The Church as Action: Note on a Recent Correspondence
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[ 355 The Church as Action: Note on a Recent Correspondence The New English Weekly, 8 (19 Mar 1936) 451 I should like to rectify a small error, for the existence of which I cannot wholly disclaim responsibility. In a recent letter in your columns, Mr. Desmond Hawkins said: “If, as Mr. T. S. Eliot’s Lambeth essay suggests, the Church has decided to go to earth during a new Dark Age . . .” Mr. Barlow, writing a week later, does not mention my name, but he says, apparently following Mr. Hawkins: “If in fact the Church has gone into hiding against the advent of a new dark age . . .”1 While I was glad to see Mr. Barlow using lower case, instead of Mr. Hawkins’s capitals, I am still apprehensive, because even a trifling or commonplace figure of speech may make mischief. What I wrote, in 1930, is this: The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.2 Obviously, the parallel which the term “dark ages” suggests, fails when it is closely applied. There is not much likeness between the situation of Christianity in Merovingian times, and its situation to-day.3 And within whatever dates we define the “dark ages,” the Church was hardly “in hiding ,” or “gone to earth.” These terms are more aptly applied to the period of the catacombs, to which Mr. Eric Gill, in one of his books, drew a prophetic parallel.4 Mr. Gill’s parallel is much better of the two, if one takes as sombre a view as he does. But I did not say that the Church has gone into hiding, or even that it had “decided” to “go to earth”; I did not even prophesy that it would go into hiding; I did not recommend that it should go into hiding. The Church is less in hiding than it was during most of the eighteenth century; it is less hidden, I believe, to-day than it was in 1910, in which year neither I nor Mr. Hawkins nor Mr. Barlow (had we all arrived at that date at our present state of maturity) would have been likely to be writing letters about Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1936 356 ] it. I think that it is a good sign that much more appears to be expected of the Church to-day than in the past. Mr. Barlow and Mr. Hawkins cannot realize the difference so well as I do; and older men still can realize it more clearly than I. And such animation as is shown in the wrangling about tithes,andamoreinquisitivecuriosityabouttheEcclesiasticalCommission, should give reason for hope rather than for despondency.5 In mentioning tithes, it occurs to me to remark that the exhibition of the Church in the rôle of enemy of the people may as easily serve Fascist ends as Communist. One difference which I think it is worth while to be clear about, and which has not emerged so far from the discussion in these columns, is that this subject, discussed from different points of view, is not quite the same subject. The point of view of a person really “inside” (by which I mean a regular communicant, not merely a person who has been baptized and confirmed ) and that of a person outside must be different. And of those outside there are several kinds: there is the devout non-conformist, there is the person who regards Christianity with mild disapproval as an anachronism, and there is the person who regards it with hostility. And there is another type, which appears to be more recent, and more significant: it is the type of person who is not a churchman, nor even a believer, but who looks sometimes wistfully and sometimes angrily towards the Church, appealing to it to do something. Of such, within narrow limits, is Mr. Pound; and of such, in a wider, more sympathetic and less secular state of mind, are Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Barlow. It makes all the difference, then, whether you regard the Church in the light of its historical vocation, and are concerned primarily with what it is for, or whether you merely take it in its visible form to-day...