14 September 2013


The "Reformed minister" (he turned out to have been Presbyterian) was Scott Hahn.

I said (to my interlocutor on Christia) that I had never heard of him - who was he, and, more importantly, had he written any books that my library might have?  The person - I have forgotten his name, but he lived in Chicago - said that he doubted our library would have any books (it did not), but that Scott had made some cassette tapes of speeches he had given, including his conversion story - conversion, that is, to the Catholic Church - but that if I wanted books written by Protestants who had become Catholics, my University library was sure to have books by John Henry Newman.

Newman's name rang two bells with me.

First, he was the author of a book that I had heard of: The Idea of a University.  He had also written another book I had heard of: Apologia pro Vita Sua - that, I vaguely knew, had to do with is conversion.

The other bell was something I had heard from a talk by Francis Schaeffer.  During my first few years as a Christian, I had contributed regularly to Schaeffer's ministry, read his books - and subscribed to a series of cassette taped talks.  In one such talk, I recall Schaeffer as saying, regarding Newman's becoming a Catholic, something like this:
Newman had grown weary in his struggle against German liberalism.  He crept into the darkness of the [Catholic] Church, and pulled the door shut behind him.
I remember that statement affecting me deeply at the time.  During my first two or three years as a Christian, I was trying to find my way in the maze of claimants to be the 'best' - or even 'true' - Church of Christ.  I took from Schaeffer's statement that he was saying:

  • To enter the Catholic Church was to cease to think for oneself; just blindly accept whatever was given one.
  • Newman's decision to become a Catholic had been one of moral cowardice.  He had simply decided he would rather let someone else worry about this or that Christian doctrine.  He became a Catholic, not because he was convinced that what the Church said was true, but because he could not be bothered trying to find out for himself.
My friend in Chicago said that he would give me his set of tapes by Hahn - that he would post them to me.  In the meantime, I thought I would read Newman.

I got the Apologia out of the library and saw, from a blurb or introduction or something, that that book had actually been written after he had been a Catholic for 18 or 19 years, but that he had written another book during his last year as an Anglican - a book that he viewed as being his testing of whether, in fact, he believed the Catholic faith.  That book was An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.  I got both books out, and began to read.  Part way through this process - which, I believe, began somewhere near the beginning of September, 1993 - the Scott Hahn tapes arrived.  I spent about two weeks reading the two books, and listening to the tapes - but in secret.  I was, in fact, terrified of being caught with these materials - terrified, I mean, of Susan's catching me.  I read the books only on the 'bus or in similar situations when she would not be around.  I listened to the tapes on my stereo, in my garage-cum-office, on earphones, and switched the sound feed to the FM radio if she came in.

I do not know if I can easily explain the basis of my fear.  If you are not a Protestant - and a pretty convinced one - you will likely misunderstand.  There could be some rational bases for it:

  • Susan might be angry or upset with me (she was, when once I told her)
  • My elders might be angry or upset with me (they were very angry and upset, when once I told them)
Nevertheless, what I was afraid of - terrified of - was the mere name 'Catholic.'

I had by now been a Christian for almost 24 years.  During that time, there were few who said to me, in so many words, "the Catholic Church is a synagogue of Satan."  Nevertheless, there were some - but the message was conveyed in almost every aspect of being a Protestant - particularly a Reformed Protestant.  I remember, for example, this passage from the Preliminary Exhortation for the Lord's Supper:
However, the Lord admonishes those who do not believe or have not repented to abstain from the holy supper so as not to eat and drink judgment on themselves. Therefore we also charge those who willfully continue in their sins to keep themselves from the table of the Lord *(such as all who trust in any form of superstition; all who honor images or pray to saints; all who despise God's Word or the holy sacraments; all who take God's name in vain; all who violate the sanctity of the Lord's Day; all who are disobedient to those in authority over them; all drunkards, gamblers, murderers, thieves, adulterers, liars, and unchaste persons). To all such we say in the name of the Lord that as long as they remain unrepentant and unbelieving, they have no part in the kingdom of God.
 Those who 'honour images or pray to saints' were clearly not meant to be Baptists :-)

What I was afraid of was God.

Nevertheless, there had been that strange attraction to the Church that I had felt the year before, in Papakura.  There had been all those practices, such as frequent Communion, the importance of Baptism, the importance of liturgy, that Jim Jordan had emphasised - even although he was in no way drawn to the Catholic Church.  I wanted to know.  I wanted to know the truth.

So I read secretly, and I listened to Scott Hahn secretly.

At the end of my reading, I knew that, whatever Schaeffer had believed about Newman, Newman had become a Catholic against his inclination but as a matter of absolute conviction.  He had spent six years struggling against the Church.  He had done everything imaginable to avoid it.  He had failed.  The same was true of Scott Hahn.  He had become a Catholic - initially against his own wife's wishes - for one reason and one only: he believed he had no choice if he was to remain in friendship with God and intellectually honest.

On my 51st birthday - 22 September 1993 - I wrote an e-mail to a member of Christia, one Mark Shea, who sounded like a Catholic, and a convert from Protestantism.   I used almost the same words I had used to Candace that early Sunday morning 28 December 1969: "I wanted to know more about this."

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