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[ 367 The Church as Action [III] To the Editor of The New English Weekly The New English Weekly, 9 (23 Apr 1936) 38 Sir, – Mr. Desmond Hawkins’s admirable letter in your issue of April 9th leaves me in some doubt as to what the subject of controversy is.1 I had assumed (though this was not the point on which my contribution turned) that Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Barlow, like some other critics, complained of the lack of interest of churchmen in social affairs. But I am wholly in agreement with Mr. Hawkins in his objection to “those who frankly use their ordainment as an instrument solely for social welfare and humanistic activities” [523]. That the clergy, both high and low, should take an active interest in social reforms (and I include reforms more drastic than such as slum-clearance) is most desirable; but they should bring to this activity the results of specifically theological study and reflection. A man can be, I admit, a useful parish priest without either the greatest theological capacity or the highest theological attainments; but for such people there ought to be a recognized body of scholars to provide his doctrines for him. In one way we have not enough theology, and in another we have too much. The present state of the Church, in these matters, is indicated by the publishers’ advertisement of a book of some merit by a clergyman advertized as “left-wing Modernist.” (This advertisement is not on the jacket, but opposite the title page in the book.) The publishers say that their author, owing to fortunate financial circumstances for which he can claim no personal credit, is exceptionally indifferent to ecclesiastical opinion, so that the reader may feel entire confidence that, in the chapters which follow, he is being treated with complete candour.2 What an admission! and how significant, whether justified or not! That publishers can recommend a book by a priest on the ground that the author is independent – and for financial reasons! – of ecclesiastical discipline, indicates that the conception of the nature of the Church has almost disappeared . And indeed, what we are apt to feel when one or another eminent ecclesiastic speaks his mind on some matter of the day, is that we are being Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1936 368 ] given, not the view of the Church, but that of an individual whose public position is such that he is able to command half a column in The Times. From our Judicial System we expect more than that. It is possible that if the Church had been represented continuously by men who both understood and fearlessly maintained the right view of the function of the Church, Mr. Hawkins might have been continuously a Christian in a Christian ambience. I do not think, however, that that exonerates him from making up his own mind and assuming the full responsibility for it. T. S. Eliot Notes 1. Desmond Hawkins’s letter is the first of three printed under the heading “The Church as Action” in the NEW, 8 (9 Apr 1936), 522-23. 2. J. C. Hardwick, What to Believe (London: Simpkin Marshall, 1935), [2]. TSE has added “financial” to the publishers’ advertisement. He had discussed Hardwick’s essay “The Intellectuals in Retreat” in his Criterion “Commentary” for Oct 1935 (5.275-76). ...


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