I just heard the sad news: Catholic writer Stratford Caldecott has died today of prostate cancer.
“Strat” Caldecott, the G.K. Chesterton Research Fellow at St. Benet’s Hall, Oxford, was a giant in the Catholic world. Among his many credits, he served on the editorial board of the International Theological Journal Communio, as well as the Catholic Truth Society. He was co-editor for Magnificat UK, and he published his own literary journal Second Spring. Caldecott was involved with T&T Clark publications and the Catholic Truth Society. He received an honorary doctorate in Theology from the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C.
I had the opportunity to meet him once and to hear him speak, back in 1999 or 2000, when he was in the U.S. and he delivered a keynote address at the meeting of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars in Chicago. His remarks were predictably solid and profound. I was struck by his humility, and by the high esteem with which he was regarded by the American Catholic academics.
But Caldecott’s intellectual accomplishments, however significant they may be, are overshadowed by the great faith which guided him as he lived his life and awaited his death.
Here the story bifurcates: the calm strength with which he faced his own mortality is matched in poignancy by the loyal support with which his friends and fans around the world rallied to show their regard as he prepared for his eternal reward.
A FAITH UNSHAKEN
In May 2014, as he approached the end of his life from prostate cancer, Caldecott penned a most remarkable essay, “Search for the Secret of Life and Death,” which is posted in its entirety on The Imaginative Conservative. I excerpt from it here:
Why can’t we all live forever? It seems a terrible flaw in the fabric of the world—that death haunts us from the moment we are born, injecting a note of tragedy into everything. And yet how could it be otherwise, if reproduction is equally a part of the fabric of space-time?
An image of the endless search for the answer to this paradox is drawn by Jack Kirby in his comic book The New Gods. Metron is a character from New Genesis. His chair carries him wherever he wishes, and yet we can take him as a symbol of a search that never finds what it is seeking, in an ultimate sense. Though not the hero of the stories (very much a peripheral character, like Lightray) he offers the image of a powerful archetype.
Why life and death?
Everybody comes to death eventually, either by disease or by “old age.” There’s a part of me, suffering from prostate cancer, that wants simply to get it over with. In that case the simplest outcome is to stay with the illness I have and see it through. Alternatively, I could recover, somehow, and in this way buy a few more weeks or months or years of life.
And yet, and yet…. For God wants us to have a certain treasure, a wealth, that we can have only in a certain way—and that cannot come to us by taking something from him prematurely. “I can find that divine wealth that God, by his adoption of us, intends us to inherit. Wherever I turn, I shall find him. Whether life has smooth ways or rough, whether it hangs my path with lights or hides me in gloom, I am the heir to all that earth or sea or sky can boast of as their possession.”
He goes on, quoting from an English Dominican writer, Father Bede Jarrett, O.P. The “rich things of God,” he writes, are the things he wishes us to claim from him. For
“…I have a claim upon even more. I have a claim upon the very source of this wealth, that is, upon God himself, for he is the sole source of all his greatness.” There is no doubt about it. “I have a right to God himself. He is mine. He who holds in the hollow of his hands the fabric of the world, who with his divine power supports, and with his Providence directs, the intricate pattern of the world, has himself by creation entered deeply into the world; at the heart of everything he lies hidden.”
So Strat embraced this newest challenge, his impending death–knowing that God directs all things, and nestling himself deep within the will of God. The essay has much to offer; you can read the rest of it here.
A FINAL EMBRACE BY HIS DEVOTED FANS
And so begins the second part of the story: From childhood, Stratford Caldecott had been a big fan of Marvel Comics and, later, the Marvel films. When he was stricken by cancer in October 2011, he became too sick to see the latest Marvel film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in the theater. The film was not scheduled for release on DVD until August; but Strat’s daughter Sophie feared that he would not live long enough to see it.
Sophie sought to find a way to honor her terminally ill father, and so she mounted a social media campaign to get the stars of Captain America to acknowledge him in a Twitter campaign called #CapforStrat. Sophie explained, in an exclusive interview with The Independent,
“Mark Ruffalo (who plays the Hulk) was the first, and seems to have been encouraging the others to join in. He told me his dad had prostate cancer too, so I guess that’s why this resonated with him.”
Samuel L Jackson followed, and before long Mr Caldecott had the backing of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Captain America himself (Chris Evans).
Ms Caldecott said that eventually Christopher Markus, one of the writers who worked on the Avengers films, got in contact to say he might be able to help.
Word spread; and soon, thousands of fans around the world were participating in the #CapForStrat campaign. Strat’s family didn’t reveal the scope of the campaign until they’d gotten confirmation: The movie company agreed to bring the film to his home so that the now-bedridden Caldecott could watch it in comfort. The first #CapForStrat tweet they shared with him was that of Mark Ruffalo, The Hulk; and a stunned Strat said, referring to the character’s deep green shade, “Green is my new favorite colour.”
Sophie’s sorrow at her father’s illness was unmitigated by the big surprise, but she was grateful to those who had helped to make #CapForStrat a success. She told The Independent:
“We all have down moments when it hits us anew that even all of this can’t make dad’s illness go away, or change the fact that we’re losing him, but we’re trying to put off thinking about that while we still have time left to celebrate him and enjoy this time together.”
You can read the full story of Sophie’s surprise and the #CapForStrat campaign here.
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One of Stratford Caldecott’s last accomplishments was the completion of his final book, Not As the World Gives: The Way of Creative Justice(Angelico Press). Other titles by this great Catholic writer and thinker include:
- Not As the World Gives: The Way of Creative Justice
- Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education
- Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education
- The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit
- All Things Made New: The Mysteries of the World in Christ