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Stratford Caldecott: Farewell

A man with the name “Stratford Caldecott” might be a spy in a Bond novel, or the male lead in a Merchant-Ivory period picture. But the one I remember here was a writer and editor, a disciple of Christ, and a gentleman. And he passed away yesterday at 60.

I knew “Strat” a little.  For a brief period we were colleagues in a very indirect way, when the Catholic publisher that employed me became affiliated with the Catholic college that employed him. A few times he made the trip from Oxford (where, among other things, he managed a G.K. Chesterton library and study center) to our offices in New England, where I got to enjoy the company of the man whose contributions to Catholic letters I had enjoyed for many years.

We talked about books, and faith, about God and art. We talked about beer and snow and hobbits. He was slightly built and spoke more quietly than any less-humble man with his gifts  would have done. Indeed, he exuded modesty and class in all things. I’m sure I did too much of the talking on each occasion, but he always listened perceptively, looked me in the eye, never showed a sign of impatience. He seemed to have a gift—a good editor’s gift, surely—for taking half-baked and imperfectly worded ideas offered to him and distilling them, making you feel like you knew what you were talking about.

We touched base again, and for the last time, in early 2012, right after he had published an article in Catholic Answers Magazine. In that article (“Beyond Faith and Reason,” Jan.-Feb. 2012) he advocated a renewed (or reformed) approach to apologetics that weaves together conventional approaches to defending the Faith—with its arguments, analogies, and prooftexts—with “poetic and mystical” realities such as beauty and the imagination. For the goal, he said, is not merely to win arguments or even converts: it is to raise people to Christ; it is transcendence.

The purpose of apologetics is not just to get more people into the churches on a Sunday: It is to help us rise from the ground level of our animal nature to a higher spiritual plane and eventually to come face to face with God in true knowledge—knowledge that is identical with love.

I found Strat’s ideas in that piece intriguing and wrote to him about building them out into a larger work, perhaps a book. He replied that he was “quite into this whole topic” and was planning to expand on it “after some things I am working on first.” We discussed the concept a little more and then broke off the correspondence with mutual hopes for future cooperation. I didn’t find out till later that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just three months before.

He never wrote that book; instead he has come face to face with God in the knowledge that is identical with love. No doubt he’ll take the trade. Rest in perpetual light, Strat.


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