A Churchman’s view of England & Germany – being a PATRIOTIC SERMON Preached at St. Paul’s Malvern, Near Melbourne,Sunday, 9th August, 1914 by the Rev. W. G. Ivens M.A.
We are faced to-day with the spectacle of two great Teutonic peoples at war with one another. In the event of anyone amongst us being at a loss to understand why England should embroil herself with Germany, why she should not leave the Continental nations to their own fate, we venture to answer that it will be found that the view of life held by the Germans as a nation is fundamentally opposed to that held by ourselves, and since a victory for the German arms would necessarily mean the engulfing of certain small States and the imposition of German ideas of life upon them, we as a nation would find, in the event of a German victory, that our dearest ideals–ideals which make us what we are to-day–had been ruthlessly trampled on and the freedom and emancipation of the world hopelessly retarded. For the two Teutonic peoples stand as the champions of two mutually opposite principles of National and Race development. If Germany win in the present struggle, then we shall see small subject nations Prussianised and their life forced into line with Prussian methods; for Germany his not Britain’s gift of statesmanship in graciously permitting subject nations to develop in their own way and by granting them autonomy to bind them with the firmest ties to the Empire.
Two divergent ideas of life and development are held by the two Teutonic peoples, England and Germany. The English view of life is unity in diversity. The history of no two of the portions of the British Empire has been alike: Australia is solving her problems in her own way; Canada and South Africa have had to face the fact of the presence of a large body of people within their borders alien to them in race and religion and ideals. Yet we can safely say that in every country where British rule obtains, the rights of the conquered people have been maintained, and their life and characteristics, so far from being crushed, have been given free scope to develop, the result being that French-Canadians, Boers, and Indians, are all loyal subjects of our King, and all have profited materially and spiritually by their changes of Government.
The genius of the British people is for the formation of free associations, for the granting of free speech, for the federation on equal terms of the people of any one part of the Empire, for parliamentary rule. Our insularity caused us early to be a united nation, and while the Continental peoples were still subdivided and lacking national existences we were already a single people under one King, with one life, and with our popular liberties safeguarded by our national parliament. In late years we have seen nations coming to themselves and working for the uplifting of their people by the establishment of elective parliaments, but we long ago had fought for and won our popular rights. France won her rights a century ago, but at the cost of severing her continuity with the past, radically altering her system of Government. Ours has all through been an orderly development both in Church and State; what was wrong in our inheritance of the past has been purified, and we are thoroughly Catholic in our view of the needs of Government in things both spiritual and temporal. Our Royal Family is loved and revered, and our very existence as a nation is bound up in them.
In our view of life we admit orderly divergencies among our people, and thus we have been able to keep the French descendants loyal in Canada and the Boers in South Africa. After the Boer War the world was almost dumbfounded by the grant of autonomy to South Africa. Could any other nation than ours ever have even conceived such a project? No wonder the Eastern peoples consider us as madmen! To conquer a nation and then to set them free and allow them to develop in their own way, while at the same time we put them into touch with all that our civilisation means, surely this is the veriest height of genius, and the truest love for national existence and progress! We fight and conquer, but in order to free, not to enslave. In Canada, the French language ranks on equal footing with English, and both Dutch and English are spoken in the Cape Parliament. This would excite no comment were Canada and South Africa composed of people who united and federated on equal terms as is the case with Austria-Hungary, but no nation save Britain would ever have the magnanimity and the courage to allow a conquered people to use its own language in the common Parliament and in the Law Courts.
Thus do we show our idea of “life”: our efforts are ever to encourage and stimulate. Our fellow-subjects are men in our sight, and their idiosyncracies and characteristics are allowed to remain, and are eventually added to the common stock. Repression is far from our idea in our treatment of conquered people; a spirit of comradeship rules us. Our unspoken motive is, “Come thou with us and we will do thee good.”
Our missionary work shows the same principle at work in the formation of autonomous Churches in heathen lands. This century has seen the establishment of the Nippon Sei Kokwai, the Church of Japan, with power to form its own laws and ordinances and to regulate its own ritual. The same thing has but lately taken place in China. Our national Church life has led us to see that what China and Japan need for their perfecting is the setting up of the Holy Catholic Church in their midst. India yet lags behind, but the consecration of a native Indian as a diocesan bishop is the firststep in what will undoubtedly prove to be the founding of a national Church in India. And in the religious life which we are carrying to these nations we are thus setting up a number of religious communities whose relation to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is much the same as that which the various nations of Australia, Canada, and South Africa, bear to the Mother Country herself. Free nations, free Churches, each one able to develop its life along its own lines, but all moulded by the one spirit and all with certain spiritual ties which bind them to each other, and to the mother from whom they take their life.
To-day the world is threatened with the imposition of German ideals and German methods of rule. These are diametrically opposed to what we have been considering above. The German people to-day stands for rigorous uniformity, or military precision in life, for the complete annihilation of all varieties of form, for the reduction of all ideals to one standard, for intolerance of any diversity of growth, for military despotism, for the forcible subjection of all strivings after the peculiarities of national life. To us Britishers, and to all those who are helping us to build up our national life and who have tasted of the true joys of freedom under our rule, the influence of Germany, her present ideals and methods, are cramping, fettering and restricting. We are accustomed to freedom and to spontaneity, and to look upon individuality and resourcefulness as the surest sign of life, and the surest promise of success, but German rule and methods would reduce us all to dull uniformity, would cripple that in which we show such luxuriance of growth, the multiform ramification, the varied channels, the diversified character of our national existence, and our place and character as a nation of adventurers, our power to reproduce our free and unfettered conditions of life, our mission to elevate the nations and to show them wherein true growth and life existed, would have gone for ever.
Germany, to our notion, is hard and unspiritual; her people may be plodding and methodical, and by sheer force and weight they may achieve distinction where our greater elasticity and lack of concentration and of methodical care may cause us for a while to lag behind, but the spirit that is within us enables us to see the things that matter, and with the heart of our quest fixed and sound we can soon clothe it in all that it needs without giving such a rapt attention to meticulous details. The German is concerned with method as method: he loves it for its own sake. Take away his method and you will find none. Everything with him must conform to rule; he will have nothing that cannot square with his system. Germany to-day is utterly un-Catholic; her life is narrow and confined. The outlook of her scholars is crude and materialistic. Her Protestantism has attained its normal result, and has resolved itself into a system of bare negations. Her ruling powers have laid a heavy hand on the life of her people; everything has been sacrificed to gross material notions; her religious reformation was doomed from the start in that it failed to recognise the need for continuity in rule and doctrine, and her attempt to give the people religious freedom has ended in a denial of the Catholic faith.
Meanwhile Britain stands glorying in her heritage of the past, in her constitutional monarchy, her free people, her Church instinct with life, recognising modern needs, and yet one in sacrament and prayer with the Church of all ages. Britain and British ideas mean life in abundance; they stand for giving a chance to every nation and every individual, for the creating of the atmosphere in which every man can do his best; for fair play all round. As a nation, as individuals, we are fundamentally opposed both by our life history and by our religion–by the instincts that rule our life at school, at play, at business–we are opposed to Germany’s actions in this present crisis. Here is a case where all that we love, all that we have come to see makes for the real life of a nation, all that our forefathers manfully strove and suffered for and died to gain, where all our instincts as a people, where our whole message to the world is at stake. Shall we fail to do our duty to-day? The whole world waits for us; we are the arbiters of destiny, and, remembering our place and message in the civilisation of a Christian world, we shall not fail–we shall do what is expected of us.
This war is no war between two peoples or between various sets of peoples. It is a war of principles, of freedom against tyranny, of right against might, or spirit against matter, of the soul of progress against the dead hand of the past. There can be no doubt as to the final issue; life must assert itself; its growth cannot be put back centuries; the war spirit of the middle ages cannot avail against the light of life. We shall stand firm in the freedom wherewith we have been set free, and shall see to it that others are not denied that which we so richly enjoy.
Walter George Ivens (1871-1940) MA. D.Lit, Priest of Melanesian Mission.
[Note: Walter George Ivens died at The Rectory, Warehorn, Kent in 1940 leaving an estate of £273.]