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Home Uncategorized Betrayal as an Act of Faith

Betrayal as an Act of Faith

Sean Sheehan
The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins: Volume V: Sermons and Spiritual Writings, edited by Jude V Nixon and Noel Barber SJ, Oxford University Press, 688 pp, £145, ISBN: 978-0199238651 Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Poetry of Religious Experience, by Martin Dubois, Cambridge University Press, 238 pp, £75, ISBN: 978-1107180451 It seems incongruous as a comparison, but the turn to communism by the Cambridge spies in the 1930s echoes in some respects Gerard Manley Hopkins’s abandonment of his Anglican religion and conversion to Catholicism. For Hopkins it was a defection motivated, like those of Kim Philby and his confreres, by the sincerest of convictions, and one never reneged on or regretted. (“I do not waver in my allegiance, I never have since my conversion to the Church,” writes Hopkins in notes he made during his final retreat in 1889.) Their decisions were ideological: the Church of Rome and the Soviet Union each represented an ideal, a vocation to be wished for, so important and necessary that fidelity to it entailed rejection – betrayal – of a loyalty that others thought could be taken for granted. Before their exposures, the Cambridge spies seemed a safe set of hands to the British establishment. Given that class loyalty was unquestionable, it was beyond the pale to think members of their caste could become traitors. Hopkins’s conversion was out in the open but it still felt like treachery to his parents – “O Gerard my darling boy are you indeed gone from me?” asks his father in a letter – and, as with the Cambridge spies, those who came to feel betrayed could not understand how or why someone could reject a set of beliefs considered inviolable. Oxford was the laboratory for Hopkins’s conversion; Cambridge for Philby, Burgess and the others. Hopkins’s life-changing decision was bound up with his attendance at a series of lectures by Henry Parry Liddon, whose late Tractarian proclivities were held responsible for an inordinate number of students turning to Rome. Kim Philby was introduced to communism by an economics lecturer. The Oxford Movement had got under way before Hopkins was born and the secession of cardinal-to-be John Henry Newman took place a year after his birth. Catholicism’s appeal remained strong when nineteen-year-old Hopkins arrived at Oxford, at a time when old-school Christianity was facing the challenge of Darwin’s Origin of Species and German biblical scholarship. Old certainties were shaken by a…

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