The Catholic Minority
Fa. MATirEw has the happy knack of hitting upon fresh and original themes for his historical works. His first work, The Celtic Peoples and Renaissance Europe had a superb subject, the impact of the Tudor monarchy, the English form of the Renaissance State, upon those relies of a pre-mediaeval civilisation, the Celtic peoples in Wales, Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. His new study, though less exciting, is no less welcome : it is a portrait of the Catholic minority in England since the Reformation, of its distinctive (and distin- guished) culture and tradition. The book has all the qualities we have come to expect : it is sensitive and sympathetic to a degree ; scrupulously fair to other traditions, for example the Anglican, on which it is most discerning; written with great refinement and a gift of vivid portraiture in phrase. There are no polemics at all—so refreshing compared with Mr. Belloc and other Catholic apologists ; Fr. Mathew is a historian.
Ile accepts the evident fact of a minority tradition, with all its consequences, and with no tortuous straining to prove that the minority was larger than it was or to suggest that into the seventeenth century it was possibly a majority of the nation. In his view, "a special religious type, built up by the Elizabethan recusants, emerges clearly in the reign of James I, and from this time there comes a, consciousness of a Catholic society no longer conceived as co-extensive with the nation but embedded in it." That understood, it is possible to follow Fr. Mathew with almost complete agreement. He is interested in the study of this special type or types ; and since his approach is mainly personal, it gives rise to many portraits of the leading personalities in the tradition, from Fisher and More, through innumerable Howards and Arundells, to Bishops Challoner and Milner, Newman and Manning and Vaughan, to conclude with the late Cardinal Bourne. It is in the sense of character that Fr. Mathew's strength lies: he com- bines a remarkable power of delineating the man's physical appearance with a perception of his essential inner nature, the product of a deep human sympathy. Nor is he less success- ful in portraying a class. Of the "robust and mechanical piety of the early Lancastrians," he says," for elderly men, too, a measure of devotional interest and practice was not unseemly as they sat in their fur-trimmed gowns with their faces peering rheumily beneath the caps with the tight ear-flaps." He describes, succinctly, the pause in the tempo of change in Mary's reign : "The ruling class in England had performed a task of much complexity. They had swallowed the whisle of the monastic landed areas. Now in the mid-century they rested, as untheological and unspeculative as boa- constrictors." Of the Puritan feeling against Rome, which grew to such power in the seventeenth century (and which we still have with us, if in an attenuated and vulgarised form), he notes "the vitality of that doctrine which has always possessed a curious detached integrity and an unrivalled power of focusing animus." Very sympathetic ; very just.
The great point of the book is that it underlines the essential Englishness of Catholicism in England—at any rate up to the flood-tide of the Irish immigration with the Industrial Revolution and the Irish Famine. And on this Fr. Mathew quite convinces ; though it comes with some- thing of a surprise to realise how English it is, for naturally in politics much more attention has been paid to Parsons and Manning, both thoroughly un-English in type, to the exotic Catholicism of Stuart Court circles, Henrietta Maria with her Capuchins, Charles irs morally variegated, if Catholic, duchesses, James II and the devote Mary of Modena and Fr. Petre. On the other band, what could be more English than Milner or Ullathorne or Bourne—even if the last belonged to the type of somewhat heavy English ? These came from the Catholic middle-class, a very restricted
social field for Catholicism to draw from—until the nineteenth century it seems to have consisted of a few wine merchants, corn factors, mercers and the like. This notwithstanding, it was their representatives, backed by the growing numbers of working-class Catholics in the towns, who won in the. end against the old aristocratic Catholicism based on the country houses. It is interesting to see the conflict between the Ultramontanism of Wiseman and Manning and the English form of Gallicanism to which the gentry adhered ; it reveals Catholicism in England as conforming to the general trend of the nineteenth century and not immune from its social forces. Yet it is unmistakable that up to this time the Catholic tradition was aristocratic. It had its adherents in other classes, but what kept it going and enabled it to survive was the nucleus of the Catholic nobility and gentry with their tenantry. Till the last century it was essentially an aristocratic religion, as Methodism was the religion of the petit bourgeois. Perhaps this was why the former always had culture and charm, and the latter has been so culturally barren, so unattractive—producing chiefly hymns, and such bad ones.
The reverse side of Fr. Mathew's largely personal approach is an inadequate appreciation of the political factors governing a situation. The Reformation in England was not determined by Henry VIII's personal idiosyncrasies ; nor was it a sudden process, feeling against the Church had been brewing for a long time. Nor was English hostility to Philip II or Louis XIV —or for that matter William II—due to personal considera- tions; it was politics in each case. Each of them repre- sented a grave challenge to English power, the threat of European domination. In this light James II's line was disastrous ; it would have delivered the whole continent into the hands of the French. The Revolution of 1688 was in that respect a " glorious " achievement : it put us at the head of the European coalition, led to the downfall of French ascendancy and our own emergence as the first power in the world. What would have happened if James had had his way, or such idiots as the Northern Earls as against Cecil in Elizabeth's time? The ineluctable fact is that the defeat of Catholicism led to the greatness of the English nation.
A few of the figures given are unreliable. It is impossiblp to believe that 5,000 émigré priests came over during the French Revolution ; nor can we accept Gondomar's estimate of 300,000 recusants and 600,000 Catholics attending Protestant worship in James I's reign. It is a pity too that we should be given so much detail about third-rate Catholic novelists in the Edwardian era, at the expense of adequate treatment of more lasting elements in the cultural traditioth There is, for example, not a word about Donne, a great omission ; and only one word about the great coniposer§; Byrd and Eiger; nor is it right to have omitted Hopkins, though his influence is only now at its height. One wou1d.
have so much preferred a concluding chapter summing up the constituents of this culture of the Catholic minority, and estimating its contribution to the general English tradition.
But these are smaller points, and the book professes to be only a study, not a history : it is, however, a singularly suggestive and satisfying one. Will Fr. Mathew some time contemplate writing for us on the grand scale that full history of his subject for which he evidently has all the