When Christians say they’re going for a swim, it might mean they’re thinking of switching denominations.
Christians are like most people when it comes to their use of language. Why say something in boring plain English when you can use a picturesque metaphor instead? In my own experience, I never turn down a chance to say something like “it’s raining cats and dogs” or “it’s a real gully-washer out there” if I happen to observe an abnormally large quantity of precipitation.
The same principle explains, for example, our oft uncontrollable urge to say “Hump Day” instead of “Wednesday.” It’s just fun to say what we mean without saying exactly what we’re talking about. Get it?
As English-speaking Christians, the way we speak has been profoundly influenced not only by the Bible and its various English translations (from the King James on down) but also by the literary and artistic traditions of Western Civilization (from Homer and Beowulf on down), and both of those streams are rich in literary metaphor. So we “people of the Book” come by our deep love of metaphors and allusions from both sacred and secular sources.
That’s why, when a Christian is thinking of converting to Anglicanism, we might say that he or she is poking around on the Canterbury Trail. It’s also why, if one of your Protestant friends is exploring Roman Catholicism, we might quip that they’re dipping their foot into the Tiber and pondering a swim.
Somehow or another, Christianese has developed a small cluster of “conversion metaphors” that deal with rivers. Since the Tiber River loops around the city of Rome, the term to swim the Tiber refers to becoming a Roman Catholic (because the Pope is in Rome—unless we’re talking about the Protestant Pope and the evangelical Vatican, which happen to be on the American side of the pond). The Bosphorus Strait is located in Constantinople, so the term to swim the Bosphorus refers to someone’s conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, because the EO’s top patriarch is stationed in that city.
The term Canterbury Trail bends the rules a little, since it’s a path on dry land, but the principle here is the same: walking on the Canterbury Trail refers to a conversion to Anglicanism, because the head honcho of the Anglican Communion, namely the Archbishop of Canterbury, is located in Canterbury.
My favorite of all these terms is swim the Mississippi. As you may know, there are several leading Lutheran denominations in the United States. And when you swim the Mississippi, that means you’re making the switch from the ELCA to the LCMS (see the definition for details).
Have I missed any swimming or denominational conversion metaphors that you’ve heard before? Please share them with us in the comments.
swim the Tiber v. phr. For one to convert to Roman Catholicism, typically from Protestantism.
The city of Rome is half-surrounded by the Tiber River, and to “cross over the Tiber” is an idiom dating back to Roman times that means to “enter the city of Rome.” Because the Roman Catholic Church is headquartered in Rome, the terms *cross the Tiber and swim the Tiber have come to be used figuratively for someone’s conversion to Roman Catholicism.
See also *Canterbury Trail; *road to Rome; *swim the Bosphorus; *swim the Mississippi.
Fletcher William Temple, Twentieth-Century Christian
291 : This fatal pettiness is seen in those “black” Protestants for whom “popery” is tantamount to demonism, and in the pseudo-Catholics of the Episcopal Churches who threaten to “swim the Tiber” if “the urge to merge” gets any stronger! 1969 Continuum
VII. 346 : Again and again Catholicizing priests, and sometimes whole religious orders, “swam the Tiber” from Canterbury to Rome. 1988
Dally Married to a Catholic Priest: A Journey in Faith
24 : Because I couldn’t face “swimming the Tiber,” I spent the days thinking of the economic impossibilities facing us. They overwhelmed me and became the more immediate impediment, rather than my revulsion and fear of Roman Catholicism. 1993
Hahn Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism
61 : I still hoped to find one fatal flaw that would keep me from “swimming the Tiber,” as we say, or from “popeing.” 1993 Economist
CCCXXVI. 57 : “Swimming the Tiber” is a metaphor used by Anglicans for conversion to Roman Catholicism. 1993
Fichter The Sociology of Good Works: Research in Catholic America
195 : What do the Episcopal clergy think of their fellow priests who decide to “swim the Tiber?” 1994 First Things
iss. 43–48 70 : On the Roman Catholic side, there is uneasiness about whether those who swim the Tiber at the Thames will strengthen the “traditionalist” or “progressivist” ranks in English Catholicism. 1995 Catholic World Report
V. 9 : There are at least some indications that Diana, who is separated from Prince Charles, might be ready to swim the Tiber. Her mother has already converted to Catholicism, and Diana is a big fan of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. 1995 Anglican Theological Rev.
77/4 (Fall) 000 : The Episcopal Church in the USA is barely holding its own with respect to its membership, and it seems to be in vogue now for members, even bishops, to join breakaway churches or even to swim the Tiber. 2000
Horton A Confessing Theology for Postmodern Times
163 : ELCA clergymen are quite open about sailing for other shores. Richard John Neuhaus remains the most prominent of those who have swum the Tiber. 2001
Reeves America’s Bishop: The Life and Times of Fulton J. Sheen
185 : Many Protestants … resented what they saw as Sheen’s condescension as well as his success in causing converts to “swim the Tiber.” 2003
Portmann Sex and Heaven: Catholics in Bed and at Prayer
161 : The Vatican opened a four-year window in which Anglican priests could decide to “swim the Tiber,” as they say. 2004
Bell, ed. No Soft Incense: Barbara Pym and the Church
30 : For others the allurements of Rome are too strong; they “go over” or “go to Auntie,” “cross over,” “swim the Tiber,” “submit” or “pope.” 2007
Neuhas Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth
31,32 : My own story of becoming Catholic is probably not representative. But then, whose is? For thirty years I had been a Lutheran pastor, theologian, and writer…. Although I had told close friends about my decision to “swim the Tiber,” many learned about it by way of an extended report in the New York Times. 2007
Millet, McDermott Claiming Christ: A Mormon–Evangelical Debate
158 : It is this lack of institutional authority that in fact has caused many evangelicals to “swim the Tiber” to Rome or “cross the Bosphorus” to Eastern Orthodoxy. 2009
Jeffrey, Evans, eds. The Bible and the University
48n19 : Nevin took five years to figure out whether he should or should not swim the Tiber; in the end, unlike Newman, he did not. 2010
Spencer Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality
107 : More than a few restless Protestants have learned to swim the Tiber or make the pilgrimage to the Eastern Church. 2011
Vogt The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Internet Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet
100 : Your blog has clarified my thoughts about the Anglican Church and helped me take the step to swim the Tiber. 2013 Christian Century
(20 Mar.) 17 : Which is not to say that evangelical leaders are about to “swim the Tiber,” as they say, and convert to Catholicism.
cross the Tiber v. phr. Synonymous with *swim the Tiber.
• 1997 Ray Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church 68n101 : Anyone approaching Rome from the north must cross the Tiber River to enter the city. “Crossing the Tiber” is used figuratively for accepting and converting to the Roman Catholic Church. 2002 Newsweek (6 May) 42 : Roman hierarchs have on occasion chosen to make exceptions. There are thousands of Eastern Rite priests with wives and a tiny number of converted Episcopalian clergy who can bring their spouses along as they cross the Tiber. 2003 : I suppose all one can ask those former Lutherans who, as it is put, “crossed the Tiber” (Neuhaus, Klein, et al.) or “swam the Bosporus” (Pelikan) is “Was that trip really necessary?” Of course, obviously, for those sincere and dedicated Christians, it was. 2008 McKnight, Ondrey Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy 189 : His two books, Evangelical is Not Enough and Lead, Kindly Light, in some measure tell the paradigm story of why it is that evangelicals “cross the Tiber” to get to the Vatican. 2009 Mann Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation 132 : Years of study of Anglican and Catholic doctrine and theology, trips to the Continent and experience of Roman Catholic services, and other experiences and arguments finally persuaded all three that the Church of England was not the true Church, that they could not remain its ministers or members, and that the Roman Catholic Church was the true Church…. Henry Wilberforce and his wife Mary, then Manning, and finally Robert Wilberforce “crossed the Tiber.” 2010 White Christ Among the Dragons: Finding Our Way Through Cultural Challenges 139 : Many … feel the need to leave evangelical Christianity in order to tap into the rich narrative of ancient and medieval faith, putting many evangelicals on the Canterbury trail toward Anglicanism or even leading them to “cross the Tiber” into Catholicism. 2013 Steensland, Goff, eds. The New Evangelical Social Engagement 76 : Evangelicals are known to convert to Catholicism…. Even though evangelicals routinely criticize Catholic doctrine (especially regarding the pope), there are those who are sufficiently drawn to elements of Catholic tradition that they “cross the Tiber.”
swim the Bosphorus Also Bosporus. v. phr. [by analogy with *swim the Tiber] For one to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, typically from Protestantism or Roman Catholicism.
The Bosphorus is a strait located in Constantinople, Turkey. Because the Eastern Orthodox Church is headquartered in Constantinople, the terms swim the Bosphorus and *cross the Bosphorus have come to be used figuratively for someone’s conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy.
See also *East › go East; *road to Constantinople.
• 2006 Gillquist Coming Home: Why Protestant Clergy Are Becoming Orthodox 37 : As it has been said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a Calvinist to swim the Bosporus!” And yet, this Calvinist took the plunge! 2007 Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly vols. 104–105 219 : The ELCA seminary student who is “swimming the Mississippi” (a phrase for joining Missouri analogous to “swimming the Tiber” for converting to Rome or “swimming the Bosporus” for converting to Orthodoxy) does not have a typical ELCA background. 2008 Berger Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity 151 : I suspect, incidentally, that this greater mellowness of the Orthodox worldview is what attracts many Catholic and Protestant converts—who, as it has been put, “go swimming in the Bosphorus.”
cross the Bosphorus Also Bosporus. v. phr. Synonymous with *swim the Bosphorus.
• 2007 Millet, McDermott Claiming Christ 158 : It is this lack of institutional authority that in fact has caused many evangelicals to “swim the Tiber” to Rome or “cross the Bosphorus” to Eastern Orthodoxy. 2007 McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution 411 : Prominent Protestants, including evangelicals, have been converting, either by “crossing the Tiber” to Catholicism” or “crossing the Bosphorus” to Orthodoxy. 2007 Millet, McDermott Claiming Christ: A Mormon–Evangelical Debate 158 : It is this lack of institutional authority that in fact has caused many evangelicals to “swim the Tiber” to Rome or “cross the Bosphorus” to Eastern Orthodoxy. 2008 Ward, Gushee, eds. The Scholarly Vocation and the Baptist Academy: Essays on the Future of Baptist Higher Education 144 : I am not suggesting that Baptist scholars must fold their tents and cross the Tiber (or the Bosporus)…. We must remain Baptist and Protestant.
swim the Mississipppi v. phr. [by analogy with *swim the Tiber] For a Lutheran to change denominations from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS).
The LCMS is headquartered in Kirkwood, Missouri, which is located on the Mississippi River. And so by analogy with *swim the Tiber, the term swim the Mississippi has come to be used figuratively this change of denomination.
See also *swim the Bosphorus.
• 2007 Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly vols. 104–105 219 : The ELCA seminary student who is “swimming the Mississippi” (a phrase for joining Missouri analogous to “swimming the Tiber” for converting to Rome or “swimming the Bosporus” for converting to Orthodoxy) does not have a typical ELCA background. 2007 Lutheran Forum vols. 40–41 23 : And we left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to join the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. We “swam the Mississippi.”
Canterbury Trail n. Also trail to Canterbury. As in be on the Canterbury Trail; be on the trail to Canterbury. [the Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop in the Church of England and is the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion] One’s conversion (or process of conversion) to Anglicanism or to any denomination affiliated with Anglicanism (e.g., Episcopalianism).
Synonyms include *road to Canterbury.
See also *sawdust trail.
Webber Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church
11 : I’m urging you to try to understand and empathize with those of us who are on the Canterbury Trail. Others of you may find that some of the longings and deep-found desires that have moved us toward Canterbury are needs that you seek to fulfill in your own Christian experience. Even though you may not be headed toward Anglicanism, you may identify with us and try to incorporate some of its practices into your own tradition. 1990
Yancey Reality and the Vision
168 : My literary heroes, C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, had been Anglicans, and my immediate Christian mentors, Thomas Howard and Sheldon Vanauken, were shining beacons along what has been called “the Canterbury trail.” 1993
Balmer Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America
116 : In recent years a large number of evangelicals have become enamored of high-church liturgy, especially that of the Episcopalians. The “evangelicals on the Canterbury trail” phenomenon has been well documented. 2000
Abegg Ragamuffin Prayers
63 : I enjoyed a decade of Calvinism before Something brought me to the Canterbury Trail, to Anglicanism. 2001
Nordhagen, ed. When Only One Converts
149 : She had been ahead of me on the trail to Canterbury, and from Canterbury toward Rome. But she was not prepared to cross the Tiber yet. 2003
Clendenin Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective
253 : Robert Webber was one of the early and most vocal converts to Episcopalianism. His scholarly and popular studies of the history and theology of worship were important in leading numerous others (including many of his students from Wheaton College) down “the Canterbury Trail.” 2005
Husbands, Treier, eds. The Community of the Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology
174 : Over the past thirty years, many evangelicals, having come into contact with these criticisms of evangelicalism, have responded by taking the trail to Canterbury, or even on to Rome or Constantinople, in order to find a more adequate ecclesiology. 2007
Olson Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology
185 : In this milieu of antitraditionalism some evangelical Christians—including more than a few younger evangelicals—have gone on a search for roots and followed the Canterbury Trail to Anglicanism or the Road to Constantinople to Eastern Orthodoxy. 2010
White Christ Among the Dragons: Finding Our Way Through Cultural Challenges
139 : Many … feel the need to leave evangelical Christianity in order to tap into the rich narrative of ancient and medieval faith, putting many evangelicals on the Canterbury trail toward Anglicanism or even leading them to “cross the Tiber” into Catholicism. 2010
Hunter The Accidental Anglican: The Surprising Appeal of the Liturgical Church
1 : Todd Hunter’s journey—unlike that of the 1980s “evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail”—is a missional merging of Anglican resources and church-planting passion. 2010
Basden Exploring the Worship Spectrum
35 : A quite striking development in the United States in recent decades has been the migration of some high-profile, free-church evangelicals into formal-liturgical churches. Specifically, I am thinking of the phenomenon known as “the Canterbury Trail.” This is a pilgrimage in church and in worship that sometimes leads to the Episcopal Church.
road to Canterbury n. As in be on the road to Canterbury. Synonymous with *Canterbury Trail.
• 1996 Winchell Cleanth Brooks and the Rise of Modern Criticism 128 : By the time he wrote his essay for Who Owns America?, Cleanth Brooks was emotionally and intellectually on his way out of the Methodist Church and at least contemplating the road to Canterbury. 2004 Valusek Museum of Voices: An Autobiographical Miscellany 268 : That’s what the Episcopal Church—despite its failings—represents for me, and for many other evangelicals who have traveled the road to Canterbury. It is inclusive, rather than exclusive; affirming, rather than judgmental—a via media, or bridge between the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions. 2008 Berger Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity viii : My biographical roots are in Lutheranism, and I would still identify myself as Lutheran, albeit with great reservations. I attend services in an Episcopal church, not because I am in any sense on the road to Canterbury, but because the two Lutheran churches located at convenient distances from my home are impossible for [me to stand].
trail to Canterbury n. See *Canterbury Trail.
Roman road n. Synonymous with *road to Rome.
• 2002 Tanner, Hall Ancient and Postmodern Christianity: Paleo-Orthodoxy in the 21st Century: Essays in Honor of Thomas C. Oden 216 : This rethinking began in the 1970s, as the free-spirited, anti-institutional Christianity of the “Jesus generation” gave way to the kind of journey to the “ancient Christian faith” that led a number of influential evangelicals to set out on the Canterbury trail, walk the Roman road or traverse the highway to Constantinople. 2006 Utzinger Yet Saints Their Watch Are Keeping: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and the Development of Evangelical Ecclesiology, 1887–1937 276 : The recent phenomenon of evangelicals on the “Canterbury trail” or the “Roman road” and the spread of “charismatic” and “seeker” churches within the mainline should at least allow us to admit that the jury is stil out on whether we can reasonably speak of the eclipse of denominationalism. 2012 Svigel RetroChristianity: Reclaiming the Forgotten Faith 17 : Before too long I learned that many Low Church or free church Protestants had left what they regarded as evangelical “wilderness wanderings” to follow the “Roman Road,” the “Way to Constantinople,” or (for those who desired to remain within the Protestant tradition while restoring a liturgical worship) the “Canterbury Trail.”
road to Rome n. One’s conversion (or process of conversion) to Roman Catholicism.
Synonyms include *Roman road.
See also *Canterbury Trail; *road to Canterbury; *road to Constantinople; *swim the Tiber.
• 1897 Northwestern Christian Advocate (29 Dec.) 31 : The Christian World remarks that “the leakage of Anglicanism to Rome is much greater than the Anglicans care to admit. People who have been conducted nine-tenths of the road to Rome, if they have logical minds, very naturally ask themselves why they should not finish the journey.” 1959 Pelikan The Riddle of Roman Catholicism 208 : Americans (including American Roman Catholics) are surprised to see the number of intellectuals in Britain and in Europe who take the road to Rome in order to find freedom for their intellectual and cultural pursuits. 1987 Boston Phoenix (27 Jan.) : Richard Gilman has not been nearly so public a Catholic as Chesterton was, and his explanation is much less self-assured. In fact, he‘s still trying to explain his conversion…. While standing in a public library one summer afternoon, he was “impelled” by a peculiar force to walk over to the “Religion” section and take down a book, Etienne Gilson’s The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy. Bewildered, even annoyed, he nevertheless took the book home and read it continuously for thirty-six hours. He was completely persuaded. Though previously conscious only of vague, wistful metaphysical yearnings, he was now on the road to Rome. 1992 New York Times (12 Jul.) : It was in the United States that he converted to Catholicism and started work on these memoirs of his and his family’s flight from Europe. Destiny’s Journey is based on his notebooks, though clearly they were revised with Catholic hindsight to include an account of his religious conversion. The road to Rome has no clear starting point, yet many critics perceive Doblin’s first steps down it in his most famous—indeed his only world-famous—novel, Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929). 1996 “Protestant Pastors on the Road to Rome” Sursum Corda (Spring) : Rosalind Moss had devoted herself to ministry in Evangelical churches for eighteen years…. Word got out last year that she was about to enter the Catholic Church. 1999 “A River Runs to It: A New Exodus of Protestants Streams to Rome.” Crisis (May) : Howell eventually concluded that the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist as sacrament, sacrifice, and communion was “founded on solid biblical evidence.” This conclusion set him on the road to Rome. 1999 First Things iss. 89–94 2 : The Hard Road to Rome. When I left the ordained ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and was received into the communion of the Roman Catholic Church, I made a private decision that I would not use my conversion for apologetic or critical purposes. 2003 Pearce C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church xv : In a development that has puzzled some of his Protestant champions to no end, Lewis has been credited (or blamed) in recent years with setting numerous people on the road to Rome. Such Catholic converts have included many of the serious scholars and disciples of Lewis. 2005 Fackre in George, ed. Pilgrims on the Sawdust Trail: Evangelical Ecumenism and the Quest for Christian Identity 147 : One sees the same Mercersburg instinct on the current scene in the phenomenon of evangelicals on the “road” to Constantinople or Rome. 2006 liturgicalinstitute.wordpress.com (2 Sep.) : One sometimes hears the concern that practicing weekly communion is a sign of being on the “road to Rome.”
road to Constantinople n. One’s conversion (or process of conversion) to Eastern Orthodoxy.
• 2003 byzcath.org (28 Oct.) : As is perhaps true for many Anglicans, the East was a powerful draw. I had read a fair amount about Eastern Orthodoxy, and once spent a summer in western PA [=Pennsylvania] where I attended a Carpatho-Russian Orthodox church. But a funny thing happened to me on the road to Constantinople. 2004 Fackre in George, ed. Pilgrims on the Sawdust Trail: Evangelical Ecumenism and the Quest for Christian Identity 147 : One sees the same Mercersburg instinct on the current scene in the phenomenon of evangelicals on the “road” to Constantinople or Rome. 2007 Olson Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology 185 : In this milieu of antitraditionalism some evangelical Christians—including more than a few younger evangelicals—have gone on a search for roots and followed the Canterbury Trail to Anglicanism or the Road to Constantinople to Eastern Orthodoxy.