LEAD, KINDLY LIGHT
by Thomas Howard
(Ignatius Press, 2004, 105pp, $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-58617-028-8. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Over the past couple of decades there has been a significant number of converts to the Catholic Church in English-speaking countries. Lead, Kindly Light is the autobiographical account of the conversion of US academic and author, Dr Thomas Howard. His other writings include Evangelical is Not Enough and On Being Catholic.
The present work is named after a hymn written by Blessed John Henry Newman, perhaps the most famous convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism.
A former professor of English, Thomas Howard spent the first period of his life in a fundamentalist church before becoming an Anglican. Then, after 25 years as an Episcopalian, he entered the Catholic Church.
Many of the reasons he identifies for his conversion are typical of those who convert. At the heart of these was the question of authority. Indeed, it could be argued that the process which caused his entry into the Episcopal Church was fully realised when he became a Catholic.
As a fundamentalist, Howard received a solid foundation in biblical knowledge while through his encounter with the Episcopal Church as a young man he discovered liturgical prayer, the liturgical year and the threefold order of ministry.
However, the question of authority remained unresolved. While Protestants appealed to the Bible to settle matters of belief, they differed considerably amongst themselves as to how it should be interpreted. Through his reading and reflection, Howard realised that in early Christianity, the appeal was to the authority of the Church.
Furthermore, many of the beliefs held by Christians, such as the Trinity, while consistent with Scripture, were the result of decisions made by the Church. As he read and reflected more and more, Howard came to realise that in the Petrine office, the Catholic Church not only possessed the means of resolving doctrinal disputes but this office was also an integral aspect of the Church as established by Jesus Christ.
Howard was received into the Church in 1984 and as a consequence found himself out of work, as the Protestant college which employed him was unwilling for a convert to Catholicism to continue teaching there.
Providentially, St John's Seminary in Massachusetts heard of his situation and offered him a position soon after his reception into the Church. Lead, Kindly Light is a short but interesting account of Howard's conversion. While each conversion is a unique testament to the workings of God's grace, the reasons as to why he entered the Church reflect those of many converts, including this reviewer. The genius of this work is that the author explains them in a way accessible to the average reader. Lead, Kindly Light is highly recommended.
Michael E. Daniel teaches at a Melbourne secondary school.