"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wm. Temple: "There is the Church"

This past Tuesday was not only Election Day, but also the feast day of William Temple in many Anglican Church calendars.  This is a happy coincidence, given Temple's advocacy for a truly Christian social vision (there is an excellent post over at the blog Catholicity and Covenant that contrasts the broadness of his vision with the poverty of our current political discourse).

William Temple was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942 until his death in 1944.  A gifted teacher with an infectious laugh and an encyclopedic knowledge, he seemed to be a respected authority in nearly everything.  He was also one of the principal leaders of the early ecumenical movement, a fact for which I find him  particularly interesting.  This is because I claim the title of ecumenist as integral to my identity.  I think the same may be said of Temple. Here he is from a sermon given at the opening of the ecumenical Edinburgh Conference of 1937 on Faith and Order (which he chaired):
"But I know that our division at this point is the greatest of all scandals in the face of the world; I know that we can only consent to it or maintain it without the guilt of unfaithfulness to the unity of the Gospel and of God himself, if it is a source to us of spiritual pain, and if we are striving to the utmost to remove the occasions which now bind us, as we think, to that perpetuation of disunion."
That disunion was obviously a source of "spiritual pain" to Temple, laboring as he did to bring about greater understanding and genuine union among the various scattered branches of the Church.  In typically Anglican fashion, he viewed his own tradition as having a special vocation to this ecumenical calling.  The Anglican church has long sought to provide a via media, a middle way of being the Church which claims the best of both Protestant and Catholic tradition in a comprehensive vision.  This is difficult (as the present troubles of the global Anglican Communion readily testify), and often the Anglican way devolves into mere compromise for the sake of peace, rather than comprehensiveness for the sake of truth in all its richness.  Even in such a state, however, Temple responded to critics thus: "We have learnt from a full experience that nearly always peace is the best way to truth."  And given the vision before us (i.e. humanity in all its diversity made one in Christ's holy, catholic Church), should we not expect this way to be difficult?

I find my own ecumenism well summarized below.  In one of his essays on the subject, Temple wrote:
"The unity of the Church of God is a perpetual fact; our task is not to create it but to exhibit it.  Where Christ is in men's hearts, there is the Church; where his spirit is active, there is His Body.    The Church is not an association of men, each of whom has chosen Christ as his Lord; it is a fellowship of men, each of whom Christ has united with Himself. ... We could not seek union if we did not already possess unity.  Those who have nothing in common do not deplore their estrangement.  It is because we are one in allegiance to one Lord that we seek and hope for the way of manifesting that unity in our witness to Him before the world. ... It is not by contrivance and adjustment that we can unite the Church of God.  It is only by coming close to Him that we can come nearer to one another."
Here is wisdom.  Ours is to exhibit the unity which already exists but is hidden beneath the internal and secondary disputes which we so love to magnify.  Temple certainly did not seek to whitewash or brush aside the significant differences in practice and theology held by the various churches; his was not a "lowest common denominator" vision of the Church.  But even those differences pale in significance with the real unity we possess in Christ.  It is there; we must find ways to embrace it, for ourselves and the world.


(Incidentally, I've so far mostly read about William Temple.  I'd like to read the man himself, but I'm not sure where to start.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.)  


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