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THE CHURCH AND CELIBACY
I WAS in a fashionable church a few Sundays ago, when the preacher made an impassioned appeal for a school for the sons of the English clergy. He nearly broke down as he told the congregation that there were actually clergymen amongst his acquaintance who were thankful to accept parcels of second-hand clothing for the use of their children. Most of the congregation appeared entirely unmoved by this piteous statement. And as I walked home, I wondered why a different standard of morality seemed expected for the laity than for the clergy.
There was a paper in the pew I occupied stating what the various incomes of the clergy are. I saw that 671. a year appeared to be the lowest stipend for a beneficed clergyman, and that there were 4704 whose income is under 155l., and 7000 curates whose incomes do not average 130l. per year.
I think I am correct in stating that a subaltern in a line regiment receives 951. 16s. 3d. yearly. Out of this he is asked to pay a good many subscriptions, and to dress in a way that is not expected of any curate-not to speak of the cost of his uniform. It is almost obligatory for him to go a good deal into society, with all the expense that entails.
Sixty-seven pounds a year is no doubt a very small income. Still, it is a living wage, and it is possible in the country to be fairly comfortable on this sum, given a house and garden rent free. A curé in France is only guaranteed 361. a year and a house.
Ah! but the clergyman would say, 'What about marriage?' That is the crux of the whole matter. The clergy consider that they have a right to marry at the country's expense. They consider, in fact, that a less measure of self-control is expected from them than from the other members of the nation.
What happens if a penniless subaltern in a good regiment marries? He leaves. What happens if a briefless barrister marries? He starves. What happens if clerks, actors, business men, doctors, or men in any other profession marry on an insufficient income? Is there a public appeal to the compassionate for money on their behalf? Do colonels stand up and tell us that they know majors who would be pleased with parcels of second165
hand clothing? We know that they do not. And we know that the good sense and right feeling of the community strongly condemns the man who marries and brings children into the world without being able to provide for their present, and insure their future welfare. In no classes except those of the entirely uneducated, and of the clergy, does reckless improvidence fail to evoke censure from a man's social equals. We all admit how tragic it is that the march of civilisation should prevent early marriages. But so it is, and the conditions that press hard on the clergyman press equally hard on the lawyer, the soldier, the diplomat-and hardest, perhaps, on the country doctor, who most of all these men. needs a home. Only in one profession is there a distinct feeling that others should be responsible for supporting the offspring of a particular class. Why?
The answer of most clergymen would, I suppose, be that they work very hard for the common good. It is true that a small proportion do probably work harder than any other individuals of the nation, and for no advantage but a bare living wage. All honour to them! They have their reward in the utter devotion of their parishioners. But it is a curious fact that these men are nearly invariably celibate, and do not ask the congregation to support their families. The average clergyman works no harder than other men-and very much less hard than the doctor. There are many, especially country clergymen, or clergymen in fashionable watering-places, who have a very easy time indeed. These are often the people who have such large families that they find it difficult to make both ends meet.
We hear a great deal about the indifference of the laity to the Church. It is perfectly true. A large proportion of the laity, though they regard the Church as a venerable institution, never think of it as an important factor in their lives. Most men are a little distressed if their son wishes to be a clergyman. And it would be as unfair as it would be untrue to say that it is from any fear of the privations he would have to undergo. Englishmen send their sons very nobly and unselfishly into posts of danger and hardship-witness the long list of gallant names of those who have lived and died in India. No, what these fathers feel is that the clergyman becomes on the whole a different kind of man from the man they wish their sons to be. Many people must have seen the faithful, if slightly brutal sketch of a certain type of fashionable clergyman given by Mr. Albert Chevalier at the Coliseum during September. One wonders if a caricature of the established religious teacher of their country would be received by any other nation in the world with such shouts of applause, save, perhaps, by Americans. The huge audience was not composed of rough or unmannerly people; it was a representative
gathering of respectable citizens from every section of the community. I remembered as I watched it that a gifted Frenchman, who had lived years in England, once said to me Why, whenever an Englishman mentions the word " parson" is it with a slight nuance of contempt? We often hate priests in my country, but we do not despise them.' The Coliseum sketch is not an isolated example. A very cursory glance at the place occupied by the English clergyman in fiction, on the stage, and in the comic papers, will prove that my French friend's criticism was not ill-founded.
The reason is not far to seek. The Roman priest, whatever his social position, has given up a great deal for his profession. He has practically renounced all that which to most men makes life worth living. The laity, whatever their religious opinions may be, recognise this, and in fairness pay a certain respect to the man who has done what they know they are not capable of. A certain aloofness-a certain loneliness-comes at once into the life of the man who has entered the priesthood. He dwells on the mountain peaks, and ordinary humanity in the vale. It is because of this aloofness that he becomes not only the teacher but the friend of humanity in all its great moments of stress. He who walks alone with God can help the soul that has suffered, the soul that has sinned, and the soul that is going alone into the great darkness. The ordinary English clergyman knows by bitter experience how seldom he is sent for by his parishioners when they are in trouble. Many devoted men chafe under this knowledge; they long to help, and cannot. They have not given up enough. For, because of all he has renounced, full measure of recompense is given the priest-the wonderful communion with his Master, the power to remit sins, the power to confer the Grace of God, the actual God Incarnate called into being by his hands. He stands-solitary indeed-but never alone, because with him is God Almighty, Very God of Very God.
I shall never forget once hearing a boy priest say his first Mass in the church of the small village where he was born. The building was crammed with women in their gay kerchiefs, and men who had known him a curly-headed urchin at his mother's door. A procession of little girls carrying white lilies led the boy, crowned with green leaves, to the altar. The sermon, preached by a youth but a few years older, a school companion of the neophyte, was strangely eloquent. He said: 'To-day many of you are thinking of what he gives up: Love, children, all the links that bind men to each other. And you say "What a sacrifice!" But what does he gain? Is it not enough to be the disciple of Christ, to be one of those who have power given direct from the Lord to raise the fallen, heal the bruised soul, and give the very
Body of God to those who ask? What have any of you got that compares with these things? My brethren, there was once a man who found a pearl of great price. You know how he sold all for that pearl. Behold one more who has found it.'
Then the other-white as death-began to say Mass. And suddenly at the consecration his faltering voice grew firm, and as he turned with the Host, a radiance not of this world came. into his face. It was no boy who dismissed us with the great words Ite, Missa est.' It was one who came down from the mountain top with the glory still upon his hair.
Ah!' will say any Roman Catholics who read this paper, 'you plainly admit that we have the real thing, and that your so-called "Anglican Church" is but a poor maimed copy of the Roman.' This I emphatically deny. I believe as strongly as I am capable of believing anything, that our Anglican Church has as historic a continuity and is as truly a branch of the one and only Catholic Church as either of her great sisters. That we have sinned deeply, have for centuries rejected our high tradition, have bartered our birthright for a mess of pottage, I admit, as do all fair-minded Churchmen, in dust and ashes. But that our Church regrets her faults is also true, and this penitence is a greater sign of Divine Guidance than arrogance would be. If anything could increase the love and loyalty and faith in our Church which we already possess, it is the humble confession that Churches are, after all, but fallible, and only in their realisation that God alone is infallible can we ever hope to attain to some approximate image of what the perfected Church will be.
But to return to the subject in hand. There are signs in the air that in England the need for priests, as opposed to clergymen, is more general than is popularly supposed. I think the Church has come to the parting of the ways. The parson of the end of the eighteenth century, specimens of whom survived down to our own day-who hunted and shot, and was a pleasant man of the world and a first-rate whist player-is extinct. He was possibly a delightful person, but he was no more a priest than is the Prime Minister. His successor, whom Trollope has portrayed for us amongst his many types-the mild, inoffensive, slightly grotesque clergyman we all know-is also passing. We are beginning to take our priest seriously. The Oxford Movement, for so long only the leaven of the small minority, is beginning to work in the mass of the Church. And the demand for spiritual leaders and teachers is upon us. It is being met, and very nobly, by the few. The enormous strain put upon them, their great personal influence, tell their own tale. Are the bulk of the English clergy going to answer the call, or are they not? It lies in their hands to prevent the indifference of the laity to the
Church.' Below the apparent indifference there is a very hunger for help.
I remember a tragic case of the inadequacy of the clergy. man' in a Midland village where I once lived. An old labourer, dying in tortures from cancer of the tongue, and in great depression of soul, was advised by a well-meaning lady to send for his parish priest. I asked next time I went to see him whether the clergyman had helped him. With a whimsical, sad little smile, he replied, Well, ma'am, he talked to me about his son in India.' Several Anglicans, seeing the trouble he was in, told him to ask Father, the Roman priest of the place, to visit him. I was struck at our next interview by the utter peace of that old man's face. He was received into the Roman Church directly, and died blessing the illness that had helped him to find reality. That man could have found equal help and comfort in our Church had the village possessed a 'priest' and not a ' clergyman.' Is it possible to convince the rank and file of the English Church of our requirements, or is the seed so nobly sown by Keble and Newman and Pusey, and now only bearing fruit after long years, to be garnered on the one hand by the Roman Church, and on the other by Christian Science' teachers, and the many other vague associations who believe in a more or less inspired carpenter? If the demand is to be met, it must be by the realisation, once and for all, that the man who wishes to become a priest should become one indeed, should recognise that if he is to do all that the priest claims to do he cannot be as other men, bound by the ties of home and kindred, and wife and child. He must obey the solemn command of his Master: So likewise whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewithal shall it be seasoned.'-Luke xiv. 26.
The enemies of celibacy would, I suppose, bring forward three cardinal objections to prove their point.
The first of these would be that grave scandals will arise should the clergy not be allowed to marry. I do not believe it. It is an insult to our clergy to say that they are only decent men because they are married. Both the Roman and the Anglican Church in this country are singularly free from scandals. are bad cases now and then, in both branches. We perhaps hear more about them amongst our people, because with us the punishment is less severe, but to the credit of both orders be it said, there are wonderfully few such instances, and the fact that marriage is permitted in our Church does not prevent ugly lapses now and then, as we know from the daily papers.
The second argument against the celibacy of the clergy is not a difficult one to meet. 'Marriage makes them so much more