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June/July 2006

The Non-Igneous burning
of Catholic Books


Burning symbols of national states and portraits of elected politicians is in vogue. The Muslim outrage at the cartoons satirising the Prophet Mohammed published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten in October 2005 and reproduced by other journals in the West, literally set on fire flags and embassy buildings in several cities and resulted in the death and injury of dozens of protesters, law enforcement officers and passers-by.

Wreckers and "burners"

The modern enthusiasm for pyrotechnic protest reached a crescendo in the 1960’s when students at Western universities, eschewing religion, expressed solidarity with political systems mainly of the Marxist- Leninist variety. Academe had become the citadel of lost causes.

The 60’s of course were when the heresy of Catholic Modernism arose from its slumber and, in the wake of Vatican II, embarked on its own form of non-igneous ‘burning’ of great literary works of Catholic orthodoxy.

In parish after parish across Europe and the United States, in Africa and other parts of the world Catholic libraries, seminaries and monasteries were scoured for books which the wreckers regarded as outdated and incompatible with the "Spirit of Vatican II" and the ‘new’ Church.

Salvaging the Faith

On my book shelves I have a selection of titles purchased from second-hand book shops and church fetes, and plucked from cardboard boxes in the vestries of various churches systematically engaged in casting out the old and replacing it with new.

"Help yourself" was the written request on the discard bins. So I did. Some samples:

• A copy of The Question Box by the Paulist Father Bertrand L. Conway. It contains replies to questions received on missions to non-Catholics. The book had its origins in 1893 at the World’s Fair in Chicago when the author’s forward tells us:

"Archbishop John J. Keane. The rector of the Catholic University of Washington, Father Walter Elliott of the Paulist Fathers, and Father John Driscoll of the Albany diocese, took advantage of the gathering together of the nations in a Parliament of Religions, to set forth the claims of the Catholic Church. A question box was placed in the Assembly Hall and hundreds of queries on every phase of Catholic belief and practice were submitted daily by men and women of every religion and creed."

No pandering to false ecumenism and syncretistic argument in those days. Indeed the 1929 edition of the book which I have in front of me contains a Preface by the then Cardinal Archbishop of New York Patrick Hayes who, in heartily recommending the book, wrote:

"May God’s blessing continue upon the mission of The Question Box. May it bring the light of truth to the mind of Catholic and non-Catholic reader. May it move the seeker after truth to pray with the Psalmist, "Direct me in Thy truth, and teach me" (Psalm xx1v.5).

But alas, at some time in the 1960s or ‘70s I would guess, the Jesuit Missionary Fathers at Silveira House in the then Salisbury (now Harare), in what is now Zimbabwe, literally drew a line through the stamps on the inner cover marked "Central Mission Library S.J." and "Prestage House, S.J". And so The Question Box ended up in a second-hand book store nearby, where I purchased it for a measly five Zimbabwean dollars, much less than a cent in present day US currency.

Cuddled next to it on the same display shelf was a pristine 1958 paperback copy of Fr John A. O’Brien’s inspiring The Faith of Millions, priced at an even cheaper four dollars fifty Zimbabwean. Another Silveira House throwaway, I snapped it up.

One wonders with what modern books the Jesuit fathers replaced those jewels of faithful Catholic teaching?

By 1929 two million, nine hundred and sixty-six thousand copies of The Question Box had been printed. No wonder. It is a gold mine of Catholic truth. No event, no papal decree, no infallible ruling since 1929 has altered a word of its contents although of course, as the crisis in the Church clearly demonstrates, Catholic orthodoxy continues to be assaulted by heretical tracts and flights of fancy written by Modernist advocates both clerical and lay and absorbed, by the unsuspecting, as the ‘new’ truth.

• From the take-away box outside a monastery in Sussex, England, I rescued a 1857 edition of The Holy Bible: Douay Version, endorsed by Paul Cullen Archbishop of Dublin and the other twenty five bishops of Ireland.

• I ask, rhetorically,what happened to Catholic Ireland, land of my maternal ancestors? From the same monastery I gathered up The Christ. The Son of God: A Life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, a deeply moving tribute to the earthly sojourn of Our Blessed Lord which takes us on an inspiring spiritual and geographical journey with Christ through the Holy Land of His time.

It was written by Abbé Fouard in 1880 to counter the outrageously heretical yet ingenious work published in 1861 by the French academic Ernest Renan entitled Vie de Jesus. Renan lost his Catholic faith in the seminary. Now that has a very modern ring to it.

In an introduction to Renan’s fable, an admirer, one A.D. Howell Smith, tells us that Renan concludes, "that the story of Christ’s Resurrection was started by the hallucinations of a frenzied devotee, Mary of Magdala. A woman’s love and folly had given to the world a risen God" (

Perhaps that’s where the modern writers of the ludicrous Holy Blood, Holy Grail and the best selling anti-Catholic diatribe The Da Vinci Code got their inspiration.

I haven’t yet had to rescue Renan’s book from a take away box outside a Catholic institution. Surely our Modernist theologians haven’t included Renan’s work on the seminary book list have they? As part of the comparative theology course perhaps? Just asking. If they have and they need a copy of Abbe Fouard’s book, in the interests of balance, they can purchase one through the internet in English or in French.

• Other discards from Catholic institutions now in my proud possession are: Addis and Arnold’s Catholic Dictionary (1953); two monumental works by G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (1925), and St Thomas Aquinas (1933); Msgr. Ronald Knox’s Caliban in Grub St (1931) and The Epistles and Gospels for Sundays and Holidays (1946). All went the dustbin route.

• In the series The Road to Rome which was put together in the 1950s by the untiring American priest Fr John A. O’Brien, prominent personalities including that doyen of twentieth century prose Evelyn Waugh, the famous Jewish actress Lilian Roth, Ronald Knox himself, A. J. Cronin, the former Communist Bella Dodd, and Nobel prize winner Dr Alexis Carrel who witnessed a miracle take place at Lourdes, tell their inspiring stories of conversion to Catholicism.

Other accounts include those of the Chinese philosopher John C.H.Wu, Lord Pakenham, Group Captain Leonard Cheshire V.C., and dozens more.

Once in constant demand by a past generation of Catholics these books need to be re-printed now. Not cast away like so many trashy novels.

"Talking Book" project

Talking of novels and biographies, the following, by Catholic authors of a bygone era when talented writers had no need to hide their light under a bushel, are also in my loving care: The Keys of the Kingdom (1942), by A. J. Cronin; All Glorious Within (1946), by Bruce Marshall; and two of Evelyn Waugh’s most famous Catholic books.

There’s the work of ‘faction’, (ooh, how he would have hated that soubriquet!), entitled Helena (1950): the story of St Helena, who was reputed to have found the True Cross in fourth century Jerusalem. This was the book Waugh described on British television as the one of which he was most proud. All his other novels which had sold by the million came second in his estimation.

Waugh’s Edmund Campion (1935) was reviewed by Graham Greene in the Spectator in the year of its publication. Greene made the connection of St Edmund Campion’s sacrifice and vile death at Tyburn to those facing extinction in battle or imprisonment for conscience sake. The parallel with modern times I leave to you.

These novels and others like them are simply begging to be turned into "Talking Books" and distributed to a wide audience.

If some enterprising Catholic publisher or sponsor is willing to take up the challenge, I know a retired professional broadcaster experienced in novel reading who is suffering from a severe case of ‘Gloria Swanson-syndrome’!

Just contact our revered editor for further details.

(Mr Bishop’s CV cries out for this godly task! Any takers? - Ed.)

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