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Crossing the Tiber: a path to Rome.

This summer I swam the Tiber. Not literally, of course--but theologically, spiritually. I was received into the communion of the Catholic Church. Why?

Well, all such stories are long ones, and just as aspects of one's human birth remain mysterious, so also do aspects of one's spiritual rebirth, perhaps opaque beyond human explanation. One does not readily find language appropriate to such experiences. But here is what I know.

In terms of the mechanics, since last year I have taken instruction from a discerning and compassionate priest, to whom I owe much.

As a result of his instruction, and a growing personal conviction that there is no viable Protestant alternative, I am returning--definitely not to the religion of my father (a Calvinist Presbyterian)--but to the religion of my father's fathers.

Who can relate all that impels such a step? Three factors for sure: Rome's authority, historicity, and universality. But more even than these considerations, I have come to believe not just that the truth is to be found within Rome, but-something quite different-that in a unique way, the truth is Rome. Incidentally, from within Rome's embrace I do not expect modernity to appear any more comely, but perhaps more bearable.

Unlike much of Protestantism, Rome is innately suspicious of feelings and enthusiasms; still, I can report that my predominant feeling was of a homecoming, of responding to a bell I had long heard toll, of taking my place at a table that had long been set, of finding spiritual companionship among those unashamed to profess the faith of the fathers.

Fifty years after his conversion to Rome, Maurice Baring wrote that it was the single decision about which he had experienced never a moment's regret. I pray that it may be so for me.

I leave the church of my adulthood-the Anglican Church-with mixed emotions; the Anglican ideal, which sought to incorporate the best of the Reformation into Catholicism, still seems to me a worthy-if today largely unnecessary-goal.

Spiritually, I have been nourished by Anglican liturgy, particularly the Book of Common Prayer, which, alas, Anglicans have almost completely abandoned. The trouble is that the more one becomes immersed in the Book of Common Prayer, its 39 Articles, its history, liturgy, and theology, the more inexorably one is led to Rome. This is why John Henry Newman memorably described Anglicanism as "the halfway house on the road to Rome."

I loved, too, the splendid Anglican hymnody, and would be sorry to leave it had today it not been "revised" almost beyond recognition.

I leave with nothing but contempt for what passes for Anglican "leadership," particularly its Bishops, and many of its clerics, those without seeming conviction about matters of faith or doctrine, although erupting regularly with predictable pronouncements about a handful of social issues; clergy without eloquence or spine when it comes to defending the Christian faith, pathetic creatures, really, who have depleted their spiritual patrimony in the vain hope of looking progressive. By contrast, I have noticed that Rome does not alter its message to suit shifting fashions, nor tailor its doctrine, however persistent or clamorous the public outcry against it may be.

I discovered too that I had grown to believe that only Rome can trace a direct line to the Church's rock, St. Peter. It was to St. Peter, after all, and to his descendants, that Our Lord promised that the gates of hell would not prevail. Against most contemporary churches, the gates of Hell seem to be prevailing very well.

When Christians say (in the Nicene Creed) that we believe in "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," we are making apostolicity a cornerstone of belief. I no longer comprehend how denominations which have severed themselves from the apostolic succession they profess manage to recite the creed. Nor is this some arcane objection: if the Anglican experience teaches anything, it is that a Church cut off from the apostolic succession, without a real (not a "Let's Pretend") hierarchy, and without the sacred Magisterium to guard against heresy, cannot be expected either to preserve or to proclaim the faith once delivered to the saints. Only the Catholic Church, the repository of teaching and traditions that date to Our Lord's first disciples, "the unmoved spectator of the thousand phases and fashions that have passed over our restless world" (Ronald Knox's phrase), has the guts, the inner wherewithal, to survive. Rome's claim to speak with authority in matters of faith and morals is the last refuge, or so I now believe, against the all-corrosive acid of postmodernism.

"Rome, sweet Rome, be you never so sinful, there's no place like Rome." So, mockingly, wrote the wisest man I ever knew, Malcolm Muggeridge. A few years later, at the age of 80, Muggeridge knelt before an altar and was received into the Catholic Church. When I asked him why, he said: "The day will come, dear boy, when you must decide whether to die within the Church or outside the Church. I have decided to die within the Church." A few years later, he did. And so may I, I pray, when the silence of eternity beckons.

That doughty old warrior, Hilaire Belloc, once wrote to a friend that the Catholic Church was like a landfall at sea, at first glimpsed hazily and only through the mist: "but the nearer it is seen, the more it is real, the less imaginary: the more direct and external its voice, the more indisputable its representative character ... The metaphor is not that men fall in love with it: the metaphor is that they discover home. 'This was what I long sought,' they say. 'This was my need.'"

I am conscious of a special debt that I owe to readers of Catholic Insight, some of whom have told me that they prayed for this day. Such prayers flood the universe with light. To them, and to the editor, Father de Valk, who has long been for me a model of Catholicism, thank you. Above all, Deo gratias.

Ian Hunter is Professor Emeritus from the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Onario in London, ON.
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Title Annotation:conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism
Author:Hunter, Ian
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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