FEW speeches spoken by high statesmen among the belligerent countries can have been of greater inspiration and consolation to Allied Catholics than the words of Lord Halifax on Saturday when he received the Doctorate of Laval University in Quebec.
The word " Christianity " flows easily from political lips in time of war, just as it too often causes those same lips to stutter in the piping times of peace; but no one can possibly suspect a man like
. Lord Halifax of only realising the uses of religion when it is a question of animating and hallowing a war-effort. The son of one of the most earnest and deepest Christian figures in recent British life, he has never left the world in doubt about what religion means to him. And the evidence of this seriousness and sincerity is to be seen all through his long discourse.
Having analysed the revolt from Christian Faith during the last three centuries—a revolt which he truly says was not only due to the fact that Christianity was inconvenient to men's interests, but likewise inconvenient to men's ideas—he reaches the conclusion that no Christian can contemplate the present disorders of the world without feeling how largely they . are the outcome of the continuous erosion to which the Christian traditions of society --in art, culture, hews, literature, and family life—have been subjected."
This erosion, he naturally points out, has reached its culmination in the Nazi deification of the State. (This deification, he might have added, is not an exclusively Nazi business.) But he also made it clear—and this is where his speech differed from some others on similar topics—that we are all in different degrees affected by this revolt against Christianity. " No nation, any more than any individual, can live indefinitely upon capital of which he has been fortunate enough to be the heir " He stressed the inability l of any modern gospel to act as substitute for what has been lost. The deepest plaint of the moderes is the same as that of the women at the sepulchre: " They have taken away Our Lord . . and we know not where they have laid Him." And in a particularly vivid section, he refers the words: " He saved others, Himself He cannot save," to the acts of devotion and heroism which war inspires in so many thousands.
The remedies to the situation which Lord Halifax sees are to be found in education and in prayer. Quoting Newman's words: " religious truth is not only a presentation, but a condition of general knowledge," he pleads that Christian education be restored to the place which it ought never to have lost and that nations should realise this to be their most urgent duty.
Then in words that could scarcely have been spoken, especially by a person in his position, did they not come straight from the heart, Lord Halifax urges the restoration of the knowledge of how to pray.
Is He Typical ?
This speech, we repeat, is a fine and sincere Christian utterance from a British statesman of whom we can all be proud. One cannot imagine any Nazi or Fascist statesman of the same standing being able to use similar language
without blushing. On the other hand any Nazi or Fascist propaganda that asked how Lord Halifax (" Holy Fox " in Haw-Haw's elegant language) can, as an Elder British Statesman, use such words without blushing is not to be summarily dismissed as beneath our contempt. For the relevant question is how far Lord Halifax represents the real mind of this country?
In one fundamental issue we believe that he does. No great country to-day, we believe, retains a deeper corporate sense of Christ's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables. Nowhere does there remain so Strong and true a grasp on the importance of human personality and the need to defend it against both the encroachments of the State and the tyranny of unordered international and political affairs. And nowhere is fidelity to the basic ethical principles of human intercourse more cher-• ished. It is the fashion to mock at British idealism and pacifism between the wars, just as it is the fashion to underline the shortcomings of our social progress, but the fact remains that all this has testified to a deep-seated British faith in the possibilities of something better than either the dismal legacy of history's evolution or the cynical regimentation of men that has been characteristic of Continental revolutionary experiments.
In another issue Lord Halifax is much less characteristic of his countrymen. He realises, as they generally do not, that good-will, decency, idealism, even a code of manners, are not enough. These are precious as a main-spring of action—and it will be a great tragedy if we weaken them permanently through this second war —but the nature of the action to be taken depends on a correct and objective valuation of human nature as it is and on an accurate understanding of the sort of order which alone can bring peace, external and internal, to human society.
These truths have in some ways been more faithfully retained in some Continental countries where God and the relation between the natural and the supernatural remains a reality to be attended to or to be deliberately fought and rejected. Whether Lord Halifax himself has grasped in public affairs, as distinct from personal ones, the rigour, objectivity. impartiality and sweep of Christianity applied to the world may also perhaps._ be questioned.
To-day we are on the eve of possessing for the second time, in company with our chief allies, the supreme power to make or mar the lives of human .beings across the face of the world for perhaps a hundred years.
That power will be in our hands at a moment when our idealism will be at an unusually low ebb, for we shall still be under the empire of hatreds and cynicisms, uncharacteristic of our tradition, but inevitably geherated by long and bitter warfare. On the other hand, despite the evidence of religious interest during the course of the war, there is very little indeed to show that we have 'learnt to see men and societies as dependent for their welfare on obedience to a strict and objective law that is not of man's making, a law moreover that needs to be applied within the spirit of a charity that realises that we, men and nations, are all in our degree weak and unprofitable servants. Yet peace depends neither on personal Christian piety nor on man-made calculations, whether of prudence or temporary needs, but on this rigorous application of Christian order-in-charity to all men and nations equally.
It is no sort of exaggeration to say that at the present time when strong and blinding emotions are roused among neutrals as well as belligerents there is only one person who by his moral authority and his supra-national role is in a position to judge impartially and from the supernatural angle. That person is the Pope of Rome.
It is as certain as anything can be that the test of how far we are really being Christian is one that can be immediately applied : it will be to see how far our policy corresponds with the advice and mind of the Pope.
How' far is this country ready for such a test? How far even is Lord Halifax?