The Constant Convert
James Bogle on the Life & Witness of the Late Stratford Caldecott
I first met Stratford Caldecott in the 1980s when he and his wife Léonie were living in Wimbledon not far from where my wife and I were living. He and Léonie had recently converted to the Catholic faith.
My first impression of Strat was his almost preternatural quietness; he was soft-spoken and clearly used to being reflective. This immediately made me curious about his background, and I was surprised to learn that he had not been baptized as a child. He received this sacrament only when he converted to Catholicism.
That intrigued me still more, and it was difficult to resist asking him what faith he had been brought up in. Happily, Strat was willing to tell his story, and he did so delightfully and intelligently. Soon my wife and I were also learning Léonie's story, which was every bit as fascinating and well told. We quickly realized that we were encountering a very remarkable couple with an almost unique tale to tell—one that spoke directly to the modern age, yet had the timeless, ageless quality of truth.
It was as if we had before us witnesses to testify to the world that even our godless, faithless, and insipid culture was not beyond salvation after all. For here were two children of that age and culture, who had yet come through it, turned it back the right way up, and brought it, in the persons of themselves, to salvation and fruition in the fullness of the faith. And we were not disappointed in our feeling that this was so—for indeed it was.
Mysticism & Science
Strat was brought up with no religious faith by two South African anti-apartheid intellectuals who had quit that country in 1951. The family lived in London, his father then being a publisher at Penguin Books. Strat developed a voracious appetite for books, as well as a strong interest in both mysticism and popular science. Tellingly, the two were not antonyms for him but were entirely inter-related. That made his insight all the more fitting to meet the challenges of the age of the scientific skeptic.
Strat had a climacteric insight at the age of fourteen, which set him upon the road to the discovery of the divine. Troubled by the tawdry insufficiency of the materialist claim that all is but matter and energy (whether "dark" or not), he realized, in an instant, that merely to be conscious of the question and aware of one's consciousness thereof was itself a complete rebuttal of the materialist claim. Self-awareness is, after all, a non-material quality.
How can mere matter know itself, unless there first be a non-material consciousness to do the actual knowing? A stone has no consciousness of itself, and while an animal perhaps partly does, clearly the consciousness that humans have of their being is of an entirely different level and order. That self-awareness bespeaks immaterial, metaphysical consciousness. And that, in turn, bespeaks a higher, originating metaphysical power. So Strat reasoned—and entirely consistently. At fourteen, he had realized what many a modern intellectual atheist has failed to realize.
With his increasing understanding of science, Strat was able to see that there must be an entity, a dimension, beyond space and time, which was also a unity or unified being. This, as Aquinas tells us in his Quinque Viae or "Five Ways," is what men call God. Simple, real, true. Thus, Strat, brought up without a scrap of religious faith, had, through the mysterious inter-weavings of nature, the human mind and spirit, and grace, arrived at God, at once rationally and yet also mystically.
A Meandering Path to Rome
James Bogle is a writer, barrister, former soldier, and convert from Anglicanism, born in Australia but living in London. He is Vice-Chairman of the Catholic Union of Great Britain. He and his wife Joanna co-authored Heart for Europe, a biography of the last Habsburg Emperor, Blessed Charles I of Austria.
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