In 1899 a relatively obscure priest working in a City Mission in the slums of South Boston was compiling a book on prayer from articles he had written for the Saint Andrew’s Cross, a magazine of the recently established lay order of the Protestant Episcopal Church known as the Brotherhood of St. Andrew. Seven years before, this celibate priest had left the Order of the Cowley Father’s whose House was just across the Charles River in Cambridge. Although he left the order over a dispute between his superior, Fr. A. C. A. Hall and the Order’s Father Superior in England, the young priest never left the inward embrace of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience””even less did he leave behind the spiritual disciplines of the religious life he had learned so well under Fr. Hall’s steady hand. Somewhere between his pastoral and social work among the sordidness and squalor of the South End””replete with red light district, street waifs, immigrants and vagrants”” and his late night vigils of intercessory prayer or early mornings spent in meditation, not to mention the full round of parish duties, he found the time to write. In the final chapter of his little book, With God in the World, he wrote words that now appear as strangely prescient for his own life: “Men””we are not thinking of butterflies””cannot exist without difficulty. To be shorn of it means death, because inspiration is bound up with it, and inspiration is the breath of God, without the constant influx of which man ceases to be a living soul. Responsibility is the sacrament of inspiration. . . . The fault of most modern prophets is not that they present too high an ideal, but an ideal that is sketched with a faltering hand; the appeal to self-sacrifice is too timid and imprecise, the challenge to courage is too low-voiced, with the result that the tide of inspiration ebbs and flows.” He was to parse this belief taking root in his soul, with the phrase “the inspiration of responsibility”. Within two short years he would have the opportunity to test these words with his life.
His name was Charles Henry Brent, born the son of an Anglican clergyman from New Castle, Ontario in 1862. How Charles Brent, a Canadian by birth, came to be a priest in of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and under the episcopacy of the renowned Phillips Brooks, and later, the almost equally celebrated Bishop William Lawrence, is itself an interesting story we haven’t time to explore. Suffice to say that God seemed to be grooming through the seemingly quixotic twists and turns of providence a bishop not merely for the church or for one nation, but for the world””a man, of whom it could be said, he was Everybody’s Bishop.
The event that brought Brent face to face with the words he himself had written came on the morning of October 8, 1901. An unexpected telegram came from the House of Bishops meeting at General Convention in San Francisco. In short it asked him whether there were any hindrances under God that, if elected, would prevent him from becoming the first Episcopal bishop of the Philippine Islands. After consulting three intimate friends, and more than a little searching of soul, he sent these words westward over the wire””“Willing and rejoiced to sacrifice myself to the utmost for the missionary cause. Possible family complications. Consult Lawrence and Hall who know the situation.” Elected in October, consecrated in December, Bishop Brent sailed for the Philippines on May 1902. He had just turned forty. During the next decade this son of a rural rectory, naturally inward and reserved, with the soul of a mystic and poetic cast of mind, would become an international figure whose spiritual and diplomatic counsel was sought by governors, generals and presidents, and yet walked with humble step through the mountain huts and Igorot villages in the northern islands of Luzon and the Moro pirates of Zamboanga and Jolo.
During the seventeen years he was Missionary Bishop of the Philippines Brent established an Episcopal Cathedral in Manila for American and British citizens; schools for the children of American governmental and military personnel; missions stations and schools among the Chinese immigrants in Manila, the Igorot tribes in the Luzon, as well as among the Moro Muslims in the southern islands; was the frequent confidante of the successive Governor-Generals of the islands, (including William Howard Taft later to be U. S. President), and military men of every rank, (including confirming General Pershing); was an indefatigable herald for the missionary enterprise in the American church wherever he found a platform””from diocesan gatherings, Episcopal Seminaries, General Conventions, to dinners with the wealthy. In 1910 he was a key figure in the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. The many prolonged ocean voyages to promote the missionary enterprise, as well as to secure the necessary funds and missionaries for the work and growing institutions of his diocese, he used to write lectures for such places as Harvard University and The General Theological Seminary, as well as many of the thirteen books published during this era of his life for an eager and growing readership in the U. S. and England. He was also drawn into the complexities of the international opium trade, having seen first hand its rapacious affect on the peoples of the Philippines. From the initial meeting of the Opium Commission at Shanghai in 1909 to the subsequent gatherings in Hague and Geneva as late as 1924, he was a tireless crusader for abolishing the international trade that was destroying so many lives in the far corners of the world, including those in his old parish in the South End of Boston. He became a widely read writer on the international dimensions of this narcotic problem and a respected voice whose wisdom was drawn upon by statesmen and presidents long after he left the Pacific.
It is not surprising that with the outbreak of the First World War a churchman of such international experience and reputation would find himself called upon by Canadians, Americans and Europeans alike. While in France as a special representative with the War Council of the Y.M.C.A. he was asked by his old friend, General Pershing, who was Head of the American Expeditionary Force, to oversee the Chaplaincy Ministry to U. S. soldiers in Europe. Since the U.S. military had no chaplaincy program he had no prior blueprint for the work. He created the program from scratch. In this capacity he organized the Chaplains School, established plans for ecumenical services and enabled chaplains of various denominations from Roman Catholic priests to Baptist ministers to carry out effective duties among the troops. Of this work General Pershing wrote, “By his [Bishop Brent’s] loyal spirit of cooperation and by his masterful attainments, he has rendered services of most conspicuous merit and lasting value to the American government.” (Zabriskie, p. 132)
Having been elected bishop of Western New York just prior to the United States’ involvement in the war, and having chosen to accept the call based upon his conviction that his health would not last long if he continued in the tropics, he agreed to accept the position, provided the diocese would wait for him to finish his work in the war effort. Thus when he came to the Buffalo on February 16, 1919 he was an internationally known figure. Even the young American soldiers returning home knew him as the Bishop in Khaki: Their Bishop. From 1919 until his death on March 27, 1929 in Lausanne the diocese was called upon to share their bishop with the world. They had called a living apostle to be their bishop””and soon to be known as the Apostle of Church Unity. Amid parish visitations and confirmations, diocesan meetings and General Conventions, requests came for him to serve the larger Christian world in international gatherings. Frederick Ward Kates wrote of this partnership between a local diocese and a recognized world figure: His mind, heart, effort, and vision embraced all mankind. Diocesan and National boundaries were simply landmarks, not mind limits or heart limits. He knew no geographical borders restricting the duty Christians owe all mankind. Thus the diocese, under Bishop Brent’s leadership and the magnificent inspiration he gave it, was happy and proud to make its contribution to the world’s need. If Bishop Brent went abroad on some Christian mission, Western New York churchmen felt the diocese went abroad with him.”
Chief among the duties that called him away from his diocese was his role as a crusader for Christian unity. Delegate to the Meeting of the Universal Christian Conference on Life and Work in Stockholm in 1925; Chairman of the first Faith and Order meeting also held in Stockholm; and President of the World Conference on Faith and Order in Lausanne in 1927, he presided over gatherings that included such theological luminaries as Karl Barth and Bishop Charles Gore; Orthodox Patriarchs from Greece, Asia Minor, and Syria: Christian Professors and churchmen from China and Japan, as well as from every country of Europe. One of those present who would one day serve as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. William Temple, wrote of Brent’s chairing of this monumental meeting for Christian unity, “His position as the pivotal person of the Conference was plain, and his quiet, firm and often humorous control of the discussions was most effective.”
In the serendipitous sovereignty of God it is fitting that the Bishop was traveling with friends when he took his last breath. On their way to the Mediterranean in the spring of 1929 for what his physician, Sir Thomas Barlow, saw as needed R&R he passed through Switzerland with Ambassador and Mrs. Houghton and Dr. Barlow. They spent the night in Lausanne. At 2:30 a.m. the Bishop awoke in discomfort. Sending for Sir Thomas, the doctor found him breathless and his pulse growing fainter. He urged upon his friend to remember his charge “”¦not to forget what I said to you, that I wish to be buried where I die.” He then said, “Things are fading away.” Fitting last words from one who on Holy Week in 1906 while on retreat at the House of the Resurrection, Baguio, in the Philippine Islands, had written””“We must enter heaven and sojourn there a space every day in order to understand the meaning of life and do the work that lies before us in the world. The courts of heaven are but a step away. Wherefore
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up unto the Lord.
His body was dressed in a purple cassock, placed in a plain oak casket and buried in Bois de Vaux cemetery in Lausanne, Switzerland. The tree lay where it fell. There was no home to which to take his body: No one place could claim him””be it New Castle, Boston, Manila, Paris or Buffalo. Though a man for all nations, he only sojourned in this world he served: The courts of heaven for him seemed always only a step away.
* * * * * * * *
I’ve been assigned the task of speaking this morning on Charles Henry Brent as an Anglican Treasure. This is at once an easy and most demanding task. Easy in that Bishop Brent excelled not only in so many dimensions of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, but was also widely esteemed in the Church Universal and, for that matter, in the political world of his day””being called upon by governors, generals and successive Presidents of the United States for counsel, ministry and diplomatic service. Yet mine is also a difficult task in that he is so little known by Episcopalians today that I have found myself tempted to set out in several separate yet inter-related directions. It is an odd indictment of how little we have embraced our heritage when a man who is arguably the most important figure the Episcopal Church has produced since the celebrated preacher Phillips Brooks (himself seemingly read more often by preachers outside his church than those within) is so little known by those who minister in his adopted province within the Anglican Communion.
He was of course as I have all too briefly described above, a celebrated missionary bishop””the first Bishop of the newly acquired U. S. Territory of the Philippine Islands from 1901””1917. It may be recalled from whatever meager geography lessons we may have had in school, this group of islands stretched for twelve hundred miles from Formosa to Borneo. Some here this morning may have first encountered Bishop Brent through John Booty’s book in the Church’s Teaching Series, The Church in History, published in 1979. Dr. Booty began his chapter on the Church as a “Missionary Community” with an excellent retelling of Brent’s ministry beginning with his work in the Philippines and leading to Brent’s work as a prophet of ecumenism, or as Dean Zabriskie had referred to him a generation earlier in his rightly praised biography, Bishop Brent, An Apostle of Christian Unity. His lectures delivered at The General Seminary under the Paddock Lectureship and subsequently published in 1906 under the title Adventure with God would itself be worthy of our time this morning. Take for instance this one paragraph from this passionate call to missionary service as indicative of its vibrancy and vigor: When the highest post of honour in a leading school for girls is the presidency of the missionary society, and when the head master of a great school for boys publicly proclaims that he would rather see one of his pupils a foreign missionary than in the Presidential chair, surely the vision of adventure for God is a living force in our midst!” (p. 30 Adventure for God) As a poetic visionary able to cast a vision for a truly Christian romance towards the missionary vocation he is without peer, though it is hard not to conclude that his missiology would have been helped by a thorough reading and assimilation of his contemporary Anglican missiologist Roland Allen.
Others of my generation may well have first made an acquaintance with Brent through James Addison’s The Episcopal Church in the United States 1789””1931. Addison, not without justification, portrays Brent as a man for all seasons, equally at home in slums of 1890 Boston, the native huts of Moro tribesman, the lecture halls of Harvard or the cathedrals of Europe. He was writes Addison, “many-sided in character and of varied powers”¦ [who] in a life-time of sixty-seven years, touched nearly every aspect of God’s work in the world, and ”˜touched nothing that he did not adorn.’” (Addison, p. 363) In fact as those who have read Brent’s writings on spirituality and prayer can attest, we could easily spend the morning fruitfully in a delightful look at his understanding of prayer as an adventure with God in the world!””which of us after all can pray his collect for mission incorporated into the 1979 Book of Common Prayer’s Morning Prayer service and fail to be inspired at one and the same time towards devotion and mission?
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the arms of your saving embrace; So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching out our hand in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
This is but one of a seemingly innumerable number of prayers found in his published works and unpublished diaries that are crafted in the fusion of a saint’s vision and a poet’s pen. As he urged his readers in his little devotional book, With God in Prayer, the practice of such writing of prayers is available to all and it is “”¦an act of reverence to present to God the best expression of our thought that we can. An artistic prayer, a prayer carefully prepared, so far from being less is more spiritual by virtue of its literary finish.” (Brent, p. 10)
Bishop Brent: The Metaphysic of Leadership
It is however as a Spiritual Leader that I wish to present Bishop Brent for your consideration. What is most to be remembered here, or should I say, excavated, for that is often what is necessary for the student of pastoralia in the Episcopal tradition today, is that Bishop Brent is not merely a model for leaders to emulate, as important as this is, he was also a philosopher of leadership. In several of his published works he leads us into thinking philosophically, even christianly, about leadership. It is in this dual role that I wish to present Brent as an Anglican treasure””1) as model for leadership in his life and work; and 2) as a philosopher of Christian leadership, dealing not merely with pragmatic practices of successful leadership (as we find so inundating the field of leadership writing today), but with a metaphysic of leadership, its power, motive and purpose. As an Anglican spokesman for the growing field of writing, we will find his contribution will not be in multiplying the number of psychological case studies, interpersonal dynamics, conflict resolution styles, sociological analysis of institutional life, anthropological descriptions of leadership styles or even methodologies for goal-setting, strategies or statistics. Frankly, our need in the matter of leadership theory is greater and more fundamental than what any of these can offer, even while it may include regular attention given to them.
Leadership has been described as the Abominable Snowman of the social sciences, its “”¦.footprints are everywhere, but it is nowhere to be seen.” Robert Greenleaf, some years ago called ours as an “era of the anti-leader” and ours as a “leadership-poor society”. A brief excursion into the movies of our day will demonstrate again and again how the person without title or position, the maverick, the one outside the established order or institution is the one who saves or delivers. James MacGregor Burns, in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Leadership, writes, “One of the most universal cravings of our time is a hunger for compelling and creative leadership.” When theorists write books on why leaders can’t lead (see Warren Bennis’ book by that title), and church consultants feel compelled to include chapters in books reminding church leaders “that leaders do lead” (see Lyle Schaller among others), we clearly have a leadership problem. Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, in their ground breaking collaboration some years ago, entitled Leaders, addressed the illusivity of leadership: Never have so many labored so long to say little. Multiple interpretations of leadership exist, each providing a sliver of insight, but each remaining an incomplete and wholly inadequate explanation. Most of these definitions don’t agree with each other, and many of them would seem quite remote to the leaders whose skills are being dissected. Definitions reflect recent fads, fashions, political tides and academic trends. They don’t always reflect reality and sometimes they just represent nonsense. It’s as if what Braque once said about art is also true of leadership: ”˜The only thing that matters in art is the part that cannot be explained’” Indeed, if there is not widespread agreement upon what leadership is, or how it’s achieved, few would deny the truth of what Admiral James Bond Stockdale stated in his profoundly searching article, “Educating Leaders”: Throughout our society we need people up front who are bored to death with business as usual, but are imaginative, classically educated (by which he means history, philosophy, and literature), and yearn to have a chance to be trail-blazers, to confront the unexpected.” The Episcopal Church, like others of the mainline denominations need people who are bored to death with business as usual.
Certainly we have no lack of leaders who want to blaze a new path in regard to issues of morality, or newly dressed ancient heresy, but for creative leadership in the “flat world of the 21st Century” or for imaginative models for mission and ministry in an ever changing a secularist world we almost pine in spiritual inertia. Maintenance models of ministry abound. And from far too many national church offices (TEC is not alone in this) comes a dreadful proliferation of pragmatic blueprints, acronyms, moralizing guilt-laden guidance and ever new buzzwords that would deaden the moral sensibilities of the best among us. While the church in the Southern Globe makes bold initiatives, and Evangelical and Pentecostal churches in our own country continue to develop vision and leadership for evangelism and ministry that seek to win the world for Christ and inspire our often most devoted youth and young adults, we rehearse in treadmill fashion the issues of social justice which rarely produce a more just society nor a more diverse or truly inclusive church. While our House of Bishops and Executive Council take steps to hinder adaptations of our polity that may well have enabled us to negotiate the Scylla and Charbidys near which we sail as a province, and thwart in the councils of the church any movement that may enable Anglicanism to craft an ecclesiology for this new millennium into which we have entered, this age of globalism, we as a national church continue our numerical decline and societal insignificance. We seem laden with those in leadership position who mirror managers, who write and interpret rules, who protect the institutional status quo despite their anti-establishment rhetoric or ethos.
The historical reasons for much of this lies outside the purpose of this presentation or paper, so far outside in fact, it could well be argued that the above paragraph is a detraction from the positive points I wish to make, Nevertheless, I include them here in order to bring some needed specificity to the statements I have made as to why we need a voice from the past, and within our Anglican and Episcopalian tradition, that might help us out of the ennui into which we have drifted. Indeed, Charles Henry Brent is a thoroughly Anglican thinker and leader, rooted in the best of our heritage; he is incarnational and catholic to his core, yet open to the fresh breezes of the Holy Spirit flowing in the worldwide church of his day and within an ever changing environment. He remained undaunted by and unwaveringly in touch with all the scientific and technological discoveries that a new century could thrust upon him.
So without further delay, let us turn to an exploration of his philosophy of leadership, which I believe can have seminal and formative influence for all of us who are caught in this crisis of leadership in our church and society. Chief in our analysis will be his lectures on Leadership delivered at Harvard University in 1907, and published under the title of the same, simply, Leadership. While I have studied and interacted with other books of Brent in which he expresses various aspects of the philosophy and practice of leadership, including The Inspiration of Responsibility, The Sixth Sense, Presence, among others, it will be primarily this book based on his lectures to young Christian men at Harvard that will form the foundation of our presentation. Here one can discover a classical and thoroughly Christian philosophy of leadership, without which we too easily fall into mere pragmatism””that is reflecting upon what works and what succeeds rather than what is true, what is right, and what is godly. To quote once more from Stockdale’s article on “Educating Leaders”””“Every great leader I have known has been a great teacher, able to give those around him a sense of perspective and to set the moral, social, and motivational climate among his followers.” This is what Brent accomplishes in these lectures and what makes them eminently worthy of serious study. The old adage “leaders are born not made” was far from true in the case of Bishop Brent. “He was called”, writes Eleanor Slater (one of his first biographers), “a born leader, but to say this of his leadership is to undervalue it”¦.He gave himself tolerance, sympathy, humor, judgment. Without these he would have not been a true leader. He was even less a born leader than most men. Sensitive, diffident, self-conscious, he seemed at first conspicuously lacking in the self-confidence and temperamental drive essential for effective leadership. It was only as he built up in himself reliance on something more than himself that he began to transcend these limitations.” It almost goes without saying what that reliance on something outside himself was, his mystic communion with Christ through meditation, prayer, formative reading of Holy Scripture, study, Eucharistic fellowship.
While these aforesaid disciplines are well documented in his numerous writings, as well as in his life by several biographers, it is in his lectures on Leadership that Brent articulates the primary characteristics of the leader. These qualities are not elitist. In fact the qualities in the leader, he writes, “Are those which you find in any good man, only in the leader they exist in a marked degree.” (Leadership, p. 12) A leader is one who keeps in advance of the crowd, (by which he means the common person), without detaching himself from the crowd””examples of this characteristic he finds in leaders such as Lincoln, Moses and of course, quintessentially in Jesus. The leader must influence others “to see what he sees, to feel what he feels, to desire what he desires” attaching them, (the crowd), “to his ideal self.” Unlike the demagogue who is also of the crowd, the leader appeals not to the baser emotions of the human spirit; rather he touches their higher desires, and awakens their dormant virtue. Conversely, the demagogue reveals an arrested development. Bishop Brent, however, is concerned with four aspects of the leader’s inner life: His or her Motive, Will, Character, and Vocation.
The Power of the Single Motive
Motive is the pivotal concern for the leader. He or she may have numerous motives, some difficult to discern, but, “one central motive controls every personality”¦.One motive either converts, ousts or absorbs all others until its rule is absolute.” (Leadership, p. 49) For this reason, writes Brent, “Too much time or pains cannot be spent in ensuring that we gain a worthy one. It is a life companion and the master of our destiny.” (Leadership, p. 55) Brent quotes Jesus’ teaching regarding the disciple being unable to serve too masters, as well as “the light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body will be full of light.” No motive becomes dominant without an inner conflict which Brent refers to as a war similar to Christ’s Temptation in the Wilderness. While there may be many things in life we are not responsible for, whether our temperaments or our ideas, “we are responsible for our motive”¦..Having once deciphered a worthy motive all our life can be spelled out in its alphabet.” (p. 54) It is the leader’s truest and safest guardian.
Accordingly, motives can be classified under one of two possible headings””Competitive or Social. The Competitive motive views leadership as an opportunity to display one’s self, and one’s own importance. This motive desires rank, title, position or authority for self-aggrandizement. Brent finds ample illustration of this in the disciples’ discussion in the Gospels as to which of them was the greatest. They are victims here of the Competitive motive, “thinking of others always with a view to comparison and the measuring of relative (supposed or real) merits. It is of a jealous disposition and cannot remain unperturbed at the success of others.” (Leadership, p. 60) Leadership dominated by this motive can drive others but cannot lead them for the other is seen as a potential rival. When Jesus asks the disciples what they were thinking as they discussed their greatness along the road, or in the upper room, they grew silent””“The competitive motive cannot bear the scrutiny of an honest eye.” And should one persist in this motive the leader’s need for self-importance and reputation in the eyes of others will eventually cripple his or her leadership.
The Social Motive, conversely, is the single motive. Like the Competitive Motive it may aspire to greatness, yet as Jesus taught his disciples, its greatness lies in its service of others. “But whosoever will be great among you shall be servant of all.” Jesus, as St. Paul indicated in Philippians 2:5-11, and as he himself suggested when he said, “I am among you as one who serves,” is the singularly greatest demonstration of this motive in leadership. He identified himself with the least and the lowest in order to lift them up. He was one with the multitudes, so much so that even still all that some can see of Jesus of Nazareth is his humanness””from manager to cross he was one with those he came to serve””who gave himself as a ransom for many. He came not to dazzle or “to make others feel small but to make them feel and be great.” (See John 14:1-2, Leadership, p. 67) In fact he shunned position, rank, and prestige as unnecessary to success, teaching by his example “that it is not the place that makes the man, but the man that makes the place. A small man makes a great place the same size as himself, and the great man makes the small place as great as he is.” (Leadership, p.68) The Social motive is therefore characterized by humility and helpfulness. This humility keeps the leader, whether he is a leader in religion as was Moses, in science as was Darwin, or in politics, as was Lincoln “always and everywhere one of the crowd”¦. Pride and self-importance separate: humility unites.” (Leadership, p. 70 ff) So too with helpfulness. “In light of the social motive,” Brent states, “Leadership; is helpfulness””the ability to help the weakest and most neglected and least to the utmost and to the last.” The social motive is strikingly similar to what Robert Greenleaf and Henri Nouwen, some seventy-five years later would call, “Servant Leadership”. Greenleaf writes, “The servant-leader is servant first”¦.It begins with the natural feelings that one wants to serve, to serve First. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or acquire material possessions.” (Servant Leadership, p. 13)
Brent notes that the social motive values place or titular position not for its prestige but “for its opportunity, and is willing to fit in wherever the best opportunity lies.” This offers a substantive criticism for the curse of professional careerism that one sees too frequently in the Church today. For leaders possessed of the social motive, self-importance is repulsive””for “their ambition is to serve.” (Leadership, p. 80) Brent’s own vocation illustrates this in his refusing calls to leave comparative obscurity as Bishop of the Philippines for calls to the Dioceses of Washington, Baltimore, New Jersey, and Western New York, (the latter of which he finally accepted for reasons far removed from the motive of personal advancement). “Possessed of this unifying principle [the social motive] ”¦a man has the earliest and most essential qualification for Leadership.” (Leadership, p. 89)
In his little devotional handbook, With God in Prayer, Brent counsels us in the movements of our morning’s prayer, that””“The magnitude of a man is measured by the magnitude of his motive. Set your motive. Make it (a) simple, (b) strong, having in it the purity of childhood and the virility of manhood.”
O Savior, who in the completeness of Thy manhood art still Babe
Of Bethlehem and Child of Nazareth, restore in me the simplicity
I have tampered with, the transparency I have obscured, the child-
likeness I have lost, that the shattered fragments of my innocence
may be assembled anew in the beauty of Thy sanctity; who with the
Father and the Holy Ghost art God forever and ever. Amen. (p. 29)
The Power of the Human Will
If motive is that which “oxygenizes” every aspect of our character and the only dimension of our being “we are altogether responsible for”, the leader must add to the unifying quality of the Social motive the force and power of the human will. Brent in pages charged with contending examples illustrating the will’s weakness and eccentricity, then marshals his argument to buttress the power of the will in human personality, force and achievement. The leader, while recognizing the limitations and weaknesses of the human will must not allow him or herself to excuse failure, sloth, mere wishfulness, or lack of effort to some predetermined circumstances or destiny. The ire of Pelagius he argues (quoting an unnamed source) was rightly “raised by the manner in which many persons alleged the weakness of human nature as an excuse for carelessness or slothfulness in religion; in opposition to this he insisted on the freedom of the will.” Brent then continues to suggest that while avoiding Pelagius’ errors, the spiritual leader must rightly assess the power and gift of the human will. As an Anglican with evangelical convictions, I for one would have appreciated a fuller exploration as to how the Christian leader navigates this matter than Brent offers us. What he does conclude is that “God’s inner working can never be dishonourned by attributing to the greatest endowment with which He has gifted personality the power which is resident in it. The sole function of the will is to act, to do, to achieve, morally, spiritually, physically. It has no other raison d’etre.” (Leadership, p. 93) Ironically, the first act of the will is to choose its motive. Once this is done the will is then guided and channeled by the motive. Therefore, leadership for Brent is purposeful. In a seminal and summarizing aphorism he states that “Purpose is force inspired and unified by motive, stimulated by desire and backed by will.” (Leadership, p. 94)
This resolve, as he notes elsewhere, is for the Christian linked indissolubly with the grace of repentance. Since we do not honor God’s power by depreciating the power of the human will to achieve great accomplishments, neither should we separate it from the grace of penitence and prayer. So this brings the leader to the place of prayer””Lord, give me the repentance which is of the will, that, not only in desire but also in intention and effort I may embrace what is good, especially those virtues which once I neglected or refused, and so endued with power to accept Thy pardon; through Jesus Christ our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen. (p. 53-54 With God in Prayer) Such repentance and resolution won through penitence and prayer is a promise to oneself, and “a promise is one of the most sacred things of life” upon which the whole structure of society is built. (Leadership, p. 94-5)
When viewed through the whole prism of his writings and thought this discussion of the power of the human will for Brent should not be seen in isolation from the incarnation and redeeming work of Christ, and the grace which comes to us through the Spirit””that is, among other means of grace, prayer, meditation, and Eucharistic fellowship.
The conditions most likely to make the will a transformational instrument in the life of a leader is (1) to aim at the seemingly impossible; and (2) to win its freedom by acting as if it were free. “Fate, environment, heredity, luck””all that you can conjure up as making against freedom of will””form an ocean through which our will must make its way. We can never change these adverse things perhaps; but we can steer a course through their currents.” (Leadership, p. 112) This involves the will unified by the social motive to a life of obedience to God. This obedience invigorates one to greater service, and enables the leader to exercise restraint towards his or her privileges and opportunities thereby placing them as instruments of the higher self to initiate actions for the good of others””especially the broad spectrum of humanity. “The world is waiting for men endowed with the gift of leadership, who will show their sense of vocation by ruling out of their lives all [selfish] interests”¦men who will not hesitate to close the door of privilege against themselves if, so doing, they see an opportunity of serving the masses.” (Leadership, p.121)
One needs to look no further then Jesus””for such motive made forceful through will””willing obedience, service, restraint and initiative for even the weakest and the worst. This sort of “Leadership means pain” as the life of Christ so clearly demonstrates. “The will to do involves the will to suffer.” (Leadership, p. 124) As Jesus himself testified to his disciples: “I lay down my life”¦.No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have the power lay it down.” This was not, however, without transformational purpose, for as our Lord promised elsewhere, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.” This for Brent was sufficient testimony to the power of the human will.
The Power of the Blameless Life
We come now to Brent’s third qualification in the leader’s life””after the social motive and the power of the human will””the force of his logic brings the reader to what he terms the Blameless life. “The first and greatest fruit of the alliance between motive and will is blamelessness, moral integrity, in short, character, first ideally then actually.” (Leadership, p. 129) There is something deeply attractive to us in the leader who exhibits real moral character. Humanity is drawn to it as sparks fly upward; as metal is drawn to a magnet. The leader, even more so than the man or woman in the crowd, is expected to be a person of moral integrity. In pages that seem to presage the argument of C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, Brent asserts a universal moral appetite that is seen in cultures throughout history and in every corner of the world, whether primitive or sophisticated. The attractiveness of righteousness is akin to the attractiveness of beauty”” to the ideal of the rose or the satisfaction experienced in Greek sculptures. “The development of ethics is a human development. There is a similarity of fundamental ethics all the world over. Even where there could not have been correspondence between race and race this is so.” (Leadership, p.138)
This is therefore a metaphysical requirement in the leader, this moral dimension or character. He sums up this quest on behalf of the followers succinctly: “The sole point I wish to make is, that human nature as such is drawn toward righteousness, and that moral integrity is held by the crowd to be an essential characteristic of the Leader. Either he has virtue or else it is attributed to him by his followers. (Leadership, p. 146)
Fortunately, this pursuit of the righteous or the blameless life is for Brent understood under the template of the “prodigal-son attitude”. It is something sought in repentance, and through the grace of Jesus Christ, rather than merely possessed in nature. Once again the aspiration toward this quality of leadership finds devotional expression in his writing on prayer. “The setting of the motive and the broad acceptance of God’s law is the preliminary step toward a righteous life. But detail may not be neglected. The best gifts become ours by being severally coveted and not by being merely admired. (1 Cor. xii. 31) Ideals must be wooed before they are won. We must embrace them when they are most shy, until they turn and embrace us. In no other way may we hope to possess them. Contemplation of virtue must be followed up by daily aspiration and effort to achieve it. The graces that we are most destitute of are those to be first courted.” (With God in Prayer, p. 31-32) For Brent Jesus Christ is not merely the fullest exemplar of the righteous Leader drawing us by the very blamelessness of his life, he is clearly the dynamic and motive for subsequent leaders. Where other teachers expected the power of the moral life to be found in their philosophy, the power of Jesus’ teaching on leadership is found in his person. “ In him was life; and the life was the light of men; I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” As Brent understood it the resurrection of Jesus let loose a dynamic in the life of his disciples. While this dynamic is incorporated with what he termed the “prodigal-son attitude”, it is also the “dynamic of sonship”.
The Christian leader must seek through the dynamic and motive (the social motive) of Jesus Christ to conform his or her life (this will involve a struggle to be sure) to the highest ethics””“but there is no power on earth more electrical in its action.” Indeed it is true for the nation as well as the Church that their very framework depends upon the suppositions that those who are administering trusts are morally sound. (Leadership, p. 161) When such is proven not to be the case there is a shaking of the peoples’ trust. It is such an assumed qualification that those who do not possess moral integrity attempt to counterfeit it. Followers are however often keen at sniffing such things out even when they do not always speak of it. Every leader ought to meditate a season on these words Brent has put before his readers “”¦we are apt to live in blissful self-deceit that concludes we have not been found out in our foibles, frailties, and sins. But the scrutinizing eyes of the people have been busy, and there are few of us indeed who have not long since been found out in those very imperfections we are most sure no one has detected. The more conspicuous a man’s vocation”¦the more searching the judgment he undergoes, the more insistent the demand that he conform his life to a high standard.” (Leadership, p. 165-166) The great leaders of Church and State have been those whose moral integrity shone greater than all other dimensions of their leadership such was the case with men memorialized by those of Brent’s generation””Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Phillips Brooks.
The person of moral integrity, who seeks to live a blameless life, characterized by righteousness, possesses an essential qualification for leadership. This cannot fail to have its effect on others. A leader after all can bear the sins of others with impunity; it is not so with his own sins. As the great preacher Phillips Brooks once confessed to a friend, “How wretched I should be if I felt that I was carrying about with me any secret which I should not be willing that all the world should know!” Brent augments Brooks’ comment with the words, “”¦not merely “wretched’, but fettered, for everyone that commith sin is the bondservant of sin. Now to be a Leader it is first of all requisite that a man should be free.” (Leadership, p. 169-170)
This talk concludes in the subsequent blog entry–KSH.