Remembering William Temple


John 1:9-18

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

I wonder, did it feel like the very Word of God was dwelling among us a hundred years ago, when the so-called Great War was beginning?  Maybe this would be the war to end all wars, some people thought.  But was there any hope at all in this thought?

What about a quarter-century later?  I wonder, did it feel like Jesus was at all present with us here on earth then, when another worldwide war began?  Was there any dignity at all in that notorious Kaiser Adolph Hitler?  Did even a vestige of hope remain in humanity then?

The Bible says that the Word of God, Jesus, the Christ, had come and dwelt among us.  But where was he now?

William Temple was born in 1881. This means he was 33 years old a hundred years ago, when World War I began.  He died in 1944, shortly before the end of World War II.

Yet—despite the fact that he had seen the worldwide rumblings that started two world wars—William Temple maintained a personal hope in humanity until his dying day.  This is because he truly believed God’s Word; he believed that God’s Word had once become flesh and dwelt among us; and he believed that God’s Word, Jesus Christ, continued to dwell among us in the flesh.  Despite tyranny!  Despite unbridled violence!  Despite genocide!

William Temple believed that the heavenly kingdom had indeed come to earth with Christ—that heavenly city, whose foundation is justice and whose law is love—despite the wickednesses he experienced all around him in his life.

And his was no foolish optimism.

Ever hear the term “Cradle Episcopalian”?  William Temple was the quintessential cradle Anglican.  He was born when his father, Dr. Frederick Temple, was Bishop of Exeter.  Young William was baptized at Exeter Cathedral when he was 22 days old.  When William was fifteen, his father was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

To say he grew up in the Church is a gross understatement.  He knew the Church’s place in the world—and what it could effect.  Perhaps that is why he found himself Bishop of Manchester by the time he was 40, Archbishop of York at 48, and the Right Reverend Archbishop of Canterbury himself at 61.

Through his life and career he developed and maintained a passion for social justice that was deeply rooted in the incarnation of Christ.  Jesus Christ lived and dwelt among us; and as a result, Temple wrote, “the personality of every man and woman is sacred.”  Every man and woman—including Adolph Hitler!  (Tough one to swallow, eh?)

But this reminds me of our Episcopal theology, from our baptismal covenant (said this past Sunday at the 9am and 11am services): the celebrant asks, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”  And the people—we—answer, “I will, with God’s help” (BCP 305).

With this commitment to the Incarnation, Temple was a key player in establishing COPEC, the Conference on Christian Politics, Economics, and Citizenship, in 1924 (between the wars); and the Malvern Conference in 1940, to reflect on social reconstruction needs in Great Britain following World War II.

May William Temple be a shining example to us of incarnational faith in Christ despite whatever harshnesses we see in our world!

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