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Posted on 01/29/2012 12:33:19 PM PST by Salvation


The Catholic faith used to be called the Old Religion; but at the
present moment it has a recognized place among the New
Religions. This has nothing to do with its truth or falsehood; but it
is a fact that has a great deal to do with the understanding of the
modern world.

It would be very undesirable that modern men should accept
Catholicism merely as a novelty; but it is a novelty. It does act
upon its existing environment with the peculiar force and
freshness of a novelty. Even those who denounce it generally
denounce it as a novelty; as an innovation and not merely a
survival. They talk of the "advanced" party in the Church of
England; they talk of the "aggression" of the Church of Rome.
When they talk of an Extremist they are as likely to mean a
Ritualist as a Socialist. Given any normal respectable Protestant
family, Anglican or Puritan, in England or America, we shall find
that Catholicism is actually for practical purposes treated as a new
religion, that is, a revolution. It is not a survival. It is not in that
sense an antiquity. It does not necessarily owe anything to
tradition. In places where tradition can do nothing for it, in places
where all the tradition is against it, it is intruding on its own
merits; not as a tradition but a truth. The father of some such
Anglican or American Puritan family will find, very often, that all
his children are breaking away from his own more or less Christian
compromise (regarded as normal in the nineteenth century) and
going off in various directions after various faiths or fashions
which he would call fads. One of his sons will become a Socialist
and hang up a portrait of Lenin; one of his daughters will become a
Spiritualist and play with a planchette; another daughter will go
over to Christian Science and it is quite likely that another son will
go over to Rome. The point is, for the moment, that from the point
of view of the father, and even in a sense of the family, all these
things act after the manner of new religions, of great movements,
of enthusiasms that carry young people off their feet and leave
older people bewildered or annoyed. Catholicism indeed, even
more than the others, is often spoken of as if it were actually one
of the wild passions of youth. Optimistic aunts and uncles say that
the youth will "get over it," as if it were a childish love affair or
that unfortunate business with the barmaid. Darker and sterner
aunts and uncles, perhaps at a rather earlier period, used actually
to talk about it as an indecent indulgence, as if its literature were
literally a sort of pornography. Newman remarks quite naturally,
as if there were nothing odd about it at the time, that an
undergraduate found with an ascetic manual or a book of monastic
meditations was under a sort of cloud or taint, as having been
caught with "a bad book" in his possession. He had been wallowing
in the sensual pleasure of Nones or inflaming his lusts by
contemplating an incorrect number of candles. It is perhaps no
longer the custom to regard conversion as a form of dissipation;
but it is still common to regard conversion as a form of revolt. And
as regards the established convention of much of the modern
world, it is a revolt. The worthy merchant of the middle class, the
worthy farmer of the Middle West, when he sends his son to
college, does now feel a faint alarm lest the boy should fall among
thieves, in the sense of Communists; but he has the same sort of
fear lest he should fall among Catholics.

Now he has no fear lest he should fall among Calvinists. He has no
fear that his children will become seventeenth-century
Supralapsarians, however much he may dislike that doctrine. He is
not even particularly troubled by the possibility of their adopting
the extreme solfidian conceptions once common among some of
the more extravagant Methodists. He is not likely to await with
terror the telegram that will inform him that his son has become a
Fifth-Monarchy man, any more than that he has joined the
Albigensians. He does not exactly lie awake at night wondering
whether Tom at Oxford has become a Lutheran any more than a
Lollard. All these religions he dimly recognises as dead religions;
or at any rate as old religions. And he is only frightened of new
religions. He is only frightened of those fresh, provocative,
paradoxical new notions that fly to the young people's heads. But
amongst these dangerous juvenile attractions he does in practice
class the freshness and novelty of Rome.

Now this is rather odd; because Rome is not so very new. Among
these annoying new religions, one is rather an old religion; but it is
the only old religion that is so new. When it was originally and
really new, no doubt a Roman father often found himself in the
same position as the Anglican or Puritan father. He too might find
all his children going strange ways and deserting the household
gods and the sacred temple of the Capitol. He too might find that
one of those children had joined the Christians in their Ecclesia
and possibly in their Catacombs. But he would have found that, of
his other children, one cared for nothing but the Mysteries of
Orpheus, another was inclined to follow Mithras, another was a
Neo-Pythagorean who had learned vegetarianism from the
Hindoos, and so on. Though the Roman father, unlike the Victorian
father, might have the pleasure of exercising the patria potestas
and cutting off the heads of all the heretics, he could not cut off
the stream of all the heresies. Only by this time most of the
streams have run rather dry. It is now seldom necessary for the
anxious parent to warn his children against the undesirable society
of the Bull of Mithras, or even to wean him from the exclusive
contemplation of Orpheus; and though we have vegetarians always
with us, they mostly know more about proteids than about
Pythagoras. But that other youthful extravagance is still youthful.
That other new religion is once again new. That one fleeting
fashion has refused to fleet; and that ancient bit of modernity is
still modern. It is still to the Protestant parent now exactly what it
was to the pagan parent then. We might say simply that it is a
nuisance; but anyhow it is a novelty. It is not simply what the
father is used to, or even what the son is used to. It is coming in as
something fresh and disturbing, whether as it came to the Greeks
who were always seeking some new thing, or as it came to the
shepherds who first heard the cry upon the hills of the good news
that our language calls the Gospel. We can explain the fact of the
Greeks in the time of St. Paul regarding it as a new thing, because
it was a new thing. But who will explain why it is still as new to the
last of the converts as it was to the first of the shepherds? It is as
if a man a hundred years old entered the Olympian games among
the young Greek athletes; which would surely have been the basis
of a Greek legend. There is something almost as legendary about
the religion that is two thousand years old now appearing as a rival
of the new religions. That is what has to be explained and cannot
be explained away; nothing can turn the legend into a myth. We
have seen with our own eyes and heard with our own ears this
great modern quarrel between young Catholics and old Protestants;
and it is the first step to recognise in any study of modern

I am not going to talk about numbers and statistics, though I may
say something about them later. The first fact to realise is a
difference of substance which falsifies all the difference of size.
The great majority of Protestant bodies today, whether they are
strong or weak, are not strengthened in this particular fashion; by
the actual attraction of their new followers to their old doctrines. A
young man will suddenly become a Catholic priest, or even a
Catholic monk, because he has a spontaneous and even impatient
personal enthusiasm for the doctrine of Virginity as it appeared to
St. Catherine or St. Clare. But how many men become Baptist
ministers because they have a personal horror of the idea of an
innocent infant coming unconsciously to Christ? How many honest
Presbyterian ministers in Scotland really want to go back to John
Knox, as a Catholic mystic might want to go back to John of the
Cross? These men inherit positions which they feel they can hold
with reasonable consistency and general agreement; but they do
inherit them. For them religion is tradition. We Catholics naturally
do not sneer at tradition; but we say that in this case it is really
tradition and nothing else. Not one man in a hundred of these
people would ever have joined his present communion if he had
been born outside it. Not one man in a thousand of them would
have invented anything like his church formulas if they had not
been laid down for him. None of them has any real reason for
being in their own particular church, whatever good reason they
may still have for being outside ours. In other words, the old creed
of their communion has ceased to function as a fresh and
stimulating idea. It is at best a motto or a war cry and at the worst
a catchword. But it is not meeting contemporary ideas like a
contemporary idea. In their time and in their turn we believe that
those other contemporary ideas will also prove their mortality by
having also become mottoes and catchwords and traditions. A
century or two hence Spiritualism may be a tradition and Socialism
may be a tradition and Christian Science may be a tradition. But
Catholicism will not be a tradition. It will still be a nuisance and a
new and dangerous thing.

These are the general considerations which govern any personal
study of conversion to the Catholic faith. The Church has
defended tradition in a time which stupidly denied and despised
tradition. But that is simply because the Church is always the only
thing defending whatever is at the moment stupidly despised. It is
already beginning to appear as the only champion of reason in the
twentieth century, as it was the only champion of tradition in the
nineteenth. We know that the higher mathematics is trying to deny
that two and two make four and the higher mysticism to imagine
something that is beyond good and evil. Amid all these anti-
rational philosophies, ours will remain the only rational
philosophy. In the same spirit the Church did indeed point out the
value of tradition to a time which treated it as quite valueless. The
nineteenth-century neglect of tradition and mania for mere
documents were altogether nonsensical. They amounted to saying
that men always tell lies to children but men never make mistakes
in books. But though our sympathies are traditional because they
are human, it is not that part of the thing which stamps it as
divine. The mark of the Faith is not tradition; it is conversion. It is
the miracle by which men find truth in spite of tradition and often
with the rending of all the roots of humanity.

It is with the nature of this process that I propose to deal; and it is
difficult to deal with it without introducing something of a
personal element. My own is only a very trivial case but naturally
it is the case I know best; and I shall be compelled in the pages
that follow to take many illustrations from it. I have therefore
thought it well to put first this general note on the nature of the
movement in my time; to show that I am well aware that it is a very
much larger and even a very much later movement than is implied
in describing my own life or generation. I believe it will be more
and more an issue for the rising generation and for the generation
after that, as they discover the actual alternative in the awful
actualities of our time. And Catholics when they stand up together
and sing "Faith of our Fathers" may realise almost with amusement
that they might well be singing "Faith of our Children." And in
many cases the return has been so recent as almost to deserve the
description of a Children's Crusade.

TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; History; Theology
KEYWORDS: catholic; converts


Nihil Obstat: Arthur J. Scanlan, S.T.D.
Censor Librorum.

Imprimatur: Patrick Cardinal Hayes
+Archbishop, New York.

New York, September 16, 1926.

Copyright, 1926 by MacMillan Company


It is with diffidence that anyone born into the Faith can approach
the tremendous subject of Conversion. Indeed, it is easier for one
still quite unacquainted with the Faith to approach that subject
than it is for one who has had the advantage of the Faith from
childhood. There is at once a sort of impertinence in approaching
an experience other than one's own (necessarily more imperfectly
grasped), and an ignorance of the matter. Those born into the Faith
very often go through an experience of their own parallel to, and in
some way resembling, that experience whereby original strangers
to the Faith come to see it and to accept it. Those born into the
Faith often, I say, go through an experience of scepticism in youth,
as the years proceed, and it is still a common phenomenon (though
not so often to be observed as it was a lifetime ago) for men of the
Catholic culture, acquainted with the Church from childhood, to
leave it in early manhood and never to return. But it is nowadays a
still more frequent phenomenon--and it is to this that I allude--for
those to whom scepticism so strongly appealed in youth to
discover, by an experience of men and of reality in all its varied
forms, that the transcendental truths they had been taught in
childhood have the highest claims upon their matured reason.

This experience of the born Catholic may, I repeat, be called in a
certain sense a phenomenon of conversion. But it differs from
conversion properly so called, which rather signifies the gradual
discovery and acceptance of the Catholic Church by men and
women who began life with no conception of its existence: for
whom it had been during their formative years no more than a
name, perhaps despised, and certainly corresponding to no known

Such men and women converts are perhaps the chief factors in the
increasing vigor of the Catholic Church in our time. The
admiration which the born Catholic feels for their action is exactly
consonant to that which the Church in its earlier days showed to
the martyrs. For the word "martyr" means "witness." The
phenomenon of conversion apparent in every class, affecting
every type of character, is the great modern witness to the truth of
the claim of the Faith; to the fact that the Faith is reality, and that
in it alone is the repose of reality to be found.

In proportion as men know less and less of the subject, in that
proportion do they conceive that the entrants into the City of God
are of one type, and in that proportion do they attempt some
simple definition of the mind which ultimately accepts
Catholicism. They will call it a desire for security; or an attraction
of the senses such as is exercised by music or by verse. Or they
will ascribe it to that particular sort of weakness (present in many
minds) whereby they are easily dominated and changed in mood
by the action of another.

A very little experience of typical converts in our time makes
nonsense of such theories. Men and women enter by every
conceivable gate, after every, conceivable process of slow
intellectual examination, of shock, of vision, of moral trial and
even of merely intellectual process. They enter through the action
of expanded experience. Some obtain this through travel, some
through a reading of history beyond their fellows, some through
personal accidents of life. And not only are the avenues of
approach to the Faith infinite in number (though all converging; as
must be so, since truth is one and error infinitely divided), but the
individual types in whom the process of conversion may be
observed differ in every conceivable fashion. When you have
predicated of one what emotion or what reasoning process brought
him into the fold, and you attempt to apply your predicate exactly
to another, you will find a misfit. The cynic enters, and so does the
sentimentalist; and the fool enters and so does the wise man; the
perpetual questioner and doubter and the man too easily accepting
immediate authority--they each enter after his kind. You come
across an entry into the Catholic Church undoubtedly due to the
spectacle, admiration and imitation of some great character
observed. Next day you come across an entry into the Catholic
Church out of complete loneliness, and you are astonished to find
the convert still ignorant of the great mass of the Catholic effect
on character. And yet again, immediately after, you will find a
totally different third type, the man who enters not from
loneliness, nor from the effect of another mind, but who comes in
out of contempt for the insufficiency or the evil by which he has
been surrounded.

The Church is the natural home of the Human Spirit.

The truth is that if you seek for an explanation of the phenomenon
of conversion under any system which bases that phenomenon on
illusion, you arrive at no answer to your question. If you imagine
conversion to proceed from this or that or the other erroneous or
particular limited and insufficient cause, you will soon discover it
to be inexplicable.

There is only one explanation of the phenomenon--a phenomenon
always present, but particularly arresting to the educated man
outside the Catholic Church in the English-speaking countries--
there is only one explanation which will account for the
multiplicity of such entries and for the infinitely varied quality of
the minds attracted by the great change; and that explanation is
that the Catholic Church is reality. If a distant mountain may be
mistaken for a cloud by many, but is recognised for a stable part
of the world (its outline fixed and its quality permanent) by every
sort of observer, and among these especially by men famous for
their interest in the debate, for their acuteness of vision and for
their earlier doubts, the overwhelming presumption is that the
thing seen is a piece of objective reality. Fifty men on shipboard
strain their eyes for land. Five, then ten, then twenty, make the
land-fall and recognise it and establish it for their fellows. To the
remainder, who see it not or who think it a bank of fog, there is
replied the detail of the outline, the character of the points
recognised, and that by the most varied and therefore convergent
and convincing witnesses--by some who do not desire that land
should be there at all, by some who dread its approach, as well as
those who are glad to find it, by some who have long most
ridiculed the idea that it was land at all--and it is in this
convergence of witnesses that we have one out of the innumerable
proofs upon which the rational basis of our religion reposes.

--The Editor.









1 posted on 01/29/2012 12:33:24 PM PST by Salvation
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To: nickcarraway; NYer; ELS; Pyro7480; livius; ArrogantBustard; Catholicguy; RobbyS; marshmallow; ...


A Chesterton Ping from 1926!


2 posted on 01/29/2012 12:37:38 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation; Tzar; word_warrior_bob; risen_feenix; EnglishCon; Bill W was a conservative; verga; ...

Freep-mail me to get on or off my pro-life and Catholic List:

Add me / Remove me

Please ping me to note-worthy Pro-Life or Catholic threads, or other threads of general interest.

3 posted on 01/29/2012 12:44:42 PM PST by narses
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To: Salvation
the Apostle of Common Sense (or was that CS Lewis?)

Gotta love the people who brought Chesterton and Churchill...and Lewis, and Clapton, and the Stones, and Traffic and Pink Floyd and...

God save the Queen!

4 posted on 01/29/2012 12:53:31 PM PST by the invisib1e hand (religion + guns = liberty.)
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To: Salvation
And Catholics when they stand up together and sing "Faith of our Fathers" may realise almost with amusement that they might well be singing "Faith of our Children."

That's a good line.

5 posted on 01/29/2012 1:30:50 PM PST by WPaCon
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To: Salvation

Mr. Chesterton is always welcome, and always good.

6 posted on 01/29/2012 2:56:46 PM PST by sayuncledave (et Verbum caro factum est (And the Word was made flesh))
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To: Salvation

Thanks for the ping.

7 posted on 01/29/2012 4:14:24 PM PST by TASMANIANRED (We kneel to no prince but the Prince of Peace)
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To: Jo Nuvark
Chesterton on Christmas
Table of Contents for "In Defense Of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton"
Chesterton and Saint Francis

[Why I Am Catholic}: A [Chesterton] Poem and a Prayer for Michaelmas
G. K. Chesterton: "Who is this guy and why haven’t I heard of him?"
How the Great Wind Came to Beacon House, Chap 1 of Manalive by G. K. Chesterton
Film and Audio Recordings of G. K. Chesterton
Chesterton on "The Human Family and the Holy Family"
Why I Am A Catholic by G. K. Chesterton
"The God In The Cave" | From The Everlasting Man (G. K. Chesterton) Part 1
Alternatives to Assigned Readings
Aquinas vs. Luther: A Brief Excerpt from Chesterton
Social Reform versus Birth Control

8 posted on 01/30/2012 5:47:19 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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