Practicing catholicity

Daily Reading for March 27 • Charles Henry Brent, Bishop of the Philippines, and of Western New York, 1929

“Whosoever would become great among you, shall be your servant: and whosoever would be first among you, shall be bondservant of all.” (Mk. 10: 43, 44) What difference does it make if there are those who do not wish your service? They cannot help it if contrary to their wishes you watch for and seize opportunities to serve. Let your heart beat with theirs. They cannot prevent that. We must act as if there was unity and unity will come in the doing. We must relate our Christianity to that of others by whatever means will best bring about an understanding and a fellowship, without ignoring or injuring the special gift we enjoy and which it is our business to make available for the whole fellowship. Our light is a light to be set on a candlestick that it may light the whole house. It is not to be kept safe under a cover where it will be protected from the wind. It must be put within the gaze of all men. The more catholic a church claims to be, the more should it be found in the thick of things, playing its catholicity on those who do not have it. Aloofness and service are not friends. Catholicity is fearless, never afraid of being snuffed out by contacts with that which is less catholic. Indeed, catholicity, like freedom, lives and retains its power by living perilously. Never is any person so safe as when trying to seize an opportunity which leads into danger. The man and the church who practice catholicity will do more to bring about understanding and cooperation between the churches than any one else, as well as learn the meaning of the glorious liberty of the children of God.

While the aim and function of the Church is to win the individual to discipleship, it cannot stop at that. The Christian leader must somehow find his way to the rim of the world and take his stand upon it, looking out over the whole of mankind and translating all his loyalties into terms of loyalty to mankind for whom Christ died. It is his part to bring the corporate conscience of the Church to play on the corporate manifestations of the life of the day. There are those who would question the authority of Christ over politics, national and international, industry and economics. As statesmen, captains of industry, and economists they challenge the competence of the Church to enter their sphere. The blame rests with the churchmen chiefly. They have weakly surrendered or weakened the jurisdiction over life which our Lord has committed to His Church. . . .The duty of the Church is not to interfere with the proper function of the state, of industry, of economics, but to claim final jurisdiction over the moral and spiritual implications in their operation. It is the common business of the Church to enlist in the service of the Kingdom of God on earth technical and expert knowledge of every sort. If it does not there will be—indeed there already is—the devil to pay. Science without a soul is a menace. So is the state. So is industry. So is society. St. John says that any organization or phase of life apart from God “lieth in the evil one.” . . .

The unity of Christendom is no longer a beautiful dream. It is a pressing necessity for the arousing of that passion for Christ which will be the most flaming thing in the world, that certainty of voice and touch which will quell honest doubt and perplexity, that fund of wisdom which will open up spiritual vistas such as now we only yearn for. Nationalism began to eat into the body of Christendom four hundred years ago and has continued to work until Christianity has been nationalized instead of the nations being Christianized. The law of the state has become to the average citizen the embodiment of God’s moral requirements. In some countries the Church is little better than a vassal of the state instead of its converting power. Until the churches unite we shall have to move as men grievously wounded—haltingly, lamely, without a supernational and final guide in the moral and spiritual movements of the time. We shall be unable to invite the nations to walk in the light of the Kingdom of God and in this way bring their glory and honor, together with that of their rulers, into it.

From the sermon “The Authority of Christ” by Charles Henry Brent, preached in 1926 at the consecration of Dr. E. M. Stires as Bishop of Long Island, in St. Thomas’s Church, New York City; found at

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