Monday, April 26, 2010

Hadley Arkes, welcome home

My wife, Frankie, and I were humbled to be among those who were present at the Mass in which our dear friend Hadley Arkes was received into the Catholic Church. It took place on the afternoon of Saturday, April 24, in the chapel of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C.  His sponsor was Michael Novak, a dear man who truly lives the Gospel of Our Lord.  (The photo, taken by Frankie, is of Hadley and Michael prior to the Mass. Click it to enlarge).

Hadley, a frequent contributor to First Things and a member of its editorial board, is one of the most courageous and thoughtful defenders of the sanctity of human life. The Edward N. Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions at Amherst College, Hadley is the author of eight books including Natural Rights and the Right to Choose (Cambridge University Press, 2002), First Things: An Inquiry into the First Principles of Morals and Justice (Princeton University Press, 1986), and the forthcoming Constitutional Illusions and Anchoring Truths The Touchstone of the Natural Law (Cambridge University Press, 2010). At the upcoming meeting of the American Political Science Association in Washington D.C. (2-5 September 2010), I will be chairing a session on the book.

My recent book, Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (InterVarsity Press, 2010) is dedicated to Hadley, who, ironically, played a part in my own journey back to the Catholic Church while we were both visiting fellows in 2002-2003 at Princeton University in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. I share this encounter in Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic (Brazos Press, 2009):
After law school, I returned to Trinity and taught there for one year, until another opportunity came my way. I had applied for, and was offered, a visiting full-time faculty appointment at Princeton University for the 2002–2003 school year. Among the other visiting fellows at Princeton that year was Hadley Arkes, a legal philosopher from Amherst College. I had known Hadley for eight years, having met him in 1994 at Fordham University when he gave the keynote address at the annual meeting of the University Faculty for Life. Hadley’s works on jurisprudence and politics, as well as his writing style, which is an unusual though magnetic combination of philosophical rigor, literary flair, and mischievous genius, shaped the trajectory of my own professional aspirations. It helped expand my interests, which had been mostly in philosophy of religion and applied ethics, to include law and politics.

One night soon after we arrived at Princeton, Hadley called me at home to discuss several matters. In the midst of our conversation he asked, “Why are you a Protestant rather than a Catholic? Didn’t you grow up Catholic?” This line of questioning took me by surprise, since Hadley was Jewish and we had never discussed our faiths with one another, even though we had known each other for nearly a decade. I gave him the standard Protestant theological responses, ones that I firmly believed were adequate for the task at hand. He paused for a moment and said, “That’s all? That’s it? You were brought up Catholic. Your parents are Catholic. I don’t see why you don’t return to the Church.” I replied, “Hadley, you’re Jewish, and for you once you get past the ‘Jesus thing’ it’s just down hill from there. But for Protestants and Catholics these are big issues.” He chuckled and then asked if I would be interested in engaging in a private discussion with him and Robert P. George (a Catholic and Princeton Professor) on the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. Although that discussion never took place, Hadley’s inquiry about my transition from Catholicism to Protestantism was the first time someone outside my immediate family had asked me such a question.
As providence would have it, I found out about a year ago from my brother, Patrick, a devout Catholic, that he had contacted Hadley and Robert ("Robby") George prior to our arrival at Princeton. He asked them to gently prod me about my Catholic roots and my Protestant faith. Until he had read the above passage from my book early last year, Patrick had not known that Hadley had done what he had requested. And because Patrick had asked Hadley and Robby to keep his communication with them in the strictest confidence, I did not know of my brother's request until he told me last year.

So, for Frankie and me, last Saturday seemed like we had caught a partial glimpse of what the author of Hebrews meant when he called Jesus “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2 KJV)

(Update: Robby George shares his thoughts on Hadley's conversion on the Mirror of Justice blog. The photo directly above, taken by Frankie, is of the chapel in which Hadley received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and holy communion. Click it to enlarge.)


Kathy said...

What a beautiful story. Welcome, Mr. Arkes!!

Catholic Defender said...

It's God way of telling us to hold on to our faith even amidst the many scandals our Church is facing. God still calls the learned to his fold.

Thanks for sharing us this beautiful story.

Joe Heschmeyer said...

That's fantastic! Congratulations and welcome home to Mr. Arkes! Thanks for sharing this.

Silverlokk said...

@Catholic Defender: I've been less than satisfied with some responses to the scandals from the Church hierarchy which don't directly address the issues and, while still correct, simply refer to Mother Church's 2000-year history, that we will overcome, that the Church is not about the clergy, not even about the Pope but about Jesus Christ, etc. I have seen articles around the Net -- among the sites is the National Catholic Register -- which admit that some cases could've been handled better (e.g., Fr. Lawrence Murphy's) but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did handle it properly despite the attacks from, among others, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. I was hoping for articles along that line.

Having said all that, I wish to join in welcoming Mr. Arkes to Mother Church.

Tom in Vegas said...

So happy to hear of Mr.Arkes entrance into the the Church! And to come at this tumultuous point in time is truly a sign of his fidelity. God bless him!

Mary Jane said...

I sat at lunch with Hadley Arkes years ago at a Faculty for Life conference at Fordham. And I was totally blown away by his intelligence and wit, an impression that has been confirmed time and again by his articles.

I too came into the Church because of its unswerving witness to life and its willingness to be a sign of contradiction. I am so delighted!