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Seattle Catholic is not affiliated with the Archdiocese of Seattle
Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
11 Oct 2004

Literary Converts (Joseph Pearce, Ignatius Press)

reviewed by Fr. Eugene Dougherty

Christopher Dawson
Christopher Dawson

(Reprinted with the kind permission of The Latin Mass Magazine.)

This book has a very special appeal for those who love the Church and the traditional Latin Mass. It first appeared in Great Britain under the title Literary Converts, and then was reprinted by Ignatius Press in 1999 with the subtitle "Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief." I especially like the subtitle because this book has reinforced my faith today by affording me the company of the authors with whom I grew up: G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Ronald Knox, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Malcolm Muggeridge, and a host of others.

My main interest in them today is that many of them "experienced" the Second Vatican Council, and their reaction, in the main, was the same as that of the fifty English authors who petitioned the Holy Father to preserve the traditional Mass. These converts of the twentieth century were attracted to the Faith by the very things that the leadership of the Church has now rejected, in the "spirit" of Vatican II.

Malcolm Muggeridge, we are told by biographer Joseph Pearce, "could not (at first) bring himself to be a Roman Catholic. The reason centered on his dislike of the changes instigated by the Second Vatican Council. To Muggeridge, the "spirit of Vatican II was destroying Christendom: "Catholicism, he declared, was seeking to reproduce all the "follies and fatuities of Protestantism," and he would not climb aboard a sinking ship.

Ronald Knox, who died in 1957, did not witness the Council, but he was aware of the coming destruction of the liturgy. He spoke of the liturgical reformers as "a strange alliance between archaeologists absorbed in their speculations on the rites of the second century, and modernists who wish to give the Church the character of our deplorable epoch." On one occasion someone requested him to use the vernacular in the baptismal rite. His response was, "The baby doesn't understand English and the Devil knows Latin."

In the following précis of Literary Converts, we limit ourselves to those who lived long enough to witness the Council, and allow them to speak in their own words.

On behalf of these converts to the Catholic faith from Protestantism, Evelyn Waugh asked Cardinal Heenan:

Why were we led out of the church of our childhood to find the Church of our own adoption assuming the very forms we disliked?

Christopher Dawson:

[There is] ... a philistine and patronizing attitude to Baroque Catholicism expressed by certain 'modern 'Catholics.

Hugh Ross Williamson:

The changes [are] echoing everything that was done at the Reformation... the Martyrs have died for nothing.

David Jones:

One year they abolish the biretta, the next year they abolish the Mass.... I can't understand it all; they'll be pulling down Chartres Cathedral next.

Cecil Gill:

The vulgarization of the Mass.... One sighs for a Low Mass instead of this brash version of the sacred liturgy.

George Mackey Brown:

The vernacular has robbed the Mass of its majesty and mystery... so much of its glory has been sort of shed.... There was something very mysterious about the same language being used all over the world.

Robert Speaight:

The vernacular liturgy, popular and pedestrian, intelligible and distressing, has robbed us of much that was numinous in public worship; there is less emphasis on prayer and penitence, and the personal relationship between God and man... is neglected in favor of a diffused social concern.

Sir Alec Guinness:

Much water has flown under the Tiber's bridges, carrying away splendor and mystery from Rome since the pontificate of Pius XII... [T]he banalities and translations which have ousted the sonorous Latin and Greek are of a supermarket quality which is quite unacceptable. Hand shaking and embarrassed smiles or smirks have replaced the older courtesies; kneeling is out, queuing is in, and the general tone is like BBC radio broadcast for tiny tots....

Cardinal Heenan:

If the Church is to remain truly the Catholic Church it is essential to keep a universal language.

Christopher Dawson:

The existence of a common liturgical language of some kind is a sign of the Church's mission to reverse the curse of Babel and to create a body of unity between the peoples.

At the present time the Holy Father is proposing both Pope Pius IX and Pope John XXIII for canonization. Pius IX, a conservative, convoked the First Vatican Council; John XXIII, a liberal, convoked the Second - which Evelyn Waugh and our other literary converts considered "a betrayal of the principles of Pio Nono," a surrender to modernism with the "home improvements" that the Council proposed.

How can we reconcile these two opposites? Was the spirit of Vatican II the work of the Heilige Geist (the Holy Ghost), or the Zeitgeist (the spirit of the times)? Literary Converts answers the question.

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