Joseph McCabe (1867)
It was on this date, November 11, 1867, that Freethought writer Joseph Martin McCabe was born in Manchester, the product of Protestant East Anglians and Irish Catholic stock. He was named Joseph, after the saint, because he was, from infancy, promised to the priesthood. He entered the priesthood at age 16 and soon his intellectual gifts overwhelmed his teachers. As McCabe put it, “They dreaded me, and they taught me nothing.”
The name McCabe means, ironically, “son of the abbot.” He became a monk of the Franciscan Order and, as “Father Antony,” studied philosophy and ecclesiastical history at Louvain University, Belgium, but the rules of his Order forbade him to take a degree. Appointed professor of scholastic philosophy, in 1895 McCabe became Rector of Buckingham College. His restless mind could not be bounded by monastery walls and on Christmas morning of 1895 he declared himself “doctrinally bankrupt.” He recounted his loss of faith in Twelve Years in a Monastery (1897):
To me it would have been preferable to die, as I one time meditated, rather than continue without belief in that sorry system. I allowed a few weeks for possible change of sentiment, taking only one lady, who perceived my grave trouble, into my confidence. She betrayed me, of course, and they sent my old tutor to deal with me. On Ash Wednesday, 1896, I went out from the shade of the cloister, to find “the world,” which for 12 years had rung in my ears in association with “the flesh and the devil,” more honest, sweeter, and more honorable than the folk who affected to despise it.”
McCabe was one of the original directors of the British Rationalist Press Association (RPA). At his death on 10 January 1955 at the age of 87, The Times of London described McCabe as “a pillar of Rationalism” (January 26, 1955). He had written 200 books and translations, delivered 2,000 lectures, including lecture tours in Australia, the US and Canada, and held many public debates, including one on Spiritualism with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Some of his books (many available in html online) include: Peter Abelard (1901), The Story of Evolution (1912), The Existence of God (1913), The Sources of the Morality of the Gospels (1914), The Popes and their Church: a Candid Account (1918), A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists (1920), The Story of Religious Controversy (1929), The Social Record of Christianity (1935), A History of the Popes (1939), A Biographical Dictionary of Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Freethinkers (1945), The Lies and Fallacies of the Encyclopedia Britannica; How Powerful and Shameless Clerical Forces Castrated a Famous Work of Reference (1947), A Rationalist Encyclopædia: A Book of Reference, On Religion, Philosophy, Ethics, and Science (1948), Rome’s Syllabus Of Condemned Opinions: The Last Blast Of The Catholic Church’s Medieval Trumpet (1950), The Columbia Encyclopedia’s Crimes Against the Truth (1951). McCabe described himself, simply, as “an Atheist and Materialist.”*
* The self-description is found in his Rationalist Encyclopædia, 1948. McCabe’s writings are a resource and inspiration for these essays.
Originally published November 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.