Conversion

DAVID WARREN

Your holiday is over, gentle reader I'm back. And now with wheels on. For in the course of my four weeks of August rest, I came to a personal decision that must necessarily influence everything I write. I am going to state it baldly, here, for I have tried to be consistently candid about my views: I have decided to become a Roman Catholic.

A reader needs to know where a writer is "coming from", and one of my own constant criticisms of journalistic colleagues — not necessarily those in the Citizen, who appear to be uniformly without fault — is that they don't tell you. They conceal their own beliefs and prejudices, even claim not to have any, in order to give greater plausibility to what they say.

You can learn much from an opponent who wears his colours on his sleeve, and you can debate him fairly — both learn, and teach. But you can only be confused, and tricked, by the opponent in false clothing. Whose colours are hidden up his sleeve, and seen only in the moment when he cudgels you.

And everyone has colours. Religion, for instance, is implanted so deeply into human nature, that no one can pretend to have none. It is implanted as deeply as original sin, the stain will never come out. And we are not without religion, simply because we are not practising Christians, or Jews, or Muslims, or Hindus. As Chesterton said, people who don't believe in God, may believe in anything. Spooks, lucky stars, reincarnation, world peace.

My own beliefs, since I was received into that church more than 20 years ago on my final graduation from secular humanism, were represented by my membership in the Anglican Church. I took this to be a catholic church, with at least a small-c, and was attracted to the "high" end of the vessel, and to the gorgeous liturgy of Cranmer; to Tractarian principles, and to the great philosophical and holy minds that had decorated Anglicanism over the centuries — from Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, and Jeremy Taylor in its "golden age", to men like C.S. Lewis, and Eric Mascall, and Austin Farrer in the last century. I shall always cherish these men, I am incapable of doubting their sincerity, and will carry their echoes in our fine English tongue.

And so much that was patient, and Godly, and disciplined, in the Anglican Communion. And the knowledge of such priests as dear Father Harold, who baptised me, in the full name of the Trinity, and who is a model to others of what a priest should be.

There was a great schism behind our history, which involved the Reformation of the western churches; a huge tragedy, as the earlier division between East and West. I still think the Protestants walked away with particles of the one Catholic church; and between Greeks and Romans the indivisible was likewise divided. Yet God has his plans, and it is beyond human comprehension to know what purposes we have finally served. All devout Anglicans could wish there had been no need of a separated Anglican order in the first place; and I was among the many within who longed for communion with Rome.

I see now it can never happen. The split has been widening until it is unbridgeable, as the Anglicans, along with other "mainstream" Protestant congregations in Europe and North America, go on one doctrinal bender after another in their desperate pursuit of "relevance" to a post-Christian society. No babies left, and precious little bathwater.

It is said that rats leave a sinking ship, but in my own defence I must say that I boarded HMS Anglican against a tide of rodents running the other way. I have always been rather slow in detecting a leakage; or rather, quick to see the leakage, but slow to join the crowd. I shall not be the last rat through this particular plughole, however.

I realized that our ship was no longer, as it were, sinking, but now, as it were, sunk, when I saw a statement from one of the hierarchy of Episcopal Church USA, "reminding" Anglicans that their authority is not founded on Scripture, but rather on the operation of the Holy Ghost within the communion. This was a doctrine I had already detected, under layers of deceit, in the meandering verbiage of Dr. Rowan Williams, the new, fanatically liberal, Archbishop of Canterbury. It is the characteristic doctrine of utopian revolutionaries and violent heretics from many centuries — this idea that God is speaking to them directly, and that they may now ignore scripture, history, and tradition, and do whatever feels good.

The Anglican Church will probably be at more pains to conceal than to reveal this doctrine in the immediate future, for it is too obviously the work of the devil. Yet the doctrine becomes absolutely necessary, in the moment when a church decides that, for instance, it will ordain as "bishop" some vile man who has left his wife and children to explore sexuality with a younger male.

It is all really too disgusting to go into, and besides you may have seen the media accounts. The Anglican hierarchy had already been driving me up the wall; this pushed me right through the ceiling.

Yet I do not look back in anger, but in heartbreak, at the wreckage remaining from what was a fine, four- or five-century run. Within the ruin of the Anglican Church, we will find so many beautiful things, embodying noble aspirations. We will not, however, find the Catholic succession — for Anglicanism has become one of those channels of history that runs out, as so many of the churches of the past, which lost their way, and sank into the sands.

It is too early to go into my reasons for crossing the Tiber. I don't even know all of them, yet; one begins to discover reasons one never suspected, in the moment the decision is made. I am fully aware the Roman Catholic Church is also under bombardment from post-modernity, and mine in part is an act of faith that the centre will hold; that men like the present Pope, and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and their successors, will hold the fort of authentic Christian doctrine against every enticement to abandon it.

They will, if God shall will; and in my small way I intend to hold it with them.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

David Warren. "Conversion." Sunday Spectator (August 31, 2003).

This article is reprinted with permission from the author.

THE AUTHOR

David Warren writes for the Ottawa Citizen.

Copyright 2003 David Warren


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