Edward Norman’s remarkable conversion to Catholicism

By 
  • November 7, 2012

On Oct. 7 Dr. Edward Norman was received into the Roman Catholic Church at Our Lady of Walsingham in England. In itself, this might not seem remarkable, only another former Anglican to take advantage of the door so generously opened by Pope Benedict XVI in his November 2009 invitation Angicanorum Coetibus. But when you learn who Norman is, his late conversion is remarkable indeed.

Born in London in 1938, Norman was educated at Selwyn College, Cambridge. His specialty was church history, which he went on to teach for two decades, much of that time as Dean of Peterhouse College, Cambridge. In 1978 he was chosen to deliver the BBC’s Reith lectures on the theme: “Christianity and the World.” In addition to academic appointments and honours, Norman served as a priest, dean and chancellor of York Minster. It was not uncommon to hear his name discussed as a potential Archbishop of Canterbury. He is the author of more than 20 theological books.

As the title suggests, Norman’s 2004 book Anglican Difficulties: A New Syllabus of Errors was a scathing indictment of modern Anglicanism. It provided clear evidence of how uncomfortable Norman had become in the Church of England. When it was published, he told an interviewer: “There is a big hole at the centre of Anglicanism — authority. I don’t think it’s a Church; it’s more of a religious society.”

As an insider, Norman knew how the Church of England functioned and he pulled no punches. Of General Synod, he wrote: “Every disagreement, in seemingly every board and committee, proceeds by avoidance of principled debate.

Ordinary moral cowardice is represented as wise judgment, equivocation in the construction of compromise formulae is second nature to our leaders.”

Is the situation different or better in the Anglican Church of Canada? Based on my three-plus Anglican decades, I would say no — although my view is that of a parishioner since I never aspired to any ecclesiastical office. This is not to say that there are not fine people and committed Christians within the Anglican Church. There are. But they tend to be in the pews and they are repeatedly let down, in my experience, by the ostensible leadership. In any case, the primary occupation of a Canadian Anglican bishop today is arranging the closing of churches. The rate of decline is such that the lights should go off in the last standing Anglican church in just a few decades.

Despite his criticism of the Church of England, Norman remained in the Church for eight years after the publication of Anglican Difficulties. It can hardly be imagined or overstated how difficult a decision it must be for a minister or priest to abandon the denomination in which he was ordained and to which he has dedicated his life.

What was the final catalyst for Norman? From the outside, who can know? Even the convert often finds it difficult to express all the subtleties, the twists and turns, of his pilgrimage. What he told the Catholic Herald at the time of his conversion was this:

“The Church of England provides a masterclass in equivocation; it also, however, is the residence of very many good and faithful Christian people who deserve respect — for their perseverance in so many incoherent spiritual adventures. To leave their company is a wrench; to adhere to the Catholic faith is to join the encompassing presence of a universal body of believers in whose guardianship are the materials of authentic spiritual understanding . . . I have immense gratitude.”

Norman is the latest in a long, distinguished line of converts: men like G.K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Graham Greene and Malcolm Muggeridge. His conversion is further proof that even amidst the dark seas of postmodernism, St. Peter’s barque still searches out and rescues the drowning.

That doughty old warrior, Hilaire Belloc, wrote to a friend that the Catholic Church was like a landfall, at first glimpsed hazily and only through the mist:

“…but the nearer it is seen, the more it is real … The metaphor is not that men fall in love with it: the metaphor is that they discover home.”

Welcome home, Edward Norman.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location
Type the text presented in the image below

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.