Page 17, 8th October 1937

8th October 1937
Page 17
Page 17, 8th October 1937 — The Conversion Of England

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The Conversion Of England


DR. W. E. ORCHARD ACONSTANT difficulty in cornmending the Catholie. Church to our countrymen is that in every direction we find ourselves involved in detailed and complicated discussions. Almost endless objections are raised, differing with almost every individual approached, and so any straightforward appeal gets lost in clouds of controversy, and the main issue is obscured by the dust of debate.

Is it not possible to end this frustration and futility by pressing some point that penetrates to the heart of things and brings everything to a decisive issue? We can here only attempt to outline a suggested mode of attack by cutting through all entanglements, which it must be left to the individual to adapt, this being particularly the method open to the laity in meeting with opponents and mixing with nonCatholics, though for its success it needs not merely sharp and swift words, but divine charity salted with good humour and a profound concern, yet able to preserve an unruffled patience, ' * * Perhaps one of the most constant objections raised, when the claims of the Catholic Church are pressed as unique, and superior to all rivals and competitors, is that of the alleged inferiority of Catholics, whether in faithfulness, intelligence, morality, or cleanliness, when compared with Protestants generally. If we want to get to the point there is nothing to do but to concede everything that may be true in these comparisons, but insist that it is all irrelevant to the main question, which is Us: Does the Catholic Church hold Christ's commission to teach the truth of God and Christ's commandments? If all Catholics everywhere failed in adequate mental apprehension, in the expression of that truth in character and life, that would not decide whether or not the Church is the divinely appointed guardian of God's truth. And if it is not, then who is?

Then the counter-point can be pressed.

The Church is Catholic, not racial, national, eclectic, sectarian. She is ancient, vast and universal; she must embrace every race and serve every type; she seeks to reclaim the lowest and retain the least hopeful.

If it is claimed, however, that others are purer, and therefore to be preferred to the Catholic Church, the reply can be made that both the profession and the preference are somewhat reminiscent of the sect of the Pharisees, while the production of a perfectly pure Church, even if that were by any means possible, would only prove that it was not like the Church which the New Testament portrays or Christ predicted.

There are, however, those to be met with, who, while recognising a certain strength, if not admitting a complete his

tonic justification for the claim of the Roman Church to be the one continuous unbroken descendent of the original apostolic Church, nevertheless think that historic descent is no proof of anything, and so look elsewhere for the marks of the true Church, which they discern only in those individuals who are plainly Christlike? Against this we can press the point: All judgments of this kind are subjective; while to identify the Church on earth only with the persevering elect would disintegrate the Church into fragments and reduce everything to a fog.

They are confusing the need and provision for a definitely organised and visibly identifiable body with the secret knowledge of who are His, which bc longs to the Lord alone. And in so doing they are taking upon themselves to anticipate the Last Day and usurp the judgment seat of Chist.

We arc only following Christ's coinmand not to root up imitations and cast out bad fish, but leave all to the harvest, and the angels.

If, however, there is set up in contrast to the authority and organisation of the Catholic Church, a " religion of the spirit" as more in accordance with Christianity, and it is maintained that, without external union, there has already been reached a true unity of the spirit, then we must ask: How is it that this obedience to the " one Spirit " has not produced " one body "? Whereas the existence of the one bady, despite all blows from without and betrayals from within, is itself a product of the supernatural activity of the Holy Ghost.

And why should the individual trust himself to be guided by the Spirit, yet not trust a Bishop, or a Council, or a Pope, definitely seeking such guidance?

Objections rising from a similarly mistaken and equally shaky ground, although urging more objective tests, will maintain that it is the historically Church which has gone wrong, becoming progressively false in government, astray in worship, corrupt in doctrine. We might stay to prove, on the contrary. that it is the Catholic Church alone that has maintained the constitution that was divinely prescribed, has preserved in its entirety the apostolic teaching and tradition, and keeps central and dominant the observances Christ Himself instituted and commanded. But the discussion can be shortened by putting a question. And it is this: Is there any agreement as to how, when and where all this false development began?

For it is notorious that here some instance priesthood, some episcopacy, and some papacy; some this or that Council, this or that creed, this or that sacrament; and others, all Councils, all creeds, all sacraments.

Moreover, while critics like Harnack admit that the germ of everything specifically Catholic is to be found in the New Testament. only the more do some others demand that the Roman interpretation can only be successfully countered by a still more drastic reformation. So they undertake to reform the New Testament, the apostolic doctrine, and even the recorded teaching of Christ, and by standards which are utterly arbitrary and individual; for there is no agreement as to what is the theory or application of the principles of criticism appealed to; and they must eventually prove utterly disintegrative and destructive, not only of the Catholic position, but of every other church, supernatural faith, or human hope.

Some, less extreme, will only ask for

some acknowledgment that the splitting off and setting up of dissident bodies was either provoked by abuses or was the only way of repudiating complicity with them and preventing their recurrence; or that separatist action was necessary to recover neglected truths or essential liberties. Necessary admission may be freely made, and ground for excuse generously granted; nevertheless a sufficient and final reply to this position is this:

Nothing justifies schism. For no schism has ever justified itself. And every schism has only provoked another against itself.

Neither is anything long preserved, whether of supposed freedom from abuses and scandals; of clearer witness to truth; or of the bid for greater liberty.

Protestantism started off on the doctrine of " faith without works," only to move ever nearer to the doctrine of "works without. faith."

Truth emphasised in isolation gets exaggerated, breeds reaction, and disillusionment, decays and at length disappears.

Every stage of liberty is in turn, rebelled against, until it gets to the position where each thinks what he likes and does what he likes; and even then does not like it long, or knows what he really wants.

Moreover, the counter question can be pressed: What is the alternative to the full hierarchical and authoritative system of the Catholic Church? Everyone knows that there is not only his own particular preference, but scores of others. In short, the question can be pressed: If Rome is wrong then who is right'? And if anyone still maintains that he is a Catholic ask him for his definition of that word, and where, anyhow, he got it from. Some may be met with, however, who have been forced at length to realise that all schisms were a mistake, and that all attempted reformations by that method are defeatist. But while they may not recognise that Rome is the one centre and the only rock, they wait for some reform, or some demanded relaxation; or postpone individual action in order that they may bring their own denomination, or their own party, somewhad nearer to Catholicism, so that the last step may be simpler, or reunion may be negotiated on easier terms. Whatever syrnpathy we may have with those who take up this position, or whatever hopes we may share with them about a general movement towards reunion. it must be pointed out that:

To remain outside unity, when it is seen not only that it is necessary, but where it has been previded for, preserved and adequately protected, is to be unfaithful to light andi duty, to Christ and to all others. Delay for any reason, especially from consideration of tactics, or because of supposed reactions upon others, is distrusting Providence and indicates that they have not yet full faith in God or in the Catholic Church.

Moreover, how can anyone know if individual action would not do far more to hurry up stragglers, precipitate party action, or even Influence otherwise complacent denominations?

Whatever be the human elements cornprising the Church th any time or place, whatever actions might or might not be taken to meet the demands of bodies or needs of many individuals coming over, it is the Church as such, human and divine, here and now, that we must trust. If we cannot, we do not really believe in the Church or even in its possibility.

From other circles, wider, less homogeneous, but more multitudinous today, and no less important when the Church's claims are so much as mentioned, there will arise a babel of objections, humanitarian, scientific or rationalistic.

The pacifist movement grows, and will grow, and will get more and more absolutist, if some way can of war cannot be discovered by rulers 4nd statesmen. Yet the movement may e4ily be tempted into blaming, resisting or .even attacking the Church on the ground that its doctrines, its attachments and its general outlook are helping to perpetuate war and must therefore all be wrong. It might take a long time to prove to such that the Catholic Church is more likely to break the power, if not altogether eliminate the possibility of war, as it broke slavery; without even directly setting out to do so. Few will probably be found to have the patience to wade through the rekord of what the Church has done, even when it is so clearly collated and set forth, as it is by Mr. John Epstein in The Catholic Tradition of the Law of Nations, which the Carnegie Endowment for Peace has thought worthy of its support and publication. But it can be pointedly asked:

What has the modern pacifist movement actually accomplished, and what can it promise to do to abolish war?

What assurance can there be that its own integrity will long be preserved without a religious basis or apart from the Church?

What is it doing now but weakening other loyalties; and for lack of an agreed supernatural basis may it not lose patience and be tempted to build hope on hate, adopt the class war, and so abandon even its own ideals?

That has happened with many and may happen with more.

it is only when man has peace in his heart through believing the Gospel, has found the basis for all unity in the unity of the faith, and the Church is accorded its rightful sovereignty over the nations, that peace will come.

Similarly with those who, suffering under the injustice of modern society, and impatient at the slowness and unsatisfactori ness of reform, mistakenly suspect the Church of being linked up with Capitalism. They are easily tempted to go over to its enemies, oppose its authority, and they may at last be swept into Communism, and then find themselves pledged to destroy the Church and all religion whatsoever. It is not certain that it would be worth while asking them to read the Papal Encyclicals, or our own Hierarchy's Pastoral on the Sooial Question. But the discussion can be cut short by asking: Where save within the Church has Communism ever been successfully achieved and preserved for long, or is it ever likely to be, save on a religious basis and under monastic regulations?

And what can Communism promise the world at this hour, whatever is right Or wrong about it, possible or impossible, save to stir up or provoke a world war, in which everything civilised and cultured, devout and decent, may be destroyed beyond recovery or reconstruction?

In scientific circles Catholic claims may start a debate in which the Cialileo incident may be dragged in, or the Church's conservative attitude to such doctrines as evolution, or practices like birth control, may be questioned. Huxley's findings on the condemnation of Galileo may be quoted. It might be asked what kind of evolution is in question; and it can be pointed out that our great arguments against birth con

trol are not merely ecclesiastical nor medical, but are, as against that Nature which some scientists regard as supreme, the only standard for guidance, and never to be resisted with impunity. But it raises more fundamental issues to ask :

What precisely is thought to be the importance for man's life on this earth dependent upon whether the earth goes round the sun, or vice versa?

What gospel of hope about the past, or for the future is supposed to lie in the doctrine of evolution by natural selection that makes its advocates so passionate for its acceptance? Is it because they think it dispenses with God, or that it guarantees human progress by a law of automatic necessity?

And what do the advocates of birth control think of their successes already achieved? And what can it promise to do but first decrease the civilised races and the cultured classes, and eventually secure the sterility and disappearance of the race?

Whereas, it can be pointed out, on the contrary, that it was a Catholic priest named Copernicus who put forward earlier than Galileo, and uncondemned, the supposed so revolutionary astronomical theory called after him.

It can be maintained that the Church accepts all proved facts of nature alongside the truths of revelation as also from

God; and declares that when they appear to conflict, then either scientist or theologian must be at fault in their in

terpretations. • And it can be pointed out that the Church, by her teaching and practice of chastity, has taught and exercised the only safe and effective birth control that is needed.

Instead of lengthy arguments with rationalists intent on disputing the rationality of this or that argument for the existence of God, this or that doctrine of revelation, we can cut short all argument by asking: Who has exalted reason higher than the Catholic .Church; not only making it sovereign within its sphere, butmaintaining that it derives from an infinite and infallible Mind?

And what has anti-religious rationalism done but end up by proving that there is no such thing as reason, or that it is always the slave of desires and passions?

F reason either comes from below, from the irrational, when it must be tainted with it, or it comes from above, and is God's gift of a rational soul, which alone lifts man above the animals, giving him a power to rule his lower nature, and was expressly designed to enable him to " feel after God and find Him," who in that very gift of reason is not far from any one of us.

So all debate and discussion can be brought to a clear issue, faced with the claim of the Catholic Church to be the rock, to hold the light, and to be the meeting place for all mankind; whereas, especially at this hour, all else is dark, danger-. ous and making for disillusionment and destruction.

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