Sermon 11. Order, the Witness and Instrument of Unity

"And He sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. And He said to them: Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor scrip, nor bread, nor money; neither have two coats; and whatever house you shall enter into, abide there, and depart not from thence." Luke ix. 2-4.

{183} THESE words, taken from the Gospel which has just now found a place in the sacred solemnity in which we are at present engaged, may be called the ceremonial, with which the preachers of the New Law were ordered to go forward for the execution of their charitable work. In this point of view, as in other respects, they are remarkable words, as intimating to us how utterly contrary it is to the character and spirit of the Divine Appointments to do anything without order and prescription. If an occasion could be supposed on which external forms might have been dispensed with, surely it was then, {184} when the Disciples were to be wanderers on the face of the earth, to be whirled about as leaves by the rude blast, and to be accounted fortunate if they managed in their mission to secure themselves from torture and death. Yet even on that their first entrance into the regions of darkness and sin, ere the faithful had grown into an extended, and were formed into an organized body, ere they had secured vigour and weight sufficient to act upon the world, even in the Church's initiatory and provisional state, we find her furnished by her Divine Founder with canons and decrees for the first simple movements and actions of her ministers. Even in those rudimental efforts, the Apostle's rule is to be verified: "Non est dissentionis Deus sed pacis." He is not a God of confusion, of discordance, of accidental, random, private courses in the execution of His will, but of determinate, regulated, prescribed action. It might have seemed a matter of indifference how the Disciples addressed themselves to their missionary work; but no, they were to go forth "in pace, et in nomine Domini": their very dress, their carriage, and their journeying, were anticipated for them, and were to be of one kind, not of another.

All the works of God are founded on unity, for they are founded on Himself, who is the most awfully simple and transcendent of possible unities. He is emphatically One; and whereas He is also multiform in His attributes and His acts, as they present themselves to our minds, it follows that order and harmony must be of His very essence. To be many and distinct in His attributes, yet, after all, to be but one,—to be sanctity, justice, truth, love, power, wisdom, to be at once each of these as fully as if He were {185} nothing but it, as if the rest were not,—this implies in the Divine Nature an infinitely sovereign and utterly incomprehensible order, which is an attribute as wonderful as any, and the result of all the others. He is an infinite law, as well as an infinite power, wisdom, and love. Moreover, the very idea of order implies the idea of the subordinate. If order exists in the Divine Attributes, they must have relations one to another, and though each is perfect in itself, it must act so as not to impair the perfection of the rest, and must seem to yield to the rest on particular occasions. Thus God's power, indeed, is infinite, but it is still subordinate to His wisdom and His justice; His justice, again, is infinite, but it, too, is subordinate to His love; and His love, in turn, is infinite, but it is subordinate to His incommunicable sanctity. There is an understanding between attribute and attribute, so that one does not interfere with the other, for each is supreme in its own sphere; and thus an infinitude of infinities, acting each in its own order, are combined together in the infinitely simple unity of God.

Such is the unity, and consequent harmony and beauty of the Divine Nature, even when viewed in the lights which are supplied to us by the traditions of the human race and the investigations of the human intellect. But, wonderful as is that order and harmony, considered only in the way of nature, much more wonderful is it in the mysteries of Revelation. There we are introduced to the ineffable, the adorable, the most gracious dogma of a Trinity in Unity, which is what I may call the triumph of Unity over difficulties, which, to our limited faculties, seem like impossibilities and contradictions. How strong, {186} how severe, how infinitely indivisible, must be that Unity of God, which is not compromised by the truth of His being Three! How surpassing is that Unity of substance which remains untroubled and secure, though it is occupied and possessed wholly and unreservedly, not only by the Father, but also by the Son; not only by Father and Son, but by the Holy Ghost also! And, moreover, as there is a subordination, as I have said, of attribute to attribute, without any detriment to the infinitude of each of them individually, and this is the glory of the God of Nature; so also does an order, and, as I may say, a subordination exist between Person and Person, and this is the incommunicable glory of the God of Grace. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are all equal to Each Other in their Divinity, else They would not Each be the One God. Yet, true as it is, that not one of the Divine Persons is less infinite, less eternal, less all-sufficient, than the Other Two, it is true also that, in the history of the Everlasting mystery, the Father comes first in order, as the Fountain-head of Divinity; the Son second, as being the Offspring of the First; and the Holy Ghost third, as proceeding from the Father and the Son. And for this reason it would appear that the Second and Third Persons hold certain offices, such as that of mission, which are fitting only in Them. Hence it was fitting that the Son should be incarnate, and not the Father; and fitting that the Holy Ghost should be the energizing life, both of the animate and rational creation, rather than the Father or the Son.

Nay, further than this still: so dear to Almighty God is that principle of order and of law, which is a characteristic {187} of His glorious Essence, that, when He would reveal Himself to man, He even placed Himself under the conditions of an additional law, which did not belong to His nature, but was the mere creation of His will. He limited, as I may say, the range of His omnipotence by the obligation of His promise. Considered in Himself, He is, of course, in no respect a debtor to His creatures, nor answerable to them; there was no justice that could exist between them and Him; they could not profit Him; nor claim anything of Him; they were, in our Lord's words, but "servi inutiles"; yet the Almighty, after wonderfully calling into existence the rational creation, has more wonderfully placed it on a level with Himself. He has invested it with rights and titles. He has given it a power of meriting, and a ground for encountering and influencing His own determinations and acts. Henceforth, not only are His creatures bound but He also. "Dimitte Me," He said to Moses, on his pleading for Israel; "Let Me go," "Set Me free," "Do not stand in the way of My will," "Dimitte Me ut irascatur furor meus contra eos," "that My wrath may be kindled against them." He was restrained in the exercise of His attribute of justice by the necessity of faithfulness to His word; but what I remark is, that unless the notion of law, and of subjection to it, were elementary to the idea of the Divine Being, He never would have previously placed Himself in what (as in this instance) may be called a state of restraint. He voluntarily made promises and put Himself under engagements, from it being of His very nature to love order, and rule, and subordination for their own sake. {188}

Such being the teaching, both of nature and of grace, concerning the Almighty, it is not surprising that, whereas in all things our blessedness lies in being like Him, in this respect especially His pattern should be our duty and our good. The God of order has set up all creation upon unity, and therefore upon law. Time was when philosophists contended that all things went on at random; that the phenomena of the material world were the result of the blind dance of everlasting atoms, and that the beauty on the face of nature was no earnest or evidence of the existence of any systematic plan of which it was the result. Such a fancy is now simply despised and abandoned even by those who do not recognize the Divine Creator in His works. Even those who have no eyes to see the Omniscient and the Omnipotent, now ridicule and repudiate the idea of chance and hazard in the course of physical nature: for the further their investigations are carried into the material framework of the universe, the more certain is the existence, the more encompassing is the range, of order and of law. There is no unrestrained, no lawless freedom in the physical world,—after the pattern of its Maker. It is not, indeed, good as He is good, even in its own degree; for it is full of fault and imperfection, and might be better than it is. It is not wise as He is wise; rather it has no intelligence at all lodged in it. It is not stable as He is stable; but, on the contrary, it is ever in motion and ever on the change. But one attribute it has of God, without exception or defect, and that is the attribute of order. Here it is as perfect in its finite degree and after its kind, it is as simply the {189} manifestation of harmony and of law, as the infinite Creator Himself.

And so of the rational creation also, both in heaven and upon earth. The Angels have their hierarchy above; distributed into nine orders, they hymn the praises, and they fulfil the will, of the Omnipotent. And here below the history of mankind is founded upon the existence of society, and before and without formed political bodies there is no course of events to record. While men remain as savages, there is nothing to tell of them; nor is this all;—but the more accurately the history of the world can be investigated and put into shape, the more does it evidently appear to advance upon fixed laws, both as regards time and place, though, of course, without interfering with the responsibility of the individual.

But amongst all the instances of unity, of harmony, and of law, which the Creator has given us after His own image, the most remarkable is that which He set up when He came upon earth, the most perfect is that which exists in His Church. In the awful music of her doctrines, in the deep wisdom of her precepts, in the majesty of her Hierarchy, in the beauty of her Ritual, in the dazzling lustre of her Saints, in the consistent march of her policy, and in the manifold richness of her long history,—in all of these we recognize the Hand of the God of order, luminously, illustriously displayed. In her whole and in her parts, in her diversified aspects, the one same image of law and of rule ever confronts us; as in those crystallized substances of the physical world, which, both in the mass and in the details, consist in a reiteration of one and the same structure. {190}

My Brethren in the Sacred Ministry, you see to what conclusion I am conducting the train of thought which I have been pursuing. We, indeed, by virtue of that ministry, are at all times subjects and guardians of that Sacramentum Unitatis, which the Holy Fathers have ever recognized as lodged in the Church of God. Such we are by our office under all circumstances;—but, if there be a time when we are pre-eminently witnesses of this great and eternal truth, it is not when we are performing one by one our daily duties, though even then we represent in our individual persons the unity of her teaching and of her rule;—nor is it even when we offer Mass amid our own people, though then, indeed, we formally unite and seal them all with the impress of the One God, the One Mediator, the One Sacrifice for sin once offered, and the One Faith,—but it is surely at those special and rare seasons, of which the present is one, when all ranks and orders of the elect household are brought together from all parts into one place, under the invocation of One Spirit, in the form of a visible Hierarchy, and as an image of the whole Catholic Church;—when the Bishop in his Cathedral and on his throne, the Clergy who share his counsels and his anxieties, the Pastors who are deputed from him to feed his flock in every place, the Regulars whom Christ's own Vicar has sent to minister to him in his incessant toils, the ecclesiastics of inferior rank, the students from the Seminary, and the faithful people in attendance, when all are thus brought together in the august form of Synod, and in the solemnity of its prescribed ceremonial: and still more, if more need be said, when such {191} a meeting of the Church has the singular and most touching prerogative of being the first which has been held through a long three hundred years, and is the token of a change of times, and of a resurrection in this island, of the fair presence of Catholicism.

My Reverend Brethren, under such circumstances is it wonderful that my mind recurs to the history and the teaching of a great servant of God, of a primitive Bishop and Martyr, whose lot was cast in a day, which, as regards the particular subject before us, may be paralleled to our own? In the beginning of the New Dispensation, things were in that provisional state which I touched upon when I began;—not as if the dogma and the rule of the Church could be different at one time and at another, but "Hc omnia operatur unus atque idem Spiritus, dividens singulis, prout vult"; "All these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as He will." From the first, indeed, as ever, there was but one source of ecclesiastical jurisdiction; from the first, one Pastor Ordinarius of all the faithful; from the first, bishops had their thrones in the Church, of divine right; from the first, the hierarchy was determined; but not from the first were all these appointments observed with the exactness which they admitted and required. At first, twelve, and not one, were possessed of universal jurisdiction; at first, bishops and priests, though ever separate in their office, were not always separate in their work and their position; at first, those who were called to follow the evangelical counsels, observed them, not in community, nor in solitude, but in the bosom of their families. In these, and many {192} other ways, the visible Church, though set up from the first in its substance, was not from the first manifested in the fulness of operation and institution.

But, when the last Apostle had been taken to his throne above, and the oracle of inspiration was for ever closed, when the faithful were left to that ordinary government which was intended to supersede the special season of miraculous action, then arose before their eyes in its normal shape and its full proportions that majestic Temple, of which the plans had been drawn out from the first by our Lord Himself amid His elect Disciples. Then was it that the Hierarchy came out in visible glory, and sat down on their ordained seats in the congregation of the faithful. Then followed in due course the holy periodical assemblies, and the solemn rites of worship and the honour of sacred places, and the decoration of material structures; one appointment after another, realizing in act and deed the great idea which had been imparted to the Church since the day of Pentecost. Then, in a word, was it that the Church passed from what I may call the Apostolic Vicariate, to its true form of Diocesan Episcopacy, which whoso destroys, as a Pope and Doctor especially dear to English Catholics has intimated, is the forerunner of Antichrist.

And this change of government took place, not because persecution had ceased, not because the powers of the world gave leave, but because it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, for the welfare of the faithful, at that very time to bind together, in every part of the Church, ruler and subjects, into a closer and more loving unity. And so, as a beginning and in encouragement of the good {193} work, the same Divine Providence at that very time sent her a glorious martyr, St. Ignatius of Antioch, to be her prophet and doctor,—as in regard to the doctrine of the Incarnation, as in regard to the "science of the saints," so pre-eminently as regards the structure and the sacramental power of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. Welcome and cheering did his words sound in the ears of those early Christians, as they were wafted to them while he travelled along to martyrdom. Suitably and seasonably do they speak to us at present, who are now assisting in the same ecclesiastical revolution which was in progress then. Appositely, surely, and without apology, I may now quote some portion of them, as a fit comment on the ceremonial of these days.

"Jesus Christ," he says to the Ephesians, "our true Life, is the Mind of the Father; and so the Bishops, appointed even to the utmost bounds of the earth, are after the mind of Jesus Christ. Wherefore it will become you to concur in the mind of your Bishop, as also ye do. For your famous Presbytery, worthy of God, is knit as closely to its Bishop as the strings to a harp. Therefore by your unanimity and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung; and each of you taketh part in the chorus. Wherefore, it is profitable for you to live in blameless unity, that so ye may always have fellowship with God. Let no man deceive himself; if he be not within the Altar, he faileth of the bread of God. For, if the prayer of one or two be of such force, as we are told, how much more that of the Bishop and the whole Church? He therefore that does not join himself to the congregation, is proud, and has already condemned himself. {194} Let us take heed, then, not to set ourselves against the Bishop, that we may be subject to God. And the more any one seeth his Bishop keep silence, the more let him reverence him; for whomsoever the Master of the house sends to be over His own household, we ought to receive him, even as we would Him that sent him. It is plain, therefore, that we ought to look to the Bishop, even as to the Lord Himself."

To the Magnesians: "Meet it is, that for the honour of Jesus Christ, the Bishop of us all [Note], who wills it, that ye should preserve an obedience that is without guile; since a man does not deceive the Bishop whom he sees, but he practises rather with the Bishop invisible, and so the question is not with flesh, but with God, who knows the secret heart."

To the Trallians: "He that is within the Altar is pure; but he that is without is not pure. That is, he that doeth anything without the Bishop and the Presbyters and Deacons, is not pure in his conscience."

To the Philadelphians: "Although some would have deceived me according to the flesh, yet the spirit is not deceived, being from God. For it knows both whence it comes, and whither it goes, and reproves the secret heart. I cried whilst I was among you, I spoke with a loud voice: Give ear to the Bishop and to the Presbytery and to the Deacons. And some suppose that I spake this, as knowing beforehand the separation of some. But He is my witness, for whose sake I am in bonds, that I knew nothing from any man. But the Spirit spake, saying in this wise: Do nothing without the Bishop; keep your {195} bodies as the temples of God; love unity; flee division; be followers of Christ, as He of His Father."

May we all learn from the parting words of one, who warned us, as I may say, in the very agonies of martyrdom, to advance more and more in the spirit of obedience, in brotherly affection, in mutual forbearance and concession, in sympathy and compassion one for another. "In humilitate superiores sibi invicem arbitrantes," says the apostle, "non qu sua sunt singuli considerantes, sed ea qu aliorum. Supportantes invicem, et donantes vobismet ipsis, si quis adversus aliquem habet querelam," "In humility, esteeming others better than themselves: each one not considering the things that are his own, but those that are other men's; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another." The world looks upon us as a political, crafty, grasping set of men, like its own children. It recognizes, in the establishment of our Hierarchy, the work of an ambitious aspiration; and thinks us bound together by mere earthly bond, by selfishness, by expedience, by party spirit, by servile fear, and by ignorance. It knows nothing (how can it know?) of that hidden life, of that faith, that love, that spirit of adoration, which is our incorporating principle. It knows nothing of His Divine Presence, who, when He left the earth visibly, told us that we should still possess Him, though the world would not. It has no experience of the operations of grace, of the efficacy of the Sacraments, of the power of prayer, of the virtue of holy relics, of the communion of Saints, of the glorious intercession {196} of the Mother of God, and of the care and tenderness of the Guardian Angel. It takes for granted, that what it sees, and just as much as it sees, is the whole of us. We know, my dear and Reverend Brethren, we know, we witness to each other, and to God, in calm and thankful confidence, that we have that which the world does not dream of. We know well, that in all these matters which, during the last several years, have brought the wrath of man upon us, in the establishment of the Hierarchy and the celebration of Synods, we have but been aiming to do God's will more perfectly. We know well, that we have acted as those who one day must give account for their gifts and their works before the awful judgment seat; and that what the world takes for ambition or craft, has been but an effusion of love.

You, my Lord and Father, are by these very changes,—by becoming the Bishop of an English Diocese, and no longer the Vicar of the Holy See, sent hither for the charge of the faithful,—you are circumscribing your power, and laying yourself under obligations which before you had not. Now no longer the mere representative of him who has the plenitude of jurisdiction, but as the shepherd of a flock you are bound to your clergy and people, you are knit into the body of the faithful whom you rule and whom you serve, by a more intimate tie, and a severer liability. Not only in will and in intention, but from your office and your position, henceforth you will be taking no measures by yourself, but with the counsel of others, as well as for their well-being. As the Eternal placed Himself under the conditions of a compact, when He would reveal Himself to sinful man, {197} as He made Himself subject to the law of human nature when He took human flesh, so do the diocesan obligations which you have undertaken make you less free than you were before, and, from love to the souls of your priests and your people, do you rejoice in such captivity.

And still more is this true, my Reverend Brethren, of each of us, the Bishop's children and servants, each in his own place. We are no longer solitary labourers in our several spheres, cut off from our brethren, and at a distance from our head. We are, in a sense in which we were not before, members of a body. We are participating in a special way in the great Sacramentum Unitatis, and are bringing ourselves thereby nearer to the Divine Source of truth, purity, and charity, who is present when we are gathered together. We are met here to gain grace, and instruction, and consolation, and encouragement, from the One Eternal Bishop of the Church, whom our visible Father and Head represents. We are come, that that celestial order and peace, and that perfection of law, and that hierarchy of gifts and virtues, of which the Church is the manifestation, may also be set up and manifested, according to our measure, in our own persons. We come here to go back more able to govern ourselves, and to do God's will, and to preach His word, and to be a pattern to His people.

Yes! if there be on earth a visible image of heaven, it is in the Church collected together in one place; and we come here to drink, from that present source of grace, the strength, and health, and vigour needful for us on our journey thither. When even a fallen servant of God and his satellites entered the company of prophets under the {198} Old Law, and saw them prophesying, and Samuel standing over them, the Spirit of God came upon the intruders, and they too began to prophesy. Again, under the New law, when even an unbeliever came into the assemblies of the infant Church (an Apostle is our warrant for saying it), he was overcome and transformed by the harmony of her worship. Her very presence and action was the sufficient note of her divinity. What, then, my Reverend Brethren, will not be the influence of her ceremonial on us, who, erring though we be as mortal men, still, as we trust, have the grace of God within us, are aiming after meekness, purity, charity, and detachment from the world, and are faithfully though imperfectly fulfilling the high commission severally given to us? May we not believe, through the mercy of Him who has chosen us, that we shall carry back with us a something which hitherto we had not?—a fuller and deeper view of the great dispensation of which we are the ministers, a clearer understanding of the beauty of God's House, a firmer faith in the solidity of that rock on which it stands, a closer devotion to Him who inhabits it, a more subdued, more peaceful, and more happy temper, to encounter the trials which meet us on our course, and which are appointed to lead us forward to heaven.

(Preached Nov. 9, 1853, in St. Chad's, in the first Diocesan Synod of Birmingham.)

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