Saturday, September 02, 2006

Thomas Howard... a favorite author

I found this recently while surfing the net today. Below are excerpts from his books/articles. I am very fond of this author, eventhough I've only read one of his books. I do read much more than I ever did, and always have enjoyed reading, but I'm not aware of all the great Catholic writers out there, being a neophite to and in the CC. I had not a clue Thomas Howard is the brother of Elisabeth Elliot. I used to listen to her on our Christian radio station about 9 years ago. I was so exicted to hear Thomas "jumped the Tiber" too! When one is truly interested in delving into history and into the depth of Holy Scripture, one can't help but be beckoned and answer that call to HOME...Rome Sweet Home that is. I am posting the link where I found this and hope you visit. It was a very extensive, and informative blog spot. ~ susie

Thomas Howard Quotes

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

[compiled and uploaded to my website in 1997]

Biographical Brief

Thomas Howard is one of the most popular and eloquent Catholic authors today, and (in my humble opinion) the stylistic successor to C.S. Lewis. Like Lewis, he is an English professor, formerly at Gordon College, and now at St. John's Seminary (both in Massachusetts). He was raised in a solidly evangelical family, and is the brother of the well-known missionary and writer Elisabeth Elliot. After becoming interested in a more liturgical style of worship at Wheaton College in the late 1950s, he became an Episcopalian.

In 1985, Howard was received into the Catholic Church at the age of 50, after a "20-year pilgrimage," shortly after publishing perhaps his most famous book, Evangelical is Not Enough. He cites the influence of great Catholic writers such as Newman, Knox, Chesterton, Guardini, Ratzinger, Karl Adam, Louis Bouyer, and St. Augustine on his final decision. Howard's always stylistically-excellent prose is especially noteworthy for its emphasis on the sacramental, incarnational and "transcendent" aspects of Christianity.

His conversion caused quite a stir in Protestant evangelical circles, and was the subject of a mildly frantic and somewhat defensive feature article in the leading evangelical periodical Christianity Today ("Well-known Evangelical Author Thomas Howard Converts to Catholicism," May 17, 1985, pp.46-62). His wife Lovelace has also recently entered the Catholic Church.


1967 Christ the Tiger
1969 Chance or the Dance?
1976 Hallowed be This House
1980 The Achievement of C.S. Lewis
1984 Evangelical is Not Enough
1985 Christianity: The True Humanism (with J.I. Packer)
1987 C.S. Lewis: Man of Letters
1991 The Novels of Charles Williams
1994 Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome
1995 When Your Mind Wanders at Mass
1997 On Being Catholic

Evangelical Strengths and Weaknesses

I owe my nurture to evangelicalism. The evangelical wins hands down in the history of the church when it comes to nurturing a biblically literate laity. When we think of evangelism, evangelicals are the most resourceful, the most intrepid, and the most creative. But evangelicals themselves would say that they have never come to grips with what the whole mystery of the church is. I don't know whether I've ever met an evangelical who does not lament the desperate, barren, parched nature of evangelical worship. They're frantic over the evangelical poverty when it comes to the deeper reaches of Christian spirituality and what the mystery of worship is all about.

{Interview: "Why Did Thomas Howard Become a Roman Catholic?," Christianity Today, 15 May 1985, 49}

The Meaning of Existence

There were some ages in Western history that have occasionally been called Dark. They were dark, it is said, because in them learning declined, and progress paused, and men labored under the pall of belief. A cause-effect relationship is frequently felt to exist between the pause and the belief. Men believed in things like the Last Judgment and fiery torment . . . Then the light came . . . Men were freed from the fear of the Last Judgment; it was felt to be more bracing to face Nothing than to face the Tribunal . . . The myth sovereign in the old age was that everything means everything. The myth sovereign in the new is that nothing means anything.

{Chance or the Dance: A Critique of Modern Secularism, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1969, 11-12}

Chronological Snobbery

Because a given era lacked a given body of information, we feel that its whole consciousness was naive. We can, therefore, sniff at, say, twelfth-century imagery of evil along with twelfth-century notions as to the shape of the solar system. The idea is that, having come upon information that supervenes the medieval cosmology, we can thereby dismiss all medieval notions as merely medieval . . . Their credulity left them open to the possibility of such touching vagaries as dragons, hell, and Virgin Birth. We, of course, know better . . . We now know that nothing exists that we cannot examine through a glass or on the consulting couch.

{Christ the Tiger, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1967, 138}


The eternal . . . attires itself in the routine, the inauspicious, the anonymous. It does this because it reserves itself (it is so holy) for the pure eye of faith . . . The eye of faith alone can pierce the surface and see Reality. That is why Catholics genuflect when they come to church. They know that this is a holy place, and to be found on one's knee is a very good posture in such precincts. It says, ceremonially, not verbally, "I am a creature, and thou art my Creator. I am thy child and thou art my Father. I am a subject and thou art my Sovereign. And alas, I am a sinner, and thou art holy" . . . A Catholic has difficulty in grasping what it is that non-Catholics espouse that precludes this act. Surely we are not mere minds? Surely all of us bring physical gesture to bear on all situations (a wave, a nod, a kiss). Why is the physical excluded here? Surely to exclude it here and here alone is to imply a gnostic (disembodied), not a Christian (incarnational) state of affairs?

{On Being Catholic, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997, 69-70}

Church Unity

Where we (non-Catholics) were pleased to live with a muddle, and even with stark contradictions (Luther vs. Zwingli, for example, on the Lord's Supper), the Church of antiquity was united. No one needed to remain in doubt forever as to what the Church might be, or where it might be found . . . There was one Church: the Church was one. And this was a discernible, visible, embodied unity, not a loose aggregate of moderately like-minded believers with their various task forces all across the globe. The bishop of Antioch was not analogous to the General Secretary of the World Evangelical Fellowship, nor to the head of the National Association of Evangelicals . . . . He could speak with the full authority of the Church behind him, whereas these latter gentlemen can only speak for their own organizations.

{Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome, Steubenville, OH: Franciscan University Press, 1994, 38-39}

The Sins of the Catholic Church

Rome's opulence, her political machinations down through the centuries, her tyrannies and hauteur and self-assertiveness, not to mention the Dionysian romp in the Vatican in the Renaissance, what with Borgia popes and catamites and so forth: all of that is bad - very bad. The Catholic Church knows that. Dante, of course, had half of the popes head down in fiery pits in hell. Chaucer, contemporary with the Lollard Wyclif, but himself a loyal Catholic, is merciless - scathing even - in his portraiture of filthy and cynical clergy. St. Thomas More and Erasmus, contemporary with Luther and Calvin, were at least as vitriolic in their condemnation of Roman evils as were the Reformers . . . [But] Israel was not less Israel when she was being wicked . . . The Church is in the same position in its identity as people of God. We have Judas Iscariot, as it were, and Ananias and Sapphira, and other unsavory types amongst us, but we have no warrant to set up shop outside the camp, so to speak . . . Evangelicals, in their just horror at rampant evils in Catholic history, . . . unwittingly place themselves somewhat with the Donatists of the fourth century, who wanted to hive off because of certain evils which they felt were widespread in the Church. Augustine and others held the view that you can't go that far. You can't set up shop independently of the lineage of bishops . . . As far as the ancient, orthodox Church was concerned, nobody could split off . . . The problems of the Roman Catholic Church (sin, worldliness, ignorance) are, precisely, the problems of the Church. St. Paul never got out of Corinth before he had all of the above problems. Multiply that small company of Christians by 2000 years and hundreds of millions, and you have what the Catholic Church has to cope with. Furthermore, remember that the poor Catholics aren't the only ones who have to cope. Anyone who has ever tried to start himself a church has run slap into it all, with a vengeance . . . Worldliness, second-generation apathy, ossification, infidelity, loss of vision, loss of zeal, loss of discipline, jiggery-pokery, heresy - it's all there.

{"Letter to my Brother: A Convert Defends Catholicism," Crisis, December 1991, 23-24,26}

Monogamy and Fidelity

For Christians, the reason why it is ordinarily assumed that a marriage will go on "till death do us part" has been that this advanced lesson in Charity which marriage opens into is a long, a difficult one, and the life span that my spouse and I are allowed will certainly not be nearly long enough to finish the lesson . . . I will have as much as I can do to learn this advanced lesson well with one other person; a harem will only confuse my efforts.

{Hallowed be This House, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1976, 112-113}

Eucharist and Incarnation

The Sacrament of the Eucharist is, of course, one step away from the Incarnation itself, where the thing signified (The Word) and the signifier (Jesus) were absolutely one. Symbol and sign and metaphor strain towards this union; Sacrament presents it, but the Incarnation is that perfect union. Again, it is a scandal. God is not man, any more than bread is flesh. But faith overrides the implacable prudence of logic and chemistry and says "Lo!"

{Evangelical is Not Enough, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984, 111}

Christian Ceremony

Ceremony assists us to cope with the otherwise unmanageable. Far from erecting a barrier between us and the truth, it ushers us closer in to the truth. It dramatizes the truth for us. Ceremony does what words alone can never do. It carries us beyond the merely explicit, the expository, the verbal, the propositional, the cerebral, to the center where the Dance goes on . . . Ceremony belongs to the essential fabric of what we are. We do not need verses from the Bible to validate ceremony for us any more than we need verses to tell us to eat our meals or to have sex. The Bible is not a handbook of everything . . . To prohibit ceremony, or even to distrust it, and to reduce the worship of God Himself to the meager resources available to verbalism, is surely to have dealt Christendom a dolorous blow.

{Evangelical is Not Enough, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984, 98,100}

C.S. Lewis as Rhetorician

Anyone who has . . . read Mere Christianity . . . knows something of the sheer force and magnificence of Lewis in argument. There is nothing snide, nothing petty, nothing ad hominem, disingenuous, or irrelevant. All is magnanimity, clarity, and craftsmanship. Lewis knew backwards and forwards the art of argument - of rhetoric, actually, in its Renaissance meaning, designating the whole enterprise of opening up and articulating and working through a given line of thought.

{C.S. Lewis: Man of Letters, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987, 15}

Orthodox Worship

When I walk into an Orthodox Church . . . one is immediately aware that one has stepped into the presence of what St. Paul would call the whole family in heaven and earth. You have stepped into the precincts of heaven! . . . I love the Orthodox Church's spirit. I think the Orthodox Church many, many centuries ago, discovered a mode of music and worship which is timeless, which is quite apart from fashion, and which somehow answers to the mystery and the solemnity and the sacramental reality of the liturgy.

{"A Conversation With Thomas Howard and Frank Schaeffer," The Christian Activist, vol. 9, Fall/Winter 1996, 43}


A rigorous doctrine of imputation is not only limiting but ends up doing a disservice to the nature of grace and justification. It makes the transactions of the gospel basically juridical. In the Roman view, justification and sanctification are a seamless fabric. It is more than a question of God simply seeing us through a legal scrim of Christ's righteousness. Righteousness actually begins to transform us.

{Interview: "Why Did Thomas Howard Become a Roman Catholic?," Christianity Today, 15 May 1985, 57}

The Gospel in the Mass

It is in the familiar structure of the Mass itself that a Catholic not only encounters but finds himself received into the very gospel itself, day by day, year after year . . . the entire liturgy is a seamless gospel fabric, so to speak. It is the gospel, in public, ceremonial, ritual, explicit form.

{On Being Catholic, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997, 122}

The Church Off the Rails by 95 AD

As a Fundamentalist I had discovered while I was in college that it is possible to dismiss the entire Church as having gone off the rails by about AD 95. That is, we, with our open Bibles, knew better than did old Ignatius or Clement, who had been taught by the very apostles themselves, just what the Church is and what it should look like. Never mind that our worship services would have been unrecognizable to them, or that our governance would have been equally unrecognizable: we were right, and the fathers were wrong (about bishops, and about the Eucharist). That settled the matter.

{Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome, Steubenville, OH: Franciscan University Press, 1994, 32}

Devotional Legalism and "Magic"

Another thing that worried me . . . was the array of devout exercises that was seen by each group as having a unique and a divine validity. That is, people who were loyalists of any form of religious orthodoxy assumed that their set of gestures, and their set alone, represented true love for God . . . The great thing is to discover some activity that signals good intentions before God . . . There is almost no way of keeping ourselves free from the inclination to magic. We like to see others' gestures as vain, idolatrous, or superstitious, but it does not often occur to us to think about what would be left of our own righteousness if the familiar equipment were suddenly to vanish.

{Christ the Tiger, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1967, 72-73}

Sacraments and Nature

Sacrament is metaphor lifted by redemption from the mortal world, locked as that world is into mere "nature" . . . Sacrament, recalling and presenting the Incarnation itself, is not so much supernatural as quintessentially natural, because it restores to nature its true function of being full of God . . . , not in a pantheistic [sense] that blurs the distinction between Creator and creation but in testimony that indeed heaven and earth are full of His glory. Nature is the God-bearer, so to speak, not the god, nor God and nature merged.

{Evangelical is Not Enough, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984, 110}

Adam and Eve and the Fall

There is, like it or no, a Dance going on, and one may join or not . . . The implication . . . of the Adam and Eve story is that if they had bowed to the interdict placed on the forbidden fruit, life and not death would have been the guerdon. That is, paradoxically, if they had knuckled under to what looked emphatically like a denial of their freedom, . . . they would have discovered something unimaginable to them - something that, according to the story, was at that very point lost to them and us for the duration of human time.

{Chance or the Dance: A Critique of Modern Secularism, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1969, 106-107}

Inquisitorial Orthodoxy

That religious earnestness forever tends toward fright and hence towards brittleness and inquisition is clear enough in mythology and history. In the story of Job, for instance, God took the side of Job, who had complained and accused him, against Job's orthodox friends. They were correct in their propositions, but their loyalty to what they were sure was true had led them into subhuman attitudes. They had become inquisitors. Christ had a similar problem with the Pharisees, and Saint Paul with the leaders of early Christendom.

{Christ the Tiger, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1967, 97}


Love . . . asks that you disavow your attempt to enlarge your own identity by diminishing that of others. It asks that you cease your effort to safeguard your own claim to well-being by assuming the inferiority of others' claims. It asks, actually, that you die.

{Christ the Tiger, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1967, 144-145}

Sacraments and the Incarnation

Sacraments, like the Incarnation itself, constitute physical points at which the eternal touches time, or the unseen touches the seen, or grace touches nature. It is the Gnostics and Manicheans who want a purely disembodied religion.

{Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome, Steubenville, OH: Franciscan University Press, 1994, 43}

Catholic vs. Protestant Heterodoxy

"Trouble," especially doctrinal conflict and the various efforts to include moral (read "sexual") innovations within the pale of the Church, is qualitatively different in the Catholic Church from what it is in the denominations . . . In church X, shall we say, we may find a bishop urging homosexuality as a profoundly Christian "style of life," or ostentatiously doubting the Lord's virgin birth, or busily eroding the confidence of his flock in the text of Scripture. Nothing can be done except ad hoc protest. Good men in the denomination may get up a White Paper, or write articles, or introduce a resolution in the next General Convention. But we all know what this sort of thing ends in. Alas. In the Catholic Church there occurs this same heresy and false teaching, often loudly taught in high theological quarters. But everyone - both in the world and the Church - knows that there is a desk on which the buck stops, so to speak, and that when Rome has spoken on the issue, it is concluded . . . Rome can say and does say to the Church and the world, "This which you hear Fathers C. and F. teaching is not Catholic teaching. It is not in accord with the Faith once for all delivered to us by the apostles." . . . No one need be in the slightest doubt on the point; whereas another denomination, if it can ever get up the votes, can only pass a resolution.

{Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome, Steubenville, OH: Franciscan University Press, 1994, 84-85}

The "Embarrassed Catholic"

An embarrassed Catholic . . . goes to Mass, to be sure. But an onlooker might suppose that he was seeing a man awaiting the dentist's drill. Great gloom emanating from the facial expression, heavy winter jacket all bunched up, mouth clamped firmly shut during anything as stupid as singing, and a beeline for the door at the instant of dismissal. It can happen that, upon being asked about his faith, such a man will only mutter awkwardly, and change the subject.

{"Catholic is Not Enough," Envoy, May/June 1997, 39}


Chad Toney said...

"Evangelical Is Not Enough" changed this young evangelical's life when he was ~18.

I eventually followed Howard all the way home!

Tiber Jumper said...

I love Thomas Howard. He is probably one of the most cogent writers and gentle defenders of the faith we have in this generation.(of course not including JP2) The fact that his sister is an icon in the protestant world makes it all so much more interesting. When someone of his stature and intellect converts, it has to make a non Catholic wonder what is in this Catholic Church that is so compelling. God will continue to raise up Thomas Howard's in the next generation as he did with Chesterton, Newman etc in the generations before us. Thanks for the post.