Modern Saints facing Modern Challenges
Last Friday, I wrote about a Japanese Christian, Toyohiko Kagawa, who engaged with some of the social issues facing his country back in the 1920s and 1930s. Today I wish to share some reflections on one of Kagawa’s better-known contemporaries, a fellow Christian who shared some of Kagawa’s concerns.
His name was William Temple. Temple was born in 1881, and so was a few years older than Kagawa, who was born in 1888. Like Kagawa, Temple came from a socially privileged background – although unlike Kagawa, his upbringing was most definitely Christian : his father, Frederick Temple, was Bishop of Exeter! (His father later became Archbishop of Canterbury; a position later held by his son William, too.) Temple attended Oxford, and served for a few years as headmaster of Repton School. In 1921, he was appointed Bishop of Manchester, and in 1929 Archbishop of York. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942, but died in 1944. So unlike his contemporary Kagawa, who died in 1960, Temple was not given the opportunity to be part of post-war reconstruction. Having said this , Temple’s 1942 book Christianity and Social Order was widely read and its ideas contributed to the debtes which led to the formation of the Welfare State.
Temple started off as a specialist in philosophical theology, but in the 1920s and 1930s he increasingly turned his attention to social issues. In 1924, he was the main inspiration behind an important discussion of contemporary social issues, entitled the Conference on Politics, Economics and Citizenship , and throughout the 1930s Temple spoke and wrote extensively on social, economic and international issues. Although Temple engaged with political issues from a Christian standpoint, he did not take a party political position.
It is tempting to pigeon hole Temple as a Christian philosopher and social commentator, but there was more to him than this. It is hard for a bishop, and doubly hard for an archbishop, to find time for prayer and a deep spiritual life. And yet Tem[ple found the time to write one of the most widely-read spiritual commentaries on John’s Gospel : Readings on St.John’s Gospel (1939,1940). Temple was someone who focussed his very considerable academic gifts on serving society as a whole, rather than just on the needs of the Church. He was a political Christian, without being party-political – a Christian who made the Christian faith relevant to anyone interested in the pressing issues of his day.