What Will Jones Swallow?
By HENRY FAIRLIE
WHENEvER Ronald Knox was faced by the attempts of some churchmen to reform, or dilute, the dogma or worship of their Church, their arguments, he said, could always be re- duced to one simple attitude : 'What will Jones swallow?' The Modern Churchmen's Union, during their conference at Oxford last week, seem to have asked themselves no other question. What will Jones swallow?—and, however unlike the faith or worship of a Christian it may be, feed it to him as Christianity.
There seems little point in being civil about this. At its best, the Christianity of the Modern Churchmen would be a hoax; at its worst, a cheat. It was no wonder that The Times on Saturday questioned how some of them could decently—honestly—get up in church and recite the Nicene Creed, and then excuse themselves by saying that it did not mean what it said.
What will Jones swallow? Very little—if we are to believe the Modern Churchmen—which is part of Christian faith, worship or life. He will not swallow, according to the Reverend Alan Dunstan, the chairman of the conference, 'the rites of 1662—or some more medieval versions of them,' as he chose to describe the forms of worship of the Church of England; nor, according to the same authority, the traditions which the Church of England is 'hanging on to'; nor, said Canon I. T. Ramsey, the Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion in Oxford University, either Biblical metaphors or the symbols of theological language; nor yet, according to the Reverend Eric James, the liturgy of the Church, until this has been re- vised after intimate sociological and psycho- logical inquiries into the needs and desires of different groups of people.
All of this was a fair emptying of the bath water in one week's discussion. In fact, of course, it does not so much threaten to throw the baby out with the bath water as make it clear that (as far as the Modern Churchmen are con- cerned) the Child has been thrown out already, and therefore there is no need for bath—or, presumably, baptismal—water at all.
The most astonishing assumption made by the Modern Churchmen was that their methods would fill the churches. After a number of generations in which they have progressively had their way, there is no evidence that this is so : indeed, such evidence as there is contra- dicts them. The only Western Church which has, in the past hundred years, not only retained its authority, but begun to restore the universalitY of its appeal inside Christendom, is not a Church which has indifferently diluted its theology and liturgy.
Indeed, while the Modern Churchmen's con- ference was filling precious half-columns of The Times last week, the two letters which appeared in the same newspaper from Mr. Edward Hutton and Mr. Evelyn Waugh about the proposed adoption of English as the language of the Mass conveyed to an outsider a far keener impression of a Church which is alive—which believes, and cares about bow others believe and may be brought to believe. In contrast to their concern for the worship and witness of their Church in all their aspects, the Modern Church- men—like the modern churchmen who appear on television—seemed anxious only to identify their faith with what The Times properly called a vague 'pantheistic hutnanism,' and with an equally vague `do-goodery.'
Search as I have, I can find no sign that people can be soft-Sopered in this way into faith. Faith, I take it, is a gift, and a gift which is likely to be received only by someone who has taken the trouble to put himself into a state in which he is able and fit to receive it. The Modern Churchmen, as far as they made their own views clear at Oxford, appear themselves to believe so little that they are hardly in a position to hell) others into a state of which they showed only the dimmest apprehension.
They offer,. instead, an economy-pack religion and seem to have no inkling of how ordinary people despise their efforts—not least the young whom they spend so much time trying to attradt. Mr. Allan Wicks, the organist and master of choristers at Canterbury Cathedral, came near to telling them as much when he tried to explain why young people resented 'pop' music in church, and Mr. John Heath-Stubbs, warning thenn against trying' to be 'with it,' made the quiet point that since we use different languages every day for different purposes, it might therefore be conceivable that a special language is suitable for worship.
To what avail? Canon Ramsey, with the authority of his chair, announced that he had found 'unexpected significance in the girl who screamed at the Beatles because, she said, they seemed so much bigger than herself, and for whom, quite consistently, Liverpool was heaven. Here,' and one trembles to repeat his idolatrous words, 'was a cosmic disclosure.' Girls enough, it is true, have claimed throughout the ages to hear voices, and believed in the truth of their 'cosmic disclosures.' But the Church has normallY tested them; and, whatever questions remain after reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, no one has yet seriously suggested thar, she was transported by a sixteenth-century `noP group in Avila. It is to this kind of vulgarity that religion and Christianity and Christ were reduced at In week's conference. If I find it difficult to be civil, it is precisely because I am not a Roman Catholic. The most powerful pull that anY Christian (or non-Christian) feels towards the Roman Catholic Church is the awareness it gives of the Church's divine authority. The claims of the Church of England subside into insignifi; cance if it cannot offer a similar awareness, anat if the assumption of its divine authority is rib
supported by its teaching, worship and witness. e Both the assumption and the support wer
absent in the addresses given at Oxford. Fait1.11, had expired. As for Jones, there was nothing lel' for him to swallow.