By V J . Nyton THE unparalleled notice taken, in every country in the world, of the death of the last Pope and the accession of Pius XII, now that one comes to look back upon it, suggests that never in history perhaps has the Papacy (" Still full of life and youthful vigour," as Macaulay said in that famous tribute) had such a widespread moral influence over the thought and imagination of men, whether the ruled or the rulers. In non-Catholic quarters it is being seen, with increa.eing Clarity in every new decade, that the Church has allies outside Time, that the Chair of St. Peter is what the Divine Founder of it and the Church called it, " the Rock," and that after all its stability and continuance is due simply to the historic and spiritual fact that ,a certain Simon, son of Iona, was amazingly christened Replies, upon which ICephas rests " My " Church.
Re ason in g, speculative and scholarly Catholics have always known this, equally with the simple wayfaring Catholic who has wisely heard and taken upon faith. Not only converts by the hundred thousand, men who have analysed and argued their way from agnosticism, scepticism or incomplete religion into the full liberties of Catholicism, but men born into Catholic environment, have given a world of keen thought to this question of authority-what it is, and what it is not.
IT is not, for instance, what some men I outside the Church, men otherwise well informed, imagine it. A reviewer, whom I respect the other day noticed at length this very striking book of Rosalind Murray, which you should read-The Good Pagan's Failure,* and actually managed, in over one thousand words of comment, not once to mention what the book is about, and not once to give a word of quotation. This is a feat. The book is packed with wise, discriminating things; utterly sympathetic and understanding toward the modern wish to be nice, good, cultured and oldachoontie-ish, without God and without clear beliefs and a teaching norm. She knows that world from the inside, as some others of us do. Like a good doctor, she can put her finger on the exact spots, and say " You all hereand here." So much BO that Mr Harold Nicholson and others have conceded the equity of her diagnosis. and cannot see any flaw in her prescription for the cure.
Against a Teaching Church
YET this other reviewer. representing a number of surviving temperaments who dislike firm outline ' or cogent doctrine, reads her a long, vague lecture on her choice of the historic Church as the destined house of her spiritual adventure. He shies timidly at the idea of a " mediating and authoritative Church, and a God whose nature 48 decided and defined." Some temperarnentri it is impossible to please or attract, much as some people cannot find any diet that satisfies or nourishes. What do they wane these would-be Christians? That we should worship an emotion in the sunset or the mountain torrent, and call it "God "? That we should feel a generalised community with mankind, and call this religion? Even the amazing richness and feature of truth in the Gospels and Epistles would seem, for fastidious shrinking tastes, to be a starting-point for one's own private day-dreams or suggestions for other periods to improve on or develop from. To insist, as we do, that Christ is God-Man, that after all He did say this and not that, and that whatever may be revealed to the Church or holy men later must at least agree with that-such sense and logic he feels is religious " totalitarianism." Whereas It is only intellectual morality.
Dear me: times have changed since (say fifty years ago) we were accused of having always done the very opposite -of not sticking to the literal word of Scripture and the past, and of permitting an unfolding of doctrine age by age! Those die-hards of the Tennessee and little Bethel school have vanished now. The criticism comes now instead, strangely, from those who distrust enduringness, steadiness, the via media, and logic when these are incarnate in the Church.
" Barbarians " Versus The Church
("NCR reviewer, then, whose wish not
to hurt feelings is evident, agrees that this Murray's conversion to the Catholic Faith sprang from religious seriousness, but was " in one sense tin-English." If so, it is not very complimentary to the English. But we know that it is singularly out of touch with the statistics of English conversion in each of the last eighty years. He next considers that religion has fared worst, in these times of '" barbarization," in countries where it has " retained its old intratusigeance." But if religion suffers from " barbarians," Is that a criticism Of religion f Again, his description can only fit Russia and Germany. Now Russia knew the Greek Church plus hundreds of sects; odd, if you like, or backward, but certainly not intransigeant. And Germany? Will anyone seriously call the Lutheran and Evangelical systems intransigeant? They have for generations been tentative, fluid. and trimming-of necessity. As for Catholic parts of Germany, religion was and is a warm, popular thing, congregational, domestic and adapted to every mood and detail of life. That seems to be his second error. The "blind reactionary forces" against the Church therefore are not good evidence -on his side.
" The. old religio, the binding thing, to my mind scarcely merits the name of religion any more." A cryptic saying, Indeed!
For binding quality is precisely what all the world's deepest thinkers now see Is vital.
What is . the untrustworthy alternative?-" The freedom we enjoy in this country seems to me eminently religious . . . it proceeds from love of God." Surely both propositions, and especially the second, strain all powers of belief? I have written much in praise
of the English ethos myself, and it would be delightful to believe the above towering claim : but no, I know too much of my fellow-men and their actual motives and ideals. Wtould that it were half true, even ten per cent.
The Unknown God
HE admits next that the English religion is more and more one of the unknown and mystery : " 0 that I knew where I might find Him." It is a quest, largely " particular and private." Now mystery is integral to Christianity, while personal reality of experience is necessary. But how depressing, and what an anti-climax, his definition is, did it represent the facts.
We should in truth be " orphans of the storm," without the quite objective, factual Incarnation of the Son of Coda deliberate revelation of the Reality beyond, by that Reality Himself.
" Quest by all means in spiritual truth, but Rome facts do not need searching for-all the facts, for instance, in the New Testament and the Creeds. A religion which is private adventure after " something " is not very grateful to the God Who has (in Dryden's words) " given of His bounty more than we could hope for by our sutra." Why go about at noon-day with a candle looking for the sun?
Quest-and Inquest I KNOW, at first hand, this religion of I the quest. I had it for years before I had Catholicism, and so had many friends of mine. It is unreliable, intermittent, contradictory. It fails in crisis, and it is not vertebrate enough to bulbu character. It is the intellect which at last exposes its inadequacy, though the affections also soon tire of a conversation which evokes no reply, a journey without clear stages, feeling without articulate form and content. What other reason is there for the melting and disappearance of the groups and sects which the reviewer says " take their own little way, each learning something of truth by the vitality and Intensity of their blunderings "? They decrease, and in time disappear-of discouragement, and the lack of a Rock (kephas, Peter) as provided foundation. It is sad, but instructive.
Singular, also, to read the grand Epistles and then hear our critic say " authority is nothing, example everything." The less sensational truth, as God delivers it, is that example is everything and authority is everything; also that there would soon be no example& if you took away the Divinely delegated authority and the certainty we live by. The mightiest minds, from Augustine and Dante to Newman, have thankfully rejoiced in the grand outlines of eternal truth, and the guarantee which goes with them. It makes progressive thought possible. There is no adventure so rich as Orthodoxy, and no growth anywhere so profound and vital as growth in the Spirit revealed in the New Testament and in the Sacraments so much greater than anything we can excogitate for ourselves. It is a fire ever-new and ever-young, a Life fresh with every day; something which the wisest have not caught up to, much less outgrown! So I am puzzled when the critic of this humane Catholic book fancies " religious life is widely identified institutionally with extinct knowledge," and " we await the emancipation of a contemporary faith." I can
only suppose he has been unfortunate in his contacts, and has not truly encountered the very living, sacred, contemporary realities of vivid experience in the Church of One Who is " the same to-day, yesterday and forever," and in Whom " are hidden all the treasures of wisdom a.nd knowledge" 300 years hence as truly as to-day or 1,000 years ago.
I note, in the same paper, another reviewer of another book hits upon the truth-" Though many times over man has tried to evoke religion from the loud music of humanity, it never seems to reach its falling close without a discord. Can it be that the 'life within reason ' is unimaginable, or, if imagined, still untenable, without God?"
All over Europe and the world men are suffering and making others suffer, " taking their own way " (to quote him again), learning by their blunders.
But learning what '? Alas, either violence, Communism, unbelief, nationalist paganism; or else that God has an organ-voice in the world, a Divine Society as young to-day as when born and given its powers.
There is no lasting middle-position; only growing indifference, private whim, interim ideals, and that dying wistful afterglow of Christianity in which thousands of nice people live. By the million they have read everything printed about Pius XI and the new successor of St Peter, and in their way they have drawn reassurance from the existence of a Supreme Pontiff, the sentinel guarding the Faith from corruption, and assuring the unity of that vast Home in which the faith is individually lived.
*" The Good Pagan's Failaure." By Rosalind Murray. (Longman's, 75. 6d.)