Faith, Hope, and "Gentlemanness"

In England Merton was enrolled at Oakham, a second-tier English public school in the Midlands. There he continued to encounter the strange blend of religion, nationalism, and lingering aristocracy that he associated with the Church of England. This becomes sadly humorous when he recalls the theological vision of the chaplain at Oakham:

"His greatest sermon was on the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians--and a wonderful chapter indeed. But his exegesis was a bit strange. However, it was typical of him and, in a way, of his whole church. "Buggy's" interpretation of the word "charity" in this passage (and in the whole Bible) was that it simply stood for "all that we mean when we call a chap a 'gentleman.'" In other words, charity meant good-sportsmanship, cricket, the decent thing, wearing the right kind of clothes, using the proper spoon, not being a cad or a bounder.

There he stood, in the plain pulpit, and raised his chin above the heads of all the rows of boys in black coats, and said, 'One might go through this chapter of St. Paul and simply substitute the word "gentleman" for "charity" wherever it occurs. "If I talk with the tongues of men and of angels, and be not a gentleman, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal...A gentleman is patient, is kind; a gentleman envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up....A gentleman never falleth away"...'


The boys listened tolerantly to these thoughts. But I think St. Peter and the twelve Apostles would have been rather surprised at the concept that Christ had been scourged and beaten by soldiers, cursed and crowned with thorns and subjected to unutterable contempt and finally nailed to the Cross and left to bleed to death in order that we might all become gentlemen."

~Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, pp. 81-82