Project Canterbury

Conversion, Catholicism, and the English Church
By Walter Carey, D.D.
Bishop of Bloemfontein

London: Mowbray, 1923.

Chapter I. Of Conversion

Chapter II. The Position of the English Church

Chapter III. An Ethic of Converted Catholicism

Chapter IV. The Hopefulness of the Future

Chapter V. The Fundamentals Behind



WE all know that at the Anglo-Catholic Priests' Convention at Oxford in 1921 it was resolved to initiate a campaign for the conversion of England. It was a bold resolve, and inasmuch as mountains can be removed by faith, hope, and love, it will doubtless succeed in proportion as these virtues are thrown into the scale. May God bless the effort, for indeed both England and the world need Christianity. Sometimes one is sickened, sometimes disheartened, at the levity and apathy with which the world regards spiritual things. One would have thought that, quite apart from Christianity or any specific religion, human beings with minds would have regarded with awe and reverence the obvious and terrific questions of time and eternity: of man's death and destiny: of the possibility of a future life and judgement. Thinking men of all ages have pondered with acute seriousness over the tragedies, the ironies, and the mysteriousness of life; they have left the world to meditate in solitary caves, or retired to howling deserts to be alone to think and pray. And they returned to the world with passionate convictions for which they were willing to give their fortunes and their lives.

That was in old days, but even fifty years ago when Catholic and Protestant fought in England, at least both sides were in earnest. They fought, they hated, yet at least we respect them because they were in earnest. But to-day we have come to a backwash--one hopes only temporary--in which vulgarity and want of principle and distinction set the tone and are dominant.

I pray God that democracy may yet be a success, but I agree with many of my friends in labour circles, that without religion, without Christ and His principles, the whole democratic movement will be a farce and a failure. In fact I see no hope for the world unless democracy is Christianized. No other movement has the least chance of permanent survival; England will fall or stand by its failure or success to Christianize and spiritualize democracy. At present the real failure of democracy is cowardice. There are some noble men who have principles, but the rank and file are afraid to think, or to follow and support constructive leaders.

And in religion: although God has His saints everywhere still, yet one wonders how many people really care for God and Christ, and salvation and heaven. In a diocese like mine where there are no endowments, and religious ministrations are kept going by yearly offerings and assessments, I wonder sometimes, when I see the failure to pay the relatively small sums required, whether there are a dozen people in ten thousand who love our Lord enough to die for Him or value His ministrations enough to pay as much for them as for golf or drinks or tobacco.

I sometimes wish that we clergy were paid nothing: that we had been trained to be cobblers or booksellers, and spent our Saturday evenings in hearing the confessions of those who really hated sin, and our Sundays in teaching, and in giving Communion to those who truly loved our Lord. But here we are: we can't change our system in a day or year. Maybe we are meant to taste the bitterness of finding tares where we looked for wheat. But at least let us be sure of what we are trying to teach, what characters we aim at producing.
For I am sometimes afraid. We are to convert England (and Africa) to "Catholicity." Catholic Christianity, I suppose. But that is a big, deep, composite thing. It doesn't merely mean the extras which have emerged since the New Testament, it has got to include all the New Testament in the foundations. It certainly includes conversion to Christ, and if it ceases to be Christlike at any point, and is not --in intention--as wide and deep as Christ, it is simply another fraud foisted on poor old humanity.

I am myself, rightly or wrongly, fairly clear in my own mind as to the essence of Christianity: that it is never a single thing, but, like the Trinity, is threefold, consisting of three elements held together and co-inhering in each other.

I am always coming across teachers who emphasize one of the three to the practical exclusion of the others. "The Sacraments are the essence of the Christian religion," or "He can't be wrong whose life is in the right." These are one-sided because incomplete. Christianity is no doubt a life, but it has three sides to it. I don't like putting them into phrases because it sounds cheap, but I think that a life with Christ (conversion), a life in Christ (sacramental), a life for Christ (kingdom-building) will--if I can only make myself clear--be found to include essential Christianity as found in the Gospels and in the Church. Anyhow I will try and make it clear, and, with earnestness and humility, would commend the consideration of these things to those who want to be certain that they have a perfectly definite message to give to England and the world.

For as one grows older, one becomes the more anxious to disentangle what is permanent in Christian truth from what is transient. One has only to read the religious biographies of twenty years ago to see what tremendous stress was put on non-essentials. I don't think that Dolling and his diocesan would part company to-day over a Mass for the dead said at a special altar.

And I suppose that one's own life is always a sort of testing-ground for truth. When I was ordained, the tide of recovered Catholicism was at its full; we were all sure that if we made our confessions and communions regularly, and substituted Mass for Matins we should have a world worth living in. Alas and alas! I found out by bitter experience that it is possible to go to confession regularly and to daily communion, and yet to have a bitter tongue, a narrow heart, a lazy and contemptuous outlook. In fact I grew to look for the greatest intolerance and the most unloving outlook in the most "Catholic" circles. I could not square pessimism, intolerance, self-assertiveness with a satisfactory Catholicism, nor can I now. But that does not mean that I have turned my back on Catholicism: it only means that I see that the sacramental side of Catholicism is not complete Christianity. You must buttress your sacramental life with conversion on the one hand, and the Christlike life and work on the other. In other words, you cannot isolate any one side of Catholic Christianity. It will be always threefold: and those three sides are eternal; they never vary they never grow old. They are as true in the old-fashioned language of George Herbert as they are to-day, or as they will be a thousand years hence. In those far-ahead days a true Christian will still be one who is converted and surrendered to Jesus, is receiving the Sacraments in an honest and good heart, and is faithfully reproducing the Lord's life in his own.

And it is because I wish to urge this eternal truth on those who so rightly mean to try to convert England, that I venture to write this book.


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