This year (1995) marks the sesquicentennial of that famous convert, John Henry Newman: his reception into the Catholic Church, October 9, and his confirmation, November 1.
In celebration of this year's anniversaries -- and in prospect of the 150th anniversary of his ordination (May 30, 1847) -- I am putting together a commemorative book of essays by converts who have been influenced in any special way by the venerable Cardinal's life or writings.
Lane Core Jr.
I must respond to the guest column by Richard Harnett (June 1995) on returning Catholics, of which I am one. Please tell Harnett to lighten up. I guess he's not familiar with the story of the prodigal son returning.
I, for one, don't blame my leaving the Church on anything other than my losing the faith; I don't blame the Church for not bending with the times. Actually, I was one of those who did not enjoy guitars at Mass and the removal of the Communion rail.
Quite honestly, I don't feel good about having been away from the Church for almost 20 years. But I'm glad to be back. I'd like to thank my brothers and sisters who stayed at home with our heavenly Father and kept the light on for us lost sheep.
By the way, how about all of us Catholics finding a way to stay and sing that last hymn at Mass instead of heading for the parking lot!
Seven Hills, Ohio
As the World Turns
In his guest column (June 1995) on Catholics who left the Church and then returned, Richard Harnett stated that it was "surprising how many returning Catholics bring up the Galileo case as an example of what alienated them."
A survey taken a few years back asked adult Americans if the sun orbited the earth or if the earth orbited the sun. The findings were startling. More than half of those surveyed either gave the wrong answer or admitted that they didn't know.
Galileo supported the Copernican theory that the sun is at rest and that the earth, spinning on its axis once daily, revolved annually around the sun. The Church held the common belief of the time that the sun orbited the earth. The Church theorized at the trial that the sun could not be fixed in space if Joshua commanded the sun to stand still (Josh. 10:12). Thus, the Church used as evidence the one thing to support its erroneous beliefs that ultimately proved true -- our sun does move through space. It is likely that neither Galileo nor the Church would win its case if this trial were to go to court in 1995.
Regarding Dale Vree's review of Thomas Howard's Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome (June 1995): Although Howard is now a Catholic (and an ex-Episcopalian), Vree characterizes Howard's move of some 30 years ago into the Episcopal Church as one of "giddily embracing a giant cream puff." That line really pained me. Howard, himself, is a great deal more respectful of the Episcopal Church than that.
Yes, I am an Episcopalian, even though I have a great respect for the Holy Father and the Roman Church. I may even die a Catholic.
But Vree's little jab gives me an ache in my heart because I love my church. I have seen her act with enormous courage and honor. She gave me rich instruction and a baptism and confirmation which amply provided "the means of grace and the hope of glory." I credit her with rescuing not only my soul but, I believe, my (then) young body from an untimely death.
Yes, she is suffering now, but the Spirit is working in her and through her. She is not in competition with the Catholic Church. We are all battling the same evils and we all have plenty to wring our hands over. Please don't undermine the dignity of the struggle by playing it for cheap laughs.
In his review of Thomas Howard's Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome (June 1995), Dale Vree says: "Howard's 1967 book, Christ the Tiger, which told of his move to the aristocratic Episcopal Church, was loaded with fanciful flights . Of course, then Howard was a young, wide-eyed chap giddily embracing what he now realizes to have been a giant cream puff ." Vree thinks that Howard, as an Episcopalian, was a dilettante playing at religion, and that now that Howard has discovered real religion (Roman Catholicism) he writes unsentimentally and realistically -- and very well.
The NOR would do well to take a few lessons from the Holy Father in religious humility. The Church of Rome has much to repent of and, thankfully, the Pope has made a far journey down that road. I guess it will take a while for the laity to catch up, particularly recent converts such as Vree who have escaped cream-puff religiosity.
As regards Howard's writing: Maybe we can use Occam's razor and simply say that he is a better writer in the 1990s than in the 1960s. After all, practice makes perfect.
DALE VREE REPLIES
In writing, practice does not always make perfect; for many writers, their earlier books are widely acknowledged as being better than their later ones. Discovering Catholicism probably did not make Howard a better writer; rather, as I indicated in the review, I suspect that the personal obstacles he overcame in becoming Catholic were a significant factor in his literary development.
You Catholics have the Best Writers
I'm a Lutheran octogenarian, and I've discovered that the best writers on religion are Catholics, the next best are Episcopalians, and the least best are Protestants. I don't know why this is so. Who can tell me?
Laguna Hills, California
Reformation or Deformation?
Dennis Sipsy, a Protestant, says (letter, June 1995) that the Reformation is a "dynamic and continuing process." Perhaps it is, but I see it as a negative process, not a positive one. Breaking away is not "reforming theology," as Sipsy says, but deforming theology. Nor is it "incorporating greater truth," as Sipsy says. Rather, it's like taking a knife and cutting apart the body -- separating the body parts from the body. Moreover, when Protestants disagree with each other, they often form a new denomination. There are now tens of thousands of denominations. Protestantism is so disjointed that one does not know where to look for truth. Every Protestant denomination claims it, but they all disagree.
The Church is the Lord's creation. But the Reformers thought they could do it better. Actually, they didn't reform the Church; they went outside the Church and created new ones in their own image. Even before the Reformers died, others followed their lead and were already in the process of changing the Reformers' original intentions. Where does it all end? I fail to see this as the "purification process" which Sipsy calls it. I do not see loyalty to this process as loyalty to truth. How can "doing it my way" be loyalty to "His Way," especially when it is contrary to what Christ established? It doesn't harmonize with Scripture. Church disunity never does! After all, "the pillar and foundation of truth is the Church" (1 Tim. 3:15).
Fr. Stanley Rudcki's "The Tale of a Dead Seminary" (May 1995) was a sad tale, but it was made sadder by its reactionary tone. Flight into pre-Vatican-II-ism is unlikely to heal the wounds inflicted from the other side. Moderation, Father!
Not Error, But Sin
I became greatly irritated while reading "The Tale of a Dead Seminary" by Stanley Rudcki (May 1995). The author tells of the tremendous disservice he and his associates did to Roman Catholics in the U.S. To a great extent they robbed the faithful of their tradition and their rite, and they took away the faith of many.
Yet, the author asserts that "there is no need to be ashamed of our mistakes. It is human to err." If I were he or his associates, I would be terribly ashamed of what I had foisted off on my students as well as those whom they would later direct. To subvert the faith of others is a most shameful thing, no matter what excuse is offered. I would not deem this error but very grave sin. However, I am a pre-Vatican II Catholic and was not subjected to the "new learning." Thank you for this article: Whether or not it was so intended, it was a real eye-opener! I realized I had seen the Enemy.
Fewer Rules, Fewer Priests
Regarding "The Tale of a Dead Seminary" by Fr. Stanley Rudcki (May 1995): I have been a teacher in minor (high school) seminaries for more than 40 years. I am a member of the Society of the Divine Word. We had eight minor seminaries before the Second Vatican Council, and superiors had hopes of many vocations coming to them. Some did flourish, and our one seminary that had a majority of African-American students can boast that among its alumni are the majority of bishops of that heritage.
I spent almost all of my teaching years in a seminary that enrolled its boys from the Midwest. At one time, before the Council, the number was almost beyond the capacity of the seminary, and plans were drawn for another building! But fortunately, the planning was never carried into action. In a few years after the Council we were assigned new teachers, some graduates with ideas of the new theology, and the demise, so well described by Fr. Rudcki for his seminary, also took place in one after the other of our seminaries. We had to have less rules, more experience of the world of today, and lay teachers, non-Catholic and also women. As a result, we suffered losses of young priests and brothers who were imbued with those ideas.
Thank you for an excellent Catholic magazine. May God bless your work.
Rev. John A. Beemster, SVD
East Troy, Wisconsin
Intellectual Homework Must Be Done
In David Hartman's review of Frank Sheed's Theology and Sanity (June 1995), Hartman writes that Sheed "slights the human imagination." Hartman then suggests that Sheed has "set aside intellectual creativity" in theological reflection.
But the imagination is not the same as intellectual creativity. The former is the mind's ability to make mental pictures of the material universe; the latter is the talent a mind has to see the connections and distinctions between various ideas. Although the intellect is introduced to new ideas through mental images, the images themselves are not the ideas.
Hence, intellectual creativity in theology becomes possible only when the imagination is not allowed to intrude upon the work of the intellect. For example, in order for the Church to have "created," under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, its present theological understanding of God's Triune life, human reason did not recline in a field of shamrocks; instead, intellects unpacked the meaning of Christ's titles as "Son" and "Word" of God, saw the difference between "person" and "nature," and examined the implication's of God as infinite esse.
But I hope Hartman will be cheered to learn that Sheed wrote in God and the Human Condition (1966): "Imagination cannot give the meaning. But it can give new resonance and immediacy to the meaning once the intellect has arrived at it; and in so doing it is most splendidly itself and brings powerful aid to the intellect." In fact, Sheed believes that imagination, will, and emotion all have legitimate roles in theology, but only after the intellect has done its homework in Theology and Sanity.
Christopher M. Carr