Monday, May 03, 2010

Divine grace & the conversion of Hadley Arkes

I first encountered the writings of the pro-life Jewish author in the pages of Crisis Magazine, back in its heyday. Now, blessed be God, he has converted to the Catholic Faith and has been received into the Church. Robert George captures beautifully the spirit of the occasion, in "The operation of divine grace on Hadley Arkes . . . and friends" (Mirror of Justice, April 26, 2010):
Evelyn Waugh described his masterpiece Brideshead Revisited as a story about "the operation of divine grace on a diverse but closely connected group of characters." Yesterday, I had the profoundly moving experience of witnessing the operation of grace on a particular person and a diverse group of people who were connected to each other through him. That person, Hadley Arkes, the Edward Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions at Amherst College, was received into the Catholic Church in a beautiful ceremony in the chapel of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. Enveloped in the love of his many friends and admirers, Hadley was baptized, confirmed, and received his first communion.

Hadley is an outstanding political philosopher and constitutional theorist who has dedicated much of his professional life to defending the dignity and rights of the child in the womb. In remarks after the service yesterday, he explained that his faith in Christ had come through the Church. The Church's moral witness, especially on the sanctity of human life and on marriage and sexual morality---a witness that has in our time made the Church a "sign of contradiction" to the most powerful and influential elements of the elite sector of contemporary western culture---persuaded him that the Church is, despite the failings of so many of its members and leaders, fundamentally "a truth-teaching institution." In teachings that many find to be impediments, Hadley found decisive evidence that the Church is, indeed, what she claims to be.

Speaking of his Jewish identity, Hadley said that he neither would nor could ever leave the Jewish people. His entry into the Church was for him, he stated, a fulfillment of his Jewish faith, and in no way a repudiation of it. Invoking the testimony and authority of the late Cardinal Lustiger of Paris, he declared that he was and would always remain a Jew, though a Jew who, like the earliest Christians, had come to accept Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Hadley's sponsor was Michael Novak, who read aloud some charming verses he had composed for the occasion. The other speakers were Daniel Robinson of the Philosophy Faculty at Oxford University, Michael Uhlmann of the Political Science Department at Claremont Graduate School, David Forte of the Cleveland State University Law School, and your humble correspondent. The chapel was overflowing with people who had come from all over the country. The spirit of joy was extraordinary. Part of the reason for that, I believe, is that every person in the room had become a better Christian as a result of Hadley's friendship, long before Hadley himself entered the Church. More than a few people credited Hadley for their own conversions (or reversions). Like G.K. Chesterton, he spent years leading others into the Church before he walked through the door himself.
[Hat tip to E.E.]


Ron Krumpos said...

Grace. Divine grace is spiritual assistance not specifically earned by its recipient. Most mystics believe that divine grace is offered at all times, in all places and to all beings, but the sentiments, thoughts and actions of the ego self, and individual isolation, block its entry. Everyone has received divine grace during selfless periods of their life. Mystics who gave up their ego and individuality were in a state of grace and may share it. Most mystics say that grace is essential to realize oneness; some seem to equate divine grace, love and spirit.

"God's grace is the beginning, middle and the end. When you pray for God's grace, you are like someone standing neck deep in water and yet crying for water.” Ramana Maharishi H

“God continually showers the fullness of his grace on every being in the universe, but we consent to receive it to a greater or lesser extent.” Simone Weil J/C

“The deified person, while remaining completely human in nature...becomes wholly in God in both body and soul, through grace and the divine brightness of the beatifying glory that permeates the whole person.” Maximus the Confessor C

"May I be far removed from contending creeds and dogmas. Ever since my Lord's grace entered my mind, My mind has never strayed to seek such distractions.” Milarepa B

“One cannot see God without His grace. receive the grace of God one must renounce egotism; one cannot see God as long as one feels “I am the doer.” Ramakrishna H

"Give up to grace. The ocean takes care of each wave 'til it gets to shore. You need more help than you know." Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi I

"One who merits will find himself constantly aware of Hashem's [YHWH] blessings in his life, and will rejoice in the opportunity to spend another day on earth enjoying Hashem's grace and kindness." Ba'al Shem Tov J

(Quoted from my e-book at )

Sheldon said...

Very different understandings of 'grace', those. Superficially similar sounding, maybe, but fundamentally different. Selflessness, understood as the opposite of 'Egotism' in Hinduism (as in Buddhism) means, not loving another as one loves himself, but awakening (who awakens?) to the fact that one's 'ego' is an illusion. Please.

Anonymous said...

Great news! I have always loved Hadley Arkes' columns, and now he's a Catholic, a 'fulfilled Jew'!

Anonymous said...

Arkes knew little about Judaism and needed to be accepted by prolifers. There are Jewish pro lifers - we are fulfilled in Judaism. We are already " fulfilled". I suspect that Hadley converted out of spite.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Psychological "explanations" of conversion evade (and tell us nothing about) a person's rationale for converting.

It's like Freud's explanation of theistic belief: it's because people have a "psychological need" for the security blanket of a protective father figure, says he.

Let's assume for a moment that this is true. Even if it were, this fact would tell us nothing about whether or not God in facts exists. He just might. He may not.

Put the shoe on the other foot. Let's assume that those who deny God's existence do so because of a psychological need to avoid guilt feelings and a sense of responsibility to a higher power. Even if this were true, it tells us nothing about whether God exists or not. Same problem. He might, or he might not.

In logic, this sort of ad hominem is called a "genetic fallacy." It's interesting, but evades the question at issue.

Same here. The interesting question here philosophically and existentially is not whether Arkes was "spiteful" or "needed to be accepted by the prolifers," but rather: What were his reasons for converting? Only by engaging a person's reasons for doing what he does, do we take him seriously and show respect for his humanity. Otherwise we're just behaviorists engineering social behavior with rats in cages.

So why is it that Jews say they feel "fulfilled" when they convert -- or when they don't? These are the issues that ought to engage us here. No? -- Peace, PP.