Postcards From Christendom: The Holy Fox

I wanted to tackle the subject of Christendom on this blog, Keith and Andrew agreed. Then of course I had to create some actual content to put here. There are so many texts about Christendom already though, from every perspective too. People want to glorify or condemn it, and I decided that just writing another philosophical/theological argument about it, I would try another approach. So here is my attempt, capturing vignettes that illustrate what, for better or worse, Christendom is or was. Here I’m going to start at the end, with a picture of a figure in late-Christendom in the United Kingdom. 

The First Earl of Halifax was an important figure in British politics in the first part of the 20th Century and therefore figures prominently in a book I am reading about Churchill’s government in May 1940. Churchill was the one who gave Halifax the nickname “Holy Fox” as a sort of pun for the latter’s love of high-church Anglicanism and hunting. Says author John Lukacs,

“[Halifax’s] main interests – indeed, addictions – were foxhunting, High Anglicanism, and high government service. The first ran to such an extent that he would often use hunting and shooting figures of speech when wishing to illustrate quite different and even weighty matters; as for the second, he was the quintessential churchman, rather than an introspective man of faith;”

This is interesting insofar as Halifax is a hugely important figure in the British War Cabinet in May 1940. He was the one man who was most able and most likely to oppose Churchill and seek peace with Germany. Lukacs devotes only this much to a description of Halifax’s religious life – an apparent “addiction” yet one that only makes him given to a fascination with rites and traditions of Anglicanism – there doesn’t seem to be any sort of spiritual sustenance or anything else that Halifax derives from it. He likes the “smells and bells” aspects and that’s it – it’s almost a combination of the Elks’ Lodge and a night of theatre.

In this respect, Halifax is arguably of a type. That Lukacs can say “he was the quintessential churchman, rather than an introspective man of faith” and leave it at that, reckoning the reader will understand perfectly what this means is illustrative here. Indeed, one will notice that Lukacs, in this gloss of Halifax, devotes more words to explaining how much hunting meant to the man than his ostensible Christian faith! This is where we got to at the end of Christendom in Great Britain, upper-class men who like the church because it seems important and perhaps nostalgic – maybe he believed in God, maybe he didn’t, it seems like he didn’t think about the matter a whole lot. There is even a suggestion that Halifax had wanted to be made Archbishop of Canterbury instead of serving in the War Cabinet.