restricted access Thoughts after Lambeth
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[ 223 Thoughts after Lambeth1 The Church of England washes its dirty linen in public. It is convenient and brief to begin with this metaphorical statement. In contrast to some other institutions both civil and ecclesiastical, the linen does get washed. To have linen to wash is something; and to assert that one’s linen never needed washing would be a suspicious boast. Without some understanding of these habits of the Church, the reader of the Report of the Lambeth Conference (1930) will find it a difficult and in some directions a misleading document.2 The Report needs to be read in the light of previous Reports; with some knowledge, and with some sympathy for that oddest of institutions, the Church of England.3 The Conference is certainly more important than any report of it can be. I mean that each Conference has its place in the history of Lambeth Conferences, and that directions and tendencies are more significant than the precise formulation of the results obtained at any particular moment. To say that a significant direction can be traced, is not to applaud any aimless flux. But I suspect that many readers of the Report, especially those outside of the Anglican communion, are prepared to find (or prepared to condemn because they know they will not find) the clear hard-and-fast distinctions and decisions of a Papal Encyclical.4 Of such is Mr. George Malcolm Thomson, whose lively pamphlet in this series5 * has given me food for thought. Between a Lambeth Conference Report and a Papal Encyclical there is little similarity; there is a fundamental difference of intent. Perhaps the term “encyclical letter” for the archiepiscopal communication heading the Report is itself misleading, because it suggests to many minds the voice of final authority de fide et moribus;6 and to those who hope for the voice of absoluteness and the words of hard precision, the recommendations and pious hopes will be disappointing. Many, like Mr. Thomson, will exclaim that they find only platitudes, commonplaces, tergiversations and ambiguities .7 The Report of the Conference is not intended to be an absolute decree on questions of faith and morals; for the matter of that, the opinions expressed have no compulsion until ratified by Convocation.8 The Report, as a whole, is rather the expression of the ways in which the Church is moving , than an instruction to the faithful on belief and conduct. Essays, Reviews, and Commentaries: 1931 224 ] Another consideration which we must keep in mind, before venturing to criticize the Report, is the manner of its composition. Some of the Report is to me, I admit at once, mere verbiage; some parts seem to me evasive; some parts seem to me to be badly expressed, at least if the ordinary uninstructed reader is acknowledged; one or two recommendations I deplore. But it ought not to be an occasion to us for mirth that three hundred bishops together assembled should, on pooling their views on most momentous matters, come out with a certain proportion of nonsense. I should not enjoy having to commit myself on any subject to any opinion which should also be that of any two hundred and ninety-nine of my acquaintance. Let us consider the quantity of nonsense that some of our most eminent scientists, professors and men of letters are able, each for himself, to turn out during every publishing season. Let us imagine (if we can imagine such persons agreeing to that extent) the fatuity of an encyclical letter produced by the joint efforts of Mr. H. G. Wells, Mr. Bernard Shaw and Mr. Russell; or Professors Whitehead, Eddington and Jeans; or Dr. Freud, Dr. Jung and Dr. Adler; or Mr. Murry, Mr. Fausset, the Huxley Brothers and the Reverend Dr. Potter of America.9 With this comparison in mind, it is, I think, profitable to dispose first of those sections of the Report which are most insipid, and of that which has received most popular notice. I regret that what seem to me some of the best parts of the Report, such as the section on The Christian Doctrine of God, have been neglected in favour of those sections about which readers of the penny press are most ready to excite themselves.10 But if one is writing about the Report, one must be willing to offer one’s own comment on these already over-commented sections. The report on “Youth and its Vocation” suggests that the bishops had been listening to...


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