Page 5, 20th August 1937

20th August 1937
Page 5
Page 5, 20th August 1937 — The Conversion Of England

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Organisations: Catholic Church
Locations: Rome


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The Conversion Of England


Asks Dr. W. E. Orchard

TO many Englishmen Catholicism is " not English "; it is foreign, too Italian, Continental, Irish. Such insular prejudice is growing less: and many are now quite willing that the Catholic Church in this country should have

fair play with the rest. Some, however, still fear whether, if we become powerful again we should be fair to the rest.

After some experience of rebellions, revolutions and restoration : of ferocious majorities and fanatical minorities, all turning to persecution when they got the chance; of dictatorships, whether under a monarchy or a protectorate; the 'English mind is now passionate' for liberty, and its general policy is toleration; it is tired of extremes and exclusiveness : it distrusts logic and declines definitions.

This creates a confused situation. Terms like liberty, toleration, and persecution are not free from ambiguity. But we must try to be patient when deep seated fears and passionate idealisms are involved. We must be fair, and we can afford to be generous: and it is only natural that assurances should be asked for as to what will happen if England becomes Catholic again: for some feel that not only 'English culture, and the British Constitution, but the English character is at stake.

* * * a But why should it be concluded that Catholicism is essentially un-English? Who could question that Alfred the Great, or Sir Thomas More was typically English: that in the development of English mentality we all owe much to Stephen Langton. William of Wykeham, or Roger Bacon; or if a selection from modern times, and con verts at that, carries more weight, that John Henry Newman and Gilbert Keith Chesterton were each in his own way, representative Englishmen?

What is this English character which it is feared that the Catholic religion may subtly undermine or spoil? It is almost impossible to analyse or classify; and anything affirmed to be typical can be found con tradicted, or someone will deny. If we were allowed to speak for ourselves we should probably say that we were distinguished by our love of " fair play," or the observance of " good form." That is, it is to be supposed, our behaviour is dictated by consideration for the feelings for others. Some of those others, the Irish in particular, foreigners in general, or Indians at the present moment, might perhaps feel that our complacency in this regard was slightly premature. Perhaps others would admit we were brave and truthful.

All missionaries have to begin by learning the language of the people they would

convert. Since we are here concerned only with the conversion of our own countrymen. there would seem to be nothing to be considered under this head. But a variety of historical and cultural influences have combined to make it difficult, apparently, for us to speak good English.

* **

For witness we can'take 'first our Douay Bible; for although it actually differs little from the Authorised Version, it is nearly always with the loss of harmony and rhythm, dignity and simplicity, that have made that version such a dominant and ennobling influence in the development of our

language. It is useless lamenting at this time of day that we could not allow the Authorised Version or adopt the Revised; for the one is now fast being forgotten, and the other has failed to achieve popularity. But how many Catholics even are aware that we already possess in our own Westminster Version the most learned and accurate translation of the New Testament in existence; in which the latest scholarship and the most modern translations have been drawn on, whatever their school or source. Unfortunately it is enshrined inn four costly and unportable volumes, and its English is undistinguished; neither musical nor memorable. Will not those whose concern it is do two things for us here: consent to a committee putting the Westminster Version into dignified and easy English, of course, with the original translators watching lest their intentions ijs.t misrepresented; and then let it be issued in one volume, as small, and as cheap, and as soon as possible?

Since poor crafty, shifty Cranmer was burned at the stake no one seems able to translate a Latin collect as he could; and in many important documents mere transliteration of Latin words is dropped into with results that are sometimes misleading.

Although our multifarious and mellifluous tongue has enabled the English to be foremost lyricists and the most prolific of hymn writers, the best we have to show is the Westminster Hymnal! We are now nromised something better, but unless we *everse our policy of borrowing nothing from non-Catholic writers, it is premature to expect anything much better.

All this is not easily remedied, nor indeed is it a matter of the first, though it is of considerable. importance. Any worthy improvement will take time, for we shall have to dig deep and wide. Since we have already dared to call upon other of our great Orders to give their special help in the conversion of England, can we not ask that in this matter, where reading, study and solitude are necessary, and continual praise and prayer play their part, the Benedictines, those apostles of European culture, will hear the call. and if they cannot set about composing hymns for us, encourage the boys in their great schools to drink deep from " a well of English undefiled."

It will need even more genius and patience to expound the Catholic religion in terms that Englishmen of today can understand and appropiate; for this will entail getting inside their ideas and re-inter preting their religious experience. This, however, need not involve the doubtful and dangerous device of expressing Catholic Theology in their terminqlogy for that has been largely dictated by he Protestant revolt and directed by the various Evangelical revivals; but rather by showing that it is Catholic Theology that best interprets what true religion they have, as well as indicating what they still need.

For instance, our non-Catholic brethren think they know what is meant by conversion; they do not know that Baptismal Regeneration is a grace, granted in answer to a kind of action—prayer. which makes conversion possible, more likely, as well as still necessary. The prevailing type of English religion persuades many that they have had an experience of Christ, whether by His power manifest in a public meeting, or

by His presence felt privately within. It does not realise that Christ is in the Mass, and is given in Holy Corrvnunion, in order that His power shall be shown in common life and His presence discerned by the soul. It is said. by Catholics mostly, that the average Englishman's religion is mere hum

anitarianism. It is rarely realised by him that for any man to be what God intended man to be, grace is necessary; so that to dismiss the supernatural is to shut out what alone will satisfy our own souls or serve the deepest needs of others. The average Englishman is curiously anti-ecclesiastical; he does not see the need for a Church which is infallible and must come first, before the individual and above the nation. We have to persuade, him that without such a Church there can be no security and no continuity; no full assurance of faith and no certain future; but also no community or social bond, nor real progress and no true liberty.

Taking advantage of his own protestations of humanitarianism, and his somewhat recent profession of internationalism, we can convict any Englishman out of his own mouth who ever again calls Italians wogs, or Spaniards dagoes (seamen's slang mostly, and not meant seriously); or complains that he cannot understand or abide the Irish (mostly because he thinks they are humorous when they are serious; while they think he is serious when he is only trying to be humorous). His preference for eclectic sects. which he selects or forsakes on some purely personal pretext, together with his dislike of the Catholic Church because it claims infallibility and demands obedience, has less to do with his lack of a historical sense, and the weakness of his logic, or his fear of spiritual tyranny. than with what is at bottom nothing else but distrust and dislike of humanity; and that to the extent of denying its necessary place in divine Redemption, which God has therefore graciously provided for and supernaturally protects. While he thinks, that, at any rate, he is prepared to love his neighbour, it is because he is not doing so, that he finds the acceptance of the Catholic Church, which must include many backward nations and many unsatisfactory, not to say unsavoury persons, such a difficulty.

It is this that makes the Englishman seem such a hypocrite to foreigners; and never more so than when he professes to hate hypocrisy. Yet we must be fair to

him, and come to his help, not only against others, but against himself. For instance when he is always saying that it is not what a man believes but what he does that matters. If this only means that faith without works will save no one that is precisely what the Catholic Church has been protesting ever since Protestantism proclaimed justification by faith etc+. We can comfort him by explaining that it is not hypocrisy to profess an ideal and then fall beneath it; if only it is recognised, confessed, and resolved better. The Catholic religion would make the Englishman less open to the charge of being a hypocrite, but need not make him less of an idealist, about himself, or about others.

We need not take him too seriously when he professes to distrust logic, or dismiss him as beyond salvation because he shies at definition and does not shine at argument. We must patiently show him' why reason must be reverenced, and persuade him that he is

not so illogical as he thinks. When an Englishman gives up his church, of whatever kind, he does not generally thereupon renounce Christ or deny the existence of God; whereas the Frenchman often does. If that is because they are more logical, we may be glad that Englishmen arc less so. Indeed it is possible to find some excuse for

this distrust of logical reasoning. NonCatholic English believers have retreated from the rational defence of religion. because since the eighteenth century, they have too hastily assumed that the rationalists proved that the 'existence of God could not be rationally proved, indeed, was disproved. Not being able oo detect the fallacy, the ordinary Englishman has fallen back upon what he thought was his capacity to feel God. It was probably a vague feeling that this logic was wrong somewhere; and it was, fundamentally. It might come to our countrymen today as a veritable gospel to be assured that anyone could sit down alone, in a quiet hour, with a cool head, and prove for a certainty, by reason alone, that God exists; and it might impress them at this moment to know that it is Rome and Rome along that teaches this as dogmatic truth.

It can, no doubt, he maintained that anyone who rejects the Catholic Church is logically bound to reject Christ; and he who rejects Christ must go on to reject God, and reason, and, at last, man, by the same logic. It takes generations in this country to discover that; and it is just as well. It is therefore likely to be more helpful if we can show that if a man trusts his mind at all, he is implicitly trusting God, and by the same argument he must be trusting Christ and the Church. It may be that the Englishman is simply more instinctive in his logic, and perhaps more at ho-me with induction than deduction; neither of which is a sign of defective mentality. Anyhow was it not St. Ambrose who said, God did not purpose to save mankind by dialectic?

Similarly with the Englishman's love of liberty. This may lead him to suggest that the only way to find out which faith is true is to grant them all a free field and no

favour, and see which wins. What he probably means is that faith is only of value when it is a free choice. Well, he can be assured that is the Catholic conviction also; for it is Canon Law that " no one must be forced to embrace the Cath

olic faith unwillingly." It was Pius VII who declared that "The Divine Law is not of the same nature as that of man, but a loving persuasion and gentleness: persecution, exile and imprisonment are suitable only to false prophets and the apostles of unsound doctrine." If some assurances is asked for that minorities will not be suppressed when Catholics are in the majority, it may suffice to quote Cardinal Manning. " If Catholics were in power tomorrow in England not a penal law would be proposed, nor the shadow of constraint put upon the faith of any man . . • they would not use political power to molest the divided and hereditary religious state of our people ... they would have the same liberties we enjoy as a minority."

Would the Catholic religion make the English character less truthful? No one since Newman's Apologia will ever dare to say again that Catholics are not bound to tell the truth. A perusal of our Moral Theology under this head might persuade the Englishman that he had something not only to learn but attain in this matter of truth. Leo XIII's words when the Vatican Archives were opened to research are memorable. " No falsehood can help the Church, and no truth can harm it."

Catholicism would only strengthen and complete the English character; not diminishing its idealism, but strengthening its realism; making the Englishman quicker to understand other races, but not necessarily to imitate them; for the only standard the Church sets before all is the Son of Man. Of the Englishman as such it might well be said that he was not far from the Kingdom of God; though he needs grace just as much as others, if he would enter it. It was a Pope to whom England owes much who said of us, " non Angli sed Angeli." The identity of the rich young ruler has often been speculated; this writer here ventures to suggest that he was very like the average Englishman. It would, however, he an eternal pity if, because of his great riches, moral as well as material, he turned sorrowful away.

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