Halliday Sutherland

"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.

My Path To Rome 1

Following the posts In Search of Truth, the posts My Path to Rome begin today. This first excerpt from Dr Sutherland’s 1934 book, A Time To Keep, explains how he visited Westminster Cathedral in London to avoid having to talk to a priest.

The Path To Rome having awakened my interests, in intervals of leave I sometimes visited Westminster Cathedral and there bought pamphlets of the Catholic Truth Society. I chose Westminster as the place of purchase because in the great cathedral I could pass as a casual visitor, merely taking a pamphlet out of curiosity. There was no risk of being noticed, accosted, and questioned by a priest, a disaster which I wished to avoid, and from which I should have fled, because I had what I have since heard Bernard Shaw describe as “the superstitious conception of a priest.” The pamphlets shook all my preconceptions. Apart from their unique and tremendous claim that this was the one true infallible Church of God, I discovered that most of what I had hitherto heard or thought about the Church was false. I discovered that this Church, accredited with superstition and idolatry, was apparently engaged in upholding the dignity of human reason in a world of chaos. Nay, more, it seemed as if my own Protestantism, and the weakness thereof, had been based on sentiment and emotion, two attributes of mind on which Rome held a tight reign. It was also apparent that God could not have approved a hundred different sects, each declaring the others to be wrong. There could only be one Truth and one true Church.

Once when on leave in London I listened for a few minutes on a Sunday afternoon to a Catholic Evidence Guild lecturer in Hyde Park. What he said is forgotten, but I remember the comments of the man who was with me. He was much older than I was, a scholar, a writer, and an agnostic. He had written two books, a Life of Alexander the Great, and a History of the Spanish Inquisition, which he regarded as the fairest court in its time in Europe. Incidentally he discovered that more people were put to death for witchcraft in England during the reign of Elizabeth than perished in three centuries of the inquisition in Spain. Once he took me to his sombre rooms in height in Gray’s Inn, where he showed me the French Missal of the Black Mass—the most obscene and blasphemous right of witchcraft. Two things only did he dread, and these with a morbid fear—poverty and disease. I admired his culture, but sometimes fancied that his eyes had the look of a man who is not quite sane.

Of the Catholic Evidence Guild he said: “There’s the crowd who think they’ve got the truth. What I can’t understand is how any man who professes to believe the story of Christ can do anything except join them. If that story be true, that’s the true Church. Of course, personally I don’t believe a word of it; but I don’t understand the mentality of those who accept half-truths. Of this man a Catholic in my hearing later on made a terrible prophecy. “Within three years he will either be a Catholic or a suicide.” He never became a Catholic, but within the allotted time I, then far from London, read in the news how, faced with poverty, he had shot himself in a bedroom of the club, leaving his last five shillings to the valet.

In 1918 another milestone passed…

That milestone will be outlined next month, in part 2.

Photo credit: Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

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This entry was posted on 1 September 2021 by in A Time to Keep, Halliday Sutherland biography.

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