"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
This is the fifth and final part of In Search of Truth from A Time to Keep (1934). Dr Sutherland’s search led him to his path to Rome, the next series of posts on this blog.
The Old Testament is an inspired record of cruelty and lust, which proves for all time that the world has need of a reformer and redeemer. At the beginning of our era there was weariness in the ancient pagan world. The old gods were dead and dying, and life was tinged with sadness and with that sense of failure which follows the consciousness of sin.
In the Free Church and in the Church of Scotland there were a large number of “adherents” who attended the services of the churches, but did not go to communion. By an unwritten law you did not become a communicant until you were certain you were leading a good life. Otherwise you would have “partaken unworthily”. To my mind this suggested that many people did not communicate until they had ceased to be burdened with the desires of the flesh, which may continue to a ripe age. If Holy Communion is the spiritual re-enactment, or even the commemoration, of the earth’s greatest drama, then no one is worthy to partake. In the Roman right that is made clear by the words thrice spoken, “Dominae non sum dignus.”
Rome does not regard the partaking of Holy Communion as a mark of merit. The sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion are to help sinners who aspire to better habits, and to help everyone to lead a better life. No reasonable man or woman would be insulted if told they are not living up to the best that is in them. Every one of us knows that is true. The most deadly insult to any human being is to suggest that he or she is incapable of leading a better life, because that means they are on the same plane as the animals, creatures without moral responsibility.
Despite having joined the Church of Scotland I remained throughout the War a deist rather than a Christian, and in religion was mostly conscious of the Fatherhood of God. During these years I read a book called The Path to Rome. For the first time I was faced by the reality of the Catholic Church. My first amazement was that any Roman Catholic could have written such a book, because I recognised without hesitation that it is a great book. Nor am I alone in that opinion, because the late Bishop of Clifton, Dr. Burton, a classical scholar, told me that no man can consider himself educated unless he reads that book at least five times a year. On an average I read it twice a year.
Ludicrous as it is, I was surprised that a man of Belloc’s attainments could be a Roman Catholic. At this time the writings of Newman, probably the greatest prose writer of the last century, were unknown to me and yet many educated men are ignorant of what the Catholic Church teaches. A few years ago I sat in a dental chair in Harley Street. The dentist was elderly and a staunch Presbyterian. In the course of conversation he spoke of the mysteries of Rome. As soon as I could speak, I said if he told me what they were I’d explain them if I could. Only a Scotsman would risk a theological dispute with the drill in his mouth. The dentist stared at me. “Your’re not a Roman Catholic?” and became quite agitated when I said “Yes.” Putting down his instruments, he said, with emotion: “You have been most grossly deceived.”
“You are not allowed to read the Bible.”
“On the contrary I’m tired of sermons telling me to read the Bible. The Pope thinks people are not reading the Bible, and has ordered these sermons to be preached all over the world.”
“No doubt, and in the confessional the real Catholics will be told not to read the Bible.”
“Then I’d heard about it.”
“No, they’d know you were a convert.”
“Do you know that ninety-nine times out of a hundred the priest is unaware of the identity of the penitent?”
“That I find difficult to believe.”
“Nevertheless, it’s true.”
Poor man. Later I learned that his daughter, against his wish, had become a Catholic and a Carmelite nun. No wonder he was bitter. I should feel the same.
It was the end of The Path to Rome that caused me to make further inquiries. The author, having treated the reader as a friend through high adventures, bids him a strange farewell. “And so, carissimi, multitudes, all of you, good-bye; the day has long dawned on the Via Cassia, this dense mist has risen, the city is before me, and I am on the threshold of a great experience; I would rather be alone. Goodbye, my readers; goodbye, the world.” But I who read also wanted to enter that church in Rome which is called Our Lady of the People. I also had lived in a Catholic country, had entered many Catholic churches, but now was aware that I knew nothing of what was happening therein.From A Time to Keep (1934).
Next month, the series My Path to Rome begins.
Photo credit: Photo by Nikita Belokhonov from Pexels.