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A CITY SET ON A HILL Robert Hugh Benson 1904


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There is a wide tract of country to be traversed, crossed by a bewildering number of roads‌ one of them runs clear and continuous to the gates of the city.

Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914), priest and celebrity convert, wrote over forty books.

CTS ONEFIFTIES First published 1904. Published by The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 40-46 Harleyford Road, London SE11 5AY www.ctsbooks.org All rights reserved. Copyright Š 2017 The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society.

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ISBN 978 1 78469 533 0

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INTRODUCTION The following pamphlet is a somewhat fuller statement of a paper that I drew up a few months before my submission to the Holy See, that I might test the solidity of the reasons that were moving me in that direction both by studying them myself in black and white and by submitting them to the criticism of my friends. It is published now owing to the advice of other friends who think that it may prove useful to some who are hesitating. There are one or two things that ought to be said as matters of preface. First, that I fully recognize that all that is possible to describe on paper is the most superficial part of one’s convictions. One can do no more than gather the straws that float on the surface, and try to trace the course and meaning of their movements; the real and only satisfactory motive for submission does not lie in these superficial things, but in the deep still current of faith that comes from God direct and bears the soul along. This I must say in order to disarm the criticism which shrewd minds will be able so easily to direct against this effort. It follows that I do not attempt to do more than state the case as it showed itself to me; matters of faith cannot be proved to demonstration. All that is possible for anyone to do is to try to direct people’s attention in a certain direction; and then if they see the thing indicated, they see it, and if not, not. Logic is a very powerless instrument in these matters; and if critics see gaps here and there, and unwarranted assumptions and faulty links, I would answer that I am not so foolish as to attempt to prove, but only

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to describe, what I saw and see. There is a wide tract of country to be traversed, and it is crossed by a bewildering number of roads. All that this paper attempts is to point out that two or three of them lead nowhere, and that one, in spite of difficulties, yet runs clear and continuous to the gate of the city. Lastly, I am not so near-sighted as to think that what appears cogent to me must necessarily appear convincing to others; but I am encouraged to hope that the writings to which especially I owe all that is useful or suggestive in the following pages—and of which I give a list below—will be found to contain thoughts which may prove as intellectually convincing to others as they have done to me. So many thoughts from these books are embodied in this pamphlet that it would be an endless task to make more than this general acknowledgement. Doctrine and Doctrinal Disruption. Mallock. The See of St. Peter. Allies. (C.T.S.) The Development of Christian Doctrine. Newman. Reunion Essays, No. 1. Carson. England and the Holy See. Spencer Jones.


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A CITY SET ON A HILL “ The wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein” (Isa. xxxv, 8). “Except ye…become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. xviii, 3).

I REQUIREMENTS OF THE CHURCH’S LIFE AND EFFICIENCY There are two main theories in Christendom as to the mode in which salvation is to be brought home to men. One, which we may roughly call the Protestant, is that the soul is saved directly and individually by Christ; the other, that the soul is normally saved through incorporation into a society which is His mystical Body. Of course neither theory wholly excludes the other. The Protestant so far allows the social claims of Christianity as to say that faith should issue in charity; and the Catholic so far allows the individualistic side as to say that the system of the Church inaugurates and fosters a personal relation of the soul to God without which it cannot be saved; but it is yet true to say that, roughly, the Catholic* theory is that the soul is saved through incorporation into a society, and the Protestant is that this incorporation is non-essential and secondary. * At present I am using the word “Catholic” in this sense, and in no other.

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Throughout this paper I am assuming the Catholic theory; it is a vast controversy and beyond my object even to touch upon the further question; and, taking for granted that there is such a divine society and that this society has a supreme claim on man’s allegiance, I shall attempt to sketch the lines of thought that were useful to myself in my search for it. Now there are many theories extant as to the nature and identity of this society, and every person who believes in its existence, and who approaches history and scripture, approaches them with a certain theory in his mind. He selects those incidents and movements that illustrate his own belief, and dismisses or explains away those that do not. The data of history and scripture are not so unmistakable but that they may seem to lend support to any theory. Since then every searcher after truth approaches his authorities with an hypothesis, I propose to do the same; but to form my hypothesis, not out of the authorities which are to be examined—for it is exactly those that are in question—but out of what seem to be requirements in a society that is to save the world, and which is the Body of Christ; and in these requirements I hope my readers will concur. It is a circular argument to say “I believe in the Roman Catholic Church, and I shall therefore select out of history and scripture all that favours my belief, and disregard the rest, and thus prove my theory”; it is far fairer to say, “I believe that the divine society, whatever it may be, will have certain marks by which I may identify it—marks which are to be found on other creations of the same divine Maker—and which correspond to the requirements of man’s soul, and therefore if I find in existence only one society which is thus marked, I shall accept it as divine.” All the “requirements” therefore are those which will arrive directly out of the very nature and objects of the society under discussion: namely, it is fair to say that a society 6

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which is to appeal to the world must be perceptible to the world, and that a society which is described in the scriptures as a “body must be subject to some of the elementary laws that distinguish organisms from other things.* 1. Since the society is to save “the world” it must be recognizable by and evident to “the world.”—The Catholic theory is that the society is not merely a select body of spiritual or intellectual persons, but a great organism composed of all kinds of members, a net containing bad and good. It is to save the carnal man as well as to sanctify the spiritual man, and it saves by including him in itself; it must therefore appeal to the carnal as well as to the spiritual: it must have a “worldly” side. “Souls,” it has been said, “are led away by the senses, and must therefore be brought back by the senses.” That this requirement will lay the whole method open to the charge of worldliness and sensuousness is evident; but it must be remembered that the “Son of Man,” who came “eating and drinking,” and who sat at meat with publicans and sinners, had the same charges brought against Him even by men of high spiritual life. It is indeed an element of the whole system of the Incarnation and sacraments that God, to some extent; condescends to the level of man; to denounce the “worldly” side of the Church as unspiritual is but a step to denouncing the sacraments and the Incarnation for the same reason. The Church, like her Master and His ordinances, must have an earthly as well as a divine nature, if she is to do His work. Since God is approaching man, it is not a degradation but a triumph of His love that He should come so far down to meet him. Those who accept the Incarnation as the crowning * This is in no way to assume what needs proof. In every argument one or two axioms must be accepted as true; and in this case my axiom is that the metaphor of a “body” as applied to the Church cannot mean less than that it follows the elementary laws of other animated bodies. The Body of Christ is distinct from, though the vehicle of, the Spirit of Christ.

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achievement of an almighty Creator should find no difficulty in believing that God extends His love through all the centuries along the same lines, in the mystical Body of His Son, and that now, as in Judæa, Jesus is “divinest when He most is man.” Now a primary requirement of the Church, if she is to appeal to the world, is that she should have an unity that the world will recognize. There are many kinds of unity, all very real and important in their several spheres, but not, all of them, equally obvious. For example, it is only in comparatively recent times that we have learnt even the elementary truth of the unity of man. In many countries even now they have not yet learnt, as Europeans have, the fraternity of the white and black races. Here then is a unity real and undoubted, which the whole world does not recognize. There is another kind of unity between all sentient beings—a mysterious bond that makes the millionaire and the shell-fish one; yet few millionaires and no shell-fish recognize it. Here is another real unity that the world, apart from physical science, does not perceive at all. But the world does very readily perceive the unity of the family and the country. The passion of patriotism is an evidence of it. This is an unity of allegiance to a visible head, of organization, aims, customs, language and the like. If then the world is to recognize the Church by her unity, it must be a unity of this kind—it is not enough that there should be a unity, however real, that is invisible to all who are not thinkers and spiritual pet sons. The Church must “be one” in such a sense “that the world may believe” that God sent Jesus Christ to found her. She must be one humanly as well as divinely; externally, naturally and visibly, as well as internally, supernaturally, invisibly ( John xvii, 21). Otherwise she is but a “docetic” Church—divine possibly, but not really human. 8

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One of the necessary elements of this kind of unity is a mutual subordination or obedience. Individuals cannot cohere closely unless they sacrifice something of their individuality; it is of the very essence of social life that the individual should be subordinated to the common good; and this is recognized by the world as a law of progress. More and more we are learning that competition, founded upon the conflicting interests of individuals, is in reality far less productive of wealth and enterprise than co-operation, involving though it does the constant apparent sacrifice of the individual to the common interests—that the individual, in fact, saves his life by losing it, and realizes the meaning of his own identity only by merging it in the common wealth. Hence we shall expect to find in the divine society what we find in all other effective societies—the subordination of the individual for the common, and ultimately for the individual good too. We shall find the principle of obedience as one of its most elementary and obvious marks. 2. The Church must be intelligible to the simple as well as to the shrewd.—It is possible for acute thinkers to imagine a social corporation in which all the individuals who compose it are equal; but for ordinary persons the only imaginable method of social order and government is that which tends towards some sort of a monarchy The most thorough-going republicans cannot avoid the necessity of a president’s chair, and although the greatest pains may be taken to distinguish its occupant from a monarch, yet when all is done the differences lie chiefly in such external details as the insignia of office, his length of tenure and the claims of his son to succeed him. In reality he is a monarch—curtailed of privileges and uncrowned, but still a monarch. The pyramidal system of a constitutional monarchy, or of a house of representatives with a president, is intelligible

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to the simplest mind; for the pyramid, in social matters as well as in physical science, possesses peculiar powers. It is the most stable figure of all; it is easy of access and of comprehension; and it confers a sense of finality and completeness beyond that which any other conception can offer. Now this, we may notice in passing, although it does not strictly belong to this part of the paper, was our Lord’s own system. The disciples as a whole formed the lowest layer of His hierarchy;* from them He chose seventy and conferred a certain commission upon them; from them again twelve, with higher powers still; from them three who were nearest of all, and finally He Himself was supreme King and Ruler. So long as He was visibly upon earth the kingdom thus stood visibly from base to summit a “city set on a hill”; and we should expect† then that just as He has left behind Him representatives of all His functions—priests who are so in virtue of His priesthood, preachers who represent His prophetical office—so He should have left behind Him one who should be the successor and representative of His kingship, who should fill in the visible kingdom that unique position that He filled when He was visibly upon earth. It is surely unreasonable to suppose that all His other functions have their visible representatives in priests and prophets, but that His supreme monarchy, the very climax and corner-stone that gives unity and stability to the whole, should not. To answer that earthly kings, or patriarchs and bishops in virtue of their patriarchal and diocesan authority, are representatives of His kingship, is to ignore the one quality that * It is perhaps better to notice here that our Lord nowhere repudiates the principle of the hierarchy; in fact He expressly makes it His own, for He gave to the various grades of His hierarchy very extraordinary and striking commissions. He promised thrones to twelve of them; gave the power of remitting sins to eleven; and bestowed the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” on one. What He repudiated and forbade for his followers was the bullying, tyrannical spirit—domineering, not domination. † We are not assuming that our expectation is just, but only that it is natural.


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makes monarchy at all, namely, that it is held by one person. The numerical unity, as well as the authority and judicial functions, of His royalty should have its visible representative on earth if the kingdom is to be effective. And we notice further, explain it as we may, that our Lord, as if in preparation for the time when He should no longer be in visible presence upon earth, associated with Himself in a peculiar manner one of the three who were nearest to His person, and made use of extraordinary and unique expressions to—and in reference to—this person and his position (see Appendix I). But this line of argument cannot be followed out here without interruption of the scheme proposed, and we must leave it for the present. 3. The Church must follow the same line of development as other living organisms.—An organism is like an organization in that it comprises a number of units, whether cells or atoms, combined into one whole; but what distinguishes it is that the combination of its units follows naturally a regular course of development corresponding with external circumstances that affect and assist it. One of the main principles of this course of development is that of assimilation. The difference between an organism and an organization in this matter is best seen by an illustration. A thirsty bird drinks water, and that water is taken up into his system and causes certain changes in it. It is transmuted into his substance—that is, he assimilates it. A box of sand also soaks up water, but does not assimilate it; the sand and the water remain exactly the same as they did before; the sand only absorbs the water. Now the Church must have this power of assimilation. Since it is the Body of Christ it must develop in the same manner as other bodies; that is, it must unfold its own latent qualities and capacities by feeding upon such substances as will develop and bring them out.

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