3 JUNE 1972, Page 11

Nigio n

, nterbury's pilgrims


Nv-,,Who argue that the clergy should tkr:„thernselves with politics usually ktje, 'at they should embrace reform thz. it is a long time since anyone itv'o'sted that priests in England might ktielet e Part of the machinery of political tizeoY, like the great prince-bishops and ilvocipal administrators of the past. The ,kiteRa,c,Y of reform issues, of course, Illiti-ta`lue Clergy inevitably on one side of ' controversy: they are to become 'sans The ' 14Q:inte5t of political reform is defined Oes itr1:8 expectations. If society encourtInternbers to expect to inherit the 0e/it': en they will, indeed, expect to Asei't. Children brought up to suppose ktlikeibves loaded with injustices are Ofttiarl to disclose much patience with ")re ele ents they may have been taught gam as the authors of their condition.

s error of the contemporary fad 0%cate.if-eXpression and child-centred, Oildr'Icittal theory is that it offers our en a pr klfi vvi,38. Morals, they are taught, ar 8"e e to h Prospect of apparently unlimited , ti IC" the great issues which disturb rihribtiti -with race, pollution, the atti"°n of wealth, and so forth. That th t. -utle to these matters is determined selve„s°11 of people that we are in tr,' ---in the moral definition we !4litte'd °lir personal desires — is usually L4Dell„fro01 the calculation. In this new 't4ilai1,p'qtion, hatred of opponents is about sll'f1.4(Inlixed with altruistic feeling for d' ering of humanity. To contempo ce A St ex ,rnrnent, those 'moral ' issues are Ishiheitiog which have the advantage of 1,g evildoers: the present obses.race would not be so prevalent f inqa c'fas ric supposition that a universal ea' white racists was seeking to run iltitiorth to its own satisfaction; the ea it; question invites an attack upon 11 Pitalistic enterprises who are the It;1,11blicised despoilers of the environNt".stles like housing readily take their „ t,In'a from anti-landlord polemicism. -04luters, and bad landlords exist, Wo 1 't d be agreeable if they did not, 5set clergy wish to involve 51. in these matters they must first ;t eki; 1-11e sheep from the goats among .,1,atiloc,ri,ents of reform. It is an old trick iscles to dress up the most trivial 144 cletuands in the compelling moral ph ge tiqtliritizilitch never fails to catch the ."`'. They have a large bag of ki!jriQe t the present time. ljn 1e seek to change the world t° a scale unconsciously dictated exPectations, and since their teN1 b,;`)tis are contrived and manipu ;44' Iiiteit.11°se often anxious to disguise br\i:°r motivation, the espousal of N'pettivi"ti.cs is hazardous. In the longest i h It s plausible that men always killing off their political 's if they get the chance —


usuplly for reasons which, by the time the deeds are committed, have become soaked in what is regarded as intellectual integrity. The perpetual heightening of human expectation increases the occasions for the exercise of coercive moral sanction: people are today even prepared to shed blood for such indifferent political devices as one man one vote.' Men are stuffed with their grievances; they are told "there's always somebody better off than yourself." The planet, in consequence, is given over to permanent strife. It is, in fact, just as Christ said it would be: full of tumult and tribulation. It would be unfortunate, to say the least, if the Church did anything which encouraged its ministers to support those who educate society into a sense of grievance; "for the wrath of man," as St James remarked, " worketh not the righteousness of God." It is certainly the duty of the Church to relate the condition of society to the divine order, but no one ought to underestimate the difficulties involved. The simple values declared by Christ were derived from his divinity; the values which move contemporary reform politics are in large measure inspired by a polemical humanism. How are the clergy, faced with a real political problem, able to distinguish the salutary elements in the motives of those who agitate it? It requires a careful balance of priorities and a degree of spiritual judgement which are likely to be elicited only from priests of extremely rare quality. The number of men seeking ordination in England continues to decline. Is there also a decline in quality? It is a distasteful question, but the answer — as far as it is possible to give one — is not altogether gloomy. The present generation of clergy are certainly less learned than their predecessors, and the qualities they offer in the service of religion are different ones from those previously commonplace. But those who meet ordinands are impressed by their pastoral gifts and their sense of service. It is less clear that their abilities are the sort liable to issue in wise assessment of current political cdntroversy. In their training, alas, they are often taught the virtues of 'prophecy' — or political involvement, to state it plainly. What hope, then, for the young men dispatched to the parishes, where they fall upon the tangy allurements of social protest? In his new book, The Christian Priest Today* — a collection of addresses to ordination candidates — the Archbishop of Canterbury reveals an impressive sensitivity to the difficulties. The book deserves to become a spiritual classic. It is concerned with the whole life of a Christian minister; with the ordering of personal discipline, with pastoral care, and with involvement in the world's affairs. Only the last matter is pertinent here, but the addresses are to be recommended as a whole. The chapter on 'The Priest in Politics' is not to be taken in isolation from the other advice, given, for it is in the balanced relationship between the life of the spirit and its compulsive effects upon our conduct on this earth that the Archbishop gives most timely counsel. The clergy are not to be isolated from the needs of the world, preaching an austere piety laid up in heaven alone; but nor is the time of the priest to be "spent in the organising of protests and campaigns." Sensitivity to the conditions of men is related to their eternal expectations. "When causes and opinions are substituted for God, prayer, and repentance" the Archbishop writes, "the outcome can be bitterness and shallowness."

But are the present generation of clergy liable to maintain the balance? To teach the virtues of divine order separately from commitment to specific political programmes — which is the course advised by the Archbishop, following the example of William Temple — is only possible for men whose priorities are definitely unworldly. Temple did not himself always adhere to his own canon. Dr Ramsey's description of the operation is also a little removed from the facts of modern political behaviour. "It may often be for you as priests to rouse the laity to think responsibly about these questions," he writes of politics; "but when they are aroused you will find that they have knowledge which you have not and you will be learning from them in a partnership of Christian concern. That is how the mind of the Church is to be formed." But in reality it is the 'laity ' who define political issues, and the clergy who adopt them right down to the finest measure of selectivity. Committed political groups, usually under the specious claims of objectivity and moral concern, generate enthusiasm for some issue: once the debate has caught on with liberal opinion (and the BBC has slanted its news coverage to incorporate it among the issues of moment) the clergy join in. It was always so. The Church which today proclaims the morality of democratic institutions and human equality is also the Church which once defined the morality of the feudal order. Fortunately, as the Archbishop notices (in the context of Church unity) "the truth of God is greater than our efforts to conserve it."

By adopting the moral posturings of each generation little harm is done in the end, because enough of eternity survives the clerical carpet-bagging. But it can be a dispiriting spectacle to observe. The characteristics of sanctity are well defined in the Archbishop's addresses. If they are truly lived there would surely follow — as follows from all authentic (descriptions of Christian life — a view of the temporal order established not upoti the ephemeral culture of grievance, /and upon the punishment of the iniquities of others, but upon a sustained endeavour to lift the remnants of humanity into heaven. And if all else fails a nuclear catastrophe will lift them there anyway.