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Sir Arnold Lunn

by Karl G. Schmude


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.

His Father

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 bestseller and did much to establish its author's literary reputation.

The Agnostic

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 exists.

His real religion at this time, as he later confessed, was 'an idolatry of sorts, mountain worship, and he was 'in reality . . . a quasipagan 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 image.

At Oxford

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 revived.

'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 Skiing (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 mountainclimbing 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.

The Path to Rome

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 apologetics.

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 own existence.

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 reason.

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 mental anarchy.


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 le tters 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 join it.

'Is Christianity True?

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. Theyknew 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 future conversion.

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 argument.

Changed Concerns

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, inthe 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 superrational; that the source of its life lies beyond the reach of reason and is literally not of this world. In a renewed exchange betweenRonald 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 againstan 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.

'A Saint 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 C laver (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 to write: '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.

'Science 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 involved.

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 wedding date.

Within That City

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 night. 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 certitude.

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.

'The Third Day

Lunn's basic method of teaching Christianity foll owed 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 Parliament.

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.

The 'Half -Christian

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 atheistic.

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 penfriends. 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?' '

'Communism and Socialism

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 th eir 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 these tendencies.


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 aftersailed 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 autobiography (1942).

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 t hem 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 areliving 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 illwill into the debate which Lunn's gestures of courtesy could do little to soften.

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 50,000!

Australian Visit

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 realized.

The Australian tour began in Melbourne, where Lunn delivered four major lectures. At each of them Archbishop Mannix, by that time 86 years old, wasin 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?

Public Debates

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 atheism.

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 occasion!

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 meaningless.

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 threemonths' 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 AngloSwiss relations'and in the sameyear was made a Citoyen dhonneur 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.

Moral Re-Armament

In 1953 Lunn paid the first of many visits to Caux, the Swiss headquarters of the movement known as Moral Rearmament (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 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 in America.

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 men.

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.

'The New Morality

In 1964 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 1967.

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 selfindulgence: 'we are less worried, they remarked, 'by the increase of sexual immorality among the young than by the increase of intellectual immorality among the middleaged.

'Intellectual Immorality

Lunn always regarded 'intellectual immorality as the ultimate form of hypocrisy. He regretted that people did n ot 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 behavio ur 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 still occurring.

In Christian Counter-attack, for example, he produced the latest evidence on extra-sensory perception in order to show that, in the words ofone 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 the liturgy.

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 declaredthat '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 eternity'.

* * *


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.

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.

Nihil Obstat:

BERNARD O'CONNOR, Diocesan Censor



Archbishop of Melbourne 15th September, 1975


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