A book should not be judged by its cover; nor, perhaps, should it be judged by its opening pages. The opening pages of this book are plagued by the sort of wooly-mindedness that its subject devoted his life to combating. It does not do Wilfrid Ward justice, and it does him a veritable injustice when it implies he subscribed to views he would have spurned or condemned.
And yet, Out of Due Time is full of fascinating facts about the intellectual climate of Edwardian and early Georgian England—and, specifically, about the Catholic contribution to that climate as expressed in the pages of the Dublin Review under Wilfrid Ward’s editorship. Let’s begin, however, with the nonsense that litters the first chapter.
Alarm bells are set ringing on the first page when the author claims that Ward’s “greatest desire was to see the reconciliation of the Church and the world.” Since no effort is made to define what is meant by “the world” in this context, we are left wondering what this statement means, and fearing, perhaps, that it means what we think it means.
This is an early example of what might be termed “intellectual impressionism”: a failure to provide definitions and a spurning of clear meaning in favor of a fuzzy and foggy “feel-good” factor. It springs from the assumption that conflict is always bad—or, worse, impolite—and that it should be avoided at all costs, and also from a desire to reconcile ourselves with the prevailing tendencies of the modern world in order to remain “relevant” to the fads and fashions of the time.
That is not the way Wilfrid Ward thought or acted. He would, in fact, have agreed with G.K. Chesterton, an occasional contributor to the Dublin Review under Ward’s editorship, who insisted that we did not need a Church that will move with the world but a Church that will move the world. Pace Dom Scotti, Ward’s “greatest desire” (after his desire for Heaven, presumably) was to reconcile the world to the Church. This is a world away (and a Heaven and a Hell away) from the reconciliation of the Church and the world. One necessitates good, old-fashioned evangelization; the other implies compromise, accommodation, and perhaps even surrender. Ward wanted the former and utterly rejected the latter.
In Out of Due Time, Scotti criticizes Ward’s father, the enigmatic and robust William George Ward, with an array of adjectives, such as “extreme and dogmatic” and “papal and rigid,” that say more about the author’s liberal prejudices than they do about his subject. In similar vein, the author writes of Ward himself: “Ward’s view of the Church was always triumphalist: no matter her human imperfections, she was the ark of salvation and the locus of divine truth, and nothing could diminish his respect and loyalty to her.”
Since “triumphalism” is only ever used in a derogatory sense, denoting a presumed superiority and a supercilious, gloating arrogance toward others, one can only assume that a belief in the Church as “the ark of salvation and the locus of divine truth” is somehow an example of arrogant and supercilious bigotry. It is also noteworthy that Dom Scotti later, in a derogatory sense, refers to those who are “ultra-orthodox,” seemingly oblivious to the logical absurdity of the very juxtaposition of “ultra” and “orthodox.” One is either orthodox or one is not.
Comparing Wilfrid Ward to Father George Tyrrell and Baron Friedrich von Hügel, Scotti describes Ward as the “least adventurous” of the three. Considering that Tyrrell was destined to be excommunicated as a modernist, it seems that “adventurous” is a synonym for “heretic.” Such a conclusion is reinforced by Scotti’s seeming sympathy toward Tyrrell’s point of view, stating that Tyrrell felt Ward “had not sufficiently separated himself, in principle, from the extreme right.”
What, one wonders, is meant by “extreme right” in such a context? One might hope that Scotti is referring to Ward’s doctrinal orthodoxy, which was extremely correct, as opposed to Tyrrell’s modernism being extremely wrong. One knows, alas, that this is not the case. Only the “extreme and dogmatic” and the “papal and rigid” are narrow enough to define ideas in terms of right and wrong. Scotti is not speaking of anything as insensitive and intransigent as right and wrong, with all its moralistic associations, but about right and left.
The terms are not those of antediluvian morality but post-Enlightenment politics. Once something is described as being “extreme right,” it can be sneered at and dismissed, which allows us to avoid the onerous task of defining terms and arguing our own position. Ward’s tradition-oriented and antimodernist Catholic associates are on the “extreme right” and, as such, can be dismissed without the necessity of intellectual engagement. They are “extreme right” and ipso facto anathema.
And thus endeth the first chapter. Thereafter Out of Due Time shows, for the most part, much improvement and much less nonsense. The second chapter begins with a good historical overview of English Catholicism in the nineteenth century, including an enlightening discussion of the Cisalpine movement.
The author’s view is still an occasional impediment to a full understanding of the facts. What, for instance, is one to make of his comparison of the essential characteristics of the Enlightenment with those of the Church? “While the Enlightenment emphasized man’s untrammeled reason (Kant’s sapere aude) and the necessity of intelligibility, the Church was built on the superiority of revelation, the authority of tradition, and the intrinsic value of mystery.”
The presumption that the “untrammeled reason” of the Enlightenment always remained trammeled by “the necessity of intelligibility” is curious, though perhaps arguable. But the suggestion that the Church was in some way hostile to reason and the necessity of intelligibility is plainly at variance with the whole scholastic tradition, which places fides et ratio in necessary harmony: the intelligibility of the one always being a buttress to the other. The emphasis on the Church’s insistence on the superiority of revelation implies a belief in the inferiority of reason, a view that would not have been held by St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas—or by Wilfrid Ward.
Similarly, the assertion that the Church was built on “the intrinsic value of mystery” is not true, at least if the statement is taken literally and in isolation. Mystery has no intrinsic value per se. Its value is connected to, indeed trammeled by, orthodoxy. Without the necessary connection between mystery and orthodoxy, the former is not trustworthy and its intrinsic value questionable. It was, I believe, Ronald Knox who quipped that mysticism begins in mist and ends in schism. This, of course, is not always true, but it is true that the greatest mystics, such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, were profoundly orthodox, as were their mystical experiences.
In spite of such impediments to the full enjoyment of the work, it is full of much that scholars of the period will find enlightening. The better parts of Out of Due Time represent an engaging and highly informative journey through an intellectually invigorating decade—as seen in the pages of the equally invigorating Dublin Review. The chapter on the modernist crisis is, as one might expect, deficient and defective in places, though full of interesting detail. The chapters “Politics” and “Society” are well-written and, for the most part, well-reasoned, and the chapter “Literature” is a delight, presenting us with a procession of the illustrissimi and lesser literary lights of the period: Chesterton, Belloc, Wells, Francis Thompson, R.H. Benson, Compton Mackenzie, and Arnold Lunn, to name but several. Out of Due Time is worth purchasing for the chapter on literature alone.
In the final chapter the author reveals his reason for giving the book its title. “Ward was, in many ways, a man born out of due time. In his political and social conservatism, he was born too late, and in his openness to theological trends, too early.” Such a woeful attempt to turn Wilfrid Ward into a “trendy,” a slavish follower of fashion, is reminiscent of another book, recently published, about Wilfrid Ward’s daughter. In The Living of Maisie Ward, Dana Greene succumbed to the temptation to paint her subject in the colors of her own choosing, with little regard for Ward’s true colors as a staunch and resolute defender of Catholic orthodoxy against modernism. Now, with the publication of Out of Due Time, the sin against the daughter has been revisited upon her father. In truth, Wilfrid Ward was not a man born out of due time but was a man for all seasons.
This book has the wrong title because it is largely a wrong-headed book about a right-headed man. Writing of Wilfrid Ward, Scotti unwittingly hits the nail on the head: “Like his father, his mind was firmly grounded in dogma and first principles; he disliked flabbiness and muddled thinking.” Quite so. Out of Due Time spurns dogma and is full of flabbiness and muddled thinking. Wilfrid Ward would not have liked it.
Joseph Pearce is writer-in-residence and associate professor of Literature at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida. He is the author of fourteen books, including biographies of Solzhenitsyn, Chesterton, Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis, and is coeditor of the Saint Austin Review, a bimonthly journal of Christian culture.