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The television version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall is the latest account to challenge St Thomas More’s reputation as a courageous defender of the rights of conscience. Was he, in truth, a liberal icon, a religious fanatic or something in between?
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I found it wonderful, in the admirable sense, that Clifford Longley expressed so freely (“It was something God did to me” The Tablet, 5 April 2014) the decisions he made whilst converting from being an atheist to becoming part of the Catholic Church. He didn’t really go into detail about his experiences or revelations that brought this about; but no matter, I rejoiced in his open confident account of how God reached out to him.
I have only recently, in advanced middle age, been received into the Catholic Church completely unexpectedly and definitely against my will, because of profound spiritual experiences. On my journey – always a journey – I was guided by cradle Catholics who could hardly have been more loving in the Christian sense, but there was no obvious guidance on accepting faith when you have spent your life implacably rejecting Christ. A lot of support came from a friend of mine who lives at a distance from me and a bit of help came from a book of conversion essays called The Path to Rome; but not one author had come into the church as an unbaptised “pagan” (my priest’s jokey description of me). I so wish that Mr Longley could write and publish a longer piece on his conversion which, I agree, is a curious matter of matter-of-fact events and utterly transforming experience.
It would be so helpful to others to know why your encounter with Christ led you to the Roman Church, and not the Anglican or whatever. Why were you not put off by the flawed character of the Vatican and clericalism? Did you ever fear that you might be thought of as not a true Catholic for having arrived later on without going through decades of “conditioning” like a proper cradle Catholic? And how did your family and friends regard your conversion?
Because of the revelatory strength in the arrival of my faith, I share the belief that nothing can now change back and I, too, cannot get enough of scripture. I need to make up for all the years of casting venomous doubt on what Christianity stands for and the porous basis in the Bible and elsewhere concerning truth. My only slight diversion from his providential pathway is that I believe it was the Holy Spirit that came upon me. Thank you for being open about how your life was changed from a reasonable negative to something much more fulfilling; I am very grateful for your words to describe how this came about!
David McLees, Cardiff
It does seem that when many non Catholic Christians "convert" to the Catholic Church, they become enthusiastically dogmatic about their new found Faith. It is to be hoped that for Ann Widdicombe's sake, and converts like her, that the Holy Spirit doesn't require the Church to develop and change its approach to specific moral and ethical issues, otherwise there will be nowhere for her and others to go. Fortunately the Church belongs to the Gospel and not the other way round.
David Redrobe, Kirton in Lindsey, Lincs