There is something in the character of the British people which has brought about an almost national abhorrence of what is termed priest-craft, which is not wholly due to the glaring abuses of the priestly function in medieval times. The British man or woman resents any intrusion into the sacred recesses of the soul, and will not tolerate interference with the deeper relationships of life, interference and intrusion which have been, and still claimed to be priestly prerogatives. There are in the world men and women who are qualified to exercise the priestly function by their nobility of character and innate goodness—and these are qualifications which all who aspire to any priesthood, should possess. A real priest is known by his or her compassion and love, one to whom an erring, disappointed, or weary soul is drawn, to pour out all that weighs upon heart or conscience. The professional priesthood more often lacks the essential sympathy and love which inspires the confidence of the needy. Too often it has been marred by the very worldliness to which it should be directly opposed. This accounts for its failure to interpret the heart and mind of the eternal, and in all probability in the case of the Christian Church, will provide the reason why there is so much distrust of its reality and sincerity, on the part of the people. The extent to which priestly orders have been influenced by worldliness, is seen in the emphasis that is laid upon performance of rites and ceremonies. Where it is considered that access to God the Almighty Spirit depends upon a correctly performed ritual controlled by the celebrating priest, who regards himself as a necessary mediator between the needy sinner and his Righteous God. The rites and observances are not effective unless administered by the priest—no other than he is capable of bringing the services to a successful issue. This un-Christ-like attitude is largely the outcome of ecclesiastical prejudice, which has been an evil marring the beauty and simplicity of religion from time immemorial—a prejudice which indicates a sadly distorted conception of the character of God, and an absolute lack of mystical perception. It was this evil which led the priests into such blind hatred that they crucified the Christ long ago. He who was a Real Priest, they failed to recognize, because He did not belong to the Schools, and their hatred was aroused because His Life of Holiness revealed so much that was lacking in theirs.
The history of religion is largely the story of a conflict between priestly demands and prophetic conceptions—the age-long warfare between aristocratic arrogance and democratic principles—the priests are the autocrats of religion, the prophets are the democrats. The priest stands for the official cult—the prophet for the religion of the people, which is quite another thing. And yet, the Real Priest is also a prophet, for Priest and Prophet are owe, so that the hateful distinctions which we recognize in modern terminology in the words "Aristocrat" and "Democrat" should not really exist—their existence is an indication of the sad condition of our civilization.
The Priestly-prophetic office is not the heritage of a specially selected class—it is the function of all normal men and women who have right conceptions of God, and who conscientiously rule their lives accordingly. All who Love their fellows are of necessity Lovers of God and are ‘Kings and Priests unto God.' Their mystical apprehension is the sign of their ordination.
Any man who, because he has passed through certain schools, claims the exclusive right of administering essential sacraments, or of interpreting the Will of God, is offering an insult to God and man, and arrogating to himself powers he does not possess. For God is accessible to all who would go to Him, and every man and woman of normal mind has the privilege of free access into the Holy of Holies. The temple of God is not a building made with hands—it is the universe, and its covering is illimitable space. His worship is not confined to the ecclesiastical edifice, but is offered wherever there are grateful hearts—and in that worship men share with nature, His glorious praise. The highest act of worship, the truest sacrament of Love, is to labor for the welfare of others, and prayer, meditation, praise, are but means whereby we obtain the inspiration an energy for such labor.
Happily the old intolerant ecclesiastical spirit which regarded non-attendance at church as indicative of an exceedingly sinful condition, is passing away, and men are learning that God may be worshiped upon the mountains, in the valleys, in field or forest, or by the side of the surging sea.
The professional priest has through all ages been very jealous of his privilege, and has hedged it about with much legislation and mystery. He has made the Way of Life exceedingly difficult in order to make ordinary mortals feel the need of his assistance, but he has let them rather into a more grievous condition. And today the old blind prejudice, and tendencies still linger, so that we still need the prophetic denunciation—"The people have wandered far from ME their Shepherds have led them astray." The war has flung large numbers of priests into contact with men, which in peace they never dreamed of. And not a few students of theology have in the ranks obtained an insight into the spiritual needs of men which they could never have had in normal times. Numbers of chaplains have realized that the barrier which has existed between clergy and laity must be broken down, if men are to be won for the best. We are at the parting of the ways—the old order with all its intolerance and prejudice is passing away—and men are wondering wistfully as to the future. The wealth of a nation depends ultimately not upon its riches, nor upon its ‘man power’: but upon its spirituality. "Where there is no vision the people perish." It should be the desire of all who love humanity, all who are real priests, to bring to the nations the right outlook, the proper mental attitude, that men may be concerned with the things that last, and not with the dross that perishes.
The day of opportunity is passing, men are longing and waiting, some think we are waiting for a MAN—one whose message will be like a scorching flame—never were there greater opportunities for those who have been endowed with vision, for the Real Priests, and surely there are many Epoch readers who are such. What is our contribution to the solution of the great problems which will soon arise? What preparation are we making for what may lie ahead? What is our relationship to the things that matter?
There are moments when we are overwhelmed with a sense of the mighty sacrifice that is being made in Flanders, where the life of the best of the young manhood of the nations is being lost—men who count not the cost, but who die cheerfully because dimly they realize that it is going to make things better—priest-victims are they, and all that they have, all that they most cherish, is willingly offered--for what? With those of us who are left, for a time, lies the answer! How shall we meet the great responsibility? How shall we best honor the fallen? That they in the Great Beyond, may rest satisfied because they labored, and died not in vain.
As Kings and Priests abroad,
And ever summer high in bliss
Upon the Hills of God.