Thursday, 12 September 2013

Review of Literary Converts by Joseph Pearce

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Joseph Pearce. Literary converts: spiritual inspiration in an age of unbelief. HarperCollins, 1999

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Roman Catholic readers and commenters are probably familiar with the apparently tireless and extraordinarily prolific Joseph Pearce, who has one of the most remarkable conversion narratives of modern times.

http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/2550/from_skinhead_bulldog_to_catholic_man_of_letters.aspx#.UjH37tHQTqc

I have read quite a few of his books, including two very good biographies of Solzhenitsyn and Belloc - and this is certainly one of the best: pleasant to read, always interesting, and indeed a notably skillfuly-woven tapestry of biographies of some of the major British converts to Catholicism in the twentieth century - mostly Roman Catholicis, but also including some of the then-still-vigorous High Church Anglican/ Anglo-Catholics such as TS Eliot, CS Lewis, Dorothy L Sayers and the like.

Many people are covered, some still famous, like Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh; others once extremely influential but now little known, like Ronald Knox, Arnold Lunn, Father Martin D'Arcy and Christopher Dawson.

The thread which runs through it all is GK Chesterton, who opened the century with Heretics and then followed it with probably the most influential book of Christian apologetics of this period: Orthodoxy.

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What comes through is that until around 1950 there were real hopes of a widespread and powerful Catholic and Christian revival in England- it seemed like things were building-up quite well, with a stream of impressive and prestigious converts, linking-up and assisting each other, plenty of books being published, and the perception of a kind of momentum.

It is hard not to feel some nostalgia for this era; but of course we know that it didn't last, and England fell away from Christianity of all kinds, to reach an extremely low level - both quantitatively and qualitatively - in present times.

Indeed, matters are notably worse now even than in the late 1990s when this book was written. I approve of the tone of Chestertonian robustness, energy and optimism here; and which is generally maintained by the magazine Joseph Pearce edits: the St Austin Review; but it does by now sound rather hollow, I am sorry to say...

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Note added: Virtually all of these eminent converts were, like Tolkien - http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/tolkien-and-world-historical-disaster.html -  very strongly against the Second Vatican Council and its consequences. This confirmed my prior belief that Vatican II was little short of a catastrophe for the Roman Catholic Church.