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Why the Church and the World Will Miss Stratford Caldecott

Stratford Caldecott

Rose Marie Caldecott

Kathy Schiffer - published on 07/21/14 - updated on 06/07/17

Catholic author dead at 60.

Catholic theologian and writer Stratford Caldecott has gone home to God.  Caldecott, 60—who was the G.K. Chesterton Research Fellow at St. Benet’s Hall, Oxford—died July 17 after a painful three-year battle with prostate cancer.  

“Strat” Caldecott was a giant in the Catholic world. Among his many credits, he served on the editorial board of the International Theological Journal Communio, as well as the Catholic Truth Society. With his wife, Leonie, he was co-editor for Magnificat UK, which she will continue to edit; and together they published the literary journal Second Spring. Caldecott was involved with T&T Clark publications and the Catholic Truth Society. He received an honorary doctorate in theology from the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C.

I had the opportunity to meet him once and to hear him speak, back in 1999 or 2000, when he was in the U.S. and he delivered a keynote address at the meeting of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars in Chicago. His remarks were predictably solid and profound. I was struck by his humility, and by the high esteem with which he was regarded by the American Catholic academics.

But Caldecott’s intellectual accomplishments, however significant they may be, are overshadowed by the great faith which guided him as he lived his life and awaited his death.

Here the story bifurcates:  the calm strength with which he faced his own mortality is matched in poignancy by the loyal support with which his friends and fans around the world rallied to show their regard as he prepared for his eternal reward.

In May 2014, as he approached the end of his life from prostate cancer, Caldecott penned a most remarkable essay, “Search for the Secret of Life and Death,” which is posted in its entirety on The Imaginative Conservative.  I excerpt from it here:

Why can’t we all live forever? It seems a terrible flaw in the fabric of the world—that death haunts us from the moment we are born, injecting a note of tragedy into everything. And yet how could it be otherwise, if reproduction is equally a part of the fabric of space-time?

An image of the endless search for the answer to this paradox is drawn by Jack Kirby in his comic book The New Gods. Metron is a character from New Genesis. His chair carries him wherever he wishes, and yet we can take him as a symbol of a search that never finds what it is seeking, in an ultimate sense. Though not the hero of the stories (very much a peripheral character, like Lightray) he offers the image of a powerful archetype.

Why life and death?

Everybody comes to death eventually, either by disease or by “old age.” There’s a part of me, suffering from prostate cancer, that wants simply to get it over with. In that case the simplest outcome is to stay with the illness I have and see it through. Alternatively, I could recover, somehow, and in this way buy a few more weeks or months or years of life.

And yet, and yet…. For God wants us to have a certain treasure, a wealth, that we can have only in a certain way—and that cannot come to us by taking something from him prematurely. “I can find that divine wealth that God, by his adoption of us, intends us to inherit. Wherever I turn, I shall find him. Whether life has smooth ways or rough, whether it hangs my path with lights or hides me in gloom, I am the heir to all that earth or sea or sky can boast of as their possession.”

He goes on, quoting from an English Dominican writer, Father Bede Jarrett. The “rich things of God,” he writes, are the things he wishes us to claim from him. For

I have a claim upon even more. I have a claim upon the very source of this wealth, that is, upon God himself, for he is the sole source of all his greatness.” There is no doubt about it. “I have a right to God himself. He is mine. He who holds in the hollow of his hands the fabric of the world, who with his divine power supports, and with his Providence directs, the intricate pattern of the world, has himself by creation entered deeply into the world; at the heart of everything he lies hidden.

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