As a recent Catholic convert myself, I am overjoyed to hear of the conversion of such a distinguished scholar as R.R. Reno ("Out of the Ruins," February). At the same time, I cannot help but notice the somewhat mournful and resigned tone that colors Professor Reno's apologia. For example, he interprets the Rule of St. Benedict in an essentially passive light. In strong contrast to Prof. Reno's approach is St. Edith Stein's commentary on the Rule, published in her Essential Writings. In it, the famous convert invokes the positive role of the Rule, called discretione perspicua. In her mind, "clear discretion" is a gift of the Holy Spirit that undergirds each of the classic Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is when "a soul listens in total surrender and unhampered flexibility to the soft voice of its fair Guest (the Holy Spirit) and awaits His least nod" that one obtains this gift. It does not "differentiate by thinking through a matter step-by-step ... nor through concluding and proving," but "distinguishes the sharp outlines of things in full daylight." I hope that the insight of this eminent saint will guide Prof. Reno to a more joyful and balanced understanding of the conversion process.
I am a Lutheran theologian with considerable sympathy for the horizon shared by Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Over the years, this has meant different things. Mostly it means I'm consistently more evangelical catholic than Protestant. There are a number of folks like me out there, maybe a growing number. But recently, a lot of those with evangelical catholic sensibilities seem to be converting. Reinhard Hutter, for one, Ola Tjorhom for another, and now one of the most prominent defenders of staying within one's own tradition rather than converting, R.R. Reno.
Each time I hear about one of these conversions, I think and feel a number of things. First, I think I understand at least part of what drives these theologians. They can no longer justify staying in their denomination on any grounds other than stubbornness.
But they also make the move, I think, because they are unusually free to do so. They have just retired, or are on the verge of doing so, so a conversion makes no claims on their professional status. In Professor Reno's case, it seems, his conversion does not affect his current work because his university does not require him to belong to a specific denomination.
I am a married Lutheran pastor. In my case, a conversion could not be undertaken so freely. Which is not to say that I am not sympathetic. Prof. Reno, who staked some of his academic and theological credibility on an argument for remaining, does take certain risks by converting. It is a difficult decision for anyone, and I want to honor that.
That said, I find these conversions suspicious and even angering. Maybe it's the kind of feeling you have for close kin. Love and detestation run close together. Prof. Reno makes much of having originally decided to stay in the Episcopal church because of a "theory." He has convinced himself that he loved an idea rather than a reality. But I believe his...