WE trust that many Catholics
have read the most interesting and encouraging article by Dr. Bell, Bishop of Chichester, on the recent meeting in Chichester of the World Council of Churches. The article appeared in the Times of July 23.
In this article the Anglican Bishop—whose own work, in this field of common Christian action among non-Catholic Communions is well known—emphasises both the difficulties which this Council has to meet and the courageous way in which it has tackled these difficulties.
The Council covers very different approaches to Christianity and claims to speak for different Continents and races; nor can it for a moment afford to give any impression of being spokesman for one type of political system rather than another, so long as any of these is compatible with the message of the Gospel. (These same difficulties, with the exception of the first, have to be faced by the Catholic Church, but the first makes an enormous difference, since the one single spiritual authority of the Catholic Church is in itself a great guarantee of the real spiritual meanings and responsibilities attached to those difficult and most important Christian leads in the mixed field of religion and politics).
Faced then with these difficulties, the Council has not hesitated to take a constructive Christian line on a wide variety of subjects. These include the race question, the position of the expelled and the refugees the world over, and the treatment of the vanquished with special reference to the policy of dismantling. But, as the Bishop of Chichester points out, the burning question at the moment is undoubtedly " the position of the Christian Churches in the Communist controlled States."
WITH the persecution of Catholics and Protestants before it, the Council was able to declare the following judgment : Justice in human society is not to be won by totalitarian methods. The totalitarian doctrine is a false doctrine. It teaches that in order to gain a social or political end everything is permitted. It maintains the complete self-sufficiency
of man. It sets political power in the place of God. It denies the existence of absolute moral
standards. It moulds the minds of the young in a pattern opposed to the message of the Gospel. It sanctions the use of all manner of means to overthrow all other views and ways of life.
This judgment, representing as it does so many types of Protestant Christian thought, is a most valuable one. The Catholic excommunication of active and convinced Communists, while it must obviously be far more effective in the largely Catholic conditions of countries just behind the Iron Curtain, may give rise to some misunderstanding outside the Church and it cannot avoid yielding an instrument of counter-propaganda to the Communists themselves. But it is hard to see how this representative Protestant judgment, which so clearly involves the incompatibility of any type of Christianity with Communism, can be misunderstood by ' anyone, while even more Communist ingenuity will be needed in order successfully to misrepresent its meaning and its pure religious significance. It has the further accidental merit of being likely to carry greater conviction in mainly Protestant
countries, such as the AngloSaxon countries and Scandinavia.
In fact we may say that, taking the two pronouncements together, the Catholic excommunication and the Protestant declaration, the world is given a virtual unanimity among Christian Communions on a subject of vital moment without precedent since the Reformation.
THIS hopeful situation makes us regret all the more the views of certain Catholics, as illustrated in our correspondence columns, who, either because of a misplaced logical approach to the question or for less worthy reasons, seem determined to press for the narrowest possible reading of the Catholic tradition in regard to the Catholic attitude towards our separated Christian brethren.
In this connection we would like to draw attention to a very ably written letter in this issue which certainly helps greatly to put the question in its right light.
We much impoverish the great and balanced Catholic tradition and teaching if we are determined to argue solely in a syllogistic manner, rigorously drawing conclusions from premisses taken from certain Papal texts, selected in accordance with our desire to reach that particular conclusion.
Rather we have to look to the whole of that teaching, carefully considering the particular context and circumstances which govern the real purpose and meaning of any particular text, more especially in this crucial field of the application of spiritual principles to temporal matters.
Thus the drawing of rigid conclusions from such general (and self-evident) moral premisses as " Error has no Rights " or selected Papal texts, necessary and proper for the conditions to which they were meant to apply, has surely to be balanced by that other current quite as deeply imbedded in the Catholic tradition and quite as important. This is the tradition which has always inculcated love for all our brethren, respect for their consciences and the self-contradiction of any idea of propagating God's truth by force or trickery.
This tradition is as old as Primitive Christianity, and is explicitly stated by St. Augustine. Cardinal de Lugo in the 17th century with even greater clarity expressed the distinction between the visible and the invisible Church in teaching that non-Catholics and nonChristians can find salvation through their adherence to what is of God in their religious views. This teaching has been repeatedly proclaimed by the Popes since Pius IX. Surely it must guide our practical conduct today.
The Catholic is the one true Church and logical conclusions to be drawn from this are undeniable, but our practical Christian life must take account of all sides of the question and not least of the actual conditions in which we live and through which God's Kingdom must be promoted.
Today when the very essence of Christianity itself, not to speak of any religion with genuine Divine elements in it, is directly threatened across the face of the globe, common-sense alone should surely direct us all towards furthering all possible charity and understanding with the different Christian Communions for God's sake. That is what matters—not our petty prejudices and narrower vanities.