A STORY OF
CONVERSION With a Difference
The Benedictines of Culdcy. Fly Peter F. Anson. (Burns Oates, 1940, 7s. 6d. net.) Reviewed by .
DOM THEODORE WESSELING IN a country like this, where Catholicism is still a minority and other religions are plentiful, we expect a considerable amount of " conversion " literature. The autobiographies abound, in fact, and sometimes one feels as if there is too much of it. Here we have an autobiograhy, however, which is truly exceptional, both as regards the " conversion " which it sets out to narrate and the very able way in which it is narrated. We knew Mr Anson as a charming sketcher, but here he not only provides us with sketches, but also with an excellent piece of history dressed in a definitely agreeable style.
The history of the community out of which the present abbey of Prinknash has grown is a fascinating combination of personal and corporate experiences, the one influencing the other and conversely. It all started with the indomitable initiative of Dom Aelred Carlyle. After a very valuable chapter on the religious communities in the Church of England since the Reformation. the dominant character of Dom Aelred is introduced. The spiritual adventures of this truly great, character, from the first experiences at Ealing in a room over a fish shop, then at the Isle of Dogs, hence to Lower Guiting, Cowley, London, Iona, Milton Abbas, Caldey Island, Painsthorpe, and back to Caldey Island—all this reads like the thrilling legends of medieval knights. Two things stand out in the development of the whole story: the faithful clinging to the cult of the Church, and the quiet, perhaps at the beginning unconscious, but steady pointing of this magnetic needle to the One Church. The whole question of authority on which the conflict with the Anglican authorities broke out was constantly brought up by the question of worship. This should make Catholics and nonCatholics alike refrain from sneering at what they call " ritualism." Very few souls go in for ritualism merely for the sake of ritualism; there is something moving underneath which we may not handle roughly.
It is pathetic to see what it means to lack authority and tradition. Even when Dom Aelred finally settled down and his community began to flourish his conception of monastic life was still very much of a medley of all sorts of elements. But the result was a charming whole. And one can hardly wonder at the wonderful community spirit which edifies to-day any unprejudiced visitor of Prinknash, since it grew out of such an inspiring example of Christian corporate suffering.
The book should be read both by those who are in need of a thrilling, although spiritual, recreation for their weary mind, and by those who desire to get an inside glimpse In the psychology of Anglo-Catholicism. For the critic Mr Anson has been very ungenerous : nothing but a few, very few, misprints.