Page 8, 25th June 1937

25th June 1937
Page 8
Page 8, 25th June 1937 — The Invisible Church

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Locations: Rome


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The Invisible Church

From a Correspondent I do not think that the cradle Catholic ever fully realises how completely invisible the world-wide Catholic Church can be to quite well educated men and women. He can understand her figuring as a great malignant power in imaginations obsessed to the point of seeing " the hand of Rome" under every gauntlet. He can understand her being weighed up by politicians or debaters as a political or controversial force in everyday affairs and perhaps underrated. But the cold stare that surveys the world's history or contemporary events, all packed (as it seems to the Catholic) with Catholic beliefs and action, and looks right through the Church as if she was not there —such blindness is not comprehensible or even credible to him.

Hence his readiness to accuse nonCatholics of this type of shutting their eyes to facts or (if they are historians or journalists) deliberately suppressing them. He does not realise that, though there is certainly a shutting of eyes and a suppression of facts, the shutting often dates back to their earliest mental education when their eyes were being opened to other things, and the suppression may have become automatic and unconscious. It is a case of the unconsciously selective seeing and remembering of which the psychologists have so much to say in these days— though I have never known them take this case as an example, perhaps because they, too, see selectively. •

Without Point of Contact

I think it would be true to say that this complete blindness of otherwise welleducated men where the actions or influence of the Catholic Church is concerned has diminished of recent years. But for myself, though highly educated and widely read, interested in the world's affairs and with a wide acquaintance, largely among religious people of every non-Catholic denomination, I passed through the world till the very eve of my conversion at the age of 34 almost as if the Catholic Church did not exist.

The only real exception to this was the contact I made when I was an undergraduate. But this was so indirect and from such an odd angle that it only confirmed me in my inability to look at the Church with open eyes. For one thing, it never involved my exchanging a word with a single Catholic — indeed, I did that only three or four times (so far as I know) until my conversion.

Preparing for an Essay

Among the subjects set for the college essay prize in my second year at the University was "The Vatican and Modern Thought." As I had won the essay prize at school, I thought I would have a shot at this one and, in the self-confident ignorance of nineteen, chose this subject out of twelve!

I was so ignorant of either the Vatican or " modern thought " that it was not until after the Christmas vacation that I discovered that the subject had been set topically, with reference to the controversy then raging over the Catholic modernists—Loisy, Tyrrell, Fogazzaro, and the rest. I had spent part of the vacation in reading up an attack on the Papacy written in connection with the Vatican Council.

Even after a don whom I consulted had told me of the current controversy my reading for the essay was almost entirely among the Modernists. I did not read, or think of reading, a single orthodox book, though I perfunctorily ran my eye through the great Encyclical Pascendi. The comment on the whole affair which seemed to me entirely adequate and indisputable was that of The Times. to the effect that the Vatican, whose extinction had often been predicted before. but falsely, had this time really ensured it, since it had irrevocably condemned as erroneous propositions of which the truth could not be doubted by a single educated man,

And the essay so written shared the prize!

A Passing Fancy My reading of the Modernists had a considerable and damaging effect eventually upon such religious belief as had survived from my early training, but the immediate effect of the episode was quite different and very odd. For a week or two I talked to a friend about my desire to join the Church of Rome.

For a moment my undisciplined imagination may have been caught by some fanciful picture I had formed of Rome's romance. But I know that the project never influenced my actions or my intellectual life for a moment, never caused me to read a Catholic book nor say a prayer of any kind, nor enter a Catholic church. except once when I wandered in one afternoon and stood in the crowd at the back for a few minutes watching what appeared to be a confirmation taking place, then wandered out. I was not in one again until the day I was asking for instruction. But my silly phrases—no more than a bit of showing off—caused my pious Anglican friend, now a Canon, to remonstrate with

me gravely; and fifteen years later, when I had really become a Catholic, he recalled the forgotten episode to me by saying that he had feared my Romeward tendencies even in my undergraduate days.

For him the hand of Rome must have been everywhere. For me, except for that passing fancy. she remained, until the 15 years were over, the one invisible Church.

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