Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

William Temple, Pius Xii, Ecumenism, Natural Law, and the Post-War Peace

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

William Temple, Pius Xii, Ecumenism, Natural Law, and the Post-War Peace

Article excerpt


During his tenure of the archbishopric of Canterbury, the Internationally respected William Temple sought to bring together the Roman and non-Roman worlds in order to transcend the divisions inflicted on Christendom by World War II. Temple, a founder of the World Council of Churches, hoped to make a personal visit to Pius XII to demonstrate to the world the agreement on principles for peacemaking that existed among Christians on both sides of the Reformation divide. His efforts engendered political opposition from a Foreign Office less than enthusiastic at the prospect of Christian influence on post-war plans, should Temple realize his aim of reaching an agreement with the pope regarding the moral foundation of a lasting peace. Temple also had to contend with embedded Angilcan suspicion of Roman Catholicism, including his own. Nonetheless, right up until his premature death in 1944, Temple remained determined to effect an approach to Pius XII that would show the world the way toward a Christian peace and the churches the way toward the ecumenical ideal he cherished.

As part of the effort to implement the ecumenical ideal and resist the divisions inflicted on Christendom by World War II, William Temple, a leading Anglican archbishop of vision and international stature and a founding father of the World Council of Churches, sought to bring together the Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic worlds in the search for peace and justice. Elevated to the See of Canterbury in 1942, leadership of the national church inevitably brought with it pressure to compromise the ecumenical ideal in order to support the struggle against Nazi Germany, but Temple remained committed to the belief that the churches should rise above the crisis to show the world the strength and hope embodied in Christian fellowship. To this end, in what would have been a remarkable demonstration of this principle had it succeeded, Temple endeavored to effect a meeting with Pope Pius XII.

During World War I, Christians had failed miserably to "be the Church still united as one Body of Christ," making World War II a test for the viability of the ecumenical movement. The W.C.C. prepared documents to guide the attitude of the churches. In particular, it was stressed that the church should never present the war as a holy crusade, that friendly relations should be kept between churches, and that it was a duty to prepare for a just peace. The need for the churches "to speak and act together" was emphasized by Willem A. Visser 't Hooft, first General Secretary of the W.C.C.:

For it is only in their togetherness that they can manifest clearly how their fellowship in Christ transcends the barriers of nation, race, class or culture. They require each other's help to render a prophetic witness to the world in all realms of life. For how could they expect the world to listen ... as long as they spoke with many and discordant voices? [1]

The ecumenical ideal obviously implied bringing the Roman Catholic communion into the emergent fellowship, although for most, Temple included, this was an aspiration for the distant future rather than their own lifetimes. This did not preclude a continuing effort to involve Roman Catholicism. In 1938 as an act of courtesy and despite prior rejections and the hostility of the papal incumbent's 1928 encyclical Mortalium animos, acting on behalf of the provisional Committee of the W.C.C. "in Formation," Temple informed Pius XI of the decision to call a conference to organize a World Council of Churches. This was in keeping with Anglican policy. [2]

Although this occasioned a further rebuff, Temple still believed, in Visser 't Hooft's words, that "the ecumenical can only live, if it lives in the intercession ... convictions ... sacrificial actions of church members." Visser 't Hooft asserted and Temple accepted that the churches "were called to go as far as conscience would permit them to go in showing that fundamentally there is one and only one Church of Christ. …

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