WHEN A FRENCH CATHOLIC VISITS BRITAIN I•
column of truth but a way of feeling" has explained both the impatience of some English
. M. Tracy
WHEN the French Catholic crosses the Channel to visit Britain, he will naturally hope to find a Catholic church. How surprised he will often be to be told that Greater London has no less than 300 Catholic churches. that all the great towns have many such churches and that even little towns — sometimes villages themselves — have one.
It is true enough, of course, that the Malines Conversations are remembered in France by a good many people, as are the great names of Cardinal Mercier, Lord Halifax and the Abbe Portal, but this remembrance is one of failure, not success, Newman, on the other hand, is a name to conjure with: only recently Pere Bouyer was writing in the Cahiers Newman/ens that the Cardinal had effected a revolution in theology comparable with the revolution Christianity owed to St. Augustine, a view, it must be added at once contradicted by others. As for our historians, most of them have never got beyond the monumental study of English Catholicism by Thureau-Dangin, now completely out-of-date. That is why people tell me, in reference to my recent study on the same subject•, "if you have taught me anything, you have taught me everything."
vvE know on this side of the Channel, that England produced the famous Catholic trio, Chesterton, Baring, Belloc, some of whose books have been translated into French; that Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh (whom some take to be a woman), Cronin and Bruce Marshall belong to the same religion as they do. but French eyes do not sec anything especially Catholic in their works nothing more, certainly, than is to be found in the writings of an Anglo-Catholic like T. S. Eliot.
Naturally certain French Catholic reviews and papers — " Etudes,"
La Croix. " La France Catholique" regularly or occasionally. report enough about English Catholicism to give the attentive reader some idea of the breadth of the Catholic movement across the Channel; but the average reader. even those best qualified to understand religious matters, get lost in it all. If the English were Protestants in the same sense as the French are, all would be well. But the French cannot understand these divisions of the Anglican Church which claims to be apostolic and catholic, to have an hierarchy, bishops and a primate. AngloCatholic ? — a way only of describing a Catholic Englishman, that is all. Perhaps I have given rather a summary picture, but it is a fair one. Converts will understand it rather better than those who are faithful to the old religion; converts who too often have so few followers, even though these sometimes call themselves "Catholic" before becoming so.
EVEN many French people closely connected with the English, through relationship and friendship, find it diflicult to get to know English Catholics. " You see," one of the latter said to me, "no one is more certain of being the salt of the earth than the English cradle Catholic, and if in addition to belonging to the old religion he comes from an old family, you will never find pride equal to his." '.Do you expect an answer from a Catholic ?" another said. "Catholics never write." In this they feel themselves to be imitating Belloc, who was charming with young people but often brusque and often arrogant. So not to be polite is taken to be the Catholic fashion. Perhaps all this is exaggerated but the visitor will often find it so. Think of the way in which a Frenchwoman of English origin, but re-established in the country of her birth, was disconcerted when she brought to her parish priest some excellent and beautiful clothes and was answered by him: " I should be, very happy to relieve you of these, but I have no idea what to do with them."
On the other hand, when you ask a Catholic to do something difficult for you. for example, to help you to get an interview with the Archbishop of Westminster — you yourself have already heard that it is easier to see the Queen than the Cardinal — you will probably hear by the next post: " I will do all I can to help you. After all, if I don't succeed, you can fall back on the Queen " For my part I did not have to do the latter. and I was able to have the privilege of a long interview with Cardinal Griffin,
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SUCH is the richness that can be discovered by the tourist who knows how to avoid the first pitfall of absolute ignorance — ignorance of language, ignorance of the religious map. Yet how many who know the language and are familiar of old with the actual situation of British Catholicism hesitate to make a short sea journey which will actually introduce them to English Catholics ? Ask them why they do not make this effort which would turn to such joy, why they are never seen in London, in the bombed or spared churches, in the midst of the crowded and re-collected Sunday congregations, in the church always warmed by the coming and going of worshippers, in Westminster Cathedral the Challoner Club. the Offices of DIE Cicruotac HERALD or The Tablet, and
Duckett's Bookshop. Hanging their heads they will answer; "I can only speak broken English."
I confess that I have never been able to resist the temptation to answer back: " What does it matter ? All English Catholics speak French I " Not quite true perhaps, but not absolutely false. Where in England have I not been able to speak French when I have wanted to do so ? At any rate, it seems as though the effort to overcome the obstacle of languages has been more vigorous on the other side of the Channel. French Catholic thinking, for example, is better understood in England than is English thinking in France. French books are better known and more thoughtfully criticised than we, for example, bother to do for the work of a Christopher Dawson. Thus I noted in THE CaTitotic HERALD how Fr. COrbishley, S.J., reviewing " Jesus en Son Temps," discovered in it errors and misprints
various e and
regretted that the translator had used the Authorised Version, even though the learned Jesuit could understand why this had been done. My regular reading of English Catholic reviews and newspapers enables me to see in this but one more example among many.
SINCE the fashion of the time, for better or for worse, is to organise international friendship associations, is it not high time to found a bi-lingual and Catholic association between the British and the French ? Perhaps it already exists. Then I should be making, without good excuse just one of those silly mistakes which English Catholics are apt to associate with French ones.
WHEN the Englishman crosses the channel he need not expect the same difficulties as when a Frenchman makes the same journey the other way round. The Frenchman when he goes into a church may well find a confessional. candles, statues of Our Lord and Our Lady, the Stations of the Cross. •' Obviously I am in a Catholic church." he says. But not at all. If before leaving for England he has not been carefully instructed, he will find himself lost in the complexity of Anglicanism and unable to understand the stumbling blocks which so often are obstacles to conversion, as, for example in the case of Sheila Kaye-Smith. Then he tends to be excited at the idea of a corporate re-union, unaware of this immense difficulty in the way—the difficulty of group submission to common doctrine, and a group-will ready to serve the Church. Have not even certain English Catholics dreamt of such a great return of the prodigal son, even though the majority have seen it as an impossible dream?
mGR. Knox in saying that "Anglicanism in general is not a religious system or a Catholics with the theological position of Anglicans and the incomprehension of their French co-religionists. These French Catholics would understand far better the difference between Catholicism and AngloCatholicism if they had lived for a time in a little English town or in the British countryside. To go to Mass, they would sometimes have to drive many miles. If their contacts caused them to find themselves in some Scottish urban area, they would find it has 10 churches of diverse Protestant denominations but not a single one where they could make the Sign of the Cross. That wonderful forest of stone which the medieval Church raised all over the British Isles will he closed to them. They will be unhappy to find themselves cut off from the masterpieces where Gothic, of all periods. triumphs, and from those little Norman churches. so perfect in their beauty, and where the religion willed by Henry VIII is followed. They will make their spiritual pilgrimage to pre-Elizabethan times. But they will pray as Edward the Confessor did in ugly modern buildings seemingly cut off from the past centuries and the greatest of Christianity's story. 'The fact is that an average Frenchman needs to think and study for a long time before he can see the truth in that wise word of an Englishman: " Britain is far more Catholic than she realises herself to be." And from our point of view the most profound reason why England remains more Catholic than she knows is through the structure which she has never rejected, the structure which maintains her laws, her morals, her monarchial institutions, the traditional culture of her universities and the social organisation of her country parishes.
IN order to discover again the
beauty of the • religious ceremonies evoked by the sight of England's Catholic monu
ments one must visit her restored monasteries, join in the pil Walsingham, unearth some little chapel with a long and uninterrupted Catholic history, as at Lydbury or Stonor, meditating on the fact that the Mass has been said in such places without a break since the days of Henry V111, recall again the heroic fidelity of those who withstood persecution in order to keep intact the Faith of their tfaethne.rs and to nourish it around h It is when one does this that the long procession of Catholic martyrs rises in one's mind, as does the story of their sufferings and the memory of their existence as " untouchables." Then one may reflect and believe that a family which for centuries has thus lived with perhaps the parchment and paper evidence of its history and noble extraction unsullied in its primitive purity is not without any excuse when it holds itself to be the "salt of the earth." In the same way. the Frenchman who loves his Faith and seeks its traces on the other side of the Channel can appreciate at its astonishing value the way in which the Benedictines of today have restored and reconstructed the Priory of Pluscarden after an interval of 380 years, giving back again to a majestic yet gentle countryside, the sound of the bells, the buzzing cif the bees. a human life, lived in prayer and manual work. In the same way will he hear of the Carmelites of Aylesford returning to the spot where. in 1247, Our Lady appeared to the Prior of the Order, and pray today for the return to the Faith of the schismatics who abandoned it, as yesterday they were a part of the
glory of her Catholic heritage.
DO English Catholics fail to have the courtesy to answer your letters ? If so, often more important ones write to you without having been approached and thank you for having sent them your book, with the kind of words one keeps amongst one's papers. Fr. D'Arey. Fr. Martindale, Graham Greene, Bruce Marshall, Cronin, J. B. Morton, such people as these who graciously read your manuscripts will give you their precious time, then help you with all kinds of information of which you could not otherwise have known, and, as this article itself indicates. will ask • you to write articles you yourself would not dare to suggest. How can ever forget the hours spent in Edinburgh with the best of guides who, introduced by telephone through a mutual friend. made me acquainted with the veiled Catholicity of the city where the stranger senses memories of John Knox rather than those of Mary Stuart; where the ruins of the past and churches once Catholic proclaim the triumph of the new religion over the old.
* " Le Catholicisme Britannique sous la Deuxierne Elizabeth," by G. M. Tracy tGrasset, Paiis).