This blog is an edited version of the Temple Sermon, preached by the Revd Dr Hayley Matthews, Trustee of the William Temple Foundation, at The Queen’s College, Oxford, on Sunday 4th November 2018. William Temple lectured in philosophy at The Queen’s College from 1904 to 1910. Here, Dr Matthews reflects on Temple’s life and its parallels with the biblical story of Daniel.
Twitter is very much of the zeitgeist but the Twitter flurry of ditties on the hashtag #WriteAPoemAboutBrexit endure:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
We don’t know it yet
But we’re totally screwed
If you’re having sour grapes,
I feel bad for you son,
we’ve got 99 problems
but the EU ain’t one!
Surely, there is nothing new under the sun? The prophetic civil servant Daniel, over two and a half thousand years ago, was brought into the presence of the leader of the country to interpret a troubling dream. How well must our leaders be sleeping as the endless Brexit negotiations with their ongoing socio-political and economic ramifications are laboured over in Whitehall and Brussels? When they pace their darkened rooms do they too wish they had a seer to call upon?
For just two and a half years, Archbishop William Temple engaged with the Government on exactly such a level in post-war Britain. Described as only being comparable with Winston Churchill, his obituary read, ‘Church and nation alike have lost a great leader and a prophet of authentic fire; the poor and inarticulate everywhere are deprived of a true and understanding friend.’
Born on 15th October 1881, Temple’s untimely death 63 years later on 26th October 1944 left the poor without an obvious advocate; the government without a critical friend; and the nation with a spiritual vacuum that proved difficult to fill. It has been some time since we described any of our Archbishops as having:
‘Kindled new fire within the Church, winning for it the attention and the growing respect of the secular world—a leader to whom people look with complete confidence to bring every spiritual strength to bear in impressing the character of Christian realism on the life and purpose of post-war England. It can rarely be said with truth that a loss is irreparable or that a man is indispensable. Both things can be said now with simple, unaffected truth.’
It is a tragedy that Temple died in office when post-war Britain most needed him; we cannot imagine what might have been. We can, however, pray that our current Archbishop of Canterbury may not suffer such a fate but instead become the Daniel that we so desperately need for post-Brexit Britain.
For Daniel and William shared the unique ability to be able to speak truth to power without grabbing the tiger by the tail. King Nebuchadnezzar was all for wiping out his own wise men who couldn’t explain his disconcerting dreams, but Daniel saved both them and himself by taking the time to listen to the King. Daniel requested time alone for reflection and prayer, when this demanding autocrat would have had his answer here and now, returning to the King with his wise interpretation in his own time. Daniel showed enough wisdom to resist responding reactively.
William Temple’s deep and unflagging concern for social justice developed from growing up around his own father’s indignation at the wretched conditions that agricultural labourers in Devonshire were being forced to live in. He was ordained in 1909, and that same year he became president of the Workers’ Educational Association, which he had joined at its inception five years previously. He went on to become the Bishop of Manchester whilst he was still in his thirties.
It is said that Temple was happiest in Manchester and he certainly had a sustained period of ministry there, where his interest in industrial relations and theology were researched, put into practice, and expounded. The application of Christian principles, citizenship, economics and politics, the Edinburgh Missionary Conference and the International Missionary Conference all benefitted from his articulate and wide-ranging mind. He conducted missions to undergraduates at Oxford; joined the annual Blackpool sands mission; took part in industrial relations exercises between coal-miners and coal-owners; supported social reforms and defended the working class. He was also pioneer in the ecumenical movement, creating a whole new landscape for interdenominational relations whilst also presiding over the Church of England’s Doctrinal Commission.
Despite his wide-ranging ministry, Temple continued to write during the odd snatches of time between interviews and engagements. His Gifford Lectures were published under the title Nature, God and Man, although he is most famous, of course, for his book Christianity and Social Order. Dr Temple’s combined passions and innovative energy inspired him to convene the Malvern Conference in 1941. Attended by over twenty bishops and over four hundred clergy and laity, Temple’s focus was the Church’s social duty to embodied human beings from the position of a faith founded on the Incarnation.
Dr Temple was eventually enthroned as Archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral on St. George’s Day 1942. His appointment alarmed some of the country’s more conservative and traditional constituents, what with The Industrial Christian Fellowship’s follow up meetings after the Malvern Conference. He was indeed prophetic, determined to speak the truth fearlessly rather than flatter the hearer with politically disingenuous statements. His new role enabled him to speak passionately in the House of Lords in 1943 against the slaughter of the Jews by the Nazis, arguing for their protection to be made a priority, comparing Allied leaders to the priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side of the road from the man who fell among thieves, and going on to co-found the Council of Christians and Jews.
In his book Christian Faith and Life Temple writes:
‘Remember that Christianity is not, first and foremost, a religion; it is first and foremost a revelation. It comes before us chiefly not with a declaration of feelings we are to cultivate, or thoughts we are to develop; it comes before us, first and foremost, with the announcement of what God is, as He is proved in what he has done.’
We have a role to play in announcing the coming kingdom: as harbingers, prophets, poets and priests; as bin, fire, police and military personnel; as medics, academics, caterers and Kings. For although the kingdom of God already has its leading light there are plenty of spots for the supporting cast:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
It only takes one
And it might be you
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