Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thomas Howard and Lead, Kindly Light

I just finished Thomas Howard's Lead, Kindly Light, a short memoir about his spiritual journey to the Catholic Church. The link to the amazon page leads to some good comments about the book. Here are a few of the many passages I found myself re-reading and thinking about over and over:

Protestantism was not, whatever else I might have wished to say about it, a picture of things that would have been at all recognizable to the apostles, nor to the generation that followed them. The faithful from Pentecost on were certainly aware of a great babel of voices among the Christians [...] . But the faithful were also aware that there was a body that could speak into the chaos and declare with serene and final authority what the Faith that had been taught by the apostles was. Clearly we modern non-Catholics were living in a scheme of things altogether unimaginable to the Twelve Apostles and the Fathers of the Church. (39)

In speaking of the "deepest mysteries of the Church," Howard writes:

But of course the great paradox is that she is more than in time: she is eternal, and the vicissitudes both of history and of one's own private life do not change her substance. A Catholic in first-century Smyrna, a Frankish peasant in sixth-century Merovingian France, a seventeenth-century countess in Seville, Madame de Maintenon, and I all live with our turbulent or tranquil surroundings finding their center in that which does not change. The Mass is there. The Apostolic See is there. The Magisterium is there. The clergy, high and low, good and wicked, are there. The prayers of the Church are there. War and peace are there. Doom threatens in the form of Attila, or the Black Death, or Modernism, or infidelity. But Our Lord's words about the gates of Hell stand unqualified by the threats. (97-8)

And towards the end of the book, Howard discusses his coming into the Church as one of the two decisions in his life (the other being his marriage) about which he has never had second thoughts:

I may say that every yearning, aspiration, hope, and desire that marked my life as a most earnest Protestant Evangelical, and then as an Anglican, has been fulfilled a thousand times over. I have come home. I have dropped anchor. I have taken my place in the Church of the apostles, Fathers, confessors, martyrs, bishops, saints, and all the Catholic faithful. I have nothing to "protest." (103-4)

Get and read the book. It is worth your time.

As I get ready to teach a little more on Newman's own "Lead, Kindly Light," a poem some of my students are memorizing (and yes, they know the proper title is "Pillar of the Cloud"), I am the better for having read Howard's short book, seeing the trust and hope of a contemporary Christian, the trust and hope we should all have in being led by the Light of Truth:

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Now onto Roger Scruton's Gentle Regrets.

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