Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Realm, by Aidan Nichols

Aidan Nichols, OP, The Realm: An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England, 2010 St. Paul's Publishing, London

This book made me realise just how much of an Evangalical I am deep down. If you asked me about evangelisation, I would talk about different methods of evangelism (leaving aside the question of whether there actually is a difference between evangelism and the Catholic-friendly word evangelisation). Aidan Nichols writes a book about evangelisation, and he writes about culture and intellectual ideas.

In The Realm, Nichols argues for the importance of the conversion of England for the Catholic Church. He argues that the Catholic Church in England is uniquely placed for this goal, as it is at once both indigenous and immigrant and can thus address both those indigenous to England and those who have come from other cultures. The Church of England has the disadvantage of being too indigenous, while the Orthodox Church has the disadvantage of being insufficiently indigenous.

Nichols devotes a chapter to a collection of Twentieth century Catholic and Anglo-Catholic writers, including TS Eliot, Hilaire Belloc, JRR Tolkien and GK Chesterton. He has much praise for these men and sees them as contributing to a specifically English Christian culture. While these writers certainly have made an important contribution, they do have their limits. I think it is problematic that some of the writers he celebrates have a slightly dreamy, unworldly quality. These were men who were fundamentally uneasy with modern culture and the modern world. I think this may make it difficult for their appeal to be felt for a younger generation (aside from the popularity of Tolkien's fiction). Writers who continually harp about how dreadful the modern world is tend to come across as grumpy old men.

On the whole I thought the book was wafflely and never really made an effective point. You want to convert England? Great! Let's start talking about methods and get on with it.

I could have done without the author's digs at the European Union. There is really no need to pander to the UKIP crowd. Catholics ought to be above that sort of jingoism.


  1. I saw a lot of Aidan Nichols' name when I first read into Orthodoxy and Anglicanism and the like. Never actually read him besides a few essays on Bulgakov. Where would you recommend one start?

    1. I think you would very much enjoy his (very short) systematic theology.

      His new book on Mariology is also worth a read.