The Hallowed House and the Secular World | Carl E. Olson | Catholic World Report
An interview with Dr. Thomas Howard about the sacred, the secular, and the current state of Church and culture.
Thomas Howard is one of the most erudite and literate Catholic authors in recent history. He was raised in a prominent Evangelical home (his sister is well-known author and former missionary Elisabeth Elliot), became Episcopalian in his mid-20s, then entered the Catholic Church in 1985, at the age of 50. Dr. Howard was a highly regarded professor of English and literature for more than 30 years and is the author of numerous books, including Dove Descending: T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” Evangelical Is Not Enough, Chance or the Dance?, Lead Kindly Light, On Being Catholic, and The Secret of New York Revealed. He recently was interviewed, by email, by Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, about the new edition of his book Hallowed Be This House: Finding Signs of Heaven in Your Home (Ignatius Press, 2012), as well as the state of American culture, secularism, Anglicanism, and great literature.
CWR: How did the idea for Hallowed Be This House originally come about? Do you think there is an even greater need today for a sense of the hallowed and the sacred than there was when you first wrote the book in the 1970s?
Thomas Howard: I think the original idea for the book came to me gradually. It must have been the fruit of a lifetime of reading and teaching Western literature, where one finds, up until at least the Enlightenment, the assumption of an ordered, hierarchical, and blissful Universe. Even the pagans assume this. But in my young adulthood, I found myself moving from the very faithful and good Protestant Evangelicalism of my family into the Anglican Church, where at least the notions of hierarchy, sacrament, and liturgy are remembered. Also, of course, I became soaked in the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their friend Charles Williams. In all of these writers, one finds the ordinary stuff of quotidian life treated as though that stuff bespeaks—what shall we say? Glory? Ultimacy? The Truth of things? Splendor? Yes—all of that. The ordinary is not ordinary. It trumpets joy, freedom, and virtue to us mortals if we will pay attention.
Is there a greater need today to see things this way than when I wrote the book in the 1970s? Yes. In the decade of the 1960s, when my wife and I were living in New York, which became the eye of the storm, Western Civilization as it has been known for millennia collapsed. The moral order was overthrown with great zest, and this overthrow is always, inevitably, the prelude to the collapse of any civilization. I myself would see signs of hope, however, in the papacies of John Paul II and of Benedict XVI, with, in the latter case, the promulgation of the Year of Faith. This is a clear call to the Church to reassert, very strongly, the real substance of the Catholic Faith, which is more, far more, than a matter of “it’s nice to be nice,” which perhaps has been the impression conveyed to the laity in common parish homiletics in the wake of what obviously concerns the Holy Father at the moment—namely the training of seminarians, for perhaps a century, in “the historical critical method” of reading Scripture.
CWR: Can you give an example or two of how our houses are, or can become, hallowed? How can we better develop a sense of sacramentality and an incarnational perspective?