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Posted on 02/09/2012 5:03:29 PM PST by Salvation


In the last chapter I have dealt in a preliminary fashion with the
Protestant case in the conventional controversial sense. I have
dealt with the objections which I suspected very early of being
prejudices and which I now know to be prejudices. I have dealt last
and at the greatest length with what I believe to be the noblest of
all the prejudices of Protestantism: that which is simply founded
on patriotism. I do not think patriotism is necessarily prejudice;
but I am quite sure it must be prejudice and nothing else but
prejudice, unless it is covered by some common morality. And a
patriotism that does not allow other people to be patriots is not a
morality but an immorality. Even such a tribal prejudice, however,
is a more respectable thing than most of the rags and tatters of
stale slander and muddleheadedness which I am obliged to put
first as the official policy of the opposition to the Church. These
stale stories seem to count for a great deal with people who are
resolved to keep far away from the Church. I do not believe they
ever counted with anybody who had begun to draw near to it.
When a man really sees the Church, even if he dislikes what he
sees, he does not see what he had expected to dislike. Even if he
wants to slay it he is no longer able to slander it; though he hates
it at sight, what he sees is not what he looked to see; in that place
he may gain a new passion but he loses his old prejudice. There
drops from him the holy armour of his invincible ignorance; he
can never be so stupid again. If he has a ready mind he can
doubtless set his new reasons in some sort of order and even
attempt to link them with his lost tradition. But the thing he hates
is there; and the last chapter was wholly devoted to the study of
things that are not there.

The real reasons are almost the opposite of the recognised
reasons. The real difficulties are almost the opposite of the
recognised difficulties. This is connected, of course, with a
general fact, now so large and obvious but still not clearly
comprehended and confessed. The whole case of Protestantism
against Catholicism has been turned clean round and is facing the
contrary way. On practically every single point on which the
Reformation accused the Church, the modern world has not only
acquitted the Church of the crime, but has actually charged it with
the opposite crime. It is as if the reformers had mobbed the Pope
for being a miser, and then the court had not only acquitted him
but had censured him for his extravagance in scattering money
among the mob. The principle of modern Protestantism seems to
be that so long as we go on shouting "To hell with the Pope" there
is room for the widest differences of opinion about whether he
should go to the hell of the misers or the hell of the spendthrifts.
This is what is meant by a broad basis for Christianity and the
statement that there is room for many different opinions side by
side. When the reformer says that the principles of the
Reformation give freedom to different points of view, he means
that they give freedom to the Universalist to curse Rome for
having too much predestination and to the Calvinist to curse her
for having too little. He means that in that happy family there is a
place for the No Popery man who finds Purgatory too tender-
hearted and also for the other No Popery man who finds Hell too
harsh. He means that the same description can somehow be made
to cover the Tolstoyan who blames priests because they permit
patriotism and the Diehard who blames priests because they
represent Internationalism. After all, the essential aim of true
Christianity is that priests should be blamed; and who are we that
we should set narrow dogmatic limits to the various ways in which
various temperaments may desire to blame them? Why should we
allow a cold difficulty of the logician, technically called a
contradiction in terms, to stand between us and the warm and
broadening human brotherhood of all who are full of sincere and
unaffected dislike of their neighbours? Religion is of the heart, not
of the head; and as long as all our hearts are full of a hatred for
everything that our fathers loved, we can go on flatly contradicting
each other for ever about what there is to be hated.

Such is the larger and more liberal modern attack upon the
Church. It is quite inconsistent with the old doctrinal attack; but it
does not propose to lose the advantages arising from any sort of
attack. But in a somewhat analogous fashion, it will be found that
the real difficulties of a modern convert are almost the direct
contrary of those which were alleged by the more ancient
Protestants. Protestant pamphlets do not touch even remotely any
of the real hesitations that he feels; and even Catholic pamphlets
have often been concerned too much with answering the Protestant
pamphlets. Indeed, the only sense in which the priests and
propagandists of Catholicism can really be said to be behind the
times is that they sometimes go on flogging a dead horse and
killing a heresy long after it has killed itself. But even that is,
properly understood, a fault on the side of chivalry. The preacher,
and even the persecutor, really takes the heresy more seriously
than it is seen ultimately to deserve; the inquisitor has more
respect for the heresy than the heretics have. Still, it is true that
the grounds of suspicion or fear that do really fill the convert, and
sometimes paralyse him at the very point of conversion, have
really nothing in the world to do with this old crop of crude
slanders and fallacies, and are often the very inversion of them.

The short way of putting it is to say that he is no longer afraid of
the vices but very much afraid of the virtues of Catholicism. For
instance, he has forgotten all about the old nonsense of the
cunning lies of the confessional, in his lively and legitimate alarm
of the truthfulness of the confessional. He does not recoil from its
insincerity but from its sincerity; nor is he necessarily insincere in
doing so. Realism is really a rock of offence; it is not at all
unnatural to shrink from it; and most modern realists only manage
to like it because they are careful to be realistic about other
people. He is near enough to the sacrament of penance to have
discovered its realism and not near enough to have yet discovered
its reasonableness and its common sense. Most of those who have
gone through this experience have a certain right to say, like the
old soldier to his ignorant comrade, "Yes, I was afraid; and if you
were half as much afraid, you would run away." Perhaps it is just
as well that people go through this stage before discovering how
very little there is to be afraid of. In any case, I will say little more
of that example here, having a feeling that absolution, like death
and marriage, is a thing that a man ought to find out for himself. It
will be enough to say that this is perhaps the supreme example of
the fact that the Faith is a paradox that measures more within than
without. If that be true of the smallest church, it is truer still of the
yet smaller confessional-box, that is like a church within a church.
It is almost a good thing that nobody outside should know what
gigantic generosity, and even geniality, can be locked up in a box,
as the legendary casket held the heart of the giant. It is a
satisfaction, and almost a joke, that it is only in a dark corner and
a cramped space that any man can discover that mountain of

It is the same with all the other points of attack, especially the old
ones. The man who has come so far as that along the road has long
left behind him the notion that the priest will force him to
abandon his will. But he is not unreasonably dismayed at the
extent to which he may have to use his will. He is not frightened
because, after taking this drug, he will be henceforward
irresponsible. But he is very much frightened because he will be
responsible. He will have somebody to be responsible to and he
will know what he is responsible for; two uncomfortable conditions
which his more fortunate fellow-creatures have nowadays entirely
escaped. There are of course many other examples of the same
principle: that there is indeed an interval of acute doubt, which is,
strictly speaking, rather fear than doubt, since in some cases at
least (as I shall point out elsewhere) there is actually least doubt
when there is most fear.

But anyhow, the doubts are hardly ever of the sort suggested by
ordinary anti-Catholic propaganda: and it is surely time that such
propagandists brought themselves more in touch with the real
problem. The Catholic is scarcely ever frightened of the Protestant
picture of Catholicism; but he is sometimes frightened of the
Catholic picture of Catholicism; which may be a good reason for
not disproportionately stressing the difficult or puzzling parts of
the scheme. For the convert's sake, it should also be remembered
that one foolish word from inside does more harm than a hundred
thousand foolish words from outside. The latter he has already
learned to expect, like a blind hail or rain beating upon the Ark;
but the voices from within, even the most casual and accidental,
he is already prepared to regard as holy or more than human; and
though this is unfair to people who only profess to be human
beings, it is a fact that Catholics ought to remember. There is
many a convert who has reached a stage at which no word from
any Protestant or pagan could any longer hold him back. Only the
word of a Catholic can keep him from Catholicism.

It is quite false, in my experience, to say that Jesuits, or any other
Roman priests, pester and persecute people in order to proselytise.
Nobody has any notion of what the whole story is about, who does
not know that, through those long and dark and indecisive days, it
is the man who persecutes himself. The apparent inaction of the
priest may be something like the statuesque stillness of the angler;
and such an attitude is not unnatural in the functions of a fisher of
men. But it is very seldom impatient or premature and the person
acted upon is quite lonely enough to realise that it is nothing
merely external that is tugging at his liberty. The laity are
probably less wise; for in most communions the ecclesiastical
layman is more ecclesiastical than is good for his health, and
certainly much more ecclesiastical than the ecclesiastics. My
experience is that the amateur is generally much more angry than
the professional; and if he expresses his irritation at the slow
process of conversion, or the inconsistencies of the intermediate
condition, he may do a great deal of harm, of the kind that he least
intends to do. I know in my own case that I always experienced a
slight setback whenever some irresponsible individual interposed
to urge me on. It is worth while, for practical reasons, to testify to
such experience, because it may guide the convert when he in his
turn begins converting. Our enemies no longer really know how to
attack the faith; but that is no reason why we should not know how
to defend it.

Yet even that one trivial or incidental caution carries with it a
reminder of what has been already noted: I mean the fact that
whatever be the Catholic's worries, they are the very contrary of
the Protestant's warnings. Merely as a matter of personal
experience, I have been led to note here that it is not generally the
priest, but much more often the layman, who rather too
ostentatiously compasses sea and land to make one proselyte. All
the creepy and uncanny whispers about the horror of having the
priest in the home, as if he were a sort of vampire or a monster
intrinsically different from mankind, vanishes with the smallest
experience of the militant layman. The priest does his job, but it is
much more his secular co-religionist who is disposed to explain it
and talk about it. I do not object to laymen proselytising; for I
never could see, even when I was practically a pagan, why a man
should not urge his own opinions if he liked and that opinion as
much as any other. I am not likely to complain of the evangelising
energy of Mr. Hilaire Belloc or Mr. Eric Gill; if only because I owe to
it the most intelligent talks of my youth. But it is that sort of man
who proselytises in that sort of way; and the conventional
caricature is wrong again when it always represents him in a
cassock. Catholicism is not spread by any particular professional
tricks or tones or secret signs or ceremonies. Catholicism is spread
by Catholics; but not certainly, in private life at least, merely by
Catholic priests. I merely give this here out of a hundred examples,
as showing once again that the old traditional version of the
terrors of Popery was almost always wrong, even where it might
possibly have been right. A man may say if he likes that
Catholicism is the enemy; and he may be stating from his point of
view a profound spiritual truth. But if he says that Clericalism is
the enemy, he is repeating a catchword.

It is my experience that the convert commonly passes through
three stages or states of mind. The first is when he imagines
himself to be entirely detached, or even to be entirely indifferent,
but in the old sense of the term, as when the Prayer Book talks of
judges who will truly and indifferently administer justice. Some
flippant modern person would probably agree that our judges
administer justice very indifferently. But the older meaning was
legitimate and even logical and it is that which is applicable here.
The first phase is that of the young philosopher who feels that he
ought to be fair to the Church of Rome. He wishes to do it justice;
but chiefly because he sees that it suffers injustice. I remember
that when I was first on the Daily News, the great Liberal organ of
the Nonconformists, I took the trouble to draw up a list of fifteen
falsehoods which I found out, by my own personal knowledge, in a
denunciation of Rome by Messrs. Horton and Hocking. I noted, for
instance, that it was nonsense to say that the Covenanters fought
for religious liberty when the Covenant denounced religious
toleration; that it was false to say the Church only asked for
orthodoxy and was indifferent to morality, since, if this was true of
anybody, it was obviously true of the supporters of salvation by
faith and not of salvation by works; that it was absurd to say that
Catholics introduced a horrible sophistry of saying that a man
might sometimes tell a lie, since every sane man knows he would
tell a lie to save a child from Chinese torturers; that it missed the
whole point, in this connection, to quote Ward's phrase, "Make up
your mind that you are justified in lying and then lie like a
trooper," for Ward's argument was against equivocation or what
people call Jesuitry. He meant, "When the child really is hiding in
the cupboard and the Chinese torturers really are chasing him with
red-hot pincers, then (and then only) be sure that you are right to
deceive and do not hesitate to lie; but do not stoop to equivocate.
Do not bother yourself to say, "The child is in a wooden house not
far from here," meaning the cupboard; but say the child is in
Chiswick or Chimbora zoo, or anywhere you choose." I find I made
elaborate notes of all these arguments all that long time ago,
merely for the logical pleasure of disentangling an intellectual
injustice. I had no more idea of becoming a Catholic than of
becoming a cannibal. I imagined that I was merely pointing out
that justice should be done even to cannibals. I imagined that I
was noting certain fallacies partly for the fun of the thing and
partly for a certain feeling of loyalty to the truth of things. But as a
matter of fact, looking back on these notes (which I never
published), it seems to me that I took a tremendous amount of
trouble about it if I really regarded it as a trifle; and taking trouble
has certainly never been a particular weakness of mine. It seems to
me that something was already working subconsciously to keep
me more interested in fallacies about this particular topic than in
fallacies about Free Trade or Female Suffrage or the House of
Lords. Anyhow, that is the first stage in my own case and I think in
many other cases: the stage of simply wishing to protect Papists
from slander and oppression, not (consciously at least) because
they hold any particular truth, but because they suffer from a
particular accumulation of falsehood. The second stage is that in
which the convert begins to be conscious not only of the falsehood
but the truth and is enormously excited to find that there is far
more of it than he would ever have expected. This is not so much a
stage as a progress; and it goes on pretty rapidly but often for a
long time. It consists in discovering what a very large number of
lively and interesting ideas there are in the Catholic philosophy,
that a great many of them commend themselves at once to his
sympathies, and that even those which he would not accept have
something to be said for them justifying their acceptance. This
process, which may be called discovering the Catholic Church, is
perhaps the most pleasant and straightforward part of the
business easier than joining the Catholic Church and much easier
than trying to live the Catholic life. It is like discovering a new
continent full of strange flowers and fantastic animals, which is at
once wild and hospitable. To give anything like a full account of
that process would simply be to discuss about half a hundred
Catholic ideas and institutions in turn. I might remark that much
of it consists of the act of translation; of discovering the real
meaning of words, which the Church uses rightly and the world
uses wrongly. For instance, the convert discovers that "scandal"
does not mean "gossip"; and the sin of causing it does not mean
that it is always wicked to set silly old women wagging their
tongues. Scandal means scandal, what it originally meant in Greek
and Latin: the tripping up of somebody else when he is trying to be
good. Or he will discover that phrases like "counsel of perfection"
or "venial sin," which mean nothing at all in the newspapers, mean
something quite intelligent and interesting in the manuals of
moral theology. He begins to realise that it is the secular world
that spoils the sense of words; and he catches an exciting glimpse
of the real case for the iron immortality of the Latin Mass. It is not
a question between a dead language and a living language, in the
sense of an everlasting language. It is a question between a dead
language and a dying language; an inevitably degenerating
language. It is these numberless glimpses of great ideas, that have
been hidden from the convert by the prejudices of his provincial
culture, that constitute the adventurous and varied second stage
of the conversion. It is, broadly speaking, the stage in which the
man is unconsciously trying to be converted. And the third stage is
perhaps the truest and the most terrible. It is that in which the
man is trying not to be converted.

He has come too near to the truth, and has forgotten that truth is a
magnet, with the powers of attraction and repulsion. He is filled
with a sort of fear, which makes him feel like a fool who has been
patronising "Popery" when he ought to have been awakening to the
reality of Rome. He discovers a strange and alarming fact, which is
perhaps implied in Newman's interesting lecture on Blanco White
and the two ways of attacking Catholicism. Anyhow, it is a truth
that Newman and every other convert has probably found in one
form or another. It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church.
The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it.
The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it
with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be
fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it
begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love
affair. The man has exactly the same sense of having committed or
compromised himself; of having been in a sense entrapped, even
if he is glad to be entrapped. But for a considerable time he is not
so much glad as simply terrified. It may be that this real
psychological experience has been misunderstood by stupider
people and is responsible for all that remains of the legend that
Rome is a mere trap. But that legend misses the whole point of the
psychology. It is not the Pope who has set the trap or the priests
who have baited it. The whole point of the position is that the trap
is simply the truth. The whole point is that the man himself has
made his way towards the trap of truth, and not the trap that has
run after the man. All steps except the last step he has taken
eagerly on his own account, out of interest in the truth; and even
the last step, or the last stage, only alarms him because it is so
very true. If I may refer once more to a personal experience, I may
say that I for one was never less troubled by doubts than in the
last phase, when I was troubled by fears. Before that final delay I
had been detached and ready to regard all sorts of doctrines with
an open mind. Since that delay has ended in decision, I have had
all sorts of changes in mere mood; and I think I sympathise with
doubts and difficulties more than I did before. But I had no doubts
or difficulties just before. I had only fears; fears of something that
had the finality and simplicity of suicide. But the more I thrust the
thing into the back of my mind, the more certain I grew of what
Thing it was. And by a paradox that does not frighten me now in
the least, it may be that I shall never again have such absolute
assurance that the thing is true as I had when I made my last effort
to deny it.

There is a postscript or smaller point to be added here to this
paradox; which I know that many will misunderstand. Becoming a
Catholic broadens the mind. It especially broadens the mind about
the reasons for becoming a Catholic. Standing in the centre where
all roads meet, a man can look down each of the roads in turn and
realise that they come from all points of the heavens. As long as he
is still marching along his own road, that is the only road that can
be seen, or sometimes even imagined. For instance, many a man
who is not yet a Catholic calls himself a Mediaevalist. But a man
who is only a Mediaevalist is very much broadened by becoming a
Catholic. I am myself a Mediaevalist, in the sense that I think
modern life has a great deal to learn from mediaeval life; that
Guilds are a better social system than Capitalism; that friars are
far less offensive than philanthropists. But I am a much more
reasonable and moderate Mediaevalist than I was when I was only a
Mediaevalist. For instance, I felt it necessary to be perpetually
pitting Gothic architecture against Greek architecture, because it
was necessary to back up Christians against pagans. But now I am
in no such fuss and I know what Coventry Patmore meant when he
said calmly that it would have been quite as Catholic to decorate
his mantelpiece with the Venus of Milo as with the Virgin. As a
Mediaevalist I am still proudest of the Gothic; but as a Catholic I
am proud of the Baroque. That intensity which seems almost
narrow because it comes to the point, like a mediaeval window, is
very representative of that last concentration that comes just
before conversion. At the last moment of all, the convert often
feels as if he were looking through a leper's window. He is looking
through a little crack or crooked hole that seems to grow smaller
as he stares at it; but it is an opening that looks towards the Altar.
Only, when he has entered the Church, he finds that the Church is
much larger inside than it is outside. He has left behind him the
lop-sidedness of lepers' windows and even in a sense the
narrowness of Gothic doors; and he is under vast domes as open as
the Renaissance and as universal as the Republic of the world. He
can say in a sense unknown to all modern men certain ancient and
serene words: Romanus civis sum; I am not a slave.

The point for the moment, however, is that there is generally an
interval of intense nervousness, to say the least of it, before this
normal heritage is reached. To a certain extent it is a fear which
attaches to all sharp and irrevocable decisions; it is suggested in
all the old jokes about the shakiness of the bridegroom at the
wedding or the recruit who takes the shilling and gets drunk partly
to celebrate, but partly also to forget it. But it is the fear of a fuller
sacrament and a mightier army. He has, by the nature of the case,
left a long way behind him the mere clumsy idea that the
sacrament will poison him or the army will kill him. He has
probably passed the point, though he does generally pass it at
some time, when he wonders whether the whole business is an
extraordinarily intelligent and ingenious confidence trick. He is
not now in the condition which may be called the last phase of real
doubt. I mean that in which he wondered whether the thing that
everybody told him was too bad to be tolerable, is not too good to
be true. Here again the recurrent principle is present; and the
obstacle is the very opposite of that which Protestant propaganda
has pointed out. If he still has the notion of being trapped, he has
no longer any notion of being tricked. He is not afraid of finding
the Church out, but rather of the Church finding him out.

This note on the stages of conversion is necessarily very negative
and inadequate. There is in the last second of time or hair's
breadth of space, before the iron leaps to the magnet, an abyss full
of all the unfathomable forces of the universe. The space between
doing and not doing such a thing is so tiny and so vast. It is only
possible here to give the reasons for Catholicism, not the cause of
Catholicism. I have tried to suggest here some of the
enlightenments and experiences which gradually teach those who
have been taught to think ill of the Church to begin to think well of
her. That anything described as so bad should turn out to be so
good is itself a rather arresting process having a savour of
something sensational and strange. To come to curse and remain
to bless, to come to scoff and remain to pray, is always welcome in
a spirit of wonder and the glow of an unexpected good.

But it is one thing to conclude that Catholicism is good and
another to conclude that it is right. It is one thing to conclude that
it is right and another to conclude that it is always right. I had
never believed the tradition that it was diabolical; I had soon come
to doubt the idea that it was inhuman, but that would only have
left me with the obvious inference that it was human. It is a
considerable step from that to the inference that it is divine. When
we come to that conviction of divine authority, we come to the
more mysterious matter of divine aid. In other words. we come to
the unfathomable idea of grace and the gift of faith; and I have not
the smallest intention of attempting to fathom it. It is a theological
question of the utmost complexity; and it is one thing to feel it as
a fact and another to define it as a truth. One or two points about
the preliminary dispositions that prepare the mind for it are all
that need be indicated here. To begin with, there is one sense in
which the blackest bigots are really the best philosophers. The
Church really is like Antichrist in the sense that it is as unique as
Christ. Indeed, if it be not Christ it probably is Antichrist; but
certainly it is not Moses or Mahomet or Buddha or Plato or
Pythagoras. The more we see of humanity, the more we sympathise
with humanity, the more we shall see that when it is simply human
it is simply heathen; and the names of its particular local gods or
tribal prophets or highly respectable sages are a secondary matter
compared with that human and heathen character. In the old
paganism of Europe, in the existing paganism of Asia, there have
been gods and priests and prophets and sages of all sorts; but not
another institution of this sort. The pagan cults die very slowly;
they do not return very rapidly. They do not make the sort of claim
that is made at a crisis; and then make the same claim again and
again at crisis after crisis throughout the whole history of the
earth. All that people fear in the Church, all that they hate in her,
all against which they most harden their hearts and sometimes
(one is tempted to say) thicken their heads, all that has made
people consciously and unconsciously treat the Catholic Church as
a peril, is the evidence that there is something here that we cannot
look on at languidly and with detachment, as we might look on at
Hottentotts dancing at the new moon or Chinamen burning paper
in porcelain temples. The Chinaman and the tourist can be on the
best of terms on a basis of mutual scorn. But in the duel of the
Church and the world is no such shield of contempt. The Church
will not consent to scorn the soul of a coolie or even a tourist; and
the measure of the madness with which men hate her is but their
vain attempt to despise.

Another element, far more deep and delicate and hard to describe,
is the immediate connection of what is most awful and archaic
with what is most intimate and individual. It is a miracle in itself
that anything so huge and historic in date and design should be so
fresh in the affections. It is as if a man found his own parlour and
fireside in the heart of the Great Pyramid. It is as if a child's
favourite doll turned out to be the oldest sacred image in the
world, worshipped in Chaldea or Nineveh. It is as if a girl to whom
a man made love in a garden were also, in some dark and double
fashion, a statue standing for ever in a square. It is just here that
all those things which were regarded as weakness come in as the
fulness of strength. Everything that men called sentimental in
Roman Catholic religion, its keepsakes, its small flowers and
almost tawdry trinkets, its figures with merciful gestures and
gentle eyes, its avowedly popular pathos and all that Matthew
Arnold meant by Christianity with its "relieving tears"--all this is a
sign of sensitive and vivid vitality in anything so vast and settled
and systematic. There is nothing quite like this warmth, as in the
warmth of Christmas, amid ancient hills hoary with such snows of
antiquity. It can address even God Almighty with diminutives. In
all its varied vestments it wears its Sacred Heart upon its sleeve.
But to those who know that it is full of these lively affections, like
little leaping flames, there is something of almost ironic
satisfaction in the stark and primitive size of the thing, like some
prehistoric monster; in its spires and mitres like the horns of giant
herds or its colossal cornerstones like the four feet of an elephant.
It would be easy to write a merely artistic study of the strange
externals of the Roman religion, which should make it seem as
uncouth and unearthly as Aztec or African religion It would be
easy to talk of it as if it were really some sort of mammoth or
monster elephant, older than the Ice Age, towering over the Stone
Age; his very lines traced, it would seem, in the earthquakes or
landslides of some older creation, his very organs and outer
texture akin to unrecorded patterns of vegetation and air and light-
-the last residuum of a lost world. But the prehistoric monster is in
the Zoological Gardens and not in the Natural History Museum.
The extinct animal is still alive. And anything outlandish and
unfamiliar in its form accentuates the startling naturalness and
familiarity of its mind, as if the Sphinx began suddenly to talk of
the topics of the hour. The super-elephant is not only a tame
animal but a pet; and a young child shall lead him.

This antithesis between all that is formidable and remote and all
that is personally relevant and realistically tender is another of
those converging impressions which meet in the moment of
conviction. But of all these things, that come nearest to the actual
transition of the gift of faith, it is far harder to write than of the
rationalistic and historical preliminaries of the enquiry. It is only
with those preliminary dispositions towards the truth that I claim
to deal here. In the chapters that follow I propose to touch upon
two of the larger considerations of this class, not because they are
in themselves any larger than many other immense aspects of so
mighty a theme, but because they happen to balance each other
and form a sort of antithesis very typical of all Catholic truth. In
the first of the two chapters I shall try to point out how it is that
when we praise the Church for her greatness we do not merely
mean her largeness but, in a rather notable and unique sense, her
universality. We mean her power of being cosmos and containing
other things. And in the second chapter I shall point out what may
seem to disturb this truth but really balances it. I mean the fact
that we value the Church because she is a Church Militant; and
sometimes even because she militates against ourselves. She is
something more than the cosmos, in the sense of completed nature
or completed human nature. She proves that she is some thing
more by sometimes being right where they are wrong. These two
aspects must be considered separately, though they come together
to form the full conviction that comes just before conversion. But
in this chapter I have merely noted down a few points or stages of
the conversion considered as a practical process; and especially
those three stages of it through which many a Protestant or
Agnostic must have passed. Many a man, looking back cheerfully
on them now, will not be annoyed if I call the first, patronising the
Church; and the second, discovering the Church; and the third,
running away from the Church. When those three phases are over,
a larger truth begins to come into sight; it is much too large to
describe and we will proceed to describe it.

TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; History; Theology
KEYWORDS: catholic; chesterton; conversion


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 02/09/2012 5:03:39 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 02/09/2012 5:07:07 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: All
**He begins to realise that it is the secular world that spoils the sense of words; and he catches an exciting glimpse of the real case for the iron immortality of the Latin Mass. It is not a question between a dead language and a living language, in the sense of an everlasting language. It is a question between a dead language and a dying language; an inevitably degenerating language. It is these numberless glimpses of great ideas, that have been hidden from the convert by the prejudices of his provincial culture, that constitute the adventurous and varied second stage of the conversion.**


3 posted on 02/09/2012 5:07:35 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Jo Nuvark


4 posted on 02/09/2012 5:11:25 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: All
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

5 posted on 02/09/2012 5:16:52 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation


6 posted on 02/09/2012 5:17:07 PM PST by Tribune7 (GAS WAS $1.85 per gallon on the day Obama was Inaugurated! - - freeper Gaffer)
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To: Salvation

Bump for tomorrow.

7 posted on 02/09/2012 10:01:57 PM PST by redhead (Don't take what doesn't belong to you. LIFE BELONGS TO GOD.)
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To: nickcarraway; NYer; ELS; Pyro7480; livius; ArrogantBustard; Catholicguy; RobbyS; markomalley; ...


8 posted on 02/11/2012 7:51:35 PM PST by Jo Nuvark (Those who bless Israel will be blessed, those who curse Israel will be cursed. Gen 12:3)
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To: Jo Nuvark

Thanks for the ping!

9 posted on 02/11/2012 10:03:32 PM PST by Alamo-Girl
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