Thoughts After Lambeth: Excerpts on Asceticism, Ecumenism & Cultural Renewal

Feast of St Catherine the Great Martyr of Alexandria

Christianity as the Difficult Way of Discipline and Asceticism
In the section on Youth, we may find some wise and true sayings, if we have the patience to look for them. “The best of the younger generation in every section of the community,” we are told, “and in every country of the world, are not seeking a religion that is watered down or robbed of the severity of its demands, but a religion that will not only give them a sure basis and an ultimate sanction for morals, but also a power to persevere in reaching out after the ideal which in their heart of hearts they recognize as the finest and best.” I wish that this might have been said in fewer words, but the meaning is sound, and cannot be repeated too often. There is no good in making Christianity easy and pleasant; ‘Youth’, or the better part of it, is more likely to come to a difficult religion than to an easy one. For some, the intellectual way of approach must be emphasized; there is need of a more intellectual laity. For them and for others, the way of discipline and asceticism must be emphasized; for even the humblest Christian layman can and must live what, in the modern world, is comparatively an ascetic life. Discipline of the emotions is even rarer, and in the modern world still more difficult, than discipline of the mind; some eminent lay preachers of ‘discipline’ are men who know only the latter. Thought, study, mortification, sacrifice: it is such notions as these that should be impressed upon the young – who differ from the young of other times merely in having a different middle-aged generation behind them. You will never attract the young by making Christianity easy; but a good many can be attracted by finding it difficult: difficult both to the disorderly mind and to the unruly passions. […]

Ecumenism as a Scheme for Complete Reunion
I do not imagine for a moment that the ‘conversations’ of the Church of England with the Free Churches will bear any fruit whatever in our time; and I rather hope they will not; for any fruit of this harvest would be unripe and bitter fruit, untimely nipped. But at the same time I cannot cat-call with those who accuse the Church of facing-both-ways, and making one profession to the innocent Levantines and Swedes, and another to the implacable Methodists. It would be very poor statesmanship indeed to envisage any reunion which should not fall ultimately within a scheme for complete reunion; and in spite of mirth, ‘reunion all round’ is the only ideal tenable. [...] The points of difference with the other orthodox churches are simple and direct, and in a near way of being settled. It is easier to agree with a man who differs from you in blood but less in faith, than to agree with one who is of your own blood but less in faith, than to agree with one who is of your own blood but has different ideas: because the irrelevant differences between those of the same blood are less superable than the relevant differences between those of different blood. The problems of dissent between Anglicans and Free Churchmen are (we might just as well admit it) much more complicated than the problem between the Anglicans and the Swedish. Our doctrinal difficulties with Free Churchmen are complicated by divisions social, local and political; by traditions of prejudice on both sides; and it is likely that several generations must pass before the problems of theology and hierarchy can be fairly detached and faced. The Lambeth Conference of 1930 has accomplished in this direction this much: that it has determined the limits beyond which the Church cannot go in commending itself to Free Churchmen; further concession would be abandonment of the Church itself, and mere incorporation, as possibly the most important member, in a loose federation of autonomous sects without stability and without significance. […]

Redeem the Time, Preserve the Faith & Save the World from Suicide 
The Conference of 1930 has marked an important state in the direction toward Reunion. It has affirmed, beyond previous conferences, the Catholicity of the Church, and in spite of defects and dubious statements in detail, the Report will have strengthened the Church both within and without. It has made clearer the limits beyond which the Church cannot go towards meeting Nonconformity, and the extent to which it is prepared to go to meet the Eastern and Baltic Churches. This advance is of no small importance in a world which will obviously divide itself more and more sharply into Christians and non-Christians. The Universal Church is today, it seems to me, more definitely set against the World than at any time since pagan Rome. I do not mean that Christianity, in spite of certain local appearances, is not, and cannot be within measurable time, ‘official’. The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.

*Excerpted from original pamphlet Thoughts After Lambeth, Criterion Miscellany #30 (Faber & Faber, 1931). Reprinted in Selected Essays, 1917-1932 (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1932).

Thomas Stearns Eliot (+1965) was an essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic, and one of the twentieth century's greatest poets. Three of his works are foundational for the work of Eighth Day Institute: 1) The Idea of a Christian Society, which originated as a series of lectures given in 1939 at Cambridge University; 2) Notes towards the Definition of Culture, which originally appeared as a series of articles in New England Weekly in 1943; and 3) The excerpts above from Thoughts After Lambeth

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