Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Name That Convert! #2

Here’s the second installment in a series about famous Catholic converts. The first conversion, about which I wrote two days ago, came in two parts: a personal judgment that ideology can never satisfy the heart and a personal encounter with the Saints. Today’s famous Catholic proves that conversions comes in many flavors. His was based largely on ideology, or dogma.

Like me, he was the eldest of six children raised in a practicing family of Anglicans. That’s where the similiarities between us end.

By the age of fifteen he was deep in theology. At that tender age, today’s convert read two critical books—

. . . each contrary to each, and planting in me the seeds of an intellectual inconsistency which disabled me for a long course of years. I read Joseph Milner’s Church History, and was nothing short of enamoured of the long extracts from St. Augustine and the other Fathers which I found there. I read them as being the religion of the primitive Christians: but simultaneously with Milner I read Newton on the Prophecies, and in consequence became most firmly convinced that the Pope was the Antichrist predicted by Daniel, St. Paul, and St. John.

Convinced by the Church Fathers, he was repelled by the papacy.

Also in his fifteenth year, at a time of life when I was discovering the joys of female companionship, our convert was called to celibacy:

There can be no mistake about the fact;—viz. that it was the will of God that I should lead a single life. This anticipation, which has held its ground almost continuously ever since—with the break of a month now and a month then, up to 1829, and, after that date, without any break at all—was more or less connected, in my mind, with the notion that my calling in life would require such a sacrifice as celibacy involved; as, for instance, missionary work among the heathen…

Catholicism would attract and repel our convert until he was in his forties. Meanwhile, he became an Anglican cleric and a published, sometimes controversial academic. He lived in a country that was unfriendly to Catholics, but drip by drip the waters of Catholic dogma slowly eroded his resistance.

He led a movement against liberalism in his church. He became convinced that his church was in schism; that is, Anglicanism was a rebellious splinter of the one, true Church. Yet he agonized. Finally, in 1845, he wrote an Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, his personal declaration of independence from Anglicanism. He gave up his teaching position and his pastorship at a famous university to became a simple parson, and at the age of 44 he was received into the Catholic Church. He made clear that his conversion was an intellectual one:

I am a Catholic by virtue of my believing in God; and if I am asked why I believe in a God, I answer that it is because I believe in myself, for I feel it impossible to believe in my own existence… without believing in the existence of Him, who lives as a… Being in my conscience.

Within two years, he was ordained a Catholic priest, and when he died in 1890, a major newspaper commented: “[His] character was the chief instrument in destroying the bigoted hatred of Roman Catholicism which had almost become an English tradition.”

Who’s that convert? You’ll find him as the author of Meditation on Mary, a CL-recommended book for 1993 on this list.

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