Fr. Aidan Nichols: CONVERT ENGLAND

Well-known theologican Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP, who has written about Pope Benedict’s theological starting points and methodology, has interesting things to say to his countrymen.

Let’s have a look at this article from The Catholic Herald, which I am really starting to enjoy.

My emphases and comments.

Convert England to Catholicism, says papal ally

One of Britain’s leading theologians has broken ranks with the ecumenical establishment by calling for Catholics to convert non-Catholics.

Fr Aidan Nichols, the English theologian most closely associated with the thinking of Benedict XVI, has appealed for England to be “re-made” as a Catholic country.  [HUZZAH!]

He set out his radical and comprehensive programme for Catholic renewal in a new book entitled The Realm: An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England, published by Family Publications.

In his preface he says that Catholic Christianity should be put forward “not as an occupation for individuals in their solitude but as a form for the public life of society in its overall integrity”.

He admits that the conversion of England is “an absolutely colossal agenda”, adding: “It can only be brought into being, so far as it depends on us to do so, by a coordinated strategy for recreating a full-blooded catholicity with the power to… transform a culture in all its principal dimensions.  [Remember: I use the image of a "Marshall Plan" which Pope Benedict is putting into effect.  What Nichols is talking about is the next phase.  First, liturgy… identity… reinvigorating the Church ad intra.  Then, the ad extra phase begins in earnest, but from a position of real strength.  And that is also when the open war on the Church will being in earnest, friends.]

“That is what ‘the mission to convert’ and ‘the conversion of England’ mean to me.”
His comments will be seen as an implicit criticism of the direction of the Church in England and Wales. [D’ya think?] He points to “flagship” Catholic institutions which have “suffered shipwreck through secularisation”.

The Second Vatican Council, he argued, did not replace mission with dialogue. Instead it drew attention to respectful dialogue and an understanding of other faiths as a necessary condition of missionary work.

Fr Nichols, a Dominican friar, argues that the disappearance of other Christian and non-Christian religions would not necessarily be “a Bad Thing”, since the Catholic faith contains all the elements of truth, goodness and beauty that are present in other forms of Christianity and faith traditions.  [Remember the CDF document that made distinctions about which religious communities were real "Churches"?]

He argues that Catholicism was crucial in the formation of England and suggests that the Church is well suited to remaking a “not terribly impressive culture” dominated by “supermarkets and sport”.  [Ouch.]

English Catholicism is fit for the challenge, he explains, because it is a “pot-pourri” of recusant families, Anglican converts and Irish, Polish and Filipino immigrants. He says the example of the original Anglo-Saxon conversion of England showed that only a mixture of “indigenous and exogenous elements” can successfully transform a whole society.  [Sounds like the Catholic Church.  Was it James Joyce who, about the Church said, "Here comes everyone!"?]

Fr Aidan Nichols’s plan for renewal:

Firmer doctrine in our teaching and preaching [Go back before Vatican II.]
Re-enchant the liturgy [The tip of the spear.]
Recover the insights of metaphysics [Be smart again.]
Renew Christian political thought [Be active in the public square.]
Revive family life [Stop spitting in God’s face.]
Resacralise art and architecture  [Use God’s "grandchild" well.]
Put a new emphasis on monastic life  [Support in prayer for the active.]
Strengthen pro-life rhetoric [See above.]
Recover a Catholic reading of the Bible [Second to none!]

Fr Nichols identifies a number of strategies he believes the Church ought to implement to draw England back to the faith.

He argues for the renewal of Christian political thought beyond merely a concern for the poor. Indeed, he suggests that religious apathy is partly a product of Christianity’s removal from the political sphere.  [In particular Catholic Christianity.  As I have been writing repeatedly, if the Church does not have a strong identity, it is easier to drive the Church from the public square.  Great damage is therefore done to the Church and society, at the very nexus between the Church and the world where the Church, and not the world, must have logical priority, when self-proclaimed Catholics (politicians especially) go all wobbly and sell out in front of the world’s assessing eyes.]

A “re-enchantment” of the liturgy is also needed, he says, since liturgy forms the imagination and is crucial in “getting others to grasp the inwardness of Catholic Christianity”. He cites Cardinal John Henry Newman’s prediction that belief fails where “the imagination is against us”.

Fr Nichols also stresses the need to “recover lost ground” in the intellectual argument for faith.  [That’s for sure.  At the same time, many Anglicans are coming to the Church because it is the Catholic Church where real intellectual work is getting done today.]

He argues there should be a “revival of doctrine” in catechetics and preaching, and a recovery of metaphysics to give people a “coherent and deep philosophy of the created order”.  [In other words: homiletics has to be smarter, which means that we MUST break the strangle-hold many powerbrokers in the Church have over the paradigm of the priest in the parish, that is, the priest preeminently as "nice guy", who must not make too many distinctions or ask people to think too much.]

He proposes a stronger defence of the unborn and a recovery of the Catholic reading of the Bible – “a reading of Scripture in the same spirit as that in which it was written, rather than in the light of academic fashion”. He also calls for the “revivification” of the family through the re-union of domestic and work life.  [Pope Benedict in his Jesus of Nazareth was driving that this.  A Catholic reading is not a protestant reading, or a modernist reading, or a secularist-literary reading, or a scientists reading.  A Catholic reading embraces many tools, but it is far more than those things.]

Fr Michael Seed, the ecumenical adviser to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, said he was “grateful” for the arguments put forward in the book. “While respecting the other faith traditions in England, anything that encourages lapsed Christians to embrace their Christian faith will help to make England a richer country and will help them personally in their spiritual journey,” he said.  [Ehem… I think the point is that lapsed Catholics should come back to the Catholic Church.  And since England is, I believe, a lapsed Catholic country, England should come back to the Catholic Church, as should everyone else.   Or am I getting Nichols wrong?]

Fr Nichols, who entered the Dominican order in 1970, is the John Paul II Memorial Visiting Lecturer at Oxford University, the university’s first Catholic theology lectureship since the Reformation.

He has published over 30 books, including the authoritative study in English of the theology of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now the Pope.

He is known to be admired by the Pontiff and both men strongly support the eastward celebration of Mass and emphasise the importance of welcoming disaffected Anglicans into the Church.

Fr Nichols is also regarded as a potential candidate to become the next Archbishop of Westminster.  [So is Fr. Tim Finigan!  o{];¬) ]

This was interesting.  I think I need this book.

What a contrast to Fr. Richard McBrien!

Sort of like matter and anti-matter.

Fr. Aidan Nichols: CONVERT ENGLAND
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39 Responses to Fr. Aidan Nichols: CONVERT ENGLAND

  1. Carolina Geo says:

    While this is obviously a wonderful goal, I still maintain (and you’ll have to pardon my cynicism here) that we should convert our fellow Catholics to the Church first, and then we can worry about converting non-Catholics to the Church.

  2. T- R says:

    All part of Benedict’s Marshall plan! We must recover our culture and identity first.

    England is a unique case because she was lost to the Faith by an Accident to quote Belloc

  3. Martin says:

    Does anyone know if Family Publications has an American distributor? This is the second book by Family that I’ve wanted to get into our Catholic bookstore but have been prohibited by overseas costs. Though Family Publications co-published one book with Ignatius (Trower’s _Turmoil and Truth_), I have already been told that they do *not* distribute the rest of Family’s books. Any “heads up” in this matter would be most welcome!

  4. Sam Schmitt says:

    How is wanting to convert others opposed to ecumenism?

  5. Gleb says:

    Like matter and anti-matter, but when they meet only Fr. McBrien is annihilated.

  6. Wow! This is all powerful!

  7. RichR says:

    Kudos to Fr. Nichols.

    Darn it, we’re the Church Militant, not the Church Tolerant. Without a mission, the Church becomes a mere self-help apparatus. Who wants to commit their lives to something as wishy-washy as that?

  8. danphunter1 says:

    Lets get this done in America as well.
    Deo Dratias!

  9. Tom Liang says:

    I adding “conversion of England to catholicism” to the prayer intention list.

  10. Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:

    In my experience as a deacon in charge of my parish’s RCIA (which I use only in part) I have discovered that nothing “converts” Catholics to a real strong Faith than hearing about converts from other faiths. Right now a woman Protestant minister is studying to become a Catholic in our program. Hearing this uplifts the orthodox in our parish and undermines the secular besotted.

  11. Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:

    Nothing strengthens the faith of “born” Catholics to hear of onverts and their reasons for converting. We have a woman Protestant minister converting in our parish and the effecxt undercuts anything the secular besotted argue.

  12. If he’s not made Abp. of Westminster, would the Holy Father please put him in charge of the Bishops in California? :-)

    God knows we need more men in leadership like Fr. Nichols over here!

    (Hey, a guy can dream! LOL)

  13. John Fannon says:

    Excellent article and very inspiring.
    Meanwhile the Bishops are busy merging parishes and closing down and selling off at least half the Catholic Churches in the country to the great distress of the faithful whose parents and grandparents raised the money to build them.

  14. John Fannon says:

    Excellent article and very inspiring!
    Meanwhile the Bishops are busy merging parishes and closing down and selling off at least half the Catholic Churches in the country to the great distress of the faithful whose parents and grandparents raised the money to build them.

  15. Ager Flandriae says:

    This is extremely encouraging to hear from Fr. Nichols and will hopefully give us all greater strength for evangelization.

    Is this not what we have been saying for over forty years as traditional Catholics? We have wanted nothing more and nothing less than what he has stated in those bullet points.

    We have all of the tools we need now at our disposal, not the least of which being full access to the 1962 liturgical texts. Let us go out and conquer the world for Jesus Christ!

  16. Of course, Americans will have to battle the USCCB. Look at this, from LIFESITE, about the continuing “tolerance” of the bishops, again.

  17. LCB says:

    Obviously buying this book.

    Fr. Z, and others: recently I’ve been hearing more and more about John Senior and the work he did down in Kansas (resulting in, among other things, Clear Creek Abbey).

    Can anyone recommend a solid source of information about what Senior did at Kansas that was so successful?

  18. Fr Francis Coveney says:

    And of course the CDF document(Dominus Iesus, June 16 2000) that made distinctions about which religious communities were real “Churches” was only using the same distinctions that had been made by the Second Vatican Council in the Decree on Ecumenism, Unitas Redintegratio sections 3 and 22.

    So many people who make claims about the “Spirit of Vatican II” are usually saying things that totally contradict the actual teaching of Vatican II.

    It makes you wonder if they ever read the Vatican II documents.

  19. Fr. Richard J. Mc Donald says:

    “Fr. Z, and others: recently I’ve been hearing more and more about John Senior and the work he did down in Kansas (resulting in, among other things, Clear Creek Abbey).

    “Can anyone recommend a solid source of information about what Senior did at Kansas that was so successful?

    “Comment by LCB — 4 February 2008 @ 8:23 pm”

    The three profs, Dennis Quinn, John Senior & Frank Nelick,
    are remembered best in audiofiles of their dialogue classes.
    [How to get them, I know not except for contacting alumni.]
    Also to be read are Quinn’s “Iris Exiled: A Synoptic History of
    Wonder,” (Universtiy Press of America) & Senior’s “Death of Christian Culture” and what is being done at Clear Creek in “Restoration of Christian Christian Culture.” (for both go to IHS Press)

  20. Fr. Richard J. Mc Donald says:

    “Fr. Z, and others: recently I’ve been hearing more and more about John Senior and the work he did down in Kansas (resulting in, among other things, Clear Creek Abbey).

    Can anyone recommend a solid source of information about what Senior did at Kansas that was so successful?

    Comment by LCB — 4 February 2008 @ 8:23 pm”

    The three profs, Dennis Quinn, John Senior & Frank Nelick,
    are remembered best in audiofiles of their dialogue classes.
    [How to get them, I know not except for contacting alumni.]
    Also to be read are Quinn’s “Iris Exiled: A Synoptic History of
    Wonder,” (University Press of America) & Senior’s “Death of Christian Culture” and what is being done at Clear Creek in “Restoration of Christian Culture.” (for both go to IHS Press)

  21. Matthew Hewitt says:

    I am a recent convert to the church (aged 32), who was Baptised and took my first Holy Communion in December and was confirmed on Sunday (I took Benedict as my confirmation name). I came to the Church as the woman who I am marrying in April is a practising Catholic, and I started going to Mass with her. For me, the greatest inspiration in my decision was both her example and also that of my parish priest, a man who inspires me with his simple and humble holiness. From my observations since joining the church, I think the real crisis in the Church is in the lack of vocations. This is what is leading to churches being closed and sold off and people staying away. We are lucky in our parish in that we many active families (with 48 confirmations at Sunday’s mass) and five Sunday masses; few are so fortunate.

    How do we inspire the current and future generations to aspire to the priesthood? It is by appointing good men of obvious holiness and courage in speaking out against the sins of the modern world to leadership roles in the Church. It also requires active and vigorous (but challenging where appropriate) support from the lay members of the Church for those in that leadership role and, most importantly, for us all to be positive examples of a good Christian life. Much of the non-Christian criticism of the Church in my experience arises from a perceived hypocrisy on the part of many of the members of the Church in not living that good life as how can any Church expect to attract new members when its existing ones are not living their lives in a manner faithful to its teachings? We must all play our role in this if the Church is to flourish, and be daily examples to those around us. What better time than Lent for us to start that effort – I have already found that it is not always easy to live a good Christian life, and you will not always succeed, but it is greatly enriching if you try and even more so when you succeed.

  22. Habemus Papam says:

    Compare and contrast the weasel words of Fr. Seed with the thought of Fr. Nichols. Holy Father, this is your man.

  23. RichR says:


    I think the more we turn priests into laymen, and the more we turn laymen into priests, the less attractive the priesthood will be. Who wants to make the sacrifices and commitments of the priesthood when they can do the same functions as an employed, married layman? A problem with over-promoting the “lay ministry” is that these “extraordinary” roles are self-perpetuating because their continued existence hinges on the continued shortage of priests. Therefore, for “lay ministers” to promote priestly vocations is to hasten their own demise (and unemployment).


  24. RBrown says:

    Fr. Z, and others: recently I’ve been hearing more and more about John Senior and the work he did down in Kansas (resulting in, among other things, Clear Creek Abbey).

    Can anyone recommend a solid source of information about what Senior did at Kansas that was so successful?
    Comment by LCB

    Also Bob Carlson’s Truth on Trial: Liberal Education be Hanged. One of the monks at Clear Creek is writing a biography of Senior.

    I am hoping someone writes the story of KU, Fontgombault, and Clear Creek while we’re all still alive.

  25. RBrown says:

    BTW, Fr Nichols is himself a convert.

  26. LCB says:

    Building on what Michael said:

    From my perspective, the vocation most lacking in the Church is faithful married couples. If Catholics lived out their marriage vocation in an authentic way, and raised their children to be good Christians, we would have more priests than we have seminaries.

  27. RBrown says:

    Re John Senior:

    The son of a doctor, he was educated in the Great Books at Columbia, and studied under Mark Van Doren. JS converted in 1960 (Feast of St Hermenegild) and Van Doren wrote a poem to commemorate it “Be Thou Therefore Perfect”. It was published in a book of Van Doren’s poems, but I’m not sure which one.

    Senior’s expertise was Chaucer and French Symbolist Literature (Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarme’, et al). He is author of The Way Down and Out: The Occult in Symbolist Literature.

    In the 60’s Esquire magazine ran an article on the best profs in the nation: If someone were to quit school and travel the country to hear the best profs, who was worth hearing? If I remember correctly, there were 5 or so profs selected–Senior was one of them. He was then at the Univ of Wyoming, having left Cornell to go West because he wanted to be a cowboy. (And, yes, I have seen the article.)

    A superb teacher, he was extraordinarily bright and very funny. The first day of his class was always devoted to finding another classroom because 8 people would enroll but 30 would show up–and attend regularly.

  28. NoName says:

    Humanly speaking, it is impossible. So starts Belloc’s classic essay The Conversion of England.

  29. NoName says:

    Humanly speaking, it is impossible. So starts Belloc’s classic essay The Conversion of England.

  30. TerryC says:

    Fr. Nichols, an eminent member of the Order of Preachers. He states what America needs as well, though unlike England, America was never a Catholic country, so we must strive even more fervently, and expect even more persecution and adversity before we succeed, in God’s own time.
    All of these steps, though, could only serve to make the Church in America stronger. I agree that the past actions of the USCCB make it seem likely that they, as an organization, would oppose such a plan. Luckily time is on the side of the Church, as it has always been. These old heretics will be called home to justify their decisions before God, and since their actions have pretty much insured the dearth of young heretical priests their replacements are more likely to be more orthodox and ready to implement such a plan.

  31. Flambeaux says:


    Do you have a link to Fr. Nichols comments regarding America, or is it covered in the same text we are presently discussing?


  32. dacs says:

    I believe that the Church enough resources to cover both conversion of lukewarm Catholics back to the Church and conversion of non-Catholics to the Church. It would be a waste of time and resources to just concentrate on one area while leaving another (as important) unattended.

    There is just too many of us lying around doing nothing. Indeed, we all should be as we are – a Church Militant.

  33. Sean says:

    The Ash Wednesday NO I went to tonight wouldn’t convert the skin of a rice pudding. It is so sad to watch a parish die smiling.

  34. Margo says:

    Intriguing post, Fr. Z. Thank you so much not only for the heads-up, but also for your commentary.

    Some of the renewal movements in the Church have begun to build Catholic culture. But one of the tricks they seem to face is perpetuating that beyond their movement. Hmmm…

    Carolina Geo — I hear ya! So many parishioners have not been catechised to grow in their relationship with the Lord and in ‘do[ing] whatever He tells you.’ But I wonder if it might be more accurate to say that assisting fellow Catholics and witnessing to non-Catholics should occur simultaneously. After all, the Body of Christ has different members (who all have different gifts), and we’re all to be functioning here and now, as called upon by the Head.

    LCB — You may be right. I would propose, however, that the vocation most lacking (in the Church in America, at least) is the lay vocation / living out the lay apostolate, the life a layperson is called to live. Not because there aren’t very many of us, but because most Catholics don’t realize that they have — that EVERYONE has — a vocation. More priests than seminaries would be nice, but more Catholics growing closer to the Lord and letting His life flow out through them to the folks they come into contact with every day — now *that* would be powerful, eh?!!

  35. Oliver says:

    To what exactly would England convert? What concept of Catholicism would interest the intended convert? The liberalism? The new plans reformers have in mind? The broad tolerant ecumenical club? The regular social gatherings complete with popular entertainment? Or maybe the allure of gratuitous psychological therapy for those finding it hard breathing? There are some of course who still think the Church nowadays is a solid rock of old morality with antique ritual to match. They will be so disappointed. That scenario died a long time ago leaving an institution struggling to be an equal partner with those setting the social agenda. Nor must one be influenced by flickers of tradition seen in Rome. These are not for export in the wider world; just the final gasps of nostalgia in the setting Roman sun. Ahhh …….

  36. sapienti sat est says:

    When Catholic properties (Canterbury, Westminster Abby and all the others) seized by Henry VIII are finally returned to the Church, we’ll know the conversion of England has occurred.

  37. Aunt Raven says:

    There is a folk prophecy which says “When England returns to the Faith, Our Lady will return to Walsingham”. The original site of the mediaval shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham (pre-reformation patroness of all England; in modern times, she’s patroness of all English speaking peoples) is in private hands. There are now three 20th century shrines to her in Little Walsingham: Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox (Ecumenical– all are her children !) The statue from the ancient shrine–with several other beloved madonnas– was “officially reported” burnt in 1536; however at least one other statue burnt was a copy: the original was smuggled to Nettuno, Italy. There is some evidence the ancient Walsingham madonna was similarly saved from the flames; was afterward smuggled abroad and hidden “in plain sight” in Europe, its identity currently unrecognized. When England is converted, it will be identified, and Divine Providence will as a validating symbol of the “return of Our Lady’s Dowery” , return this 11th century wooden statue to the original, rebuilt, shrine site. In 2000 The Holy Father moved Our Lady of Walsingham’s traditional 25 March feast day to the day formerly the feast of Our Lady of Ransom, 24 September. The September feast of Our Lady of Ransom had been occasion for prayers for England’s re-conversion;–now it seems Heaven knows something we as yet don’t. . . that the time for Catholic Restoration is nigh. English Catholic Bishops need a courageous, saintly apostle to set them on the vigorous path of authentic evangelization. Pray to Our Lady of Walsingham that Fr Nichols is appointed Catholic Primate of England. This would show American Episcopalians and Anglicans of the Commonwealth that the Vatican endorses the wise and compassionate vision of Fr Nichols for the reunion of the Church in one fold under one shepherd.

  38. Iacobus B. says:

    If they don\’t make him the next Archbishop of Westminster, he should be next in line to be the next Archbishop of Hartford. Our diocese had the dubious honor of ranking last in Crisis magazine for Catholic identity. Poor Archbishop Mansell is trying to clean up after years of liberalism, but is having a tremendously hard time because much of the diocesan clergy was subjected to the worst of \’70s style formation at St. Mary\’s in Baltimore.

    The laity are starting to notice problems that have become more apparent in the past ten years:
    (1) Reductions in the number of scheduled Masses because younger priests do not want to take on the liturgical burden of their predecessors
    (2) Declines in the evangelical counsel of poverty… priests who think that inculturation involves living the richie rich lives that their parishoners do… you know Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator, country club membership etc.
    (3) Declines in fidelity to the evangelical counsel of chastity
    (4) Massive declines in Mass attendance concurrent to the decline of the Roman Liturgy (Due to the banality of the Novus Ordo, many of the faithful are not aware that Mass is a representation of Calvary and think that it\’s just a great big horse and pony show.
    (5) Significant problems with Catechesis… as a child, back in the \’90s, I remember being told by a Catechist that of all the parts of the Mass, the Liturgy of Eucharist was the part where it was okay to lost attention \”because it is the same week after week\”.

    Thankfully, I had good friends who introduced me to the Trid in college.

    But is it any wonder that there are so many restless young people in the state? What happens to the meaning of life when deprived of the beatific vision?