An interview with Stratford and Leonie Caldecott at the Centre for Faith &
Through the cultural supplement to Catholic World Report called "Second
Spring", which ran every few months from 1992 to 1999, American Catholics began to be aware during the last
decade of yet another movement of cultural and religious renewal in Oxford - that famous city which has seen many
religious revivals over the centuries, including Methodism, the Oxford Movement and the Inklings.
The supplement was produced by the Centre for Faith & Culture, which although
Catholic in inspiration was founded originally at a Methodist college. The Centre is now located at a Catholic
college named after the Jesuit priest Fr Charles Plater, who died in 1921.
The Jubilee Year 2000 has seen a number of important developments for the
Centre, including an alliance with Ave Maria University in Michigan (the foundation of Catholic billionaire Tom
Monaghan), the launch of a new website (www.secondspring.co.uk) and the announcement that the Centre's newsletter will soon become a fully-fledged magazine
(to be called, of course, Second Spring).
It looks as though the Centre, starting from the tiniest and most fragile
of beginnings, is at last becoming more solidly established. In the Fall of 2000 I visited the founders of the
Centre, Stratford and Leonie Caldecott, in their Oxford home.
wonder if you could tell me something of the aim, the vocation, of your Centre, and how it came to exist.
Stratford: We started it about six years ago, the
aim I suppose being a kind of "evangelization of culture". My own background was mainly in publishing.
Leonie and I met and married at university, in Oxford as a matter of fact. Neither of us was a Roman Catholic at
the time. After leaving university I became a publisher, as my father had been. Leonie and I lived in London, and
then for a few years in Boston. It was around 1980 that I became a Catholic (Leonie joined me a couple of years
later), and soon after that I began to look for ways of serving the Church through publishing.
By 1990 I was increasingly frustrated working for large companies. I wanted to be freer to organize
conferences and other events to communicate something of the beauty of the Catholic faith that we had discovered
together. So I resigned my full-time job, and we both moved back to Oxford to work on a number of projects: some
publishing work for the Scottish firm T&T Clark, for example, but also organizing a conference in Zagreb on
"ethics and economics" for The Chesterton Review, and a writing and editing a new section for Father
Fessio's magazine Catholic World Report. We called it "Second Spring" after John Henry Newman's famous
sermon of 1852, in which he speaks about a coming revival of Catholicism in England.
We felt it was important to try somehow to create a place where people could come together to explore the faith.
We were finally able to do it - in a tiny way - with the help of Westminster College, a Methodist college on the
western side of Oxford. They offered me a research fellowship, while T&T Clark paid the rest of my salary in
return for the book publishing which the Centre made possible. It was quite a good arrangement: the College got
the benefit of a close relationship with a publisher, and the publisher got a free editorial office in Oxford.
During the first few years we did a number of things. For example, we organized several conferences, the most successful
of which was on the reform of the liturgy, in 1996 ("Beyond the Prosaic", later published in book form
under that title by T&T Clark). There were also numerous one-day events, exhibitions, lectures, concerts, and
so on. A lot of our work at this time was supported by the G.K. Chesterton Institute. We also started publishing
a newsletter called Faith & Culture Bulletin, which was sent free of charge to anyone who expressed an interest.
After three years, the contract expired with Westminster College, which at that time was pulling out of research,
and I began looking for a new location for the work. In the end I was able to move the Centre over to Plater College
on the other side of town, which is where I am now. Plater is a small Catholic residential College for mature students,
associated with the University but not part of it. It has a special interest in Catholic Social Teaching, which
is what I teach there.
Micheline: You spoke about exploring the faith
with other people. Is the Centre drawing people who are not Christian? Is it becoming a true centre of evangelization?
Stratford: That is a very challenging question!
We are both very much influenced by John Paul II and his concept of a "new evangelization" - which I
think to him means a "cultural" evangelization. That means really that we have to try to reach out to
non-Christians and non-Catholics, as well as to people within the Church who have maybe drifted away. So one of
our problems is always that of communicating beyond a Catholic audience. We haven't solved that yet!
Of course, when we advertise our conferences we try to do it in such a way that anyone is welcome to come. We normally
have some non-Catholics present, but we have never consciously designed events for them, though that may come in
due course. Our priority was to try to present the faith in an attractive way, to bring out the beauty of the faith,
and so hope to draw people towards it. Before we were Catholics ouselves, we were always put off by people who
evangelize you in the street or knock on your door. That was never our style.
Micheline: There is a huge mission here. Do
you feel you have done what you set out to do?
Stratford: I think we have hardly started. There
is a huge work to be done, and it will only be done if lots of people respond to the same call, each in their own
way. We have found that to the extent we have managed to achieve anything, it has always been in collaboration
with others who felt the same way about things. I know we have been able to do very little so far; but no matter
how small one's capacity, and how few resources one has to bring to the task, it seems that we are all asked to
do even tiny things for God. We are struggling to discern the next step: what God wants of us in the moment.
Micheline: Do you think Oxford is an especially
good place for this kind of work?
Stratford: It is a very unusual, extraordinary place.
It is an intellectual centre that is known all over the world. It is also in many ways a very religous city. You
know, you just have to walk down St Giles and you find almost every kind of religious belief represented by religious
houses one after another, within a few hundred yards - from the Oratory to the Christian Scientists and Quakers.
All the big religious orders have halls here. It is quite a place, also, for the reception of Anglicans into the
Roman Catholic Church. That has been a tradition here ever since Newman, and especially since the decision to ordain
women in the Church of England. Most of the Catholics we meet here are converts, of one sort or another.
All of this means that in Oxford there is a very dynamic relationship between faith and culture. Converts tend
to bring their own cultural experience into the Church, and to reflect upon it intellectually. In that sense alone
it is an unusual and exciting place. But there is another reason too. Oxford is important because the separation
between faith and culture in our civilization started with intellectuals. The materialism and atheism we see all
around us began with an intellectual betrayal, an "apostasy", in which philosophers decided they could
pursue truth without reference to God. So, really, Oxford is a good place to try to understand that apostasy, at
the root of the difficulty the Church has in speaking to the modern world. We come across people who are grappling
with that problem all the time, both in their teaching and their writing and in their private conversations.
Micheline: But wouldn't you say that the University
of Oxford is a very "Christian" place in some ways?
Stratford: The University, in fact all the universities,
began with the faith. They grew out of the intellectual culture of Christendom in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.
For a long time - right up to the nineteenth century - they were virtually monastic or clerical in nature. The
architecture of the colleges is deeply religious. Just the statues alone remind you of the saints every time you
cross the street or turn a corner: just think of St John's College, Magdalen College, Corpus Christi - Catholic
symbols, names, carvings, everywhere you look! What goes on in those buildings, however, is a very different matter.
Though there are many Christians here, I think it is difficult to say this is a more Christian university than
many others. It is a modern university that happens to be housed in some ancient buildings. The bulk of the work
that goes on is detached from reference to Christianity.
Micheline: Can intelligent people be at ease
in such a place?
Stratford: There is a lot of suffering in Oxford.
Many of the students are miserable, they are under huge pressure, there are even some suicides. You might think
that students would be reminded by the presence of so many churches and so many statues of the saints that there
is a transcendent reality to search for, to seek comfort in. I am sure many people do begin a religious search
while they are at university, while they are struggling with these pressures, but of course they don't always look
in the direction of Christianity.
In my own case - I was here studying philosophy and psychology - I found the academic work all rather arid. I was
already becoming interested in mysticism, but soon I began a more disciplined search for the truth in religion,
which eventually led me (in rather a roundabout way) to the Catholic Church. I have described some aspects of that
journey in Dwight Longenecker's book, The Path to Rome.
Micheline: You spoke earlier of your wish to
communicate something of the dignity of the Church. Is this something that is easy for young people to grasp?
Stratford: Not always! I was lucky to be able to
think carefully about my attitude to the Church before I was even baptized as a Christian. Not everyone has that
opportunity. I was very consciously joining a Church that taught what I by then (after investigation) believed
to be true. And I have had no problem with those teachings since becoming a Catholic - I have simply discovered
greater and greater depths in them. The difficulty is communicating that to others who have been brought up assuming
there are serious flaws in the Church's teaching, and who usually aren't prepared to listen long enough to a contrary
argument. People always tend to have a vested interest in taking a certain view. They really don't want to listen.
They can't believe that you yourself have already thought through all the standard arguments against Catholicism
- along with a lot of other arguments that have probably never even occurred to them.
Micheline: Plater College has an interest in
the social teaching of the Church. How does this relate to faith and culture?
Stratford: The word "culture" is often
associated exclusively with the fine arts. We tend to use it in a broader sense - as the Pope himself does - to
refer to social issues as well. "Culture" is everything that human beings do creatively through their
work to transform or shape the world. That includes the attempt to overcome injustice. John Paul II, who speaks
of a "culture of life", has shown
that Catholic Social Teaching is rooted in a kind of prophetic analysis of the underluing assumptions that shape
our society and the way we live. We often don't recognize that there are cultural and philosophical assumptions
built into the way we spend our time, the way we work, the way we earn and invest and spend our money. What am
I? What am I living for? What are my priorities? What is right and what is wrong? The way I choose to live reflects
the answers I might give to such questions. So the connection between the social doctrine of the Church and the
culture we inhabit and take for granted is very strong and close. The social doctrine of the Church is to a large
extent a critique of the culture.
Micheline: Is the Pope addressing himself to
the question of human happiness, or to what makes people happy and fulfilled in their lives today?
Stratford: Everyone, without exception, is involved
in the search for happiness. No one wants to be miserable. The question is really whether we can be happy being
selfish, or whether we can only be truly happy - lastingly happy - by overcoming that selfishness, and by allowing
ourselves to be transformed by God's grace. Religion is a challenge. A challenge at the very deepest level.
Micheline: There is such a huge gap between
the teaching of the Church and today's society. Do you think that modern technology make this worse, somehow?
Stratford: It is true that one of the biggest difficulties
we face, in communicating our faith, is the rapid social change that has been brought about by technology. Science
develops so fast that traditional ways of life are increasingly undermined. It becomes hard for people to relate
- emotionally, imaginatively - to the world as described by the Church and by the Holy Scriptures. That all seems
so old-fashioned, so boring, to people who are living imaginatively in the fast lane of the electronic highway,
the "virtual" world of the computer or TV screen.
But at the same time, one has to say that Catholic Social Teaching does reach out and does make sense to many people
who are not particularly interested in religion or the Church or the Bible. They recognize it as a sane and humane
way of organizing society. Community is important, morality is important, trust and respect between people is important,
the family is important. These are priorities that make sense to people, whatever background they come from. They
can see the danger of these things crumbling. So the social teaching of the Church is a very important aspect of
evangelization. It enables us to find common ground: something we can agree on. There are better ways of organizing
society, ways that respect what we really are as human beings. Let's talk about it. Let's try to reflect on what
makes life meaningful.
Micheline: Leonie, let me ask you what you think
about the challenges facing Christian evangelization in Oxford?
Leonie: Oxford is naturally one of the world's
great intellectual centres. So here we are confronted with the need to bring the propositions of faith in contact
with some very high-powered minds: it is a question of "faith and reason" (Fides et Ratio). There is
a spiritual need along with that, which is to counterbalance the mental pride which is a besetting sin of intellectuals
- and, in a way, of the Western world in general.
So there are two things. One has to be convincing; one has to have tested the propositions of faith against human
reason, and to have understood the way reason works in order to be able to speak to people who depend on it entirely.
And at the same time it is important to have a spirituality which is a genuine cure for that intellectual pride.
For me, the response has to be in terms of St Therese of the Child Jesus and her "Little Way". It is only the way of spiritual childhood that can
stand against it. That is why we invited Father Marie-Dominique Philippe (the founder of the Community of St John
http://www.stjean.com/ in France)
to give a couple of retreats here. He very much combines these two elements: the intellectual approach and the
very simple, very childlike spirituality - which of course is Marian as much as it is Theresian.
Micheline: Is there a gap between believing
and doing? Can we do more by grace than duty?
Leonie: Yes, there is a gap. There is always a
gap, and the older I get the more important I think that is. We really have to try and close it, but we cannot
do everything by ourselves. Take something very simple and very central (which connects with our interest in the
liturgical movement). The profound respect with which we behave towards God when we go to church should be reflected
in the way we treat our brothers and sisters - inside and outside the church, on Sunday or on Monday morning. As
our love for God increases, so should our love for our fellow creatures.
Why is there such a gap between these things? It is very important to have a dignified liturgy and a prayerful
atmosphere in church, so that it won't be like a political rally. But at the same time that profound dignity should
be applied to human beings as well. Jesus said, "Love one another
as I have loved you." For me that is everything; that is the call. Of course, it
is not always possible. Sometimes we are weak, sometimes overburdened, but as Christians we have to try to bring
these things together.
Micheline: It is very important, I agree. If
we could see more of that, society would be much healthier, families would be healthier.
Leonie: The whole principle of evangelization
is simply the person: the person in his way of life; the person and the way he is with others. People don't listen
to each other unless there is a basis of friendship, real friendship. But it isn't real, either, if we are simply
"targeting" them for evangelization! You can only offer real friendship to everyone on the basis of Christ,
of seeing Christ in them.
Stratford: Christ himself tells us that he is present
in the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the stranger, the little child. That is true even if they aren't baptized.
Either way, we know that the true self of every person we meet is somehow in Christ. It is that light that we have
to see them in. I think that is what happens in friendship, but usually more slowly! We come to see in someone
a kind of human beauty that is a sort of secret treasure deep inside - maybe something that they aren't aware of
themselves, that they can't possibly know for themselves.
Leonie: To me that is the centre of the whole
thing. It is the centre of Catholic social teaching. It is the centre of the family, which you also mentioned.
This isn't something artificial, it is simply the spring of life, of grace.
Micheline: Can I pick up on this theme of the
family? We haven't spoken much about it, yet it is so important. The family is so broken in society today. And
we have the gays arguing against it.
Leonie: These days, to say that the family based
on marriage between a man and a woman is the permanent foundation of society is almost revolutionary. It is counter-cultural.
There is still a very solid core of families that stick together no matter what, whatever the difficulties. But
the problem is that you can't keep the family together with moralism. It isn't a matter of needing to return to
"Victorian values". Back at the turn of the last century, around 1900, the English writer G.K. Chesterton
already saw that the Victorian family was headed for destruction, and for very good reasons. The fire had gone
out; the hearth had gone cold. These days you can't tell people about traditional morality: they aren't interested.
They would say they have their own morality which suits them better. They want to be free from the authority of
Stratford (interrupting again): They might say:
as long as I don't hurt anyone else, what's wrong with it? The point we can make now - after a few generations
of this kind of social experiment - is that in the long run it does hurt others, more than you realize. The breakup
of families hurts the children: they pass that on to the next generation, and we end up with a society of alienated
hooligans! But I'm not saying we can simply go back, to the 1950s, or to the 1850s - or even to the 1250s.
Leonie: In the end you can only reach people by
example. There have to be examples of families that are warm, where there is love. Not that everything goes smoothly
all the time, even in a solid family: quite the contrary! But there is a centre or a bond that keeps everyone together,
and that comes from God. Without that the "family" does not really exist. That kind of family life can
regenerate itself, can recover from its wounds.
You mentioned the gay culture, which has such a strong influence today. My impression is that this mentality has
to do with a kind of narcissism. It is not just among homosexuals, but everywhere: this is a narcissistic society,
always looking at my "self", my rights, my gratification, my image, my development. What will truly regenerate
culture is the opposite of that. It is self-giving love, Christ's love, which is prepared to empty itself for the
Micheline: So for you the teaching of the Church
is a challenge to society?
Leonie: Exactly: a challenge. You can see that
very clearly in various reactions to the Pope. On the one hand he is undeniably popular, almost to a miraculous
degree. I think that has something do with the fact that he has suffered so much. He has immense integrity. He
knows what he is asking of people. He knows where it leads. But he contradicts all the common assumptions in the
media about self-gratification. From their point of view, he shouldn't be popular. It doesn't make sense. It only
makes sense if you understand his philosophy of the person, and his love of Christ who reveals who we really are.
Micheline: Is it a duty, then, for Christians
to be the light and salt of the world?
Leonie: "Duty" is a very unfashionable
word. It sounds like a dry thing, a hard thing, which has nothing to do with love. But in families duty and love
go together, even when it is not very gratifying. It is the same outside the family, if we believe in Christ.
Micheline: We need the help of grace.
Leonie: And we receive it! When I work with
children, or when I am writing, I am very conscious that it would be much easier to stay quietly in my corner.
Somehow grace pushes you into things. Looking back you recognize the help you have received from God. And God is
there all the time, helping us and encouraging us if we make even the slightest effort.
Let me illustrate. I find it very difficult to be approached by homeless people on the street. If you give them
something, it might only go on drugs or alcohol. But at the same time there is a way in which grace might come
to someone in need, just through making eye contact and saying, I see you, I see your situation and I am am sorry
for it. I wish you well. There was a particular tramp I was quite afraid of, because he was rather erratic. I tried
at various times smile at him and speak to him - as much as to overcome my own fear as to remember who he was -
a person, just like me, created by God. Once I encountered him in the street, and reached into my purse to offer
him some money, but he wouldn't take it. He simply looked at me and said, "God bless you. You do not need
anything." Soon after, he died of a drug overdose. I will never forget how he suddenly became lucid, and said
that thing to me, which I needed to hear, because at the time I felt like a failure. I had lost the sense that
God was blessing me.
Micheline: You speak about people living on
the street. There is a lot of poverty in Britain still. Is the Dome that was constructed in London to mark the
Millennium, wasting so much money, in line with the new evangelization, do you think?
Leonie: I cannot really speak about the Dome,
because I have deliberately not gone there. But the Dome does seem to represent very well the secular mentality.
It says: Look at our marvellous modern architecture, our technology, and so on! They even allow a "faith zone",
provided it is not too big. Of course it goes horribly wrong. It is very interesting that it has been a failure,
and has become a kind of symbol for what is wrong with Britain.
I am fascinated by the stories of missionaries going into alien territory. Like Matteo Ricci, for example, going
into China in the seventeenth century, spending years humbly learning about the culture before he was able to evangelize
it - most successfully, I should say (although his work was undone later by more short-sighted people). Now, in
the twenty-first century, man is being glorified above his Creator, and we are in a new kind of missionary situation
here in the West. God's little sheep are in that Dome.
Micheline: Is technology not a barrier to evangelization?
Leonie: I have to say I am very ambivalent about
some of this stuff. My "feminine intuition", let us say, is very suspicious. No doubt modern technology
can be very useful. The Centre now has a website, and in a way this technology is marvellous. But it does seem
to appeal to some of the worst aspects of human nature. Very soon a kind of consumerist mentality sets in. We devour
information. But what do we do with it? The faith is always spread primarily by personal contact, face to face.
The Pope uses modern technology, but his impact is due to the fact that he is on fire with the love of God.
Micheline: What do you think of the Pope's recent
"act of contrition" on behalf of the Church?
Leonie: Funnily enough, when I heard what he
was going to do I felt I understood it. Obviously he is not apologizing on behalf of the Church in the sense of
confessing "sins of the Church", for the Church is the spotless Bride of Christ. But he knows that as
Catholics, as members of the Church, we do not always live up to the mission we have been given. He is speaking
of and for that Church of men, that human dimension - the visible, earthly, incomplete Church. He is saying let
us start again, let us turn around, let us put right whatever has been done wrong. This is nothing to do with politics,
nothing to do with balancing one view against another view, nothing to do with who is right and who is wrong. It
has to do with the power of repentance. Christ can enter if we repent and heal whatever is wrong. He can make us
into the Church we should have been. It is up to me to follow him and beat my breast and say, "Yes, I did
that badly. I was not a good daughter of the Church: I was not following Christ." The Pope once said, "In
Christ the Church is holy. In us she is sinful." We need to admit that. Then grace can enter the situation.
The Pope is so courageous. He knew exactly what he was doing, and no one could deter him. It was similar when he
went to Israel. All the press was talking about how impossible that was, how dangerous. He did not go into that
situation as a politician; he went in with his prayer, with his mea culpa, and everything turned around. One man
representing Jesus Christ. He knows what it means to pray, to intercede, to bear the sins of others. He is truly
an extraordinary man, without a doubt. He is sustained entirely by grace. I am sure that as a man he must want
nothing more than to retire. Only God can sustain him under that cross. He is going to pour himself out to the
last drop, and the world will see it, even if they don't understand it.
Micheline: It is a huge testimony. This is what
is most needed by the little lost sheep.
Leonie: Exactly. He is interested in the lost
sheep. He is not so interested in the "good Catholic"! He wants the good Catholic also to be interested
in the lost sheep.
There are many movements in the Church, many charisms. This Pope is trying to encourage them all, gather them all
together. If we follow a particular charism, it is his. We look to him - not in a mindless way, but because he
is who he is. If he is saying mea culpa, then we should examine our consciences. If he is looking out for the lost
sheep, then so should we. He is entirely directed to the dignity of the human person. This is not moralism, but
morality flows from it. Morality is based in the dignity of the person, in knowing what will fundamentally promote
that dignity, which in turn is based on the fact of being created and called by God.
Micheline: I think we have to address this question
of human dignity a little more. Do you think there is a need to re-educate people about the value of human life?
I am thinking of the huge number of abortions, for example.
Leonie: Yes, but at the same time in re-educating
we have to try to understand the culture in which people are living, and the kind of mentality that really does
not want to examine what is going wrong within. If you are engaged in a certain life style and you make certain
mistakes it becomes harder and harder to admit - until perhaps it becomes a major disaster. There is too much invested
in thinking, in acting, in those ways. You have to understand the person you are talking to, so that you can enter
into their thinking. If I may mention the Pope again, I was very struck while reading George Weigel's biography
of him that while he was a parish priest or student chaplain in Poland he would always accompany his people. He
would go on walking trips with them, go into the mountains with them, work alongside them, correspond with them.
When they could not decide about something he would debate with them, never condescending or patronizing, always
with respect for their own capacity to reach conclusions.
There is a horrible danger as soon as we start to instrumentalize each other. A Christian approach is one in which
we are interested in people as the people they are, interested in their experiences. We have to care passionately
about where they have been, where they are going. That is what the Bishop of Krakow was like. It is so funny when
the media portray him as blinkered or in some way lacking in human experience. It doesn't correspond to the things
he actually did, and the kinds of friendships that he had with people. He is very far from being blinkered.
Micheline: The numbers at Mass on a Sunday in
most churches seem to be still dropping. Should Catholics feel discouraged?
Leonie: Christ fell several times, but he stood
up again. We carry on. Joy and hope are the key. It is not a question of winning, exactly: more a question of just
being. If you radiate Christ's joy and Christ's love, if you hope for others and for the Church, then everything
can fall into place. It is certainly not necessary to throw away the tradition and the teaching of the Church in
order to appeal more to modern people. The Second Vatican Council was about aggionamento. You open the window of
the Church not to jump through it and run away, but to say Hullo, who are you? What a nice hat you are wearing!
Would you like to come inside and see what is here? You might want to chat at the window for quite a while before
inviting them in. But don't just sit inside looking out and saying how dreadful they all are outside, without our
tradition. Real openness and genuine friendliness, this is what we need. Openness to others - and to the Holy Spirit.
Friendliness, like that of St Philip when he made friends with the young people on the streets of Rome. We need
that kind of warmth - especially in Oxford!
In the last few years we have been working increasingly with young people. For example, we formed
a group for girls, with our daughters, called 'The Rose Round'. (It is named after a novel by Meriol Trevor, published
by Bethlehem Books.) We have done all kinds of things together, including a pilgrimage to France, retreats, various
social events and most recently a musical play called 'Crash Course' to raise money for charity. My experience
of this work is far from discouraging. Perhaps overall the statistics look bad, but when you actually see the quality
of many of these young people, when you find ways of engaging their imagination, and connecting their faith with
their actual day-to-day experience, you really do see reasons for hope. Perhaps that is why the Pope gets so much
joy and energy out of his encounters with young people.
Interview Copyright © Stratford and Leonie Caldecott 2000-2001 and Courtesy
of Catholic World Report (Ignatius Press)
Version: 22nd January 2001