Page 4, 19th January 1968

19th January 1968
Page 4
Page 4, 19th January 1968 — A common danger

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Locations: Rome


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A common danger

draws the churches closer together

By Quintin Hogg M.P.

IHAVE a confession to make. It is that, when I examine my conscience, I know very well that I am a member of the Church of England because I was brought up in it. I may say what I do about the Book of Common Prayer, the Catholic creeds. the history of episcopacy, the National Church. the Sacrament itself, but I know in my heart that if I had been brought up in Scotland by my Presbyterian grandmother (who was a saint or something like one) I would have been a Presbyterian, more or less.

If I had been sent to Ampleforth or Downside by my Roman Catholic cousins, instead of Eton like my father and grandfather, I would have been a Roman Catholic. If I had been born in the sixteenth century I would probably have been a Catholic. in the seventeenth a Protestant, in the eighteenth probably a demi-Deist.

And if I had been born a Hindu, a Moslem or a Jew, what then? I do not like to think. But how many of you would answer very differently to these questions if you thought about them honestly?

This does not mean either that I am not sincere in my religious practices and beliefs, or that I do not think them important. But it must alter, surely, my attitude to the religious practices of others, inside or outside the Christian Church.

A friend to reunion

There are times when the walls of difference are almost diaphanous and scarcely seem to be there. There are others when they are so improbably opaque that I seem to be living in a totally different world from my Roman Catholic—or, let's face it, from some of my Anglican or Nonconformist friends. But the times when this happens are not always easily predictable. and sometimes it is those closest to my religious position with whom I have least to share.

All this means, I think, that I am a friend to reunion, but not a very hopeful friend. My father, bless his beloved soul, would almost turn in his grave. as the saying is, if he knew that his son was writing for the CATHOLIC HERALD about Christian Unity.

Rome never changes, he would have said. Rome can not change, he would have added. And, to do them justice, my Roman Catholic cousins would have re-echoed his sentiments, if not his words. Surely they would have had a certain logic on their side, too. Both would have thought that talk of Church Unity was born of a certain sentimentality of outlook, devoid of real intellectual integrity.

Rome has changed

But of one thing I am certain, Rome has changed. In the last ten years I have been to three Masses at Downside —the first a straightforward Latin Mass at the High Altar, the second a similar service mainly in English, but with the psalms set to an altogether twentieth century chant, the third — with the congregation divided into two — each part facing opposite ways towards what I can only call the Communion Table in the centre of the cruciform church.

No one who read the correspondence columns in the Tablet under Douglas Woodruff would think that it was the same organ that carried on with such splendid vigour those acrimonious correspondences under the late Mr. Oldmeadow.

Yes, Rome has changed, and in many ways besides the vernacular Mass. And so have we. We have both come to learn, have we not. that the issue of our day is not whether we are to be justified by faith or works, but whether Christ is risen, not whether the "Romanish Doctrine of purgatory is a vain thing fondly imagined" but whether Christianity is founded on a lie, not whether transubstantiation can be proved from Scripture. but whether Scripture itself is a good guide to living.

We are drawn together not because we are better than our fathers, or wiser, still less more charitable, but because we are faced with a common danger — the loss of hope from the Christian world. In college at Eton, our Latin prayers ended with the response: "Et Spiritum sanctum ne au/eras a nobis."

If it were not blasphemous, there have been times in my life when I have almost feared that the nameless terror conjured up by this prayer was about to come upon us. If truth, and kindness, and purity, and honesty, and patriotism, and courage and faith, and even compassion can be derided and trampled underfoot, where, oh where, are we going?

And what place for Christians can there be in such a world — except back in the catacombs, where, there was neither Catholic nor Protestant. but only a common hope, and a common suffering? But if this horror is to be avoided we can surely waste neither time nor effort on interdenominational polemics.

I owe an immense deal to Roman Catholic teaching and Catholic life in my religious experience. I doubt if I would be a Christian at all today if it were not for the courage and devotion of at least one Catholic priest who taught me that it was not clever to be an unbeliever. I know it is fashionable—even almost universal—to be profoundly critical of the traditional Roman teaching on birth-control or abortion. and I do not say that J accept either myself.

But I am never more impressed with Roman Catholics than when I differ from them, their. unswerving willingness to accept the logic of their position, their respect for human life and dignity— even over something like the fastidiousness and intimacy of the sexual act itself, and the permanence and holiness of Christian marriage.

Schisms of Christendom

I do not believe that the schisms of Christendom will be healed in our time. I am quite sure that I do not want to see organic unity restored until I am certain that we are talking the same language and, still more important, meaning the same thing when we speak of things like the Church, the Sacraments, or even the articles in the Creed.

But it would give me immense comfort if we could worship together more intimately and more often. I have not the smallest desire to join a Roman Catholic, a Presbyterian or even a Wesleyan congregation for my regular worship. But it gives me intense pain to be cut off from them (as I am) and not to be able to go up to their altars to receive the Sacrament at their side, not to see them occasionally come to ours and receive the same at the hands of our priests.

I do not believe that any of us are sufficiently ortho dox to describe any other person who claims to be a Christian as a heretic. On the other hand, I have never thought it sensible to say that religious differences do not matter, or are trivial or small.

I have never regarded the issue of orders as in itself the important question, nor the infallibility of the Pope, nor transubstantiation, nor any of the classical points of difference. I believe the true question is the nature of religious experience and the nature of authority in the Church.

The real truth is that the Church (or, if you like, the Churches) has still to make terms with the evolutionary character of human cognition. The nearest approach I have seen to achieving this has been in the almost incredibly difficult work of Teilhard de Chardin-despite his extraordinary neologisms and occasional lapses into what appears to be pantheism

Light of Heaven

The one thing of which I am consciously happy and proud of in the Church of England, apart from its beautiful liturgy and its preservation of the historic creeds, is that it has never —no. not ever, not even in its most exclusive moments. claimed to be the whole of the Christian Church.

Consequently, no sane Anglican can conceivably utter the words "extra ecclesia nulla .salus" as if "ecclesia" can be limited to mean the Anglican cornmunion. This, 1 think, makes reunion to us today, not less attractive, but certainly less urgent even to some others.

For no one can believe, and I certainly do not, that a single human soul will ever have been lost just for not being an Anglican, or for being one. I am content to go to church Sunday by Sunday in the full consciousness that being an Anglican is only one of the very many ways of being a Christian in an in creasingly non Christian world, and it is the increasingly non-Christian state of the world which disturbs me more than the possibility, perhaps the certainty, that among the various other ways of being a Christian, there are others which in the light of Heaven may turn out to have been better than my own.

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