The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1933
A Judgment of Solomon
A Judgment of Solomon
The Editor has asked me for a contribution and, to tell the truth, I am "nothing loath." The fact is I have an article already written, an article accepted by the Editor of nine years ago and subsequently withdrawn. The circumstances of the withdrawal were more entertaining, if not more important, than the article. Some of your readers will remember that in the year 1924 the College celebrated its Silver Jubilee and, further, that one of the functions on that occasion was a religious service at St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral. It occurred to me at the time that those who were responsible for the programme had made a mistake and I wrote an article called "The Objective of a University Procession," an article accepted, as I have said, by the Editor, one John Cawte Beagle-hole. Now I think this is the proper place to insert the article, because the rest of the story cannot be properly understood nor, shall we say, appreciated, without it.
The Objective of a University Procession.
Among the celebrations appropriate to a University Jubilee it is possible to imagine none which, properly understood, is more appropriate none which has a greater claim to be regarded as essential, than a Procession to a common shrine. At a time when men and women meet to renew the associations of times past the key-note is naturally, and consequently properly, one of pleasure and happiness. However chastened and refined the pleasures, for old memories are seldom unmixed with sorrow, they are of necessity associated with the more material rites of eating and drinking. It is therefore fitting that a space should be set apart for the expression of those aspirations and beliefs which lie at the foundation of all University life and greatness. It is not my purpose here to expound the faith of a University, but it may be pointed out that there is a faith involved, faith essentially religious in nature, a faith which lives in freedom and holds no doctrine dearer than truth. From this point of view the idea of some such demonstration was, in essence, finely conceived.
Having said so much it is nevertheless possible and, as it seems to the writer advisable, to offer some criticism of the method by which the idea was carried out on Sunday the 20th. April on the occasion of our Silver Jubilee. It was impossible in the nature of things to make any criticism before the event; it is possible to do so after-wards only in the hope that future organisers of University Celebrations may be enabled, in the light of further counsel, the more completely to achieve their purpose.
The objective of the University Procession in the case under review, was St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral, the principal Anglican Church of the City of Wellington. The authorities of that Church were asked to arrange the Service and no criticism of them would be, under such circumstances, either possible or just. On the contrary, it is possible, in the retrospect, to accord them nothing but thanks and credit. From their point of view, and in this there is only one point of view, such a service must be sincere or not at all. If we invite ourselves to a service in a Church of England we must expect and should expect an Anglican service. Some of us were surprised to hear at such a service what we thought to be an unnecessary insistence upon the Apostle's Creed, the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Redemption, with all the miraculous elements surrounding the Resurrection. Such surprise, on reflection, appears singularly misplaced. Especially at Easter, these creeds and beliefs are properly uppermost in the minds of many of the Anglican clergy and it would obviously be improper even to suggest the modification of a programme imposed by sincere men so long as that programme is confined within the recognised limits of the doctrine of the Church of England.
It is well known to all observers that the Universities are more than usually unpromising places to seek adherents of the doctrines referred to, all of which find place on the printed programme of the service at St. Paul's. It must have been perfectly well known to anyone who seriously considered the matter that a very great number of those expected to march in the procession would regard such doctrines not only with in-difference, as having passed into oblivion, but even with hostility, for those who regard such doctrines as false can with difficulty be persuaded that to teach them as true is without positive injury. Moreover, the sincerity of those who believe has its counterpart in the lives of those who reject. Those who wish to consider a moderate and reasoned statement concerning these problems by one whose appeal is to the principles of Christianity may be referred to Tolstoy's page 10 "Appeal to the Clergy" and "A Reply to the Synod's Edict of Excommunication" by the same author. It is sufficient to mention the matter to raise the certainty that a very great number of those who marched to St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral did so with something in the nature of a mental reservation. There could be no unanimity even among professing Christians. Those who were not professing Christians, and it was not impossible to find such in the procession, were in a still more unfortunate position.
It is submitted, therefore, that the objective of our Procession was ill-chosen. This might have been suggested by the fact that a separate service had to be provided for the Roman Catholics. Perhaps, however, it may be replied that some compromise was unavoidable if the idea of the procession was to be achieved. Was it unavoidable? Surely not. Is there no shrine wide enough to receive us all, at which we may all meet on common ground? Is it not our profession that the University itself is the one institution of man dedicated solely to the cause of abstract truth? Where should we march if not to Salamanca along that climbing road so dear to the memory of every generation of Victoria University College.
"And if the dust be all about our tread,
And white the glare along the climbing road,
Clear thought will come of how the East was red
With promise, and the lanes with blossom rife,
And fresh the dew upon the lawn of life."
With minds and hearts attuned by associations so sacred, associations which had brought us together from many parts, with words of inspiration uttered by such a one as Professor Kirk, we would assuredly have scattered once more with no jarring note and no unhappy discord.
Some may be inclined to inquire why anyone holding these views did not simply stay away. Such an inquiry, while it does not help to remove the difficulty, is no doubt entirely just. For myself, had I known as much about the service then as I do now, I should, I think, have stayed away. It is true that, had all those not in sympathy with such a service remained away, there would have been a very much smaller procession and a greatly reduced congregation. It was represented that the significance of the procession would be destroyed if we all insisted on our theological prejudices; that the objective of the procession mattered little if its spirit were rightly understood and its significance appreciated. These arguments seemed to carry weight until the demands of abstract truth were placed in juxtaposition to Anglican theology. Then the true position was revealed. Devotion, translated in terms of theology, right and proper as it may be to an Anglican because it is sincere, becomes utter insincerity, and consequently highly improper, to those whose views are antagonistic. Religious matters very easily attain grave importance, for truth and falsehood are at stake. For my part, and I am, of course, unable to speak for others, I had no right to think, as I did, that the service would be made so simple and general that it would appeal to all. The wrong, as I now see, was for anyone not sympathetic to Anglican ideas of religion to march to an Anglican Church. The service, under such circumstances was for some of us rooted in insincerity and I gladly acknowledge my debt to those who arranged the service in such a way that the truth of the matter was removed from the realm of serious controversy. A service which would exclude some of those most anxious to join in the true aspirations and to affirm the ancient faith of Universities, the faith in freedom, the faith in honest doubt, the faith in truth for its own sake, is not, it is submitted, the kind of service most appropriate to any future needs of Victoria University College. Let our objective be a shrine which is common to all, which all may approach in sincerity. Let it be, not a Church, but a University.
* * *
When I sent this article to the Editor I also sent it to an old friend, one Siegfried Eichelbaum, who thirty years ago, shared with me the editorial responsibility of The Spike. Eichelbaum protested that the article was in bad taste, and I still preserve a letter in which he stated his point of view. "All I say," he wrote, "is that, if you ask a man to let you bring some friends of yours to his house, and you don't happen to like the food and drink he gives (in this case both spiritual) you can't decently complain about it in public afterwards, and that is what Victoria College would be doing if she published your article in her magazine. That was the thing that appeared to me bad taste, and not in themselves the views expressed in your article."
Of course it seemed to me that there were flaws in the argument, but my old friend was so sincerely and so deeply concerned that at last, in a weak moment, I said, rather carelessly, "Well, let us arbitrate. Put the question to 'Tommy' Hunter and 'Munchum' Kirk and, if they disagree, let old 'Von' decide." Well, Professor Harry Borrer Kirk disagreed with Professor page 11 Thomas Alexander Hunter, and Professor G. W. von Zedlitz had the last word. By the Grace of Pallas the wisdom of this upright judge was enshrined in a written judgment. Here it is:
"The difference of opinion between Mr. de la Mare and Mr. Eichelbaum has been submitted to me for arbitration. I have not the least hesitation in deciding that Mr. de la Mare is right all along the line. It seems to me that in the matter of a sincere expression of personal opinion, on a matter not without importance, the question of good taste, in effect the only question raised by Mr. Eichelbaum, is not to the point.
"Those who know Mr. de la Mare know the entire sincerity of the man. To those who don't, the style of his writing is enough to reveal the patent fact. When he writes: 'It was impossible in the nature of things to make any criticism before the event: it is possible to do so afterwards only in the hope that future organisers of University Celebrations may be enabled, in the light of further counsel, the more completely to achieve their purpose' he makes it abundantly plain that he regards his article as justified by the hope of its being useful to organisers of similar celebrations at a future date. He cannot fail to recognise that the publication of his article in 1924, while it might serve other purposes, is little calculated to attract the attention of those responsible for celebrations at a distant date. The admirable article must, in consistency, be reserved for publication at a date when it may reasonably hope to achieve its sole purpose."
Nota Bene.—I have this time submitted this article to no one but the Editor and I submit to no more arbitrations. Possibly I might show better taste by refraining for another decade. My objection to this course is that I do not wish my chottles to be posthumous. Besides, I have just remembered that other Colleges have Jubilees and are face to face with the same problem.
F. A. de la Mare.