J.R.R. Thomas Chesterton of Hippo?

Moody Publishers and its safely dead Catholic authors

Several months ago I was invited to contribute to a festschrift in honor of a dear friend of mine, a well-known Christian philosopher who is a professor at a well-known Evangelical university. I was, of course, eager to contribute to this volume, to honor a man who I have known, as both friend and collaborator, for over a quarter of a century. The editors, I am pleased to announce, were able to secure a publisher, which is difficult to do, given the book’s genre. In fact, I was present, on the evening of November 14 at a reception sponsored by the Evangelical Philosophical Society, when a representative of Moody Publishers revealed that his press had offered the editors a contract for this tome. I was delighted to hear the news.

Several days later, however, the editors informed me that the publisher had forced them to disinvite me. Why? Because the members of Moody’s board, as the editors put it, “are not ready as an institution to allow Catholic contributors for their books,” even though in my prospective chapter—“The Reclamation of First Philosophy”—I had planned to do nothing distinctly Catholic. I had intended to defend the honoree’s understanding of philosophy and its relation to other disciplines. (To get a sense of what I mean by “first philosophy,” see my essay, “In Defense of First Philosophy,” published last June at The Catholic Thing.)

Although I was disappointed by the dis-invitation, I was not offended. Nor did I think that I had lost something to which I was entitled. For reacting in such ways would have been inconsistent with what I believe about theological integrity and the obligation that I have to respect the confessions of my fellow Christians, even when I think they are mistaken.  

Nevertheless, out of curiosity, I went to Moody’s website to find out what sorts of books it is publishing. I was surprised at what I found. 

On its front page was an advertisement for a book authored by my friend, the immensely talented Louis Markos: On The Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and LewisTolkien, as virtually everyone knows, was Catholic. In fact, he once said, “All my own perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded upon Our Lady.” That would, apparently, include those perceptions that Tolkien intended to communicate in his works of fiction, such as those addressed in the book published by Moody. Consequently, it is entirely appropriate that Peter Kreeft, a Boston College philosophy professor and an adult convert to Catholicism, is the author of the book’s foreword.

I then discovered that Moody publishes G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. In its brief bio on him, the press correctly points out that Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man “led young atheist C.S. Lewis to become a Christian,” though there is no mention that Chesterton was an adult convert to Catholicism from High Church Anglicanism, and that The Everlasting Man was published after Chesterton’s conversion.

I also learned that Moody publishes St. Augustine’s Confessions. Although I know that my Protestant brethren claim St. Augustine’s legacy as well, I am confident that if he were alive today, and did not sport the surname Chesterton or Tolkien (or perhaps Kreeft), the bishop of Hippo would not be offered a contract by Moody to publish The Confessions. For he believed all those peculiar Catholic things: the deuterocanonical books as part of the Old Testament canon, the deposit of sacred tradition, apostolic succession, the gracious efficacy of the sacraments, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, Purgatory, the infusion of God’s grace for justification, and praying for the dead.

Speaking of peculiar Catholic things, Moody also publishes The Imitation of Christ, authored by the late-medieval Catholic monk and priest, Thomas À Kempis. Book IV of this work concerns Holy Communion, and is unmistakably Catholic, as these excerpts clearly reveal: “A priest clad in the sacred vestments acts in Christ’s place”; “For priests alone, rightly ordained in the Church, have power to celebrate Mass and consecrate the Body of Christ”; “Oh, how great and honorable is the office of the priest, to whom is given the consecration of the Lord of majesty in sacred words, whose lips bless Him, whose hands hold Him, whose tongue receives Him, and whose ministry it is to bring Him to others!”

Thomas À Kempis is also the author of the lesser-known The Imitation of Mary, in which he offers (in Book IV) instruction for “calling on Mary in prayer and song.” In Book II he calls our Blessed Mother “Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace,” and explains in Book III “The Power of the Hail Mary” and “Effects of Devotion to Mary.”

So, I am truly perplexed about Moody’s stance on publishing Catholic authors. Perhaps, as one of my Catholic friends has suggested, Moody’s policy of exclusion applies only to those Catholics who, in the words of Chesterton, “merely happen to be walking about.” That, of course, does not explain Kreeft’s foreword, unless the policy includes an exception for books about safely dead Catholics. My chapter, unfortunately, was intended for a book honoring a very live Protestant.

Perhaps Moody is as much the company’s name as it is a description of its board’s temperament. Your guess is as good as mine. But I do know that if I had to do it over again, I would propose my chapter under a pseudonym, claiming that it is really a foreword that had been penned by the late North African English novelist and monk, J.R.R. Thomas Chesterton of Hippo. I think that would have done the trick.

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About Francis J. Beckwith 3 Articles
Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies, Affiliate Professor of Political Science, and Associate Director of the Graduate Program in Philosophy, at Baylor University. His most recent book is Never Doubt Thomas: The Catholic Aquinas as Evangelical and Protestant (Baylor University Press, 2019)