March 25th, 2015A Really Bad Article on The Merchant of Veniceby Joseph Pearce
Although I often like Sean Fitzpatrick’s literary articles, this is pure unadulterated drivel:
Mr. Fitzpatrick is merely echoing the Shylock-as-victim misreading of the play that is one of the most egregious cases of Shakespeare abuse imaginable. I do not have time to dissect the many errors in the article, not least of which is the casting of the saintly and wise Portia as a bigoted anti-semite, but would urge strongly that readers of the Ink Desk buy my book Through Shakespeare’s Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays in which I devote about half the book to discussing The Merchant of Venice, scene by scene. I would also urge you to buy the Ignatius Critical Edition of The Merchant of Venice, which contains some superb critical essays, including a brilliant defence of Portia’s efforts to save Shylock by Daniel Lowenstein, a professor at the UCLA Law School, and an excellent essay by an economist on the way in which Shakespeare and his audience would have seen the practice of usury, i.e. in the light of the Church’s condemnation of it.
March 23rd, 2015Comments on the StARby Joseph PearceI recently received the following comments on the latest issue of StAR from Fr. Peter Milward, SJ.
a) It is truly admirable the way the editors of StAR come up with a new topic for each issue that is relevant at once to Catholic tradition and to the Modern age, and this issue on Nazism and Secularism is no exception. The design of the cover, too, is no less admirable, apt and appropriate.
b) The Editorial by Joe Pearce is, as usual, brilliant, prompting me to hope that this and all his previous editorials are included in the book reviewed by Portia Hopkins on p.39, “Beauteous Truth”. Truly Joe succeeds in showing how beautiful is Catholic Truth. Only, I have one animadversion concerning the way he traces the triumph of secularism back to the French Revolution, whereas I would trace it all the way back to Henry VIII with his Erastian domination of the Church by the State, thereby effecting a subtle alteration, not only for England but also for Europe, from “Christendom” to mere “Christianity”.
c) No less than three times Prof Aeschliman refers to TS Eliot’s notion of a “dissociation of sensibility”, without seeming to realize the context in which Eliot uses this term. According to Eliot, it set in sometime during the seventeenth century, between Shakespeare and Donne, on the one hand, and Milton and Dryden, on the other. It may be traced, though Eliot leaves it vague, to the influence of the “new philosophy” heralded by Sir Francis Bacon and espoused by the Royal Society from 1660 onwards.
d) It was already in my boyhood that I read Franz Werfel’s “Song of Bernadette”, and I was so impressed by both the book and the author. I was so convinced that the author must have been a devout Catholic, but I was so disillusioned on learning that he was a Jew. So Jews can appear as Catholics, as Catholics were originally Jews. And the same is true of Simone Weil.
e) “Behold the Woman!” What a splendid title for an article on an exhibition on “Mary in Sacred Art”! Also in the content of the article, the exhibition aptly demonstrates “the profound impact of one woman upon art and culture”. And that calls to mind the contemporary impact of the same Woman on the drama of William Shakespeare, as he conceives of all his ideal heroines, from the Elizabethan comedies through the Jacobean tragedies to the final tragi-comedies, as “full of grace”.
f) What a great man was Dietrich von Hildebrand! His greatness appears not only in his conversion to the Catholic Church but also in his humble acceptance of Catholic teaching, especially as expounded by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical “Humanae Vitae”, in spite of its betrayal by many American moral theologians led by Charles Curran.
g) I strongly disagree with Portia Hopkins’ review of Joe Pearce’s “Beauteous Truth”, when she criticizes his “evident hostility to the Protestant branch of the church”. In these words she both betrays her own allegiance to the modern “branch theory” and her ignorance of Church history, according to which Luther was at once a schismatic and a declared heretic – or as her namesake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, calls him, “beast of the waste wood”. In the interests of ecumenism, there is no point in whitewashing the past, which inevitably remains what it has always been, though in the present we may well cultivate friendly relations with “our separated brethren”, as also with those of other religions. Incidentally, it is a pity that she makes no mention of her namesake among the “important figures in the Catholic revival”, including Newman, Belloc, Chesterton, Greene and O’Connor – maybe because he isn’t sufficiently ecumenical for her taste.
March 23rd, 2015Anger is an Enemyby Joseph Pearce
What does Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols have in common with Christ in the Temple? All is revealed in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:
March 22nd, 2015And Furthermore…by Dena Hunt
Joseph’s recent post (“What is Catholic Literature?”) is succinct. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but I’ve found that the singular characteristic of truth is that it’s simple, and it’s usually brief. Things that call themselves “complex” or “it’s complicated” are generally obfuscations, camouflaged avoidances or distractions. There are a few quotes I’m going to lift from his post and comment on in a furthermore fashion:
“The ethos of a work contains and supplies the timeless dimension to any work of literature, in the sense that it builds the work on an ethical foundation and within an ethical framework that transcends time or space or circumstance.”
This “ethos,” this “timeless dimension,” is the wheat separated from the chaff of space-and-time-bound culture. We all recognize it, even when it’s as old as Homer. We call it “truth.”
“Christ tells … stories, his parables, which are the means by which he conveys the deepest and most important truths. We cannot fully comprehend the cosmos in the light of the purely abstract, we need allegory and metaphor and story, the very “stuff” of which literature is made.”
Imagination is the elastic needed to expand and stretch human comprehension (not displace it). It’s limited, yes, but very strong and resilient. It provides us the means to willingly suspend our disbelief. Those who disdain imagination do so out of fear, and it’s true that the willingness to use our imagination is an act of faith. Without it, however, life (and literature) is a shrunken and brittle world of mere fact, a purely physical, impoverished, and fragile reality whose only reason to exist is to accumulate ever more data in an otherwise pointless existence.
“A religious world view always influences the arts. Atheism is a religious world view; agnosticism is a religious worldview. A religious worldview is unavoidable, in life as much as in literature. It is, therefore, not a question of the influence of religions upon the arts, which is unavoidable, but of which religion influences the arts.”
We know that the opposite of religion is not irreligion, but indifference. Like philosophy: It’s not a question of whether philosophy “interests” you, but of whether you recognize and acknowledge the philosophy that is governing you, your mind, and your life.
What is Catholic literature? It’s the product of a Catholic mind. You can’t fake it. And you can’t hide it, whether you acknowledge it or not. It’s as obvious in O’Conner’s violent southern plots as it is in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, as blatant in Shakespeare’s characters as it is in Walker Percy’s. We know it when we see it. We always know the truth when we see it. Critics can’t analyze it away. It sticks. It stays.
March 20th, 2015What is Catholic Literature?by Joseph Pearce
I’ve just responded to some questions on the meaning and essence of Catholic literature asked to me by a student at Benedictine College. Here are the questions and my answers:
Who, in your experience, is the best example of a truly Catholic author?
This is a huge and difficult question to answer because it depends upon how we are defining a Catholic author. In terms of theology and philosophy, St. Thomas Aquinas (obviously!); in terms of literature, Dante (perhaps also obviously) and Shakespeare (less obviously but nonetheless as truly). In terms of modern literature, Hopkins or Tolkien.
Because so much of fiction is tied to a time-period and a certain set of circumstances, how is an ethos built to draw in the reader?
In one sense fiction is not tied to a time-period because it can transcend time (e.g. historical fiction), or space (e.g. science fiction), or time and space (e.g. fantasy); in another sense, it is indeed tied to a time period, insofar as each writer is drawing upon his own particular experiences. The ethos of a work contains and supplies the timeless dimension to any work of literature, in the sense that it builds the work on an ethical foundation and within an ethical framework that transcends time or space or circumstance.
What is the role of “the ugly” and sin in Catholic literature? What is the difference between portraying sin truthfully and glorifying it?
Ugliness is necessary in the portrayal of the dark side of life, i.e. sin and suffering, because these things are indeed ugly. Whereas sin is always ugly, deforming the sinner and inflicting suffering on its victims, suffering can become beautiful if it is a path to virtue. A work that portrays sin as ugly and harmful is true literature; a work that portrays sin as beautiful and harmless is a lie.
What are elements you look for in books that make them good Catholic literature? Should art be concerned with being specifically Christian?
All good literature, whether we care to label it as Catholic or not, manifests the triune splendour of the good (virtue or love), the true (reason) and the beautiful (the harmony and order of the cosmos). If a work conveys this trinity it is Catholic, whether it is labeled so or not; insofar as it doesn’t, it is not Catholic, whether it is labelled thus or not.
What about fiction specifically brought you to Truth and Beauty as compared with anything else?
In what way should a religious world view influence the arts in this age where anything that smacks directly of it is marginalized?
Fiction is simply the telling of a story, which is nothing less than a true image of the way that God manifests Himself to us. All of history is His Story. The life of Christ is the greatest story ever told. Within that greatest story ever told, Christ tells other great stories, his parables, which are the means by which he conveys the deepest and most important truths. We cannot fully comprehend the cosmos in the light of the purely abstract, we need allegory and metaphor and story, the very “stuff” of which literature is made.
A religious world view always influences the arts. Atheism is a religious world view; agnosticism is a religious worldview. A religious worldview is unavoidable, in life as much as in literature. It is, therefore, not a question of the influence of religions upon the arts, which is unavoidable, but of which religion influences the arts.
March 20th, 2015Brides of Christ, Martyrs for Russiaby Brendan D. King
In her essay “The Church and the Fiction Writer”, Flannery O’Connor expressed disgust at the pious cliches which then masqueraded as Catholic literature during the 1950’s. Rather than take joy in fully formed characters with mixed flaws and virtues, Catholic readers preferred the simplistic, the sentimental, and the shallow. This problem is not only confined to Catholic fiction.
Catholic nonfiction, especially Saint’s biographies, are often plagued by the same set of problems. Rather than depict a flawed and complex person who became a Saint, Catholic “biographers” will serve up a plaster statue who seems unapproachable, uninspiring, and even outright unbelievable. Real people are, as a rule, far more interesting.
For this reason, it was with great pleasure that I learned that the new English translation of Irina Osipova’s book “Brides of Christ, Martyrs for Russia” has been made available for purchase on Amazon. Describing a community of Byzantine Catholic nuns who offered themselves up for the Salvation of Russia in August 1917, this book is composed of the Nuns’ memoirs of the Gulag, letters, KGB archival documents about their arrests and interrogations, and interviews with those who knew the surviving sisters in their old age. All in all, it reveals the human face of sanctity in a way that is often sorely lacking in other Catholic biographies. As two members of the Community, Mother Catherine Abrikosova and Sr. Rosa of the Heart of Mary, are now being investigated for possible Canonization, the value of this book cannot be underestimated. Therefore, “Brides of Christ, Martyrs for Russia” is strongly recommended to all readers who ware moved by stories of Faith and Martyrdom. To the all the Catholic Martyrs and Confessors under the Bolshevik Yoke, Let Their Memory Be Eternal!
March 19th, 2015Why America is Flounderingby Joseph Pearce
The indomitable Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, has written a simply brilliant article in today’s Crisis Magazine. As with all great articles, all further comment would be superfluous. I will, therefore, simply point you to the link and keep a respectful silence:
March 18th, 2015Savagery Silver-Giltby Daniel J. Heisey
Some actors seem to define a role for all time, so that few people can imagine Thomas More as anyone but Paul Scofield or T. E Lawrence as anyone other than Peter O’Toole. So, too, Allan Quatermain will always be Stewart Granger, tall and handsome and clean-shaven. However, Quatermain is much the opposite, bearded and described, for example, in the brief tale “Hunter Quatermain’s Story,” as a “curious-looking little lame man” who has “short grizzled hair, which stood about an inch above his head like the bristles of a brush.”
That description was most closely depicted on film in 1937 by Cedric Hardwicke, but it is the 1950 interpretation by Granger that determines how most people think of this fictional hero. Portrayals by Richard Chamberlain and Patrick Swayze scarcely bear mentioning, while Sean Connery, as he can with any role, conveyed Quatermain’s shrewdness and grit.
Allan Quatermain was created by H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925), and like his contemporary, Sherlock Holmes, Quatermain has taken on a life of his own. Haggard’s alter ego is best known from the novel King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and its four movie versions. Although the most faithful film adaptations were in 1937 and 1950, both took liberties, notably by adding to Quatermain’s expedition a beautiful young lady, in 1950 played by Deborah Kerr.
Quatermain is by profession a big game hunter and by circumstance an explorer in southern Africa, based in Natal. He therefore has become a symbol of British imperialism and Western bigotry. Anyone reading the stories, however, will see a more complex picture.
In King Solomon’s Mines, for instance, one of Quatermain’s English companions falls in love with Foulata, a native girl, an aspect of the story that surely raised eyebrows in Victorian drawing rooms. Meanwhile, in each story Quatermain muses upon the nature of civilization; like exploration itself, such self-examination is something associated with Western culture. King Solomon’s Mines being so well-known, though, we turn instead to Quatermain in the novel of 1887 simply entitled by his name.
Allan Quatermain is the sequel to King Solomon’s Mines, and it finds Quatermain undertaking another trek into officially uncharted regions of Africa. This journey is by way of recovering from grief, the widower Quatermain having just buried his only child, his son Harry. Quatermain and his three companions from the previous story search for a mythical people, the Zu-Vendi, possibly descended from Persians or Phoenicians.
In his mid-fifties, Quatermain has observed that human nature never changes, and he believes that humans are nineteen parts savage and one part civilized. He sees no big difference between an African girl in a necklace and feathers and an English lady bedecked in much the same manner. Likewise, he notes that a gentleman in a London club would quickly lose his refined veneer were someone suddenly to strike him. “Civilisation,” concludes Quatermain, “is only savagery silver-gilt.”
Several scenes in his new adventure are harrowing, but Quatermain reflects that fearing for one’s life makes no sense. “We never know what is going to happen to us the next minute,” he says, “even when we sit in a well-drained house with two policemen patrolling under the window.” The end will come, despite all our comforts and precautions.
Quatermain contrasts the law of the Zu-Vendi with that of the English. English law, he notes, “is much more severe upon offences against property than against the person, as becomes a people whose ruling passion is money.” He adds, “A man may half kick his wife to death or inflict horrible sufferings upon his children at a much cheaper rate of punishment than he can compound for the theft of a pair of old boots.” Among the savages, however, “they rightly or wrongly look upon the person as of more consequence than goods and chattels, and not, as in England, as a sort of necessary appendage to the latter.” That ironic indictment is hardly the opinion of a mindless jingoist.
Quatermain’s adventures contain all the elements humans have always loved in their best stories: mountains, rivers, and caves; forgotten kingdoms, lost cities, and hidden treasure. Moreover, there are lions and elephants, swashbuckling battles and narrow escapes, and connections with the world of the Bible.
Quatermain regrets that the old virtues seem to be giving way to commercial celebrity and “many a time-serving and word-coining politician.” Instead, Quatermain takes pride in being an adventurer, which he defines as “he who goes out to meet whatever may come.” To his way of thinking, “that is what we all do in the world one way or another.” For him, being an adventurer “implies a brave heart and a trust in Providence.”
He declares that “all our magnificent muster-roll of colonies, each of which will in time become a great nation, testify to the extraordinary value of the spirit of adventure which at first sight looks like a mild form of lunacy.” While Quatermain can foresee a day when the British Empire has devolved power and created new nations, he listens sympathetically to the worldview of Umslopogaas, his Zulu friend: “Better is it to slay a man in fair fight than to suck out his heart’s blood in buying and selling and usury after your white fashion.”
As in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida, the villains in Allan Quatermain are the priests, votaries of the sun god. Quatermain himself is a religious man, steeped in his Bible and his Book of Common Prayer, yet he doubts the goodness of this world. “How can a world be good,” he asks, “in which money is the moving power, and self-interest the guiding star?” He adds, “The wonder is not that it is so bad, but that there should be any good left in it.”
Quatermain has inspired other intrepid characters in bush hats, first Harry Steele, played by Charlton Heston in The Secret of the Incas (1954), and then from the 1980s into the 2000s, Indiana Jones, a role indelibly associated with Harrison Ford. Quatermain has also roused the imaginations of real-life adventurers, such as Theodore Roosevelt and Wilfred Thesiger. Those men agreed with Quatermain’s words, “I would go again where the wild game was, back to the land whereof none know the history, back to the savages, whom I love, although some of them are almost as merciless as Political Economy.” Almost: It is what makes Quatermain the cultural critic still worth reading.
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.
March 18th, 2015When Tolkien Met Danteby Brendan D. King
About a year ago, while reading Dorothy Sayers’ translation of “The Divine Comedy” aloud to a terminally ill friend, I was struck by the behavioral similarities between the demons in Dante’s “Inferno” and the Orcs in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”.’
Both share a viciousness toward their prisoners, both have to be forced to follow the orders of senior ranks, and both are just as prone to attack each other when no one else is within reach. The parallels were so similar that it seemed impossible for them to be mere coincidence.
I had always believed that Tolkien was more interested in in the mythologies of Northern Europe. His drawing of influences from Beowulf, the Sigurd legend, the Norse Eddas, and the Finnish Kalevala have all been well documented. Dante seemed much too far removed from the kind of literature which I knew to be his passion.
Then, about a month ago, I noticed Dante’s name listed in the index of Humphrey Carpenter’s “The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.”
Upon turning to the exact page, I found that Tolkien had written the following words as part of a 1967 letter. “I do not seriously dream of being measured against Dante, a supreme poet. At one time, Lewis and I used to read him to one another. I was for a while a member of the Oxford Dante Society.”
Tolkien did say that in recommending him, C.S. Lewis had “overestimated greatly” his knowledge of the Italian language or of its greatest poet. Tolkien also expressed regret that what he called Dante’s “pettiness” was “a sad blemish in places.”
As I mulled over what I had read, I realized that the possibility of Tolkien drawing inspiration from Dante’s Inferno was no longer as far fetched as I had formerly thought. Without further elaboration from Tolkien himself, I cannot be completely certain, but it does seem like a strong circumstantial case could be made.
Now that I think about it, Dante’s immortal line, “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate,” (“Abandon hope, all ye that enter here”), could be just as fittingly inscribed over the Black Gate of Mordor!
March 18th, 2015Unlocking the Catholicism of “The Lord of the Rings”by Joseph Pearce
Joseph Pearce To Discuss Lord Of The Rings At Christendom: Renowned author, speaker, and professor Joseph Pearce will deliver a lecture titled “Unlocking the Catholicism of The Lord of the Rings” to the Christendom College community on March 30 at 7: 00 p. m. in St. Lawrence Commons. Launching the college’s Major Speakers Program for the spring semester, the talk is open to the public.
Pearce, the director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College, is the co- editor of the St. Austin Review, the executive director of Catholic Courses, and the series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions.
Born in London, England, Pearce was formerly involved with radical politics in his youth, before a discovery of the works of G. K. Chesterton led him to convert to Roman Catholicism in 1989.
Tolkien described The Lord of the Rings as “ a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.” In his talk, Pearce will unlock the Catholic symbolism that allows Tolkien’s epic to be read and understood on the deepest level of religious significance.
Pearce is an internationally renowned author or editor of over 20 books, including The Quest for Shakespeare, Tolkien: Man and Myth, and C. S. Lewis and The Catholic Church.
For more information, please visit www.christendom.edu.