The Catholic University of America Press

The Third Spring

G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Christopher Dawson, and David Jones

Adam Schwartz

Cloth 978-0-8132-1387-3 $69.95
February 2005 In Print Add to Cart
Paper 978-0-8132-1982-0 $34.95
February 2012 In Print Add to Cart
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For most of modern history, Roman Catholics in Britain were a "rejected minority," facing hostility and estrangement from a culture increasingly at odds with traditional Christianity. Yet British Catholicism underwent a remarkable intellectual and literary renewal, especially in the twentieth century, drawing a disproportionate number of the age's leading minds into its ranks. The Third Spring unravels this paradox of a renascent Catholic culture within a post-Christian society. It does so through detailed profiles of the spiritual journeys and religious and cultural beliefs of four seminal members of that twentieth-century revival: G. K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Christopher Dawson, and David Jones.

Although these four authors came from different backgrounds and wrote primarily in different genres, each converted to Roman Catholicism as an adult and made his new faith the foundation of his intellectual and artistic work. All of them judged the Church to be the last corporate voice of orthodox Christianity in a hitherto unmatched irreligious climate of opinion; and they concluded that the Roman Catholic vision of human nature, thought, history, and art was truer and richer than proposed by prevailing secularism. They thus built on the nineteenth-century "Second Spring" of British Catholicism proclaimed by John Henry Newman to create a fresh assertion of Roman Catholicism, one suited to an era of unprecedented unbelief: a Third Spring.

This book is the first detailed examination of these four authors as part of a Roman Catholic, counter-modern community of discourse. It is informed by extensive research in the writers' works, scholarship on them, and their personal papers. This study is also distinguished by its careful attention to the authors' cultural and religious contexts, and to the psychology and theology of conversion. It will therefore deepen understanding, and correct some misconceptions, of each man's spiritual development and his thought, while revealing the twentieth-century Catholic literary revival to be a distinct movement in both British and Roman Catholic thought.


Adam Schwartz is Assistant Professor of History at Christendom College and author of numerous reviews and articles in several scholarly journals. Schwartz serves on the Board of Directors of the American Chesterton Society.


"The work is a monumental achievement of research and sensitive literary criticism, combined with an acute awareness of the uniqueness of the individual conversion story. This book sheds new light on the subject and brings achievements, and failures, of the Third Spring into sharp relief."--Gerald J. Russello, Crisis

"[A]n inviting introduction to figures of continuing interest."-- First Things

"Part biography and part literary criticism, the book is at its best when exploring how the conversion experiences of its subjects influenced their critiques of the spirit of their age. . . . Schwartz urges that the challenge these men mounted should inspire us all to follow suit. His case is compelling."--Steve Weatherbe, National Catholic Register

"The Third Spring is an elegantly written, carefully researched, and erudite exposition of some of the most seminal voices in British Catholic thought."--Jay P. Corrin, Catholic Historical Review

"Schwartz's case is lucid, well-researched, and convincing. . . . The Third Spring should find broad appeal and is worthy of serious attention."--Clark M. Brittain, Church History

"The pleasure of this book is that in addition to all that it adds to our knowledge of these writers (which for most of us will be monumental) it both deepens and propels our own understanding of the faith and tacitly challenges us about what role we will play in a post-Christian culture."--Dale Ahlquist, St. Austin Review

"The scholarship on English-language intellectuals who converted to Catholicism is greatly enriched by this book. Schwartz is marvelously attentive to the social and religious tensions of the Britain in which Chesterton, Greene, Dawson, and Jones converted; to the divisions in the Catholic Church they joined; and to the nuances of their thought and language."--Patrick Allitt, Emory University, author of Catholic Converts

"Schwartz's meticulously researched study throws new light on the nature of the English Catholic revival as a whole."--Ian Ker, University of Oxford, author of The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845-1961

"There are few modern scholars more qualified to write about the Catholic Literary Revival than Schwartz. In this study of four of the giants of that Revival we see how these diverse writers could find essential unity in the magisterial and majestic truths of the Catholic Church."--Joseph Pearce, author of Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief

"This impressive work has many virtues. The product of extensive research, it is clearly written, thoughtfully argued, and persuasively presented. Conspicuously lucid, it makes its case with solid authority."--Dermot Quinn, Seton Hall University

"Exhaustive in its scholarship, cogent in its argument, elegant in its style, and ever so wise in its judgments, this book offers much more than grateful recollection of four major figures of the twentieth-century Catholic Renascence in England. It also provides a lively rehabilitation of them as counter-cultural examples of the way in which the church might experience a radical renewal in our own time."--Ralph C. Wood, Baylor University

"Schwartz's comparative analysis adds a great deal to our understanding of these four figures." -- Meredith Veldman, American Historical Review

"This is a remarkable, indeed a staggering book. Each of the four sections, on G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Christopher Dawson, and David Jones, taken alone, would have made it worthwhile. Taken together, they offer an illuminating analysis of the vigorous Catholic revival that took place in Britain during the early and middle years of the twentieth century. . . . [A] brilliant study." -- Stratford Caldecott, Modern Age

"With superb scholarship and artful argument, Adam Schwartz' cogent chronicle traces the conversions of each of the quartet and the incarnation of their beliefs in their writing, the Word made words. . . . The Third Spring belongs in every Christian literary scholar's library." -- Mike Foster, Gilbert: The Magazine of GK Chesterton

"[R]eaders will come away from The Third Spring historically informed and theologically instructed." -- Mark Noll, Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review

"In this scholarly yet readable book, Schwartz builds on Newman's image of a 'Second Spring,' naming an early 20th-century movement in British Catholicism a 'Third Spring.' . . . The book focuses on four thinkers -- all men -- who illustrate in a particularly vivid way this early 20th-century, general countercultural pattern of women and men attracted to Catholicism." -- Stephen Bevans, S.V.D., Theological Studies

"Doubtless more readers these days are more familiar with Chesterton and Greene than with Dawson or Jones, and might therefore expect to find the chapters on historian and the poet less accessible. Schwartz, however, writes so lucidly and with such mastery of his materials that we can easily enter into the lives of these two men. . . . Schwartz seems at his best, however, in his examination of Graham Greene's religious journey." -- Jeff Minick, Smoky Mountain News

"Schwartz's case is lucid, well researched, and convincing. . . . Schwartz's approach to his materials seems remarkably and refreshingly untouched by the various ideologies of 'postmodernism.' . . . Schwartz's mastery of the primary and secondary sources of these four writers is as thorough as one could imagine. . . . Schwartz's The Third Spring should find broad appeal and is worthy of serious attention." -- Clark M. Brittain, Church History

"In this well-researched volume, Adam Schwartz shows an admirable, and very detailed grasp of British cultural and intellectual life during the first two-thirds of the last century and presents a convincing picture of four writers in their national, social and religious context. . . . The book is well-structured, based round a central theme, and contains much varied material. . . . [T]his work is clearly the result of extensive research and profound reflection on the subject in hand. It is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of Roman Catholicism in Britain in the twentieth century and of the reasons why many intellectuals in the interwar period chose to convert." -- Suzanne Bray, Faith & Reason

"[Schwartz's] attentions focus on sympathetically setting forth the ideas and themes that Chesterton, et al. disclosed in their own autobiographical writings. His project therefore deepens and broadens our understanding of the intellectual and spiritual life to be found in the works of these authors. . . . Schwartz's chapters are long enough to provide a reliable account of the life of his subjects and to offer informed interpretations of their major works. In this sense, his is the most helpful form of intellectual biography. That said, Schwartz's book admires rather than fawns; he does draw on the work of several conversion theorists in an attempt to get behind his subjects' own self-understanding, and he does critically engage all the major scholarship on the various writers. . . . His book is not merely a history; it is a gauntlet thrown down at the feet of contemporary Catholicism." -- Christianity and Literature

Product Details

Pages:xv, 416 pages

Dimensions:6x9 inches


CIP Information: 2004002318/ BX4668.A1S39 2005/ 248.2'42'092241-dc22


1. Catholic Converts--Great Britain--History--20th century

2. Intellectuals--Religious life--Great Britain--History--20th century

3. Chesterton, G.K. (Gilbert Keith), 1874-1936--Religion

4. Greene, Graham, 1904--Religion

5. Dawson, Christopher, 1889-1970--Religion

6. Jones, David Michael, 1895-1974--Religion