• April 27th, 2015Protestants and Contraceptionby Joseph Pearce

    A friend has sent me an article by a Protestant justifying the use of artificial contraception. Although I did not have the time to address the article at length, I though I'd share my general objection to the article's premises:

    The idea that everything is permitted unless it's specifically forbidden in Scripture is a little problematic. Communism is not condemned explicitly by scripture, nor is Fascism, nor is eugenics, nor is gay "marriage". Clearly moral theologians are meant to apply Scripture to present-day dilemmas but the Church, which edited the Bible, deciding which books should be admitted into the canon and which excluded, has the authority to address problems that arise as She moves through history as the Bride of Christ and as His Mystical Body (the "one flesh" which is the mystical marriage between Christ and the Church - the Bride and Bridegroom). As such, the Church's definitive teaching on contraception in Humanae vitae and elsewhere is authoritative, which is to say that it speaks with the same authority as the author of Scripture. A failure to understand this and to adhere to it will lead to the chaos of the culture of death, facilitated by the contraceptive mentality which divorces the sexual act from its procreative purpose.



  • April 27th, 2015How Did We Lose Our Minds?by Joseph Pearce

    What is the mind and how did we lose it? This is the question with which I grapple in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:

    http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/04/what-is-the-mind-and-how-did-we-lose-it.html



  • April 26th, 2015The Failure of Anti-Semitismby Dena Hunt

    The local university here provides continuing education classes for seniors, sometimes off-campus. Yesterday morning a group of us attended a meeting at the local synagogue, led by a very amiable rabbi. He was friendly, charming, happy to demonstrate a shofar, a tallit, a menorah, and of course, the Torah. The talk inevitably involved “anti-semitism,” as it is commonly called and commonly misnamed, and commonly misunderstood.

    A Semite is a racial descendant of peoples from southwest Asia, a race—like Caucasion—which included Hebrews, Phoenicians—and, above all, the Arab peoples. The vast majority of the world’s Jews are European (from both western and eastern Europe). Of course, they come from everywhere, but after two thousand years of living mostly in Europe, they aren’t Semites any more. “Anti-semitism” would be a more accurate term for people who hate, say, Egyptians, Jordanians, etc., than for anyone who hates Jews. Jews are not a race. Nor can they really be defined as followers of a religion—not really. Some Jews practice some form of Judaism; many do not. And lastly, Jews are not a nationality. Many Israelis are not Jewish, and many more Jews are not Israelis. New York has more Jews than the entire Israeli population.

    Misnomer as it is, “anti-semitism” is not a form of racism. It is not anti-zionism. It’s just Jew-hating. Period. When people start to discuss, to analyze “anti-semitism,” I think they should first call it what it really is. It’s a hatred for Jews. It’s been analyzed in the past in religious terms (“they killed Christ”), in economic terms (“they secretly control all the world’s banks”), and in a variety of political terms—from Hitler to any given ayatollah today. All analyses are based on irrational falsehoods, deceptions conjured up to cover the real reason, like the current disguise which calls itself “anti-Israel.” The truth is—there is no “cause.” Talking about why is absurd, rather like engaging in some kind of gruesome post-pogrom analysis, designed to excuse it by “understanding” it. No. It’s just hate.

    A very long time ago, I attended a discussion at the First Methodist Church in Winter Park led a rabbi friend of mine. It was one of those inter-faith dialogue things. One Methodist asked him, “So—why is it that Jews are hated so much throughout history?” My rabbi friend responded, “Why are you asking me that question?” Exactly. Understanding why Jews are hated is not a question that Jews have to answer.

    There is something dark, evil, in the human heart that hates God, that wants to overcome him, triumph over him, be proved superior to him, simply eradicate him. And that is why Jews are hated. They brought us him. We blame them for it. The hate is irrational, and it rears its serpent head when God becomes an impediment, an obstacle, a nuisance, a bother, when he becomes inconvenient to us and to our plans. It surfaces when God becomes tiresome—or when he becomes not righteous enough for us, when he becomes morally inferior to us, and we need to prove ourselves more worthy of worship than he is. It comes when we want to prove that he’s a mere myth, and we’ve simply been tyrannized by fear and superstition. Then we hate the Jew. We drive him out, or perhaps we confine him, restrict his presence among us somehow, but whether we drive him out or confine him, he’s still there. Finally, his being is no longer endurable to us, to our view of reality, our perception of ourselves, and our hatred consumes us utterly. We have to kill him. If we kill him, we can take his place, we will be the chosen ones, we will be the sons of God. And after we’ve killed him, then we beat our breasts, wail in sympathy for ourselves and claim forgiveness as some kind of “right” we think is ours, all the while storing up even more [temporarily] suppressed hatred for him because now he has made us guilty—again.

    There is no such thing as “anti-semitism,” and the reason for hating Jews—or Israel—has never had anything to do with politics or economics, and it certainly never had anything to do with “justice.”

    aka Shoshanna



  • April 23rd, 2015Shakespeare’s Sonnet 108by Daniel J. Heisey

    Scholars seem to agree that the only sonnet by William Shakespeare with a religious theme is Sonnet 146.  It is the only poem by Shakespeare in the original Oxford Book of Christian Verse (1940), as well as in The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse (1981).  R. S. Thomas included it in The Penguin Book of Religious Verse (1963), and he appears to be the odd man out by also including Sonnet 129.  Likewise, C. S. Lewis, in his volume of The Oxford History of English Literature (1954), observed that Sonnet 146 “is concerned with the tension between the temporal and the eternal and would be appropriate in the mouth of any Christian at any moment.”  However, the same could be said of Sonnet 108.

    First, an open mind is in order.  If we encountered Sonnet 108 all by itself, with no attribution to cloud our critical faculties, there would be every reason to read it as a Christian poem.  Sonnet 108, between a topical poem about the Queen Elizabeth I (thus A. L. Rowse) and a personal poem wherein the beloved rose may well be the speaker’s (or the poet’s) wife, apparently follows no pattern or sequence.  Sonnet 108 therefore stands as a work with its own integrity and importance.

    While there is strong textual and circumstantial evidence to argue convincingly for Shakespeare’s Catholicism, for our purposes here we can definitely say that whatever else he was, William Shakespeare was a Christian, baptized and buried in Holy Trinity church, Stratford.  How pious or devout he was between those two sacramental points is anyone’s guess.  All the same, in a pervasively Christian culture a man who retired from London back to his home parish in the shires may be reckoned to have been a committed believer.

    In 1607, Shakespeare provided for a church funeral for his younger brother, Edmund, also an actor, and The Winter’s Tale (1609) deals not only with the perils of spousal jealousy, but also with the theme of death and resurrection.  Shakespeare’s plays are full of heartfelt prayers and dignified friars.  Moreover, whether Hamlet or Macbeth, his tragic heroes have lives frequently intersecting with the supernatural, and Shakespeare’s comedies, such as Measure for Measure, end with a moral, indeed, biblical, lecture.

    There is no reason, of course, to read any of the Sonnets (or any of the plays) as autobiographical.  William Shakespeare was a complex and creative man, able to imagine himself into any number of characters and situations.  For example, is the real Shakespeare to be found in Julius Caesar or in Juliet?

    Nevertheless, one can read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 108 objectively as a Christian devotional poem.  If we grant that Shakespeare was a believing, even a practicing, Christian, we would be surprised if in 154 sonnets there were only one with a religious subject.  We would be right to consider the possibility, even the probability, of others.

    Commentators in recent years, though, have seen Sonnet 108 as a secular love poem, probably articulating same-sex desire.  Thus, critics from Peter Quennell (1963) to Robert Matz (2008) have tended to interpret the “sweet boy” in line five of Sonnet 108 as a young man, namely the Earl of Southampton, amorously thought of by the poet.  In the 1590s, when he wrote the Sonnets, Shakespeare was turning thirty, whereas Southampton was some ten years younger.

    Their unequal ranks in society notwithstanding, Shakespeare could well have had some paternal or fraternal regard for that young earl, his noble patron.  After all, Shakespeare’s brother, Richard, was a year younger than Southampton; Shakespeare’s brother, Edmund, was six years younger.  Nothing requires the earl to be the “sweet boy” of Sonnet 108, any more than the “sweet boy” must refer either to one of Shakespeare’s kid brothers or to his own son, Hamnet, who died in 1596.

    The true identity of the “sweet boy” emerges in the sestet.  The speaker, perhaps also the poet, talks of “eternal love” and having “hallowed thy fair name.”  For a Christian, there is only one eternal love, and it will be found in Heaven.  The Christian learns from Scripture that in Heaven there is no marriage, no need to worry about whose spouse is whose if there has been widowing and re-marrying (Mt 22:30).  All will be bound together in ecstatic love, adoring God.

    Sonnet 108 is about someone wondering how to express anew a longstanding love.  “What new to speak, what now to register,” the speaker asks, “That I may express my love, or thy dear merit?”  Many a Christian poet has stood “tongue-tied” (a favorite phrase in the Sonnets), wondering how to express either love for the Lord or the Lord’s unspeakable worth.  Here that love is for a “sweet boy” whose “fair name” the speaker has long “hallowed.”  The speaker, alluding to the Lord’s Prayer, is concerned about “eternal love” in a place beyond “the dust and injury of age.”

    A parallel to the religious character of Sonnet 108 appears in the shorter poems of a Jesuit martyr, Robert Southwell.  Three years older than Shakespeare, Southwell was arrested for treason in 1592 and executed in 1595.  Southwell was a distant cousin to Shakespeare, and Southwell’s shorter devotional verse shows similar imagery to that found in Sonnet 108.

    In particular, Southwell’s poem “The Burning Babe,” despite grotesque images such a title may conjure, is about the Christ child, as are his poems “New Prince, New Pomp” and “Come to Your Heaven, You Heavenly Choirs!”  That last concludes, “If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy/Then flit not from this heavenly boy.”

    Taken out of context, Southwell’s “heavenly boy” could seem as camp or homoerotic as Shakespeare’s “sweet boy” could be misread to be.  In context, however, Southwell’s words clearly refer to the baby Jesus, and a fresh and objective look at Shakespeare’s Sonnet 108 would point to the same subject.  Christianity permeating Shakespeare’s world, it could hardly be otherwise.

    Of course, at a Christian interpretation of Sonnet 108 (or any other) secular critics will object, preferring to see the Bard as a modern agnostic.  Interest in Shakespeare has endured for four hundred years because, as a great Shakespearean actor, Maurice Evans (1901-1989), observed in his memoirs, each age finds in him “a responsive echo.”  Even four centuries from now, though, Christian readers may still hear an echo of another Christian voice.

    Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.



  • April 20th, 2015The Wisdom and Wickedness of Womenby Joseph Pearce

    So does the hand that rocks the cradle rule the world? Do well-behaved women make history? All is revealed in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:

    http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/04/the-wisdom-and-wickedness-of-women.html

  • April 20th, 2015Strauss, Voegelin and Conservatismby Joseph Pearce

    I am hugely impressed with the erudition of this article by David Corey in the Imaginative Conservatism. It’s sheds light on an area of political philosophy which has been overshadowed by the fogs of ideology.

    http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/04/eric-voegelin-leo-strauss-and-american-conservatism.html

  • April 19th, 2015Book Review: “Romantic Catholics: France’s Postrevolutionary Generation in Search of a Modern Faith”by Stephanie Mann

    Romantic Catholics: France’s Postrevolutionary Generation in Search of a Modern Faith

    Carol E. Harrison

    Cornell University Press: 2014

    344 pages; $49.95

    978-0-8014-5245-1

    Reviewed by: Stephanie A. Mann

    After the French Revolution, and through the restoration and fall of both the empires and the monarchy, both constitutional and absolute, Catholicism in France required restoration and revival. Carol E. Harrison offers an overview of a group of lay and clerical Catholic revivalists who wanted to present Catholicism’s answer to the revolutionary turmoil of their era. As the book’s blurb announces, these Romantic Catholics rejected “both the atomizing force of revolutionary liberalism and the increasing intransigence of the church hierarchy”. They sought to demonstrate that the Church should work with the new world order while remaining true to Catholic doctrine and discipline. In her Introduction, Harrison notes the contrast between these Romantic Catholics and the historian Jules Michelet, who both rejected the liberal exultation of the individual and the Catholic Church, because he saw it in opposition to the French national spirit. Michelet, she notes, feared the influence of devout wives on their republican husbands—religious faith transcended national genius and must be avoided.

    The laity and clergy Harrison writes about in nineteenth century France also rejected the Cisalpine tendencies of the Church hierarchy before the Revolution and were thoroughly Ultramontane, but then struggled when successive popes rejected their new model for the Church and society to work in freedom while moving away from monarchy toward republican democracy. Harrison structures her book organically, beginning with issues and images of Catholic childhood, through youth, adulthood, and ending in old age and death, highlighting a few of the Catholic Romantics at various stages of their lives throughout the century.

    Starting with childhood, Harrison discusses the celebration of First Holy Communion. In the nineteenth century, First Holy Communion held the place that Confirmation holds now in the United States during a child’s life; it was a step toward adulthood. As Harrison depicts the preparation and celebration of First Holy Communion, she notes the importance of children’s literature, especially the novel Le Journal de Marguerite in modeling Catholic childhood, its piety, morality,  and progress toward holiness. By recounting the First Communions of Leopoldine Hugo, Victor Hugo’s daughter, and two other young girls who died young, Harrison notes that the memory of that day, with all its beauty and innocence, was treasured by the parents who lost their children.

    Advancing from First Communion to education, Harrison examines the school experiences of the poet Maurice de Guerin at the College Stanislas in Paris, founded by Abbe Claude Rosalie Liautard. She creates a vivid image of this boy’s boarding school where the students developed strong bonds of fraternity. From the College Stanislaus, Guerin joins Lamennais’ all male community at La Chenaie, briefly continuing his studies after deciding that he does not have a religious vocation. Both he and his sister Eugenie wrote poetry, although both of them died before they could publish—friends edited their works, especially Eugenie’s journals, to show her great love and support of her brother in his literary career, thwarted by his early death at age 29.

    Continuing the exploration of Lamennais’ project for the Church to be the ally of modern culture with its emphasis on freedom and social justice, Harrison then writes about Charles de Montalembert and his great friend, Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire, who restored the Dominican order in France in 1850. As the three men wrote and published for L’Avenir they found themselves more and more in conflict with the French hierarchy and then with Pope Gregory XVI. They faced the crucial test of their Ultramontanist views—what do you do when the authority you have sworn obedience to tells you to stop what you think is most important for modern culture and the Church? Montalembert and Lacordaire submitted to the pope’s instructions,  but Lamennais could not.

    Perhaps the most fascinating chapter is “Pauline Craven’s Holy Family: Writing the Modern Saint” as Harrison describes how Pauline Craven wrote her family’s story of suffering and holiness, telling how her brother and sisters died in a powerful and popular memoir, Le Recit d’une soeur.  Readers wrote to Pauline telling her how much her memoir moved them, encouraged them to be better Catholics, and led them to pray for the same holy and happy deaths she depicts. Harrison even notes the connection to St. Therese of Lisieux’s L’Histoire d’une ame—the emphasis on holiness in the family, in simple everyday life combined with simplicity of expression and lack of literary pretense.

    My favorite chapter, however, was “Frédéric and Amélie Ozanam: Charity, Marriage, and the Catholic Social” with Harrison’s examination of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam’s great charitable project, The Society of St.  Vincent de Paul, the lay organization dedicated to charity and contact with the poor. Harrison shows how Ozanam rejected philanthropy with its emphasis on analyzing and solving social ills and instead gathered young men in associations to visit the poor, to help people directly since part of the purpose of The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was to save the soul of the young men, to increase their love of the poor and thus of Jesus, and grow in humility and faith, as well to serve the poor.

    Harrison also describes Ozanam’s great conversion to the virtues of Marriage: he had thought that marriage would call him and other men in the Society away from their work with the poor. When he marries Amélie Soulacroix he realizes that marriage and the family are the true basis of society, that husband and wife can support each other in their efforts to love and serve the poor. Harrison picks up the Lamennain project of establishing a Catholic society with a discussion of how Ozanam opposed the legalization of divorce because of its effects on women, children, and men, creating autonomous individuals and breaking down social bonds. Ozanam dies before he can finish his great work—an answer to Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Civilisation au Ve siècle. Amélie Ozanam dedicated the rest of her life to her husband’s cause, making sure his achievements and goals were not forgotten—and she was surely rewarded by Frédéric Ozanam’s beatification by Pope St. John Paul II in Paris at Notre Dame in 1997 during World Youth Day celebrations.

    The final chapter is about French Catholic reaction to the crisis of the temporal sovereignty of the papacy in the midst of the Italian Risorgimento. While they supported Italian independence, they feared for the liberty of the Church. Craven and Montalembert struggled with their ultramontane beliefs, even as Papal Infallibility was defined as a doctrine at the First Vatican Council. Once again, with Pope Pius IX, they see their great Romantic Catholic project rejected—and Montalembert even experiences personal rejection after death when Pope Pius IX cancels his scheduled funeral Mass and moves it to another church without any announcement. As the last surviving member of the Romantic generation in Harrison’s study,  Pauline Craven is uncomfortable living in the new Rome of the “prisoner of the Vatican”.

    Harrison concludes her study with the examination of two fictions: the sequel to Le Journal de Marguerite and the political interference of Empress Eugenie (who was the object of slurs and attacks as Marie Antoinette had been).  She summarizes her book by asserting the importance of understanding the Romantic Catholic movement:

    Restoring romantic Catholics to the story of modern France reminds us that French women and men of the postrevolutionary period saw possibilities other than inflexible church-state conflict. These children of the nineteenth century believed that Catholicism was a model for a society that aspired to be more than an aggregation of atomized individuals. They were eager to demonstrate that Christians tied indissolubly to each other by sacramental bonds constituted a more resilient society than liberal individuals who might occasionally and temporarily enter into contracts with one another. They believed that they could offer this lesson to their fellow French men and women, and their willingness to engage with French society as a whole was the hallmark of Catholic romanticism. Romantic confidence in a dynamic, modern religious faith was not merely a strategy to protect Catholic communities by isolating them from the rest of society and defending them from the rise of secularism.

    Although the Catholic romantics Harrison describes were disappointed in the failure of their projects, she notes that they were vindicated by Pope Leo XIII’s pontificate, with his great vision of “a political and social agenda that engaged the church with modern republicanism and the social question”, summarized in Rerum Novarum (1891) . Romantic Catholics is a very important study of Catholics in nineteenth century France—I highly recommend it as well written,  imaginatively structured, and sympathetic to the historical figures and their cause.



  • April 15th, 2015Perils of Ironyby Daniel J. Heisey

    “What a miserable little snob Henry James is,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt to a friend in June of 1894.  Roosevelt had just read James’ short story “The Death of the Lion” in the April issue of a new periodical called The Yellow Book.  “His polished, pointless, uninteresting stories,” Roosevelt continued, “about the upper social classes of England make one blush to think that he was once an American.”  As an antidote, Roosevelt read something by an Englishman then living in Vermont:  “I turned to a story of [Rudyard] Kipling’s with the feeling of getting into fresh, healthy, out-of-doors life.”

    Roosevelt seems to have been a stranger to irony, a deficiency for which Americans have been stereotyped.  What caused his outburst was James turning his gift for irony on himself:  the dying lion of the story is an aging author admired by all the best people, but they have no time in their busy social calendars to read his books.  As the old literary giant lies on his deathbed, no one in the stately old house can find the lone manuscript of his latest (and last) book that one of them had borrowed, although everyone is sure it must be brilliant.

    Just as all Roosevelt could see in the story was an English country house populated with pompous aristocrats, many people today seem to think that Henry James’ stories are all about flower arrangements and antique furniture.  Merchant-Ivory’s lush film adaptations of three of James’ novels have helped create that impression, distracting from the two key elements in all James’ fiction, greed and manipulation.  Often an instrument in those machinations is sexual energy, and here the reader is left to find the lewd scene in, to take but one example, The Spoils of Poynton (1897).

    Roosevelt was right about James being an expatriate.  Although born in New York City, James spent much of his boyhood abroad.  In 1875 James, at age thirty-two, moved to Europe, staying in Paris and Venice before settling in London and then in the English village of Rye.  In 1915, near the end of his life, James became a British subject, and early the next year King George V bestowed upon him the Order of Merit.

    Still, Roosevelt apparently had forgotten James’ stories set in America.  One of the best known and most accessible may be Washington Square (1880).  Set in a fine old house in New York City, it depicts the sort of reserved, respectable people with whom the Roosevelt family might have associated.  In 1949 it was filmed as The Heiress, starring Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, and Ralph Richardson.  The heiress is plain, simple Catherine Sloper, only surviving child of a successful physician, and she refuses to believe her widower father’s insistence that Morris Townsend, a handsome young man rich only in charm, is courting her solely for her money.

    It is the same plot as James’ The Aspern Papers (1888).  In that story, the unnamed narrator schemes to get his hands on rare letters, not money, but to do so he must woo Tita (in later editions, Tina), an unmarried, middle-aged woman living with her elderly spinster aunt in a faded palazzo in Venice.  Eventually Tita sees through his ploy and wounds the narrator more severely than if she had stabbed him.  Likewise, Catherine at last recognizes the truth of her father’s warnings and preserves her broken heart by never marrying.

    “Catherine,” James mused, “became an admirable old maid.  She formed habits, regulated her days upon a system of her own, interested herself in charitable institutions, . . . and went generally, with an even and noiseless step, about the rigid business of her life. . . . She developed a few harmless eccentricities; her habits, once formed, were rather stiffly maintained; her opinions, on all moral and social matters, were extremely conservative; and before she was forty she was regarded as an old-fashioned person, and an authority on customs that had passed away.”

    One is tempted to apply those words to James himself, especially when recalling that William Faulkner supposedly described James as “one of the nicest old ladies I ever met.”  Part of James’ attraction to England and the Continent was his sense of the past, an instinctive desire for layers of antiquity, for cultivated order and dignified heritage.  To James, the worst traits of America, vulgar arrested adolescence and crass egomania, were embodied in aggressive, volatile men like Theodore Roosevelt.

    Yet, irony turned upon one of its supreme practitioners.  In 1908 James visited G. K. Chesterton, and, as Chesterton recorded in his Autobiography (1936), “the balanced tea cup and tentative sentence of Mr. Henry James” were rudely rattled and interrupted by the sudden and unexpected arrival of Hilaire Belloc and a friend, boisterous and scruffy after a few days of hiking.

    Chesterton doubted whether James ever appreciated “the irony of the best comedy in which he ever played a part.”  Chesterton explained that James had “left America because he loved Europe, and all that was meant by England or France; the gentry, the gallantry, the tradition of lineage and locality, . . . and there, on the other side of the tea table, was Europe, was the old thing that made France and England, the posterity of the English squires and the French soldiers; ragged, unshaven, shouting for beer, shameless above all shades of poverty and wealth; sprawling, indifferent, secure.  And what looked across at it was still the Puritan refinement of Boston; and the space it looked across was wider than the Atlantic.”

    Henry James was a snob, his stories are polished, but they are not pointless any more than they are uninteresting.  They do require patience, especially his later novels, long studies of reticent people of means, lapidary stories of desire and duplicity, marked by introspective and meandering sentences, replete, if one may so say, with subordinate clauses.  Best to start one’s sojourn with James in Washington Square.

    By 1908, when James was being baffled by the rowdiness of Belloc, an Oxford-educated Member of Parliament, Theodore Roosevelt was winding down his presidential term and planning a safari to eastern Africa.  There he shot lion and other big game, while James was publishing a volume of his stories, including one from 1903, “The Beast in the Jungle,” about a man obsessed with some elusive future event that will define his legacy.

    Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.



  • April 15th, 2015Perils of Ironyby Daniel J. Heisey

    “What a miserable little snob Henry James is,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt to a friend in June of 1894.  Roosevelt had just read James’ short story “The Death of the Lion” in the April issue of a new periodical called The Yellow Book.  “His polished, pointless, uninteresting stories,” Roosevelt continued, “about the upper social classes of England make one blush to think that he was once an American.”  As an antidote, Roosevelt read something by an Englishman then living in Vermont:  “I turned to a story of [Rudyard] Kipling’s with the feeling of getting into fresh, healthy, out-of-doors life.”

    Roosevelt seems to have been a stranger to irony, a deficiency for which Americans have been stereotyped.  What caused his outburst was James turning his gift for irony on himself:  the dying lion of the story is an aging author admired by all the best people, but they have no time in their busy social calendars to read his books.  As the old literary giant lies on his deathbed, no one in the stately old house can find the lone manuscript of his latest (and last) book that one of them had borrowed, although everyone is sure it must be brilliant.

    Just as all Roosevelt could see in the story was an English country house populated with pompous aristocrats, many people today seem to think that Henry James’ stories are all about flower arrangements and antique furniture.  Merchant-Ivory’s lush film adaptations of three of James’ novels have helped create that impression, distracting from the two key elements in all James’ fiction, greed and manipulation.  Often an instrument in those machinations is sexual energy, and here the reader is left to find the lewd scene in, to take but one example, The Spoils of Poynton (1897).

    Roosevelt was right about James being an expatriate.  Although born in New York City, James spent much of his boyhood abroad.  In 1875 James, at age thirty-two, moved to Europe, staying in Paris and Venice before settling in London and then in the English village of Rye.  In 1915, near the end of his life, James became a British subject, and early the next year King George V bestowed upon him the Order of Merit.

    Still, Roosevelt apparently had forgotten James’ stories set in America.  One of the best known and most accessible may be Washington Square (1880).  Set in a fine old house in New York City, it depicts the sort of reserved, respectable people with whom the Roosevelt family might have associated.  In 1949 it was filmed as The Heiress, starring Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, and Ralph Richardson.  The heiress is plain, simple Catherine Sloper, only surviving child of a successful physician, and she refuses to believe her widower father’s insistence that Morris Townsend, a handsome young man rich only in charm, is courting her solely for her money.

    It is the same plot as James’ The Aspern Papers (1888).  In that story, the unnamed narrator schemes to get his hands on rare letters, not money, but to do so he must woo Tita (in later editions, Tina), an unmarried, middle-aged woman living with her elderly spinster aunt in a faded palazzo in Venice.  Eventually Tita sees through his ploy and wounds the narrator more severely than if she had stabbed him.  Likewise, Catherine at last recognizes the truth of her father’s warnings and preserves her broken heart by never marrying.

    “Catherine,” James mused, “became an admirable old maid.  She formed habits, regulated her days upon a system of her own, interested herself in charitable institutions, . . . and went generally, with an even and noiseless step, about the rigid business of her life. . . . She developed a few harmless eccentricities; her habits, once formed, were rather stiffly maintained; her opinions, on all moral and social matters, were extremely conservative; and before she was forty she was regarded as an old-fashioned person, and an authority on customs that had passed away.”

    One is tempted to apply those words to James himself, especially when recalling that William Faulkner supposedly described James as “one of the nicest old ladies I ever met.”  Part of James’ attraction to England and the Continent was his sense of the past, an instinctive desire for layers of antiquity, for cultivated order and dignified heritage.  To James, the worst traits of America, vulgar arrested adolescence and crass egomania, were embodied in aggressive, volatile men like Theodore Roosevelt.

    Yet, irony turned upon one of its supreme practitioners.  In 1908 James visited G. K. Chesterton, and, as Chesterton recorded in his Autobiography (1936), “the balanced tea cup and tentative sentence of Mr. Henry James” were rudely rattled and interrupted by the sudden and unexpected arrival of Hilaire Belloc and a friend, boisterous and scruffy after a few days of hiking.

    Chesterton doubted whether James ever appreciated “the irony of the best comedy in which he ever played a part.”  Chesterton explained that James had “left America because he loved Europe, and all that was meant by England or France; the gentry, the gallantry, the tradition of lineage and locality, . . . and there, on the other side of the tea table, was Europe, was the old thing that made France and England, the posterity of the English squires and the French soldiers; ragged, unshaven, shouting for beer, shameless above all shades of poverty and wealth; sprawling, indifferent, secure.  And what looked across at it was still the Puritan refinement of Boston; and the space it looked across was wider than the Atlantic.”

    Henry James was a snob, his stories are polished, but they are not pointless any more than they are uninteresting.  They do require patience, especially his later novels, long studies of reticent people of means, lapidary stories of desire and duplicity, marked by introspective and meandering sentences, replete, if one may so say, with subordinate clauses.  Best to start one’s sojourn with James in Washington Square.

    By 1908, when James was being baffled by the rowdiness of Belloc, an Oxford-educated Member of Parliament, Theodore Roosevelt was winding down his presidential term and planning a safari to eastern Africa.  There he shot lion and other big game, while James was publishing a volume of his stories, including one from 1903, “The Beast in the Jungle,” about a man obsessed with some elusive future event that will define his legacy.

    Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.



  • April 15th, 2015How Close was C. S. Lewis to “Crossing the Tiber”?by Joseph Pearce

    I’ve received a letter from a Catholic seminarian, requesting my opinion of an article by Eric Seddon in Mythlore which included a somewhat shrill attack on a position that I had allegedly taken in my book, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church. Here’s my response:

    I don’t have the leisure to critique Seddon’s article in detail. Suffice it to say that it contains much that is good and much that is less so. Upon my admittedly hasty and cursory perusal it appears that Seddon has an inadequate knowledge of the nuanced differences between Protestants in general and between different branches of Anglicanism in particular. He doesn’t seem to clearly distinguish between Ulster Protestants and their bigoted Orangism on the one hand and mainstream English Anglicanism on the other, a fatal flaw in any argument on these thorny issues.

    His reading of the theology of Narnia is at times odd (to say the least) ...

    With regard to the short section in which he criticizes me, I don’t feel that there is anything that needs answering because he accuses me of taking a position that I do not take. I do not argue that Lewis “all but ‘crossed the Tiber’”. On the contrary, I imply towards the end of my book that Lewis’s knee-jerk Ulster tribalism all but precluded there being any possibility of his conversion to Rome. I merely point out that Lewis implies the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament in his statement that the “Blessed Sacrament” (his words, not mine) is the most important thing for a Christian, even more important than the love of neighbor, thereby equating the Sacrament with the Commandment to love God. Lewis did not seem to comprehend or believe in Transubstantiation and could not be considered a Thomist but even a belief in Consubstantiation would be much closer to a belief in the Real Presence than most Anglicans and almost all other Protestants would believe. He also believed avowedly in purgatory and went to auricular confession, both of which are decidedly odd beliefs and practices for even the “highest” Anglican. 

    In short and in sum, my argument is not and has never been that Lewis almost “crossed the Tiber” but that his crypto-Catholic beliefs make him a rather odd and idiosyncratic Anglican.



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