The editors of the Catholic Herald, in the lead editorial in the issue of 16 January 1942, have been discussing the challenges of Christian unity, which the war had heightened. Now, they say, others have shifted their attention from dogma to “the outward effects of differing Christian standpoints.” They then write:
Whether this weakening of interest in theology is altogether a good thing may be disputed. But at any rate it offers to Catholics a very precious chance of giving definite and concrete help towards the restoration of the unity of Christendom.
For if men are for the moment more concerned with the outward effects of Christianity and more ready to judge of the worth of Christian dogmatic claims by the behaviour of Christians, then Catholics are being offered a challenge which it is fully within their power to accept.
Certainly no dogmatic difficulty can possibly stand in the way of a Christian life so full, so uncompromising, so essentially free, because spontaneous, so intimately concerned with the immediate troubles and perplexities of the world that others will be forced to exclaim: “There indeed must be the truth!”
And in a world so filled with strange and extraordinary things, in a world whose own dogmas have been blown sky-high in a night, in a world hopelessly puzzled about what will be taken for granted tomorrow, there can be no Christian dogma or “mystery” that can be held to pass the bounds of the intelligent man’s belief.
The Christian Performance
It seems, then, that in two main respects we Catholics arc being given a remarkable opportunity of bringing about Christian unity through our positive actions, as well as through our prayers.
In the first place, we can make a very strong appeal to separated Christians, who today are far closer to us in matters of dogma and morals than they were even a few years ago. Instead of despairing about the essentially grave, but often accidentally-motivated, differences that still divide us, we can aim at proving by our behaviour the compelling necessity of the adoption of the fullness of Christianity.
Too often we have been content to reiterate the superiority of our claims, while acquiescing in a performance that is not so noticeably superior. Today we are clearly being given the chance to tackle the problem the other way round. Let us prove the superiority of our claims by the strongest of arguments enshrined in the homely maxim: the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
And, secondly, we shall not limit such practical apostolic activity to separated Christians, There are millions in the world who have lost all faith, and not faith in God and God’s Church alone. Painful as their position is, it remains one of hope, for man, of his nature. is not content until he finds, or thinks he finds, God. And it is those who feel themselves to have lost all who are quickest moved by a new hope, whether it be political or social or, maybe, religious.
Looking For Effects
But these are eminently looking for effects, for evidence. We may say that they are almost ready to swallow anything, if only it proves itself in its effects on men’s lives to be a genuine cause.
If they do not turn to Christianity again we may be sure it is not because of the difficulties of Christian teaching. but because they are not inspired by Christian performance.
This is the third of a series of lessons taken from the Catholic Herald’s archives, mostly but not entirely on the state and the future of the Catholic Church. The whole series can be found here.