The current issue of The Tablet has a feature length article about Frederick Copleston, SJ entitled “The Cleverest Jesuit”. This is by John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University and University of St Andrews. He begins by describing the context of the English Jesuit community at the time Copleston entered it:
Fr rothschild sj is the first character to appear in Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel Vile Bodies. He is an ambiguous figure, secretive and unctuous but learned and clever. Evidently Waugh was invoking a prejudicial stereotype familiar to his non-Catholic readers. Within a few months, however, he began to discover the Jesuits at first hand, beginning with Fr Martin D’Arcy SJ who provided instruction and received him into the Church before the year was out. Thereafter such phrases as “a very clever Jesuit” appear in Waugh’s letters and diaries without a sense of irony, often recommending D’Arcy or Philip Caraman SJ to some would-be convert. … “Caramanserai” was coined to refer to Caraman’s company of converts, just as “objets D’Arcy” had been given to the sacred artworks acquired by D’Arcy for the adornment of Campion Hall, Oxford, of which he was Master from 1933 to 1945. Very quickly the image of the English Jesuits changed from one of agents of intrigue to participants in, and contributors to, an intellectual, cultural and spiritual renaissance centred on Campion Hall, and Farm Street Church, London.
Most of these leading Jesuits were educated at Stonyhurst, whereras Copleston went to Marlborough, where he converted to Roman Catholicism in his final year, causing his discrete dismissal. This did not interfere, however, with his acceptance at Oxford:
As he later wrote, his time there (1925-29) “bore little resemblance to the life depicted by Evelyn Waugh”. The following year he entered the Jesuits and in 1937 was ordained a priest at Heythrop College (then in Oxfordshire), to which he soon returned to teach philosophy. … In 1967, the idea began to be discussed of transferring Heythrop College from Oxford into a secular university. Bristol, Nottingham, Oxford and Manchester were considered but London was judged to be most apt, in part because being a federal university Heythrop could preserve its identity as a college within it.
Copleston remained at Heythrop College until the mid 1970s and ultimately was named professor of philosophy by the University of London but he resigned shortly thereafter. Recently, the Jesuits have decided to end the relationship of Heythrop College with the University, based on concerns such as those previously expressed by Copleston with its ability to flourish independently from the political and economic goals of a larger secular institution. Prof Haldane’s article concludes:
It is no accident that the age that produced Martindale, D’Arcy, Caraman and Copleston also produced Chesterton, Waugh, Greene and Spark. The lesson of history, however, is that while change overtakes us, equally nothing deep is ever lost. The task for laity and Religious, therefore, is not to take comfort in nostalgic reverie or lament a lost age, but to re-engage, be it under different circumstances, in the intellectual and cultural work to which those earlier figures were committed and to which they contributed so much ad maiorem dei gloriam.