Mind, Heart, and Soul
Intellectuals and the Path to Rome
By Robert P. George and R. J. Snell
266 pages, $27.95
TAN Books, 2018
To order: tanbooks.com or (800) 437-5876
This is not a book of intellectual conversions, but of intellectuals who converted. That is not the same thing, and the stories contained within tell us much about the nature of faith.
Though we might picture the conversion of an intellectual as taking place in solitude in the library stacks, the individual devouring dusty tomes and working out syllogisms finally convinced, our image would be incomplete. Study is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for conversion. Just as crucial are long talks with trusted friends or the witness of those living the faith around us.
The very shape of Mind, Heart, and Soul testifies to this truth, as the book is not a collection of narrations, but of conversations — not monologues, but dialogues. We don’t just see converts discussing Augustine and Newman, but discussing those saintly figures with others.
Examples abound in the stories shared. Bishop James Conley describes the fertile ground of both study and discussion in the Great Books program at the University of Kansas that allowed the Catholic faith to grow in him. Sister Prudence Allen was helped back to the Christian faith by friends who introduced her to scholastic missionary monks.
Ulf Eckman notes that just as influential as the Church’s sacramentality and historical continuity was the witness of Catholics he met personally who demonstrated their faith in Jesus by the conduct of their lives. Though St. Francis of Assisi almost certainly never said, “Preach the Gospel always; use words when necessary,” the truth of those words and the power of witness are nevertheless often on display in the stories of these converts.
The influence of friends and colleagues can come in a variety of forms. Dominican Father Thomas Joseph White had professors and friends who gave him books by Martin Buber and Flannery O’Connor. A pivotal moment for political commentator Kirsten Powers was a pilgrimage to Rome and a trip through the catacombs, all at the behest of two friends. For Matthew Schmitz, only a pact with a friend was able to push him into RCIA. As Hadley Arkes put it: “The beckoning of the Church has always come through the welcoming face of friends.”
Even for intellectuals, faith is about more than the mind. In the book, Julia Yost is explicit about this point: “Even the most intellectual conversion is not reducible to reasons but is a matter of will, emotions, imagination — the things that compel action.” One could be rationally convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith, but that alone will not cause him or her to cross the Tiber. One might know that exercise is a good thing, but that knowledge alone does not bring one into the gym. And what often motivates individuals to act on their view is the gentle push, the guiding hand of a friend.
This model of conversion is biblical. Behind every conversion that comes through reading is a friend who gave a book or talked about it.
Erika Bachiochi sums up the experience of so many converts very well: “God answered my prayer in a book and a friend.” When we think of intellectual conversions, we often think of the book; but let us not forget the friend.
Nicholas Senz writes from Texas.