The Conversions of John Henry Newman and Gilbert Keith Chesterton
Ma. Anne Teresa S. Rivera
A study of the history of the Catholic Church naturally includes references to conversions of many men and women who have not only lived to attest to the greatness of Catholicism, but have also exercised their right to religious freedom, and their natural inclination to searching for religion amidst crises, controversies and changes throughout history. Generations following the Reformation proved to be difficult times for the Catholic Church. Priests had to work in secret for fear of being imprisoned or persecuted (Core, 1995). Catholics were not sent to Oxford and Cambridge, and it was only in 1829 when Catholics were allowed to vote. Perhaps a major factor to antagonistic measures against the Church was Pope Pius IX's seeming contribution to the restoration of the English hierarchy in 1850 (Core, 1995) so that the Catholics were publicly humiliated and abused. The mid-nineteenth century found the Catholics held in contempt and scorned by majority of the people (Core, 1995). Yet amidst all these, many people were converting to the faith. Their conversion despite the hardships that came with it, shows testament to the strength one may find in commitment to a religion. Among the most controversial (and at the same time, most celebrated) conversions were that of John Henry Cardinal Newman and Gilbert Keith Chesterton. In fact, O'Brien comments that journalist G.K. Chesterton's conversion gathered as much attention ad did that of Cardinal Newman (1957). Among other things, what was common between the two was their evident affinity to spirituality which led them to explore their faiths, stray during a certain part of their lives, and despite difficulties, chose to retract and convert to Catholicism. Chesterton describes his conversion thus: "I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy" (Chesterton, 1908) I.Saints: The Surprising and the Ordinary
Cardinal Newman's conversion came as a big surprise to a lot of people, having been a great defender of the Anglican Church, and having led the Tractarian movement that made claims against the Catholic Church. But above all this, his conversion was remarkable for he was known to be a man of great intellect. His conversion, then, proved, at a time when it was most needed, that seeking the church - or any religion for that matter did not equate to a mindless pursuit. At the same time, Chesterton is remarkable in that his venue for expression was journalism - very far from Newman's formal theological and scholarly writings. Yet, many people have remarked, and continue to remark that his writings express timeless thoughts and insights that are still relevant to this day. He was a simple man who would go to coffee houses and bars to debate with the likes of H.G. Wells and Bernard Shaw about their beliefs and opinion - and yet still remained to be humble. In fact, these same people were his closest friends. Conversion of many people have been attributed to him, among them C.S. Lewis', and Sir Alec Guinness' (Pearce, 2004). This paper will be an exploration of the lives and thoughts of these two converts, seeking to point out the similarities between the two, their influences during their time, and their fundamental beliefs and contributions that make them relevant until now. In addition, this paper seeks to explore the idea of the friendship - the connection - between faith and reason that they both recognized and expressed. II."Out of the phantasm into the truth"
Thus reads the epitaph of John Henry Cardinal Newman, who was born to an Anglican family but who died a Catholic. Known as the foremost leader of the Tractarian Movement, and one of the greatest English converts in the Church, he was born in London on February 21, 1801 to an Anglican family (Barry, 1911). He was...