Magazine article Modern Age

I. Theodore Maynard (1890-1956): A Historian of American Catholicism. (Religious Historians, East and West)

Magazine article Modern Age

I. Theodore Maynard (1890-1956): A Historian of American Catholicism. (Religious Historians, East and West)

Article excerpt

THEODORE MAYNARD had a long career as a poet, literary critic, and historian in England, where he was raised, and in the United States, where he lived after 1920. Although he considered himself primarily a poet, during his lifetime Maynard was best known and most influential as a historian of Roman Catholicism, especially of Catholicism in the United States. Maynard was responsible for twenty-seven books of Catholic history and biography in all, as well as nine collections of his own poems and numerous other literary works. Although he was widely read by both Catholics and non-Catholics in the United States and Britain in the 1930s and 1940s, Maynard has been neglected since his death. When his old friend, the historian Robert F. McNamara wrote an article on Maynard for Moreana in 1973, he tellingly titled it, "Who Was Theodore Maynard?" (1) Maynard is mentioned in books by William Halsey, Arnold Sparr, and Patrick Allitt. (2) However, none of these scholars has examined Maynard's historical work in detail or evaluated his contribution to the writing of United States Catholic history.

Maynard's first book of history, DeSoto and the Conquistadores, appeared in 1930. Maynard, then forty, had already made a name for himself in both Britain and the United States as a literary figure. He was born in India to parents who were missionaries for the Plymouth Brethren. They sent him to school in England and expected him to follow them into the missionary field. However, Maynard broke with the Brethren and became a Baptist. After leaving school he found a job in London, where he read G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy (1908). He claimed that that book was decisive in bringing him to Catholicism: "I was sliding at the age of nineteen from the Calvinist theology in which I had been brought up into a vague humanitarian scepticism, when I read Orthodoxy. And that work began in me a reaction which by the grace of God three years later carried me into the Catholic Church." (3) Chesterton offered Maynard an alternative to evangelicalism: he showed Maynard that faith could come through reason as well as through r evelation and that a church could guide reason with an authoritative body of doctrine. These principles were the basis of Maynard's understanding of Catholicism.

Maynard worked at odd jobs in the United States between 1909 and 1911. Returning to England on a cattle boat, he settled in London and took up Unitarianism, and made plans to enter the Unitarian seminaryat Oxford. At about the same time, he began reading the New Witness, the weekly edited by G.K. Chesterton's brother, Cecil. Cecil Chesterton was a Catholic, as was one of his major contributors, Hilaire Belloc. The New Witness attracted Maynard because of its attacks on political corruption, but he was also impressed by Cecil Chesterton's portrayal of Catholicism as the true religion of Europe. Maynard met Belloc late in 1912 and Cecil Chesterton soon afterwards. The following spring Maynard underwent his last conversion: he was received into the Catholic Church just before Easter, 1913.

Conversion, he later claimed, channeled and concentrated his creative energy. As a Catholic, Maynard had an audience, a point of view, and an intellectual structure for his thinking. He began publishing poetry, reviews, and essays in the New Witness, the London Poetry Review, the Month, the New Age, and occasionally, the London Times. His first collection of poems, Laughs and Whifts of Song, was published in 1915; it had the benefit of an introduction by G.K. Chesterton. Over the next four years, Maynard published two more collections of poetry, a book of essays, and an anthology of drinking songs. He also acquired a reputation, as he ruefully put it later, as a "robustious imitator of G.K. Chesterton and Belloc " (4)

The circumstances under which Maynard joined the Catholic Church shaped his understanding of Catholic history. From G.K. Chesterton, he learned to think of Catholicism as the religion of reason and tolerance. …

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