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Poverty, Chastity and Obedience: The True Virtues — Harry Williams

April 7, 2015


This book started life as a series of sermons.

I have wanted to read this book for a long time but found it to be unobtainable until I acquired a second—hand copy. As always, Harry Williams is profound and yet able to communicate truth simply as a result of his hard—won struggle to realise the Christian faith existentially instead of trotting out receivtruths as hand—me—downs.

He accepts that his being a Christian is partly an accident of history, that he happened to be born in England. He gives good reasons for accepting that reality transcends that which is empirically verifiable, that scientific reductionism fails to appreciate what is there — an analysis of the notes of a symphony does not day all that there is to be said. Jesus is the paradigm for this view that transcendence is communicable through the material — this is a doctrine of the incarnation which I find acceptable because it does not place man over against God and neither does it assume they are both the same; it accents that we are less than human and that it was in his being fully human that Jesus was divine.

His analysis of the discontent of the materialism is astute — at least I find myself sufficiently indicted by his description as to feel that it is true to my own experience. We get stuck when we cling to possessions and want ever more of them and are thus unable to rest content because we are always looking to the next thing and not enjoying what we have at present. Whenever I have dismissed the idea of being satisfied with the present it has been with the excuse that delayed gratification is the basis by which society progresses, sacrificing present joy for the sake of others and for the future — he accepts than planning and hard work are needed but the hard work should be enjoyable as an end in itself, otherwise, we never reach the future joy because it has eluded us by moving on again.

His treatment of chastity is free of the legalism which is unchaste, which is obsessively anti—sex and therefore not whole. Intellectual chastity cures one from a desire things whole — as with the cheap, packaged knowledge and easy solutions offered by some. It saves one from propaganda, political and religious. Emotional chastity saves one from cheap, evoked and transient emotions because it is faithful and enduring. In a ruthless search for domination, men kill off their feelings and all joy in life and become machines, dehumanised, striving only for whatever it is that obsesses them. Only having established all this dolls he turn his attention to genital sexuality because he has rightly perceived that genital sexuality is often no more or less than an expression of all the other things he has already mentioned so that a compartmentalised life is going to lead to fragmented relationships whereas a holistic lifestyle will lead to a whole, healthy life of loving and giving, usually in marriage but possible in ‘irregular relationships’.

Obedience is principally a being true to oneself. Because we have to live in communities, the state is a sacred institution  inasmuch as it enables all to be obedient to themselves without hindering other people in doing the same. In a democracy this should be possible. Obedience to oneself enables us to be free to be ourselves and thus obedience is perfect freedom. Obedience is an acknowledgement of what we are — to ‘be ourselves’ is not to follow a passing whim but to acknowledge that God is in us and that we are therefore greater than the passing whim.

In a sermon, he uses Christology to illustrate what it means to be truly human; Jesus is the paradigm of the free man who is fully himself and thus our model. This treatment frees Christology from academic wranglings and is truly orthodox without being restricting because the language he uses to experiential and not metaphysical. It is close to John Robinson’s treatment of Johanine Christology.glings and is truly orthodox without being restricting because the language he uses to experiential and not metaphysical. It is close to John Robinson’s treatment of Johanine Christology.


Why, then, am I a Christian? Fundamentally, I think, because it is impossible for me to believe that there is no more to reality than the things which can be seen and heard, weighed and measured, things which can be subjected to statistical analysis. I am a Christian because my experience has forced me to believe that there is an invisible world as well as the visible one, that however real may be all that is physical, animal and material, I cannot begin to make sense of my experience simply in those terms alone. I cannot escape from what could be described as the spiritual dimension of life.

Up to a point the symphony is capable of intellectual description, and the description is perfectly valid. But in the end the symphony calls not for description but for surrender. If we are to know it fully we must do more than study it. We must give ourselves up to it, and what we give ourselves up to is not just a pattern of sounds arranged in certain math­ematical sequences. It is a realm of wonder, love and praise, made accessible to us by the sounds we hear, but infinitely more than the actual sum of those sounds themselves.

if the New Testament records are reliable, it seems to have happened to a peculiar degree as far as Jesus was concerned. The unseen and spiritual shone through the material and observable with unusual clarity—so much so that it was recognized not only by the friends of Jesus but also by his enemies. That is why they had him executed, just as that is why today the Russians have banished Solzhenitsyn.

Let me say here that I do not believe that Jesus was unique in the sense that nobody else can ever be like him. If he were unique in that sense he would have no relevance at all as far as we are concerned, for he would belong to a different species. I think,. however, that it can be claimed for him that he was uniquely representative. In him Christendom has seen to a unique degree what a human being most truly and fully is. In him Christendom has seen uniquely displayed what we all have it in us to be. That is why in popular Christian devotion Jesus has often been described as friend and brother. He was, in everything, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.

Where I think our understanding can be un­necessarily clouded is in a preconceived notion that God is one definable object and man another definable object, so that we have to show how in Jesus the two objects can be shaken together into one cocktail. Alas, on those premises, no theolo­gical barman down the centuries has ever been

able to make the cocktail coalesce, however hard he has shaken the mixer. The truth is that while the mystery we call God can only be hinted at in an infinite variety of pictures, we in the West have confined ourselves exclusively to a rather narrow selection of pictures—God as King, Father, Judge, and so on—in all of which God appears as another person.

this infinitely large world of the unseen, of the spirit­ual dimension, what we call God, can be known and experienced and enjoyed only through and by means of the seen and material and tangible world, the world which science can unfold and explain to us. God is not an escape from what is genetically, biochemically, psychologically and sociologically conditioned.

Perhaps we could say that at this moment we are, all of us, less than human, and this means that, whoever we are, our voca­tion as people, the task with which life itself challenges us, is to grow into our full human self­hood. For, unless we are advancing upon that road, we feel frustrated and at odds both with the world and with ourselves. This begins by making us feel discontented and ends by leaving us in despair. The common neuroses of our world, individual and collective, neuroses of which we are all to some extent the victims, are due entirely to the fact that we have failed to go on growing as human persons, that we have got stuck somewhere. That is seldom, if ever, our fault: it is much more our tragedy. But it does make it look as though, to an important extent, we are not in the element in which human selves can grow, and the result is death-dealing.

We must not blind ourselves to how much the cultural climate in which we live militates against our growth as human selves.

Here are one or two instances. Scientific materialism, as a religious creed, treats us as mere objects which need not so much to grow as to be unpacked, and this makes us feel like an agglom­eration of bits and pieces. Bureaucrats shove us around as though we were no more than im­personal units to be arranged in whatever patterns seem neatest to their Euclidian minds. The advertising industry tries to persuade us that what we need to be happy is not to grow but to acquire more and more consumer goods. It’s being so greedy that keeps us going. Even education is becoming more and more a matter of mass production, and it is often difficult to persuade politicians not to think of schools and universities in terms of industrial analogies.

Human fulfilment, with the happiness and vitality it brings, cannot be reached along the road of gratified greed. For gratified greed never satisfies, it only keeps you a bloated Oliver Twist always asking for more. And this is the collective state of mind with which our Western society has been fixated by the evil spell of a magician calling himself economic growth. He has persuaded us that to live fully means to possess an ever-increasing number of superfluities.

Perhaps one of the greatest blessings God has bestowed upon this earth of His is to have made its resources limited. The ecologists and so-called doomwatchers of our age are men of science who have worked out with statistical accuracy that we are quickly using up the world’s resources. But in the consequent warnings they have given us they are prophets of the Lord. For, in telling us that the earth cannot continue indefinitely providing more and more for us to squander with abandoned recklessness, they are delivering a message ofjudge­ment upon our civilization and telling us that we must turn again and think out anew how we are to live.

Poverty takes pleasure in a thing because it is, and not because it can be possessed. Poverty is thus able to taste the flavour of life to the full.

Poverty also consists of the recognition that I have within my own being resources ample enough not simply to cope with life but to meet it creatively, so that it builds me up into my full human selfhood. Poverty is faith in myself as my own bank where I always have at my disposal a balance big enough to live richly and vitally and not to stagnate.

One of the greatest joys of poverty is that it enables you to live in the present. Too much of our concern is fixed upon the past and future because we try to run our lives on a profit and loss basis. If we think we have been losers—we have lost prestige or the good opinion of others—then we brood upon the past and convert it into a dreary dungeon to which we have lost the key. If we think we have made a profit, then we dwell upon the past and try to keep it artificially alive as a bogus present—”I did, after all, get a First in chemistry.”

With regard to the future, we can occupy the present almost entirely with schemes to avoid future loss and achieve future profit. I haven’t forgotten La Fontaine’s fable of La Cigale et Le Fourmi, the cicada and the ant. (It was printed, complete with a coloured picture, on a tin of sweets given me in Brittany as a boy of six.) Of course we have to prepare for the future, which, in your case, means studying for the Tripos. Poverty is not an alibi either for laziness or for the insane optimism that it will be all right on the night even though we haven’t rehearsed the play at all. But it remains true that what we study gives us most when we study it for its own inherent interest now in the present, and not because we are whipped into study by the Juggernaut of future exams.

As it happens, however, what I am chiefly thinking about are those everlasting schemes to enjoy ourselves and have a good time at some future date. We can miss the pleasure of the present moment because we are too occupied in making arrangements. I am drinking sherry with Tom and Susan, but all the time I am thinking about whether or not to have cider-cup at my party next week. I always wanted to see Venice, but now I am there I am concerned with plans to visit Torcello. I am reading Henry James, but part of me is wondering when I can get down to reading James Joyce. Instead of allowing the present to give us what it has to give us, we are attempting to build up funds for the future in terms of plans and schemes.

Strongly felt love invariably has to pass through the crisis where choosing has to give place to receiving. Otherwise it turns sour. I cannot choose what Betty is; she cannot choose what I am. In this sense we are both of us beggars. Each of us can only receive what the other really is, warts and all. Once that is realized (and only if it is realized) our love for each other will be creative and carry us both triumphantly along the road to fulfilment and joy. The way of love is necessarily the way of poverty. For true love there is no other way. And if to love means, as it does, to give, we can give only because we have first learnt to receive and not to choose.

It is interesting to see how this lesson in the art of loving emerges slowly and erratically in the pages of the Bible. In the Bible God begins by being extremely choosy and ends by receiving all men unconditionally.

Deep within his nature a man discovers that he is himself because he is also more than himself.

God, says the myth which speaks powerfully to us, did not grasp at and clutch. He let go and emptied Himself; that is why He is Life Abundant. When we ourselves walk in the path of poverty in the ways I have attempted most inadequately to describe, we are not eccentrics out on a limb, however hard our contemporary civilization may try to make us feel like that. On the contrary, we are at one with Life itself, with all the joy and the fun, with all the peace and exhilaration, with all the splendour which belongs to a man who has found himself. That is what Jesus meant when he said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

no more than poverty, is chastity something negative, simply not having fun. Chastity, like poverty, is a funda­mental attitude which hands over to us the riches which life is waiting to give us.

Of course chastity has a great deal to tell us about our sex-life—how, for instance, instead of making us into the slaves of a compulsive ritual, sex can enable us to possess ourselves satisfyingly in freedom. But before chastity can tell us about that, the word must be delivered from the prison of legalism and negativity in which it has been incarcerated. It must be shown as a positive quality covering the whole of what we are and entering into every department of our life. For there is an intellectual and emotional chastity as well as a physical chastity, and the intellectual and emotional will enable us to see the physical in its proper perspective. So I shall first consider chastity of the intellectual and emotional kind.

Intellectual chastity, then. However unfashion­able it may be, I still believe in the humane tradition of learning. I am not here opposing the humanities in the technical sense to the sciences. Scientists of distinction belong more than any­body to the humane tradition of learning. I ought to know as I have lived among them for almost twenty years. What I mean by the humane tradi­tion of learning is the ability to perceive fact and truth and value, and the concomitant ability to nose out what is pretentious and bogus. Believing in this humane tradition, I necessarily believe that the ultimate aim of a university education is not to equip you with information or technical know‑how (though these are no doubt subsidiary aims as means to an end), but to enable you to enjoy life more by increasing your capacity to discern and take pleasure in whatever is true and authentic, and thus not to be taken in by what is false and specious. In other words, the ultimate aim of a university education is to foster the growth of intellectual chastity.

When some publicist or other makes a glib generalization about something which pertains to your own academic discipline, you know how misleading that generalization can be, and that makes you suspicious of similar generalizations about matters which belong to other disciplines. You may not know what the truth about the matter is, but you’re pretty sure what it isn’t. Your intellectual chastity has cured you of your appetite for swallowing things whole. There has grown in you some inner necessity to separate what is of value from what is worthless.

Jargon is another obvious sin against chastity, for it is an attempt to sound clever when you have nothing to say because you have failed to think the matter out. Jargon often consists of words and phrases used by creative thinkers which, used in their original context, are abundantly alive, but which lesser men transport as so much solid matter into their own writings in an attempt to give them weight—only it always turns out to be dead-weight.

Intellectual chastity is the power to discrim­inate and therefore to see what is what. It is thus the only road to intellectual integrity, and, without intellectual integrity, selfhood runs to seed and we become the victims either of con­vention or of ideological propaganda, political or what calls itself religious.

Intellectual chastity is indissolubly bound up with emotional chastity. In practice the two always go together, for as we grow into the one we are also growing into the other, and I have separated them only as a matter of convenience for purposes of description.

Emotional chastity consists of the attempt to discover our own genuine deep feelings and of being loyal to them even when temporary feel­ings of an opposite but more superficial kind bang noisily about within us.

exasperated by their children’s ceaseless antics and tantrums, but they don’t capitulate to such feel­ings. They realize how superficial the irritation or exasperation is compared with the depth of their love. And their love is shown, not in easy tears like mine, but in their willingness to submit themselves on their children’s behalf to con­tinuous inconvenience. In this context the parents are emotionally chaste while I am the exact opposite.

The luxury of easy and evanescent emotion is one of the hallmarks of unchastity in the realm of feeling.

What the undiscerning condemn as degenerate and corrupt in contemporary novels, plays and films, is often in fact emotional chastity, the portrayal of real feeling instead of the saccharine concoctions of sentimentality or the undisci­plined gushing of romantic rubbish.

But emotional unchastity is not confined to evanescent feeling. It can consist also in a perma­nent feeling, and it is in virtue of the feeling’s permanence that the state of affairs I am describ­ing is popularly called a fixation. When I am fixated on something or somebody I have abdi­cated my personal identity and imagine I am no more than the feeling which has made me its slave. It can be a steely cold feeling as inhuman as ice, as when a man imagines that he is no more than his ruthless lust for power. He kills off every­thing human in him—his capacity for affection, loyalty, good faith, truth, love, laughter, fun—he kills them all off in order to identify himself totally with his insatiable greed for domination. Or the feeling for which I abdicate my personal identity can be hot and passionate, as when I imagine that there is nothing whatever to me apart from the public cause which I have espoused with an idolatrous devotion. I am not myself because, shall we say, I am only my boiling con­cern for social justice. It is not public spirit which turns people into bores, but the swamping of their identity by the campaign. It is their sin against emotional chastity which makes an evening with them so extremely heavy going.

Religion, unfortunately, is in this context one of the largest and most fertile seed-beds of sin. For, instead of worshipping the true God who gives and establishes my personal identity, it is easy enough for me to worship an idol which robs me of identity and puts its own ugly self in my place. Then, in the name of religion, I want to reduce everybody else to my own non-entity so that my idol’s empire may be further extended. Of course I can call the idol what I like and will doubtless give it a most respectable name : Buddha, Marx, Christ, or what you will. It was because Bernard Shaw suspected that, under the stress of war, Nancy Astor was in danger of sinning against emotional chastity that he wrote to her in 1942: “You exaggerate the value of the Christ-like. . . . You yourself have quite as much Christ in you as is good for you.” With which we may compare Conrad’s cook on board the Narcissus who, at the height of a dangerous storm, was “prayerfully divesting himself of the last vestiges of his humanity”. The corruption of the best is the worst. When I corrupt what should be my communion with the source of life itself by mak­ing it into an agency to rob me of life, then the worst has occurred. The sin against emotional

chastity, in its religious disguise, can sometimes look horrifyingly like the sin against the Holy Ghost. “When the light which is in thee be dark­ness, how great is that darkness.”

If I am to be an integrated whole, a city which is at unity in itself, then I must sort out my experience and arrange it in some kind of order of importance, and in doing this I must not ex­clude anything which belongs inherently to my humanity, like my capacity for thinking or loving or laughter or companionship. It is in terms of such common human properties that I must discover what are my basic commitments and be loyal to them. Else I shall either flutter in all directions and fly in none, or I shall imagine that I am flying splendidly in a chosen direction when all I shall be doing, in fact, is burying three-quarters of what I am in a putrefying grave. In either case, what I shall find myself saddled with is a sure and certain recipe for frustration and unhappiness.

Far prom binding with briars my joys and desires, chastity sets them free to bring me riches which are ever new because they are always passing beyond what I have hitherto known or been capable of imagining.

unaware of certain powerful feelings, generally sexual. Repression, according to Freud, consists of your being in the dark about the instinctual drives which are in fact egging you on, and imagining with conscious sincerity that you are being driven by some more socially acceptable impulse. Repression is the locking up of instinctual drives, all unknowingly, in the dark room of the subconscious. By repression Freud did not mean the conscious control of instincts of which you are fully aware. He never taught that any harm was done by the conscious control of instincts fully recognized and felt. On the contrary, he was certain that the absence of such control reduced life to bankruptcy. To quote his own words: “In times when there were no diffi­culties standing in the way of sexual satisfaction, such as perhaps during the decline of the ancient civilizations, love became worthless and life empty.” So there is no need for our discussion of sexual chastity to be hindered and muddled by a popular misunderstanding of Freud which has jargonized the word “repression” into meaning something Freud never intended.

I am certain that none of us can grow into satisfying selfhood without sexual chastity, but I am also equally certain that no authority of Church or traditional convention can dictate hard and fast rules applicable indiscriminately to everybody about what in detail sexual chastity involves. Chastity is too alive, too complex, too subtle, to be locked up in an air-tight box of legal definition. When thus deprived of air and unable to breathe, chastity can become a diabolical parody of itself. To take a notorious example: when St Augustine was converted and thus suddenly abandoned the mistress with whom he had been living for years, telling her, in effect, to go to hell, he certainly became chaste in terms of the ecclesiast­ical definition. He no longer had any sex (and became in the process what amounted to an anti-sex maniac). But did not real chastity elude him even more then than before? For the fanatical denial of sexuality is further removed from sexual integ­rity than keeping a mistress. An irregular union (like a marriage) may be diminishing and destruc­tive to the couple concerned, but it possesses at least the potentiality of some sort or degree of mutual enrichment, while sex regarded as your fiercest enemy can be nothing but negative and destructive. We all know the young Augustine’s famous prayer: “Give me chastity, but not yet.” It looks as if God granted that request to the end of Augustine’s life.

Of course you can get kicks, a veritable explosion of temporary excitement and pleasure, by being prepared, if necessary, to wound another person. But by being prepared to wound another un­necessarily, you are wounding yourself even more, for you are making yourself callous, and the callous man or woman can never be the whole man or woman. For his or her callousness is a denial of his or her humanity. We are sometimes told that life is for living, which of course is true—so long as we don’t silently add a few words to the phrase: “Life is for living, as the wolf said to the lamb.”

The hard work and per­severance needed to establish communion on the deepest level with another person consists of fidelity, being prepared to take the rough with the smooth, being ready to have your illusions shattered and replaced by reality, and finding the reality of your mutual relationship deeper and more rewarding than the superficial illusions about it with which you started off. All this requires from both the parties concerned a high degree of courage, imagination, perseverance, fidelity, steadfastness and loyalty, as all the best gifts in life always do. It is in these ways that you have to earn and work for the deep communion with another which you need to be fully your­self. But the chief vehicle and expression of that communion is sex. Whatever other forms it takes—and they will be many—your communion with each other must be worked out in sexual terms, and it is therefore in terms of sex that you will need to show that fidelity and steadfastness and loyalty which are the sine qua non of deep communion. This points to a permanent and exclusive sexual relationship between one man and one woman as the road to communion and hence to satisfying selfhood for both parties. That, therefore, is the meaning of sexual chastity.

It is true that both because of its inherent nature, and still more perhaps because of the organization of society, a steady homosexual relationship is very much more difficult to main­tain than a steady heterosexual one. But I have seen permanent homosexual unions which are fulfilling to both parties, in which sex has been used as the vehicle and expression of deep personal communion. I have seen it lead in both the people concerned to a wholeness and integrity of character which previously was lacking. When that happens, what are the reasons for doubting that the union is an expression of sexual chastity?

In any case; whoever you are and whatever your sexual inclinations, chastity is an ideal, and it need not be fully achieved in order to be truly present. Like generosity, for instance, chastity is not a matter of all or nothing. It is almost always a matter of degree, though the more chaste you are the nearer to selfhood you will have travelled.

As we have seen, the main error to be avoided is to confine chastity exclusively to one particular type of behaviour and to that only. Because people are different, it is by different roads that they travel to wholeness. It may come as a sur­prise to many of you, but one of the results of Freud’s discoveries was to show how some people can grow into human integrity without. in the ordinary sense, having any sex at all. For Freud discovered that sexuality is much more than genital activity, and that what are basically sexual impulses can find release and satisfaction in all kinds of creative activities—intellectual, aesthetic, pastoral, and so on. You will probably realize that I personally have a vested interest in Freud’s discoveries here, but I think they are of enough general importance to mention.

Christian may be forgiven for pointing out that Jesus was one of the most disobedient men that ever lived. He refused to be a safe member of the community to which he belonged. He recognized that to submit to its ideology would be to betray himself, and thereby he showed us how it is that disobedient people often seem to have a far greater degree of personal integrity than those who are apparently obedient.

But a thing doesn’t lose its inherent value because it is widely misrepresented and abused. (If that were the case there would be nothing of value left on earth at all.) So in spite of mis­representation and abuse, obedience is still some­thing which contributes to our growth into self­hood, something without which, I believe, we cannot be fully human.

What, then, does genuine obedience consist of? Fundamentally obedience consists of discovering what you most truly and deeply are or, better, what you have it in you to be, and of being loyal to the insight you have thus received. Such loyalty, as we shall see, may sometimes, perhaps often, involve a degree of submission to some external authority or other. But its root is not submission to anything external, it is being true to yourself.

obedience to myself is not at all the same thing as caprice, always giving way to the whim of the moment. On the contrary, it is a yoke and a burden. Yet when we take them upon us we discover that our yoke is easy and our burden is light, for by means of our obedience we are becoming what we are and finding fulfillment

It may sound fine to tell people to be true to themselves, but is it much more than a piece of empty rhetoric unless you also tell them what they are? Isn’t all this talk about obedience pretty meaningless until you have answered the question

What is man?

The objection’is valid enough. At the same time we must tread carefully here because the question

What is man?—can be evaded not only by silence, but even more by bogus, prefabricated answers. It is, for instance, of the essence of the totalitarian abuse of obedience, political and ecclesiastical, secular and religious, to tell people precisely what they are and demand that they be it. That was how Hitler’s Germany was built. It is how the Marxist-Leninist state is maintained. It is the basis of the Vatican’s prohibition of contraception, and of the pathological euphoria which American revivalists have been able so competently to engineer. It might have been the basis of a kind of scientific totalitarianism, when the scientist tries to persuade us that he can explain everything about us because we are no more than the conditioned products of an infinite series of random mutations; except that it is silly to exhort us to be the machines we are anyhow. And so the scientific totalitarian, with a divine illogicality, tells us instead to be kind and protect freedom, as if to say : “We’re all deaf-mutes, so for God’s sake speak loudly so as we can hear.”

It was, after all, at the behest of orthodox churchmen that Pilate condemned the innocent. Clearly it is as morally dangerous to think that you know everything as to think that you know nothing.

What, then, is the little we do know about man? I am going to suggest that fundamentally it is that man is both a social animal and a religious animal —but I would ask you not to jump to conclusions with regard to the second description. Maybe I don’t mean what you think I do.

That man is a social animal is really too obvious to mention. We have known since we knew any­thing that man cannot be himself by himself alone, that he needs other people, that human beings are made for each other, that it is only by means of the society of others that a man can be fully himself.

The state and its laws are always far from perfect and they demand continu­ous criticism, reappraisal and reform. But where the state allows and makes provision for such critical and reforming activity it is sacred because it fits some sort of order into the vast complex of relations in which I stand to everybody else. No­body can be himself in social chaos. That is why we owe obedience to the state as the agency of order. It is true that obedience here is, from one point of view, obedience to external authority, but it is also obedience, however imperfectly organized, to the needs and interests of others.

If I believe that fight­ing a war is always wrong, I must not allow the state to compel me to become a soldier. Any un­questioning or cowardly obedience of this kind, because it would be treachery to myself, would also be treachery to my fellow men and thus to the whole community whose interests in this case I would be convinced I was serving and the state was denying. Antigone, therefore, must always bury her brother in spite of King Creon’s having forbidden it. Solzhenitsyn must always obey his muse whatever threats or blackmail are levelled at him by the Supreme Soviet.

A scientist or scholar, for instance, may, in the commonly accepted sense, be an agnostic or atheist. But in his dedicated pursuit of truth he is none the less what I would call a religious man. In his loyalty to the conclusions to which his researches point him he is being loyal to his deepest self, but he is also being loyal to that which is greater than himself, to some principle or value which transcends his individual identity, some principle or value whose claims he recog­nizes as universal and perennial.

succinctly stated by St Paul: “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” With which we may compare the words of St Catherine of Genoa (I 447 to is io—the pioneer, incidentally, of modem hospital work): “My me is God, nor do I know my selfhood save in Him.”

The ultimate meaning of obedience is that I am not simply my skin-encapsulated ego with its limited outlook and culturally conditioned re­sponses. That is only a very superficial me which, when regarded as all I am, locks me up in a prison of frustration; and when, to alleviate the pain, I inflate this superficial me to inordinate propor­tions, then comes disaster as surely as pride comes before a fall. Mankind has suffered from nothing so much as from ego-maniacs, and ego-mania is always destructive to the self. But when I know that I am infinitely more than the superficial me of the skin-encapsulated ego, when I realize that my identity with the source from which all things flow is infinitely more important than my difference from it, when I see that I am the ocean even though I am only one of its waves

As between myself and God identity and difference are experienced not only as opposites but also as the same. So, in my deep communion with the mystery of another person and in the mystery of my own being, what I find is God.

In Jesus, we could say, they saw that man’s relationship with the Divine belonged to a sphere in which self and not-self, identity and difference, were combined.

as the preacher puts it in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath: “Don’t you love Jesus? Well, I thought and thought, and finally I says, ‘No, I don’t know nobody name’ Jesus. I know a bunch of stories, but I only love people.’ ”

The epistemological confusion which underlies much Christological discussion has had, among other things, the effect of hiding from us what for mankind is the sheer naturalness of God. God for man is not an alien reality or a foreign power. He is more truly us than we are ourselves. That does not mean that we are as fully God as He is Himself.

People often talk of obedience to the will of God as if his will were a loud and stern and foreign thing, as though God were a foreign power seeking to impose its own alien terms upon a subject people. That is because we are often the victims of the inadequate pictures in terms of which we think of God — the Victorian father, for instance, who ex officio is loving but who impinges upon his children chiefly as an autocrat demanding blind obedience. But, in fact, the testimony of all deeply religious people of all the great world faiths is that God is indistinguishable from my deepest self because it is only in his reality that I can find my own. True, I shall have to break out of the shell of the superficial me, smashing through those ingrained habits of thought and feeling which have been developed to keep the shell intact, and that may well involve me in agony and bloody sweat, in that dying to live of which all who have lived deeply have spoken. But the aim is not submission but discovery, and the result is not my being and doing what somebody else called God tells me to be and do. The result, rather, is the realization of who and what I really am, so that I am no longer taken in by the perversions which masquerade as myself. “For me to live is Christ,” said St Paul, the Christ of whom he said that he knew him no longer after the flesh and whom he described as a life-giving spirit.

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From → Spirituality

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