Lambeth on Contraceptives
While associated with the liberal wing of England’s Anglo-Catholic movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Right Reverend Charles Gore, Bishop of Oxford, nonetheless emerged from retirement in 1930 to publish the following critique of Resolution 15 of the 1930 Lambeth conference, which condoned the use of contraceptives between married persons under special circumstances.
§ I The Resolution 15 of the Lambeth Conference
Some years ago I published a pamphlet on The Prevention of Conception, which has been quite recently reprinted. I had hoped that I might now remain silent on the subject, but the recent action of the Lambeth Conference, giving a restricted sanction to the use of preventives of conception, constrains me to publish a reasoned protest against what seems to me to be a disastrous abandonment of the position that the Conference of 1920 took up. I quote the Resolution (68) of 1920:
The Conference, while declining to lay down rules which will meet the needs of every abnormal case, regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers—physical, moral, and religious—thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists—namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control. We desire solemnly to commend what we have said to Christian people and to all who will hear.
Here we have a refusal to go into detail about abnormal ‘hard cases,’ but a quite general condemnation of contraceptive methods. The recent Conference, on the contrary, has given a restricted approval of them. To be quite fair we will analyse the Resolutions 13—18. Resolutions 13 and 14 are on the lines of the latter part of the pronouncement of the earlier Conference, emphasizing the dignity and glory of parenthood and the necessity of self-control within marriage. Resolution 16 expresses abhorrence of the crime of abortion. Resolution 17 repudiates the idea that unsatisfactory economic and social conditions can be met by the control of conception. Resolution 18 condemns fornication accompanied by the use of some contraceptive as no less sinful than without such accompaniment. It also demands legislation forbidding the exposure for sale and advertisement of contraceptives. But Resolution 15 (carried, it is noted, by a majority of 193 votes over 67, which would seem to imply that there must have been some forty bishops who did not vote), which contemplates cases where ‘there is a clearly felt obligation to limit or avoid parenthood,’ while giving the preference to the self-discipline and self-control which makes abstinence from intercourse possible, and recording the ‘strong condemnation’ by the Conference ‘of the use of methods of conception-control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience,’ yet admits the legitimacy of these methods ‘where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence.’
This is no doubt a restricted admission, but it is a definite withdrawal of the quite general condemnation expressed in the Resolution of 1920, and I fear it will be the only part of the contribution of the recent Conference to the question of sexual relations which will be seriously effective. The classes of persons aimed at in Resolutions 13, 14, 16, and 18 are not those which pay any attention to what the Church says. The same must be said of the worldly-minded who use contraceptives from motives of selfishness, luxury, and convenience: such people know quite well that they are disregarding ‘the parsons,’ and have no intention of listening to them. But there is a large class which cannot brace itself to ignore the voice of the Church. They have been anxiously waiting to hear what the bishops will say. No doubt they feel that their cases are ‘hard cases.’ In different ways we are all apt to feel that. They think that they have a morally sound reason for avoiding parenthood, and that they cannot practice abstinence. Now they learn that a representative assembly of the chief authorities of the Anglican Communion has ‘removed the taboo’ on contraceptive methods, and no doubt their scruples will in many cases be silenced and the easier course taken.
I observe that the Bishop of London says that he agrees with the conclusion of another bishop who, ‘reading the resolutions as a whole, thinks the balance appears quite definitely on the side of strictness.’ I fear that this is practically the exact opposite of the truth. I think the clause which sanctions certain methods as a ‘regrettable necessity’ in certain cases (to use the bishop’s expression) is the only clause which is likely to have any considerable effect: and I cannot doubt that that effect will be disastrous.
Let me give an instance of what I regard as an ineffective attempt at arresting the tide of sensualism—the appeal made for legislative restrictions on the sale and advertisement of contraceptives in Resolution 18. Such restrictions exist in various countries where the governments, in serious alarm at the consequences of the ‘birth control’ movement, are doing their best to suppress it. It is also natural that a country with a large Roman Catholic population, which feels on this subject as the French Roman Catholic population of Canada feels, should sternly restrict sale and forbid advertisement in deference to the conscientious scruples of a majority or large minority of its people. But is it likely that a government would enact any effective restrictive legislation at the bidding of people who say, ‘We recognize that certain practices must go on and a certain class of implements must be used in special cases, but we want the knowledge of these processes and the possession of these implements to be severely restricted by law’? Surely the statesman would reply, ‘You admit that these implements are necessary under conditions of modern civilization in many cases. You must admit that these cases occur in all classes equally. You do not suggest that medical authority should be required in each case for their use. How, then, can you ask us to take legislative steps to prevent the general knowledge and use of them, any more than of other commodities which are liable to be misused?’
I fear, therefore, that it must be acknowledged that, whereas the episcopal resolution of 1920 did undoubtedly strengthen the conscience of a great multitude of Christians to resist the allurements of Birth Prevention, the pronouncement of 1930 will have no other effect than to weaken it.
It may indeed be asked whether in face of the world-wide forces which are behind the movement for Birth Prevention any episcopal pronouncement would have had any tangible effect. I am not disposed to think that its effect would have been considerable on society as a whole. But wherever the movement gains the mastery in general society its ‘dysgenic’ effects and its consequences as a form of ‘race-suicide’ generate in time a sort of panic, such as has appeared in France and other countries. We should reasonably expect such a panic in the next generation in England. Meanwhile our aim should be to strengthen ‘the faithful remnant’ which will have its opportunity of witness when the day of panic comes. The lamentable fact is that the Anglican bishops have so acted as to weaken and not strengthen it.
§ 2 TheSituation at the Present Moment
No doubt the ultimate question is: ought the Christian conscience to feel that ‘the thing in itself’ advocated by the movement for Birth Prevention must be pronounced to be immoral? But before giving an answer to this question I will attempt to summarize afresh the existing situation. In my earlier pamphlet I drew attention to the fact that the objective of the movement in the world generally was frankly hostile to the whole Christian tradition of sexual morality. I referred to the work of the Austrian John Ferch, translated by Miss Maude Royden, and to books of Havelock Ellis and Margaret Sanger. Today I might add the names of H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, and others whose books have a very wide circulation. But I should wish particularly to call attention to the American Walter Lippmann’s Preface to Morals. He appears to be rather an atheist (in the strict sense of the word) than an agnostic, but he retains a profound respect for the moral tradition of Europe, and desires to find a non-theistic basis on which to maintain it. I am not concerned now to question the success of his reconstructive effort. I am concerned only with his survey of the present situation, especially in America, observing that England appears to be moving in the same direction.
Mr. Lippmann sees the true significance of the movement for Birth Prevention. He pronounces it ‘the most revolutionary practice in the history of sexual morals.’ He finds its fundamental basis to be unmistakable. ‘They (the contraceptionists) take as their major premise to dissociate procreation from gratification, and therefore to pursue independently what Mr. Havelock Ellis calls the primary and the secondary objects of the sexual impulse. They propose, therefore, to sanction two distinct sets of conventions; one designed to protect the interest of offspring by promoting intelligent, secure, and cheerful parenthood; the other designed to permit the freest and fullest expression of the erotic personality. They propose, in other words, to distinguish between parenthood as a vocation involving public responsibility, and love as an art, pursued privately for the sake of happiness’. Mr. Lippmann is not at all in a position to say that the proposal of the contraceptionists is wicked or immoral, though he perceives that nature shows signs of revenging itself on a practice which sets it at defiance. But my point is only that he sees clearly what is ‘the logic of Birth Control,’ and he represents very ably a reaction against the organized propaganda, the motive and results of which he discerns so clearly.
But there is a more general reaction against it, on simple grounds of national or class welfare.
(1) There is the terror of ‘race-suicide’ or ‘class-suicide’ which we see possessing the souls of Frenchmen and of the Anglo-Saxon stock in some parts of the world.
(2) There is the alarm of some distinguished members of the medical profession as to the consequences of ‘birth control.’ The Chairman of The League of National Life,
Dr. Frederick McCann, a leading authority in gynecology, says, and repeats, that ‘all known methods of contraception are harmful to the female; they only differ in being more or less so.’ I fancy, though I cannot prove, that there is more medical authority on his side than is allowed to appear. It must be remembered that it is very difficult for a doctor in private practice to give advice to a patient which is flat contrary to his or her obvious desires. It must also be remembered that a great many young doctors, during their period of service at the hospital, become so horrified at the spectacle of the ‘unwanted babies’ at whose birth they are called to assist, that they are prepared to accept almost any proposal to prevent their birth. Nevertheless, I believe the amount of medical opinion which is hostile to birth prevention is commonly underrated.
(3) There is the increasing sense that there is no unobjectionable method of birth prevention which is effective. I pointed out in my earlier pamphlet that the advocates of birth control could give approval to only one of the current methods, and that that one required skill and carefulness for its use, if not medical assistance. Mrs. Florence (in her Birth Control on Trial) has recorded the results of an elaborate experiment undertaken by the Cambridge Clinic. ‘It is a significant indication of the limitation imposed by present-day knowledge of contraceptives when 155 persons out of 247 are obliged to admit that they found methods of family limitation [which had been suggested to them at the clinic] either so ineffective or so distressing or so troublesome that they abandoned the use of them.’ (The figures show that out of 247 patients there were 78 unwanted pregnancies.) In a report of a meeting in Burlington House last April at which Dr. C.P. Blacker gave an address under the auspices of the Eugenic Society, I find recorded a general despondency—a general acknowledgement of Mrs. Florence’s conclusion that ‘no substantial contribution to the technique of birth control has been made in fifty years,’ and that ‘the state of contraceptive knowledge’ is ‘crude and unsatisfactory’. Under such circumstances it is not unnatural that recourse is had, more and more widely in many lands, to the practice of abortion, so that some of the heralds of ‘Birth Control,’ like Dr. Ferch or Dr. Haire, are driven to advocate the legalization of this practice.
(4) Proportionate to the difficulty just alluded to in making birth prevention harmless and secure is the dysgenic effect of its actual use. It is used with comparative effectiveness among the more educated and well-to-do, but among the least educated and most careless it is comparatively unused or ineffective. Hence the diminution in the birthrate is chiefly among what are called ‘the better stocks.’
(5) Meanwhile the motive for the reduction of births which was found in the fear of the world-population outgrowing the possible supply of food becomes more and more obviously unreasonable. The area of the soil of the world which is of possible productiveness and is at present unused, is literally immense: and the causes which destroy populations in large masses are still at work, and on a vast scale. The difficulty today is the glut of production.
These currents of opinion are likely in the course of a generation to produce the same sort of panic about artificial birth prevention in England as has already made itself felt in France, Italy, America, and elsewhere. I mean a rebellion against the propaganda on quite non-religious grounds. It is to be hoped also that the movement for the abolition of slums and reconstruction of industry will by that time have shown the true way to the abolition of those conditions in our cities which militate against healthful parentage. Meanwhile, as I say, the function of the Church is, in my judgement, to maintain the healthy conscience which condemns artificial prevention as unnatural and wrong in itself.
§ 3 Is It Then Wrong in Itself?
Is it then wrong in itself? The Report of the Committee of the Lambeth Conference—which, like the other reports, was received only and not accepted by the Conference, but which forms the basis of the resolutions—acknowledges both that the general use of contraceptives is ‘one of the greatest evils of our time’ and that ‘there is in the Catholic Church a very strong tradition that the use of preventive methods is in all cases unlawful for a Christian.’ In seeking to reverse that tradition it points out that ‘it is not founded on any directions given in the New Testament.’ This is true of birth prevention, and also of suicide. Almost at the moment when the Lambeth Conference published its Report, Dr. Inge at the Conference of Modern Churchmen was urging the reconsideration of the Church’s condemnation of suicide in extreme cases. If this movement were to become popular and urgent, one may wonder what a future Lambeth Conference may say about suicide.
The fact is that our Lord, though He must be acknowledged to have given one specific law to His Church—on the indissolubility of marriage—on the whole abstained from legislating for His community, as, for instance, Plato legislated for his ideal community in The Laws. He gave the Church moral principles both in His teaching and by His example; and He founded (or refounded) the Church, to which, or to the ministers of which, He gave the power of legislation and spiritual discipline with a divine sanction. (‘What things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’: ‘whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.’) Certainly the earliest Church, as pictured in the Acts and the Epistles, knew that it possessed these powers, and confidently used them. I am not raising the difficult question of infallibility in their exercise. Even InnocentIII at the height of ecclesiastical idealism admitted that ‘it sometimes happens that the Church looses one whom God has bound, and binds by the judgement of the Church one who in God’s sight is free’; but I see manifold reason to believe that in the case of Birth Prevention the ‘very strong tradition in the Catholic Church’ has been in the right, and has divine sanction. It is a practice which it has rightly judged to be unnatural, like other sadly common misuses of the sexual organs.
There is nothing really more astonishing than that in the course of nature a spiritual power so great as the production of a new personality, destined for immortal life, should have been entrusted by God to that in man which is so easily misled and misused as his sexual instincts and powers. But so it is. And the propagation of the species is in the order of nature judged to be of such importance that man is, like the lower animals, induced to it, with all its attendant pains and cares, by a desire more passionate and a pleasure more intense attaching to the sexual act than to almost any other kind of human action. But the justification of the pleasure lies primarily in its direction towards the end of propagation. This is assuredly the lesson of biology and the lesson of Holy Scripture and of Church tradition. Mankind in its wilfulness has been always seeking to separate the pleasure from its end by different kinds of practices which have been condemned by the Church as unnatural.
Now it is true that the sexual intercourse of married people has other recognized ends than the production of offspring. The Church has always declined to say that this is the only end. And it has never prohibited such intercourse when the laws of nature make generation improbable or impossible. But it has said steadily or constantly that this is the primary end of marriage, and it has condemned as unnatural and as a sin the attempt by any devices to separate absolutely the satisfaction of the physical desire from its chief end. The methods provided by Birth Prevention are not wrong because they are mechanical. But legitimate mechanism should tend to promote the ends of nature not to obstruct and defeat them. The Church has regarded Birth Prevention as sinful because, like other sensual practices commonly called unnatural, it is a deliberate enterprise taken in hand to separate absolutely the enjoyment of the sexual act from its natural issue. It is thus to be reckoned among the ‘unfruitful works of darkness.’ I must add that the Church has always and rightly bidden us have regard in our individual conduct to the general effect of what we are proposing to do. We are not allowed in judging of any matter to isolate our private interest from the general interests of the kingdom of God.
I am distressed to find that the editor of Theology—an organ which represents what is called ‘the Cambridge Group’—following other members of that group, expresses approval of the use of contraceptives under certain circumstances and of Resolution 15, though the approbation of the resolution is declared to represent only a ‘first reflection,’ and is accompanied with various criticisms of its surroundings. ‘We agree,’ the editor writes, ‘with what we conceive to be the guidance the Conference aimed at giving.’ He recognizes that this is a quite definite departure from tradition. And he gives what he presumes to be the motives which led to this virtual reversal by the Conference of their previous decision (Theology for September 1930).
They are (1) ‘the advance in knowledge, especially in psychology.’ Now no one could deny that there has been an advance in psychology. But the science is at present in a very precarious position. Popularly it is much identified with the names of Freud and Jung; and I cannot but agree with Dr. Inge’s recent pronouncement, ‘We must choose between all our old guides, including Christ and Plato, and the school of Freud and Jung. . . . The beginning of culture implies the suppression of instincts.’ At the heart of this ‘new psychology’ lies the now popular maxim that repressions of instincts and passions are dangerous, and that they should be ‘sublimated’ not repressed.
Now that is undoubtedly in a certain sense a part of the psychology of the Christian tradition. The good life has never been regarded by its best exponents as based on a mainly negative discipline. Its principle has rather been that human nature is to be sanctified by the admission of a new positive force and law (‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’), which so dominates the converted mind, and has such strong ‘expulsive power,’ as to master the hitherto dominant ‘sin in our members,’ and to make us feel the joy and splendor of a life immersed in the interests of the kingdom of God. But though the Christian ethical discipline is thus, when truly apprehended, positive and not negative, and though it aims at ‘sublimating’ all that belongs to our nature, not at extinguishing anything which does properly belong to it, yet it has never concealed from us that the process of moral recovery for man, as he finds himself, always involves also stern repression. We have only to think of the force of our Lord’s words, ‘If thine eye offend thee, if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, pluck it out, cut it off, cast it from thee.’ These violent metaphors, which in St. Matthew’s Gospel are specially, and, I believe, rightly, attached to what our Lord says about sexual temptation, express with the most poignant force that we must be strong at the center before we can be free at the circumference, and that true freedom must be expected to involve even violent ‘mortification’ in the process of being won. Again, can anything be more penetrating in its meaning than St. Paul’s phrase that the crucifixion of the flesh is a necessary presupposition of the true life in Christ? For my own part I know dreadful examples of advice, in a sense quite contrary to those words of Christ and of St. Paul, given by psychoanalysts of recent years to men suffering under strong sensual temptation with grievous effect. And I do not believe that psychology, properly so called, has given us any warrant for turning our backs on the Christian tradition about mortification as an essential element of progress. We must still, as even Goethe warned us, ‘die to live.’
(2) The second reason suggested in Theology for the changed attitude of the Lambeth Conference is ‘the change of medical opinion since the Lambeth Conference of 1920.’ The editor seems to assume that the change has been decisively in favor of Birth Prevention. No doubt a mere layman interested in the subject is apt to hear most of that opinion among doctors which is in agreement with his own. My own impression is that medical opinion is tending to a state of alarm on the subject which may make it obvious before the next Lambeth Conference that it must be reckoned with as predominantly hostile and not favorable to Birth Prevention. But I am conscious that I cannot speak on this subject with any kind of assurance. Certainly there are doctors of eminence who are very indignant with some of their profession who have identified themselves with the propaganda of Birth Prevention.
(3) The third reason suggested is found in ‘the representation made (to the Conference) by confessors and others of strongly Catholic proclivities who have found the Resolution of 1920 too narrow a basis on which to give guidance to the faithful.’ Now that there are such ‘confessors and others’ I know. That they approached the Conference is quite possible. I have no knowledge at all what advice from outside the Conference sought or received. But I feel sure that if they had found it necessary to seek such advice, and had sought it impartially from existing experts in spiritual direction, they would have found that the experts referred to by the editor were a minority, and that (though those most opposed to a change of front would be the first to acknowledge distress and perplexity in dealing with the ‘hard cases’ they encounter) the testimony of the majority would have been found to be the more weighty. This leads me to say something about the duty of confessors and the relation of the problem of the confessional in this matter to the general life of the community.
§ 4 The Duty of the Confessor
Private confession to a priest and absolution by him almost inevitably took the place of the older system of public penance. Under whatever form, however, it is natural for any Christian (who believes that Christ founded or refounded the Church and gave it a divine authority in judging and disciplining its members, as is stated in the New Testament) to go to confession. That is to seek the judgement of the Church upon one’s life, and incidentally to get the help of an experienced spiritual director. It is very widely practiced in the Church of England today. It is certain, then, in my judgement that a priest, who is responsible for following the judgement of the Church, cannot absolve a penitent who confesses the use of some contraceptionist method and declines to relinquish it. (The Lambeth Conference, it is always necessary to remember, is not a synod but an advisory body, and its resolutions—for instance Resolution 15 which we are considering—have not the serious effect which a direction in the same sense given by a provincial synod would have. The judgement of the Church Catholic, based, as I believe, on the mind of Scripture, remains what it was.) That position we share with the Roman Church, which stands in Europe and America as the strong fortress against the advancing tide of sensualism. I suppose that a priest in hearing confessions is bound to ask questions, where the penitent uses vague and evasive expressions, so as to elicit a frank and explicit confession. He is bound also to do what he can to enlighten a penitent as to the duty of a Christian. But I do not think he is bound, or ought, to ask questions on mere suspicion.
It is said in the Lambeth Report that the Roman Church ‘which most strongly condemns in principle all preventive [i.e., contraceptive] methods, nevertheless in practice recognizes that there are occasions when a rigid insistence on the principle is impossible.’ I know of no evidence which could sustain exactly this charge—not at least the word ‘recognizes.’ But the Catholic Frenchman, Paul Bureau, in his D’Indiscipline des Moeurs complains bitterly of the connivance of the clergy at these practices by the method of silence in public instruction and in the confessional. The priesthood in the Roman Church, however, where every ‘practicing’ member must ‘go to his duties,’ i.e. Confession and Communion, at the least once a year, has both opportunities and difficulties which are not ours.
In the Church of England confession is required of no one, and public penance has almost ceased. We are again in the position in which, approximately, St. Chrysostom and St. Augustine found themselves, when the system of public penance had broken down and there was no system of private confession and absolution which had taken its place. This has advantages and disadvantages. But the result is this, that most of our members do not seek the judgement of the Church upon their lives, but are content to trust their own consciences; and we must leave them to the judgement of God. But this is only tolerable if we are doing our best to instruct their consciences and let them know what the mind of the Church is, as on other matters, so on the sexual relation. It is both foolish and sinful, now that sexual mysteries are matters of common conversation in all classes, to avoid plain speaking in religious instruction. We must strive to see that those who are married in church have received a letter of instruction, when notice of the marriage is given—a letter which should be sympathetic as well as firm, but not familiar or sentimental: and the questions for self-examination, which all Churchmen should use occasionally before Communion, should be quite explicit; and sermons and instructions should be in great part ethical and should not shrink from topics which everyone outside the Church is discussing. All this must be done; though now alas! with the hindrance that we have against us the commendation by a majority of Anglican bishops of the use of contraceptives in certain hard cases. We must give this subject its proper place but not be frequently recurring to it.
§ 5 Hard Cases
I dare say experienced confessors would agree that the hardest cases with which they come in contact—those which, as we say, go nearest to ‘breaking their hearts’—are those of employees in business who are required to say what they know is not true or do what they know is not honest, or as an alternative to lose their place with very little chance of finding another; or those concerned with marriage, as when someone, lightly divorced and subsequently married under legal sanction, becomes converted, and then, desiring to be a devout and serious child of the Church, finds himself or herself excommunicated without apparent remedy; or those which arise when the doctor declares a wife cannot, without serious risk to life, bear another child, and the couple are pressed to use contraceptives. It is only with the last class of case that I am now concerned: but it involves the general question—are we authorized in shrinking from strictly claiming obedience to a moral law, of great general importance and believed to have divine authority, because it involves great or even extreme sacrifice? May we say: the way of sacrifice in extremis is the true way; but regrettable necessity may justify us in falling back, either in what we ourselves practice or what we allow as teachers of the Church in others, on a lower level in view of human weakness?
Before saying something on this question of ‘hard cases’ let me notice that the Resolution 15 of the Lambeth Conference appears to contemplate the admission of the use of contraceptives not as a lower course only sanctioned as such, but as one which claims an equal standing ‘on the same [highest] Christian principles.’ But I doubt if many of us have come across any husband or wife, sincerely trying to live the life of a Christian and communicant, to whom the expedients of contraception have presented themselves in any other light than as concessions to a course lower than the best. In this connection I should like to quote a letter, recently received by me from a complete stranger, which strikes me as recording a very genuine experience:
I was brought up amongst the Plymouth Brethren, and then practically immediately after leaving school in 1914 joined the Army and saw service in France. Naturally my mental horizon enlarged tremendously and my knowledge of Christ was not enough to fill the new outlook, with the result that I soon got into a state of mental and moral confusion. After the War I was married, but by that time I had read Dr. Slopes’ books and accepted them. But I also became a communicant of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, having given up my membership of the Plymouth Brethren, and, shortly, after considerable struggles and failures, I found the joy of a total surrender of one’s life to Christ. These are the relevant facts. But what I wish to say emphatically is that for one who is living a life surrendered to Christ and in the power of His risen life, I am absolutely convinced that no question of using contraceptives will ever arise. He gives one the power of abstinence and self-control, and other methods do indeed appear as a deadly sin and a hateful offence to His purity and that of His Mother; and I cannot believe that a life guided by the Holy Spirit will ever be led to find a ‘grave moral reason’ for using appliances.
Please pardon my presumption, my Lord, in writing, but I am thankful for the bishops who voted against the resolution, and if my witness can do anything to help them in their crusade against holding up a ‘second best’ as the ideal of the Christian Church, I shall be only too pleased. With Christ in the heart, the subject of preventives is entirely irrelevant. As I thought my witness might have a special value as that of one who had ‘passed from darkness unto light,’ I venture to offer it to you and to say that you are at liberty to use it in any way you please, anonymously or otherwise as you think best.
Again and again in Christian history we find the Church practically accepting and acting upon the idea of the double standard—one for the perfect, which is probably identified with the monastic or ‘religious’ life, and the other, the lower standard, for the men and women who live in the world. This latter class must avoid specified sins and attend to specified religious duties, but no great sacrifice such as the ‘religious’ life involves is required of them. But surely nothing can be more contrary to the teaching of Christ or of the New Testament than this doctrine of the two standards—the one admirable, the other tolerable. Our Lord calls all men who would be His disciples to a life of unlimited liability. It may be martyrdom that will be required of them, it may be submission to loss or outrage, it may be the stern mortification which our Lord describes under the figure of plucking out the eye or cutting off the hand or foot. We can indeed discern in our Lord’s teaching the recognition of different states of life. The future evangelists of His kingdom have prescribed for them a state of absolute detachment from worldly ties: others are to live the old life at home in their old occupations but in a new spirit. But all equally who would be in either sense His disciples must enter the path by the strait gate and tread the narrow way. In St. Paul again we trace the same recognition of different states but not of different moral standards. All alike must die to live: before all alike lies an unlimited liability—to suffering loss, to the effort of extreme mortification, even to death itself ‘for the Name.’ We are not called to seek suffering, but we are, all of us, called to be ready for even the extreme of endurance—as much those who are living the normal life of the home as those who make the venture of the celibate life. If the Church has ever sanctioned the idea of the ‘second best life,’ which does not involve the same unlimited liability, we must (with William Law) recognize that it has deserted its Lord.
Today we are living in a world which has widely revolted from the obedience of Christ. Our literature is saturated with this spirit. He Himself bade us be prepared for such an experience, even in its extremest form. ‘When the Son of man cometh,’ He asked, ‘shall He find the faith on the earth?’ Our business, then, is to uphold the full standard of the good life, through evil report and good report. The worldly world must go its own way and may seem to prevail. We must not attempt to pronounce any final judgement on individuals. We can ‘judge nothing before the time.’ If the Church has been slack in the past, it must expect God’s sharp judgements on itself; but it is still its business to open the eyes of all its members to the true implications, social and individual, of the ‘life which is life indeed,’ and under persecution or unpopularity to consolidate the faithful remnant, who are to nourish their souls in the readiness to suffer with Christ and in the secret security of final victory in Him. We have no right to sanction the ‘second best.’
Charles Gore (1853–1932) served as the Bishop of Oxford, Church of England, from 1911–1919. This article was originally published in pamphlet form by A. R. Mowbray, London, in 1930.
more on family from the online archives
calling all readers
"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand
"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor
• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!
Purchase Print &
Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!
Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!
GIVE Print &
Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!
Transactions will be processed on a secure server.
Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.
OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)
Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.
more from the online archives