We lost at Versailles our greatest opportunity for that divine justification. We showed no fervour for peace. There was no passion in us; nothing but scepticism, incredulity, and the base appetite for revenge. We might have led the world into a new epoch if at that moment we had laid down our sword, taken up our cross, and followed the Prince of Peace. But we were cold, cold. We had no idealism. We were poor sceptics trusting to economics—the economics of a base materialism.
But though he broods over the sorrows and sufferings of mankind, and views with an unutterable grief the dismemberment of Christendom, he refuses to style himself a pessimist. There is much good in the world; he is continually being astonished by the goodness of individuals; he cannot bring himself to despair of mankind. Ah, if he had only kept himself in that atmosphere! But “it is very hard to be a good Christian.”
As for theology, as for modernism, people are not bothered, he says, by a supposed conflict between Religion and Science. What they want is a message. The Catholic Church must formulate a policy, must become intelligent, coherent.
He has small faith in meetings, pronouncing the word with an amused disdain, nor does he attach great importance to preaching, convinced that no Englishman can preach: “Even Roman Catholics can’t preach in England.” As for those chapels to which people go to hear a popular preacher, he calls them “preaching shops,” and speaks with pity of those who occupy their pulpits: “That must be a dreadful life—dreadful, oh, quite dreadful!” Yet he has a lasting admiration for the sermons of Charles Spurgeon. As to Jeremy Taylor, “I confess that all that turgid rhetoric wearies me.”
He does not think the Oxford Movement has spent itself. On the contrary, the majority of the young men who present themselves for ordination are very largely inspired by the spirit of that Movement. All the same, he perceives a danger in formalism, a resting in symbolism for its own sake. In its genesis, the Oxford Movement threw up great men, very great men, men of considerable intellectual power and a most profound spirituality; it is not to be expected, perhaps, that such giants should appear again, and in their absence lesser men may possibly mistake the symbol for the thing symbolised, and so fall into the error of formalism. That is a danger to be watched and guarded against. But the Movement will continue, and it will not reach its fulfilment until under its pressure the Church has arrived at unity and formulated a policy intelligent and coherent.
So this great spirit, who might have given to mankind a book worthy to stand beside the Imitation, and given to England a new enthusiasm for the moral principles of Christianity, nurses a mechanistic dream and cherishes the hope that his Party is the Aaron’s rod of all the Churches. Many would have followed him if he had been content to say only, “Do as I do,” but he descended into the dust of controversy, and bade us think as he thinks. Nevertheless, in spite of this fatal mistake he remains the greatest spiritual force among the Churches of England, and his books of devotion will be read long after his works of controversy have fallen into that coldest of all oblivions, the oblivion of inadequate theologies.