Some holy men are theologians. Some theologians are holy men. Some men are both – notably our Lord. Yet all give priority to one aspect or another. It can be said, dangerously, that Jesus put theology in second place to goodness, leaving St Paul to give priority to theology.
We saw in his recent visit, that the Pope was pre-eminently a holy man, whatever his theology. He was a very complete sort of person.
It is interesting to apply this measurement to other familiar figures. C.S.Lewis and Dorothy Sayers, for example, personal sweetness apart, were clearly theologians. Mention of Dorothy reminds us that detective story writers, presumably because their vocation takes them up against the mysteries of death, often have surprising insights into goodness.
P.D.James is a present example, Chesterton’s Father Brown an earlier one. Margery Allingham was a perhaps surprising devotee. In her very good novel ‘The Tiger in the Smoke’, Canon Avril’s holiness is beautifully shown. He attempts to draw theological conclusions from his own actions, but leaves us in no doubt where his main interest lies.
Armed with these reflections, we may be tempted to range over the present members of the Anglican Bench of Bishops. Too dangerous, I fear. In the past, Geoffrey Fisher, not everyone’s favourite Archbishop, valued kindness above theology, while Michael Ramsay excelled in both, with, perhaps, kindness predominating. John Robinson, whose modernist theology was damaging, believed that was his strongest suit, whereas he was valued by those who knew him for the sweetness of his disposition.
Above all for me was Ian Ramsay the Bishop of Durham, much-loved even by the Durham miners. To see him sitting quietly in a corner of the Senior Common Room at Christ Church, waiting for some opportunity to help, while Auden and the other dons were showing off round the coffee table, was to see the very image of Father Brown. As with John Robinson, his theology was alarming and pretty damaging to traditional beliefs.
Maybe I have made a false dichotomy. Anyway, it suggests to me that goodness, among God’s gifts, should always have priority.