Thursday, April 4, 2013

Seminary Boy

I love good religious biographies. Recently I read Seminary Boy by John Cornwell, of "Hitler's Pope" fame. This book is a memoir of the time he spent at the now-defunct minor seminary known as Cotton College in England in the 1950's-60's. It is a beautifully written book that sheds light on a bygone world steeped in tradition and religion, a world that would soon be consigned to the dustbin of history by the very Church that created it. At the end of the book the reforms of Vatican II are firmly ensconced in the Church, and the author, who left Oscott major seminary and strayed from the faith for many years, but later returned, finds himself lamenting the lost liturgy and traditions of his youth.

He does not have a book detailing the time he left the Church and why, to the time he returned, but should he ever write that book I will be the first one to buy it. In researching this book I did discover that he recently wrote a book on John Henry Newman that was highly praised by none other than Alasidar Macintyre whose seminal work, After Virtue, is a must-read for anyone interested in theology. To me, if Macintyre praised this work on Newman, it must be a good book. That is the next book by Cornwell that I hope to read.

Those who might want to avoid Cornwell because of his book Hitler's Pope (which incidentally Cornwell has reevaluated) would really be missing out on a great book - which is in no way antagonistic towards the Roman Catholic Church or Christianity in general - if they didn't out check this incredibly moving book!


  1. Sounds like I'd like it. A recommendation on the same subject: Seminary: A Search by Paul Hendrickson. Same period, just as life in the Catholic Church started to go to hell, but in America, in Alabama as a postulant and novice in a small religious order.

    I knew someone who was a seminarian then. The council made him clinically depressed; he had a breakdown and got electroshock treatment in a mental hospital.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation. That sounds like a good book as well.

    Some other memorable religious biographies that that stand out in my mind are "Roving Recluse" by Peter Anson and "Saraband" by E.L. Mascall. Of course "Merrily on High" and "Walsingham Way" are also very good.

    I'm reading the Pugin biography now, and although it is highly praised I must admit it is very dry... at least so far.

  3. I've read Merrily on High and have a copy. I used to know a Scottish Episcopal priest, a friend of Colin Stephenson's, who I understand owns the rights to his books. A friend of mine knew Mascall well.