One of our authors and commentators, Nicholas, has said that he sometimes feels pressured by others into converting into the Catholic Church; I know he is not the only one here who feels this way, so a word or two on this might not come amiss.
There is, on my part, no agenda in that direction. If it sometimes sounds as though there is, that simply reflects some of the reasoning which led me to convert; it is certainly no reason for others to. My advice, should anyone ask for it, is always the same: think and pray first, second, and third; then do it again. If I fail to suffer from the common disease of convertitis (one symptom is the belief that one of more Catholic than the Pope, but there are others), there’s a simple reason for it, I had no illusions about what I would find across the Tiber. Was the English translation of the Missal trite, and lacking in majesty; were the hymns on the whole trite and banal; were the homilies less than nourishing? Yes, but Rome was hardly alone in any of this. It was not unlike my experience as an Anglican. The difference was that Rome has an authoritative teaching Magisterium and Anglicanism is a talking-shop – a very pleasant and intelligent and congenial one, but a talking-shop all the same. Those who like the that are well-advised to stay where they are.
Make no mistake if you are thinking of converting. Rome knows what it teaches, and if you wish to dissent in a serious way from it, and you are a theologian, you must expect trouble. If a secular analogy can be forgiven, there is no point being a member of my London Club and then complaining it doesn’t allow women in. Go and join a Club that does; there are a lot of them. I happen to be of a generation and background where all-male environments were common, and I enjoy such. I do not wish to have women everywhere, any more, than they want to have men everywhere.
Modern liberal culture teaches relativism. It can do so all it likes, but God’s revealed truths are what they are. If, as I hold, the Catholic Church is the guardian of those truths and I profess and believe all that it does, then on matters of faith and dogma what Rome says goes. If I don’t like that, I can leave.
When I was an Anglican I was happy to argue my corner, and when my side lost the vote I had a choice. I could have stayed and argued and insisted that I was right and that my church should change; or I could recognise that the Church wanted to move on, and go. It seemed than, and seems now, better to do the latter. People who insist that their church should change to accommodate them have too high a view of their own importance. Humility becomes the Christian, and here it means obedience.
If I do not like what the Vatican says about x and y, I am free to dissent. If, however, I were to mount a public argument and proclaim the Church wrong on a matter of dogma or doctrine, I should expect someone to call me on it. No one died and made me Pope. I am not more Catholic than the Pope.
Because I am a Christian, I tolerate liberals in the religious sphere with more patience than I usually possess in the secular arena. But where souls are at stake, toleration is a vice. I am certain only that God knows who the sheep of His flock are, and that He alone decides our fate. But, being a Catholic, I know where the authority to interpret His word aright lies, and I am happy there. That does not mean, nor does the Church teach, that all Catholics will be saved, or that only Catholics can be saved. Nor does it mean that the Pope is always (or even often) infallible. It certainly does not mean an absence of debate and discussion in the Church. But it does mean that when a dogmatic definition is pronounced, that is it – Roma locuta est – causa finita est.
Those for whom that idea is anathema should not convert. Equally, converts should not expect Rome to be a perpetual chatter-box closing down all discussion so that their own favourite point of view can rest unchallenged. As Chesterton put it, only living things struggle against the current.