Updated: Aug 19
An article written by Monsignor Benson for The Ecclesiastical Review in March, 1906.
It would hardly seem necessary in a paper on the Conversion of England to prelude what one proposes to say by an exhortation to desire that conversion; yet it may be questioned whether the slowness of the Church’s progress toward that end does not at least partly spring from the timidity of her members toward desiring it seriously. There are two powers of our nature by which we desire an end — the imagination and the will — and we are too often apt to mistake the one for the other. We are liable to think that because we dream and sigh over the prospect of a Catholic England, because we close our eyes and depict to ourselves selves friars preaching in the marketplaces of Birmingham and Manchester, Ave Maria ringing from every parish church. Corpus Christi processions in Hyde Park, and the Benedictines singing the Divine Office in Westminster Abbey — that, therefore, we are truly desiring the conversion of our country. But romantic dreaming is not the same thing as efficacious desire; to desire a thing seriously is to will it efficaciously; and one of the marks of an efficacious will is to be eager to put theories into practice, to leap into every breach, to drive a wedge into every crack.
Yet when we observe the lives of ourselves and our fellow Catholics, must we not confess that practically we are but too often content with a kind of devout sectarianism? We sigh, but we do not speak; we speak, but we do not shout; we hug ourselves in congratulations; we compare our sheltered garden with the wilderness beyond the hedge; we light our lamps and draw our curtains close; and if we think of the night outside it is only that we may sharpen our sense of warmth and comfort within.
Of course, we have a thousand excuses. It is perfectly natural that the long winter of penal laws should make us glad to have fire and light round which we may draw closely together, and afraid lest, when we open the door to go out, the storm should enter instead and blow out our candles and wreck our images. This is perfectly natural; but it is not supernatural. It is natural to be frightened; but it is not supernatural to yield to that fright. St. Augustine of Canterbury was afraid as he looked over the channel from France; but it was not until he had overcome that fear that he could even begin to preach Christ to the heathen.
It is natural that we should say that prudence is one of the Christian virtues; but it is supernatural to remember that fortitude is another of them; and that faith has a right to a kind of recklessness essness. It is natural to protest that Englishmen move slowly; but it is supernatural to be extremely discontented with that fact, and to be determined that they should move quickly instead. For, after all, the Spirit that came down at Pentecost declared Himself in the roaring elements of wind and fire; the still small voice is enough for the individual, but storm and conflagration are needed for the conversion of a nation.
The first essential then toward the Catholicizing of England is that we who are Catholics should seriously desire it; that this desire should be of a practical rather than a theoretical nature; and that in the pursuit of it we should be willing to risk at least something on the promises of God Almighty.
As we look back at the history of the Church in our country, we are supplied with abundant illustrations of what I have been trying to say.
St. Augustine, as I have remarked, was undoubtedly most imprudent in displaying a silver cross and picture, and in singing a litany through the streets of heathen Canterbury. How far more tactful would he have been if he had been content with prayer on the Ccelian hill and pious aspirations that God would Himself tame the fierceness and instruct the ignorance of the wild English pagans! He would have been more tactful and more prudent; but he would not have converted England.
How exceedingly rash it was of the Society of Jesus to send such men as Blessed Edmund Campion and Father Persons, of the Seminaries to send their hot headed young men across to England in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; and to urge them to go up and down through the country, preaching in barns and stables, offering the Holy Sacrifice in bedrooms and lobbies, and setting men’s hearts on fire without the permission of the Government. How far more prudent it would have been to have come to some diplomatic understanding with Cecil and Walsingham, and to have refrained from annoying the queen until she was safely secured upon the throne.
And again, how reckless of our Holy: Father to have provoked the outburst of Protestant zeal in 1850, by the public reestablishment of the Hierarchy! And yet without these acts the Catholic religion would have practically ceased to exist in England by the reign of James I, and those of King Edward VIIs subjects who had had the courage to pay spiritual allegiance to Rome, would still have been worshipping God in small discreet chapels off the public thoroughfares, and would still be looked upon by their fellow countrymen in the manner in which, let us say, a duck billed platypus would be regarded in a farmyard.
Always, in short, it has been the tendency of human nature to be content with what has already been gained, and to thank its own discretion that things are no worse; while it is the characteristics of divine grace to produce a divine discontent, and a determination to make things a great deal better.
Now the Catholic laity cannot evade responsibility by saying that all those things are in the hands of the bishops. Of course to a large extent they are in those hands; yet the attitude of the laity is one of those elements that cannot be set aside in the consideration of the larger policy. It would be the recklessness, not of faith but of human impatience, if violent measures were initiated from above, apart from the eager cooperation of the rank and file. It would be worse than foolish, it would be tempting God, if, let us say, the friars were sent in their proper habits to every town and village in England, unless Catholic laymen were prepared cordially to welcome them, even at the risk of a stone or two being thrown through their dining room windows after dark. Of course, a great deal has already been done: last summer the friars did indeed go through the Kentish hop fields with a small devoted company of laymen, although they went to minister to their own people, disavowing any intention of making proselytes; and the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom has also done a magnificent work in declaring in deed as well as in word and thought that the Catholic Church is Catholic and not sectarian.
Yet how much more remains to be done before we can congratulate ourselves that we are even beginning seriously to attempt the conversion of England! So long as it is possible for one priest to boast publicly that he has never yet received one convert vert, or for another to sneer at what he calls “ Anglican zeal,” or for laymen to take delight in detecting what they call an “ uncatholic ring “ in the sermons of convert clergy; so long are we bound to confess with shame that sectarianism has triumphed over the Christian spirit, and that while we talk magnificently of the conversion of England, we need something very like conversion ourselves.
Let us pass, however, from these more general considerations — from the contemplation of the ideal spirit of zealous charity — to reflect upon the details of our own dealing with non-Catholics.
The machinery at our disposal may be summed up under three heads, on the first two of which I propose to say very little, as their discussion would not be suitable in a paper of this kind.
The heads I have selected are prayer, example, and controversy.
Of prayer it would be improper to say anything beyond stating the platitude that it must be the root of all our efforts: for beyond what it accomplishes of its own objective power, it is the greatest safeguard against the spirit of personal virulence which has ever been the peril of all theological controversy. Prayer, too, in this cause is set before us by the authorities in the most emphatic possible manner — by the great organizations devoted to that object, and by such a practice as the giving of Benediction once a month with the same intention.
Of example also it is unnecessary to say much. It is superfluous to remind ourselves that Caesar’s wife must be above even suspicion; and that the members of the Bride of Christ are above all others scrutinized and watched in their personal life. It is no use to protest that we are all sinners, that we all fall short of the standard set before us by the Catholic Church, and that the purity of her faith and the power of her Sacraments do not stand or fall by the response of her members. The world will yet persist in doing this: in judging of our Master’s honor by our own; in testing the tree by its fruits. And we must remember too — what is at once a compliment and a grievous responsibility — that the world’s standard for us is terribly high. A week ago I gave a great shock to a woman of thirty whom I was instructing in the Catechism, by telling her that the Church was human as well as divine, that all Catholics were not saints, that even priests had their faults and weaknesses. I had to spend at least five minutes before she was at her ease again, in reiterating what I had previously said on the Church’s divine mission. Yet neither must we avoid the scrutiny; it is our business as Catholics to have no secrets, no private chamber into which we may retire and relax ourselves, no severe and lofty mask to wear in public and lay by in private. We must meet Protestants on every possible occasion, admit them at all hours and under all circumstances, walk with them, ride with them, dance with them, shoot with them, and do our utmost to roll away the shadow of mystery with which their imagination still invests our private lives. We must get rid then of posing and play acting; we must show an extreme simplicity and naturalness; we must make it evident that we can be both Catholics and patriots; that we can pray to Our Lady and yet keep our word; go to confession and yet hate sin; use our rosaries and yet remain in possession of sanity and common sense — in short, that supernatural and natural virtues are not necessarily and always mutually exclusive.
We come, then, finally to controversy; and this is the principal subject of my present paper.
First, it is necessary to define the sense in which I use the word; and I do so by saying that I mean by it all verbal dealings with Protestants on the subject of any part of the Catholic faith, whether by writings, lectures, or conversations. I have half a dozen things to say about it; and I will say them as briefly as possible, although I feel very strongly that I have no right to speak, in view of my extremely limited experience. What I say, therefore, must not be taken as involving any kind of claim to the speaking of one who knows his subject from the Catholic side. Rather I am drawing upon my Protestant memories of methods that affected me for or against the Catholic Church, and upon a fairly wide acquaintance, both before and since my own conversion, with Anglicans that are still regarding the claims of Rome with a not unfavorable interest.
It appears to me that what is commonly called the controversial spirit is the surest means to defeat its own ends. There are two methods of subduing a rebellious country: the one is by fire and sword; the other lies in the proclamation by heralds of its rightful king. And I have no hesitation in stating my own belief that for us, as for the Israelites outside the walls of Jericho, the latter is the only method that has any consistent promise of success.
In seeking to convert, say an Anglican, we may either attack his beliefs, run a sword through his interpretation of history, sneer at the divisions of the Establishment, cut at his phantom hopes of what he calls “ Corporate Reunion,” and denounce his holiest associations as deceptive and even diabolical; or we may proclaim through trumpets the unity of the Catholic Church, the prerogatives of her head, the apostolicity of her doctrine, and the holiness of her saints. In other words, we may attack positively or negatively by declaring our principles or condemning* his. And I feel no doubt at all in my own mind that the positive method is better than the negative; that it is better to preach our seven Sacraments than to denounce his two ordinances; to invite to Rome rather than to fire guns against Canterbury and Exeter Hall.
I do not mean that the direct assault is not often necessary. It is impossible to engage long in controversy without leaving our own ground and entering that of our theological opponent. But approaching the whole subject generally, I believe that it is infinitely better to begin by proclamation rather than denunciation, by promises rather than threats. Our friend will draw his own conclusions quickly enough; it is impossible, for example, to talk half an hour with an intelligent Anglican without being asked for one’s views on the orders of his clergy; and then, of course, one must speak with the utmost definiteness. But it is far better that the blow should be invited rather than delivered spontaneously — that his question should precede our statement.
Let me insert at this point two extracts from Catholic newspapers, which admirably illustrate the two methods of attack. The first is an instance of what I deplore; the second of what fills me with admiration and hope. Though both are equally true and equally plainspoken, the one arouses opposition, and the other sympathy.
1. Conversion often entails painful sacrifices of friends, money, social position; the renunciation of self will too, and much that is humiliating to spiritual pride. If Anglicans are soothed into believing that they possess outside the Catholic Church all that we do within it, where does the object for conversion come in? On the other hand if we convince them that they have no Orders, no valid Sacraments, no Mass, and that all these ritualistic imitations of Catholic ceremonial do but resemble the reproduction of an antique setting, no doubt admirably executed but containing a false gem, shall we not have gone far toward inducing them to abandon an untenable position? Of course I speak only of men of good will “ who are truly desirous of finding the truth; it is useless to appeal to those who are not. And we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that there are Anglicans, and very many of them, who are not in good faith, and who do not embrace the Catholic Faith because they are predetermined not to do so.' They know too much not to know more,” said a very clever woman to me once, who knew them well, and from bitter experience. These men are not the friends of the Catholic Church as some simple souls appear to imagine, but her relentless and unscrupulous enemies; and it is for us to unmask them and expose their designs, not to become their dupes and play into their hands.
Mr — , like "Homocea,” touches the spot when he says that it is the utmost endeavour of these men to hinder their followers from discovering the truth, and to keep back souls from the Catholic Church by offering them a substitute for Catholicism that sufficiently resembles the real thing to deceive the simple, or those willing to be deceived. With unparalleled effrontery they adopt, and adapt to their purposes, all that is good, beautiful and desirable in the Catholic Church: her doctrines, her devotions, the writings of her saints and mystics, the very sermons of her greatest preachers of all times and countries. They adorn themselves with all these borrowed plumes and endeavour to persuade their dupes that they really belong to them, and are their inheritance from the ancient Church of the country, the Church established by Pope Gregory the Great and St. Augustine, of which they are as much the lineal descendants as are the Mohammedans of Constantinople of the Christians who built what is now the Mosque of Sancta Sofia. Mr —'' is amazed that Catholics are not charmed to be copied by Anglicans. He says that imitation is the sincerest flattery (we have heard that before). No doubt, but it is not always a pleasing form of flattery. The mistress is scarcely gratified when her maid comes out in a cheap replica of her last Paris toque. The descendant of a hundred earls would certainly not be pleased if some worthy but grandfatherless nouveau riche adopted his coat-of-arms, excusing himself for doing so on the plea that he had obtained possession of a portion of the family estates. It is, I believe, illegal to imitate and wear the uniform of soldiers and sailors; and something disagreeable would probably occur were undecorated individuals to appear in the stars and insignia of various Orders. Why then should not Catholics object to have their vestments, and the distinctive dress of their priests (the Roman collar for instance), appropriated and worn by those who have no right to do so? The tragic warning of' * Mr.'' that unless Rome climbs down and recognizes Anglican claims, *' England will one day awake Catholic, but emphatically not Roman Catholic,'' will amuse many people. We may safely conjecture that did such an unexpected event occur England herself would be the most surprised of all like the little old woman in the nursery rhyme, who had her petticoats cut “all round about,” she would exclaim, “This surely can’t be I!”And she would send for some good sound evangelical churchman to identify her.
Yes, it is undoubtedly difficult always to treat our separated brethren with that charity, tenderness, and compassion which were so strongly urged on us English Catholics by our late Holy Father Leo XIII. Nevertheless, I still venture to believe that charity, sympathy, and apostolic patience are absolutely necessary for us if we would do the work that God and His Vicar have committed to our charge. We have to strive first of all to understand. We can never do anything for others unless we try to understand their point of view, the motives of their actions, the reasons that prompt them to conduct which seems to us on the surface to be foolish or wrong. Only real sympathy will give us the power to enter into their feelings, and this alone will win their hearts. We are not the judges of our brethren, we may not condemn their motives or sit in judgment on their characters — there is One who has reserved that prerogative for Himself, He who will judge us as well as them. We stand in presence of a great phenomenon, the extraordinary revival of Catholic doctrine and devotion in the heart of an anti-Catholic body. We see gradually brought back almost every doctrine and practice which was rejected at the “Reformation.” And this is due not to ourselves or to our efforts, but to the spiritual sons of those who did their best (or worst) to root out the ancient faith from the length and breadth of the land. It is not merely that the material aspect and outward appearance of the Churches are utterly changed, but that every year and almost every day Catholic doctrines are permeating more and more deeply into the very heart of the people, that a generation is growing up which believes in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, in the regenerating power of holy Baptism, which is becoming used to Confession and frequent Communion, venerates Mary and the saints, and which regards the Holy See in a very different light from that in which it was wont to he considered in England. Guilds and confraternities, religious congregations of women, and now even of men, retreats and missions, flourish in the most unexpected quarters.
The named Protestant is disliked and repudiated, the glories of the Catholic name are coveted, the claim to be one with the saints of old England is advanced. How are we to regard all this? With scorn and anger, with ridicule and contempt, or with thankfulness to God and eager joyous hope? For who can doubt that the Holy Ghost is moving these dry bones, and that this wonderful change is but a prelude to a still more wonderful one; that all these phenomena which so perplex us are in reality but signs and symptoms of a great conversion, the turning of the hearts of the children to their true Father, the gradual drawing of numberless souls to the One True Fold of Jesus Christ? True it is that the goal is not discerned by the majority of those whose feet are pressing on this road, that they are quite unconscious whither it really leads, and that many of them fall by the way before they reach it. Yet, though they do not see, because their eyes are “ held,” may we not hope and believe that Jesus is with them guiding them gently yet surely onward? If we really try to know these brethren of ours, I am certain that we shall find that the vast majority of them men of good will who really seek to know and do God’s holy Will, and who are in absolute good faith as to their spiritual position.
2. My second point, which is touched upon in that second extract, concerns the attitude which we should take up toward the motives of our theological opponents; and I should urge with all my power that this should be as favourable as possible. Undoubtedly, there have been and are insincere non-Catholics; but I cannot honestly say that I have ever met one whom I could confidently accuse of that appalling vice; and I have not heard, from persons whose judgment I should trust, of more than half a dozen such, all told; and certainly two of these were in circumstances in which I should exceedingly tremble to be placed. They were instances of clergymen whose sole source of revenue lay in the income of their living, who were too old to learn a profession, and who had a wife and family dependent on them. Before we blame even these over-much, we should honestly face the same prospect for ourselves by a vivid act of imagination. Picture yourself stepping out of your home in a week’s time, penniless, nervously exhausted by interior struggle, possibly having alienated those dearest to you by a step which appears to them utterly mad and selfish, and dependent on charity not only for yourself but for those who have no share in the merit, though an equal burden of shame. On the other hand, let us remember with enthusiasm and applause the numerous instances where this misery has been faced gladly and courageously. One such occurs to my mind at this moment where the head of the family threw up an important post, retired with his wife and children who despised and resented his action,, tried to obtain the position sacristan in a Catholic church, saying that he had lived all his life in what he had believed to be the House of God — and who finally failed even in this modest ambition, and failed cheerfully.
Let us then be extraordinarily careful of attributing bad faith to those who continue to disagree with us, and who prefer to stand on a platform that appears to us ludicrously insecure. Platforms, let us remember, do not display their weakness to those who occupy them, but to the critics who venture to examine the supports from beneath; and there are simply thousands of persons who, knowing intellectually all the premises which we can tell them, continue sincerely not only to distrust, but actually to deny the inevitable conclusions. “ The supports are not cracked,” they cry, “ or they always have been cracked; or, if not, at any rate it does not matter, because the platform stands perfectly well with- out them; finally, cracks or no cracks, here we are where God set us, and here we will remain until we are buried in the ruins.” In this connexion also let us remark that to certain kinds of noble souls an argument from chivalry appeals with far more insistence than an argument from reason. “ We are here,” they say, “ under pitiable circumstances, abandoned by our bishops, distrusted by those of our own communion, deserted continually by friends whom we had learned to trust and admire. We resemble an outpost set to guard an almost indefensible position, yet in supernatural touch with the great army of Christ. Our foes are creeping on all sides, raking us with their fire; we have traitors and half-hearted combatants in our tiny body. It would be far easier for us either to throw down our weapons and go over to the enemy, or to make good our escape back to our own camp while there is time — yet we have received no intelligible orders to retire. And it is surely better to hold on here desperately hoping against hope, ready for death or the ignominy of capture, rather than to take a step which may be prompted by self-interest or despair, and to abandon a position which our captain apparently desires us to defend.” Now I am aware that the analogy is a ludicrously false one; it is so full of contradictions that it is not worth while to emphasize even one; and yet it is an analogy that is held and advanced by hundreds of sincere Ritualists. We may parley with them, point out their folly, prove the uselessness of their struggle, even shoot at them to the best of our power; but it ill becomes us to sneer at their gallantry. It should inspire us rather with the deepest respect and sympathy, and holy emulation. While, therefore, we must not shrink from stating truths, let us avoid overstating them. Let us be frank, when necessary, in our opinions of their self-contradictory tenets, their misreading's of history, their doctrinal sins of commission and omission; but let us not presume to arrogate the power of God and profess to read their hearts; let us give them the utmost credit for sincerity and courage, and say as well as believe that the motives that underlie their action and inaction are often such as we should desire for ourselves in our own Catholic life. And this brings me on naturally to my third point.
3. In dealing with non-Catholics, it is necessary to remember that scarcely two of them advance the same justification for their position. It is not in a serried line that they come against us, but rather after the manner oi franc-tireurs; there is no uniform, no concerted plan; each man arms himself and fights as his own wisdom directs. It is, therefore, necessary for us first of all to keep our tempers, and secondly to deal with every case individually. For example, to treat Ritualists as if they regarded the Church of England to be exclusively the Church of Christ; to treat the average cathedral dignitary as if he paid any serious attention to Catholic Christendom; to treat the Low Churchman as if he thought himself bound to submit his private judgment to the Book of Common Prayer; to treat the Broad Churchman as if he regarded the words of the Creed he professes as authoritative, or believed that right faith has anything whatever to do with eter- nal salvation — to approach any of these persons with preconceived ideas of an authority to which he must feel himself absolutely bound, is simply to fail at the outset. Consider again the enormous cleavage between the Ritualist who appeals back to the primitive ages as containing the pure image of truth, and the Ritualist who, like ourselves in one respect, regards the Church as a living body in the present. To the one the Church is a statue carved by the hand of Christ, polished by the fingers of the Apostles, continually to be cleansed of lichens and accretions; to the other she is a living organism, a monster indeed to our eyes, but to our friend’s eyes fairer than the children of men. The two must be approached from absolutely different directions; arguments that fall harmlessly on one, pierce cruelly to the heart of the other; and yet to careless eyes their attitudes are identical. They both wear vestments, hear confessions, light lamps, and burn incense. It is necessary for us then to pay at least some little attention to what they have to say for themselves, to understand what indeed is their position; we must not be too quick to label them and pigeonhole them, and then to call them inconsistent and dis- ingenuous when they protest against the label, upset the ink, and struggle out from the hole in which we have lovingly placed them. And above all things, let us avoid patronage. I will acknowledge that this is exceedingly difficult to avoid. It is all so hopeless and dreary; they are sometimes so complacent and yet so miserable, that the youngest among us is liable to pat them on the head and tell them they will be better soon if they will take their medicine like good boys and lie still. Yet after all they are often godly, righteous, and sober men, knowing perhaps even more facts and dates than are necessary for us to have acquired; they are often scholars, and nearly always gentlemen; and even for the lowest motives it is wise for us to remember these facts, and remind ourselves that the children of an Infallible Church are not necessarily themselves always infallible. To add then yet one more metaphor before we leave this point, we must, as Cardinal Manning once said, play dominoes with our theological opponent. We must not meet a six with a four, or a two with a three, and then lose our tempers if he upsets the whole board in indignation. We must not advance the authority of Pius X to a lady who regards him as the Man of Sin; we must not enlarge upon the learning of the Sacred College to a bootmaker, let us say, who has always identified the Cardinals with the sixth horn of the Dragon in the Apocalypse. We must go even further: we must not seek to prove the Immaculate Conception to one who has but the vaguest views on the Incarnation of our Lord and Saviour; nor recommend the rosary or a novena to St. Philip of Neri to persons who would not repeat the Lord’s Prayer twice in one day for fear of vain repetitions, and who are eager to prove our idolatry by a quotation to the effect that there is but “ one Mediator “ between God and man.
We must meet them rather on their own ground, and lead them on from what they do know to what they do not, bringing them gradually step by step through the vale of misery, until they come within sight of Sion and of the gates of pearl. Here, in spite of what I have hinted of release, I must touch on one more point before leaving this section. There is one argument which, beyond all others, tends to hold men — especially Ritualists — back from submission to the Catholic Church. Let me state it in the kind of form in which it was put to me — and most eloquently too — before the initial work of faith was completely wrought in my soul.
“Here are you,” they said, “ who have been living and practising as a priest for nine years in the Church of England. During that time you have said what both you and we have believed to be the Mass very many hundreds of times; you have given and received also many hundreds of times what both you and we have believed to be sacramental absolution. You have experienced again and again in your heart divine consolations; you have seen sinners again and again converted by this system that you are now on the point of repudiating, and you have watched them cleansed by the absolution you have given, and fed with heavenly bread from your hands, gradually edified in the Body of Christ and established in sanctity. And now you propose to call all this an illusion; to declare that you have been no priest, that the words you said were unauthoritative and useless, except as an expression of your own private opinion, that what you gave from the paten and chalice to those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness was nothing more than common bread and wine. If you can now distrust all the sensations and appearances of grace that flowed from your celebration and reception of our sacraments, how can you possibly trust for a moment your new-found faith in him whom you call the Vicar of Christ? If you have been so utterly mistaken for nine years, indeed for over thirty years, why should you not be equally mistaken in the fancy you have now taken up for six months?”
Stated in this form, it is unnecessary to say that to many persons this appears an almost final argument. I know an eminent clergyman at this moment who says publicly that if he ever bring himself to believe himself other than a Catholic priest, he would lose simultaneously all faith in Jesus Christ. I have known also many Catholics who, when confronted with this di- lemma, have had nothing to offer but generalities about faith and confidence in God; and yet the answer is not very difficult, and has been already given by Cardinal Newman in a passage too long to quote here. But the gist of it is as follows: —
Anglicans are not required to repudiate their spiritual experiences, but only their intellectual conceptions. The theologians teach us that a perfect act of contrition wins forgiveness from God. St. Gertrude tells us that a fervent spiritual communion may be the means of receiving fuller grace than a lukewarm sacramental communion. Now there is no reason to think that contrition is an unknown virtue among Anglicans; nor the slightest reason to doubt that many thousands of them approach what they beHeve to be the altar of God, with a sincere love for their Saviour and a sincere desire to comply with His commands. With these premises, therefore, it is impossible to doubt that God rewards them with both grace and consolation; and we need not, therefore, label their emotions as deceptive, nor the moments of their holiest aspirations as triumphs of the devil’s art. What they have to confess is, not that they were tricked into thinking God was with them when He was not, but only that they were wrong in their intellectual interpretations of His Presence. They were right in thinking that at those moments they received a gift of grace. For it was at such moments that they made the greatest efforts to aspire to God. They were wrong in thinking that they received the gift per sacramentum. Their intellect, not their soul, was at fault.
I have ventured to treat this point at what may seem disproportionate length, as it appears to me extremely important that we should recognize how vital is the matter, and how real the difficulty; and should abstain from laying a greater burden on souls than we are authorized by the Church to lay. 4. It will save a great deal of time and irrelevant conversation if we will keep clearly in mind the real point in dispute. Now practically all men acknowledge, at least theoretically, the existence of some authority in matters of religion; this, among non-Catholics will range from the ground of Scripture interpreted by the individual judgment, to that of what the Ritualist calls the Catholic Church speaking through the agreement of its various branches; but some such authority will always be found among those who accept the Christian Revelation at all. They will admit, that is to say, some standard or some interpreter by which that Revelation is proposed to men. On our side, we have to advance the claim of the one Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church, and we shall have made a real advance in our progress as controversialists when we have once recognized that the real battle must lie here, and that all other considerations are secondary. How much time and energy, for example, are daily wasted by an elaborate discussion of the validity of Anglican orders, and of the reasons for which our Holy Father condemned them. I have known an Anglican more than once silenced and amazed on being informed that if the orders of his clergy were valid ten times over, he himself would be no more a Catholic than before. Or again, an elaborate discussion on the respective moralities of Spain and England, a debate as to the doctrine of intention, an explanation of the meanings of the words “ matter “ and “ form “ — all these things, useful though they maybe toward the removal of misconceptions, yet do not really touch the point. Of course, it may be often necessary to diverge upon them as down by-lanes; but it is necessary for us ever to keep in mind that they are not the highroad, and to do our utmost to bring back our theological adversaries to the central line of the Catholic economy. Let us first discover the authority on which our opponent relies, and then after pointing out its weaknesses, propose to him our own grounds of faith, showing him, if necessary, that in Scripture, history, and practice, the Church that is built upon Peter has alone a promise of security.
5. Finally, let us remember that the gift of faith is not the result of, though it is frequently given in response to, intellectual processes. No man on earth can actually argue another into submission to the Catholic Church. All that the intellect can do is to climb a hill toward heaven; it cannot fly; it must await the rushing of the wings of faith; it can lay the sacrifice in order, build an altar, and fall to prayer; but a divine fire must come down from heaven before the victim is consumed and his smoke rises to God. Therefore, the final appeal must consist in an urging to prayer. Men may approach the Catholic Church from a thousand paths; one may come by patristic study, another by the example of friends, another by the emotional impressions of music or cere- monial; but none of these things are adequate as a gate for entering the City of God. It must be entered finally by faith, and by faith alone. The Church, indeed, stands upon the earth, but each of her twelve doors is supernatural and each is identical, each is one several and celestial pearl — that pearl of great price for which it is worth a man’s while to sacrifice all that he possesses. Therefore, our final plea must be for prayer and the purifica- tion of motives. We must tell those who approach us that they must disregard consequences, forget father and mother and worldly prospects; that all that the intellect, the will, and the emotions can do is to prepare a highway for God to travel upon — a soul which God may be pleased to visit — that they must pray and then pray again — and finally pray; for that faith is a moral gift, bestowed upon scholar and fool alike; offered not to him who, as a Kempis says, can discuss learnedly upon the Trinity, but to him who loves God; not to him who can define contrition, but to him who feels it. To conclude then. It is, of course, an impossible task to attempt to sum up the evidence for and against the future progress of the Catholic Church in England; but it may be worth while to mention a few facts that undoubtedly bear upon it. Briefly, as all authorities confess, there is a religious movement going on in England among religious bodies outside the Church, which, like all movements, is having a double effect. That movement may be named disintegration. It was hoped at what historians call the “ Reformation “ that the severing of the ties between England and Rome would result in the consolidation of the religious elements in England. The Catholic idea of all nations being brought into unity in the City of God, of walls being broken down, of Babel being ruined and Jerusalem built, of the fulfilment of the promise of Pentecost when all men heard alike, each in a manner that he could understand, the one Gospel of Christ — this was almost explicitly rejected. In future, it was then said, each country must seek to emphasize national characteristics instead of obliterating them; St. Paul was wrong when he proclaimed that there should be neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian nor Scythian; on the contrary, each nation must resolutely follow out its own ideas, trim the Gospel according to its personal proclivities, and enshrine the most convenient aspect of that Gospel in a “ National Church.” There is httle wonder then if the people of England followed this root-idea out to its logical conclusion and, after accepting the individual rights of nations as against those of an universal Church, proceeded to insist upon the individual rights of individuals as against those of the nation. If a nation, they said, needs exceptional treatment and is unable to bow to a worldwide authority, the individual in his turn needs exceptional treatment, and must ultimately find himself unable to bow to a national authority. There is surely no doubt that this was the manner in which the claim of private judgment pure and simple succeeded to the claim of national judgment with which Henry VIII, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Cromwell, and the rest began their work. Gradually then English religious sentiment and English national religion have crumbled: first the piece was detached from the rock; then the piece resolved itself into its component grains by a perfectly natural process. In the last seventy years we have seen once more a reaction from this simple individualism. First, in the Tractarian Movement, there began that return toward the idea of Catholic authority which has reached such an astonishing point in our own days. Roughly speaking, High Churchmen have at last come back to the same cross-road at which their spiritual forefathers left Catholic unity. The Church Times, for instance, is never weary of insisting upon what it calls “ the Catholic Church as a whole,” as being the final authority, and upon the Church of England as its immediate interpreter. But there is also a large and growing section of High Church opinion that goes further than this. Many devout clergy- men and laymen are whittling away the Church of England’s authority to the increasing dignity of the Catholic Rule: they are asserting explicitly that they will never be content until affairs have reached the state that they were in at the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign, and England is once more reunited to the Holy See.
Now this is the direct result of disintegration. What shrewd or holy men perceived at the outset — namely, that separation from the Holy See meant ultimately complete individualism — is being perceived at last by persons at the present day who look intelligently back upon the inevitable course of history; and they are beginning to reunite more and more, first within themselves, by societies and guilds, with the hope that in time all may one day be reunited with the centre of unity. In the dissenting sects exactly the same process is before our eyes. Beginning by the rights of the individual three centuries ago, Nonconformists proceeded to gather themselves into organized bodies under various leaders, though protesting with all their might against any claim to sacerdotal or divine authority being made by those purely human societies. Now matters have gone much further; the sects that split one from the other began by reuniting in a kind of loose organization; and by such institutions as the “ Free Church Council,” and such phrases as *’ Puritan England,” “ Our Puritan Ancestors,” “ Free Churches,” and the like, their members are gradually having painted before them the divine idea of an authoritative body in whose presence the individual must forget his individualism — a picture which has its original in England before Henry VIII’s apostasy, and which is still a reality in the case of all adherents of the Holy See. This disintegration, then, has reached in one section of opinion a reductio ad absurdum; and the separate particles have begun to come together again in revolt from the absurdity. Now this process may be interpreted in two ways. Either it may be said that it has a sinister bearing upon Catholic hopes, since men are receiving by it a delusive sense of comfort in an authority other than that of the Catholic Church, external and necessary to the preservation of the individual; or it may be said that the fact that men are beginning to feel the need for such an authority augurs well for their final return to the only centre whence such authority really flows.
But, in my personal opinion, these two interpretations are not mutually exclusive. They seem to me to be both true. It is certainly a fact that many individuals, especially in the Church of England, are hindered from returning to Catholic unity because they think that they have already found it; on the other hand, though many such may live and die Anglicans, I do not believe for an instant that their grandchildren will be content to do so. If we may trust the indications of history and logic at all, there are abundant signs that those who set out three hundred years ago from Rome, and who have already returned so far on their journey, will ultimately finish their pilgrimage by once more entering her gates. They have visited the city of Individualism, and have found it to be one of confusion; they have returned, halting at inn after inn, attempting to call it home and to treat it as their abiding place; they have even gone to bed there, content to die in what they fancied to be their Father’s House; but the next morning the survivors have rubbed their eyes and set out once more for a day’s march nearer home. Is it too much, then, to prophesy that finally none will be left upon the road? There will always, of course, be left the city of Individualism at one end — where each man is a law to himself — where each begins by insisting upon liberty and ends by relinquishing it in deference to his brother’s equal liberty to believe something else — where this liberty throws off cloak after cloak, disclosing at last the features of mob law, anarchy, and religious license — where every man loses his freedom by insisting on it over-much. But at the other end there will always stand the City of Peace, beckoning, by her, towers and pinnacles and the glory that flows from her, the weary feet of pilgrims and the disconsolate eyes of those who desire to see the King in His beauty. But as for the inns between the “Federation of the Free Churches” — the “English Church Union” — the “Church Association” — the “Church of England” — the “Branch of the Catholic Church in England” — the “ Provinces of Canterbury and York” — and all the other desperately built shelters on the road from earth to heaven, from Babel to Jerusalem, from the nation to the world, from the twentieth cen tury to Pentecost — though they shelter for the present man honest, sincere, and holy souls, though they may continue to shelter them for a little while longer — yet it is incredible that they should stand, at least in their present condition, say, for another fifty years. New inns may be built — no doubt they will be; new theories formed — new desperate expedients and attempts to supplant the City of God; but the old are tottering, and the new will in their time too fall.
And in the meantime, let us who look over the eternal walls along the road, which some of us too once travelled — let us not mock nor preach over-much at the tired groups that straggle along so gallantly, that halt so illogically, that turn back so unreasonably, that curse us so furiously, that misunderstand us so grievously, that pitch new tents so complacently, that protest, cry out, argue, explain, deny and question so insistently. Let us remember our double task; call out and encourage them with all our might, not bidding them hasten more quickly than their tired limbs can carry them, nor allowing them, so far as we are concerned, to halt for one instant on their road to God, but toward them show charity, zeal, and sympathy. And above all, when we visit our Lord in His Palace, where He reigns supreme over all the world, or assist at the tremendous Sacrifice whose smoke ascends unceasingly before God within the city of which we are citizens; or when we go to the Queen Mother in her castle, and mix with her friends and servants, let us not forget to put in a word now and again to her and to them and to Him who is her Son, on behalf of the souls for whom He died, and for whom He waits, those souls of whom Mary is Mother, though they do not know it, whose ministers are her servants, whose God, as well as ours, is Jesus Christ, whose chief terror, like ours, is sin and unfaithfulness, and whose hope is heaven.
Monsignor R H Benson