is this love, frankly called conjugal, which gives marriage its meaning. It is necessary to urge the importance of this truth, for much of the inherited as well as current teaching on marriage all but denies it. The primary meaning of marriage is that mutual giving of the one person to the other in a way that is unique, complete, and ultimate.
But look again at friendship. This, as it is suggested by Buber and von Hildebrand, may be thought of as a "we-relationship". My friend and I walk together hand in hand. But marriage is more intense than this, and quite different from it: marriage is an "I-thou relationship". The partners in marriage walk together hand in hand as friends, and this they must ever do; but they also confront each other face to face. This is beautifully expressed in the marriage rites of the Church. Thus, when a woman is "given away", the priest takes her hand and places it in 'the hand of the man. She willingly forsakes one relationship, that of child to parent, in order to be instrumental in creating another and unique relationship, that of wife to husband. They then walk, the man and woman, hand in hand to the altar "as friends together in the house of God". At the altar, they enter this "I-thou relationship"; here takes place this unique "meeting"; they pledge and give their troth each to the other and they do so, appropriately, face to face.
The meaning of this is clear: henceforth they will live with, for, and in each other. This is the "I-thou relationship" par excellence. It has but one more exalted expression, that is, the union of Christ with his Church, the union of God with the human soul. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;" is the lesson at the nuptial Eucharist. A blessing is given to this unique love, and the entrance of two persons on this way of love is properly ratified by their reception of the holy Communion, the first act of their new and common life together.
This love, peculiar to marriage, if it be true, is tender and pure and strong. It is permanent. In fact it cannot be said to exist at all if in the mind of either person there is either the thought or the intent to interrupt it. It cannot exist except between two persons at any given time. It becomes Christian and sacramental only when two baptized persons contract it by a solemn, formal, and irrevocable act of the will, and when it is consummated by mutual surrender in bodily union. A seal is thus set on the relationship, and marriage exists henceforth and continues "until death (them) do part", regardless of feelings or attitudes or circumstances, of failings or weaknesses; and it imposes solemn and specific obligations. "I, John, take thee, Mary, (and I, Mary, take thee, John), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance ..."
This is Christian marriage and the sacramental character thereof: each lives with the other, for the other, to love the other in Christ, to strive always to foster the other's lasting welfare; both live together for each other as "very members incorporate" in a divine society, the Church, in which each assists the other to fulfill the obligations resting on each as Christian souls. Each realizes within himself that God has given this person to him, and to him only; that God meant him for this person and her for him; that her salvation is his special vocation as his is hers; that together they are complete, and only so together; that each confronts the other in Christ and Christ in the other so long as they both shall live. This requires a church life together: that they pray together, worship together, communicate together, and that together they sanctify the marriage bond. Prayer was made, its intention being the primary end of marriage, that "if it be (God's) will, the gift and heritage of children" be granted. Thus no irresponsibility toward Church or state, no mere love of comfort, no purely selfish indulgence of sexual powers, may legitimately interfere with the accomplishment, under God, of this end.
This is Christian marriage, sacramental marriage, holy marriage. Prayer was made that the home, (the "real life" born of this "meeting") may be "a little church" and "a haven of blessing and of peace;" that the members incorporate in it may love, honour, and cherish each other; that they may live together in faithfulness each to the other, in wisdom and true godliness. To this end, this man and this woman, the makers of the contract, themselves the ministers of the sacrament, receive and employ the unique gift which it is in the grace of holy Matrimony to confer.
Foolish is the man or woman who undertakes this life "unadvisedly or lightly". For at best such an undertaking involves tremendous risks. The partner in marriage must have been carefully chosen, for there is a Christian courtship! This courtship will have determined the worth of each partner, his suitability to the other, his integrity, as the maker-to-be of so solemn and binding a contract. It will have determined whether or no the other is truly the complement of the one. Now this knowledge derives not altogether from compatibility of temperament or from common tastes and interests, important as these are, but from sober thought, disciplined appraisal of character, honest recognition of limitations in oneself as well as in the other person, and faithful prayer. It is accompanied by that motive which alone justifies such a "meeting" of two persons as marriage leads to, a motive proceeding from the conviction that one is drawn irrevocably to a particular person to love that person irrevocably in Christ for the serving of a divine will.
"Marriage", says von Hildebrand, "is not a bourgeois affair, a kind of 'insurance' for happiness, providing a way of escape from every eventual cross. . . . For there are the unique crosses in Marriage as in every other human relationship. There is suffering in every love, and in every kind of love. . . . The man or woman who would evade every possible cross, who would escape a contract or a way of life because it involves the cross, who would jeopardize the salvation of spouse and children because he or she will not endure the cross and despise the shame, this man or woman excludes everything that gives life grandeur and depth, remains in a mediocre self-centredness, does nothing without a certain holding-back and will always in everything be looking for the possibility of failure and a way of retreat."
This is surely a hard saying. But remember, we have been thinking of Christian marriage. What is said of it above is true also, is it not, of the whole Christian way of life? It is also true, is it not, of the way of sacrifice?
The authors recommend to those who have the time and interest to read them, two books: I and Thou, by Martin Buber, published by T. and T. Clarke, Edinburgh; and Marriage, by Dietrich von Hildebrand, published by Longmans, Green and Company, New York. The former of these was admirably reviewed by the Reverend J. H. Oldham in The Living Church, October 31, 1943, in an article entitled, "All Real Life is Meeting".
We are not surprised when the Gospel of the daythe holy Gospel of any Sunday or other daytells of Christ stretching forth his hand to heal disease, to restore the ill to wholeness of body and mind, to heal the broken hearted, to set at liberty them that are bruised. Nor are we surprised that Christ's Church maintains his attitude and continues his action. For, as Saint Mark says, Christ gathered to himself others and "sent them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. And they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them."
This lack of surprise comes not just from great familiarity with Gospel stories. Nor indeed does it come from unfamiliarity (as it might well) with the healing actions of the Church today. Rather this lack of surprise comes from the natural and deep-rooted sense that all men have of what is meant, of what rightly must be meant, by salvation: salvation means health of body and soul. It means well-being of the whole man. Every man knows deep within himself that well-being is not true being, unless it includes the being of his visible body as well as of his invisible soul. And he naturally senses God's concern for all things he has made, visible and invisible.
Yet here there is a great mystery. The ill-being of body, the existence of disease, the fact of suffering, the possibility of pain, is something which has no adequate explanation. There is no philosophy, there has never been any religion, that has constructed a theory that is coherent and not contradictory in itself, and yet that explains all and avoids none of the facts. Why there is suffering God only knows. For all human theorizing this remains a deep and dark and darkening mystery.
Even Christianity gives us no theory. It does make for us some observations that are enlightening and fruitful. It notes that sometimes suffering comes from the misuse of freedomas when a glutton comes to the gout, or a drunkard to a drunkard's grave, or when a child remains child too long because of parents' possessiveness, or when a man's and other men's fall cometh after pride. And Christianity notes that sometimes suffering is the stimulus to human knowledge of the world, or to man's understanding of manas when physical limitations make a man concentrate on pursuits of the mind; or when a woman, who in travail hath sorrow, after the child is born remembereth no more the anguish for joy that a man is born into the world, and yet never forgets the weakness and waywardness of the child thus born. While suffering by and of itself is always an evil thing, nevertheless sometimes suffering can be and is used to bring some greater goodas when from the agony of Christ's cross there was distilled man's redemption; or as when in sorrows and sacrifices of the Christian life we so suffer with Him that we may be glorified together. The insights of these illuminations are truly profound; yet they form no theory that explains why God permits this pain and this evil to exist. The mystery of suffering and of physical and mental disease has no complete explanation in Christian theorynor in any other theory.
Practically, however, all men know what to do about it. The only practical thing to do about evil is to oppose it. Thus science attacks disease, discerns its causes, effects its cures. Thus medicine alleviates its pain and limits its existence. All men know this by nature, and the Church makes much of this in imitation of her Lord's own attitude and action. For this reason we find that our civilizationbecause it is influenced by Christian thought thinks much of, and much provides for, the learning and the arts of the physician. For this reason the Church prays to God for those who administer his healing gifts and for the means made use of in these cures.
The distinctive and the characteristic way of the Church is found, however, not in illness that can be opposed by medical science, but in diseases and illnesses for which no remedies are known. Where medical measures are known, the Church advocates them and explains their meaning. Where no human remedies are known, the Church can still make application of its way of dealing with suffering that goes beyond scientific knowledge. Its characteristic way in opposing the sufferings of disease is, not to attack it by science, but to transform it by religion, that is, to distill good out of evil, to transmute the pain into a transcending joy. For this purpose the Church recommends and prescribes one, or all, of these three pieties: (l) the dedication of self to God which trusts his sovereignty, no matter what; (2) the thankful recognition of God's bountiful goodness, despite its alloys; and/or (3) the union and identification of one's self and one's sorrows with the passion that, as man, God suffered in human life.
We notice this theme at the turning point of the Gospel's life of Christ. Christ says: "Behold we go up to Jerusalem, the city that stoneth the prophets and killeth them, that all things concerning the Son of Man may be accomplished, that he be spitefully entreated and spitted on, that he be scourged and put to deathand the third day that he rise again." Here, we notice, there is no evasion of pain, no shrinking from suffering, but indeed, as it were, a steadfast and glad welcoming of even this dire opportunity of death. Butbut welcoming the evil only that the third day he rise again, accepting the suffering only for the joy that was set before Him, despising the cross, enduring the shamein full confidence in the Sovereign Goodness of him who allows evil to exist that the more wonderfully he may bring good out of it.
This makes clear what otherwise might be obscure; namely, that true Christianity recognizes the fact that evil is evil, and then does something about it. Here we see the difference between the true Christian paradox of pain and what is called Christian Science. Here we see the difference between those who say, "If he be King of Israel, let him come down from the cross and we will believe him"the difference between them and the centurion who stood over against him. He, when he saw that Christ cried out and gave up the ghost said, "truly this is the Son of God." We know that he, not if he come down, but when he be lifted up, will draw all men unto himself.
Christian Science can not be said to be Christian, because it fails to make moral evaluation of what is good and what is evil. Christian Science can not be said to be science, because it fails to take account of facts. We must remark of course the zeal of its members in their daily practice of their faith, and their earnest desire for converts, and their commitment to what they believe truethe things which put to shame any parish of ours. And it is necessary to remind ourselves that Christian Science, despite basic errors, is right in seeing real relation between health and faith.
Indeed, the success of this heresy shows our neglect of the true and full Christian doctrine on these matters. We are, however, overcoming this neglect, and more and more people sense how they can rightly turn to wise priests and skilled pastors for spiritual aid in physical and mental disorders. This is especially true of ailments that have in them spiritual and moral elements. People in these difficulties used to feel that at most a priest could only blame them and tell them to exert their wills. They felt that, if their disorder were physical, the priest could only acknowledge it as outside his competence and understanding and thus could only pity themor help them as any friend could better do. Or they felt that, if their disorder were (wholly or in part) moral or spiritual, the priest would, not just not understand them, but worse, would misunderstand them and would thus condemn them. Nowadays however both clergy and laity are coming to see and to sense the vital part faith plays in the health of the whole man. Now we see, and the medical world increasingly sees, how the Christian faith reinforces medical arts, offering support and security to the patient in his pain, and giving status to the wisdom of medicine itself as an action of the Divine Healer himself. Now we see and know by experience what can be done by the wise confessor and the skilful and sage priest in directing the development of a soul, even in its sorrows, in the use of suffering, in the transformation of evil.
The mystery of this Christian way of meeting the mystery of pain lies, however, not in the learning or the skill or the experience of the priest himself, as a man. It lies in his communication of divine power; it lies in his reflection of divine truth. For it is Christ who heals: we find no healing of the spirit apart from him. We can seek the consolations of God only by seeking the God of consolations, as Saint Francis de Sales said. The priest directs the soul toward God only as he is the agent of Christ and his healing power, the Christ who suffered and was buried, the Christ who knows our infirmities, the Christ who binds up the broken hearted and sets at liberty the captive,
"by the shuddering dread that fell on him
by that cold dismay which sickened him
by that pang of heart which thrilled in him
by that mount of sins which crippled him
by that guilt of the world which stifled him
by that innocence which girded him
by that sanctity which reigned in him
by that Godhead which was one with him."
To make this work clearly wrought by him, Christ in his Church has instituted not only the agency of priest but also the instrumentality of sacrament, a holy Unction as a holy mystery to meet and to master the mystery of pain.
This is the sacrament of blessing, bestowing God's grace for the exigencies of illness. It is an anointing with oil consecrated by the bishop for this use. It is therefore the act of no one man, but the act of the whole society of those who company with Christ, indeed the act of Christ himself in his Church.
This is the action of Christ stretching forth his hand to heal, bestowing the gifts of the Holy Spirit to indwell the sufferer in time of need. It is a royal anointing, that man's spirit reign over his infirmities, and through his frailties keep him close to God. As Confirmation gives grace for spiritual use of physical maturity, holy Unction gives grace for spiritual transformation of bodily infirmity. As Penance restores the sinner, who by his sin is separated from the Church and its communion, so Unction restores the life habituated to sin to a man's moral control.
This anointing ennobles suffering, for this is a sacrament of Christ's suffering. Its oil comes from a consecration at the bishop's Eucharist of Maundy Thursday, as on the night before Christ suffered, as on the day that having loved his own that were in the world he loved them unto the end. This is a royal anointing that enables one to wear Christ's crown, to wear the crown of thorns.
This anointing enables health, for this is the sacrament of the Good Samaritan, who poured into the wounds of him that fell among thieves both wine and oil. This is the unguent, the ointment, the balm that soothes and relieves. That the sacrament does at times heal actual physical ills is well attested; nor is it surprising that a healing of the soul of a man, his centre of being, his very self, thus effects other healings. The whole man, body and soul, finds new strength, new life, new immunity from disorder when the soul is cleansed of sin and reawakened to God and to his Christ.
And this anointing enriches life. It prepares for life. Holy Unction may be administered in any real illness of severity or long duration, of body or mind. It may also be administered as a last anointing when life in this world has reached its extremity. It is not rightly understood when it is administered only in preparation for deathnor would death then be rightly understood, for then it would be made to seem a contradiction of life instead of its fuller continuation. A fuller continuation of life is the benefit of this sacrament, either for this world or the next,that fullness of life which is of body and physical being, of mind and human rationality, of spirit and relationship with fellow beings, of soul, which relates all this to God. Thus we pray for a servant of God, "release him from sin, and drive away all pain of soul and body, that restored to soundness of health he may offer thee praise and thanksgiving." The sacrament of disease and death is the sacrament of health and lifehealth from God for life with God.
With this understanding of health and life, we end appropriately our exposition of disease and death. And centering our attention on fullness of life we appropriately end these considerations of the life-bestowing and life-accompanying sacraments of the Church.
We have seen how the praying community, the Church, makes provision for us from physical birth to the death of the body. Perhaps we cannot better conclude these descriptions of life with God in his Church than with the great traditional blessing for eternal life that the Church on earth gives souls departing to the Church in paradisefor this same eternal life is already ours by the sacraments. This eternal life is given to us passively in Baptism by the Community; it is actively establishing us in the fellowship in Confirmation; restoring us in Penance; constantly availing itself to us in Holy Communion; given for social responsibility in Matrimony and Holy Order; succouring us in the frailties of the body and in its final failure. For all our life, then, the Church blesses us thus:
"Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul!
Go, in the name of God
The omnipotent Father, who created thee!
Go, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,
Son of the living God, who bled for thee!
Go, in the name of the Holy Spirit, who
Hath been poured out on thee! Go in the name
Of Angels and Archangels; in the name of
Cherubim and Seraphim, go forth!
Go, in the name of Patriarchs and Prophets,
And of Apostles and Evangelists and all Saints of God
Both men and women, go! Go on thy course!
And may thy place be found in peace,
And may thy dwelling be the Holy Mount
Of Sion:Through the Same, through Christ our Lord."
This form of the commendation is based on Newmans translation in The Dream of Gerontius, from which also the previous quotation is taken.