Temples Background and Life

The Anglican tradition has several longstanding hallmarks that merit reaffirmation, and in some quarters retrieval, in political theology today: (a) the close relating of the inner life of the church in worship and sacrament to its engagement with the life of the world; (b) attention to scripture and its bearing on the world, with a commitment to mediation over against simplistic deduction; (c) a determination to grasp what is going on in the world in its complexity, and attention to the relevant empirical disciplines; (d) a constructive yet critical sensitivity to movements and institutions in society, including the potentiality of the state for good or ill; (e) an enduring commitment to natural morality and the role of reason in articulating faith and morals and in enabling dialogue with others for a more humane social order; and (f) a belief that there is much wisdom in accumulated historical experience in both church and society.

William Temple was the quintessential Anglican. When he was born in 1881, his father Frederick (1821-1902) was already Bishop of Exeter, and destined to go on to London and Canterbury. Frederick and other leading Anglicans initiated William into the whole Anglican tradition, and especially its liberal catholicism.

At Rugby School William imbibed the ethos instilled by its famous headmaster, Thomas Arnold (1795-1842): intellectual seriousness and social conscience, whereby the privileged were to show leadership in improving social conditions. He accepted Arnold's view that the existence of nations was part of divine providence, and that the kingdoms of the world were to be incorporated into the kingdom of Christ. At Balliol College, Oxford, he was immersed in the dominant British Hegelian tradition, which sought a comprehensive rational understanding of reality, thus reflecting the confidence and optimism of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. He favored the variant which stressed the centrality of personality. Inspired by Edward Caird, Master of Balliol, in both philosophy and social concern, Temple joined the Christian Social Union, which owed much to the Christian socialist tradition inspired by F. D. Maurice and J. M. Ludlow, and also the Workers' Educational Association. Educational opportunity, political responsibility, and justice in industry and economics remained of vital importance to him to his dying day.

Under these influences, and by natural temperament, Temple developed a Christian philosophy. In Mens Creatrix (1917) he declared that the philosophic task was to think clearly and comprehensively about the problems of life. He assumed that the universe was rational, and that by reason the human mind could grasp it whole. He believed the world's principle of unity embraced not only the intellect but imagination and conscience too; the sciences, arts, morality and religion. All these converged toward, but did not meet in, an all-embracing system of truth. Temple then adopted the Christian hypothesis, centrally the Incarnation, to supply the missing unity. Undeterred by World War I, he tried in Christus Veritas (1924) to construct a Christocentric metaphysic rooted in the Incarnation. Within it he crystallized a set of principles, centered on the nature of persons, for addressing social questions, and these were deployed at the 1924 Conference on Christian Politics, Economics and Citizenship (COPEC), which Temple convened and chaired. His thinking on Christianity and the state was meanwhile developing in Church and Nation (1915), essays he wrote for the quarterly Pilgrim (some were published in Essays in Christian Politics in 1927), Christ in His Church (1925), and Christianity and the State (1928).

The idealism of COPEC was rapidly challenged by the strikes of 1926 and the financial crises from 1929. Temple's Gifford Lectures of 1932-4, Nature, Man and God, were the culmination of his quest for a Christian philosophy. Tracing the emergence of mind and spirit from matter, he argued for a sacramental universe, and stressed the explanatory force of the notion of purpose in arguing for theism. He emphasized character and will (defined as the whole personality coordinated for action) in the formation and pursuit of human purpose. He also recognized more frankly the radical nature of human evil.

Temple's thinking from 1934 to his death in 1944 was challenged by the impact of Nazi power and his encounters with European and North American theologians, notably Emil Brunner and Reinhold Niebuhr, especially in connection with the international ecumenical conference on Church, Community, and State at Oxford in 1937. His Christian Democracy of that year was consciously an answer to the irrational and godless totalitarianisms of Europe. In the late 1930s Temple was writing that it was no longer possible to aspire to a Christocentric synthesis, for much in this evil world was irrational and unintelligible. Christians were being pressed from a theology of incarnation towards a theology of redemption. The task was not to explain the world but to convert it. This had to be the work of divine grace (DCE 16f.; cf. TWT 94-103).

His change of mind was not simple. He suspended the metaphysical quest, but did not repudiate the role of reason. He expressly rejected the Barthian road. He listened to the Anglo-Catholic Christendom Group and gave it prominence at the

Malvern Conference of 1941. He could see the force of the critique mounted by the young Donald MacKinnon against the smooth syntheses of the older generation of theologians. However, Temple had serious reservations about the Group's project, in the face of totalitarianism and liberalism, of restoring Christendom by defining a Christian social order resting on dogma. He wisely preferred to remain more broadly liberal. His Citizen and Churchman (1941) was in continuity with earlier writings on church and state, but it dwelt more on the tensions between the two roles rather than on their complementarity. His Christianity and Social Order (1942) carried forward much of his earlier social theology but also reflected his concern with the harsh realities of the world. It gave Christian citizens the impetus and tools to wrestle with the urgent social issues of the day and join in shaping the postwar era. Temple also urged consideration of the catholic natural law tradition, and in 1943 he addressed the Aquinas Society on "Thomism and Modern Needs". In the last year of his life he published "What Christians Stand for in the Secular World" (repr. RE 243-55), by which he wished to be remembered. He agreed with V. A. Demant of the Christendom Group that in the face of powerful ideologies like fascism and communism it was not enough to proclaim ideals and appeal to the will to attain them. Rather, one had to heal the gulf between people's ideals and their ultimate assumptions, for the crisis was not so much moral as cultural. Following Niebuhr, he stressed the need to face up to the egoistic use of power and to pursue justice.

I focus on these later, more mature works, but draw on earlier ones wherever the content appears to remain valid of Temple in later life. I first explore Temple's broad position on church and state, and then his Christian perspectives on politics. Finally, I briefly evaluate his thought and the continuing tradition he represents.

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