“If we are to do any good we must be a closely united body, and must be sharply divided from the laity. Also we must be free from those ties which a wife and children involve. I can hardly express the horror with which I am filled by seeing English priests living in what I can only designate as ‘open matrimony.’ It is deplorable. The priest must be absolutely sexless—if not in practice, yet at any rate in theory, absolutely—and that too, by a theory so universally accepted that none shall venture to dispute it.”
“But,” said Ernest, “has not the Bible already told people what they ought and ought not to do, and is it not enough for us to insist on what can be found here, and let the rest alone?”
“If you begin with the Bible,” was the rejoinder, “you are three parts gone on the road to infidelity, and will go the other part before you know where you are. The Bible is not without its value to us the clergy, but for the laity it is a stumbling-block which cannot be taken out of their way too soon or too completely. Of course, I mean on the supposition that they read it, which, happily, they seldom do. If people read the Bible as the ordinary British churchman or churchwoman reads it, it is harmless enough; but if they read it with any care—which we should assume they will if we give it them at all—it is fatal to them.”
“What do you mean?” said Ernest, more and more astonished, but more and more feeling that he was at least in the hands of a man who had definite ideas.
“Your question shows me that you have never read your Bible. A more unreliable book was never put upon paper. Take my advice and don’t read it, not till you are a few years older, and may do so safely.”
“But surely you believe the Bible when it tells you of such things as that Christ died and rose from the dead? Surely you believe this?” said Ernest, quite prepared to be told that Pryer believed nothing of the kind.
“I do not believe it, I know it.”
“But how—if the testimony of the Bible fails?”
“On that of the living voice of the Church, which I know to be infallible and to be informed of Christ himself.”
The foregoing conversation and others like it made a deep impression upon my hero. If next day he had taken a walk with Mr Hawke, and heard what he had to say on the other side, he would have been just as much struck, and as ready to fling off what Pryer had told him, as he now was to throw aside all he had ever heard from anyone except Pryer; but there was no Mr Hawke at hand, so Pryer had everything his own way.