AN Wilson reviews Roy Hattersley's The Catholics: The Church and its People in Britain and Ireland, from the Reformation to the Present Day for The Catholic Herald:
So, Hattersley starts with two advantages. One is his own personal involvement with the subject. The second is the fact that this is a history with a beginning and an end. The Church he is describing, and the story which begins with the heroism of the recusants in Tudor times and takes in the romance of Jacobitism and the coming of the 19th century, has really come to an end. Of course, the Church itself has not come to an end – there is still a pope, there are still sacraments and saints. But Catholics really are – more or less – like everyone else. One senses Hattersley’s wistful sadness at this.
He devotes far more time to English recusant and penal times than he does to the 19th century or the modern Church. The story starts with the sacrifice of the martyrs. A gentle intelligence, Hattersley prefers the self-deprecating scholar Fisher to the “celebrity” More, but sees how absolutely key their martyrdom was in inspiring the Catholics to remain true to their faith. His account of the arrest and execution of Campion is haunting. He does not echo the late Auberon Waugh, who called annually upon the pope to canonise Guy Fawkes; but then Hattersley is a distinguished parliamentarian. The martyrdom of Oliver Plunkett in 1681 is told in a way that makes you ashamed to be English.
The dukes of Norfolk do not get much of a look-in to Hattersley’s story. But the 18th century is explored with a pleasing combination of sensitivity and gusto: Bishop Challoner, “the Forty-five” and the Gordon Riots. Was this English Catholicism’s Golden Age?
To put it another way, was the 19th century, seemingly a season of the famous Second Spring, actually sowing the seeds of modern British Catholics’ problems? Wiseman is affectionately evoked here, but did he do the Catholics any favours by setting up an elaborate system of dioceses and (quite often rather cruddy) cathedrals?
Please read the rest there. From the publisher:
The story of Catholicism in Britain from the Reformation to the present day, from a master of popular history - 'a first-class storyteller' The Times
Throughout the three hundred years that followed the Act of Supremacy – which, by making Henry VIII head of the Church, confirmed in law the breach with Rome – English Catholics were prosecuted, persecuted and penalised for the public expression of their faith. Even after the passing of the emancipation acts Catholics were still the victims of institutionalised discrimination.
The first book to tell the story of the Catholics in Britain in a single volume, The Catholics includes much previously unpublished information. It focuses on the lives, and sometimes deaths, of individual Catholics – martyrs and apostates, priests and laymen, converts and recusants. It tells the story of the men and women who faced the dangers and difficulties of being what their enemies still call ‘Papists’. It describes the laws which circumscribed their lives, the political tensions which influenced their position within an essentially Anglican nation and the changes in dogma and liturgy by which Rome increasingly alienated their Protestant neighbours – and sometime even tested the loyalty of faithful Catholics.
The survival of Catholicism in Britain is the triumph of more than simple faith. It is the victory of moral and spiritual unbending certainty. Catholicism survives because it does not compromise. It is a characteristic that excites admiration in even a hardened atheist.
I browsed the Kindle sample was not as impressed as Wilson by Hattersley's "bona fides"--his personal connections to the Church are weak and confused. He does seem to admire the Church rather in spite of himself and the harshness and rigidity he sees in the Church. Hattersley seems to accept that lack of compromise and the "spiritual unbending certainty" as the source of strength for the Catholic martyrs of England and the Church through the centuries. Since he is an atheist--"a hardened atheist" he recognizes the strength he values in himself as the source of the Church's survival. It also means that he cannot be accused of special pleading. If I received a review copy of this book I'd be interested in reading it as a Catholic looking from the outside in, when I am usually looking at Church history from the inside in. The perspective is intriguing.