Herewith the second part of “Reconciled Bodies: Recasting Race in Catholic Ecclesiology,” a paper delivered at the conference “Anglo-Catholicism: Uncovering Roots,” Church of the Advent, Boston, November 15-16. The first part is here.

For present purposes, rather than focusing on the “Appeal to all Christian People,” I will turn to the first text of the conference by order of presentation, its quite substantial and elegantly wrought encyclical letter, to which the resolutions of the conference and committee reports were appended. I will note three sustained themes or layers of the argument.

Fellowship and nationhood, taken as two sides of the same coin, according to the Lambeth fathers: fellowship being the God-given and designed action to which all human beings are called; nationhood being the necessary collective within which, the bishops say, we all find ourselves.

Here from right near the beginning, in the introductory section:


We find that one idea runs through all our work in this Conference, binding it together into a true unity. It is an idea prevalent and potent throughout the world to-day. It is the idea of Fellowship.

The minds and the hearts of men already go out to this idea. Men never prized the universal fellowship of mankind as they did when the Great War had for the time destroyed it. For four terrible years the loss of international fellowship emphasized its value. But the war which broke one fellowship created others. Nations became associated in alliances, which they cemented with their blood. In every national army, comradeship, novel and intense, united men of different classes and most various traditions. Thousands gained quite a new impression of what human nature might be, when they experienced the fellowship of man with man in danger and death. Comradeship ennobled war. To-day men are asking, Can it not ennoble peace?[1]

They go on to note earlier currents of fellowship; for instance, “trade-unions and other societies… had changed the face of industrial life. In these and many other phenomena of the times,” they write, “there is the same motive taking different forms, the desire for fuller and freer life.” Thus: “To a world that craves for fellowship we present our message. The secret of life is fellowship…. But fellowship with God is the indispensable condition of human fellowship. The secret of life is the double fellowship, fellowship with God and with men.”[2]

Several paragraphs on, the encyclical introduces the Church, folding it elegantly into the argument. For God

chose a nation, and made it in a special sense His own, that within it love of God and men might be cultivated, and that thus it might enlighten the world. Into that nation He sent forth His Son, both to reconcile the world to Himself and to reconcile men one to another. And His Son formed a new and greater Israel, which we call the Church, to carry on His own mission of reconciling men to God and men to men.[3]

As the encyclical turns to describing and arguing for the appeal to all Christian people, it starts to speak — the bishops start to speak; and we surely have Frank Weston and his colleagues to thank principally here: they speak continually of the Catholic nature and vocation of the Church. And the challenge, of course, as ever, is to situate Anglicanism coherently and faithfully within that wider, God-given stream. Where, after all, and what, is the Church?

In answering that question, indirectly, we see that the genesis of the discourse is precisely the previous thread to do with nations. Yes, for instance, we Anglicans, looking to a reunited Church of God, wish to resist “reducing the different groups of Christians to uniformity” but rather “rightly [use] their diversity, that the Church can become all things to all men.” But this is less a scriptural principle than it is a socio-cultural lesson — presented to us, in the first instance, by the remarkable development, and challenge, of Anglicanism itself, which is to say, the challenge of the Church of England gone international. Thus, in a key passage (note the singular at the start):

Because our Church has spread over the world, and still more because we desire to enter into the world-wide fellowship of a reunited universal Church, we must begin now to clear ourselves of local, sectional, and temporary prepossessions, and cultivate a sense of what is universal and genuinely Catholic, in truth and in life…. The fact that the Anglican Communion has become world-wide forces upon it some of the problems which must always beset the unity of the Catholic Church itself. Perhaps, as we ourselves are dealing with these problems, the way will appear in which the future reunited Church must deal with them.[4]

Anglicanism, therefore, as a potentially helpful workshop in service of the healing of the whole. We take up our tools as artisans “for your sake” and in our flesh “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col. 1:24).

And St. Paul is precisely the point, as the Lambeth fathers of 1920 come to what we will find the most challenging, and uncomfortable, part of their argument, concerning the weak and the strong, with Romans and 1 Corinthians sourcing the argument, sans citation. The occasion is the section of the encyclical on international relations:

The purpose of God for the nations, as we conceive it, is that they should form a fellowship, as of a brotherhood or a family…. There is no place in this ideal for jealousy or hatred, for ruthless competition, and for the ambition to conquer and to enslave. For this ideal is essentially an ideal of freedom, the freedom of brothers in a family, wherein the immature and the weak have carefully secured to them the chance to grow and to grow strong.[5]

What is the point? Partly, as the report of the committee on international relations makes clear, it is the healing of Europe — and, as they say, “the law of love,” which will win out, according to the peculiar logic of the gospel, as “the nations… progress towards the City of God.” This, they say, is not a physical but a moral point:

We all know the common belief that it is the big battalions that have their way. No assertion can be more baseless. The progress of the world has usually been in spite of big battalions…. Let us not forget the lesson of the last six years. The nation that had the best trained army in Europe has been defeated. The nation that was the richest in munitions of war has lost, because against her were the moral forces of civilization.[6]

This in 1920! They could not know what was still to come.[7]

But the bishops also have the Anglican Communion in view, as again a case study in the Catholicism of the world, as it were: the great variety of not only nations but peoples, which they call races. They come to the point positively near the end of the encyclical with reference to “missionary problems,” where they allow that missionaries have often erred by failing to recall that “their Master in fact commanded them to make all the nations His disciples [see Matt. 28:19]…. The aim of missions is not only to make Christians, but to make Christian nations.” And here I quote at length:

The principle has consequences… which are daily becoming clearer. No community of Christians has a right to attempt to produce a replica of itself in a foreign country which it evangelizes. Neither forms of worship, nor methods of thought, nor social institutions belonging to one race ought to be imposed on another.

Foreign missionaries should set before themselves one ideal, and one only: to plant the Catholic Church in every land. They must remember that the Catholic Church needs the fulness of the nations. They must long to see national life putting on Christ, and national thought interpreting His truth. The more they have valued their own nationality, the more they should respect the nationality of others. They do not go out to obliterate other men’s nationality, but to bring it near to Christ Who can exalt and complete it. They do not go out to propagate their national Church, but to add another national Church to the Church Catholic. They carry with them warnings and lessons from the history of national Churches. They will be on their guard against that sectarian spirit which is the danger of national isolation. … [The missionary] must leave to the converts the task of finding out their national response to the revelation of God in Christ, and their national way of walking in the fellowship of the Saints by the help of the One Spirit. Thus will the glory of the nations be brought into the Holy City.[8]

That, I say, is the positive statement of the point. More negative is the notion of maturity and immaturity applied, as the report on international relations has it, to “all the nations, advanced or backward, child races or ancient civilizations, … each of them children in the great family of God.”[9] Here Romans 12:5 is cited as an authority (“Ye are members one of another”; cf. 1 Cor. 12:27); and again, Jesus in Matthew (18:10): “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones.”[10] The bishops write: “This bears with unmistakeable clearness upon the relations of the stronger races to those that are weaker and more backward…. [The] responsibility of strong nations… includes the sympathetic encouragement of those instincts of nationhood which appear as soon as young nations emerge from infancy.”[11]

This paper concludes Thursday.


[1] Conference of Bishops of the Anglican Communion: Encyclical Letter from the Bishops, with the Resolutions and Reports (London: SPCK, 1920), available online; also in The Six Lambeth Conferences, 1867-1920, ed. Lord Davidson of Lambeth (SPCK, 1929), Appendix, with the same pagination as the original publication: quoting here from “Encyclical Letter,” pp. 9-10; emphasis added.

[2] “Encyclical Letter,” p. 10; emphasis added.

[3] Ibid.; emphasis added.

[4] Ibid., p. 13; emphasis added.

[5] Ibid., p. 19; emphasis added.

[6] Ibid., “Report of the Committee Appointed to Consider and Report upon the Subject of Christianity and International Relations, Especially the League of Nations,” p. 53.

[7] Though they grasped the possibility with a prescient accuracy, set within a robustly evangelical frame: “We must face the facts. If we wish, whether nation or individual, to enjoy the luxury of hatred, we must pay the price, and the price is another and far more hideous war as soon as ever the nations have sufficiently recovered from their present exhaustion. This very horror of the thought should give us pause: one would think that the inevitable consequences would frighten men out of their hatred; but we should prefer to take higher ground than this. The whole spirit is an utter denial of our Christian calling. We must [choose] between the spirit of hatred and the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer. Is Christendom really so utterly bankrupt of the spirit of Christ?” (ibid., pp. 54-55).

[8] “Encyclical Letter,” pp. 20-21.

[9] Op. cit., p. 52.

[10] Ibid., pp. 52-53.

[11] Ibid., p. 53.

About The Author

Dr. Christopher Wells is Director of Unity, Faith, and Order for the Anglican Communion, and served for 13 years as executive director of the Living Church Foundation, Inc.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.