IF those on the right hand of the Church in England are moved to curiosity by recent reports about what its left hand is doing, and care to read beyond the pink labels hurriedly tied by journalists, they might do worse than read The Committed Church. (Ed. Laurence Bright and Simon Clements. Darton, Longman and Todd, hard covers, £2 2s.; paperback, £1 Is.).
This account of the seventh Downside Symposium is an impressively thorough analysis of modern society in England. which attempts to set the Church in its proper context before asking how it should be committed—politically, socially and culturally.
The first part of the book, "structures of community". starts with an indictment by Stuart Hall, Birmingham University, of the politicians, notably Mr. Wilson and friends, for their lack of political consciousness. Tory, Socialist or Liberal. they have all nailed the word "modernisation" to their masthead. But because this is not in itself a harbour but merely a wind from all directions, it has led to our present political loss of way.
"The conflict-free, modernising model of politics is a sure stabiliser of the status quo, since all roads lead to the kind of society we already have ... only `modernised'."
Mr. Wilson's flair for modernising, writes Mr. Hall, has created the illusion of radicalism and a radical response without substance. "It is not expertise, technical sophistication, or the will to modernise which labour lacks. It is politics."
Politics are only forged at particular moments in history. Mr. Hall gives a lucid account of why he suspects Mr. Wil son's moment has passed him by.
The middle section deals with some community problems the changing family, the church on the new estate, the effect of mass culture on society, education, delinquency and the colour question.
Simon Clements, accepting Raymond Williams's ideas on culture, applies them critically to our present efforts at setting our schools in order. Too much of the old internal life of a school, he thinks, has been transplanted unthinkingly into our comprehensive schools.
"In other words, there has persisted that separation of culture and ordinary life, that dissociation between content and mode of school study and its relation to the standards and values of living. Until
staffs in comprehensive schools seek to apply a cultural analysis to their work, they will do no more than modernise the old system and the old material."
My only qualification to this would be that Mr. Clements has not referred to such hopeful signs as the gathering momentum of the work of the Schools' Council, and the teaching of design in schools— both of them, I take it, the sort of "modernisation" he is advocating.
In the final section of the book, the theology of the community, Fr. Piet Fransen leads off with a masterly exegesis of diakunia, the serving Church. "One of the best summaries of our Christian faith is that 'o'er divinisation is our humanisation'." God acts on man from within. "Christ's incarnation revealed that this divine life does not descend vertically from heaven, but is communicated through human inter personal relations." Hence in the Church, the service of God and man are intimately and inseparably connected.
Finally Brian Wicker uses Williams's description of membership—the highest degree of relationship within the community.
By his work, man makes the world objective. By his language, achieved in and through work, he becomes a member of the community. For the Christian this community is the Church, of which he is a member, taking his membership with Christ in the Eucharist.
Mr. Wicker goes on rigorously to apply this theory to the actual Church: the Bishop should in his own person sum up the community, its beliefs and practice. Instead, he is little more than a symbolic figure who is at the pinnacle of a vast administrative machine.
This is why, says Mr. Wicker, Catholic organisations are hamstrung from growing freely and naturally as a true community. "This task has to be left to unofficial, and often suspect, ad hoc groups, like the Downside Symposium, to further the work of the church in the new open-ended world of the present."
The papers in this book are convincing proof that he is right.