MOUNTAINEER OF FAITH
by Karl G. Schmude
Sir Arnold Lunn
A.C.T.S. No. 1681 (1976)
* * *
The author of this pamphlet, Karl G. Schmude, is deputy librarian at
the University of New England in Armidale, N.S.W. and a member of
the Fellowship of John XXIII. He has previously written the
A.C.T.S. pamphlet, The Man Who Was
Chesterton (1974), No. 1661.
* * *
On his seventieth birthday, Sir Arnold Lunn returned to the great Alps
of Switzerland where the memories of his long life had been so often
enriched. Landing by plane just below the summit of one of the peaks,
he determined to ski to the valley below.
It was a visit charged with reminiscence. From his early youth he had
lived at frequent intervals amid the Alps, and little of enduring value
in his life had not some kind of link with mountains. He was fond of
echoing Ruskin's dictum that "the mountains of the earth are its
natural cathedrals." Their dignity, their majesty, their imperishable
beauty were decisive in awakening him to the existence of the
supernatural - of a spiritual world informing and transcending the
world of matter.
Lunn was introduced to the mountains by his father, a Methodist lay
preacher. Sir Henry Lunn was intensely interested in the cause of
Christian unity and in 1892 he organized a conference in Switzerland to
discuss reunion. This formed the beginnings of the Lunn travel business
and created the opportunity for the young Lunn to develop intimate
contact with the Alps.
The influence of Sir Henry upon his son's life and character was
profound and permanent. The dominant theme of his life had been his
devotion to Christ, and the tenacity of this devotion made a deep
impression on Arnold. Sir Henry once described his own father in words
which his son later assigned to him: each was "a friend of the poor
without patronage and of the rich without subservience."
Sir Henry was serving as a
medical missionary in Madras, India, when his son, the first of four
children, was born on 18th April, 1888. He relates in his autobiography how Arnold almost
died from fever several months after his birth, and indeed the collapse
of Sir Henry's health some time later forced the early return of the
whole family to England.
In 1902 Arnold was enrolled in the prestigious school of Harrow. His
first important book, The Harrovians
(1913), derived from his experiences there and became the first of a
new literary genre - the realistic school story. At that time the
public-school system - in the Australian idiom, the private-school
system - was accepted as an undeniable part of the English way of life,
and there had been no effective criticism of its rules and rituals
until Lunn's novel appeared. The book was a best-seller and did much to
establish its author's literary reputation.
It was during his school years that Lunn abandoned Christianity and
lapsed into agnosticism. He had been raised as an Anglican, but his
faith languished under the severe Puritanism of his mother, the
daughter of an Irish Protestant clergyman, and the character of his
father's Christianity, which was, despite its fervour, principally a
Christianity of experience and faith unsupported by reason. These
influences left Lunn with the impression that religion was essentially
irrational, and his experiences at Harrow did nothing to modify this
attitude. Not only did he fail to hear a reasoned case for
Christianity, but he was not even given to suspect that such a case
His real religion at this time, as he later confessed, was "an idolatry
of sorts, mountain worship," and he was "in reality . . . a quasi-pagan
with a Christian veneer." He might well have endorsed Pascal's comment
that "there are perfections in Nature which demonstrate that she is the
image of God," without noting the counterbalancing statement that
Nature has "imperfections, to assure us that she is no more than His
In 1907 Lunn entered Balliol College, Oxford. In his first year he
encountered Hilaire Belloc's classic work, The Path to Rome (1902). No
Catholic writer was to have a greater influence on Lunn's future
conversion to Catholicism than Belloc. For the first time he was struck
by the insistence that reason formed the foundation of faith. From
being a religion involving blind credulity, Catholicism now appeared as
a creed founded on reason. Moreover, he was inspired by Belloc's vision
of the Faith as the vitalizing root of Europe, and he began dimly to
see that Catholicism was an integral part of Western culture.
Lunn always cherished the warmest memories of his period at Oxford. He
served as Secretary of the Union and editor of Isis, the undergraduates' journal,
and the very aspect of the University, "whispering from her towers the
last enchantments of the Middle Ages," never failed to enliven his
sense of beauty. Indeed, the view of Oxford's noble spires held for him
an appeal comparable with the distant view of the Swiss Alps.
It was in the Alps that Lunn began his long Journey to the Catholic
Church, for it was there that his belief in the supernatural was
"I was 19 at the time," he recalled. "We were resting on our descent
from an interesting climb, on an alpine pass a few thousand feet above
the valley, still beautiful in the fading alpine twilight. Sixty miles
of peak and glacier saluted the setting sun. Suddenly I found myself
asking whether matter alone, matter in the form of rock, ice and snow,
could evoke the adoration which these mountains evoked in me."
To a mind pervaded by materialism, this experience was distinctly
unsettling. Could science, he began to wonder, for all its power of
interpretation, offer any rational explanation of the awe which now
seized him? Could a physical explanation account for what seemed to be
a spiritual experience? He grew increasingly dubious.
Lunn's first books drew upon his early acquaintance with the mountains.
In 1912 he edited a volume of Oxford
Mountaineering Essays as well as producing a portrait of The Englishman in the Alps. The
town of Murren, where he lived when in Switzerland, became under his
stimulus a popular centre for winter sports, in particular the new
sport of ski racing in which his influence was of decisive effect.
A Ski Pioneer
Lunn was, in fact, a ski pioneer, for he invented the modern downhill
slalom race and obtained Olympic recognition for it in the 1936 Games.
At the age of 10 he was already ski-ing and, before long, touring the
mountain ranges on skis. In January 1909 he traversed the Bernese Alps
from end to end, recording thereby the first large-scale ski
mountaineering expedition by an Englishman. He climbed the Monch
(13,468 ft.), the Monte Rosa (15,203 ft.), and the great Matterhorn
(14,678 ft.), and made the first ski ascent of many peaks, among them
the Eiger (13,042 ft.) in 1924. More than twenty books on ski-ing and
mountaineering flowed from his lively pen; his volume, Alpine Ski-ing (1921), laid the
foundation of modern snow and avalanche craft, and demonstrated that he
was a leading authority on mountains. His fame was once amusingly
reflected in a Swiss paper's designation of him as "the Ski Pope"!
Yet it is a proof of his invincible courage that the mountaineering and
ski-ing triumphs which he recorded throughout his life should have
occurred despite a severe physical handicap. In August 1909 he fell
whilst mountain-climbing in North Wales, as a result of which he
developed one game leg two inches shorter than the other, and an open
wound which took eleven years to heal. The energy and tenacity of will
which he exhibited in these circumstances were soon to show themselves
in his pursuit and profession of religious truth.
Although the promptings of emotion had disposed Lunn to belief in God,
it was the findings of reason that set him upon the path to Rome. His
response to an Alpine sunset was not, he thought, evidence of truth but
it did serve as a signpost pointing to truth. "These moments of
spiritual intuition," he later wrote, "are valuable because they
encourage one to continue one's search for the objective arguments
which are independent of personal intuition."
In 1918 Mgr. Ronald Knox traced his own conversion to Catholicism in The Spiritual Aeneid, and Lunn
wrote a long and critical essay on the work. It betrayed both his
fascination of, and exasperation at, a Church which seemed committed to
"fantastic and irrational doctrines and which yet continues to make
converts among men distinguished not only for intellectual gifts but
also for intellectual integrity." Such was the genesis of Roman Converts (1924), a study of
five eminent converts - Newman, Manning, Tyrrell, Chesterton and Ronald
Knox. Lunn spent three years writing this book - a task which required
that he make a detailed investigation of Catholic theology and
Reason and Faith
One significant result of the study was Lunn's realization that
Catholics did not, as he had formerly assumed, appeal from reason to
faith in support of their claims. Not until one has proved the
credentials of the Church by reason, Lunn discovered, is one asked to
accept on its authority doctrines which one has no independent means of
verifying. The classic argument for Catholicism, observed Lunn,
scrupulously avoids any appeal to personal intuitions about the nature
of ultimate reality - any appeal to subjective experiences which are
incommunicable. On the contrary, the argument for Catholicism is
essentially rationalistic, in that it relies upon objective and
indisputable facts of everyday experience, such as the fact that "some
things are in motion", which was the starting-point of St. Thomas
Aquinas's five proofs of the existence of God.
This approach to truth appealed irresistibly to Lunn's mind.
"Temperamentally," he confessed, "I am a sceptic, and am uninterested
in creeds which cannot justify themselves at the bar of reason." The
prospect of a religion being subjectively satisfying but not defensible
in rational terms never had any appeal for him: he was, in Evelyn
Waugh's words, "restlessly reasonable", and in the search for truth he
pronounced himself "an impenitent rationalist". He was disconcerted by
the intense subjectivism of our age, and he invented a term, "Fif"
(meaning "funny internal feeling") to characterize the criterion now
commonly used to evaluate truth and actions. If truth is attainable, he
thought, it must be objectively justifiable, and not prey to changing
whims and dyspeptic moods. When he later engaged in correspondence with
Mgr. Ronald Knox, he readily conceded Knox's assertion that "a system
of doctrine which is for all minds must, somewhere, override the
prejudices of some minds."
In 1930 Lunn had occasion to elaborate his views on the importance of
reason by examining its abandonment in the domain of popular science. The Flight from Reason was the
first of his many attacks, not on science itself, but on scientific
materialism - on the common assumption that science points inevitably
to materialism and that life can be explained solely in terms of
material processes. There is no allowance for the operation of
spiritual forces, since the existence of the supernatural has been
peremptorily rejected. Thus, scientific enquiry, which should be
genuinely open to all species of evidence, has been vitiated in the
past century by the closed-minded insistence on a materialistic
conception of the universe.
The Failure of Materialism
Lunn demonstrated that a belief in God, far from leading to conflict
with science, is actually a principle which science requires for its
own completion and justification. For materialism is finally a
philosophy of nihilism: it ends by questioning the very basis of its
If materialism be true, Lunn argued, our thoughts are the mere
by-product of material processes uninfluenced by reason. They are,
therefore, determined by irrational processes, and the thoughts which
lead to the conclusion that materialism is right have no relation to
In consequence, modern prophets like Marx and Freud have undermined
their own systems of thought; they have been busily engaged in sawing
away the branches on which they were sitting, for they have done no
less than provide their disciples with reasons for rejecting all
philosophies, including the ones they themselves formulated.
After an interval of twenty years, Lunn revised and enlarged this work,
assigning it the title, The Revolt
against Reason (1950). What began as a fear and impatience of
reason had now, in Lunn's judgement, become a positive cult of
unreason. The siege had ended in dethronement, and the outcome has been
In the same year as The Flight from
Reason appeared, (1930), Lunn began an exchange of controversial
letters on Catholicism with Ronald Knox; in 1932 they were published in
a joint volume called Difficulties.
Lunn conceded at the outset the intrinsic plausibility of the Catholic
claims - namely, that Christ would not have left the world without
establishing some institution to preserve and proclaim his teaching.
Lunn's "difficulties" arose, however, when this expectation was tested
in the light of history. The letters ranged over a multitude of thorny
questions, both historical and philosophical, from the Spanish
Inquisition to Papal Infallibility. In later life, Lunn would remark
that the Inquisition had probably done more to damage the cause of
Catholicism than any other event. Yet he would also admit that he
"became a Catholic in spite of Torquemada and remains a Catholic in
spite of Arnold Lunn."
The debate with Knox opened Lunn's mind to the divine nature of the
Church and the distinction that must ever be maintained between
Catholics and Catholicism. "I began to see," he told one interviewer
many years later, "that black sheep do not prove the family motto
false. They throw mud over it. But the letters still stand on the
crest." Knox himself expressed this reality most pointedly when he
remarked after his conversion to Catholicism in 1917: "now I belong to
the same Church as Judas Iscariot."
As is often the case with conversation, the exchange of letters did
much to clarify Lunn's own mind. In his own words, he "entered the
Church along the road of controversy and by the gate of reason." Even
so, nearly two years were to elapse before he was received into the
Catholic Church. During this period he wished that the Church would
accept Associate Members who were in general sympathy with its aims but
without being prepared to pay the full subscription. He remained on the
threshold, content to defend the Church from outside yet unwilling to
In 1932 he accepted a challenge from the noted British philosopher,
Cyril Joad, to discuss Christianity in a series of letters; they were
published in the following year as Is
Christianity True? Like Lunn, Joad was raised as a Christian but
had abandoned it in adolescence, and he attacked Christianity on a wide
variety of fronts. Lunn, for his part, was by now a believing
Christian, if uncommitted to any particular confession, and thus at
times during the debate he felt that he was talking to his former self.
In the Preface, Joad commented on the degree of contemporary ignorance
of Christian apologetics. "Professing Christians and militant sceptics
alike are often ignorant of the most elementary facts concerning the
Christian faith. They knew neither its history, its tenets, nor the
arguments with which it has been historically defended."
Yet Joad himself betrayed a disconcerting ignorance of these very
facts, and there was, as Lunn later observed in a reminiscence of him,
hardly one popular misrepresentation of Catholicism which did not find
its way into their correspondence.
Joad reminded Lunn of the character in Chesterton's novel, The Man Who Was Thursday (1908),
who knew all about Christianity because he had read it up in two works,
Religion the Vampire and Priests of Prey.
The book inspired an enduring friendship between the two men, and
demonstrated that controversy and courtesy are not incompatible.
Nowhere was the good-tempered atmosphere in which letters were
exchanged more evident that in Joad's last letter to Lunn:
"You have been eloquent, alert and
amusing, and you have hit hard and clean. I respect your intelligence,
and I acknowledge an expert in the art of controversy; if at the end I
am unable to respond to your general appeal, to give marks to
Christianity rather than to yourself, you must comfort yourself with
the reflection that, if your elder person argument counts for anything,
I may one day come to share your present convictions, as I apparently
now share your past doubts. If I do, you may well claim to have sown in
my unconscious, since my conscious self disowns it, the seed of my
The remark was prophetic: Joad died an Anglo-Catholic, and he told Lunn
that the seed of his conversion had indeed been sown by their friendly
It is a sign of changed concerns - and of changed apologetics - that a
comparable debate today would tend to revolve around the practical
worth of Christianity rather than its dogmatic foundations, the value
of the Christian way of life rather than the truth of the Christian
Gospel. Contemporary man has been effectively secularized, and his mind
is not readily attuned to the intimations of the supernatural; his
outlook is technological rather than transcendental, concerned with a
way of life rather than a why of life. When the aching emptiness of a
life of materialism proves unbearable, his spiritual searchings are
liable to be intensely egocentric, guided more by personal experiences
than by objective revelations.
Such a mental climate is not conducive to the appeals of reason - and,
therefore, perhaps averse to a rational discussion on Christianity of
the kind conducted by Lunn and Joad. Yet there will always exist those
whose approach to the Church is primarily rational, and who feel
impelled, in the words of St. Peter, to give "a reason of that hope
which is in (them)." Such enquirers will always look to the truth of a
thing more than its supposed relevance, and embrace that truth even
when it will prove demanding rather than reassuring.
Reason and Spirit
The main importance of argument in the process of conversion, Lunn
believed, is that it helps to destroy the barriers which separate men
from God; it undermines the prejudices which prevent the growth of
faith. Though the operations of reason can themselves be clouded by
prejudice and distorted by desire, the appeal of evidence, whether it
be the evidence of logic or of fact, can ultimately prove irresistible.
Yet, if reason brought Lunn to the threshold of faith, it could not, he
soon realized, compel him to cross it. "Finally," admitted Robert
Bolt's St. Thomas More in his death-cell, "it isn't a matter of reason;
finally it's a matter of love." In Lunn's eyes, the presence of saints
in the Church was the clinching argument, for their lives testified to
a radiant love of God - a love which is not natural, in the strictest
sense of the term, but supernatural. "Holiness," he later wrote, "is a
force as real as electricity, and like electricity can be recognized by
certain results even in the material world."
It was the power of sanctity which finally convinced Lunn that
Catholicism is not merely rational but super-rational; that the source
of its life lies beyond the reach of reason and is literally not of
this world. In a renewed exchange between Ronald Knox and Lunn almost
two decades after their original debate, Knox remarked:
"It was a good thing, I think, that you
did not choose a more adroit opponent; it might have looked as if you
were being battered, by sheer force of reasoning, into submission. In
proportion as the reader is led to exclaim, 'Fancy being convinced by
arguments like that!' he will perhaps be led to wonder whether it is,
after all, entirely a matter of argument."
Lunn now realized that it was not. The sanctuary for which he had been
searching loomed invitingly before him, and it was a chance remark of
Cardinal Newman's which induced him to enter. "You must make a venture;
faith is a venture before a man is a Catholic. You approach the Church
in the way of reason, you enter it in the light of the spirit."
On 13th July, 1933, Mgr. Knox received Lunn into the Church, unleashing
thereby on a de-Christianised society one whom Evelyn Waugh called "the
most tireless Catholic apologist of his generation."
The story of Lunn's conversion is related in Now I See, which was published in
November 1933. The title was taken from St. John's Gospel (9; 25): "One
thing I know, that whereas I was blind now I see." In later life,
Lunn's fame in the ski-ing world gave rise to confusion over the title,
and he liked to recount the story of the man who bought Now I See to take to the Alps,
opened it on the plane, and discovered to his horror that the title was
not, as he had expected, Now I Ski!
In retrospect, Lunn felt grateful that his approach to Catholicism had
followed the path it did. "I can imagine," he said, "no better training
for the Church than to spend, as I did, a year arguing the case against
Catholicism with a Catholic, and a second year in defending the
Catholic position against an agnostic."
Now I See is divided into two
parts: the first is autobiographical and traces the author's quest for
truth and his final embrace of Catholicism, and the second unfolds the
classic arguments for the Faith, showing that one can establish by
reason the existence of God, the divinity of Christ, and the authority
of the Church.
The book has been reprinted numerous times - and justifiably, for it
relates, in readable prose, a fascinating personal story, and offers a
persuasive outline of the fundamental tenets of the Catholic faith.
Lunn's old adversary, Cyril Joad, wrote a sympathetic review of the
book, applauding Lunn's capacity "to make righteousness readable - a
very rare accomplishment." Moreover, he "has the wit to notice facts
such as that orthodoxy has lain so long disused on the shelf that it is
just beginning to be taken off it as an exciting novelty."
in the Slave Trade"
It is entirely fitting that Lunn's next book should have been devoted
to a saint. His subject was St. Peter Claver (1581-1654), the Apostle
of the Negroes in the West Indies, and Lunn entitled the work, A Saint in the Slave Trade (1934).
Sanctity had exercised a decisive influence on Lunn's conversion: he
came to see that it was the compelling demonstration and justification
of religious faith. If ever the eye of reason should grow cold and
insensitive to the mystical dimensions of religion, the saints were
there to provide the corrective of colour and warmth. As he was later
"Sanctity is heroic virtue, holiness
transmuted by something which is not of this world, goodness which
bears the unmistakable imprint of the supernatural . . . . The saint is
the final argument for the Catholic Church, for in the Catholic climate
sanctity still flowers, and still sweetens this tormented world with
the fragrance of heaven and the scent of Paradise."
and the Supernatural"
In 1931 Lunn had challenged the renowned scientist, Prof. J.B.S.
Haldane, to debate in book form Science
and the Supernatural, and the ensuing exchange of letters
extended over three years, culminating in publication in 1935. This was
not the least tedious feature of the controversy, for it was marked
also by an animosity uncharacteristic of most debates in which Lunn was
The principal cause was that Haldane had expected Lunn to attack
science, whereas Lunn had the profoundest respect for science - he had
defended the scientific method in The
Flight from Reason - but a genial aversion to the ideology which
Haldane professed, scientific materialism, "the superstition that
science has made it impossible to believe in the supernatural in
general or in miracles in particular." Haldane was disturbed by the
attack upon his beliefs, and his letters acquired an intemperance which
soured the atmosphere in which the debate was conducted.
Nonetheless, the book itself had at least two worthwhile effects: it
removed from the mind of Lord Longford, a subsequent convert to
Catholicism, the suspicion that "in a real showdown there would be
materialist questions the man of religion could not face;" and it
helped to revive the faith of Lunn's secretary (who later became his
second wife), Phyllis Holt-Needham.
In 1913 Lunn had married Mabel Northcote, a lady of remarkable
sensitivity and wit, and their marriage, which was blessed with three
children, ended with Mabel's death in 1959. Two years later he married
his secretary - on his own birthday, as it happened, "so as to ensure,"
his wife said to him, "a reasonable chance of your remembering our
In 1936 Lunn paused to review the momentous step he had taken three
years before in entering the Catholic Church. At the conclusion to Now I See, he had quoted one of his
favourite passages - a moving depiction of the Church by Hilaire Belloc:
"There is a city full, as are all
cities, of halt and maimed, blind and evil and the rest; but it is the
city of God. There are not two such cities on earth. There is One . . .
. One thing in this world is different from all other. It has a
personality and a force. It is recognized, and (when recognized) most
violently loved or hated. It is the Catholic Church. Within that
household the human spirit has roof and hearth. Outside it, is the
Lunn was now a member of that divine household; he was now Within That City, and this was the
title which he assigned to the book of discerning essays he wrote in
1936. The development which he had experienced as a Catholic was
reflected in one of the chapter headings, "Water into Wine," in which
he pointed out that his assent to the doctrines of the Church had now
become real and not merely notional.
The transformation was well traced in a Vatican broadcast which he made
on 4th May, 1951. Called "Rome
through Three Spectacles," the talk examined his impressions of
Rome over several decades - first in 1929, when he saw the city through
Protestant spectacles; next in 1933, soon after he became a Catholic;
and finally in 1950, as he was about to embark on a world lecture tour.
The blending of the casual and the ostentatious, which characterizes
the devotional practice of Continental Catholicism, at first disturbed
Lunn, but he gradually came to see this as vivid evidence of a people
at home in the House of God.
The Holy Year, 1950
Slowly, yet irresistibly, water was transformed into wine - "the water
of uneasy conviction into the wine of unquestioning faith." In 1950 he
saw Rome indubitably through Catholic spectacles. He joined the
unending procession of pilgrims through the basilicas which war had
spared, and he felt most poignantly the sentiment of homecoming:
"Nothing in my life as a Catholic has
moved me more than those hours which I spent visiting the basilicas.
Nothing has given me a greater sense of the universal nature of the
Church than the stream of pilgrims of so many different countries and
different races. And nothing has done more to reinforce the conviction
which finally brought me into the Church that there is only one
household in which the tormented spirit of man can find rest and
Lunn's growing reputation as a Catholic advocate gave rise in 1936 to
an invitation to teach apologetics at the University of Notre Dame in
Indiana (U.S.A.). He gladly accepted and, for three successive years
(1936-38), he spent one term as a visiting professor at the University.
The experience enabled him to test certain apologetical techniques
which he had developed, as well as showing him how inadequately
Catholic students are equipped to defend their faith.
Lunn's basic method of teaching Christianity followed that which he had
adopted in learning about it - namely, a rationalistic approach
involving a study of the Resurrection as an historical miracle
demonstrating the divinity of Christ. Lunn always asserted, with St.
Paul, that "if Christ has not risen, . . . then is our preaching vain,
and your faith is also vain." He regarded the Resurrection as the
greatest of historical problems, and his own prolonged research into
the event had played a crucial part in bringing him to the Church. In
1945 he produced his own study of the Resurrection, The Third Day, in which he
subjected the evidence for the event to rigorous scrutiny, and answered
the various objections which have been advanced against the
Resurrection as the only convincing explanation for the Empty Tomb.
For the tomb in which Christ had been placed after the Crucifixion was,
two days later, unquestionably empty: even the enemies of Christianity
had admitted it. Thus, either the body had been stolen by the
disciples, as the Pharisees maintained, or else Christ had in fact
risen from the dead. But if the disciples had stolen the body, why
would they have propagated what they knew to be a monstrous and
unnecessary lie- and endure death by martyrdom rather than recant?
Moreover, it was belief in the Resurrection which had converted the
Apostles from terror-stricken defeatists into the dynamic missionaries
of Christ. The evidence for it, in fact, as Lunn showed, is
overwhelming - and confirmed by the cumulative testimony of events like
the proven occurrence of miracles throughout the ages.
The periods which Lunn spent at Notre Dame were both pleasant and
fruitful. One of his students was responsible, humanly speaking, for
bringing twelve converts into the Church in four years, and it was the
sort of success which Lunn would later cite in the face of pleas that
"argument gets you nowhere."
At Notre Dame Lunn was described by his colleagues as "the wandering
journalist." He did, indeed, engage in an immense amount of travelling
during the second half of the 1930's, most often in connection with the
cause of the Spanish Civil War.
In 1937 the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, suggested to
the historian, Sir Arthur Bryant, that Lunn be asked to visit Spain and
record his impressions in a book which would seek to restore balance to
the discussion of a conflict that had proved deeply divisive, even in
countries like Britain. In George Orwell's words, the Spanish Civil War
was "above all things a political war," and on this account Lunn's book
was to be circulated to every Conservative Member of the British
The author spent several months at the Spanish front and the outcome
was Spanish Rehearsal (1937),
an eloquent defence of Franco's cause. It bore the unmistakable marks
of the heat of battle, and the title reflected Lunn's belief that here
was the grim rehearsal of a more destructive conflict. The tragedy of
World War II was barely two years away.
Yet, in Lunn's view, the war had another, even more significant
dimension: it was "only a phase in the recurring battle between the two
rival interpretations of life, the spiritual and the materialistic." It
was primarily in terms of Catholicism under assault from Communism that
Lunn construed the conflict in Spain.
The Church in Spain
Without doubt the spectacle of Spanish Catholicism had a profound
impact on him. For the first time he saw the Church in action - a
society which was impregnated with Catholic belief, and, though it
might often have betrayed the ideals which flow from that belief, it
had never abandoned its loyalty to the historic faith.
In face of national turmoil and the ever-present threat of martyrdom,
this loyalty acquired the dimension of heroism. Lunn was deeply moved
by the tenacity of the ordinary Spanish Catholic; a tenacity which was
more a consecration than a commitment, and which Lunn had earlier
perceived when he studied the first Apostles, who suffered death rather
than renounce their faith in Christ. He was fond of quoting Pascal's
comment: "I readily believe those witnesses who get their throats cut."
In 1938 Lunn returned briefly to Spain and celebrated Easter Sunday by
attending High Mass in Seville Cathedral. He saw the Death and
Resurrection of Christ reflected in the fortunes of Spain, and he was
pierced with hope. "One loves Chartres," he said, "as Martha loved
Lazarus before he died, but one loves Seville as Martha loved Lazarus
after he had been raised from the dead."
In Spain Lunn encountered in its full force the phenomenon of the
"half-Christian" - the person who professes belief in Christianity
without being noticeably conscientious about practising it. He was
struck, for example, by the spectacle of Spaniards genuflecting to the
altar before they proceeded to burn down the church. For a great many
people, especially perhaps those who are not Catholics, this phenomenon
is a tragic scandal, which is difficult to reconcile with the claim of
Catholicism to be the one and only true Church; for surely a cardinal
mark of the true Church would be holiness.
Holiness has assuredly been one of the marks of the Catholic Church, as
an illustrious gallery of saints throughout history attests. Yet the
Catholic Church is also catholic: it is universal, and has been
enjoined to bring all men to salvation - a mission forever symbolized
by the outstretched arms of Christ on the Cross. The Church has never
been a society of the elect, of saints to the exclusion of sinners. It
has embraced the respectable and the notorious, the brilliant and the
mediocre, the powerful and the weak, the prosperous and the poor.
Lunn was profoundly attracted by the power of the Church, not only to
inspire saints, but also to evoke the loyalty of sinners and to retain
the allegiance of the naturally irreligious.
"The 'half -Christian' is, indeed, a
very useful member of society, and so long as he continues to form the
backbone of a state, Christian ethics will not be challenged. Sinners
will continue to sin, but they will, at least, have the decency to
refrain from preaching what they practise - a much more serious offence
than failing to practise what they preach. Lip-service to Christian
ideals is better than no service; platonic respect for the Christian
code of morality is better than official contempt. Czarist Russia,
which was officially Christian, was less corrupt, less immoral, and
infinitely less degraded than Bolshevist Russia which is officially
Modest of his own capacity to be a saint, Lunn was reassured as well as
impressed by the evidence which the Church constituted of the merciful
patience of God. He saw that it is "not only the nursery of saints, but
a hospital for sinners," and only a Church which could accommodate
sinners - sinners who, admittedly, have kept alive the sense of sin -
could find a place for Arnold Lunn.
During World War II, he became friendly with a priest on board a ship
sailing for Peru. The conversation turned to St. Peter Claver, and the
priest commended to Lunn an excellent book on the saint. But he could
not recollect its title.
"Was it by any chance called A Saint
in the Slave Trade?" asked Lunn.
"Yes, that's it," said the priest. "You should read it." And he added
sternly, "It would do you good."
"I dare say it would," replied Lunn sadly, "if I didn't know the
author." Such knowledge, he was convinced, was sufficient to repel the
favourably disposed reader. "I have, of course," Lunn confessed,
"learned by experience that my only hope of retaining the respect of
those who like my writings about the Faith is to insist that they
remain pen-friends. Any slight influence which I might hope to exercise
through my writings is promptly counteracted by my personal example."
Such a disclaimer was not a sign of false modesty. Lunn was not without
vanity - though even this was more the panache of the public performer
than the pretentiousness of the egotist. Beneath the surface confidence
lurked a genuine humility which manifested itself throughout his life.
The capacity to laugh at oneself is one of the signs of humility, and
it was a capacity which Lunn possessed in salutary measure. When asked
at the end of a lecture he gave in Sydney in 1950 what had been his
approach to the Confessional when he became a Catholic, he answered:
"Slow and reluctant."
Moreover, he was incurably absent-minded. He had the habit of losing a
large bag which contained the cylinders for his dictaphone. "We travel
down together," he said, "from Charing Cross, but whereas I get out at
Chislehurst, my bag usually prefers to spend the night with friends at
Sevenoaks. On the last occasion when my secretary applied at the Lost
Luggage Office to reclaim the prodigal the bored official in charge
turned his head and asked the man behind him, 'Is the Lunn bag in again
this morning?' "
In 1939 the author published Communism
and Socialism, which was a study of the twin threats to Western
culture posed by Hitler and Stalin. Lunn believed that the dictators
had much in common, for their regimes were aggressively totalitarian in
their claims. In place of Christ, Hitler had exalted Race, and Stalin
Class. The fruits of such idolatry were already tragically apparent.
The 1930's were now drawing to their catastrophic close. They had been
for Lunn, as for so many others, a decade of tumultuous drama; a time
for searching and a time for believing; a a time for judging and a time
for acting. Lunn's quest for truth had culminated in his conversion in
1933 to Catholicism, and the intervening years had only served to
reinforce his decision. He had begun the decade by recording The Flight from Reason (1930), and
he was ending it with the growing conviction that only through the
Church could this flight be arrested. He saw, with a clarity
intensified by crisis, that the two qualities which the Church was
commonly supposed to stifle - reason and freedom - were increasingly
evident only in the Church and required the Church for their
preservation in society. The Flight
from Reason, Lunn later said, examined "the suicidal tendencies
of modern thought": World War II was to show the social consequences of
In October 1939, one month after the war begun, Lunn left London for
his much-beloved Switzerland. The Alps now loomed more than ever as
symbols of permanence in a crumbling world, and Lunn was enchanted to
behold them again. From Switzerland he set out on a European journey
which took him through Yugoslavia, (generally known as Jugoslavia at
that time), Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Italy and Malta. The
impressions which he gathered were embodied in Whither Europe? (1940). The future
of Europe was a question of mounting concern and urgency as the
continent was convulsed by war. Lunn was deeply European in outlook,
and his breadth of experience, both intellectually and geographically,
had convinced him of a truth to which Belloc had first alerted him,
that "Christianity is not only a creed but a culture," and that "the
way of life which is the flower of Christianity would not survive the
destruction of the Christian faith."
During the next few years Lunn continued his habit of extensive
travelling. In 1940 he visited Ireland as a special correspondent for
the London Tablet, and soon
after sailed to New York to begin a six months' tour of the United
States. These and other war-time experiences were recorded in And the Floods Came; a chapter of war-time
When he returned to London in 1941 he saw the desolate effects of many
months of air raids. He went to Mass with Douglas and Mia Woodruff in
the almost-demolished Southwark Cathedral, and observed that the chief
object of destruction had been the figure of Christ in the Stations of
the Cross, for in many of them His was the only face that had suffered
disfigurement. The shattered setting for the Great Sacrifice served to
remind Lunn that "collective security is an idle dream, for man is born
not for security but for adventure, not for comfort but for hardship. A
cathedral unscarred by war or by revolution is incomplete, for it lacks
the consecration of suffering."
Throughout the war Lunn's mind was never far from the spiritual
implications of the conflict. The belief that the threat to Western
culture would disappear with the defeat of Nazism was to him an
illusion. He realized that we would see again the proposal of political
solutions which reflect, not a grasp of man's spiritual nature, but
rather a denial of it.
Certain truths were now becoming manifest, the chief among them being
"that secular remedies for human maladies are not enough and that a
civilization which turns its back on God cannot escape disaster."
Lunn now saw a desperate need to speak to the increasing numbers of
those who "have no definite beliefs or disbeliefs," yet who nonetheless
"realize the bankruptcy of all secular substitutes for Christianity."
In 1944 he published another book of essays with this aim in view.
Called The Good Gorilla, the
work drew its title from a remarkable passage of Renan, the 19th
century French philosopher who had abandoned Catholicism.
In later life Renan retreated from his earlier confidence in the
benefits which would flow from the displacement of religion by science,
and confessed that the promised substitutes for religion were, in fact,
producing some disturbing results:
"It seems possible that the collapse of
supernatural beliefs will be followed by the collapse of moral
convictions, and that the moment when humanity sees the reality of
things will be the beginning of a real moral decline. Under the
influence of illusions [by which Renan meant Christianity], the good
gorilla succeeded in making an astonishing moral effort. Remove the
illusions and a part of the artificial energy which they evoked will
disappear . . . We are living on the perfume of an empty vase."
Amid the gas of Hitler's death-chambers and the thickening smoke of
bombs which would soon culminate in the nuclear mushroom cloud, it was
becoming difficult to detect even the perfume.
In late 1943 the Rev. John (now Cardinal) Heenan suggested that the
well-known historian and inveterate opponent of Catholicism, Dr. G. G.
Coulton, should debate with Arnold Lunn the question: Is the
Catholic Church anti-social? The debate, which lasted a year,
was published under that title in 1947. Once again, it proved a tedious
rather than stimulating exercise for Lunn. Dr. Coulton harboured a
venomous hatred for the Church, and this injected a certain ill-will
into the debate which Lunn's gestures of courtesy could do little to
Moreover, Coulton felt under no compulsion to keep to the point: in a
correspondence in which the average letter was meant to be from 3,000
to 7,000 words in length, Coulton's second letter stretched to 34,000
words, departing frequently from the stated subject of the debate -
which was the social consequences of Catholicism, and not the truth of
Catholic doctrine. Such licence was insupportable in an exchange in
which both authors had agreed to confine their total word-length to
In August 1950 Lunn embarked upon a long lecturing journey which took
him around the world. He spent six weeks in Australia, lecturing to
various audiences in Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra and Sydney.
"I have the happiest memories of Australia," he later recalled, "and am
sad that my hope to return there for another lecture tour was never
The Australian tour began in Melbourne, where Lunn delivered four major
lectures. At each of them Archbishop Mannix, by that time 86 years old,
was in attendance, and at a lunch party which he gave in the author's
honour, Lunn expressed anxiety that the Archbishop might be overtaxing
himself. He was enchanted by Dr. Mannix's smiling response: "When I get
old, I -really will have to start taking care of myself."
Whilst in Melbourne, Lunn also engaged in a public debate with
Glanville Cook, the Secretary of the Rationalist Society of Australia.
Their subject was: Is the
Catholic Church intolerant and a bar to progress?
Lunn always believed that, as a means of communicating the truths of
Catholicism to non-Catholics, debates are incomparably more effective
than lectures. Debates tend to attract the unconverted who will rarely
attend the formal lecture held under Catholic auspices. On this
occasion, a vast hall at Melbourne University was crowded with students
throughout the two hours' debate with Glanville Cook. The event proved
so popular that it was later repeated in Melbourne itself.
Lunn's motto as a debater was St. Augustine's precept, "Love men, slay
errors." "Intolerance of error," Lunn pointed out, "must not be equated
with intolerance of men in error." Controversy must not lead to
quarrelling, and Lunn's tact and composure before this Australian
university audience were highly impressive. Indeed, so poor a
representative was he of the Church's alleged intolerance that
Glanville Cook voiced the opinion that Lunn was not a typical Catholic.
"Some men," he remarked, "are better than their creeds" - a suggestion
which amused Lunn hugely and prompted the reply that "no man was good
enough to live up to the Catholic code or bad enough to live down to
After the debate, Vincent Buckley, at that time President of the Newman
Society at Melbourne University, complimented Lunn on the "great
tradition of intellectual chivalry" which he had left behind for them
to emulate. "My difficulty," Lunn admitted, "has been to live up to the
standards which I contrived with great difficulty to maintain on this
On another Australian university campus, Lunn fell into discussion with
a group of logical positivists. A basic feature of their philosophy is
that all moral judgements are meaningless, and Lunn therefore raised
the question of Hitler's extermination of the Jews. Was it right or was
it wrong? The logical positivists were embarrassed by this challenge,
for Lunn was quick to point out that their creed did not allow for a
moral condemnation of Hitler's actions. "What finally killed logical
positivism," he subsequently observed, "was the fact that every logical
positivist was forced to admit some moral judgements were far from
Whether in friendly discussion or in formal debate, Lunn exhibited the
qualities which made him such an impressive advocate: a formidable
power of persuasion, an entertaining style of presentation, a
captivating sense of humour, an unwavering strength of conviction, and
an ingratiating honesty which was ever ready to concede a fair point.
Frank Sheed once said that Lunn had a mind like quicksilver, and both
his writings and his public performances demonstrate this mental
agility, in particular the swiftness with which he could detect the
weakness of an argument or an intellectual position.
Visit to America
From Australia Lunn flew to America on the final leg of his world tour.
He had been abroad for four months, but seemed unexhausted by the
incessancy of the lecture circuit. Despite the whispers of approaching
age, the pattern of work which he had pursued for many years - writing
books and journal articles, penning book reviews, delivering public
lectures, handling correspondence - continued unabated. In his 68th
year, for example, he produced two books, edited and wrote about 15,000
words for The British Ski Year Book
(which he edited, remarkably, from 1919 to 1971), wrote some 75
articles, including a weekly article, and did a three-months' lecture
tour in America.
Throughout the years, the books on religious themes were interspersed
with volumes on ski-ing and mountaineering. These were, indeed, the two
main pursuits of Lunn's life: downhill ski-ing and uphill Christianity.
It was on account of his prowess in the former sphere that he received
a knighthood in 1952 - "for services to ski-ing and Anglo-Swiss
relations" - and in the same year was made a Citoyen d'honneur of
Chamonix, the town in France in which he had first put on a pair of
skis at the age of ten.
As he reached the Psalmist's span of three score and ten, books of
memoirs began to appear. He had written an early autobiography in 1940,
Come What May, and he now
brought out Memory to Memory
(1956), And yet so New (1958),
and finally, Unkilled for so Long
(1968). Each of these works was vintage Lunn - replete with good
anecdotes, warm recollections of family and friends, and incisive
judgements on the events and trends of our age.
In 1953 Lunn paid the first of many visits to Caux, the Swiss
headquarters of the movement known as Moral Re-armament (M.R.A.). For
the next three years he made a systematic investigation of M.R.A., and
in 1957 produced Enigma, the
first book on the movement by an English Catholic. It was widely hailed
as an eminently fair account, illustrative of the author's sympathetic
interest yet detached outlook. Lunn found much in the movement which
did not appeal to him, but he also cheerfully acknowledged its positive
achievements, such as the conversion of leading Communists and the
reconciliation of lapsed Catholics. In particular was he impressed by
M.R.A.'s readiness and capacity to co-operate in an ecumenical alliance
against the rampant secularism of our time.
Lunn's own religious background disposed him to such co-operation. Now
a Catholic, he was the son of a Methodist father and an Anglican
mother. In 1929 he had written a life of John Wesley (1703-91), the founder
of Methodism, and the work, which displayed a sympathy allied to
critical discernment, was selected as the Protestant Book of the Month
Lunn was deeply impressed by the missionary zeal of Wesley, and the
conclusion of his book paid tribute to this quality:
[John Wesley's] life had all but
covered the span of the dying century, and perhaps those who watched
the lowering of his body into the empty grave realized in some dim,
prophetic fashion that they were present at the burial, not only of a
man, but of an epoch. For the old world did not long survive John
Wesley. It was 1791, and the 'rumble of a distant drum' had already
proclaimed the blood-red dawn of revolution. England was to pass
unscathed through those troubled years, but the tumbrels might well
have been seen in the streets of London, had not a little man in gown
and bands taken the world for his parish, and changed the hearts of
The challenge of continuing such apostolic work exercised an
irresistible appeal for Lunn - and he thought of the task in ecumenical
terms long before it became fashionable to do so. As early as 1940 he
was affirming his belief that "the ever-growing peril of militant
atheism . . . is forcing Christians to realize that the beliefs which
unite them are more important than those which divide them." In 1944 he
stated that "the co-operation of all who profess and call themselves
Christians will be necessary to repel the threat to Christianity." Thus
he readily welcomed the formation in 1940 of the Sword of the Spirit,
an ecumenical movement designed to enlist the co-operation of
Christians in resistance against tyranny and in promotion of the social
realization of Christian principles. Although the venture proved
abortive, it was a model of the kind of movement Lunn felt was
desperately needed - a vital and effective alliance between Christians
of all denominations in defence of the Christian faith and the
Christian moral law.
During the 1960's Lunn himself contributed to such an alliance. As an
expression of active ecumenism, he collaborated with an Anglican
friend, Garth Lean, in a series of books on contemporary culture. The
authors examined, with full documentation, the erosion of Christian
belief and morality, and outlined its disastrous social consequences.
they produced the first critical analysis of what has been called "The New Morality," a
concerted attempt to undermine the foundations of traditional Christian
morality, particularly its teaching on sex. "The fundamental weakness
of the New Moralists," averred Lunn and Lean, "is that they . . .
appear to think it more compassionate to condone sin than to convince
people that, in Christ, can be found the power to conquer it." The work
was so popular that the authors issued an enlarged and up-dated edition
In 1965 Lunn and Lean wrote The Cult
of Softness, which examined the effects of a revolt against
objective and absolute standards in the fields of education, theology,
literature, the theatre and television.
They strove to make clear that they were more concerned by the
capitulation of mind evident in the tendencies to dilute Christian
morality than by the unmistakable signs of self-indulgence: "we are
less worried," they remarked, "by the increase of sexual immorality
among the young than by the increase of intellectual immorality among
Lunn always regarded "intellectual immorality" as the ultimate form of
hypocrisy. He regretted that people did not practise what they preached
- himself included - but he thought it far worse when they began to
preach what they practised, adjusting their moral code to fit their
behaviour rather than the other way round, and rationalizing the
absolute demands of Christian morality.
Although ardently keen to spread the Faith, Lunn was never prone to
appease those who would not accept it. "Religions are like bees," he
once wrote, "Remove their sting and they die." He affirmed that
Christianity was neither a fashionable nor an easy religion, and as
"the contrast between the Christian and secular culture becomes more
marked, the Christian is tempted to play down all that still separates
him from the secularists, and to seek to conciliate a secular society
by identifying himself with fashionable causes." Lunn on the other
hand, was more interested in converting than in conciliating a secular
society, and he strenuously opposed all attempts to tamper with what he
called "the Christianity of Christ."
The common notion that any form of behaviour is acceptable if
sanctioned by one's conscience struck Lunn as "very accommodating," for
"it is delightfully easy to obtain a nihil
obstat from a properly conditioned conscience. It is only too
easy to persuade ourselves that we are justified in doing what we want
to do. Hence the paramount necessity for objective standards of right
and wrong by which we can judge our own behaviour."
In his later years Lunn found it increasingly difficult to secure
opponents with whom to debate. He challenged both Dr. John Robinson (of
Honest to God fame) and Canon
Rhymes to engage in an exchange of letters on the New Morality, but the
debates never transpired. In 1969 he responded to a public request by
the British Humanist Association that dialogue between Christians and
Humanists should take place. His initial challenge to the prominent
Humanist, the late Sir Julian Huxley, was declined, and even the
Association itself was unable to find a candidate. Lunn sharply defined
"dialogue" as "a fashionable word for what is hoped will prove a
discussion between a sceptic and an intimidated Christian." He hardly
qualified as "an intimidated Christian," and his conception of
"dialogue" as a controversy between a committed Christian and his
opponent clearly did not tally with the Humanist Association's
understanding of the word.
In 1969 Lunn produced his final book, Christian
Counter-attack, again the fruit of collaboration with Garth
Lean. Where The New Morality
and The Cult of Softness had
surveyed the dimensions of the assault upon Christian principles, the
new work presented positive ways of combating this process and
inspiring a revival of Christianity.
Lunn believed that, in a culture pervaded by secularism, the prime task
for the Christian advocate is to awaken interest in the supernatural. A
secularized world neither engenders nor sustains a religious outlook,
and its citizens gradually cease to be conscious of any spiritual need
for Christianity to fulfil. The result is that religious knowledge is
assumed to be illusory, incapable of shedding any real light on the
great problems which afflict mankind.
To demonstrate the truth and importance of Christianity in such an
atmosphere is a formidable challenge. Lunn's approach was to seek to
convince the victims of secularism that supernatural events, which a
materialistic philosophy is powerless to explain, have occurred and are
In Christian Counter-attack,
for example, he produced the latest evidence on extra-sensory
perception in order to show that, in the words of one agnostic, "there
is something about the human mind which we cannot explain in
exclusively materialistic terms."
Lunn's appetite for apologetics remained insatiable, and up to a few
weeks before his death he was planning a sequel to The Cult of Softness - "to crown,"
in the words of his friend, Douglas Woodruff, "40 years of brave and
fruitful Christian apologetic."
The Second Vatican Council was an event which Lunn wholeheartedly
welcomed. In particular was he pleased with the Council's ecumenical
initiatives, for he had long argued for closer relations among the
Christian Churches and active co-operation on common issues. However,
the aftermath of the Council caused him considerable disquiet; and, as
for so many Catholics, the ferment. was crystallized in the changes in
Lunn acknowledged that "the introduction of the vernacular was
undoubtedly beneficial," but he did not agree with the abolition of the
Latin liturgy, for he believed that it demonstrated the unity and the
universality of the Church and reflected the richness of its cultural
traditions. When the Latin Mass Society was formed in Britain in 1965,
Lunn was elected its first President, and he retained this post until
1970, at which time he resigned from the Society in opposition to its
growing - and in his judgement futile - insistence that the
Tridentine Mass was the only acceptable form of Latin Mass.
The chairman of the Association for Latin Liturgy, Dr R. Richens, who
was intimately involved in the controversy, later declared that "in no
field of Catholic activity has Sir Arnold himself displayed greater
prudence and discretion."
On June 2, 1974, Sir Arnold Lunn died in London at the age of
eighty-six. It was fitting, as the editor of the London Tablet, Tom Burns, observed, that
it should have been on the Feast of Pentecost - "he who had lived with
a pentecostal flame within him ever since his conversion."
It was the mountains which had first kindled this flame, and it was the
mountains which inspired its most vivid illumination. As Lunn reflected
on the occasion of his 70th birthday:
"I have learned to distinguish between
the Architect and his creation, but I often wonder in what desert of
scepticism I should still be wandering but for the revelation of God in
the temporal loveliness of the mountains. The saints are in love with
God and they have eyes which can see into heaven, but ordinary folk are
grateful for those moments on earth when the clouds of doubt pass and
the thinning mists disclose a fugitive glimpse of the 'hid battlements
* * *
OF ARNOLD LUNN
Let me give thanks, dear Lord, in the frailty of age for the beloved
mountains of my youth, for the challenge of rock and for the joy of
skiing, for the friends with whom I climbed and skied, and above all,
dear Lord, for those moments of revelation when the temporal beauty of
the mountains reinforces my faith in the Eternal beauty which is not
subject to decay.
X X X
As I await the gift of sleep, dear Lord, let me not take for granted
the roof above and the pillow below my head. Arouse my sluggish
compassion for the homeless and the destitute and for all Christians
suffering for their faith.
+ T. F. LITTLE,
Archbishop of Melbourne
15th September, 1975