Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Review: Roman Catholicism in England

Edward Norman, who recently joined the Catholic Church through the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, wrote this OPUS book in 1985:

Roman Catholicism in England[: from the Elizabethan Settlement to the Second Vatican Council] is the first study for several decades of the way in which the English Catholics have asserted their faith in the four centuries since the Reformation, of how they have sought to balance allegiance to Rome and the 'old faith' with loyalty to the English Constitution, even in times of severe persecution. It examines the ideas of leading figures in the Church, assessing their contribution to significant changes in Roman Catholicism up to the Second Vatican Council and pinpointing the shifts away from traditional antagonism.

This short survey, only 138 pages (including index) covers the recusant centuries of martyrdom and suffering, the long eighteenth century, emancipation and restoration in the nineteenth century, and Catholic involvement in twentieth century England, including Catholic opposition to the establishment of the Welfare State (primarily because of its effects on the family). Norman begins with a fascinating comment on the particular response of Catholics in England to being an oppressed and suppressed minority: he notes that "small religious communities and churches, existing at the margin of society" which have attracted "the hostility of their neighbors" and are "subject to active persecution" often develop a sectarian and radical outlook. Norman contends, however, that "The English Catholic 'recusants'--those who refused to conform to the laws of the unitary Protestant establishment--did not develop  sectarian qualities, did not become political radicals (although a few sought revolution as a means of procuring a Catholic dynastic restoration), did not deviate from orthodoxy, and did not above all, quietly slide back into a comfortable acquiescence with the new order."

Norman concludes with this admiring comment: "Theirs is a noble history of enormous self-sacrifice for higher purposes, and of a rooted determination to preserve both their English virtue and their religious allegiance in a sensible and clear balance."

This is just the first page of the book! I found similar insights and brilliance throughout the contents of Roman Catholicism in England:

1. A rejected minority
2. The Elizabethan settlement
3. Catholics under the penal laws
4. The era of Emancipation and expansion
5. Leaders and thinkers
6. Twentieth-century developments

Suggested further reading

Highly recommended.

Note: Norman dedicated the book to Saint Henry Walpole "Domus Sancti Petri Alumnus"!

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