There’s been a lot here recently about worship and ecclesiology and Anglicanism, as well as, yesterday, a protest about faith illiteracy in the public square; it seems time to draw some of these threads together – here goes.
In Christ’s time … there were some who were so earnest about the washing of the chalice and the paten and the tithing of mint and anise and cummin that they neglected justice and mercy and faith.
We argue over liturgy, doctrine, ecclesiology, and we wonder why governments feel free to ignore us or treat us as marginal to society? The wonder is that we wonder? Have we not taken ourselves there?
That should not be taken to mean I do not think these things are not important – they are, but it does mean that we need to focus on the things Jesus said a lot about – and there’s not a lot (in my ‘red letter’ Bible) about liturgical practice. There is a lot about justice and mercy and helping what Jesus called the ‘poor’ and we would call the ‘marginalised’. It’s one reason I am quite keen on a church leader others here are very much not keen on – that’s the Pope.
Pope Francis seems to me to be trying to right the balance. The last Pope was very good on theology, liturgy and the like, his precedcessor was a great man in all sorts of ways, a real leader, but the balance seemed, when Francis became Pope, to be on matters which were of great concern to people in the Church, but of marginal concern to others. Pope Francis saw the need to re-emphasise Catholic social teaching and the many ways in which it impacts on the wider world – that is what Fratelli Tutti pulls together.
In some quarters, by which I mean parts of the American Church and the more conservative parts of Christianity, it has been taken as almost socialist. I wonder how many of the critics have bothered to inform themselves about Catholic Social Teaching? This, from Cardinal Nichols, stresses the need to put our faith ‘into action.’ The areas covered by this are listed here, and are: Human Dignity; Community and Participation; Care for Creation; Dignity in Work; Peace and Reconciliation and Solidarity. This is not an ideology or a third way between Marxism and Capitalism, it is, rather, a Christian way of viewing the world, informed by the values Christ and the Church teach us.
Pope Francis is building on work which began in modern times, with Rerum Novarum where Pope Leo XIII sought to bring a Catholic lens to analyse the various social ills of the age. There were twelve other encyclicals dealing with areas covered by Catholic Social Teaching before Pope Francis’ pontificate, so anyone supposing him to be some kind of Peronist really needs to be explaining how what he writes is out of line with the work of his predecessors.
Catholic social teaching, whilst best set out by the Roman Catholic Church (which as anyone would, I hope admit does this work of setting things out systematically best) is not unique to it. There has always been a radical social element to parts of Protestantism, and Anglo-Catholicism flourished in the slum parishes of industrial England with priests committed to living out their faith by ministering among the poor and the dispossessed, some of whom found in the beauty of their churches an antidote to the grim realities of life in industrial slums.
In the Church of England the best-known exponent of Catholic social teaching was William Temple, who was Archbishop of Canterbury for a tragically short time (1942-44). He was deeply committed to extending educational opportunity across society and to trying to reform the structures of society to ensure a fairer deal for those left behind in the race for prosperity.
Temple began from the place all Catholic Social Teaching has to begin, that it its origins. It originates not is some Marxist view of the world but, to quote Temple (The Faith and Modern Thought, 1910, p. 148 – thank you C451!!) in the belief that if Christ is the Incarnation of the Divine Word, that is ‘the principle by which God rules the whole of existence and thorugh which he made the world’ then we, as Christians, can never ‘be outside’ it.
What did that mean for Temple, and what might it mean to us? Religion, politics, art, science, education, commerce, finance and industry are all connected by being ‘agents of a single purpose’. (The Church Looks Forward, 1944, preface). That purpose is neither the end that the State may decree, nor the end that the individual might desire, it is neither social engineering, nor consumerism, it is ‘the divine purpose’ or, as Temple put it: ‘the coming down out of heaven of the holy city, the New Jerusalem.’
I owe this little-know fact to C451 – the first person to use the phrase ‘the Welfare State’ in modern British politics was William Temple. By that he meant a State which, in contrast to what he called the ‘power State’, in which the State coerced its citizens for ends it thought good, focussed on serving the needs of all its citizens, including those at the margins – especially those at the margins, as they were dear to Our Lord’s concerns.
Temple was a major contributor to the Beveridge Report which founded the Welfare State. He held, passionately, that out of the horrors of the Second World War had to come not the ‘home for heroes’ promised by Lloyd George, which turned into homes you needed to be a hero to inhabit (thank you for that one too, C451, I do listen!) , but a society where equality of opportunity should be offered. Temple did not believe you could ever get equality of outcome, he believed in original sin, but he did hold that if Christian teaching permeated society, it would be for the best – both for the Church and the State.
Somewhere along the line, we lost sight of that, and that’s one of the many reasons the State finds it so easy to ignore the Church. Pope Francis is simply the most prominent of those reminding us of the truth that if this is God’s world, then God’s Church needs to be active in it, and not just in church.