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Patrick Allitt's study of British and American Protestants who converted to Roman Catholicism during the period1800 to 1960 demands attention for three reasons. First, it contains sprightly vignettes of some of the most interesting Christian thinkers of the recent past, including (in rough chronological order), the Anglican vicar who became a Catholic cardinal, John Henry Newman, the American editor Orestes Brownson, the irrepressible G. K. Chesterton, the Bible-translator and detective-writer Ronald Knox, the Columbia University historian of European diplomacy Carlton Hays, the novelists Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene, the socially radical but theologically conservative Dorothy Day, and the cultural historian Christopher Dawson. That all of these luminaries were converts to Catholicism, that most of them shared at least some common experiences (for example, preconversion contact with Catholicism as much through reading as through involvement with functioning Catholic communities), that each exploited the resources of the Catholic church in making their intellectual contributions, and that they all experienced almost as much difficulty from their new Catholic coreligionists as from their erstwhile Protestant connections—all these are illuminating conclusions from the kind of synthetic study of this subject that has been needed for some time.
Catholic Converts: British and American Intellectuals Turn to Rome
By Patrick Allitt
Cornell University Press
343 pp.; $35
Orestes A. Brownson: A Bibliography, 1826-1876
Compiled and annotated by Patrick W.Carey
Marquette University Press
212 pp.; $20
Second, the book is also helpful for its perspective on recent Catholic history in Britain and America. Allitt argues that these converts provided most of the intellectual firepower in a church dominated by the Irish (in Britain) and (in America) by immigrant communities from several European regions. The tension between "Catholic thought" aimed at making a difference in the Protestant- ...