The Conversion Of England
By DR. W. E. ORCHARD
This is the tenth article in a series of twelve by Dr. Orchard on the various aspects and prob lems of large scale conversion. The next article will appear on October 7.
IyHEN we are envisaging the conversion of England, whether somewhat pessimistically, as a bare possibility, or, very optimistically, even calculating when its completion may be expected, it is disconcerting to learn that, while we are considering the by no means easy problem of how to persuade our countrymen to join the Catholic Church, it is crossed and complicated by another, namely how to stop a good many leaving it For it is acknowledged that our leakages are continuous and considerable; some even question whether they do not counterbalance the number of converts being received.
It is obvious that the problem of preventing lapses, and the problem of persuading protestants, reconciling dissidents, or convincing unbelievers is much the same. For, of those who leave the Church the majority can hardly know what it is that they are giving up, or at least, cannot realise what the loss of faith, whether in God, Christ, or Church, must ultimately mean, not only individually and eternally, but here in this life for mental stability as well as for social security. Either they cannot have known the doctrines of the Church at all accurately or comprehensively, or, more likely, they have never realised their implications for human rationality and social hopes, or their personal application, through prayer, to the lightening of life's trials and the bearing of its daily burdens; still less that to surrender the faith means abandoning the one light on the purpose of life, the only solution for the problem of personality, and the supreme help for any worthy attainment of character, permanent happiness, or interior peace.
For one reason or another, the ordinary pulpit instruction or exhortation does not give sufficient light or help. Joining some of the various societies or sodalities might help more, if only through the natural operation of friendship and fellowship, which counts for so much with frail and lonely persons. But there is one activity which ought to be set up in every parish; for it has recently been urged by our Hierarchy; and indeed Canon Law lays its erection upon all Bishops as their special care : namely " The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine." It is not enough to ask in how many parishes in this country such a Confraternity is to be found; it would be equally necessary to see that wherever it
exists, or may now be set up, it fulfils the purpose, not merely of giving ail Catholics a mental knowledge of what the doctrines of the faith are, but also a personal realisation of what they mean for our salvation: that is, among other things, the uplifting, healing. strengthening, and satisfying of the human soul, here and now; and all learned, it. should be noted, as a confraternity. that is as brotherhood, banded together, not only for the knowledge and
defence of Christian doctrine, but for its appreciation, realisation, and expression in heart and life.
We in the Catholic Church shall never be allowed to forget that it is the objective truth of our religion, the transcendent and all sufficing nature of God, and His revelation and sanctions as the supreme motives for faith, on which alt else must be built. But while foundations are of the first importance, a house does need also roof and windows, if it is to be suitable for human. habitation; the certainty of faith, yes, but also some kind of shelter against the coldness and storms of life, as well as windows through which we can look out safely upon the world. No doubt there are difficulties in the Catholic Faith; though not in itself, but only because of our weak reasoning powers, our attachment to things that are wrong, and the often misleading effects of modern thought and education. All the more must we make it known that the things that God has revealed are revealed for our salvation, while the practices the Church demands are for our protection. Faith should not be felt to be a burden, or a fetter, or a puzzle for the mind; rather it is its essential foundation, the charter of its freedom, the source of its rest and the fountain of its joy. Whether for those who otherwise might go out or for those who otherwise we may not get in, we need still more exposition and explanation of the faith and its practical bearing, especially on the very problems that modern life is raising and otherwise will never solve; and this in popular form, by tracts, books, sermons and lectures.
It has to be remembered that modern man is not only confused, he is burdened with new knowledge. It is we who can show him that no facts or truths, however discovered, or by whomsoever proclaimed, can conflict with revelation or need perplex a well-founded faith. We still have to deal with the type of mind which admits that Christianity is beautiful and consoling, but, unfortunately, not true; that Catholicism has much to be said for it, but lamentably, still more against it. But still more have we now to deal with a type of mind which agrees that it is true, but finds it only tiresome; necessary to salvation, but one which is felt to be not only hard to attain, but hardly worth attaining, and, anyhow, resting upon commandments which are impossible to observe, cramping to human nature, and crossing all natural instincts.
So we have to persuade such that Christ's yoke is easy and His burden light; that the law of the Spirit is the law of life; and that while grace is necessary to keep the law of Ciod, it is a real power which enables us to keep that law as also the inward law of our own being, and therefore with joy in whatever sacrifice is demanded, and conse• quently with great peace as our reward here; while the heaven which Christ has opened for us, and which we can be sure of simply by being united with Him in love, promises, as our eternal reward, perfect satisfaction, and perfect bliss.
If we are going to prevent some going out, and persuade others to come in, who think the Church's rules concerning marriage and the regulation of sexual life are too hard for them, their whole attitude to sexual life will have to be changed. That can be attempted by first making it clear that the notion so often foisted on us, that it is something in itself sinful and shameful, is on the contrary a heresy the Church has constantly condemned.
The regulations that the Church lays down for the exercise, the control, or even the complete suppression of sexual expression are due to the fact, not that it is a sin to be eliminated or a weakness to be kept within bounds, but that it is a thing essentially sacred. It is bound up with the very springs of life; it is not only an endowment which the Creator has entrusted to us in order to further His beneficent purpose for mankind, but one in which we approach so nearly to His own creatorship that it must be exercised for this purpose alone, and in close co-operation with His will. In this matter, as in all others, the divine commands, and the Church's rule, for fulfilling them, are to be obeyed as such without
question. But it needs to be as clearly understood that God's commandments are not grievous, neither are the Church's rules arbitrary. Here, as elsewhere, with right observance, rational control, or, if needs be, entire sacrifice, there come as rewards, psychological stability, mental clearness, spiritual ability, and, possibly, compensatory gifts for leadership in Government, education or art.
But there are other kinds of " deserters "; those called such by those whom they must forsake in order to unite with us; for in
accepting the dominion of Rome, whether in matters of intellectaal submission, ecclesiastical obedience or of moral direction, they are often accused of being traitors to truth, freedom or progress. It is beyond the comprehension of others what some such have to suffer, not only externally by accusation, but through interior strife, questioning and hesitation, when they begin to glimpse that Rome is the rock on which not only Christ's Church, but all human hopes are built. We cannot make the way easy for theim, but we ought to make it as clear as pbssible for them, and to all.
Perhaps the greatest sacrifice is demanded from those who hatve come from a long and happy association with some of the protesting or dissenting denominations; and perhaps the tension increases, and the snapping causes pain, just in proportion as the bodies which they have to forsake and renounce are nearer to us in outlook and expectation. For they have eventually to acknowledge that they have made a profound mistake in thinking that they had ever previously belonged to the Church, have exercised the Christian ministry, or have received the sacraments with all their graces, according to Christ's institution and intention. It is possble to ease things a little. by explaining that the step they take is only in fulfilment of whatever true faith or real call they ever, had, the repayment to its source of whatever graces they have received, and, whatever sacrifices they have had to make, these only bring them into closer communion with the sacrifice of Christ, which was expressly designed to secure unity and take away divisions.
We need not plead that such converts shall be received with friendliness and trust, with welcome and with joy; the sometimes too noisy welcome, and especially the always well-meant congratulations that they are now going to know for the first time what faith, or prayer, or grace is, may make their home-corning far more painful even than that of the prodigal son.
What can be done to help this situation? It may not be of our making, but, in view of much in the past and present, we need not only to sympathise with such people, but apologise for what has been a hindrance in ourselves. The present writer ventures to plead, as he has done before, that to outsiders, and therefore especially to those contemplating submission to the Church, some things in the formula of abjurations demanded, sound harsh and seem humiliating. The formula for reconciling converts was probably drawn up in
more difficult times; like so much else, it sounds worse in its English translation than it means in Latin; and it does not reflect the more generous appraisement to which we have been led concerning the good faith and all that implies, of many outside the Church. If our trusted authorities do not consider it is possible to do anything at present to ease the situation at this point (and we cannot ask for any more authoritative declaration of the judgements and hopes of many concerning the bodies now so earnestly seeking a basis of unity) much more might be attempted to make stepping stones for individuals turning our way. This might be done by having certain priests, or religions, specially trained and set aside, to interview enquirers, or to explain things that may have been misunderstood or found difficult.
Something also perhaps might be attempted that is neither a public debate nor a private instruction, but half way between : public gatherings where explanations of known points of difficulty could be made and sincere questions answered. Indeed the writer makes hold to suggest that as the Holy Father has already set up the Oriental Congregation for the study of the Eastern schism, so there should be set up a Congregation for " our Separated Brethren," where the causes of western schism and heresy could be studied, a sympathetic investigation and interpretation of what the non-Catholic communions believe and seek after could be undertaken, so that appropriate and effective action to facilitate their return either individually, or as bodies, might be planned and provided for.
Especially does it need to be realised in what a painful position the enquiring or hesitant Anglican clergyman finds himself, especially if he happens to be married. He may have stood for long years at what he took to be the altar of Christ, administered what he believed was the Body and Blood of Christ, heard endless confessions and ordered his life in piety and devotion in the conviction that he was a priest. Similarly a married Nonconformist minister may have believed that he was called to preach Christ's Gospel, his whole life, training and mentality may have been directed to that end; and all this he may have fulfilled with absolute sincerity, undisturbed conviction and passionate love for souls; while he may have received indisputable testimony from many that he has brought them light and
comfort, conviction and power. On all this, if he turns to us, he must now turn his back for ever, and seek a living by other means, for which his training and mentality may have made him singularly unfitted. Our Converts' Aid Society does noble work here, with sympathetic understanding
and generosity. But the financial venture entailed is nothing compared with the facing of a lay and largely silent life.
Could we not use these clergy and ministers in some way that, strangely enough, they do not seem to have pressed for, or we provided, in catechising, in evidence work, or in open air preaching? Training would he necessary, often long and troublesome, after thinking and acting for so long on other lines of conviction and obedience; but surely there is material here that should not be allowed to go to waste. And the knowledge that they could be of some use still to God's Kingdom, or even fulfil the call they heard, but which they did not rightly know how to answer, would make the prospect look more promising, and even encourage others to consider what otherwise they might be tempted to suppress.
It needs to he made clear also to those who come from circles so enthusiastic for justice and peace that they have been labelled, or have labelled themselves, socialist or pacifist, that nothing which is right will have to be denied, or true given up; and to those coming from more philosophical or scientific circles that not a single scientific fact or philosophical truth will have to be surrendered or glossed over.
Faith is not the enemy of reason, but its foundation and completion; the Church is no opponent of science, or careless about justice; she is no lover of war, or hater of political liberties. For those who come from puritanical circles, if they still exist, and who, even if with exaggerated condemnation and mistaken motives, have adopted the practice of avoiding intoxicants, eschewing such pleasures as novelreading, card-playing, dancing or theatregoing, or such pursuits as betting and gambling, there still should be no suggestion on our part that they have to abandon these ascetisms. If only the aim is to live a more devoted, prayerful and sacrificial life they can rather be encouraged to undertake many other renunciations, and indeed austerities of a much more painful kind.
While we can doubtless point out that these difficulties are all due to the promulgation of heresies and the erection of schisms, which no failure on the part of individuals in the past, or bad examples in the present either sanctions or warrants, we can also point out that those who come to the fulness and unity of the faith, which is certainly found nowhere else, are only helping to get rid of these difficulties.
Those who leave other communions out of communion with the Apostolic Sec arc helping. as they never could by remaining where they are, to the Reunion of ChristenJoin. if others call them deserters, they can truly reply that they are only deserting the deserters. And to all their old comrades in many a fight for truth and justice, for peace and humanity, they can protest that they are only making for the centre of the fray, linking up with the First International, seeking the pillat and ground of the truth, defending the fortress of all h.sman hopes.