Roads to Rome
G. K. Chesterton remarked that one hundred different roads lead to Rome. The 17 modern Catholic converts who tell their stories in this book traveled different paths from Anglican, Presbyterian, Marxist, Fundamentalist, Jewish, and atheist backgrounds.
Their guides along the way were varied: a Harvard Law School professor, Plato, John Henry Newman, C. S. Lewis, and Pope John Paul II all served as catalysts to conversion.
Some remember the exact location in which the difficult decision was finalized: Dan O'Neill was bobbing in the blue waters of the Mediterranean, John Cort was reading in Harvard's Widener Library. But whatever the path, whoever the guide, and wherever the decision was reached, over and over each writer witnesses to the truth of the Catholic faith.
These converts were compelled to Rome by a powerful attraction to truth. In their manifold deliberations they recognized that all Protestant arguments reduce to relativism, making Protestantism merely a sanctified twin of secular relativism.
They sought utter conviction of truth and discovered its location in the words of Irenaeus: "[T]here is now no need to seek among others the truth which we can easily obtain from the Church. . . . This is the gateway of life." All realized that the road to intellectual certainty runs to Rome.
Cort talks of "faith in the magisterium of the Church and in those ancient truths of the gospel that the magisterium upholds." James Thompson expresses his growing "conviction that the Catholic Church was the greatest repository of Christian truth." Elena Vree remembers her need for "the Church with consistent teaching authority."
Each convert recognized that the authority to interpret and teach Scripture resides in the Church that has protected and presented the gospel for two millennia, the Catholic Church that Augustine praised as "ever ancient, yet ever new." As Thomas Case writes of his pilgrimage away from "ecstasy without content" toward Rome, "There is no fully Christian church but the one that was there from the beginning."
Sheldon Vanauken echoes this thought by describing the "unswerving faith of Rome: the place of last resort." His good friend Thomas Howard movingly relates his comfort at finding himself on the same side as "Augustine and Bede and Gregory and Aquinas and Erasmus and Thomas More and Ignatius and Bellarmine and Bossuet and Suarez and Newman and Chesterton and Knox."
But the Catholic pilgrim discovers even more than an exhilarating intellectual confidence, for the road winding upward toward Newman's "One True Fold of the Redeemer" brings to the soul "a sweetness and pang so piercing" (as C. S. Lewis, himself not a convert to Catholicism, put it).
Conversion demolishes that which James Thompson hauntingly terms "a sadness with no name." In its place, as Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in describing his life long pilgrimage to Rome (in an essay that deserves to appear in a future volume of conversion stories; it does not appear in this book), there comes "a sense of homecoming, of picking up the threads of a lost life, of responding to a bell that has long been ringing, of finding a place at a table that has been left vacant."
The New Catholics presents what really are continuing stories. The authors are, after all, new Catholics, and their stories are not yet complete. This book stands in that long tradition of biographical writings headed by Augustine's Confessions and Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua and is a fine addition to the genre.
-- Bryant Burroughs
The New Catholics
By Dan O'Neill
New York: Crossroad, 1987
Available through the Mini-Catalogue.
"What Is Truth?" Asks Adler
Under the rubric of pluralism, many today relegate important questions of religious truth to the status of matters of taste. "We cherish variety in clothes, food, music, literary styles, and television shows, so why not in matters of religion? Shouldn't we just live and let live?"
The answer to this pervasive question is that religion concerns, or claims to concern, matters of truth. As such, it allows only a practical pluralism--the toleration of differences in the hope that the truth eventually will be obtained through the marketplace of ideas and evangelical persuasion or through direct experience of ultimate reality in the next life.
For many, such practical pluralism is insufficient. They regard it as fundamentally intolerant to think a given view of things right and another view wrong. They reject the idea of Truth with a capital "T"--a supreme reality to which everyone must reconcile himself--and they hold what's true for you and me needn't be true for them. In such a context merely to speak of "the one true faith" or even to imply one religion might be truer than another is to incur automatic excommunication from the community of sensible folk.
Secular dogmatism notwithstanding, most believers continue to think their beliefs are about real things and not simply cultural conventions or fairy tales embraced because they're consoling or socially beneficial.
Are they wrong in doing so? Is religion mere poetry contrived to get us through the hard times, but ultimately without objective reality? To what extent can we know, as opposed to simply believe, religious tenets to be true? How do we determine which religion is true, if in fact any is true?
To answer these questions requires thinking long and hard about truth and religion, as Mortimer Adler attempts to do in Truth in Religion.
Adler's interest in questions such as the existence of God or the nature of angels is long-standing. His failure (until now) to tackle directly the subject of this book is explained by his self-styled paganism, which he has only recently abandoned by joining the Episcopal Church.
Despite Adler's new-found faith, Truth in Religion is not his Summa Theologiae. His treatment of religion is strictly philosophical--that is, it makes no appeal to revealed sources and is "non-partisan."
Adler egins by distinguishing between logical truth, which is "the kind of truth that belongs to propositions or judgments, descriptive and prescriptive, that are subject to contradiction," and poetical truth, which is "the kind of truth that is not subject to contradiction, the kind of truth that belongs to narratives that, though differing, are in no way incompatible with one another." This is simply distinguishing fact (logical truth) from fiction (poetical truth).
Which kind of truth, if any, does religion have? To answer the question, Adler categorizes the ten major world religions into three contrasting groups: (1) explicitly creedal religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Taoism) vs. preceptorial and merely implicitly creedal ones (Confucianism, Hinduism, Jainism, Shintoism, and Sikhism); (2) religions that are primarily theological (Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism, and Sikhism) vs. those that are mainly cosmological (Buddhism, Jainism, and Taoism); and (3) religions which claim divine revelation vs. those which do not.
With the possible exception of Buddhism, all the religions of the Far East, argues Adler, are separated from the three great Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) by the line distinguishing religions which claim no divine revelation from those which do. Religions claiming no divine revelation are philosophical and may be judged according to the canons of reason.
By a process of elimination, Adler excludes from the category of religions containing logical rather than merely poetical truth, the cosmological religions of the Far East and all polytheistic ones.
Cosmological religions of the Far East are excluded because they embrace contradictions between faith and reason, thereby abandoning the unity of truth. Polytheistic religions are excluded because natural theology can demonstrate the validity of monotheism. What remains for Adler are the three monotheistic religions of the West, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Where does the truth lie with these? Adler again makes important distinctions.
Since much is held in common by these religions, if any of them is wholly true, the others can't be entirely false. Also, since each denies something of what the others assert, if any one of them is completely true, the others cannot be. If one of the three is wholly true, we can't say strictly that "one of these three religions is true and the other two are false." Rather, asserts Adler, we must say one is truer than the others.
Adler lists possible criteria (here he's intentionally not strictly philosophical) for deciding between the three Western religions. These include efforts at missionary activity, eschatological views, ideas about the transcendence of God vs. his immanence, and the degree to which God's self-revelation claimed by each of the three religions involves mysteries that extend beyond natural human powers of knowing.
Truth in Religion ends with an invitation to apologetics on the part of theologians of the three Western religions:
"As a philosopher concerned with truth in religion, I would like to hear leading twentieth-century theologians speaking as apologists for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam engage in a disputation. The question at issue would be which of these three religions had a greater claim to truth. It being conceded that each has a claim to some measure of truth, which of the three can rightly claim more than the others?"
Perhaps the partisans of these three religions ought to take Adler up on his offer.
-- Mark Brumley
Truth in Religion
By Mortimer J. Adler
New York: Macmillan, 1990
Available through the Mini-Catalogue.