Page 5, 4th June 1937

4th June 1937
Page 5
Page 5, 4th June 1937 — The Conversion Of England

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Organisations: Catholic Church
People: Christ Himself


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The Conversion Of England

(III)—By Playing Dominoes

By DR. W. E. ORCHARD HIS strange sub-title is not a recommendation to attempt the conversion of England by means of social clubs or whist drives. The idea comes from Cardinal Manning, and its reference will be found in that searching and instructive document he left behind on " Hindrances to the Spread of the Catholic Church in England," which is still worth careful study; for although some things have been changed, perhaps as the result of his exhortation and example, much still remains to be done.

The recommendation contained in the metaphor of a game of dominoes is evident. If our opponent plays a " three," we must place against it a similar number. This means, for our present concern, that, as Catholics, we should try to meet any truly Christian element in the religion of our fellow-countrymen, not by bringing forward its contrary, nor primarily, its needed complement; but rather, by showing that this very element is found in Catholicism, indeed emphasising the place it holds, even if then we must go on to show that it is there kept in better balance, as well as more surely safeguarded.

To do this with any hope of success involves a close acquaintance with the religious ideas of our countrymen, a sympathetic appraisement of its best elements, and the ability to reinterpret them on Catholic lines. This means that we shall have to be patient with a new and often vague phraseology, and often discount those expressions of opinion which get most readily reported. We must try to get to the heart of what it is that the devout members of Protestant denominations really think, and do, and live by. We shall also have to discover, which is still more difficult since they are more reticient or inarticulate, what many who make no religious profession yet do actually believe in and try to act up to. We can then show what is implied in what is held, and we must not be surprised to find a strange neglect of what Christ clearly commanded about Church or Sacrament, existing alongside an earnest desire or even confident claim to be His followers.

The prevailing religion of our country may be conveniently classified as Evangelicalism; for although its characteristic doctrines may be somewhat loosely held to, there still remains its conviction that individual communion with Christ is available to all, and is the one thing that brings personal completion and can promise social progress. It is because of this concentration on a purely personal, and often almost secret religion, that there is, in various degrees, but perhaps progressively, such general unconcern about ecclesiastical unity, sacramental grace, or defined doctrine. Indeed it may be in the presence of this element in Anglo-Catholicism that helps to blunt or side-track our appeal to that group about the need of authority or valid sacraments.

How can we speak to those who are thus contented? It would be easy to enlarge on the dangers of strbjective delusion, or point out the obvious individual selectivism employed in obeying Christ's conmends, while the actual history of Evangelicalism could be summoned to testify to its inevitable sectarian tendencies, narrow appeal and evanescent power. But such a destructive analysis would probably only invite counter charges. It is likely to prove disarming, and perhaps more fruitful. to assume that the "experience" of Christ which means so much to the devout Evangelical is a reality, and to admit that its preaching of Christ has not only rescued many otherwise lost to religion. but contributed to the development of English character and social reform.

But we can also rightly urge that unless Catholic doctrine about the Saviour we all alike look to is true. Christ cannot avail either for salvation or friendship here and now. We can claim that the Church's witness all down the years, and not merely a supposed recovered record of something that happened or was proclaimed ages ago, and then was forgotten and lost for centuries, is essential to the preaching of an unchanging and ever living Saviour. Moreover we can point to the Sacrament, which is the centre of Catholic devotion, as the most direct, penetrating and effective way of conveying Christ to body, soul and spirit.

This means that when we play a " three" to our opponent's " three," we need not choose a " double three," but a domino with three one end and six the other. That is, having established a point of agree

ment, we can then bring forward the pro

vision of the Catholic Sacraments for security, and the fullness of fife Catholic

Faith for enrichment. We can go further, and insist that Evangelicalism, in its posi

tive possessions, which we need not deny, and the power of its preaching, which the Catholic Faith would only reinforce, is actually depending all the time upon the Catholic Church and its unbroken life, while it is we who presented them with the Bible they appeal to and build upon; in short it is our set of dominoes they are

• playing with.

We can admit that Evangelicalism in making personal relationship with Christ central, is not only right in its instinct, but it has also seized upon that which is the Heart of Catholicism; while, at the same time we can claim that, with us, that Heart is protected by the articulated Body of doctrine, lives in the historical Body of the Church, and is conveyed in the Body

of Christ really given to us in the Sacrament. It is moreover by insistence upon personal union with Christ as the sole purpose as well as the secret of the Church's existence, the soul of the Sacrament, and the goal to which all our doctrine, dogmatic and mystical is meant to lead, that we may hope to establish a point of contact, yet with the pressure and promise of what is entailed and needed behind it. We are then in a position courteously to com plain that Evangelicalism, has stolen, as it were, the choicest bloom out of the Catholic garden, but taken it away as a cut flower, and then mistakenly assumes that it can be superior about roots and soils, gardeners and greenhouses; which is not only very careless and ungrateful, but such cut flowers are not likely to live long, and they cannot reproduce themselves.

We may deal similarly with those who hold aloof from all organised religion, who profess to have no use for dogma, and may he uninterested or doubtful about Christ's divinity. yet believe that it is in the teaching of Christ that there is to be found the way of peace for individuals, societies or the nations of the world. Since they are unconscious of any need of divine grace or guidance in order to follow Christ what they profess may be not unfairly described as mere humanitarianism.

Yet instead of condemning this, it would be wise to agree that it was precisely humanitarian action that Christ Himself declared would be used to discriminate between the sheep and the goats at the last. Then we can draw attention to the fact that He declared what He Himself would be the Judge. and it would be because it was He who was served or neglected in the persons of the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, that this would determine an eternity of bliss or woe. We can not only point out that Catholics have always taken these words of Christ most seriously. but that Catholicism is the purest, profoundest and most powerful humanitarianism, since it declares that in Christ God became man; whereas apart from this basis, humanitarianism tends to become ineffective sentiment, to be more concerned for animals than man, and is all too easily betrayed into inhumanity.

So might be answered even the profession of Communism, which has drawn to itself so many of our intelligentsia and still more of the class conscious proletariat. To be content with mere condemnation may only throw masses into mistaken hostility. while advertising the Church as the only bulwark against Communism, may perhaps only frighten those to take refuge with us who are much more alarmed by Cornmunists' denial of property than by their denial of God. Rather we can show that it is the Church alone that has ever successfully practised Communism, namely, in the religious orders; which shows that Communism can only be successful when it is voluntary, and godly. We can also admit that Communism will be the only economics of heaven. But then we can show that its mistake, apart from its irrational and reactionary denial of God is ail attempt to anticipate heaven on earth, assuming a perfected human nature, and yet denying the need of grace and so in its hurry, it always turns to coercion, and so soon becomes cruel and corrupt. Better still, if seizing upon this po; tt of eg,recment, we could then bring forward, as a much finer and freer alternative, what it is that the Church's commended economic principles of " Private Property, Just Price and No Usury," mean demand and promise for this generation. But that is something, alas, not yet worked out, though so long overdue. The best domino to play to Communism has not yet been turned up.

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