The C H U R C H of E N G L A N D and
S P I R I T U A L I S M
The full text of the Majority Report of the Church
of England committee
appointed by Archbishop Lang and Archbishop Temple to investigate
This Majority Report was signed by seven of the ten members
of the Committee.
The other three signed a Minority Report. The Committee
was appointed in 1937.
WHY THIS REPORT WAS PUBLISHED
The Committee appointed in 1937 by the Archbishops to investigate
Spiritualism carefully studied the subject for two years
and handed in its report. It was expected by the Committee
and by the general public that the guidance contained therein
would be made available to the rank and file of the Church
of England who, up to them, had been given no official lead
whatsoever regarding communication with the dead.
When a decent interval had elapsed and no statement had
yet been made, enquiries were instituted and it was learned
that the House of Bishops had taken the surprising step
of pigeon-holing the Reports.
For nine years the reports were kept secret, then one morning
there mysteriously appeared on my office desk what purported
to be a typed copy of the Majority Report.
I got in touch with a member of the Committee I knew was
in favour of the report being published, though he was bound
by his loyalty to the Church to keep its secrets.
"I have a copy of the Majority Report, and I am going
to print it, "I told him. "There are one or two
phrases that are obscure, because of the careless typing,
but I would rather print a slightly inaccurate version than
none at all, However, if in the interests of truth you will
read what I have and correct it where necessary, then you
will be rendering a service to everyone concerned.
The purported copy was re-typed, a reporter was sent to
the member concerned. What the reporter brought back was
a carefully corrected type-script, with every comma marked
in, missing lines written in the margins, and complete in
The report was printed in its entirety in "Psychic
News" and with the co-operation of the Press Association
extracts from it appeared in newspapers all over the world.
Still the Church preserved a stony silence. Copies of the
paper containing the report were sent to all the bishops
and the two Archbishops. No comment came except for a protest
from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
My printing of the report gave to the rank and file of the
Church of England the guidance that had been denied them
by the House of Bishops. To Christians all over the world
it broke the news that a Committee of influential Churchman,
examining Spiritualism on behalf of the Church and at the
request of the Archbishops had found that it was true and
could be a valuable addition to the Christian ministry.
A. W. AUSTEN.
The C H U R C H of E N G L A N D
and S P I
R I T U A L I S M
Below is the full text of the Majority Report submitted
to the House of Bishops by the committee of Anglicans appointed
by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to investigate
Dr. Francis Underhill, Bishop of Bath and Wells;
Dr. W. R. Mathews, Dean of St.Pauls;
Canon Harold Anson, Master of the Temple;
Canon L. W. Grensted, Nolloth Professor of the Christian
Religion at Oxford;
Dr. William Brown, Celebrated Harley Street Psychologist;
Mr. P. E. Sandlands, Q.C., Barrister -at-Law;
Lady (Gwendolan) Stephenson
In interpreting our evidence it is important to take into
account the theories, prevalent among the more experienced
and careful Spiritualists, as to the nature and value of
the alleged messages delivered through the agency of mediums.
It is pointed out, on the evidence of the "communicators"
themselves, that the communicators and guides are themselves
at very different levels of spiritual development and of
very partial knowledge, and that the "controls"
of which they make use may often be very undeveloped personalities
who are capable of this particular service because they
are closely linked with temporarily disassociated portions
of the personalities of the mediums concerned.
There are thus at least three factors which would render
messages, especially those of a high order of spiritual
or metaphysical value, liable to disturbance, and which
lead to the difficulties, generally recognised by spiritualists,
which the communicators would in any case find in transmitting
messages which do not already lie within the general conditions
of our knowledge.
There is, however, nothing inherently contradictory, or
necessarily improbable in this account of the conditions
involved in such communications. It is, however, no more
than an hypothesis, incapable of scientific proof, nor does
it assist us in determining the authenticity of the communications
The verification of these, if it is possible at all, must
rest upon ordinary tests. To say this is not, however, to
deny that the communications may sometimes be held to be
convincing upon other than scientific grounds.
In any case it seems necessary to distinguish between the
sense of contact with departed friends or with "guides",
and the assurance that messages have necessarily any high
value because they come through this unusual channel.
It is perhaps of some importance to notice that there is
general agreement in the communications that time has not
the same rigid character as a "time-series" in
the life that lies beyond death.
This is in any case probable on other grounds, but it is
of interest as indicating a possible reason why communicators
are frequently confused or mistaken as to exact indications
This may not be a failure in their own apprehension of the
real significance of events so much as in their power of
conveying that apprehension in a form which can be adapted
to the mentality of the medium and to the understanding
of those to whom the message is directed.
It is often urged as of great significance that Spiritualism
in many respects re-affirms the highest convictions of religious
people, and that it has brought many to a new assurance
of the truth of teaching which had ceased to have any meaning
It is a point of some difficulty, since assurance seems
to come along different and even conflicting lines. We cannot
ignore the fact that at least one considerable Spiritualist
organisation is definitely Anti-Christian in character.
This divergence of testimony is explained by Spiritualists
as due to the continuance of spirits, at least for a period,
within the system of beliefs which they have held in this
It is held that even though the whole development of the
personality is being raised from level to level, the attitudes
to truth and goodness taken up in this life persist in the
next, and that this somewhat divergent testimony to the
truth of Christianity must be explained in this way.
We should add that whatever be the value of this supposed
confirmation of the truth of religion, Spiritualism does
not seem to have added anything except perhaps a practical
emphasis to our understanding of those truths.
Many alleged communications seem, indeed, to fall below
the highest Christian standards of understanding and spiritual
insight, and indeed below the level of spiritual insight
and mental capacity shown by the communicators while still
in this life.
While there is insistence upon the supremacy of love comparable
with the New Testament assertion that "God is Love"
the accounts sometimes given of the mediatorial work of
Christ frequently fall very far below the full teaching
of the Christian Gospel, seeming to depend rather upon some
power of working a miracle of materialisation (in the Resurrection
appearances) than upon a radical and final acceptance of
the burden of guilt of man's sin, and a victory wrought
for us upon the Cross.
Nevertheless, it is clearly true that the recognition of
the nearness of our friends who have died, and of their
progress in the spiritual life, and of their continuing
concern for us, cannot do otherwise, for those who experience
it, than add a new immediacy and richness to their belief
in the Communion of Saints.
There seems to be no reason at all why the Church should
regard this vital and personal enrichment of one of her
central doctrines with disfavour, so long as it does not
distract Christians from their fundamental gladness that
they may come, when they will, into the presence of their
Lord and Master, Jesus Christ Himself, or weaken their sense
that their fellowship is fellowship in Him.
It is claimed by Spiritualists that the character of many
events in the Christian revelation, as recorded in the Gospels,
is precisely that of psychic phenomena, and that the evidence
for the paranormal occurrences which Spiritualism has adduced
strongly confirms the historicity of the Gospel records,
in the sense that they also are records of paranormal occurrences,
including instances for example, of clairvoyance (in the
story of Nathaniel) and of materialisation (in the feeding
of the five thousand, and above all the narrative of the
The miracles of Healing are acclaimed as closely parallel
to the healings performed through mediums. it is strongly
urged that if we do not accept the evidence for modern psychic
happenings, we should not, apart from long tradition, accept
the Gospel records either.
It is certainly true that there are quite clear parallels
between the miraculous events recorded in the Gospel and
modern phenomena attested by Spiritualists. And if we assert
that the latter must be doubted because they have not yet
proved capable of scientific statement and verification,
we must add that the miracles, and the Resurrection itself,
are not capable of such verification either.
We must therefore ask what the proper Christian grounds
of belief in these central truths of Christianity are. The
answer to this question is clearly that we believe upon
a basis of faith, and not of demonstrable scientific knowledge.
Our grounds for this faith are to be found either in a direct
mystical assurance that Jesus of Nazareth, as we have received
Him, is indeed God's word to us, or, more broadly, in the
apprehension of ethical and spiritual values.
We do not accept the Gospel's because they record wonders,
but because they ring true to the deepest powers of spiritual
apprehension which we possess.
But if this is so, we must clearly apply similar criteria
to the claims of Spiritualists, and this means that while
we regard some part of these claims as matter proper to
the scientist, we regard some other parts of these claims
as not properly capable of scientific verification or dispute,
but at the same time, as deserving the consideration of
Christians upon grounds of another kind.
It has been seen, in the account of the evidence submitted
to our Committee, that as far as rigid scientific tests
are concerned very little if anything remains both verifiable
and inexplicable out of the whole mass of paranormal phenomena.
Modern psychological knowledge has revealed a wide range
of powers and of possible sources of misunderstanding in
our subconscious or unconscious mind. When these are combined
with the possibility of thought-transference, of telepathy,
many communications delivered through mediums seen capable
We have to notice that no good evidence for telepathy itself
is yet forthcoming, but probably a majority of scientists
would accept it as a fact without pretending to offer an
explanation of it. If telepathy is denied, the evidence
that these communications do come from discarnate spirits
is greatly strengthened on the scientific side.
But the tests applied by scientists as such are in their
very nature experimental, objective and impersonal. It is
necessary to ask whether such tests do not in themselves
invalidate an inquiry into values which are in essence personal
The experiences which many people have found most convincing
are of a kind which could hardly occur in the atmosphere
of scientific investigation. They are sporadic, occasional
and highly individual. They could not possibly be repeated
or submitted to statistical analysis.
It is worthwhile to notice in this connection that in the
ordinary affairs and beliefs of human life we do not ask
for scientific verification of this kind. We accept many
things as certain in the realm of personal relationships
upon the basis of direct insight.
When we say that we know our friends, we mean something
very different from saying that we can give a scientific
and verifiable account of them. But we are none the less
sure of our knowledge. Similar certainties are to be found
in the sphere of mystical experience.
It may well be that in this matter of the evidence of the
survival of the human personality after death, we are dependent
exactly upon this same kind of insight, and that a scientific
verification, though valuable where it can be obtained,
is of secondary importance, and only partially relevant.
And this is precisely the situation in which we find ourselves
in our assurance of Christianity itself.
"We walk by faith, and not by sight."
It is thus a weakness, rather than a strength, in the Spiritualist
position that it has been represented as resting upon scientific
verification. If rigid scientific methods are applied it
is probable that verification will never be attained.
We may sum up the position from the point of view of science
as follows :
There is no satisfactory scientific evidence in favour of
any paranormal physical phenomena ( materialisations, apports,
telekinesis, etc, ). All the available scientific evidence
is against the occurrence of such phenomena.
Further, the hypothesis of unconscious mental activity in
the mind of mediums or sensitive is a strong alternative
hypothesis to that of the action of a discarnate entity
in cases of mental mediumship.
Thus the strictly scientific verdict on the matter of personal
survival can only be one of non-proven. Again the whole
question of Extra Sensory Perception is still a matter of
On the other hand certain outstanding psychic experiences
of individuals, including certain experiences with mediums,
make a strong prima facie case for survival and for the
possibility of spirit communications while philosophical,
ethical and religious considerations may be held to weigh
heavily on the same side.
When every possible explanation of these communications
has been given, and all doubtful evidence set aside, it
is generally agreed that there remains some element as yet
We think that it is probable that the hypothesis that they
proceed in some cases from discarnate spirits is the true
That so much can be said, even in so cautious a form, involves
very important consequences, and makes necessary certain
It is abundantly clear, as Spiritualists themselves admit,
that an easy credulity in these matters opens the door to
self-deception and to a very great amount of fraud.
We are greatly impressed by the evidence of this which we
received, and desire to place on record a most emphatic
warning to those who might become interested in Spiritualism
from motives of mere curiosity or as a way of escaping from
their responsibility of making their own decisions as Christians
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
It is legitimate for Christians who are scientifically qualified
to make these matters a subject of scientific inquiry, though,
as we have already said, such inquiry has its necessary
But it is not legitimate, and it is unquestionably dangerous,
to allow an interest in Spiritualism, at a low level of
spiritual value, to replace that deeper religion which rests
fundamentally upon the right relation of the soul to God
It is necessary to keep clearly in mind that none of the
fundamental Christian obligations or values is in any way
changed by our acceptance of the possibility of communication
with discarnate spirits.
Where these essential principles are borne in mind, those
who have the assurance that they have been in touch with
their departed friends may rightly accept the sense of enlargement
and of unbroken fellowship which it brings.
It is important to distinguish between assurance of this
personal contact and assurance of the accuracy and authority
of the messages received. As we have seen, and as many Spiritualists
admit, there is every probability that even authentic messages
would be liable to distortion.
There is a very great danger of misdirection if such messages
are accepted as giving authoritative guidance unless they
are checked by our own human reason under guidance of the
Holy Spirit received through prayer.
But there is no reason why we should not accept gladly the
assurance that we are still in closest contact with those
who have been dear to us in this life, who are going forward,
as we seek to do ourselves, in the understanding and fulfilment
of the purpose of God.
We cannot avoid the impression that a great deal of Spiritualism
as organised has its centre in man rather than God, and
is, indeed, materialistic in character. To this extent it
is a substitute for religion, and is not in itself religious
We are impressed by the unsatisfactory answers received
from practising Spiritualists to such questions as, "Has
your prayer life, your sense of God, been strengthened by
your Spiritualistic experiences?" This explains in
great part the hesitancy of many Christians to have anything
to do with it.
But if Spiritualism does, in fact, make so strong an appeal
to some, it is at least in part because the Church has not
proclaimed and practised its faith with sufficient conviction.
There is frequently little real fellowship even between
the living, and the full and intimate reality of the Communion
of Saints is often a dead letter.
Spiritualism claims, in fact, to be making accessible a
reality which the Church has proclaimed but of which it
has seemed only to offer a shadow. This is, of course, only
a part of the truth.
For many the appeal of Spiritualism rests upon much lower
motives. It may stimulate curiosity in the bizarre. It may
offer consolation upon terms which are too easy.
It may afford men the opportunity of escaping the challenge
of faith which, when truly proclaimed, makes so absolute
a claim upon men's lives that they will not face it but
turn aside to some easier way.
It is often held that the practice of Spiritualism is dangerous
to the mental balance as well as to the spiritual condition,
of those who take part in it, and it is clearly true that
there are some cases where it has become obsessional in
But it is very difficult to judge in these cases whether
the uncritical and unwise type of temperament which does
show itself in certain Spiritualists is a result or a cause
of their addiction to these practices.
Psychologically it is probable that persons in the condition
of mental disturbance, or lack of balance, would very naturally
use the obvious opportunities afforded by Spiritualism as
a means of expressing the repressed emotions which have
caused their disorder.
This is true of Christianity itself, which frequently becomes
the outlet, not only for cranks, but for persons who are
definitely of unstable mentality.
It should be noticed that Spiritualists themselves are very
much alive to the danger to those who are already unstable,
and even to those who are stable, where the motives are
wrong and precautions as to sincerity inadequate.
Whatever else is clear in a matter where the evidence is
difficult to interpret, it is certain that Spiritualism
has every need of the high standards of Christianity and
of its witness to a life which rests by faith upon God,
and which is thereby freed from the conflicts of desire
and of purpose to which all lives not so grounded are liable.
The view has been held with some degree of Church authority,
that psychic phenomena are real but that they proceed from
evil spirits. The possibility that spirits of a low order
may seek to influence us in this way cannot be excluded
as inherently illogical or absurd, but it would be extremely
unlikely if there were not also the possibility of contact
with good spirits. The belief in Anglican guardians or guides
has been very general in Christianity.
But in any case the Christian life is grounded upon God,
and its fundamental activities are prayer and worship, which
issue in loving worship of mankind. A life so grounded has
nothing to fear from evil influences or powers of any kind.
The Church of England, for reasons of past controversy,
has been altogether too cautious in its references to the
departed. Anglican prayers for the departed do not satisfy
people's needs, because the prayers are so careful in their
language that it is not always evident that the departed
are being prayed for, as contrasted with the living.
In general we need much more freedom in our recognition
of the living unity of the whole Church, in this world and
in that which lies beyond death. But detailed suggestions
on this point should be matters of dispute, and lie beyond
the main purpose of this report.
If Spiritualism, with all aberrations set aside and with
every care taken to present it humbly and accurately, contains
a truth, it is important to see that truth not as a new
religion, but only as filling up certain gaps in our knowledge,
so that where we already walked by faith, we may now have
some measure of sight as well.
It is, in our opinion, important that representatives of
the Church should keep in touch with groups of intelligent
persons who believe in Spiritualism. We must leave practical
guidance in this matter to the Church itself.