It was an odd thing in a way, the effect of that Newman book. It wasn’t as though I was convinced, and there was no Damascus road moment. Indeed, I regarded Newman, as to some extent I still do, as a man whose talents were wasted by two churches who had no idea what to do with a genuine saint who had, as all genuine saints do, an annoying habit of saying what those in authority didn’t want anyone to say. I thought the Anglican bishops who persecuted him the worst of fellows – until I read about the Catholic ones. I’d not give a ripe fig for the lot of them. Newman was a saint, and really holy men should have some notion of how to treat such a man.
No, what got to me were two things. The first was Newman’s grounding of Marian veneration in the Old Testament, and in the Jewish traditions, as well as his showing how that developed in the early Church. None of that was my experience, and it still seemed strange to me, but it lanced the boil – it wasn’t idolatry. I wasn’t convinced that some Catholics didn’t come close to treating her as a goddess, but that should not be taken as meaning that the Church did. The second, oddly enough, was what my new friend said about Vatican II.
I lost touch with my friend and colleague in the early 1980s, and found him again entirely by accident on the Telegraph where he posted under the name JohnDC. Hamish and Bosco have already paid tribute to him, and I would join them.
He had been brought up in the pre-Vatican II Church, and the loss of the Latin Mass caused him almost physical pain. But where some of his friends would rail against what was happening and condemn the Pope and their Bishops. JohDC would counsel patience and caution. I remember his saying many times that if the Church really was led by the Holy Ghost, all would be well, and if it wasn’t, well they were all wasting their time and they should go down the pub; being a bunch of Irishmen, they did just that.
One of the things dc did after I returned the Newman collection to him, as was to ask if I’d kept up with Lumen Gentium and what it said about the Virgin Mary. Oddly enough I hadn’t; my nightly reading consisted of the Scriptures and a good commentary. But he has such a good natured way with him, did dc, that I read up on it, and as we discussed it, I saw that whatever else was going on, this was no idol worshipping. Indeed it seemed, even to my sectarian mind, a genuine attempt to clear away accretions and tell us something my own tradition seemed to have forgotten – that Mary was the pattern of obedience for us all.
That set its own pattern for our discussions. DC was the most patient fellow I ever met. If even now I can irritate the heck out of a bunch of atheists, back then I could have provoked a saint; but dc wouldn’t be provoked.
Thus began the process of my learning about what Catholics actually held – even when some of them seemed not to know it either.