Monday, 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.