JUNE 1, 1967
The East, The West and the Bible
AN ADDRESS BY
His Grace The Archbishop of York, The Most Rev. Dr. Donald Coggan
CHAIRMAN Dr. Henry D. Hicks,
PRESIDENT, CANADIAN BIBLE SOCIETY
CANADIAN BIBLE SOCIETY,
THE EMPIRE CLUB OF CANADA THE CANADIAN CLUB OF TORONTO
May I first of all express my sincere thanks to The Empire Club of Canada for providing such an excellent luncheon and such an excellent audience for our distinguished speaker of today, The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Frederick Donald Coggan, Archbishop of York and President of the United Bible Societies.
Archbishop Coggan has had a most interesting and distinguished career, having been educated at Merchant Taylor's School, at Cambridge and at Oxford. In addi tion to his pastoral work, which has been outstanding, he has taught at Manchester University and the London College of Divinity, but, most significant of all to Canadians, at Wycliffe College here in Toronto. Dr. Coggan's ministry has taken him to the farthermost parts of the world and he could truly be described as a world traveller, an eminent author, and a musician of some note, since he plays both the piano and the organ. His interest in the Bible and Bible Societies has taken him many places and brings him to Canada in connection with the Annual Meetings of the Canadian Bible Society. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you an Oxford man, a Cambridge man, and a Toronto man. What more could this audience ask of its speaker today -The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr. Frederick Donald Coggan.
THE ARCHBISHOF OF YORK:
It is good to be back in the city where, when the century was a good deal younger, I spent seven happy years, a city grown almost beyond belief but still, for me, holding a fascination and a charm all its own. It is good to have the opportunity of speaking to so many friends, new and old, members of these two great clubs, together with their ladies. And I am glad to be associated with the British and Foreign Bible Society and with Dr. Kenneth MacMillan and his fine team of fellow-workers.
I can imagine that some of you, perhaps too polite to say so aloud, are nonetheless saying to yourselves: "Surely the Archbishop has been singularly unfortunate in his choice of subject, 'The West, the East and the Bible'. Had he been addressing a Bible Society meeting, or delivering a sermon in Church, that would have been a suitable theme. But this is a great gathering of men and women, most of them connected with industry and commerce, with science and business. He might have chosen something slightly more relevant."
I see the point of the objection. Many of us are regular readers of the Bible. But it is equally true that many of us are not. For some, Genesis is little more than a bio logical term and Revelation the name of a suitcase. If we own a Bible, it is more decorative than useful--it goes on our shelves alongside Shakespeare or Dickens, and gives just that needed literary touch to the living room! But use it?--No, not often; unless it be to find the clue to a cross-word puzzle or the answer to a quiz. And if someone were to start asking us questions, especially on the Old Testament--well, was she Abishag the Shunammite or Shabby Hag the Newnhamite? And where, oh where, among the Minor Prophets is Zechariah to be found (or is it Zedekiah?) ?
But for all that, I do not believe I could have chosen a subject more immediately relevant to our 20th-century world, and to such a gathering as this, than a subject con nected with the Bible. For consider for a moment what this book is -or, rather, I should say this little library of 66 books. It is an ancient collection; not very ancient when you consider the evolution of man as we now know him, or the emergence of our little planet in the vast universe of which it is a tiny part. Nevertheless, 39 of its 66 books were in existence when Jesus Christ was born, and the others had arrived by the end of the 1st century A.D. And it is an extraordinary mixture of writings--a mixture of "old unhappy far off things, and battles long ago" and love stories, of myth and ritual, of poetry and prose, of letters and theological theses, of history and apocalyptic. Here vengeance and tenderness, mighty doctrine and personal intimacies jostle one another. Here the contributions of the nations flow together, Hebrew, Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek converging in an extraordinary amalgam.
Here are the outpourings of an utterly unscientific age. How can I dare to say that the Bible has any relevance to men who think in terms of the conquest of the moon, the manufacture of jet-engines, the eradication of disease by drugs, the control of population by the pill? We are more at home with pipettes than with the Psalms, with atoms than with Adam, with V.C.10's than with journeys by donkey. Nonetheless, I advance my thesis that this book has a word to modern man, man in the sophisticated sixties of the 20th century, a word which he neglects at his peril. I would go further; I hold that many of the troubles in which modern man finds himself are due precisely to the fact that, being in possession of this book he has failed to heed it and live by it; or, never having possessed it in his own language, he has been deprived of its life-giving principles, and that deprivation has led to disaster.
Do you know W. E. Henley's poems? Their dating is significant--he died in 1903. Perhaps he is most famous for the lines:
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
It was fashionable, in those pre-war days, to extol the self-sufficiency of human nature--a little more knowledge and Utopia was round the corner. We are doing it again today--we have 'come of age', we say. What do we mean by that? Perhaps that is true, technologically speaking. This is the age of the technocrat, and we are thankful for his immense achievements. But have we come of age morally and spiritually? We are learning to live longer, but have we learnt how to live together? Wars and racehatred pose a question-mark here. We have mastered travel to the moon, but have we learnt the mastery of our own passions and desires? It is to questions such as these that the Bible addresses itself--to the great unchangeables, God, man, human sin and need, life here and hereafter--questions to which no laboratory can give an answer, but on the answering of which man's peace depends, and his welfare as an individual and as a member of society.
"The Bible" I said, "addresses itself to these questions." And it looks for--it finds--its answer in the Person of One Who not only spoke a word of God relevant to the needs of His hearers, but was Himself what God had to say to men. No; that is not correctly put. For the tenses I used in that last sentence might seem to indicate that Jesus of Nazareth was a remarkable Figure with a word for His generation and that was all. I must alter the tenses and say: He is what God has to say to man. For the New Testament insists that you cannot confine Jesus spatially to Palestine or temporarily to the 1st century. He is the same yesterday, today and for ever. He is our great Contemporary, with Whom we can live in touch if we will; through Whom the mind and will of the Eternal are made known to us; to know Whom is to find life; to miss Whom is to stumble and fall.
These are big claims, but they are claims the truth of which has been and is attested by millions of men and women, of all colours, in all walks of life. And the supreme importance of the Bible lies, not in any particular theory of its inspiration, but in the fact that it is the bearer of this Word of God to us. We cannot do without it if we are to know Him.
Now this book came to us from the East. Ex oriente lux -light from the East. Soon it was translated from its original languages into those spoken in different parts of the world. As the message of Christianity spread, it was found essential to translate the book which carried the message. When the message reached Britain, most of the people were illiterate, and so parts of the book were sung as popular lyrics. Then came a succession of men ready to give their scholarship--and some of them, like William Tyndale, their lives--to the translation and dissemination of this book. Little do many of us realize, as we leave the book on our shelves to gather dust, that for it men have been burnt, beheaded, done to death.
This century has been the great century of translations into modem English. There had, of course, been many before the 20th century--of these the Authorized and Revised Versions were the chief. But this has been the century par excellence. I well remember, when we lived here, going down to New York on some errand or other, and having tea with James Moffatt, that shrewd and learned Scottish scholar who had been adopted by America. His version was something of a pioneer effort, and if it sometimes lacked the dignity of the earlier translations it lacked nothing in vividness and colour. Thus, when in the great epic poem of Job he curses the day of his birth, the Authorized Version gives us: "Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived." But Moffatt gives a really contemporary touch with: "Perish the day I was born, the night that said, 'It is a boy.' "
The most recent translations of all, such as those by J. B. Phillips and the New English Bible, have run into many millions. No one can say that they cannot under stand the Bible because of its out of date language. They can get it, in 20th-century English, at any good bookshop, for the price of a few packets of cigarettes.
But while this translation work has been going on in the English-speaking countries, the curse of Babel has persisted throughout the world. Further, in this century, the graph of world population has shot up -and continues to do so alarmingly. We expect the population to double between now and the year 2000! This means that the task of seeing to it that the Bible, in whole or in part, is available to those who can read is a colossal enterprise. In spite of the fact that it is already translated into over 1300 different languages, there are millions still waiting, their need unsatisfied. And in spite of the fact that the Churches are collaborating, in spite of the fact that the scholars, the business men, the technicians, the artists are all pooling their skills, there is a sense in which the task is only begun.
The task to which the Bible Societies of the world address themselves is an exciting one. Can the attempt to keep pace with the population explosion and with the very rapid growth of literacy among the emerging nations be successful? There is no doubt that a gallant attempt is being made. It is my privilege to be the President of the United Bible Societies, which holds under its spacious umbrella the welfare of 317 national Bible Societies, working in 120 different countries of the world. This is internationalism on a world scale. This is an outstanding example of ecumenical co-operation--we do not ask one another what denomination we belong to: we get on with the job of joining hands in providing food for hungry minds and aching hearts.
As I go around the world, I find all kinds of men and women engaged on this task. Some are scholars, with the knowledge of a dozen languages to their credit. Some are artists, able with a few strokes to capture a parable or to depict a situation. Some are technicians, able to run a printing-machine or mend a broken Bible van. Some are experts in the field of finance and of organization, manning the home base so that others may go and take with them the Bible with its message of new life in Christ. Others are men and women like yourselves, fully engaged in their trades and professions but determined that this work shall not be held back for lack of money. I am very proud to be associated with such people. I would like to be sure that you are among them.
When the day is done and the journey is over, I should like to be able to say -not so much, perhaps, that I had got to the top of my profession, or that I had become a world figure, or that I had built up a great business. Any or all of these things may or not be good. I should like to be able to say: "I had a share -just as big a share as I possibly could have--in bringing the message of God's love in Christ to men who, without my gift, would not have had it." And, so far as I can see, one of the best ways of doing this is to get your shoulder behind the wheel of the Bible Society and give it an almighty shove. So will the West, privileged and prosperous, pay back to the East, pathetic and penurious, something of the debt which it owes for the unspeakable gift of Christ and for the book which bears Him to us.
Thanks of the meeting were expressed by Graham M. Gore.