by Stanley B. James
FROM this week onwards this
paper is publishing a feature entitled " A Layman's Pulpit." In view of this, sonic account of the place of the preacher in the present age and the possible place of the layman in the work may not be out of place.
The history of the present age will have to begin with some reference to the part played by demagogic earatary. The centre of the stage has been occupied by men of, action, hut it must be never forgotten that, unless they had been able to command the public ear, neither Mussolini nor Hitler would have secured a following. Their first move was to storm the platform. From that point they could arouse and direct the passions of the mob.
It is „instructive, in tbis connection, to recall how 'when England was
tbreateted, at the end of the eighteenth century, with a repetition of the horrors of the French Revolution, the danger was averted not indeed by mob oratory but by its Christian counterpart. An acute French writer, Halevy, Surveying the situation from an unbiassed standpoint, has said that it was the Evangelical Movement which saved England' from the fate that overtook his own country. And the Evangelical Movement, as we all know, was brought about by the pulpit eloquence of Whitfield and Wesley. The latter, at least, was far from being a demogogue, but, quiet Oxford scholar though he was, in the Christian message he found a means of canalising those passions which otherwise might have' sent our cities up in flames and installed the guillotine or its equivalent on Tower Hill.
It is sometimes said that, in this way, Wesley came to the aid of reaction. But this is hot quite fair. it is certainly true that he was no revolutionist and that the effect of his work did much to preserve the traditional English . way of life. But in their ultimate result, his labows ferthered the progress of democracy The movement he initiated supplied the primary inspiration and training. of those who pioneered the advent of organised Labour. On this point M. Halevy is quite definite. " The majority of the leaders of the great trade union movement that would arise in England within a few years of 1815." he declared, " will belong to the Nonconforrniat sects. They will often be local preachers, that is, practically speaking, ministers. Their spiritual ancestors were the founders of Methodism. In the vast work of social organisation which is one of the dominant characteristics of nineteenth-century England, it would be difficult to over estimate the parr played iv the Wesleyan revival."
The Church's Weapon The Catholic minority at this time could do no more than doggedly maintain the primacy of the altar over the pulpit. And it was little likely e to be impressed by the hysteria which sometimes accompanied Wesley's preaching. But later generations have no similar accuse for neglecting the powerful agency in Christianising the countty which the pulpit supplies. And, seeing that the worid at large and in particular the workers are menaced by revolutionary forces Ohich, if successful, would complete the secularising process, there is good reason for see ing whether it might not be well ()nee more to take this weapon out of the Church's armoury.
For precedent we need not go outside out own history The story of the Friars and their popular discourses, couched in homely languag's and using for their purpose both pathos and humour, is but a chapter in the long sexy of Catholic preaching. That story eses back to the preaching tours of St Paul, and even earlier still. It seems to be forgotten that the presence of the Holy Spirit on the Day,of Pentecost was signified by Tongues of Fire and that the first demonstration of that Presence given to the outside world was that of St. Peter's discourse. And we can go back still further For the text of His sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth, our Lord took the words of Isaias: "The Spirit of aie Lord is upon me, wherefore He hath anointed Inc to preach the gospel to the poor. He hath sent me to heal the contrite of heart, to preach deliverance to the captives and sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised to preach the acceptable yea/ of the Lord and the day of reward." That carries us back earlier than St. Peter, earlier than Jesus Himself, to the prophets of Israel.
• It also emphasises the close connection between preaching and the Hely Spirit which we see at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit functions at the roots of personality. That is why, in a time of spiritual revival, the preacher comes
into his own. The sermon is essentially a personal deliverance.. No gramophone repetition of pulpit truisms is entitled to the term. The Truth proclaimed does not desive its authority from the preacher but he must have made it his own. He is no mere wire transmitting a message mechanically. However derived, it is from the depths of his own personality that the message must emerge. This means that-preaching is Il• oreative and therefore a costly business Preaching and Instruction
It is necessary' to distinguish clearly between preaching and instruction, which latter is addressed to the mind and is the business of the priest, who has been specially trained to give it. The preacher, too, gives instruction, bat his main concern is to move the will. His appeal is a call to action.
He must be dynamic. " What shall we do ?" wee the reaction of the crowd that listened to St. Peter. And this, requiring special aptitude not always possessed by those having a vocation for the priesthood, may be, on occasiop and assuming the necessary credentials, undertaken by the layman. Some years ago, Mr. Ernest Oldmeadow, when Editor of the Tablet, published a series of addresses in that paper, subsequently issued under the title of A Lavitran's Christian Year. It has been argued, indeeu that there is MOM ill the Church's economy for an Order of Lay Preachers.
Such an Order would be particularly adapted to meet the needs of our age. We are beginning to realise (what the prophets of Israel so clearly understood) that religion is more than the private concern of individuals. The friars addressed themselves courageously to the public issues of their time. St. Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost, it is well to renienmer, was concerning a public Event that had agitated a whole city and the country beyond. Now if the preacher is to take this wider field as his province, it is obvious that the tat' preacher is in a favoured position He stands between the saeristy and the factory, the 'market-place and the forum.