What follows was a sermon that was part of series on “Turbulent Priests” in our church team. Charles Gore was in his time controversial but is perhaps less so when remembered today.
Some of what Gore wrote will feature in what I write about Jesus and His divinity and humanity and the nature of the incarnation.
Introduction- Two books
I have at home two old second hand books by Charles Gore; “Belief in God” and “Bampton Lectures”.
The Bampton Lectures was a series of lectures on the nature of Christ and the Incarnation. I later discovered they were Controversial in their time.
More about that later..
Charles Gore was born in Wimbledon in January 1853 and ordained as priest 1878 (aged 25 years). He was successively bishop at Worcester, Oxford and the newly created diocese of Birmingham. He founded the priestly ” Community of the Resurrection” as well as co-founded the Christian Social Union. Interestingly I found out that Gore licensed 21 women as Lay Readers and called them the “Diocesan Band of Women Messengers”. These were possibly the first female Lay Readers in the Church of England although full developments for women Readers nationally had to wait for many more years
So why was Charles Gore controversial and a “turbulent priest”? I want to pick out three reasons.
A modern approach to scripture
Gore was an heir to the Catholic Oxford Movement that held a high place of scriptural authority and the church as guardian of scripture and doctrine related to it. But Gore had a controversial in his critical view of scripture. He responded to what many biblical scholars were saying in European universities and he also wrote in response to scientific discoveries and in the wake of Darwin’s Evolution of Species by Natural Selection. The Old Testament in particular showed many historical problems did not hold up to more modern scrutiny in the light of science and history.
The Anglo-Catholic movement has had to abandon the conception of the Bible in all its parts and statements as ‘the infallible book,’ and of inspiration as guaranteeing its subjects against any kind of error. It has had to recognize that divine inspiration does not impart to the prophet scientific or historical information, but concerns only the knowledge of God and of the spiritual life: and that the divine education of men which the Old Testament records was a very gradual and progressive purpose…..
Gore also raised questions that others were saying about the New Testament including questions about the composition of the New Testament and how the gospels came to be written and he again took a quite modern critical view that he did not think damaged the content of the revelation of God in Jesus.
…The Gospels made no claim to infallibility; and that some at least of the Fathers of chief authority show, in their treatment of the Bible, a singular affinity with modern ideas.
Gore’s views on critical scholarship set him at odds with many of the Evangelicals and traditional Anglo-Catholics in the church at the time. In retrospect today. Gore was simply one leading figure among scholars and church people who was trying to make a reasonable apologetic faith in the light of history, science and critical enquiry in to the origins and functions of various parts of the bible. He is still a signpost for the kind of critical engagement between the world of scripture and the world we are coming to know through other kinds of knowledge and enquiry.
A revised view of Jesus and His divine and human knowledge
Gore’s second clash was about how we are to see Jesus in relation to His Humanity and His Divinity. This comes out in his Bampton Lectures on the Incarnate Christ. There is a strong strand in Christian thought that Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God had all the knowledge and power of God at His disposal. Jesus quoted the OT scriptures and had all knowledge of people and things in all times and places.
But then a problem arises. Critical enquiry had shown different views on the history of the earth, and the OT was not always historically accurate. Since Jesus quoted texts that may be historically wrong Jesus how could He have been wrong if He had all God’s knowledge? Also at times in the gospels Jesus seems surprised at what people say and do. How could he be surprised by anyone if He had God’s complete knowledge of them? The question arises did Jesus truly know everything as Son of God?
Gore picks up a strand of thought I also discovered from John Duns Scotus many centuries before. It’s called “Kenotic Christology” (from the Greek word “Kenosis” = Emptied”) and comes from Phillipiians 2 We read that Jesus,
having the nature of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but “emptied himself,” and took the nature of a servant.
Gore argued that in the Incarnation the Divine Word when He took upon Himself our flesh took upon Himself the limitations of our human nature and accepted the limitations of human knowledge. The divine Word empties Himself of power and knowledge in order to come among us and be servant. Christ in His Humanity was subject to human limitations of knowledge. The Word dwells in Jesus without taking away his humanity and self-will.
Jesus could have sinned but He did not. If He could not have been really tempted to sin He could not be like us. He prayed to the Father completely as one of us. He feels fear and anguish as one of us and feels abandoned on the cross as any of us may have done. Jesus could only be our saviour if He was truly like us and suffered many of our limitations of knowledge and action.
Again what Gore said about this was quite controversial and detracted from what many people thought about Jesus. It was again part of Gore’s attempt to show a reasonable faith in the real human Jesus who was still the bearer and embodiment of God’s Eternal Word.
Social and political issues
Gore might also be called the “a red bishop” ( a Communist) . He was also a Christian Socialist. He had been one of the founding members of the Christian Social Union
- To claim for the Christian Law the ultimate authority to rule social practice.
- To study in common how to apply the moral truths and principles of Christianity to the social and economic problems of the present time.
- To present Christ in practical life as the Living Master and King, the enemy of wrong and selfishness, the power of righteousness and love.
Gore opposed what we may call “sweatshops”; work places with unacceptable working conditions; long hours for low pay. As tension increased between the British government and the Boer republics of South Africa, Gore denounced British Imperialism. He denounced the British policy of rounding up Boer civilians in detention camps, where the mortality rate was very high. He wrote a fierce letter on the subject to The Times
As a further example of his political leanings, while he was Bishop of Oxford, in 1911 a major labour dispute arose in Reading, and Gore publicly sided with the workers, giving them money, and pressing for a panel of inquiry into the living conditions of the workers. The report of the panel favoured the workers’ cause, and won for Gore a great deal of gratitude and affection among working-class people in his diocese and elsewhere.
Gore died in 1932 after a long trip to India what left him exhausted. He had pneumonia and lapsed into a coma.
Although considered controversial in his time Gore was some-one trying to bring the church into contact with the realities of the modern world and critical thought related to science and biblical historical research. We similarly today need to continue to think about how science and other knowledge impacts upon our view of scripture. We must seek to – maintain a reasonable and credible faith in the gospel of Jesus the light of modern knowledge.
Gore was also a socially and politically minded Catholic who wanted to see social change. For him the church is not just about individual salvation and rescue from the world. The church is to be an agency of God’s goodness in the world, a true alternative society that changes society by what it does.
May we in our own way today honour Gore’s legacy and what he tried to bring to the church for the sake of Christ and our society
Thanks for Gore’s life
Bringing science and biblical scholarship together
Our witness to the humanity of Jesus- united to the Word
Our desire to see the love of Christ made active in the life of our community and nation
Rem the victims terrorist violence and the wars going on Syria, Iraq and parts of Africa. –
Our involvement in challenging politicians for creating Just peace.