• October 30th, 2014The Evidence for Shakespeare’s Catholicismby Joseph Pearce

    I've received an e-mail from a student studying Theatre History who is doing a research project on Shakespeare's Catholicism. The student requested a list of books and essays offering evidence that Shakespeare was a believing Catholic.

    My Response:

    Regarding your question, you should check out the extensive five-page bibliography in my book, The Quest for Shakespeare. Books I would particularly recommend on Shakespeare's Catholicism (apart from my own three books on the topic!) are:

    John Henry De Groot, The Shakespeares and "The Old Faith" (Real-View Books, 1995)

    Carol Curt Enos, Shakespeare and the Catholic Religion (Dorrance Publishing, 2000)

    Peter Milward S.J., The Catholicism of Shakespeare's Plays (Saint Austin Press, 1997)

    Peter Milward S.J., Shakespeare the Papist (Sapientia Press, 2005)

    Peter Milward S.J., Shakespeare's Religious Background (Indiana University Press, 1973)

    Mutschmann and Wentersdorf, Shakespeare's and Catholicism (Sheed and Ward, 1952)

    Richard Simpson, The Religion of Shakespeare (Burns and Oates, 1899)

    Taylor and Beauregard, eds., Shakespeare and the Culture of Christianity in Early Modern England (Fordham University Press, 2003)

    Ian Wilson, Shakespeare: The Evidence (St. Martin's Griffin, 1999)

    For essays on Shakespeare's Catholicism, I would recommend any of the Ignatius Critical Editions of Shakespeare's plays and also the several issues of the St. Austin Review which have been published on a Shakespearean theme.

  • October 29th, 2014Boorstin, Creativity, and Augustineby Daniel J. Heisey

    While nine of his twenty-two books are still in print, albeit in paperback, Random House, under its Vintage imprint, has brought out a new hardcover edition of Daniel J. Boorstin’s The Creators.  Boorstin (1914-2004) was a master of clear, succinct prose that went to the heart of any subject he chose to study.  Among his many interests was the theology of history presented by Saint Augustine of Hippo.

    Born in Atlanta, Georgia, but reared in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Boorstin began his career as a lawyer, having studied at Harvard, Yale, and Oxford.  A Rhodes Scholar, he distinguished himself by being admitted to the bar both in America and in Britain.  He then taught for twenty-five years at the University of Chicago, and his professional life culminated with service as Librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987.  Between 1958 and 1973 wrote The Americans, a highly-acclaimed three-volume history of the United States.  In 1962 he wrote The Image, about the trend towards publicity and celebrity being dominant features in modern life.

    The Creators (1992) is the second in another trilogy, the other volumes being The Discoverers (1983) and The Seekers (1998).  Each wide-ranging volume can stand on its own, however, and in nearly eight-hundred pages of text The Creators surveys such creative figures as Homer and Leonardo da Vinci, Confucius and Giuseppe Verdi.  At the end of August, 1992, in what it hailed as a “special double issue,” U. S. News and World Report devoted thirty pages to judicious excerpts from The Creators, lushly illustrated.  The magazine’s cover bore in letters three inches high the title The Creators and a color picture of Ludwig van Beethoven.

    In October of that year rival Time magazine reviewed the book under the sniffy heading “Conventional Wisdom.”  While conceding that Boorstin “has a magisterial gift for summary and organization,” and that “some readers will doubtless find his guidance helpful,” it concluded that “The Creators is not the book it could have been.”  The reviewer had pointed out that although Boorstin’s book had a chapter on Charles Dickens, there was barely a mention of Anthony Trollope, and a chapter focusing on Johann Sebastian Bach but briefly referred to George Frideric Handel.

    Boorstin’s obituary in The Economist noted the disciplined and reticent nature of a man chosen to be national librarian by the stolid, pipe-smoking Gerald Ford.  Always an early riser, Boorstin was busy each day clattering away on his old manual typewriter at four in the morning.  “Worshipping, as he did,” The Economist explained, “the original vigour of the American experiment, he often found modern America hard to take.”  It added, “In tweed jacket, glasses, and bow tie, he played the closeted [cloistered] academic to perfection; but his perception of his own times was acute.”  Especially in the early 1990s, he appeared on television news shows as the wise old man who could nevertheless stick to the point.

    One of Boorstin’s literary heroes was Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), and at least once in his or her life, any English-speaking historian worthy of the name must read, ponder, and argue with Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Gibbon merits a chapter in The Creators, as do his eminent nineteenth-century American peers, William H. Prescott (1796-1859) and Francis Parkman (1823-1893).  Boorstin steeped himself in the writings of those three masters of the historian’s craft, and if one were to guess which American historians from the twentieth century will be read a hundred years from now, Boorstin would join a short list with David McCullough and Barbara W. Tuchman.

    Even though Boorstin favored Bach to Handel and Dickens to Trollope, his was a generous spirit, not meaning to slight or snub.  The seventy chapters of The Creators are really essays, crisply conveying Boorstin’s enthusiasm for what he deemed the finest of human achievement.  Page after page, Boorstin described the glories and genius of human creativity, from the cave paintings at Altamira, Spain, and Lascaux, France, to Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings, from Stonehenge to Frank Lloyd Wright, from Gregorian chant to Igor Stravinsky.

    All the while, Boorstin also paid tribute to great religious figures, including Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed.  Prominent among them stood Saint Augustine of Hippo.  Boorstin wrote that Saint Augustine “remains one of the most versatile and challenging thinkers in Western history.”  Given Boorstin’s long hours of re-reading Gibbon, no friend to the Church, as well as his own Jewish heritage, he nevertheless admired Augustine and his permeating influence on Western culture.

    According to Boorstin, Augustine’s essential contribution to the ongoing intellectual conversation was teaching that time is linear, not cyclical.  Since at least the days of Hesiod, the ancient Greeks and Romans had believed that human nature and human history would languish forever after the demise of a long-lost Golden Age.  Like the perpetually recurring seasons of the year, time and again mankind faced the same dismal fates.  A brighter future free of this sad cycle was beyond ancient imagination.

    “Christianity,” wrote Boorstin, “turning our eyes to the future, played a leading role in the discovery of our power to create.”  Boorstin noted that for Augustine, “the climactic event of the world was the coming of Christ.”  Since that event could never be repeated, Boorstin said that for Augustine, history “begins with the Creation and will end with the Last Judgment.”  In between, “every event is unique, and every soul follows its own destiny, to survive in Hell or in Heaven.”  History thus was not an ever-turning wheel of fortune but “a continuous unfolding of man’s mysterious capacities—for creation, for love of God, for joining the Eternal City,” meaning in this case not old Rome but the new Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation, the City of God in Heaven.

    Boorstin therefore saw Augustine, especially in The City of God, revealing how the Christian message of Incarnation and Redemption “transported the classical Golden Age from the remote past into the remote but certain future.”  Mankind need no longer be resigned to life here on this weary old world being as good as it gets, the best having faded away long ago, but could welcome each new day as a gift, an opportunity to co-operate with God’s grace and creation.


    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.



  • October 29th, 2014Painter of the Popesby Joseph Pearce

    I had the inestimable honour recently of interviewing the Russian artist, Igor Babailov, now resident in Nashville, who has painted official portraits of the last three popes, as well as celebrated portraits of George Washington, George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin and many others. Babailov, indubitably one of the greatest artists alive today, is a vociferous champion of realism and is critical of much of the nonsense in modern art. In short, he is a veritable breath of fresh air in a very stale environment!


    The interview has just been published in the National Catholic Register: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/painter-of-the-popes/

  • October 28th, 2014Light from the Dark Continentby Joseph Pearce

    In the days of yore, the days of discovery, exploration and empire, Africa was known as the Dark Continent. Today, as the so-called developed world falls into shadow, the continent of Africa is becoming a beacon of light and a source of hope. From an EWTN program called "The Vocation Boom," this statistic:

    African Catholic Seminarians

    1950s - 2,000

    1985 - 7,000

    Today - 27,000

  • October 28th, 2014R. H. Benson 1914 - 2014: A Tributeby Joseph Pearce

    I have just received an e-mail from an Argentinian journalist writing an article to commemorate the centenary of the death of the great literary convert, R. H. Benson. He sent me some questions, the answers to which I thought would serve as a suitable tribute to Benson on the Ink Desk:


    1. I have read an article written by you where you describe Benson as an unsung genius. Can you explain why do you see him like that?


    I used this phrase in the light of the way that Benson has been largely neglected in the century since his death. During his own lifetime he was a hugely popular novelist, as well as being an excellent poet and a highly gifted preacher and spiritual mentor. The neglect of his legacy is unjust and has deprived posterity of his powerful and significant voice.



    2. He was one of several literary converts of the beginning of the last century. How can you explain such phenomenom between those writers and specifically in Benson?


    In my book Literary Converts I provide a history of the Catholic Literary Revival in England, which can be said to have had its roots in the Romanticism of Coleridge and Wordsworth and to have had its definitive birth, so to speak, with Newman's conversion in 1845. By the time of Benson's conversion sixty years later the Revival was in full swing. Benson's conversion was probably the most controversial in the whole history of the Revival, except for that of Newman himself, because he was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the leader of the worldwide Anglican communion. His conversion was seen, therefore, as portentous of the rise of Catholicism and the fall of Anglicanism.



    3. Why do you consider that someone must read him today?


    Several of Benson's novels have stood the test of time and deserve to be seen as classics of Christian fiction, especially his historical novels, Come Rack! Come Rope! and Richard Reynal, Solitary, and his futuristic dystopian thriller, Lord of the World, the last of which has been proved more correct in its dark prophecy of the rise of demonic secularism than later works in a similar genre, such as Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four.



    4. In which of his multiple facets -as a writer, as an apologist, as a prophet...- do you think he specially stood out?


    He deserves to be remembered primarily as one of the finest novelists of the twentieth century, though his significance as an apologist, prophet and poet should not be overlooked.



    5. Beside his famous novel `Lord of the World', what other titles do you consider relevant as well?


    As mentioned, his two historical novels, Come Rack! Come Rope! and Richard Reynal, Solitary, deserve a much wider readership. His own account of his conversion, Confessions of a Convert, is a powerful autobiographical account of a soul's journey to the goodness, truth and beauty of Christ and His Church in the spirit of St. Augustine's Confessions, which is equalled in perception and power only by Newman's masterful Apologia. It's a true classic of conversion literature, which will be an inspiration for anyone on the same path more than a century later.  

  • October 23rd, 2014A New Catholic Literary Revivalby Joseph Pearce

    Recent years have seen a significant increase in the quantity and quality of new Catholic fiction and poetry. This being so, it is gratifying to see that several new literature awards are being launched in response to this new Catholic literary revival. As Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College, I’m pleased to announce that we have initiated the Aquinas Award for Fiction, the first of which will be presented at a conference at Aquinas College in Nashville next autumn.

    The Aquinas Award and several other awards are featured in this article, just published in the National Catholic Register:


  • October 22nd, 2014Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex - oh, and Loveby Kevin O'Brien

    Most modern people don't think highly enough of sex.

    That sounds crazy, but let me explain.

    One of my regular readers gets regularly mad at me when I make the analogy between adultery and "gay sex".  Her point is that a sexual orientation is something you just can't help, and it defines who you are, and it has nothing to do with sin.  She rejects the Catholic teaching that a homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered and should be resisted with the virtue of chastity.

    But, interestingly, when Facebook friend Mark S. Schmittle posted this comment ...

    Chastity IS sexuality - the proper expression of sexuality, either in marriage, virginity or celibacy. The peace, joy, and love that result from a chaste life had to explained and promoted as the only true alternative to unchastity which brings tragedy, poverty, chaos, mistrust, and the objectification of human beings as things to satisfy our passions

    ... she replied ...

    Gosh Mark - you're kind of right. I never saw it stated like that before - but you're right.

    So it occurred to me that my blog posts are written to an audience that I assume is well grounded in Catholic moral theology.  But maybe it's a good idea to take a step back and try to explain the sort of stuff I've been taking for granted for a long time now, since not all of you are as steeped in this as I am, and explain how only the Catholic Church really gives a damn about sex these days.


    First of all, though it's incredible that it needs to be pointed out to people, sex has a purpose.  What could that purpose be?  Hmmm.  I wonder.  Gosh, could it be making babies?  And also (considering our emotions and our souls) the expression of a total giving of one person to another?

    Most moderns today reject the obvious and blatant purpose of sex.  Having been infected with a kind of spiritual Ebola that is more contagious than the real Ebola, modern people have adopted the most bizarre of all bizarre religious beliefs, and one that's based not only on blind faith, but on a faith that's devoted to blindness - the belief that there is no such thing as function, purpose, meaning or design anywhere in the universe.

    So therefore a penis may go into a butt-hole.  No big deal.  It's not designed to go anywhere else, is it?  The anus is not designed for defecation, and the penis not designed for urination and procreation.  No way.  We can make use of our bodies in any way we want.  We could even eat through our noses if we wanted to, because the nose is not necessarily made to smell.  It could inhale and ingest yogurt and cream cheese, if we wanted it to.  Stop being so judgmental!

    And if you believe in the sacrifice of reason to blind faith, you can swallow the modern denial of purpose and design.  But yet once you've made that sacrifice, you are unable to see the obvious fact (which is not even a conclusion, but a simple observation) that any use of the sexual organs outside of their design is "disordered".  "Sin" is simply a disorder - seeking a good in the wrong way or in the wrong amount or under the wrong circumstances.  "Sin" is what we call the rebellion against the Order that gives us peace.

    But maybe these devotees of the Modern Faith of Purposelessness, if they can't admit to a biological design can admit to a psychological one.  In fact, they do.  They push it.  They might be reluctant to admit that any kind of sex is OK at any time, but they will argue that sex between two (or more) people who "love" one another is fine, if the sex is an expression of love, even if it involves anal intercourse (though they don't like to use that term, as it's clearly not the most ideal expression of "love" and it makes even them a bit squeamish).

    But here we must celebrate, at last, a common cause.  We admit that sex is not just for making babies, but is also for expressing love - it's just that the only definition of "love" that makes sense is the definition that has grown out of that event that happened on Calvary 2,000 years ago.

    Love is sacrifice: it is the complete and total self-giving of one person for the good of the other.  It is an act that involves the full engagement of our entire being - heart, mind, body and soul - and every aspect of our intelligence and will.

    The most clear manifestation of love in the world is therefore marriage and the family.  Celibacy and devotion to God through consecrated virginity and the priesthood or religious life is another expression of love, but that is the exception.  The ordinary and most clear manifestation of love is the lifelong commitment of one spouse to another, a living sacrifice that creates a bunch of kids, arguing siblings, Christmas dinners, annoying in-laws.

    And even within the miraculous circle of this everyday thing, the family, chastity is the virtue that prevents sex, even within the confines of marriage, from becoming lust.

    Lust is the objectification of one person by another, the use of another person as an object.  Lust is the opposite of love.  We therefore guard against it with the virtue of chastity not because sex is bad but because it's good - it's so good that we must keep it from becoming what we know it always tends to become if we let it - a monster that devours, rather than a gift that gives.

    Anyway, this is all a part of the "seamless garment", the unified teaching of Christ that the Church continues to pass on (sometimes in spite of herself, and in spite of the desires of her bishops, popes and cardinals).  There's much more to be said, such as marriage prefiguring the Second Coming of Christ to His bride the Church, as well as admitting that homosexuals can clearly love one another, and love one another deeply, while recognizing that they can't express that love in a disordered way, by indulging in an act that degrades them if they abrogate it to themselves for a selfish purpose, when it is made for something other and something greater.  But I've said enough, and I'm certain that every single thing I said will be misunderstood, so I might as well shut up.

    Except to say - only the Catholic Church thinks enough of sex to insist that it can only be the expression of full and sacrificial love between a husband and a wife who have given themselves to one another completely and for life, a gift of body and soul, of flesh and spirit, a gift that makes more life, little babies, new people, a gift that lifts us to our highest plane physically on this earth, a gift that gives a foretaste of the ecstasy that the cross entails.

    Only the Catholic Church really cares about sex.

  • October 22nd, 2014Great Talks by Ralph Wood on Lewis and Tolkienby Joseph Pearce

    Last night I had the honour and pleasure to give a talk here in Nashville to members of the Catholic Medical Association on the theme of “Suffering, Addiction and Healing in The Lord of the Rings”. I was told that I was following in the footsteps of the wonderful and inestimable Ralph C. Wood who had spoken several months earlier on C. S. Lewis to the same group. During his visit he also spoke at Aquinas College on The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately Dr. Wood’s visit preceded my own arrival at Aquinas College so we weren’t destined to meet on this occasion. The last time I met Professor Wood, whose work I greatly admire, was at the national Chesterton Conference in Reno, Nevada two years ago.

    My disappointment at missing Dr. Wood’s talks was mitigated by the fact that all three of the talks that he gave during his visit to Nashville were videoed and have been uploaded to the Catholic Medical Association’s website. This being so, I thought I’d share them with visitors to the Ink Desk:


  • October 22nd, 2014Marriage, Divorce and the Modern Mindby Kevin O'Brien

    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article over the weekend that examines the case of a divorced couple, with the ex-husband seeking an annulment over the ex-wife's objections.

    The ex-wife, a Protestant, is not at all bothered that her husband divorced her and "re-married", contrary to the clear teachings of Jesus Christ.  The thought of renouncing the vows you make to the person you promise to love for the rest of your life is apparently no big deal (by the way, for each of them it was their second marriage).  What bothers this woman is the thought that her second marriage "never happened".

    Her argument seems to be, "We promised to love each other and remain together until the day we died, and that was a valid promise, dammit! even though we've both broken that promise and are sleeping with other people (and I'm fine with that) - other people that we're promising to love and live with for the rest of our lives (as we did our first spouses).  Anyway, all of that breaking of vows and lifting your leg and pissing on marriage is no big deal.  What bothers me is if some jack ass in the Catholic Church is going to tell me that the marriage that we both desecrated by breaking our vows and moving on to other people never happened!  It sure the hell did, which is why we both walked away from it!"

    Welcome to the modern world.

  • October 22nd, 2014Here it is…by Dena Hunt

    About two years ago, I posted a suggestion that the Church get out of the marriage business as soon as possible. I proposed that it’s actually a violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state that clerics of any sort should have the authority to perform legally binding ceremonies, which are actually a function of government and not of religion. (The emphasis here is on “legal,” not on “marriage.”) Couples could have a religious ceremony if they want one and if the clergyman is willing to perform it, but the clergyman should not have any legal authority to make such a ceremony binding in any way. All couples would have to enter into a government-composed binding contract in order to be legally married.

    I remember that a couple of comments were appalled by the idea that the Church should surrender any influence at all on public civil life.  Here’s the reason:


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