HL Deb 01 November 1944 vol 133 cc763-73

My Lords, your Lordships' House and the country have suffered a very grievous loss in the sudden death of Dr. Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury. I do not suppose there can be any of us who did not hear this news with a sense of deep personal sorrow. Dr. Temple was an outstanding national figure, and would have been so, I believe, at any period of our history. For his greatness derived not from the eminent position he occupied but from his own forcible and lovable personality. It is not for me to attempt to assess his qualities as a churchman. The Archbishop of York and others who are to speak to your Lordships this afternoon will do that with far more authority than I could ever hope to do. I would speak of him rather as a man and as a personality in our national life.

Dr. Temple was, if I may borrow an old phrase, born in the purple. Himself the son of an Archbishop of Canterbury, his own brilliant attainments procured for him a career of uninterrupted success. After winning a double first at Oxford, he became in turn at an early age headmaster of Repton, Bishop of Manchester, Archbishop of York and finally Archbishop of Canterbury. He was a profound thinker, an incisive speaker, and a delightful and stimulating talker. In all these and many other fields he was pre-eminent. And yet no man was ever less spoiled by success. And the reason I think was that he was so interested in others that he had no time to spare for himself. He had in the highest degree the great Christian virtue of selflessness. Holy he undoubtedly was. Yet he was not an ascetic in the harshest and strictest sense of the word. He never preached or practised the sterile doctrine that in order to earn happiness in the next world we must make ourselves miserable here. He loved his fellow men too well for that. On the contrary, his entire life was devoted to relieving distress, to remedying injustice, to making as many people as possible as happy as possible in this very imperfect world. That was the whole basis of his political as of his religious life. Holding as he did very definite views as to the means by which this end was to be attained he inevitably involved himself in controversy. He had, at times, opponents; but he never made an enemy, and his personal influence on his generation was immense.

No one could go to him in times of trouble or sorrow and not be comforted by his robust faith; and where comfort was wanted, there he was always to be found. I remember very well meeting him at one of the great railway stations in London in the early days of the war. There had been a heavy raid on Hull and he was on his way to give consolation to the afflicted people. I shall never forget the sight of that study figure in episcopal apron and gaiters, with a tin helmet slung over his arm. There, I felt, was the church militant. And indeed he had many of the qualities of a crusader. He was brave, he was resolute, he was above all young in spirit. It has been said that those whom the gods love die young. That would have been true of Archbishop Temple at whatever age he had died. Young men see visions and old men dream dreams. He was essentially of those who see visions: and such we can ill spare. My Lords, we mourn a great Englishman and a great Christian, and our hearts go out to his widow, whose sorrow we so whole-heartedly share.

2.9 p.m.


My Lords, in associating myself whole-heartedly with what the Leader of the House has said, I should like to say that when I first heard of the death of the Archbishop the feeling that immediately came uppermost in my mind, exceeding that of dismay or of surprise, was a sense of loss, not so much a loss for the Church as for the nation. We need men like him now and we shall surely need them very much in the time to come. I believe that this feeling is very widespread amongst the people for the gift of moral leadership, real and courageous like his, is rare and very precious. He was sincerely regarded everywhere. He was looked up to and listened to gladly by multitudes of people who have no special association with the Church. Here was a great Christian minister, if I may so put it, who scorned unconvincing platitudes, which I am afraid sometimes some clergymen of all denominations have made use of and which sometimes have promoted indifference. Without any pretentiousness, in fine language and with a background of wide learning, close social sympathy and deep convictions, the Archbishop said what he believed ought to be said on matters of personal and national importance. Thereby he gave guidance to the people.

He was indeed more than a leader of the Church. He was, I think, a leader of the people. I believe that much of his influence is due to the fact that for sixteen years he was President of the Workers' Educational Association, in which entirely apart from his university and Church work he was in close contact with the hopes and struggles of numbers of people who were seeking self-improvement. He knew their lives and he knew their handicaps, and thereby he derived, I think, much of the understanding which made his leadership an inspiration to many. In these days we are encompassed with manifold anxieties and vicissitudes and great events crowd upon us daily. It is only natural that in these circumstances we should be apt to lose sight of the underlying causes of the troubles of the world which are in the minds of men. These troubles are the outcome of the dispositions of the minds of men. It is these minds of men which must be brought to better and more wholesome ideals, to a clearer understanding of the urgent needs of mankind for those inspiring struggles which yield the victories of peace, and to a more resolute determination to make them possible. To these great ends the voice of the Archbishop, that is now silent, would have been powerful. We deeply mourn his loss and in doing so we pay tribute to the life and character of him who has been taken from us.

2.14 p.m.


My Lords, all members of your Lordships' House, irrespective of political views or doctrinal allegiance, will wish to join in the tribute to a great religious leader whom we knew so well and valued so highly. In all the long illustrious roll of the Archbishopric of Canterbury, the tenure of Dr. William Temple has been one of the briefest. Yet it will be remembered, I believe, as one of the most distinguished. Out of a deep scholarship and much reflection on philosophy he drew a steady clearness of purpose, and that combined with a natural power of leadership gave him his strength. He will be remembered, I think, first for having been a force for unity among the Churches, preaching and practising a spirit of co-operation. He was a founder and President of the Council of Christians and Jews thereby holding out a hand of friendship and fellowship deeply appreciated by a community which is passing through days of intense suffering and tribulation.

He will be remembered, secondly, for having done much to remove the reproach that lay against the Church of having become more a buttress of the existing hierarchy of society than the evangelical champion of the poor. His book Christianity and the Social Order was a powerful plea and of great significance. My noble friend the Marquess of Crewe, in writing to me to express his regret at his continued absence and particularly to-day, says: Had I been in the House I should have said that, doubtless like many others, I had occasion to note his humorous appreciation of the criticism that he too often entered the arena of Party politics. But he was never afraid of bringing religion into the market place where he believed it ought to be honoured as everywhere else. We are no doubt on the eve of a great but difficult period of social reconstruction. Had Dr. Temple remained head of the Church for ten or fifteen years, as we all hoped he might, his statesmanship would have been able to render most valuable service to the nation. A short term was allowed to him, and he leaves us with a sense not only of loss but also of gratitude. We trust that his widow may draw some consolation in her hard bereavement from the assurance of the deep sympathy of Parliament and the nation.

2.18 p.m.


My Lords, I want to endeavour to express from these Benches the very deep sense of loss we have suffered through the death of Archbishop Temple. When two and a half years ago he was appointed to the see of Canterbury there was widespread and general approval. It was felt everywhere that he was the only possible successor to Dr. Lang and the high hopes which were then formed of him have been fully justified during those two and a half years. During that brief period he has shown himself a brave and courageous leader, inspiring many with his enthusiasm and wisdom. He has had an influence, I think, almost unique among the younger generation. He has been on the most friendly terms with members of other communions and I think it was partly due to trust in him that there was no religious controversy over the recent Education Act. Many who belonged to no Church at all looked to him for guidance on some of the great problems of the day. I believe his great power was to be found through the combination of great intellectual gifts and great moral and spiritual qualities. His intellectual gifts were universally recognized. He was a thinker of the first order, a philosopher and a theologian whose books were read in other countries besides this. His interests were most varied. He might have said: "I am a man and there is therefore nothing human which is alien to me." To every subject he touched he brought originality, and on it he threw some new light.

He had great courage. His courage has already been mentioned. When he made up his mind that a course was right, he spoke out his mind regardless of criticism, opposition and misunderstanding. He had very wide sympathies, especially for the poor and the oppressed. This House has often heard him plead the cause of the depressed and persecuted minorities on the Continent, and it was characteristic that the last letter I had from him, only last Wednesday, was partly dealing with one of the problems of liberated Europe and the people who had been suffering there. His sympathies were widespread. He burned with indignation against wrong and injustice wherever he found it, and with this there were wonderful simplicity and humility, wonderful kindness and friendliness, which attracted all who came into any contact with him. It was very difficult for him to believe that anyone was not as good and as disinterested as himself. He always saw the best in everyone, and expected the best from him.

But there is one other source, and that the main source, of his influence, to which I must refer. It was his wholehearted devotion to Our Lord and Saviour. All his work, all his aims, were subordinated to the desire to do the will of Our Lord. That was the inner secret of the whole of his life. He was convinced that Christianity was the only hope of this storm-tossed and bewildered world; and so he used all his great intellectual powers attempting to interpret and express the historic faith in terms which would be best understood by the people of our time. It was out of the same loyalty that he endeavoured to show that religion was supreme over the whole of life, over economics and politics as well as over the individual. And now he has gone from us. We shall miss him terribly. For some of us who worked intimately with him, life will never be the same now that he has gone. We shall miss his robust strength, his wisdom, his humour, his courage, his unfailing kindliness. We shall miss him day after day, but most of all he will be missed by his devoted wife, and to her we offer our heartfelt sympathy.

2.24 p.m.


My Lords, I think you may consider it natural that I should add a few words to those which have been already so sincerely and eloquently spoken. You must forgive me if the first of those words is personal. It is only two and half years ago since I handed over to William Temple the high office of Archbishop of Canterbury, in the confident expectation that for many years he would be able to guide the Church and, so far as might be, the nation through these present and approaching anxious times, with a freshness and a vigour which, it seemed to me, that I could not hope to attain at my age. You will, therefore, understand how passing strange it seemed to me that the one in the fullness of power and promise, and with, as it seemed, long years of influence before him, should have been taken, and the other who was fourscore years of age, and whose life and work must needs lie in the past, should have been left. If I may borrow the words of the noble Leader of the House—the younger man, who saw visions for the future, taken, the older man, who could only dream dreams of what might have been, left. That such a man as he was, and at such a time, should have been so soon and so suddenly removed is one of those mysteries of the Divine Providence before which one can only bow the head in silence.

When, like the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I look down the long list of Archbishops of Canterbury, I cannot think of any one who impressed his personality more powerfully upon the mass of his fellow-countrymen. And the impression was not confined to this country. It is remarkable that the President of the United States should have thought it right to address to our gracious King a personal letter in order to express the sympathy and admiration of the people of the United States. Among the Christian Churches, and outside the Christian Churches, in Europe, his width of mind, largeness of heart and breadth of charity had given him a position of unquestioned leadership and authority. If one tries to ask what was the secret of his influence among his own fellow-countrymen, there would certainly be the impression of his sincerity, to which the Archbishop of York has already referred. His sincerity was the sincerity of a man whose life, from first to last, was a dedicated life. But there was also the main message with which he felt himself to be charged. If one were to attempt to put into a single sentence what that message was it would, I suppose, be this: that it is with the whole of human life, and not only any isolated department of it, that the Christian faith is concerned, and that, in that whole life, politics, economics and the social and industrial conditions of the people must be included.

There was nothing very new in that message, What was new was, I suppose, the courage, the force with which he delivered it, and the equally great courage with which he faced the practical applications. There were, as the noble Leader of the house has pointed out, critics—I know that some of your Lordships were among them—who thought that he brought the spheres of economics and religion too closely together. He would not have resented that criticism. Indeed, he would have acclaimed the justice of it, for his whole contention was that, looking deeper than the surface of things, where things had got wrong was that these two great spheres had been too long kept apart, and could only be put right if they were brought more closely together. In so far as anything that was said, however, implied that he subordinated the religious to the economic sphere, no criticism could have been more unfounded, for no man ever insisted more strongly that it is the Christian religion itself that must come first. I do not think it can be denied that his great influence was largely due to the fact that there were multitudes of his fellow-citizens among all classes and types, and not least among the young, who were eagerly waiting for such a message, delivered with his force and clearness, and it was their ready response to it which perhaps more than anything else gave him a most remarkable leadership.

There are two other facts about him which perhaps I may be allowed very briefly to mention. One is that this great, active Christian leader was also in his day and generation a foremost Christian thinker. His books will remain a valuable and in some respects an original contribution to theology and philosophy. It is a proof of his amazing powers of detachment and concentration that one of the weightiest was written when he was Bishop of the industrial diocese of Manchester, and another, his Gifford Lectures on Nature, Man and God, in the midst of all the burdens, which I know so well, of the Archbishopric of York. The other fact is one which has already been mentioned more than once, and it is that this leader and this thinker was the most human-hearted of men. He had a rich, full, joyous humanity. His resounding laugh was the expression of it, and was something which those who knew him will always associate with their memories of him—the joyful gladness of the man who is true-hearted. It was this wealth of humanity in him that won for him in many lands and among all sorts and kinds of people a wealth of friendship. We all regretted—he regretted it, I know—that the demands upon his time and energy made it difficult for him to take a very active part in the deliberations of your Lordships' House, but we heard him often enough to be able to appreciate the clarity of his mind and the force of his speech. But he was a member of this House, and it is only fitting that from it should come this tribute of grateful admiration and of sympathy with his wife, admiration for one who was from first to last a single-minded and noble-hearted Christian citizen.

2.33 p.m.


My Lords, Free Churchmen feel the sudden and unexpected death of Dr. Temple almost as keenly as members of his own Communion. He was more than the head of the Anglican Church; he won for himself the spiritual leadership of the nation, and his loss is felt in all the Churches. He was President of the British Council of Churches from its inauguration; and as I, a Free Churchman, was the lay Vice-President I saw at first hand how quickly and completely he won not only the confidence but also the affection of the members of that Council, representing all the Protestant Churches of the country. As recently as the spring of this year he wrote: Few things are, I believe, so important as to emphasize and illustrate the underlying unity among Christians who are separated either by their denominational loyalties or by their conscientious convictions. And he added: "This unity exists." That he was a warm friend of co-operation between all Christians is gratefully acknowledged among all the Churches.

His friendships extended far beyond the bounds of his own Communion. Few clergymen of the Anglican Church have had so many real and intimate friends among Free Churchmen. A man of great intellectual gifts, his career was marked throughout by exceptional brilliance, but he was completely free from intellectual pride. No man was ever less of the "proud prelate." His life was a way of fellowship, and no one could be long in his presence without realizing the depth and strength of his inner life, and the radiancy of his faith. He has been taken from us in the full tide of buoyant life and service, but he has left an indelible mark on the lives of countless men and women, not only in this country but far beyond our shores, for he had an æecumenical outlook, and I am confident that Free Churchmen throughout the world would wish to join in paying tribute to his life and work. His was a virile mind and a gracious disposition. He had the purity of heart that could see God. While walking the valleys of time, he drew his breath from "the mountain of the Lord." In quietness and in confidence was his strength.

It is not only the Churches that will be deprived of his wisdom and guidance. We shall sorely miss his bold and tolerant mind and his lucidity here in our debates in this House. He said recently: "It is a characteristic of our times that all the chief political questions are theological questions." As one who differed from him on occasion in debate, I recall that John Bright once said of a colleague, that he "believed in no man's infallibility, but it was restful to be sure of a man's integrity." That was a pleasure enjoyed by all those who were brought into contact with William Temple. Thus it is that we are scarcely less emphatic than Anglicans in our tribute of affection and admiration; and on behalf of Free Churchmen I would lay a wreath of grateful remembrance on that vacant corner seat of the Episcopal Bench in your Lordships' House, and say how deeply we sympathize with the Church of England and how intensely we share the nation's grief in the tragic loss of such a wise and courageous leader.

2.39 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to be permitted on this unhappy occasion to add one or two words on behalf of the Catholics, many of whom, I have no doubt, would wish to join with me in paying tribute to the late Archbishop of Canterbury in the eloquent way that your Lordships have done. In the high office which he held the late Archbishop Temple was universally respected, and we shall remember him as a man who ever worked for the greater understanding between, and unity of, all peoples, whatever their nation and whatever their creed.

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, as I have the honour of being Chairman of the House of Laity of the Church Assembly, and have been a member of that body ever since its inception, I should like to take this opportunity of saying a few words on this occasion as a humble layman. I had the privilege, I think I may say, of the friendship of the late Archbishop for many years and I realize profoundly the immense loss that we have sustained. I think his pre-eminent service to the world was rendered in the field of Christian evidence, and his books, like Christus Veritas, will always remain of supreme value to all people who believe in Christianity. He was one of those very simple men—and I once stayed with him for a short time—who show, not only in their home life but in ovary other phase of life, the Christianity which was the essence of his being. I think that in future days we shall realize that one of our great Christian gentlemen has gone from us, and we shall look back to all that he has done with great gratification.

I know that many of your Lordships probably did riot agree with some of his ideas and methods with regard to social problems, but I am certain there is no one who did not believe in the purity of his motives. He had great characteristics. Anybody who sat in the Church Assembly with him and saw him in the chair would realize his powers as a chairman. Though, since the late Archbishop left, he was intellectually superior to anybody there, he never tried to show that he was any better than anybody else, and he always treated everybody in the Assembly with courtesy. I am perfectly certain that if he looks down on this sublunary sphere to-day and listens to the beautiful speeches which have been made about him in this House, he must feel great gratification and he will realize that the memory of his work and his life is likely to remain in the minds of men for many years to come. I am personally grateful to him for all the help he has given me in various directions. I looked upon him not only as a great gentleman and a great Christian, but a man with a heart of gold.

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