Four centuries ago John Knox pronounced tersely on a prominent ecclesiastic: “As he sought the world, it fled him not.” An indulgent tolerance is the fashion now. After an ordination service last year an Anglican bishop took his new priests and deacons to partake of liquid refreshment at a London pub. A battery of press photographers happened to be standing by, next morning’s newspapers carried the pictures they took, and bang went another outdated image of the Church of England.

A different Knox, Msgr. Ronald, once pointed out how shocking it was that in Muslim lands a fellow should bawl from the top of a minaret the controversial statement that Allah was great. The essay in which Knox made this protest, called “Reunion All Round,” was regarded four decades ago as satire of a high order. Not so today, when atheists in certain areas have ensured the minimum public reference to the deity, great or no, lest their faith be placed in jeopardy.

In some circles it was evidently felt that Christian charity ought to go further, for it is but a simple step from tolerance to modest self-denigration. Thus a group of Cambridge theologians produced a volume which they called Objections to Christian Belief, putting the case against Christianity with what Philip Toynbee called “robust and healthy good sense.” This was clearly a challenge to some non-Christians, and they duly obliged with Objections to Humanism, the “austerely brave spirit” of which was saluted by an Anglican weekly.

The process has now gone one stage further with the appearance of Objections to Roman Catholicism (Constable, London, 18s.). Edited and introduced by Michael de la Bedoyere, a former editor of the Catholic Herald and biographer of Baron von Httgel, the book consists of seven essays, of which six are by lay writers and the seventh by a Jesuit archbishop.

In a beautifully written first chapter, “Some Reflexions on Superstition and Credulity,” Magdalen Goflin faces her subject squarely. To the question, Why does Rome repel?, she suggests this answer: Because let your credentials be ever so persuasive, your helps to heaven ever so numerous, your liturgy ever so splendid, in practice you invite us to worship but a shrunken god. The Roman teaching about hell, Mrs. Goflin continues, might be bound up with much that is both credulous and superstitious, but it is nonetheless a sign of the annihilating effect of sin. On purgatory, she asserts that “at death the majority of souls are too self-centred to be yet capable of being filled with the life of God himself.” Credulity made Justinian think that homosexuality caused earthquakes; credulity made Cardinal Newman believe that the Holy Manger was preserved in Rome.

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She hits out in other directions, too. Defending Roman Catholic churches and forms of worship, she contends that in rejecting “helps to heaven” some Protestant churches (and here she quotes a Presbyterian) “often have an air of desolation and gloom artificially created by Catholics on Good Friday.” But Mrs. Goflin spoils her case by declaring that “the fundamental objections to Roman Catholicism are objections to Christian orthodoxy,” which statement begs all kinds of questions and calls for a precise definition of terms.

Elsewhere this chapter makes a point of admitting “the appalling record of the German bishops during the last war” when, as Archbishop Roberts affirms in his chapter, they supported Hitler (pp. 44, 175), but this admission should be considered in conjunction with John M. Todd’s fulsome and questionable praise of the prewar pope, Pius XI (p. 69).

An excellent and informative chapter on “Censorship” by Professor H. P. R. Finsberg details the bewildering history of the Holy Office’s attitude to Alfred Noyes’s study of the life and writings of Voltaire. For some reason John M. Todd, in his chapter on “The Worldly Church,” finds it necessary to suggest that kindness is a characteristic of the Curia (“the velvet gloves are often many layers thick before the iron hand is reached”). In a most frank study called “Freedom and the Individual,” Rosemary Haughton says that while physical force is now “out” (except in Sicily and Malta), emotional and moral blackmail are still very much “in.”

The final chapter is contributed by Msgr. Thomas Roberts, formerly archbishop of Bombay, and is oddly headed “Contraception and War.” It was his controversial views on the Roman Catholic Church’s attitude to contraception that provoked the Archbishop of Westminster’s negative pronouncement in May, 1964, and subsequent Vatican statements. The archbishop puts the dilemma forcefully in a hypothetical question posed by an Indian Roman Catholic who has been told that another pregnancy would leave his children motherless and who wants temporary sterilization: “How is it wrong for the state to grant me for the good of my family what, according to many Catholic theologians, the state could impose forcibly on me as a punishment if I committed a crime?”

But here again it is Magdalen Goflin who puts the problem most graphically. In repeating the familiar charge that Roman theologians have made gods of the human reproductive organs, she illustrates this strikingly by suggesting that “if contraceptives had been dropped over Japan instead of bombs which merely killed, maimed, and shrivelled up thousands alive, there would have been a squeal of outraged protest from the Vatican to the remotest Mass centre in Alaska.” It is Mrs. Coffin’s contention that such idols are now being discredited, and that Roman Catholics of the next generation may “feel the need only of explaining what they no longer wish to defend.”

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When Objections to Roman Catholicism was made the subject of a BBC TV program, one participant declared that the Roman Church in England in its present form would not survive the book, which is published without the imprimatur. One reviewer said it “must count … as something of a miracle” that it was published at all. The not-too-discerning predicted that its effect would rival that of Honest to God. All this is very misleading, as is the volume itself when it purports “to break new ground in the spirit of Pope John” (p. 12)—and so perpetuates the persistent fallacy that John XXIII was solidly behind the liberal movement in his church.

While this is undoubtedly a book to be taken seriously, its crowning fault is the writers’ concentration upon secondary and peripheral issues. They have little to say, for example, about Tradition and what Martyn Lloyd-Jones calls its “damnable plus.” We might have expected also that objections to Roman Catholicism would have included treatment of such topics as Mariolatry, papal infallibility, transubstantiation, and priestly mediation, but we look in vain for any such discussion here. The title suggests the ax laid to the root of the tree, but we find it doing no more lethal work than lopping off a few branches.

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