False Mercy-Mongers Put Down by Anglican Bishop
One wet autumn afternoon in the mid 1950s, just before the end of the long summer holidays, I was bored out of my tree but too lazy to catch up on school work. I looked listlessly through my father’s bookshelves, eventually pulling down Bishop Charles Gore’s Roman Catholic Claims. It was the first Anglican book I had ever perused, and I began reading the first chapter with increasing fascination. I had never really appreciated why some Anglicans regarded themselves as Catholics in the same sense as we did, only without acknowledging the role of the papacy. Moreover, that they defended their position by quoting some of the Fathers of the Church—selectively, if you like, but very cogently.
I could have ended up thoroughly confused if I hadn’t noticed that next to Gore’s hardback volume was a tattered paperback entitled Bishop Gore and the Catholic Claims, by Dom John Chapman OSB. No longer bored, thanks to Bishop Gore, I decided I would read each book, chapter by chapter, and see which of these two learned clerics, in my very limited opinion, had the better of it.
As the Anglican prelate developed his case, although I considered Gore was prejudiced and quite anti-Catholic, I wondered at times how Abbot Chapman could possibly counter some of his arguments. In the end I concluded that Chapman had by far the better of the exchange insofar as the papacy was concerned, but I was a little less certain about the question of Anglican orders. Later I accepted that as Roma locuta est, in the form of Leo XIII’s Apostolicae Curae, that causa must be finita for a faithful Catholic.
I suppose that from that day onwards I had hardly given Bishop Gore a second’s thought. But it recently came to my attention that he issued a strong protest against the decision by the Lambeth conference of 1930 to support the use of contraceptives, praising Rome for the consistency of its teaching on sexual morality. He even described ‘the Roman Church’ as ‘a strong fortress against the advancing tide of sensualism’ in Europe and America. Gore points out that the ‘movement for Birth Prevention’, as he quite rightly calls it, is ‘quite frankly hostile to the whole Christian tradition of sexual morality’. He is well acquainted with the works of Margaret Sanger, whose Planned Parenthood movement is still thriving today—more powerful than ever throughout the world. He concludes that the function of the Church in such matters is ‘to maintain the healthy conscience which condemns artificial prevention as unnatural and wrong in itself.’ In a prophetic passage, he notes that at ‘the Conference of Modern Churchmen’ (which closely resembled our own present-day ‘spirit of Vatican II’ faction) the forward-thinking Dean William Ralph Inge of St Pauls was suggesting that the Church of England should reconsider its condemnation of suicide in extreme cases. Gore wonders what, if the pro-suicide movement were to become popular and urgent, a future Lambeth conference might have to say about it.
Today, Gore’s words stand as a powerful reproach to the likes of Cardinal Walter Kasper and every other false mercy-monger seeking to accommodate the Church to the ways of the world. See what you think of this passage:
Again and again in Christian history we find the Church practically accepting and acting upon the idea of the double standard—one for the perfect, which is probably identified with the monastic or ‘religious’ life, and the other, the lower standard, for the men and women who live in the world. This latter class must avoid specified sins and attend to specified religious duties, but no great sacrifice such as the ‘religious’ life involves is required of them. But surely nothing can be more contrary to the teaching of Christ or of the New Testament than this doctrine of the two standards—the one admirable, the other tolerable. Our Lord calls all men who would be His disciples to a life of unlimited liability. It may be martyrdom that will be required of them, it may be submission to loss or outrage, it may be the stern mortification which our Lord describes under the figure of plucking out the eye or cutting off the hand or foot. We can indeed discern in our Lord’s teaching the recognition of different states of life. The future evangelists of His kingdom have prescribed for them a state of absolute detachment from worldly ties: others are to live the old life at home in their old occupations but in a new spirit. But all equally who would be in either sense His disciples must enter the path by the strait gate and tread the narrow way. In S. Paul again we trace the same recognition of different states but not of different moral standards. All alike must die to live: before all alike lies an unlimited liability—to suffering loss, to the effort of extreme mortification, even to death itself ‘for the Name’. We are not called to seek suffering, but we are, all of us, called to be ready for even the extreme of endurance—as much those who are living the normal life of the home as those who make the venture of the celibate life. If the Church has ever sanctioned the idea of the ‘second best life’, which does not involve the same unlimited liability, we must…recognize that it has deserted its Lord.
To-day we are living in a world which has widely revolted from the obedience of Christ. Our literature is saturated with this spirit. He Himself bade us be prepared for such an experience, even in its extremest form. ‘When the Son of man cometh,’ He asked, ‘shall He find the faith on the earth?’ Our business, then, is to uphold the full standard of the good life, through evil report and good report. The worldly world must go its own way and may seem to prevail. We must not attempt to pronounce any final judgement on individuals. We can ‘judge nothing before the time.’ If the Church has been slack in the past, it must expect God’s sharp judgements on itself; but it is still its business to open the eyes of all its members to the true implications, social and individual, of the ‘life which is life indeed,’ and under persecution or unpopularity to consolidate the faithful remnant, who are to nourish their souls in the readiness to suffer with Christ and in the secret security of final victory in Him. We have no right to sanction the ‘second best.’
This is from a man whom we would regard as a schismatic, and very possibly a heretic. But his words are as true now in 2015 as they were in 1930 when they were penned.