Wednesday, February 01, 2006

New Catholic Convert via Wheaton

Our friend Brette Fostour of Wheaton College by way of the University of Missouri, Boston University, Oxford, and Yale brought to my attention the recent firing at that bastion of Anglo-Catholic literary sensibility of one Joshua P. Hochschild for the high crime of converting to Catholicism. Joseph Bottum of First Things sort of game them an "attaboy" for sticking to their principles, but for another take see this article.

Bottum's point is basically that firing him was an act of doctrinal integrity in an age where that is rare. At many "Christian" schools there's effectively a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. I agree with Bottum that the straightforwardly right thing to do when someone can no longer affirm a statement of faith is to give them the boot (if they they lack the character to withdraw).


However, the Wheaton doctrinal statement is general enough that I can see a Catholic signing it in good conscience (though I couldn't). My understanding was that he was willing to sign it and the President invoked the "spirit" of the statement as being definitively Protestant. Of course, Wheaton had the option of adjusting the statement so that it expressed only the "small 'c'" catholicism--or mere Christianity--of which, in theory, they are so fond.

Wheaton publishes a journal called SEVEN: An Anglo-American Literary Review which is focused on the books and papers of seven British authors: Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. Their The Marion E. Wade Center houses a major research collection of their works.

However, as far as I can tell not a single one of them would be allowed to teach there or would sign the statement in good conscience, certainly not Lewis. Not to put to fine a point on it, this is hypocrisy. To say in one official breath that these seven intellectual luminaries are the brightest guiding lights the Anglophone world has produced in the last century and that their works should be studied and their personal effects collected like the relics of Saints, but that they do not qualify to teach here themselves is absurd.

I want to dwell on this for just a bit more. There have no doubt been many classes which have had as their reading material items drawn exclusively from these seven literary giants. One reason is that their works not only train the mind but the affections, Christianizing them. Now, on what basis is someone else more qualified to teach these classes than those greats themselves. Wheaton has several fine faculty including our separated brother mentioned above. However, he would be the first to admit that Lewis or Tollers would be more qualified on every dimension to teach their own works.

I can see no virtuous basis for this inconsistency.


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