Nobel Lecture*, December 11, 1930
The Role of the Church in Promoting Peace
It is my belief that “leaving ourselves in peace” with our self-conceit and evil passions does not lead to real peace. Peace can be reached only through fighting against the ancient Adam in ourselves and in others.
Our generation has lived through not only a world catastrophe, but also through a violent inner revolution. People with unshakable faith in progress, believing that the world was on the road to Paradise, suddenly found themselves plunged into the darkest hell of hatred and duplicity. Filled with anguish, we asked ourselves whether the church, which had been called the Prince of Peace, had fulfilled its duty. Had we not sung on every Sunday “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men”? Had we not pronounced on every Christmas Day “The boot and the bloodstained cloak worn by the soldier in battle shall be burnt and destroyed by fire… Eternal peace must be secured and sustained by law and justice”?
Many of us in different countries and of different creeds, both in the Old World and in the New, asked ourselves this question and realized that more could be done for peace by a Christendom united at least in its most essential principle: to live according to the commandment of love. We also realized that ignorance should be dispelled and that religion and morality should be based on the following two major premises: (I) the commandment of love transcends all frontiers, as enunciated by the Savior in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the son of a hated neighboring people; and (2) the Christian concept of justice is generated by a continuous process of divine creation, as are the sanctity and the dissemination of Christian justice.
The first attempts at cooperation by the churches came from different quarters: an organization was formed at Constance at the outbreak of the war, under the name of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches; and a joint appeal to cooperate was issued in November, 19141, after difficult preparations, by churchmen in Scandinavia, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and the U. S. A. (these countries were then still neutral), and in Finland and Hungary. This appeal, however, was received with suspicion, scorn, and resistance – understandable in view of the circumstances. Our voices, not yet united in an Ecumenical Council2 as they are today, were weak against the thunder of cannons. In the summer of 1917, I was traveling on the train from Stockholm to Uppsala, rather dispirited after recent disappointments. We had already decided to make arrangements for a meeting. It was to be a testimony by patriots of the two sides at war, showing that they possessed, besides loyalty to their own nation, something deeper, something fundamental and unifying, namely the Cross of the Savior. Not far from Uppsala, I picked up an English newspaper and saw on the first page: “The British Council for Promoting an International Christian Conference”. I could hardly believe my eyes. This was precisely what we were planning here in the North. I sent them a telegram saying that our invitation was ready to be sent. I had already warned in a sermon against possible Pharisaism in neutral countries, but Providence could not be praised too highly for having saved the three Scandinavian countries from the deluge, even though it had not spared them the pain of witnessing it. After discussions and correspondence, the organization of the meeting was undertaken by three of us: myself, the Bishop of Oslo, an eminent and scrupulous person of outstanding culture, and the Bishop of Själland3, the indefatigable champion of the unification of churches.
The joint invitation described the purpose of the congress as a declaration of Christian unity and an expression, before the world, of the belief that the values of Christendom transcend those of individual nations without in any way detracting from their importance. The causes of the war and the purely political measures for achieving peace were not to be discussed. The aim was to examine what the different churches could achieve in the struggle against war, and how they could bring about the proper state of mind or climate needed for better international understanding. Reckless nationalism had to be replaced by Christian brotherhood. The British association mentioned earlier, which was campaigning for a united Christian testimony, inquired whether such a conference could not be arranged in the neutral North. A number of articles subsequently appeared in The Challenge4, suggesting that it was the duty of the churches to take the initiative since the Social Democratic Congress in Stockholm had now been postponed. As early as the middle of September The Challenge had “insisted in the strongest terms on a meeting of representatives from the most important Christian communities in all countries at war”. The paper added: “Let the church take the lead in showing the world the unity of Christ’s followers in their obedience to Him.” A leading article in a later issue described such a conference as an inescapable duty, with unique possibilities in the present situation. As pleasantly surprised as ourselves, the paper requested further information about our intention to organize an international church assembly and published an article on the matter.
In Internationale Monatsschrift Professor Adolf von Harnack5 wrote recently: “We are delighted when noble patriotism is brought to light in this world of material interests, but poor indeed is the man who finds his highest ideals in patriotism alone or sees the nation as the epitome of all good. What a relapse from the time when we in this world experienced the presence of Jesus Christ among us! We should, therefore, strive with all our might for Christian unity of mankind and we should be generous in our small circles to prove that the brotherly unification of mankind is not an idealistic dream of utopians but a realistic aim, inseparable from the Gospel.”
Because of passport difficulties in the West, the assembly had to be restricted to churchmen from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, and Switzerland. The conference was held quietly in Uppsala6. Bishop Otto Jensen, Professor Morgenstierne, and Parson Eugene Hanssen7 were among those Norwegians who could not come but who declared their support. Bishop Bernt Støylen attended and reached our very hearts when speaking in Uppsala Cathedral. Other Norwegian representatives were the present Bishop Eivind Berggrav, Dean C. Hansteen, Secretary General Piene, and the present Parson Thvedt8. The Danish delegation of ten included the Bishop of Själland and Chief Librarian H. O. Lange9. Bishop Lönegren from Sweden acted as vice-chairman. The sermon at the morning service was preached by Bishop Stadener, who is now the president of the Swedish Board of Education. Secretarial duties were effectively performed by the untiring Knut B. Westman, who had previously been in China but is at present a professor at Uppsala10.
Bishop Otto Jensen wrote from Hamar: “I am delighted that the desire for peace and brotherliness is spreading within the Evangelical Church. Through unity and cooperation, the Evangelical Church, too, can become a world power. It is the Evangelical Church which in freedom, authority, and generous love, possesses the principles which can build the future on new foundations.”
Jens Gleditsch11 sent a letter containing the seeds of the profound and thought-provoking speech he was to give later at the Ecumenical Conference in Stockholm in 1925.
The outcome of the meeting in December, 1917, was a declaration of faith in brotherhood, justice, and peace. In fact, I can still remember a young Norwegian churchman, a Swede, and a Dane composing in my library the brilliant sentences which have remained the tenets of the ecumenical revival.
The Conference of Churches in Neutral Countries [Neutral Church Conference] issued statements on (1) the unity of Christians; (2) Christians and the life of society; and (3) Christians and the law. The documents, signed by Ostenfeld, Støylen, and Söderblom, were issued for the consideration of the church and as a guide for her work.
The supranational character of the Conference had an effect far greater than we had dared to hope. The mission also proved to be a harbinger and an implement of peace. The Christian mission is by its very nature supranational, a spiritual entity that addresses people as human beings and not as speakers of given languages and members of given races and nationalities. The mission’s demand for freedom to fulfill our spiritual and Christian task was not respected by the Great War. The Neutral Conference addressed a letter to the Continuation Committee for missions, established in Edinburgh12. We later also approached through delegates those Christian and other bodies which were most closely interested in these problems. Our appeal was favorably received and led to the desired results on more than one occasion.
I would like to quote now the three main points of the proclamation issued at the Uppsala meeting in December, 1917.
“(1) The unity of Christians.
When our Christian creed speaks of a universal holy church, it reminds us of the deep inner unity which all Christians possess in Christ and in the work of His spirit, irrespective of national and scriptural differences. We can say without ingratitude or unfaithfulness to the special gifts in Christian experience and thinking which each church has received from God throughout history, that this unity, found at its strongest at the Cross of Christ, can and must be improved in our way of life and in preaching.
(2) Christians and community life.
The great endeavor of the Christian community to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world can and must be realized by the Evangelical church in a spiritual way, through its preaching and its example. The church should represent the waking conscience of mankind. Together with the Christians in all nations at war, we are deeply aware of the incompatibility between war and the spirit of Christ, and we would, therefore, like to stress some main points regarding the part to be played by Christians in community life.
(a) In the past, unfortunately, the church has often stressed differences rather than unifying factors, but she must now assert the ideals of Christian fraternity, condemn selfishness, and fully participate in efforts to remove the causes of war, whether these are of a social, economic, or political nature.
(b) Christians should realize that they are partly responsible for public opinion and should serve love and truth in public, national, and international life, as well as in their personal relations. They should try to understand others, their thoughts, languages, and behavior.
(c) The church must work for international understanding and for the settlement of international disputes through mediation and arbitration.
(3) Christians and the law.
According to the Christian point of view, our awareness of right and wrong is a divine gift, as are its outgrowths: law and civil order. Civil order, at least at a basic level, is a prerequisite for the efficient practice of the teaching of the Gospel. Every existing legal system is incomplete, requiring for its completion the development of moral consciousness.
The church must, therefore, uphold the sanctity of law and promote its development in the name of Christ, both inside and outside national boundaries. She must, therefore, fight against all glorification of violence and against any force contrary to the rule of law, and she must preach that nations and communities, like individuals, must act according to ethical principles, basing their hopes for coexistence on the principles of truth, justice, and love.
Wherever the church has erred in this respect she must humbly confess it and correct the mistakes.
The framework of law has only a limited value in itself since it must be fitted with inner moral convictions for it to be effective. To create and foster such a state of Christian brotherly love, self-discipline, and justice constitute the main duty of the church in this field.”
These were the main themes of the Conference held in 1917.
The doctrine of the sanctity of the judicial system, which was proclaimed in the annals of the Revelation but has since been often obscured or misinterpreted, received an unexpected and, if maintained, effective confirmation in a resolution put forward jointly by an Englishman, a German, and a Frenchman at the Ecumenical Council at Eisenach in 192813, and approved both by the Universal Ecclesiastic World Federation and by the Ecumenical Council itself.
The originator was the Bishop of Chichester, G. K. A. Bell14, well known to us from the Ecumenical Conference. He is not a politician. He is a priest in the true sense of the word. He has won respect for his opinions through his strong religious convictions and his indefatigable evangelical service. His words are weighed with care.
His motion at Eisenach was supported by a German and a Frenchman, two of the noblest and most genuine representatives of contemporary Christianity. One was Dr. Walter Simons15, then president of the National Court of Law in Leipzig, who had been acting president of Germany between Ebert and Hindenburg. His papers were generally acknowledged as the most distinguished at the Stockholm meeting in 1925, and elsewhere as well. A French newspaper commented on the lofty thoughts that dwell behind his Goethe-like brow.
The Frenchman was Professor Wilfred Monod from Paris16, of an apostolic nature, glowing with enthusiasm for his country and for truth, unity, and peace.
It may be seen then that the resolution did not originate from irresponsible visionaries but from trustworthy men, deeply loyal to their people. This resolution is an act and it calls for action.
The Eisenach Resolution contains the following four points, the first two of which agree with the message of the Stockholm meeting:
“(1) We welcome wholeheartedly the solemn declaration made by the leading statesmen of the world in the names of their nations that they condemn war as a means of settling international disputes and denounce it as a tool of international power politics. We agree, furthermore, that the solution of all disputes or conflicts must never be sought by any means other than peaceful ones.
(2) We believe that the settlement of international disputes by war is irreconcilable with the spirit of Christ, and therefore irreconcilable with the spirit and conduct of His church.”
The third point relates more closely to the present situation.
“(3) We are convinced that the time must come when existing treaties have to be revised in the interest of peace, but we maintain that all international disputes and conflicts which cannot be solved through diplomacy or mediation must be settled through arbitration by the International Court of Justice or some other court of law acknowledged by both parties.”
The fourth point, the most original and far-reaching in this resolution, not only states a magnificent generalization, but also establishes a rule which is a direct consequence of our Christian faith, a rule which has therefore won the approval of the church and which is to be followed literally at critical moments when war threatens, for there will always be disputes between nations, as there are between individuals and groups. The intention is to extend the legal system in such a way as to preclude the desperate course of war between nations, in the same manner in which blood feuds have been abolished and tribal fighting stopped in law-abiding communities.
This year something has taken place which would not have been thought possible before the World War: a more general formulation of the fourth point was accepted by the Lambeth Conference, the international council of Anglican bishops held every ten years.
To elucidate the aims of the fourth point I propose to discuss this point in greater detail.
“(4) The legal system is the work of God, and it is the duty of the church to stress its sanctity and to work for its extension beyond national boundaries. The church must uphold the binding nature of any contract obliging nations to settle disputes through arbitration or legal channels. Thus, if the government of the church’s own country disregards this obligation to submit a dispute to such a procedure, the church must condemn any war developing from this situation, and must disclaim, in both word and action, any connection with it.”
What? Desert the fatherland when it goes to war? Forsake it in its fatal hour? Oppose the legal government of the country? I was not at Eisenach myself, but I assure you that our brothers there carefully considered this proposal before God and their conscience prior to submitting, accepting, and referring it to all accessible church communities in the world. I had already been told about the idea in May, 1929, when I was in London in connection with a peace lecture17.
We have to examine this matter more closely.
Jesus said: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”18 St.Paul wrote: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God.”19 St. Peter wrote: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.”20 This rule was valid even when Nero was emperor of Rome. Romantics and unthinking individuals have taken offense at such words. But society and history are not built of romantic effusions and dreamy ideas but by labor according to the dictates of conscience and the order of law. There is one universal tenet: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”19 However, it is not this tenet to which we are here appealing. It is always a grave act to shake one’s loyalties. While our entire civilization is rocking and darkness is spreading over its future, it would be more dangerous than ever to alter its foundations, even though they are imperfect and in need of improvement. Let us bear in mind the words of St. Paul: “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way.”21 And who would take the responsibility of removing the sole restraint from lawlessness? No, what we are recommending is not a breach of loyalty; on the contrary, it is obedience to a higher obligation. A supranational judicial system is being built. Binding treaties between nations who are committed to conciliation or arbitration when disputes arise rather than to war represent the foundations of a larger edifice of the rule of law. What we do advocate is obedience to the rule of Christ and His apostles instructing us to respect civic law. We do not limit this to our own people or province. All people and all nations must participate in the construction of a supranational legal system, which, according to our Christian doctrine, is a continuation of God’s creation. And when this legal obligation has been fully realized, Christians and the church must unswervingly observe it, even in case of conflict.
It may seem unwarranted to talk about such matters here in the North where, on the basis of the past hundred years or so, we can hardly imagine a conflict among ourselves. However, we must be loyal to our brothers throughout the world in this matter, as in any service rendered in the cause of peace. Does anyone believe that a Scandinavian government would break an agreement and refuse an offer by another nation to conciliate or arbitrate between them? If anything as inconceivable as this were to happen, people would appoint a new government which would uphold agreements solemnly concluded by king and parliament. The situation is the same in some other countries.
Will the church in all countries which have concluded such binding agreements decide to apply the biblical doctrines and thus support the Eisenach Resolution? If so, an essential gain will have been achieved for the holy. cause of peace.
But let us now return to 1917. The Uppsala meeting in December, 1917, was intended to be only a preparation. A larger meeting was planned for the spring or winter of 1918. It was to include also the church representatives from the countries at war. It was to be held in Oslo. In this connection, I would like to quote from Bishop Tandberg’s answer to my letters at the beginning of 1918: “I understand clearly that it is important for the sake of Christ’s church that we should, during the present conflict in the world, unambiguously preach Christian unity which stands above all worldly disagreements. It is, therefore, desirable that prominent churchmen of different creeds should assemble in the near future and form a conference at which, in a spirit of concord, in prayer, and by serious negotiations, they can discuss what should be done in order to help virtue and fraternity triumph over the evil passions which have for years now made enemies of the greatest civilized nations of the world. Under the present conditions, an international church conference will undeniably have a full agenda. I am willing to sign the appeal which you sent me.”
Despite food rationing, Oslo was prepared to accommodate the representatives. The Bishop of Oslo wrote that, if Oslo were chosen, “I will do everything in my power to arrange the meeting in the most suitable way.” He further testified to the warm interest of the King of Norway and the Prime Minister22 in an ecclesiastical world conference. Speaking of the Prime Minister, he said: “He would like to obtain a grant from Parliament for the meeting to be held in Oslo so that the Conference would bear an official stamp which would enhance its importance, without detracting from its character as a meeting called by private initiative.”
Parson Eugène Hanssen urged me to devote all my energy to ensure that the Conference be “held in such a way that its proclamations will be authoritative and worthy of the Evangelical church, and can thus be transmitted to the various Christian church communities. As representatives of the Gospel, our churches stand in an international pulpit, preaching an international message.”
Bishop Støylen characterized the meeting in Uppsala as “a sign of spring in the dark winter, which stimulated a longing for more”. He continued, on February 8, 1918, with words truly worthy of a servant of the church: “It is to be hoped that these cruel times will not last too long, for it seems that anger is rising within the people, dominating their thoughts and turning them against all community order, a development which is understandable to me in view of the iniquity and brutality, both spoken and active, which pervade the community and which have reached a peak because of the fear of war. We seem to have a long way to go before we realize the great teachings of our Master.”
Although Evangelical churchmen from both sides, from Germany, England, and other countries, had assembled for three days in Bern in 191523, together with representatives from neutral countries, the efforts to bring about the great international church council in Oslo were unsuccessful.
After countless setbacks and difficulties, and after the unfortunate failure of the labor movement’s efforts to bring about a common meeting, responsible patriots eventually managed to assemble in 1919 at Oud Wassenaar near The Hague for the first time since the World War24. With aching hearts, losses in their families, and destitution in their nations, and with understandable distrust evoked by opposition and falsehood, they still joined together in saying “Our Father” and “Forgive us our trespasses”, and in brotherly consultation. Those who assembled were in fact Evangelical churchmen, most of them servants of the much decried people’s churches and the so-called state churches. It was once more the Evangelical church, weakened though it was by discord and rightly criticized for its schisms, which was the first community or group of people in the world to bring together responsible men and women from both camps after the Great War.
This was followed by the ecumenical revival’s baptism of fire in Geneva in 192025. The Spirit fought and was victorious. I shall not pause here to examine the tortuous path traced out during the next few years. The miracle occurred in 1925 in Stockholm26. In all its history, the church had never before seen representatives from all over the Christian world united in sincere self-searching and in a common resolve which can be expressed by the prayer of St. Bridget: “Lord, show me the way and make me willing to take it!”
After the Stockholm meeting, the Evangelical Lutheran World Convention was consolidated here in Oslo.
The Continuation Committee founded in Stockholm, which now, in accordance with the new and extended constitution approved this year, represents the Ecumenical Council, has held important gatherings in Bern in 1926, in Winchester in 1927, and in Prague in 1928 where the Norwegian member of the Ecumenical Council, Professor Lyder Brun27, put the seamen’s cause before the meeting – a matter since raised also by the League of Nations, at Eisenach in 1929 and at Chêxbres in 1930. The so-called utopian idea has become a reality. The Ecumenical Council officially or semiofficially represents the larger part of Christendom; that is to say, two of the main divisions of the Holy Catholic (General) and Apostolic Church: the Greek and Russian Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Evangelical Western Church which, even in its creed, confesses to believing in and thus belonging to “The Holy (General) Catholic Church”. The third main denomination, the Roman, has not considered it possible to take part officially in this ecumenical work because of the traditions of the Papal See and of the ever increasing demarcation and isolation resulting from the Vatican Concilium of 187028. All three are a continuation of the earliest Christendom. Each considers that it is following the work of the Master in the best and most faithful way. Critical examination may perhaps reveal which are the most deeply basic principles of revelation for each. The unifying factor for the Greek church lies in a language, for the Roman church in a city, and for the Evangelical church in a joyous and inspiring message. We possess encouraging testimonies from many Roman Catholic laymen, particularly those belonging to the intelligentsia, and also from Roman priests and theologians who follow our endeavors with sympathy and good wishes. It is true that the Pope’s 1928 Encyclical of the Twelfth Day29 forbids Roman Catholics to take part in our ecumenical assemblies, these assemblies having been condemned. However, our endeavors to unite are not ignored in a steadily growing section of Roman Catholic literature. As regards a future rapprochement, some connections already exist and others are being established. Thoughts are – so far – free.
The various church groups within Evangelical Christianity, such as Evangelical Lutherans, Reformists or Calvinists or Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, and the like, are not ruled by a common absolute government as are the Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Roman Catholic parish priests, orders of brotherhood, and various other groups (not always free of disagreements), and the nationally established Roman people’s churches or state churches – all of which are ruled by the papal government. Nevertheless, our meetings have extensively clarified the differences between us and manifested better than we had dared to hope the essential spiritual and religious unity within the whole Evangelical church.
The Ecumenical Council is as magnificent an achievement as the League of Nations. The seat of the latter is in Geneva, a city situated in an earthly paradise amid great Roman Catholic nations, its best traditions still inspired by the great genius and ideals of Calvin30. Above the entrance to the hall where the Assembly of the League of Nations has up to now held its meetings, we can read the words: “Salle de la Réformation”.
Geneva is also the city which has conferred domiciliary rights on the Ecumenical Council. This conjunction calls to mind Adolf von Harnack’s greeting to the Ecumenical Conference in 1925: “This council is the synthesis of the church’s history.”
The one hundred members of the Ecumenical Council are divided into five sections. The president of the first, the Orthodox section, is, by virtue of his office, the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople since he holds a spiritual authority acknowledged by the entire Orthodox Christianity. It was Constantinople which on its own initiative, and quite apart from our efforts, issued a missive in 1920 concerning “Koinonia ton Ekklesion”, a church community or a church union31. This aimed at enabling the churches to fulfill their duty of love in times of crisis and to promote peace regardless of the diverse creeds involved. Exactly the same thought had inspired our endeavors in the North and motivated the petition presented at the meeting of the World Alliance in Oud Wassenaar near The Hague in 1919. The patriarch of Constantinople carries out the duties of his presidency in the Ecumenical Council through his deputy, the metropolitan of Thyateira32, who lives in London.
I was succeeded as president of the European section, or rather of the continental and northern section, by the jurist Dr. Kapler33, of Berlin, a most distinguished German churchman, elected not in his capacity of chairman of the German Church Union but by the European section of the Ecumenical Council. It was he who, after the great International Church Council of Copenhagen in 1922, expressed at the meeting of the Ecumenical Council at Hälsingborg the aphorism later repeated many times: “Lehre scheidet, Dienst vereint.” (“Doctrine separates, service unites.”)
We participate heart and soul in the holy task, initiated by the Protestant Episcopal church in America, of establishing faith and order, fraternal consultation, concord, and, as far as possible, unity in creed and church statutes. Mikael Hertzberg, an ardent adherent of this cause, took part in the great meeting in Lausanne in 192734. He died shortly after seeing his aspirations fulfilled. I prayed today in the Capella Johannea, belonging to the Church of the Priests, which he founded.
As we can see, doctrinal differences are being reduced. However, Christians should not wait for full agreement before they start practicing the duty of love imposed by the Master. The pure light of the Revelation is perceived differently by different eyes, and the church has been divided into many parts by human shortcomings, different historical conditions, and by the church’s neglect and distortion of doctrines during certain periods of time. While we on the one hand pursue long-range discussions concerning our holy faith and the church ordinances, we must, on the other hand, follow immediately the command of our Master. On Judgment Day we will not be questioned about the propositions of the catechism or about the dogmas and ordinances of the church; we will simply be told: “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”35 Christ’s preaching itself was concerned with a better interpretation of the will of God and with the emphasis of the supremacy of God. No result of the Stockholm meeting has been more obvious and noteworthy than the realization that, according to the Gospel, God must be first in people’s hearts and must thus also rule over the people, over groups in society, and over the nations themselves.
Resuming our survey from East to West, we come now to the British section comprising the ecumenically minded Christianity in Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Commonwealth, and in the Anglican church in all parts of the world, even outside the British Empire. As in the case of Orthodox Christianity, the president has been chosen by virtue of his office. The Archbishop of Canterbury holds the oldest and most widely recognized position in Anglo-Saxon Christianity. It was the present Archbishop of Canterbury36 who expressed the principle of our peace work during the war: “God can never be an Ally, only the Supreme Lord., Bishop Woods, who has been the deputy for Canterbury since 1920, continues the great tradition of social concern connected with such Anglican names as Maurice, Kingsley, Westcott, Lightfoot, Scott Holland, and Gore37.
The fourth section, the American, brings to the Ecumenical Council something of the strong active idealism which, in addition to other features, characterizes the New World and which we in Europe often misjudge or fail to understand. The president of the American section is Parkes Cadman38, formerly chairman of the North American Church Federation. Through his Sunday broadcasts, his voice has reached the ears – and we hope also the minds and hearts – of many more people than that of any other preacher in the history of the church.
The chairman in Lausanne in 1927, Bishop Charles Brent39 from Buffalo, now deceased, was also one of the main figures at the Ecumenical Conference in 1925. It was he who, after stressing in Stockholm his faith in world peace in the name of Christ, added: “I may be a fool, but if so, I am God’s fool.”
The fifth section is made up of old and new churches in the Orient and elsewhere which do not belong to any of the four sections just mentioned. A president has not yet been elected. In the largest section, the European one, there are two vice-presidents. The first is the Bishop of Haderslev, Valdemar Ammundsen40, one of the experienced leaders of the ecumenical work and president of the World Alliance for International Friendship founded at Constance at the outbreak of the war, which now has committees in over thirty countries. The preliminaries for the Ecumenical Conference were initiated by this World Alliance for International Friendship whose devoted secretary-general, Lord Dickinson41, of London, is dedicating his life to its cause. The two organizations work closely together, sustained in large part by these two personalities.
The second vice-president of the European section is a Frenchman, Professor Wilfred Monod, of Paris. It was he who declared in Stockholm that the voice of ecumenical Christianity was strong enough to appeal to the other great internationals:
“In communion with Chrysostom and Origen, with Pascal and St. Francis of Assisi, with Luther and Livingstone42, let us first turn to our brothers separated from us, the Roman Catholics, whose seats among us have remained empty in the physical sense, but whose spiritual presence is deeply felt..
Let us also turn to the founders of the noble International of Intellect, the scholars, philosophers, professors, and educators – the heirs of these proud martyrs of independent thinking who once laid the foundations of modern knowledge… The Church of Jesus Christ unanimously asserts that, though the methods may vary with the degree of certainty in arriving at valid conclusions, a single spirit must still rule the realm of knowledge – the spirit of humble acceptance of established facts and of loyal devotion to truth, which alone enlightens and liberates.
Let us now turn to the International of Labor, organized in behalf of the nameless workers who once included Jesus the carpenter… May they cease confusing the eternal Gospel with the church which today strives, as did John the Baptist, to be only “a voice”, a voice testifying to the Savior.
Let us turn League of Nations, this prodigious institution embodying only new concept that has emerged from World War. It is still weak like the Infant in Bethlehem’s manger and Him threatened by Herod’s assassins. But, Messiah, destined unfold banner which will gather together all peoples earth, regardless race, color, and religion…
Finally, let us turn to the governments. Without entering the political arena, the Christian Church must assert itself as the indomitable prophet and interpreter here on earth of the moral Law, which is imposed on national communities just as it is on individual consciences…
Let us follow the example of the first disciples and send forth messengers two by two from Stockholm to the cities and the towns, announcing like the prophet43: ‘Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ Without national and international repentance, our civilization will perish!”
In accordance with the new constitution, the four presidents act in turn for two years at a time.
The task of this council is that originally planned, namely:
(1) To be a mouthpiece for Christianity and to express the feelings of the Christian conscience. How sorely we lacked such a joint testimony during the World War! The Pope spoke more than once in a way which did express the reaction and desire of the Christian conscience. But he represents only a part of Christianity. The Ecumenical Council speaks for her two other main divisions. Perhaps the day will come when Roman Catholics will also be represented in the Ecumenical Council.
In any case, organization is not the most important factor here. I had already suggested in my proposal in 1919 and 1920 that this Ecumenical Council ought not to speak with an official external authority, but should inspire response and results from its words by the method spoken of by Paul the Apostle in II Cor. 4:2 when he says: “We, by manifestation of the truth, commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” The truth has a covert or overt ally in the heart of man and in his deeds. One need not be the pope, nor a member of the Ecumenical Council, nor hold any office or distinguished position in the church for his voice to be heard – even more widely than the voice of any authority – if at a given moment he has the calling and ability to express what conscience and truth demand. However, the world being what it is, we cannot dispense with organizations. The future and authority of this Ecumenical Council does not depend on the individuals in it or on what offices they hold, but on its spiritual character and on what it says and does.
We are not satisfied with merely bringing together those inspired by zeal for this noble endeavor. We want the churches to be officially or at least semiofficially represented – and this is truly difficult to bring about. Why struggle with the present church system, rigid as it has been for centuries and, if not immovable, at least very difficult to handle? The prophets, the Savior, and St. Paul were not called by any church. They were called by God, and they spoke on behalf of God. We must listen to them and their followers, even though it may be painful, humiliating, and even contrary to our thoughts and habits. But we must also take care that the voice of Christian faith, love, and hope be heard. In the preparations for the Stockholm Assembly and since then, we have been anxious not to form outside the churches any special establishment of chosen people, but to accept the churches as they are. We know that personal qualities and the Spirit are everything – at least the most important in God’s realm. But we want the churches as such to take part for the simple reason that we believe we have discovered in the ecumenical revival something which has been neglected, namely the main substance of the preaching of Jesus Christ: the will of God, His supremacy, and also in this connection, the unity of Christianity, reached not through compromises and alliances but by immersing ourselves in the truth and experiencing the great universal wonder.
Among the declarations issued by the Ecumenical Council are the pastoral letter from Bern on Christ the King, the testimony about the cause of the World War, the Eisenach Resolution, and the appeal to the conscience of the world concerning the cruel fight against religion in Russia.
(2) In addition, this Ecumenical Council is called upon to be an organ of action. For the first time in the history of the church, the greater part of Christendom has been united in a common undertaking: the Social-Ethical Institute, for many years now active in Geneva.
The Social-Ethical Institute has a scientific task. And is it not unbelievable and magnificent that the churches are united in a common task which is scientific in nature? That task is to determine the Gospel’s relevance to and verdict on modern conditions such as industrialization and nationalism.
We do not believe with Socrates that man does what is right because he knows it to be right, but we must agree with the philosopher in that man needs to know what is right before he acts. Man’s understanding is partial, and the Savior said in his farewell speech, in the Gospel according to John, that he would send the spirit of truth to lead Christianity along the right path. The greatness of Christ is due in no small part to the fact that he did not merely issue certain rules and doctrines dependent on the special conditions of His time and the prevailing cultural atmosphere, which would soon have become obsolete; he gave Himself, His person, and a doctrine of goodwill, which will be forever valid and which cannot be circumvented by any shortcuts or shortsighted simplifications. This doctrine should be applied earnestly and with mental acumen in every age, and particularly in today’s unparalleled socio-ethical revolution. This is the mission of the Institute. In addition, however, there are some purely practical tasks such as the exchange of help and research, and the collection and processing of material. A young French colleague came to us from the International Labor Office to deliver a greeting from the head of the Office: “We have the personnel; we ask you for leading ideas.” Mankind in fact cannot do without them; it cannot manage on short-term purpose alone. Of the many active international commissions, I have mentioned only one; namely, that which has been given the task of formulating a code of ethics.
We have some outstanding personalities in our movement, but the ecumenical revival should not be limited to one circle of priests and laymen, even though distinguished and increasing in numbers. It must force its way outward and become the property of society, a concern of all churches and all people. I can tell you from experience that there are at least two groups to whom hardly any Christian and spiritual question has been of more interest. I am thinking, on the one hand, of ordinary men, of the kind whose thoughts are candid, sincere, and free of conventional entanglements – and I could tell you about many. I have also had the privilege of talking to and hearing the opinions of many a statesman in connection with this question. I shall exclude those in the North, and mention Jonkheer van Karnebeek, Gustave Ador, Chuard, Frank B. Kellogg, Herbert Hoover, Charles Evans Hughes, Lord Robert Cecil (Viscount of Chelwood), Ramsay MacDonald, Lord Parmoor, Hans Luther, Walter Simons, Paul von Hindenburg, Curtius, Thomas Masaryk, Benei, Aristide Briand, Gaston Doumergue, and Albert Thomas. Without exception, all these men appreciated the weight and importance of this matter. Lloyd George once said that if the church communities of Great Britain were unanimous about a question, no government could oppose it44.
As we have seen, the duty of the church toward the cause of peace includes three essential tasks:
(1) To inculcate the spirit of fraternity and truth into the heart of mankind.
One of the bases of Christianity is the doctrine of our fraternity in Christ. Why should this doctrine not be inculcated as early and as generally as are the other Christian doctrines? Every elementary textbook in Christendom ought to contain something similar to the following, which appears in a modern catechism: “Just as law and justice prevent violence within the state, so shall they also rule between the states and prevent war. Christ’s commandment to love one another must, therefore, be spread among all people. Therein lies the way to peace. All individuals and all nations should strive toward this end to the best of their ability.” “The love of one’s own people and one’s country should not be defiled by unfriendly feelings against other people.” Such inculcation is a duty even of the authors of history textbooks. As is widely known, the ecumenical movement has always included in its program cooperation with historians and teachers of all countries in expunging from textbooks everything that breeds contempt and hatred of another country, along with all untrue information concerning other nations. This subject was discussed at the International Congress of Historians in Oslo in 1928.
(2) The church must itself realize and impress upon others the sanctity of wise and fixed ordinances and unconditional obligations which extend justice beyond the boundaries of nations, thereby substituting cooperation for previous self-assertion.
Of the two people who have been honored this year by the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament, one, already world famous, is associated with peaceful endeavors in politics and the other is a participant in the work of the church for peace, the supranational validity of the commandment of love and of law in the name of Christ. Here our Northern countries have had something to say. In 1920, Norway and Sweden suggested a move toward conciliation and arbitration. This was proposed at the first meeting of the League of Nations Assembly after consultations between their two governments and Denmark’s. Later at the eighth regular session of the Assembly in 1927, the draft of an international agreement on arbitration was presented by the Norwegian delegate. A further draft, drawn up on the initiative of the Swedish foreign minister, was presented in December, 1927, to the secretary-general of the League of Nations. All these played a part in the creation of the General Act45, whose three chapters on conciliation, judicial settlement of disputes, and arbitration, along with a fourth chapter on provisions, build up to an impressive climax.
The law should possess firm foundations embedded in the minds of the people. One of my correspondents, whose life’s work is involved in the international administration of law, writes to me from The Hague: “Even if the available means were more effective than they are at present, experience shows that, despite all efforts, institutions run an increasing risk of losing their vitality and their absolute objectivity because governments unfortunately tend to relinquish future benefits for present ones. It is, therefore, only by the support of a movement like this that the idea of peace can be made fruitful. Only through contact with such a movement can the work for political-legal peace be prevented from running on the wrong track.”
“Man is defiled by that which comes from within him. For it is from within, from the hearts of men, that their evil thoughts arise.” If peace is to become a reality on our earth, it must be founded in the hearts of the people. To whom should this task belong if not to the church, which calls itself the Prince of Peace and has as its watchword what is also a divine promise: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.” The human heart is fickle, and therefore peace must, according to the words of the prophets, be safeguarded by law and order, by a supranational judicial system which has the power to assert itself against nations endangering peace and which, without bias or compromise, holds justice to be the highest law. Nevertheless, any such legal system, however wise and strong, remains a mere shell if not supported by mankind’s concern for peace and liberty. The people are – and should, through an expanding legal system, further develop into – the limbs of a single organism. They must cease to be antagonistic, suspiciously spying on each other. But if a body does not possess a soul, it differs little from a machine. In this instance, the soul is the love and justice of the Gospel, not the demon of selfishness. Consequently, all efforts toward peace should begin in our own hearts. How can people without discipline and self-control promote peace in the world?
(3) It follows from the point just made that we must strip the armed forces of their previous role which has been fostered by our fear, our lust for power, and by our serving Mammon, and we must make them the safeguard of security, peace, and liberty, just as the police force is the safeguard within the state.
While I was speaking at the peace assembly in the Engelbrekt Church46 on Armistice Day, November II, a friend in San Francisco, who had witnessed the world catastrophe, sat writing to me about the moment when the World War came to an end and about its commemoration. He used these words :
“The world has not yet drunk its fill of blood sacrificed for human vanity, sin, envy, and tyranny. The cease-fire was not accompanied by trumpet blasts, banners, and jubilation, but limped its way from grave to grave, from line to line. We can still hear the death rattle of our wounded friends. Weapons have lost their splendor and fascination; human bankruptcy is complete; people are tired, worn out, only glad to have escaped death-humanity lays down its arms. This is not victory; this is defeat on all sides. Ragged, sick, hungry, and disillusioned, men wander aimlessly through devastated fields. In the silence of armistice they wend their way, thinking of those at home and those left out there. The great of the world have fallen, organized power is broken, old gods are sated with blood and hatred. Old clothes have to be burnt; the bloodstained uniform is no longer of use – it can no longer frighten children or disguise youth. Decorations are no longer envied as a proof of bravery; they are bonds, connections with a dying generation. Everyone fought, everyone was brave, everyone needed courage to fight. Now nothing is left. Things went too far. Mankind realized that the whole world had to find a new direction. The end came just before Advent. All Saints Day saw them struggling with death. Armistice Day saw men passing on in great numbers to those other lands which cannot be mapped by physics, mathematics, and medicine.
Time goes by. The broken cannon which ended in a bush on the battlefield is no longer horrifying. It is covered in moss, and small flowers raise their wondering heads through the spokes of its wheels. The brasswork becomes as green with verdigris as the fields in the spring, and birds build their nests in the muzzle. Perhaps young couples seeking privacy sit down on the gun carriage and talk about their dreams, love, and future – words befitting the eternal melody of the world in spring, murmured around the tools of death. The weapons have forgotten the taste of blood, and death rattles are no longer heard, for those who uttered them sleep beneath the earth. Perhaps the moldering hearts of those who were taken from us now give life to the flower sprouting forth twelve years later. But the dream was tom from the heart so suddenly. The war was to teach hatred instead of love. The hand which wanted to caress was to be clenched instead, the lip which yearned to speak of good was to wither. Life was stolen and death awarded in its place. The flowers do not speak of revenge; they spring up from hearts warmly remembered; rooted in bitter reality, they grow in a new dream.
Perhaps they are still here – not the great army of the slain but the multitude who sacrificed everything – those so far away, ‘higher than thoughts can reach’, but yet so near that they can whisper into our hearts without words. Were their sacrifices in vain? Do the fatherless, the widows, the brotherless now see a happier world, a more truthful world? Is there less hatred, less envy, less despair? Does the message of peace resound outside the portals of the church? Do we now stretch out our hands to one another more willingly? Have the creations of genius, which enable us to send words around the world in a few seconds and to use transport to break down distance – have these gifts of God bound us closer together than before?
The question is not flung out from a great teacher to any particular pupil in the class; it creeps of itself into anxious and thoughtful hearts quietly pondering the duty of man and the future of our race.
The flying colors and the rumbling drums are spread out beneath fresh winds and sunny skies. The clop of horses’ hooves, the beat of drums, the blast of shiny trumpets go before. Men follow. Not those between thirty-five and fifty – they have no such desire. They are not taken in. But the growing ones, the young to whom new gods are to be given, new ideas, new dreams, new tasks – the youth that is to build a new world? Poor world!”
So said my friend in San Francisco.
By such matters are our faith and the endurance of love tested. We must work and not despair.
In accordance with the resolution of the Ecumenical Council, the next Ecumenical Conference – that is to say, the next general examination of the peace mission of the church – is to be held in London in 193547. Will the obligation of the church to peace then be investigated more profoundly and more generally? Will the desire for brotherhood be stronger? The armaments of distrust and fear reduced? The supranational judicial system built on stronger foundations? Will the church be more united, and so better equipped to fulfill its duty toward peace?
If efforts toward peace are to get anywhere, they must be more realistic than in the past. The question is not whether one is orthodox in conforming to some peace formula or other, but whether one does something to promote peace. No road to peace exists other than that of the narrow path whose name is conversion. All men of goodwill ought to unite in perceiving this. We must not allow ourselves to be lulled into any monistic peace dream. We must struggle to win peace, struggle against schism, against the mad measures of fear, against the ruthlessness of Mammon, against hatred and injustice. This fight must be directed primarily toward the primitive man within us. Impatient minds may perhaps find such a concept hopeless, pessimistic, and old-fashioned. But we must face reality. The noble and practical measures for world peace will be realized only to the extent to which the supremacy of God conquers the hearts of the people.
May I here also cite what A. F. Ozanam wrote eighty years ago in La Civilisation au cinquième siècle48: “It is often good to humble men, but never to drive them to despair. As Plato said, souls must never lose their wings, and, giving up hope of attaining a perfection declared impossible for them, throw themselves wholly into trivial pleasures. We must not forget that there are two doctrines of progress. The first, fostered by the sensualist schools, reinstates the passions; it promises people an earthly paradise at the end of a flower-strewn road, but gives them only an earthly hell at the end of a road of blood. The second, born of Christian inspiration, recognizes progress in the victory of the spirit over the flesh; it promises nothing but what is paid for by struggle. And this doctrine, which confines war within man, is the only one able to bring peace to the nations.”
* The laureate delivered this lecture in the Auditorium of the University of Oslo. The text in Swedish published in Les Prix Nobel en 1930 is used for this translation. For the speech of presentation for both Frank B. Kellogg (1929) and Nathan Söderblom (1930), given on December 10, see p.73.
1. Originally called the World Alliance of Churches for Promoting International Friendship. The appeal of November 14, largely the work of the laureate, was a call for “peace and Christian fellowship”.
7. Otto Jensen (1856-1918), bishop of Hamar, Norway (1917-1918). Bredo Henrik von Munthe av Morgenstierne (1851-1930), professor of law and economics; president of the University of Oslo (1912-1918). Nils Eugène Amandus Hanssen (1852-1934), pastor of the Gamle Aker Church in Oslo (1914-1923).
8. Bernt Støylen (1858-1937), bishop of Kristiansand, Norway. Eivind Joseph Berg-grav (1884-1959), bishop of Northern Norway (1929-1937), bishop of Oslo and primate of Norway’s Evangelical Lutheran church (1937-1950). Carsten Balthazar Hansteen (1856-1923), seamen’s pastor, N.Y. (1883-1889), senior pastor of the Cathedral Church, Bergen (1907-1923). Kaspar Kristian Piene (1868-1949), secretary-general of the Norwegian Student Christian Federation (1903-1929). Nils Baardsnrn Thvedt (1862-1940), clergyman; received permission in 1927 to use Bernhard as his first name.
10. Ernst Frithiof Lönegren (1862-1937), bishop of Härnösand (1909-1934). Nils Samuel Stadener (1872-1937), bishop of Strängnäs (1928-1932), bishop of Växjö (1932-1937). Knut Bernhard Westman (1881-1967), professor of church history, Uppsala University.
24. The International Committee of the World Alliance met at Oud Wassenaar from September 36 to October 3, 1919, with about 60 delegates from 14 nations attending. It was here that Söderblom made his proposal for the international ecumenical conference which was eventually held in Stockholm, 1925.
26. The Universal Christian Conference on Life and Work met in Stockholm from August 19 to August 30, 1925, with over 600 delegates from 37 nations in attendance. The Conference was a triumph for Söderblom. See G.K. A. Bell The Stockholm Conference 1925.
31. “Koinonia ton Ekklesion” (literally, “League of Churches”) is a famous Encyclical issued from Constantinople “unto all the Churches of Christ wherever they be” asking for understanding and cooperation among all Christian churches of both East and West. The letter was signed by 12 metropolitans, the ecumenical patriarchate being vacant, but was largely the work of Archbishop Germanos, later metropolitan of Thyateira.
32. Lukas Strinopulos Germanos (1872-1951), first archbishop of Thyateira, with responsibility for all Greek Orthodox communities in western and central Europe; representative of the patriarch of Constantinople to the archbishop of Canterbury.
37. (Frank) Theodore Woods (1874-1932), British bishop of Peterborough (1916-1924) and bishop of Winchester (1924-1932). Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1832), British theologian, chief founder of Christian Socialism movement; a founder and first principal of the Working Men’s College (1854). Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), British clergyman and author, friend and associate of Maurice in Christian Socialism; wrote “social” novels such as Alton Locke. Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901), British prelate interested in social aspects of Christianity; professor at Cambridge; influential with Durham labor after becoming bishop of Durham (1890). Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1828-1889), friend and faculty colleague of Westcott at Cambridge; bishop of Durham (1879-1889). Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918), British clergyman; Oxford professor of divinity; canon of Christ Church (1910- 1918). Charles Core (1853-1932), Christian Socialist; bishop successively of Worcester (1901-1905), Birmingham (1905-1911), and Oxford (1911-1919); interested in Workers’ Educational Association.
42. Saint John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), one of the Fathers of the Greek Church, patriarch of Constantinople (398-404). Origen (c.185-c.254), Christian philosopher, theologian, teacher; a Father of the Greek Church. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), French scientist and religious philosopher; defended Jansenism. Saint Francis of Assisi (c. 1182 -1226), Italian founder of the Franciscan Order. Martin Luther (1483-1546), German religious leader of the Protestant Reformation. David Livingstone (1813-1873), Scottish missionary famous for his mission to and his exploration of Africa.
44. Hermann Adrian van Karnebeek (1874-1942), Dutch statesman, delegate to 1899 and 1907 Hague Conferences, foreign minister (1918-1927), president of League of Nations Assembly (1921). Gustave Ador (1845-1928), Swiss statesman, member of National Council (from 1889), president of Swiss Confederation (1919). Frank B. Kellogg (1856-1937), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1929. Herbert Hoover (1874-1965), president of the United States (1929-1933). Charles Evans Hughes (1862-1948), governor of New York (1907-1910), secretary of state (1921-1925), chiefjustice of U. S. Supreme Court (1930-1941). Robert Cecil (1864-1958), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1937. (James) Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937), leader of the British Labor Party, prime minister of England (1924; 1929-1931). Charles Alfred Cripps, Baron Parmoor, (1852-1941), British lawyer and statesman responsible for League of Nations affairs in MacDonald’s government. Hans Luther (1879-1962), German statesman, finance minister (1923-1924), chancellor (1925-1926), German representative at Locarno. Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), German field marshal in World War I, president of Germany (1925-1934). Julius Curtius (1877-1948), German foreign minister (1929-1931). Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), Czechoslovak philosopher and first president of Czechoslovakia (1919-1935). Eduard Beneš (1884-1948), foreign minister of Czechoslovakia (1918-1935), premier (1921-1922), president (1935-1938; 1945-1948). Aristide Briand (1862-1932), co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1926. Gaston Doumergue (1863-1937), president of France (1924-1931). Albert Thomas (1878-1932), French Socialist, minister of armaments (1915-1917), director-general of the International Labor Office (1919-1932). David Lloyd George (1863-1945), British statesman, prime minister (1916-1922).
47. In 1932 the Council postponed the general meeting intended for 1935 because of the world economic depression. At its meeting in Fanø, Denmark, in 1934, the Council approved a proposal to hold a general conference at Oxford in 1937.
48. A. Frédéric Ozanam, La Civilisation au cinquiène siècle (Oeuvres complètes), Vol. I, p.17. For and English version see Vol. 1, pp. 2-3, of Ozanam’s History of Civilization in the Fifth Century, transl. by Ashley C. Glyn (London, 1868).
See the full schedule