The Faith Movement
The Faith Movement
Father Roger Nesbitt produced an account of the Faith Movement some years ago, published by the Catholic Truth Society as part of a series on the New Movements in the Church. We offer an updated version here for a new generation attending Faith Movement events and discovering the Movement and its message.
The Faith movement is a free association of priests, religious and lay Catholics drawn together by a shared vision of Christ as
“Lord of the cosmos and of history” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 668) and Lord of the individual mind and
heart. The movement was founded in 1972 by Fr Edward Holloway, a priest of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton
(formerly of Southwark diocese). Since then it has worked to foster the Catholic faith and spiritual life of many people through catechetical, theological, spiritual and pastoral events and publications.
The Faith movement does not have a formal membership. Those who choose to be involved in and support its work naturally remain members of their local parish in whatever vocation and state of life they have been called to by God, and continue to follow the Lord in whatever direction he calls them.
Contemporary science and the full Catholic Faith
Instead, the movement’s identity, cohesion and dynamism come from our shared theological vision. This vision seeks to unite or synthesise contemporary science and the full Catholic faith, and to bring out the wonderful unity of God’s plan of creation and salvation - a plan centred on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is our conviction that these ideas provide in our modem world an authentic, convincing and inspiring explanation of the Catholic faith which is both fully orthodox and also totally in harmony with the discoveries of modern science. As a result they can sustain our faith, which is so much under attack in our secular and materialistic society. More than this, they indicate a clear answer to much of the confusion and contradiction which has afflicted the Church in many areas in recent times. Finally, they offer a genuine and exciting insight which can develop and deepen our understanding of the faith and of the moral life, and lead us along the way of holiness and prayer as personal fulfilment in wisdom and joy in humble union with God.
The mind as well as the heart
We are convinced that to preach the Gospel of Christ in our world we need to reach out to the mind as well as the heart. The vision we present, far from being dry intellectualism, is a real source of spiritual vitality. Fr Holloway put it like this:
It is not a perspective which makes one want to write as an academic, or to discuss in polite animation. It is a perspective that makes one thrill to the living God, love him unashamedly, and yearn to pass on the same contagion of flame to everyone. Suddenly the hackneyed and rather lame expression “the Good News” comes to life. You are living it now; you know it now, experience it and thrill to the majestic unity and wisdom of God and the gentle loving-kindness of God. This is the real “baptism
in the Spirit” we all of us need. You are no longer preaching beliefs, or values, or an ethos... but are walking with Jesus of Nazareth. You know him and love him. You believe and know that he is the Son of the living God, and Prince of Man.
It is the desire and only purpose of the Faith movement humbly to offer this vision of Jesus Christ to the Church as a source of renewal and revitalisation for members of the Church, and as a source of inspiration to call others to Christ.
The Faith movement is loosely structured, open and forward looking. We adopt any structures and activities which are helpful to our principal aims. These have centred around catechetical conferences and events, formative youth groups, retreats, and theological, pastoral and spiritual publications
Edward Holloway was born 18th November 1917 at Woolwich, South East London. At the age of 11 he began studies at St Joseph’s, Mark Cross, a junior seminary in East Sussex. From 1937 to 1944 he studied for the priesthood at the Venerable English College, Rome (from 1940 evacuated to Stonyhurst College in Lancashire due to the war), gaining licence degrees in philosophy and theology. During his time at seminary he took his studies very seriously. He became increasingly dissatisfied with the prevailing ‘neo -scholastic’ philosophy and theology, and entered into keen debate with several of the university professors; a debate which he continued by correspondence in the following years.
He was ordained priest 13th February 1944. From 1946 to 1958 he was an assistant priest in the parish of the English Martyrs, Walworth, London, and priest-in-charge of St Augustine’ s House for late vocations to the priesthood. During this time he was beginning to develop the ideas at the basis of a new system of philosophy and theology - the beginnings of a new synthesis.
Eventually these ideas were expounded by Fr Holloway in his book Catholicism: A New Synthesis, which is really his life’s intellectual work. A first, unpublished version of the book was completed in 1950; Catholicism itself was written between 1961 and 1967 and published in 1970. All the time he was working on the book he was also working full time in parishes; initially at English Martyrs, later at St Thomas More in Bramley, Surrey
Catholicism: A New Synthesis presents Fr Holloway’s synthesis of the modern scientific vision of the universe with orthodox Catholicism; a synthesis which was destined to be at the intellectual and spiritual heart of the Faith movement.
Background Situation in the Church
The late 1960s and early 70s were a time of crisis and confusion in the Catholic Church. Many priests and lay people were becoming aware that the renewal within the Church expected from the Second Vatican Council had been frustrated by the breakdown of the old, neo-scholastic system of Catholic theology. It was also a period when the permissive 1960s were reaping their harvest of general moral breakdown in society, a breakdown which was sadly reflected in the Church. The effects catechetically and pastorally were very disturbing. Young people were no longer getting a clear catechesis. Many people were losing their faith and leaving the Church; tragically this included a fair number of priests. Priestly vocations also declined in the resulting confusion.
Beginnings of the Magazine
In order to address some of these issues, in the late 1960’s a number of priests including Fr Holloway started to publish a theological and pastoral review called Kephas. In 1970 it changed its name to Faith, and soon afterwards Fr Holloway took on the editorship. The magazine made, and continues to make, a significant contribution to theological and pastoral debate in the United Kingdom, and also served as a vehicle for promoting the new synthesis.
Beginning of the Youth Movement
In the 1950’s I came into contact with Fr Holloway while a student at university. During this time, and later during my time at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh, in the 1960’s, I was greatly helped and influenced by Fr Holloway’s new and inspiring vision of science and the Catholic faith. By the 1970’s Fr Holloway and I were convinced that there was need for a new youth movement which taught a clear vision of the faith and of morals, which was not just a return to the past but a new synthesis of the scientific vision of creation and the orthodox Catholic faith. We knew that the teaching had to be firm and clear and needed to make sense because of the contemporary confusion in catechetics. There was also a need for a strong sense of friendship among the young people involved in the group: they needed to support each other in their Catholic faith to counter the prevailing ethos in secular society and the confusion in the Church.
Fr Holloway produced a draft of his ideas about the movement, in which he stated:
This must be a call to the deep and dedicated young Catholic. They must be told frankly that their faith and ideals are a minority movement, that Christianity has reached the end of a stage in history, culturally speaking, and that with the breakdown and dissolution of the present society, there has arisen a breakdown of full faith, full morals, and full personal love of God, also within the Church.
They must be given the call and the vision to a new perspective of ‘full faith’ Christianity, and the fullness of Christianity means Roman Catholicism. This must be presented to them as a new re-seeding of the world and of society, a task as hard and ‘impossible’ as the conversion of the ancient world to a faith which demanded, it seemed, the impossible of mankind.
Therefore the personal and individual nature of the love of God as an experience must be got over to these youngsters. The community side of the Church will not be ignored, but the individual commitment, the commitment to holiness and steadfastness, dedicated following, proof against scandal, breakdown, betrayal, both spiritual and intellectual, must be preached to them.
They have to be taught, they have to be formed, and this means the personal discipleship to them of priests for whom God is a reality, and for whom Christ is the Messiah, and the very Son of God.
The “God Squad”
Providentially, after my priestly ordination in 1967, I had been appointed to teach chemistry and religion at the John Fisher School, a Catholic secondary school for boys in Purley, Surrey. In 1971 a number of sixth formers and I started a small, informal youth group. Known colloquially as the ‘God Squad’, it was set up to discuss current questions of our Catholic faith. Andrew Nash, one of the first young leaders of the youth movement, wrote a memoir of the earliest days of the movement and of Fr Holloway’s influence on him, which gives some of the flavour of those early days:
In 1967 the good Lord and the Archbishop of Southwark sent Fr Roger Nesbitt to teach at the John Fisher School, Purley, Surrey. To us boys he was a cricket-playing chemistry master (to whose chemistry teaching I was, alas, utterly immune). However, the religion Fr Nesbitt talked began to grow on us. For the first time we heard the case for the faith put
with clarity and in a way that wasn’t ‘old’. Suddenly it was the Church’s teaching which seemed obvious, and the world’s mess was explained. And with the zeal of the young, almost of the neophyte, we now wanted to go out and do something about it all. Little did we know that behind Fr Nesbitt there was somebody else down in Portslade-by -Sea [where Fr Holloway was parish priest at this time] who had already decided that the time had come to start a new youth movement.
Then we met the great man. There can only have been a handful of us squeezed into Fr Nesbitt’s very small room with this big priest. I can’t remember what he talked about - it was his presence that made the impact. Here was a priest of extraordinary natural authority. Yet he took you seriously and would answer anything you asked him with a more complete answer than you had ever heard before.
After some time I got used to listening to Fr Holloway in full flow. And what a flow it was - a pouring forth of wisdom, in that breathy, asthmatic voice. When he talked of the sweep of evolution we were swept along with it. I don’t mean in an emotional way; it was intellectual exhilaration that one felt. For the first time one saw a coherent cosmic vision, with Christ as the Heir of the Ages. I had never heard of the Scotist view of the Incarnation before. How wonderfully it opened up the unity of creation and revelation. It unfolded for me an intellectual framework which has held good for the rest of my life.
Young people looking for answers
As this passage makes clear, we found that young people were looking for answers to the most fundamental questions: how can we be sure that God exists? What is the relationship between science and religion? What is the meaning of man? What is unique about Jesus? Why should we follow the teachings of the Church? All these questions, we discovered, were absolutely vital in our formation of young people. They wanted to discuss them from an early age, even from the top class at primary school, and they became crucial at secondary school age. Indeed if our youngsters were not given answers to these questions they would invariably begin to lose their faith. We also found that there was, and remains, a great thirst to know more about our faith, to discuss it in a positive atmosphere and to thrill to a vision of Christ which is linked to the scientific vision of creation. We found that they expected their faith to be reasonable, certain, clear, and to be taught with authority. In all our conferences, sessions and discussion groups we found a genuine desire not only to love Christ but above all to know more about him and his magnificent teaching.
We also discovered that if God and his plan were not in their minds they would notpray to him or come to faith in him and that the old adage continues to apply: “If you do not know him, you cannot love him or pray to him”. and revelation. It unfolded for me an intellectual framework which has held good for the rest of my life.
This feature will be continued in the November/December issue of FAITH magazine. This feature was first published by the Catholic Truth Society, 2001.