Page 4, 29th May 1942

29th May 1942
Page 4
Page 4, 29th May 1942 — Christian Co-operation

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People: McReavy, Butterfield


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Christian Co-operation

THE Joint Statement on Christian co-operation, issued in the name of the Sword of the Spirit and its pa rallel organisation among Anglicans and the Free Churches, Religion and Life, will be welcomed with almost a sense of relief.

Though public criticism of certain tendencies and dangers in the movement towards co-operation was held back so as not to embarrass the hard-working promoters of so needed an effort, there can be no doubt that some apprehension existed. The leadership of the Holy Father himself and the blessing of so many Bishops guaranteed, of course, the rightness of the aim, but the lack of a clearly defined purpose, of necessary boundaries and of a clarification of the precise status in the movement of the different Communions was leading to some misunderstanding. On the one hand, it was felt in some quarters that Catholics were beginning to admit in practice, if not in theory, a nonCatholic status that contradicted the basis of the Catholic position. And on the other, non-Catholics themselves felt that there was something unreal in the subordinate position into which they were inevitably pushed so long as cooperation was directed by a purely Catholic organisation. And apart from these troubles, there was a sense that Christian co-operation was leading Christians to suppose that the public task of the Chui eh to-day was being limited to the social and economic fields, with the danger of the Church itself being committed to national and political objects.

These difficulties have been to some extent surmounted, thoogh the Joint Statement does not, perhaps, envisage sufficiently clearly the lines the movement will take in the future.

The Present Position

Co-operation has now become genuine within the definite limits in which such co-operation can be constructive and fruitful. By the formation of the Religion and Life movement the Anglicans and the members of the Free Churches associate themselves autonomously and independently in a work that is restricted to the social and international spheres. Thus the status and claims of the differ ent Communions, as regards doeIItrine and life, are in no way

affected, and each carries on its own ecclesiastical work untouched in any sort of way by co-operation in fields where that co-operation is so obviously needed. Furthermore, this formal association between societies, representaive of the Catholic Church in this country, on the one hand, and of the Anglicans and Free Churches on the other, is not intended to impose any order or plan, but rather to act as a clearing-house, a guide and a help generally to people, study groups, local societies who have realised through their own experience the immense advantages of the united action of all believing Christians in political, social and moral work *hat urgently demands to be done.

The Moral Basis

Recently the problem of the theological basis of co-operation between Catholics and non-Catholics has been discussed, and the discussions themselves were indications of the doubts that were arising so long as the precise nature and limits of co-operation were not

16. clearly laid down. In the April number of the Clergy Review, Dr. Butterfield comes to the conclusion that the only basis for such co-operation is to be found in the fact that Catholics and nonCatholics, no matter how deep the differences between them may have to go, are agreed upon cerLain objects common to both of them and which they equally desire. " On this basis of common interest," he writes, " we may cooperate to promote a more perfect observance of the Natural Law and to preserve certain Christian ideas, principles, institutions, beneficial to Catholics and non-Catholics alike." Dr. McReavy, of Ushaw, in last week's Tablet, adds to that a more positive foundation in the fact that our non-Catholic brethren who fail to recognise the claims of the Catholic Church "have no alternative but to worship God in their own way, They must obey their conscience." He concludes: " We simply admit that our non-Catholic comrades, in fighting for the same freedoms, are only doing what is, subjectively, in view of their genuine convictions, their imperative moral duty. And so, while we continue to strive to win them to the objective truth, and to insist on its objective evidence, we welcome their co-operation as men of goodwill whose efforts to serve God are not without benefit to our own."

The Joint Statement may make such speculations rather less important since—as it points out— co-operation for purely social purposes is no innovation. Indeed it may be said to have its real basis in the sense of common citizenship rather than common Faith. Just as any citizens co-operate for specific political and social aims upon which they happen to find themselves in agreement, whatever their differences in other respects, so it is perfectly natural and inevitable that citizens who as Christians happen to share in so large a measure the same moral views should work together in securing by political means the establishment of a civic order in which those moral values are respected.

Religion and Society

It is being more widely recognised on all sides that the Christian Revelation is the completion and the raising to the supernatural plane of the Natural Law whose main lines should be known to all men, of whatever race, religion and colour, by the

right use of their reason. And there could be nothing more obvious than that men, however much they might differ as to, details and as to the way in which God's design is fulfilled and completed, should work together where their common reason, more or less illuminated by grace and experience, agrees. But even here, it seems to us, the source of the agreement is from the philosophic and social side of man's thought rather than from the specifically religious. It is quite an unnatural accident, due to the perversion of post-Christian errors, that only those who share the knowledge of the fuller Christian revelation should agree about the principles of the Natural Law, while others apparently reject what is so plain.

We suggest, therefore, that the rights and duties of Christians acting on the civic plane should be stressed in this co-operation rather than that the emphasis should be put on the ecclesiastical side.

We cannot doubt that apart from the difficulties whicis have already cropped up in the conception of religious co-operation. there exists a grave danger that Christians should come to think that their main religious work should be in the fields of philosophy and sociology. That is a temptation to be resolutely thrust aside, not only because these aspects ot Christianity are quite secondaty to the real direct work of apostolate, but also because even a triumphant success on the social plane would achieve nothing enduring. No social order can be perfect. and it is certain that if Christians committed themselves to any one order and achieved it, it would not be long before its flaws and imperfections manifested themselves to the disappointment of the people and the discredit of the Church.

But it is quite otherwise when we view this social work as the function of Christians in their role of citizenship. As citizens they take their political place with all other people, and it is their duty to seek through material and temporal means to realise in the State of which they are members the moral values which they derive from their Faith and from their reason, rightly used, On this civic plane there is no limit to the co-operation that is desirable and necessary, nor to the enthusiasm for a new and more Christian order that should be generated.

A Lay Movement?

For these reasons we have more than once suggested that this work of Christian co-operation should become increasingly divorced from direct ecclesiastical leadership—saving always the doctrinal and moral guidance of authority —to become the function of the Christian laity acting in terms of Christian political citizenship, in the widest sense.

The difficulties in the face of this development are obvious— more especially in the case of Catholics. We have not been educated to understand the Christian character of our citizenship. We live divided lives. We look to the Church for Sunday guidance, but are content to follow purely secularist leads in polities and business. For this reason there is practically no secular leadership,' no civic zeal, among our laity.' Unless the clergy lead and take charge, nothing is done.

We should like to see Christian co-operation developing into a spontaneous movement among all Christians, in their capacity as citizens, to defend and promote Christian moral values in the national life through the pursuing of specific measures and reforms.

People often ask to-day for evidence of the practical value of Christianity and what they mean is that Christianity should work for whatever new order they happen to fancy. The answer to this challenge cannot come from the Church as such, since the Church's mission isa purely spiritual one. But it could come from Christians who realise fully how their Faith bears upon heir duty as citizens.

Future Evolution

We hope, therefore. that the Sword of the Spirit and Religion and Life, in defining the sphere where co-operation is possible and fruitful and in giving guidance to all of us in the evolution of a greater Christian effectiveness in the country will set themselves the goal of fostering a greater sense among all Christians of their religious and moral responsibilities as citizens. We hope that they will work together to restore to the public conscience the truths of the Natural Law, as well as to promote such political, social and economic reforms as will best correspond to this Divine design implanted ii the hearts of men. The strengthening of this moral basis by the civic work of Christian citizens will go far to enable the Church as such to carry out its mission entrusted to it by Christ. And for these reasons we hope that the movement will gradually evolve from its present semi-ecclesiastical character into something mainly secular in the full Christian sense of the word.

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