FR MARTIN D'ARCY: Philosopher of Christian Love
by H.J.A. Sire
(Gracewing, 1997, 193 pp, $39.95. Available from AD Books)
Reviewed by Michael Daniel
The English province of the Jesuit Order arguably reached its high point in the first half of the 20th century and one of its leading members was Fr Martin D'Arcy, philosopher and Provincial. H.J.A. Sire traces the career of this extraordinary Jesuit and his influence.
Born in 1888, the son of Martin Valentine D'Arcy, a lawyer of Irish heritage, Martin Cyril D'Arcy was educated at Stonyhurst College, founded in 1794 as the successor to the Jesuit College at St Omer, which educated English Catholics during the penal era, before entering the Jesuit Novitiate in 1906. Ordained to the priesthood in 1921, D'Arcy's academic formation included studies at Oxford.
After completing his theological studies, he was assigned to Stonyhurst, and, after a spell in Rome, D'Arcy was appointed to the Jesuit House at Farm St, Mayfair, whose staff was renowned for their preaching and writing skills, together with spiritual direction.
Fr D'Arcy was then appointed to Campion Hall, Oxford, before becoming Rector and Master of Campion Hall in 1933. During his rectorship, D'Arcy oversaw the construction of a new Campion Hall, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, which was opened in 1936.
He believed that an integral aspect of the academic formation of the Jesuit scholastics under his charge included their interacting with non- clerical students, a novelty for candidates for the priesthood in England in the 1930s, and he was criticised when a number of scholastics left the Jesuits in the 1930s.
As he chronicles D'Arcy's achievements in the 1920s and 30s, Sire also explores the friendships D'Arcy developed with academics and other socially prominent people both in Britain and the United States, which led, in some cases, to conversion to Catholicism. Sire also devotes a chapter to discussing D'Arcy's philosophical ideas.
In 1945, D'Arcy was appointed Provincial of the English province. His immediate challenge was the decline in numbers, due partly to the war but also to changes in the ethos of Jesuit schools under D'Arcy's predecessors, which saw a drop in vocations. Although he took concrete steps to reinvigorate the work of the province, to the dismay of most members, he was dismissed in 1950.
While the author is highly critical of the manner in which D'Arcy was dismissed, even his account of D'Arcy's provincialship acknowledges that D'Arcy acquired properties without obtaining all of the necessary permissions for their future use.
Despite support from friends, the dismissal was a blow to D'Arcy. He continued with his teaching and writing and died in 1976.
In his latter years, he was critical of directions both the Jesuits and the Church were taking. Whereas he had been, as a young man, critical of the overreaction to the modernist crisis early in the 20th century, he was more critical of the failure to combat liberalism in the Church in the last years of his life. Of particular concern were banal trends in the liturgy, and to his death he celebrated the classical Roman rite privately.
Father Martin D'Arcy is a well- researched and interesting account of one of the most prominent Jesuits of the 20th century. Given that he was known as "the philosopher of love", a re-consideration of his career is timely in light of the release of Pope Benedict's encyclical Deus Caritas est.
Michael E Daniel is a Melbourne-based secondary school teacher.