2 OCTOBER 1942, Page 12



Stn,—It may seem belated to write at this moment about a book of 1939, however remarkable ; yet in many ways Mgr. R. A. Knox's spiritual drama is even more topical now than when it came from the press. For it repeatedly raises a question which, though obscured for the moment by more pressing events, must emerge directly or indirectly as soon as Reconstruction begins. What is the social value of Religious Unity, and what is the price which Nature always exacts for it?

With remarkable dramatic power Mgr. Knox shows us 35o years of table-talk in one and the same Oxford Common-Room. Seven scenes, at intervals of 5o years, carry us from 1588 to 5938. The moral of it all (he tells us himself) is, plus c'est la mime chose, plus fa change. The picture is one of widespread spiritual defeatism, relieved by one sympathetic type of Fellow whose conscience drives him away from the fleshpots of Egypt in search of a Guide whom he may follow with certainty, at whatever personal cost.

This yearning has often been felt by the most generous spirits ; but let us try to see it in true historical perspective, at this time when, more certainly than usual, ignorance will be punisied as inevitably as sin. Or, let us say, when ignorance often -is sin disguised as simplicity. The implication of Mgr. Knox's work is that, since the Renaissance and Reformation, European thought has moved like a squirrel in a cage, all for lack of a Universal Guide. This conviction, right or wrong, must obviously colour deeply all our efforts for Reconstruction. Let us there- fore test it by his own method, leaping from fifty to fifty years, and comparing this Europe of ours, wilfully set upon finding its own way for four centuries past, with the Europe of "Lead Thou Me On " in the train of one single Guide to the haven of Unity and Peace.

The date of 1238 is eminently favourable. Rome is then as near to Universal Guidance as anything we are likely to get on this imperfect planet. Between St.' Bernard's pupil Eugenius III and Innocent IV there has been a succession of Popes which it would be difficult to outmatch within any other period of too years. The Friars are still young and fresh ; the Universities are in their early fervour of enthusiasm. Oxford has the guidance and favour of Grosseteste, unsurpassed among English Bishops for piety, intellect, and courage. Its " colleges "—the Franciscan and Dominican Friaries—are at their zenith. Religious revolt in the richest and busiest parts of Europe—Languedoc, Rhineland, North Italy—has been quenched in blood ; and the Inquisition has just been founded to stereotype all this compulsory conformity. The table-talk of Oxford teachers ought now to be at its brightest and happiest.

Yet this academic ebullience of philosophy and theology rests greatly upon assumptions not only unverified, but protected against thorough examination by the dungeon and the stake. The parish clergy are often too ignorant to construe even the Latin of. their own Mass-book. Grosseteste will cry aloud in 1245, at the Ecumenical Council of Lyon, that whereas Catholicism is only a " remnant " in the world, as against pagans and schismatic Greeks, even of this remnant " almost the whole bath been incorporated with the Devil and separated from Christ by the seven mortal sins." Meanwhile, the struggles between Papacy and Empire are devastating Italy and Germany with miserable civil wars. Innocent IV seeks fefuge in France, but St. Louis refuses him ; so also does the orthodox King of Aragon. Our Henry III, though the sugges- tion of a papal visit appeals both to his piety and to his vanity, is emphatically dissuaded by his counsellors, who fear the usuries, simonies, and greed of the Papal Court. A few months later, the Pope's tax- collector finds that his life is not safe in an England exasperated by his rapacity. Even the King's piety and courtesy break down here, and he sends the Nuncio briefly to hell: Diabolus to ad inferos inducat a perducat.

Pass on to 1288. Fourteen years ago, Gregory X presided at the Second Ecumenical Council of Lyon. He there drew a most despairing picture of Western Christendom, and laid this ruin at the door of his own hierarchy—quod Praelati facerent ruere totum mundum.$111 that same year died St. Bonaventura, bowed down with grief for the rapid decay of his own Franciscan Order. His fellow-Franciscan Roger Bacon, imprisoned not for any real heresy but for having outstripped the contemporary Oxford standard of thought, had appealed to Clement IV. He pleaded that the much-admired philosophy of his time reposed upon a Bible misunderstood and an Aristotle misunderstood, with a lamentable ignorance of Greek and a total neglect of the_ mathematical and physical sciences. He accounted for this inferiority of University thought, in comparison with ancient Greece and Rome, by the flagrant immoralities Of teachers and students in his own day. It does not appear that the Universal Guide paid any attention to these criticisms, either on the intellectual or on the moral side. The Pope-Emperor struggle still ravaged Europe with civil wars.

Space fails me to render the next 15o years in the same detail. But let us pass on to 1488. In that year Henry VII appealed to Rome for help against widespread monastic decay in England. A little earlier, in his first Parliament, he had been compelled to legislate against the scandal of priestly and monastic impunity for sin. St. John Fisher, preaching before him at Cambridge, had spoken despairingly of Univer- sity health and studies, and still worse of Christendom in general: " And we take heed to call to mind how many vices reign nowadays in Christ's Church, as well in the clergy as in the common people, .

perchance we shall think that Almighty God slumbereth not only, but also that He hath slept soundly a great season." The Pope's bull to Henry contained a significant clause which was now becoming " common form ": the Secular Arm is to be employed against ecclesiastical recalcitrants. France and Germany are finding similar State intervention more and more necessary. In Spain Cardinal Ximenes, by frank use of royal force, is more successful for clerical reform than any Pope has been. Bishop Fox, who will presently found Corpus Christi College at Oxford, confesses the comparative failure of his long and strenuous efforts to cleanse his two dioceses.

In 1538 the Universal Guide, after many years of intricate political shifts, speaks to England with unmistakable clearness. Paul III declares

war upon Henry VIII, and formally decrees the penalty of slavery against all Englishmen caught fighting for their State. For Henry has learnt the Continental lesson, and applied State force to monasteries as selfishly, though not so cruelly, as Philip IV of France had done long since with the connivance of the Pope. Meanwhile, the flower of Oxford and Cambridge Common-Rooms had .accepted, under protest, the King's ecclesiastical supremacy ; among the 66 who voted it in the Upper House of Convocation, 42 were Abbots or Priors. In this very year 1538, Oxford and Cambridge sent congratulatory letters to the King for freeing England from the " feigned and false religion which had crept in through the impostures of Roman Pontiffs." Among the " clergy and common people " there was as much time-service as Mgr. Knox paints among his post-Reformation Oxford Dons ; and Henry, with comparative ease, substituted the prosaic rule of King and Parliament for the poetic ideal of One Universal Guidance. The German for Guide, it must be remembered is Fahrer, and the Italian is Duce. Nor can we here fall back upon any academic distinction between Religion and Politics. Even if all earlier history had not made it plain enough, the modern Ethiopian business has proved incontestably the mighty force which politicians can find in the application or distortion of religious motives.

As Mgr. Knox implies, the root of division in critical times lies in men's different attitudes towards change. The two opposite views cannot be better expressed than they have been in a memorable discussion between Bossuet, Hammer of Protestantism, and the philosopher- mathematician Leibniz. Bossuet, in his final letter, pleaded " In con- clusion, permit me to beg you once more to consider seriously, before God, whether, under the supposition that the Church can err and change her decrees on matters of faith, you have any adequate means of pre- venting her from becoming eternally variable." Leibniz replied: " We are glad, my Lord Bishop, to belong to this Church that is always moving and eternally variable." Bossuet's nephew, the first editor of this correspondence, suppressed this letter of Leibniz in order to make it appear that the Bishop had had the last word.—Yours, &c.,