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year articles on ways and means of promoting the Conversion of England.
By Henry Edwards
SOME few months before the
war, when the voice of the Catholic Church had begun to speak clearly' and persuasively to me, I asked the late Charles Williams, well known to Anglicans and a particular means in the conversion, so far as it went, of Mr. C. S. Lewis, why, in spite of the efforts of the Roman Church to convert the people of these isles, it could point to comparatively few converts.
His answer was quick and" un
qualified. " It is because they are poets." He did not enlarge upon
this, except to say that because the English were poets they were not Communists either'. And I have wondered since what he meant. I know that sometimes we oppose the poet to the philosopher as when I said not so long back that I regarded Nietzsche as a poet rather than as a philosopher. Charles Williams was himself a poet even if in such books riS The Descent of ihe Dave he tried a little theologising. And now I come to think of it other Anglicans of his school are poets too, e.g. T. S. Eliot and Brother George Every, of the Sacred Mission.
If there is a hint in that paragraph I am afraid that is all there can be. But I think it is a hint of value. If there are in fact an unusually large number of Britishers who, faced with a nice piece of logic in religious controversy, quite honestly and satisfiedly see no need for acting as reason demonstrates, we ought to know.
Derivative Quakerism In those pre-war days, I was still a member of the Society of Friends. who would now be celebrating, if Quakers celebrate, their tercentenary. Now Quakerism is the faith and practice of a tiny if very influential group in Britain. But a derivative Quakerism is the faith and practice of large numbers of Britishers. And Quakerism is on the whole a nonrationalist faith. Its core is a belief in an Inner Light which is perhaps regarded more and more by Quakers and others not Catholics as a natural light. The original Quaker concept of a Divine in man has led to a belief in man as divine.
7'o put it in somewhat theological terms the Catholic missionary in Britain is faced with a vast number of people whose religion is immanenlist, pelagian and humanist, not to say humanitarian, while those who would not admit to having a religion mostly come front the ranks of those Who have this surrogate.
To use a dear Quaker phrase, the Catholic missionary does not speak to the average 13ritisher's condition. If he shows a Britisher that reason alone shows God's existence, if he ploughs through a general Catholic apologetic, he is surprised to find his potential catechumen not at all impressed, and as far away (as far as we know) from the Catholic Church as ever.
My own experience has been that often enough I get some such answer as: " Most interesting. I've no doubt all you say is quite true. But you won't make me go to confession! " (It's usually the sacrament of penance which is picked out as symbolic of all the Church stands for.) Now in that sentence you have the following ideas: (I) It is now admitted by many Britishers that the Catholic Church his something of interest to say.
(2) That it is quite possible that what is said is true, but that the
truth of the Church does not concern a non-Catholic.
(3) That the Catholic Church is trying to make people do something against their • will.
(4) That the Catholic Church is a thing with repugnant practices, e.g. Confession. In respect of this last one could show a Britisher that Confession is clearly indicated on grounds agreed upon, but the Btitisher would not observe from this that he or she should practise
Some few months ago I heard Frank Sheed begin a talk in Hyde Park in this way.
"I have now been speaking here for many years. And I have c.ome to know many of you very well. Bat what I cannot understand is why most of you are not all Catholics by now. Can any one of you give me a reason?"
He got what one of his audience
called a reason. It was that if he (the questioner) were to become a Catholic he would be unable once a year to go to an Anglican church to hear a talk on Shakespeare. Those who have heard Mr. Sheed speak will imagine how he dealt with that. But he would be the first to agree that dialectic would do nothing to convince a man who really thought that a reason. And yet " reasons" like it are given every day by worthy, good-willing, non-Catholics. I make a gift of my own for many years.
(I) There is no point in going on my knee or knees in church.
(2) It may be that the Catholic Church is ali she claims to be; but that does not mean that I am in error as a Quaker. (3) You don't catch me getting mixed up with a pack of Irish and other foreigners.
The mass of the British hate liturgy and posture tradititmatiy associated with Catholic worship. I believe that romanticism is the cause of this. Romanticism seeks for fresh spontaneity in religious action and words. The romantic cannot bring himself to feel he is worshipping unless there is a certain originality, at all costs he must not say the same words as he has said before, unless of course they conjure up a certain religious emotion. By a curious inversion of fact the non-Catholic still accuses the Catholic Church of en
couraging the feelings. And I still remember the day I realised how untrue this was-and I still regard a public recitation of the rosary as about the most boring of spiritual acts.
But the Catholic has hardly any conception of how embarrassing and difficult it is for many a Protestant visitor to our churches to see men and women genuflecting and making other bodily actions as outward signs. If ever a Catholic sees a Protestant giggling or looking amused at some devout person or practice he may be glad he has read this for he will know there is no irreverent intention. We are dealing with a people who are extraordinarily shy, ultra-introspective, rather scrupulous, intellectually foggy and as capable as anyone else of Catholic sanctity. They also have a powerful sense of humour.
The second point is difficult to ex plain without a story. • For many years I was the close
being urged to come into the Church as into the Ark, outside of which is death, they will not see any urgency at all. More and more we should set before our non-Catholic friends the snectacle of the One Church founded by the undivided God-Man. Anything less than this, any stuff, actuated perhaps by charitable feelings and an eirenicist attitude which we may profitably use in another way, which sets them thinking that we regard them as hardly less Christian than ourselves, is not preaching the Gospel. There is a tendency on our part to pass interim -sentences on the good will of non Catholic Christians. Once we said we must "leave all that to God, doubtless with an unhappy feeling they were lost; now if we do leave it to God we do so with an unnecessarily optimistic belief in their salvation.
It comes to this in the Icing run. We must not decline the slightest from the most forceful presentation
of the Gospel. It is not for us to pick nice pieces from it or to speak parts of it with an air of apology. If the British have not responded to our efforts it is for us under God to let them have it-all of it.