Thursday 11 November 2010

Roads to Rome

John Beaumont was kind enough to give me a copy of his new book "Roads to Rome". It is an excellent volume giving all sorts of fascinating facts and stories of those who have converted to the Faith in this country since the time when everyone was already a Catholic! It has a foreword by Marcus Grodi (of EWTN) and a wonderful introduction by Joseph Pearce (Writer in Residence and Associate Professor of Literature at Ave Maria University, who is spellbinding when you hear him recount his own conversion story and hilarious when telling the story of Squire Fuller from Belloc's "Four Men").

The book is published by St Augustine's Press and can be ordered in the UK from Cenacle Catholic Books at

Here is a marvellous review by Thomas Howard from "The Star"

It is difficult to speak of this volume without sounding rhapsodic. The format is that of an encyclopedia, which itself would not seem to invite rhapsodies. The subtitle tells us just what we may expect: for each entry, starting with the sixteenth-century martyr Blessed Henry Abbot and ending with the twentieth-century Oxford don Robert Charles Zaehner (the entries are alphabetical, not chronological), we find the subject’s dates of birth, conversion, and death, plus whatever material, brief or extended, will give us the portrait of the man or woman in question. This material is often augmented with quotations from the subject’s writings or conversation.

The train of converts includes nobles such as St. Philip Howard, mart yr, the thirteenth Earl of Arundel; the Marquis of Bute; Lord Leonard Cheshire, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his RAF heroism in World War II; Lady Anne Isabella Noel, fifteenth Baroness Wentworth; and many others from this exalted region. A great many academics appear, notable among them the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe (who, by the by, is the one said to have bested C. S. Lewis in a debate at Oxford in the l940s, thus inf luencing his turning away from strictly apologetic works and towards fiction. Whatever the exact nature of the incident was, Roads to Rome appropriately does not include it). But readers will be glad to discover that, Oxford and Cambridge don though she was, she argued forcefully and unremittingly in favor of traditional Catholic moral and dogmatic teaching, including the question of contraception, and was twice arrested for protesting outside an abortion clinic.

The array of literary figures who converted to Catholicism is spectacular: Maurice Baring; Coventry Patmore; Gerard Manley Hopkins; Lionel Johnson; Ernest Dowson; Oscar Wilde; Evelyn Waugh; Ronald Knox; Muriel Spark; Robert Speaight; Compton Mackenzie; Graham Greene; and, of course Newman, although the literary category scarcely encompasses the achievements of this last convert.

A vast number of the entries concerns men and women who entered the priestly or religious life after their conversion, among them Dom Bede Griffiths, Bishop William Brownlow, Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, and, of course, the whole cadre of young Elizabethan mart yrs including St. Edmund Campion.

One of the most engaging aspects of this volume is its generous inclusion of quotations from the converts. This, for example, from the debauched fin de fin de siècle illustrator Aubrey Beardsley as he neared death: “Jesus is our Lord and Judge. Dear Friend, I implore you to destroy all . . . bad drawings. . . . By all that is holy, all obscene drawings.”

Here is Sir Alec Guinness, who, having converted to a church with a Latin Mass, “suddenly [found the Mass] said in an English of great triteness and banalit y. The officiating priest . . . now faced his parishioners from the other side of a table like a jovial scoutmaster serving orangeade and cupcakes in a village hall.” Or Newman upon his conversion: “. . . it was not a thing one could propound ‘between the soup and the fish’ at a dinner party.” Robert Speaight “could not see why a dogma which was thought credible yesterday should suddenly be dismissed as incredible today. . . . The idea that you could have a religion without dogma was as silly as the idea that you could have a car without a carburettor [sic].” Here is Fr. Martin D’Arcy on Evelyn Waugh: “Evelyn . . . never spoke of experience or feelings. He had come to learn and understand what he believed to be God’s revelation. . . . I have never myself met a convert who so strongly based his assents on truth. . . .”

Clearly, this volume contains a huge treasury of information. Hence it is an invaluable research aid. But, far beyond this aspect of the work, it seems to me, is what one might call the sheer radiance that streams from the entries. They are seldom “personal testimonies” such as one might find in the annals of converts to this or that sect. In virtually every case, the person in question has found himself confronted with the great and serene edifice of The Church. And it is not this or that church, each with its specialty or attraction. It is the Ancient Church, serene and sure in its teaching, venerable in its antiquit y, and as settled (more so, actually, since it is eternal) as Everest. As praiseworthy as is the witness of those who have individually “accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour” (for they are our allies, not our antagonists, when it comes to our mutual encounter with history, cultures, and societies), the burden of what these converts to the Roman Catholic Church say is of their having been hailed by That Which Is. It all seems to have been a matter of their having set altogether aside any busy preoccupation of their own, and of having got in step with The Dance whose choreography issues from, and bespeaks, Truth. Securus judicat orbis terrarum, quoted Newman. The Church judges the world, not vice versa. Surely this is that to which all of these entries testify?

It should be clear to readers of this review that I am enthusiastic about this remarkable volume. It is not far from the truth to say that I cannot stop reading it. Even during the writing of these paragraphs, I have had to force myself to stick to my job here rather than convert. “Highly recommended” would be an understatement.

The reviewer is Thomas Howard, a popular author of numerous books. The Night is Far Spent: The Best of Thomas Howard has recently been published by Ignatius Press.

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