Bede Explains His Road To Catholicism

In college, Bede was my best friend. Today he is a monk. As I explained in a post I wrote last week, I consider him my closest philosophical brother. In that post, I alluded to the fact that it was his influence that led me to Nietzsche (through a long and arduous process I will explain in detail in the future) and I characterized his movement from self-taught Calvinism to Roman Catholicism. He wanted to clarify his theological journey in his own terms. So here goes:

It is I again, Dan’s best friend from college, with (as promised) a few thoughts about the post above.

First, as to the “staunch, self-taught” Calvinism and rejection of my “nominal Catholic upbringing” during the period he describes: certainly I was at the time very enthusiastic about Reformed theology, but there was even then an undercurrent of what I might call Catholic yearning.

For one thing (perhaps not as ironically as it may sound) it was Calvin’s references to the Fathers of the Church that introduced me to the world of patristic thought (which remains decisively important for me): when I finished the Institutes in high school I decided I had read Calvin prematurely and after racing through the Apostolic Fathers labored over St. Augustine’s City of God. (Yes, while my contemporaries were doing things like dating and playing sports I spent my free time in the solitary perusal theology porn – but has anyone really had a psychologically balanced adolescence?)

For another thing – crucially, for the subsequent course of my ecclesial journey – I retained from my “nominal Catholic upbringing” what I’ll call a liturgical instinct: a sense, which I could not have articulated at the time, that the liturgical (thus sacramental) expression of the Christian faith is somehow essentially, constitutively important to it. Even at my most ardently Reformed moments I remained aware of this sense of need (I experienced it as a personal need) as a troubling lacuna. My migration into the Episcopal Church was motivated as much by the richness of its liturgical life at its best as by the tradition of the via media.

Next, as to the “strange peace about the rational indefensibility” of my faith that Dan noticed at the time: he may well remember this more accurately than I do, but I’m inclined to think I wouldn’t have put it quite that way. I’m not sure I was ever really a fideist. I think I regarded the rational defense of faith (in Christianity or anything else), the rational defense of one’s deepest convictions, as rendering an inadequate account of those convictions and the process by which they are actually reached, but I’m not sure I would have banished reason from the scene entirely. Perhaps I’m reading back into my undergraduate mind things I’d be inclined to say today?

Further, I think Dan’s account of my reasons for returning to Roman Catholicism may be open to ecumenically unfortunate construal. It is true that in (re-)crossing the Tiber I was on a quest for a kind of ecclesial “whole,” for a sense of organism-like continuity and development (with the Holy Spirit subtly, gradually, inscrutably, but reliably active in this partly institutional and always untidy process). I think I was also in quest of a church in which liturgy and sacramentality were functionally as well as theoretically essential to its sense of identity and its daily life. I came to believe (and still believe) that all this was to be found in the Roman Catholic milieu. However, I am all too aware that the vagaries of the Church’s history and the nature of the Church itself preclude any facile or mechanistic account of the contemporary reality of a divided Christian church. And I retain a deep respect for ecclesial communities other than my (rediscovered) native one, along with a special affection for the Anglican Communion.

As far as Eastern Orthodoxy goes, I revere it’s beauty, regard the issues that continue to separate it from Roman Catholicism as essentially trivial, and am just too damned Western in my outlook to be inclined in that direction!

Like Dan, I marvel at the intellectual synchronicity that has characterized our friendship despite substantial differences of intellectual commitment on the surface (dare I call it the surface?). I think he’s right that this is the result of having shared a journey along a crucially important portion of its route and with a certain depth of mutual engagement, a certain ruthlessness of self-disclosure. Any real friend is irreplaceable, but there is a peculiar irreplaceability to a friendship like this.

Finally, I’m surprised and humbled to discover that I “made” Dan a Nietzschean! I still have a chunk of Beyond Good and Evil more or less memorized (the bit about religious believers being “more honest and more doltish” than philosophers); I still think the putative madman of Sills-Maria is much misunderstood by Christians (to the Church’s detriment); and the end of Beyond Good and Evil still makes me want to cry: “it is only your afternoon, you, my written and painted thoughts, for which alone I have colors, many colors perhaps, many motley caresses and fifty yellows and browns and greens and reds: but nobody will guess from that how you looked in your morning, you sudden sparks and wonders of my solitude, you my old beloved – wicked thoughts!”

More about Bede.

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