October 20th, 2014Tolkien on Lewis’s Christianityby Joseph Pearce
I write from Nashville, where I’m currently teaching my class on “Modern Christian Writers”. Today we were tackling Chesterton’s Man Who was Thursday. Returning to my office from the classroom, I came across an e-mail in my in-box enquiring about Tolkien’s attitude to Lewis’s conversion to Anglicanism. The exact wording of the e-mail is given below. My brief response follows.
I have a friend that asked a question that I wondered if you had an answer to? If not, that's okay.
Tolkien's reaction to CSL's *not* becoming a Catholic when he converted. Can you point me to any resources, please? Thanks!
The obvious and fullest answer I can give is to suggest that your friend purchases my book, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (Saint Benedict Press), which covers Tolkien’s views on Lewis’s religious position in some depth.
October 18th, 2014On St. Luke’s Feastby Dena Hunt
I’ve heard that St. Luke’s Gospel is the favorite of women. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s my favorite and I’m a woman. Men prefer St. John’s, so I’ve been told, which might be a little surprising, since St. John’s is called the “poetic” Gospel.
I never knew why I liked St. Luke’s best, but one minor bit of obscure history may help a little to explain it. The testimony of women is notably absent in the New Testament. That’s because the women’s testimony was never permitted – never deemed credible – in the Jewish society of Jesus’ time. It may be noted that Mary Magdalen’s testimony that Jesus was risen, that she had seen him and spoken with him, was disbelieved by the apostles, still in hiding, on that Easter morning.
Jewish men didn’t take seriously anything a woman might have to say. Even my beloved St. Joseph apparently required angelic confirmation of the cause of Mary’s pregnancy; her word was perhaps not enough.
St. Luke, however, was a Greek. And maybe because he was not a Jew like the other Gospel writers, he felt free to believe the testimony of a woman. Hence, we have the story of the Anunciation, the Nativity, the Visitation and St. John the Baptist’s birth; also, the Presentation and the Finding in the temple—all of which could only have come from Mary. None of this is to be found in the other Gospels. Were it not for a Greek’s willingness to take a woman at her word, we’d never know about Gabriel, we’d never know about the Incarnation of God’s Son..
I always feel a paternal influence from my beloved St. Joseph (also the name of my grandfather, Joseph Hunt, who died when I was three), but I have great affection for St. Luke, who would have had the courage to believe me, a woman.
October 18th, 2014Approaching what is Real: Don Quixote, God, and the Rest of Usby Kevin O'Brien
For they had bartered the reality of God for what is unreal, and had offered divine honors and religious service to created things, rather than to the Creator--He who is for ever blessed. Amen. (Rom. 1:25)
As we drive around the country performing murder mystery dinner theater shows, my actress Maria Romine and I listen to audio books. We've lately been listening to Don Quixote, the unabridged version, read very well by George Guidall.
It's a 40 hour long production, and we're only about five hours into it. But we're listening to parts that I've never read (my printed version is abridged).
We've come to the "pastoral interlude" where Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are spending time with some shepherds. We are beginning to learn that Don Quixote is not the only madman who's a bit too idealistic for his own good. While Don Quixote has been inspired to become a knight errant, a group of well-fed suburban yuppies have been inspired to become shepherds and live out a kind of pastoral romance while not at the shopping mall.
In this interlude, we hear Don Quixote wax eloquently on the "golden age", a mythical era of chivalry that sounds as if it is set in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. Then we hear one of the yuppies who's living as a shepherd wax eloquently on his "lady", the disdainful woman he's pursuing, whose scorning of him leads literally to his death. We also hear from the pursued lady herself, and while Don Quixote bravely rushes to her defense, her own idealism - a kind of haughty virginity, a sort of smug isolationism - is as strained as the rather contrived love of the yuppie shepherds who dote on her. Their romance is not quite love and her celibacy is not quite purity.
And that's the way we often are, even when we're at our best. The reason this novel is brilliant is that it examines the complexities of idealism and cynicism. Don Quixote, the yuppies, their lady - all are really quite mad in a way, and yet all are following ideals - ideals that they can't quite seem to make work in the real world. (Kind of like all of us!) And somehow everyone around them gets sucked in to the yarns they're spinning - and yet this is not entirely a bad thing.
What does this have to do with the Faith?
I write a lot on about Unreality. This is my word for our proclivity to live a lie, a comfortable and apparently controllable lie, rather than living the truth. We know what it means to "get real" with someone; getting "unreal" is just the opposite. Unreality is marked by things that are contrived, artificial, and somehow dishonest or untrue. Examples are Oregon Catholic Press music at Mass, bad art and architecture in the churches, the extremely artificial and contrived weirdness of "Christian Courtship", the false camaraderie of certain groups, cheesy literature and drama (such as Hallmark movies and certain self-consciously Christian films) - and also so much of what we see in the secular culture, especially our favorite fantasy that sex and gender are whatever we choose to make of them, our insane insistence that sex has no correspondence with nature or with reality - and our illusion that meaning has no correspondence with life, that meaning is imposed on life, not discovered in life, etc.
This is all dreadful stuff. And in a way, Unreality is simply a word for sin. Indeed, the Laws of Morality and Faith that God has revealed to us are simply the roadmap to Reality (and Heaven) and the Commandments are the "Do Not Enter" signs to prevent us from taking the road to Unreality (and Hell).
Adultery, for instance, is an example of an act that's dripping with Unreality and that always, somehow, leaves a bit of Hell in its wake. Love and sex between a man and a woman are designed in such a way that sacramental fidelity and self-sacrifice over the long haul bring untold contentment as well as new life. Fidelity leads to Reality (and, in a way, to Heaven) because God has made Fidelity at the heart of what is Real. Therefore cheating, though fun, will end up in shipwreck and misery (in other words, Hell) - for someone, at least, is bound to suffer the consequences of the Unreal - even if it's the innocent children who are caught up in it all. In other words, something like adultery is our way of denying the way things are actually made (Reality) and asserting our own fantasy against it (Unreality), and the pain we suffer (the Consequential) is simply the symptom that we've been doing things wrong, going the wrong way down a one-way street. God's "judgment" is simply the consequence of denying the Truth and Living a Lie. Unreality is always, then, a form of sin; and sin is always an assertion of a kind of Unreality.
But, as the book Don Quixote shows us, we are made to spin yarns and to imagine great things that never were, like the golden age of chivalry. If we were all "realists" or cynics, we would all be materialists and atheists, for it takes a kind of poetic vision to see the reality of God and of His Kingdom. Our capacity for Unreality may be the misuse of our creative and imaginative function - but without that capacity, we would not be able to apprehend the image of God: not because God is Unreal (He is, on the contrary, the source of all that is most Real), but because our imaginative function is our spiritual "nose" as it were, our ability to sense that which is beyond the immediate.
Fiction is made to lead us to Fact. But as fallen men, we often misuse our fictive function, for we'd rather become gods than serve one.
Indeed, we often misuse the three major gifts that God has given us that separate us from the beasts - Will, Reason and Imagination. This trinity of gifts - Will, Reason and Imagination (by the term "Imagination" I mean to include what Tolkien calls "sub-creation") - this trinity of gifts corresponds with the trinity of reality: the Good, the True and the Beautiful. It is the business of our Will to conform what we do to what is Good; it is the business of our Reason to conform what we think and understand to what is True; and it is the business of our Imagination to conform what we dream and desire and make to what is Beautiful. All three functions support each other, since the objects toward which they are designed are inextricably interconnected. What is True is always Good, what is Good is always Beautiful, what is Beautiful is always an aspect of what is True, etc. We are not ourselves designed to negate this design. We are not made to use our Will to assert ourselves against the nature of morality, nor are we made to use our Reason to misunderstand the truth that surrounds us, nor are we made to use our imaginations to invent things to fulfill the desires of our hearts that are merely shortcuts or sops, things that give us passing pleasure but that are untrue, unreal. God gives us these gifts - Free Will, Reason and Imagination - to be ordered to Him - for even though we may misuse them, without them we cannot truly serve Him.
So let me sum this up by speaking in a quixotic manner - and I think, perhaps, I am speaking for many of you.
Sometimes in pursuing my most ardent ideals, I find that I am merely tilting at windmills - or worse, I am hurting others by holding them to the impossible standards that I myself cherish, but that I myself fall shy of, too. In addition, I waver between cynicism and idealism. I am often tempted to see my steed as a broken down nag, my lady as the more or less compromised streetwalker that she is, my daily devotion to theater as the rather sordid performances in wineries for drunks and rednecks that these performances often are; or vice-versa, I see in my broken down nag the steed she really is; I see within the streetwalker a hidden lady of dignity and glory, and I see in my drunken audiences immortal souls being lifted up in laughter, being raised for a moment a slight bit closer to the One who made them. And somehow all of this is true - the dreary reality on the surface and the stunning Reality behind and within it.
And so we pray
Dear God, may we always long for You as the hart longs for water (Ps. 42:1), seeing in You the source of the living water for which we truly thirst (John 4:10). Do not let us fill ourselves with that which is unreal and which will not sustain us. Show us our sins that we may repent of them and turn toward You. Give us the grace "to turn from these unreal things, to worship the ever-living God" (Acts 14:15) - for thy Kingdom is always more real than the false and haughty man-made towers we build (Gen. 11:1-9). Purify our Will to do what is Good, our Reason to see what is True, and our Imagination to desire what is Beautiful and holy. And always remind us that the world we are tempted to love too much is also a bit less than fully real, that all of creation is but a "shadow of the things that are to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Col. 2:17).
October 16th, 2014Hobbit-Sized Saxonsby Joseph Pearce
A friend of mine in England has just started a hobbit-sized business making miniature figures of Anglo-Saxon warriors. Tolkien would certainly approve! If you're able to support this noble venture by starting your own miniature army of warriors, please do so!
October 16th, 2014Sausage-Making at the Synodby Kevin Kennelly
It has been described as the most embarrassing document in the history of the Catholic Church. We refer to the ....words fail....disastrous , tragicomic "Relatio" released by Francis' synod. Three interpretations present themselves: a) by the modernists - the liberal view of things has triumphed . Get on board or be left behind by HISTORY. Homosexual relationships can be a "gift;" b) by real Catholics - the document is ipso facto corrupt, a historical slap in the face to all good Catholics in what is the previously civilized Judeo Christian civilization. And "c" wherein Father Robert Barron of "Catholicism" ( the TV series) fame says "....take a deep breath." Have a sense of historical perspective , read the whole document and have faith that the whole thing will play out in a productive way. It is a given that Catholic moral theology is a form of three dimensional chess ....not checkers.....but the angst remains. Oremus pro invicem.
October 15th, 2014Chesterton On Demandby Joseph Pearce
I've just received news of an exciting development from the American Chesterton Society. All of the lectures from the 2013 Conference held at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, are now available on-line. These include talks by Dale Ahlquist, Peter Kreeft, Yours Truly and many others.
For more details: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/acs2013/107585826
October 15th, 2014“American Literature and Christian Faith”by Joseph Pearce
Preview of the Next Issue of the St. Austin Review
The November/December issue is on the theme of “American Literature and Christian Faith”.
Featuring Articles on Herman Melville, Henry James, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, Jack Kerouac, Walker Percy , and Raymond Carver.
Hannah De Rocher locates “The Desire for Place in the Great American Novel”.
Ken Colston surveys “the Catholic Aesthetic and Marian Heroism” in Henry James.
Edward Mulholland sees “Celibate Friendship in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop”.
Helaine L. Smith converses with her students on “Reader Sympathy and Christian Redemption in Flannery O’Connor”.
Victoria Nelson takes the “Dark Journey into Light: On the Road with Jack Kerouac”.
Stephen Mirarchi finds “Humility, Obedience, and Communion” in “Raymond Carver’s Religious Revisions”.
John Beaumont celebrates “Walker Percy: A Great American Literary Convert”.
Susan Treacy marks the meeting of “Herman Melville, Benjamin Britten, and Billy Budd”.
Kevin O’Brien praises “Fervor against Phonies” as he travels “From Fiction to Non-Fiction to Pulp Fiction”.
Fr. Benedict Kiely meditates on Chesterton’s “Home Behind Home for which we are all homesick”.
Donald DeMarco admires “The Unifying Power of Beauty”.
James Bemis fails to admire the film Francesco.
Ken Colston reviews Hemingway’s Dark Night: Catholic Influences and Intertextualities in the Work of Ernest Hemingway.
Lorraine V. Murray reviews Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal.
Alan Brown reviews Missionary Bishop: Jean Marie Odin in Galveston and New Orleans.
Lori Kelly waxes lyrical on Caravaggio’s Incredulity of Saint Thomas.
New Poetry by Catharine S. Brosman, Pavel Chichikov, Daniel Janeiro and Philip C. Kolin.
Subscribe Today! http://www.staustinreview.com/star/subscribe
October 15th, 2014William Baer on the Craft of Verseby Brendan D. King
The following selections are from "Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms" by William Baer. Writer's Digest Books, 2006.
"What Distinguishes Poetry from Prose."
By William Baer.
1). Emphasis on the Line.
Poetry emphasises the line over the sentence, and this is immediately clear when we observe its placement on the page. The lines of poetry seldom extend to the right hand margin. While the sentences of prose naturally flow naturally flow into visual blocks or paragraphs, the poetic line is more focused, intense, and unique. This seemingly small but fundamental difference creates enormous potential for the poet.
2). Emphasis on Rhythm.
Although creative prose can be highly melodic, poetry is rhythm. In most great poetry -- in various languages and metrical systems -- this sonic quality is enhanced by an underlying etrical rhythm. Even modern writers of non-metrical poetry (vers libre) work extremely hard to create melodic motifs n their poetic writings.
3). Emphasis on Compression.
The compressed nature of poetry is, of course, the most debatable of the three differences, since some prose can be very, "tight," and some poetry can be rather wordy (prolix). But, in general, the language of poetry is more specific and compressed than prose. and even the most verbose epic or the densest of blank verse passages are still constrained by the limits of the line and its underlying rhythm.
Excerpted from "Writing Metrical Verse," pages 19, 23-24.
The method of determining the meter of a poem is called "scansion." This is done rather simply by marking the accents, recognizing the metrical feet, and counting the feet.
1). Always do the Polysyllabic Words First.
The accents in each and every English word are immutable. The four-example word, "America," for example, will always have an accent on its second and fourth syllables. Thus, the beginning scanner can simply check the dictionary for the accents of any English polysyllabic word.
2). Identify the Normally Unaccented Monosyllabic Words.
In English, many of our most common and useful words are generally unstressed. These include the personal pronouns (I, me, we, they, he, she, it, her, his), the small conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, yet), forms of the verb, "to be," (is, are, was, were); the articles (a, an, the); and the simple prepositions (to, in, by, on, for, of).
3). Be Wary of the Poem's First Foot.
Sometimes, for effect, poets will substitute in the first foot of their poems, so be careful.
4). Once You Establish a Pattern, Use It.
If the poem seems to be written in iambic tetrameter, for example, see if it continues that way. It probably will.
"Ten Things to Consider in Evaluating a Poem."
Excerpted from, "Writing Metrical Verse," page 61-63.
1) Is it Interesting?
Is it memorable? This is where the fundamental worth of the poem begins; and, as Pulitzer-winner W.D. Snodgrass once pointed out: "If my poems aren't interesting, then why should anyone want to read them?"
2). Is the Poem Melodic?
Is the meter correct and appropriate? Do the substitutions and enjambments and feminine endings enhance the poem?
3) Does the Poem Say Anything?
Does it have some depth? Does it express something unique or thought provoking? Does it communicate its intentions clearly, or is it damaged by unwarranted ambiguity?
4). Is the Poem's Point of View Appropriate?
Sometimes a poem can be instantly improved by using another point of view -- either by changing the perspective of another character or by simply shifting to a different grammatical person. Effective poems have been written from every point of view; I, we, he, she, they, and even you. In recent times, in the wake of so much confessional poetry, many newer poets assume that the first person is always the most appropriate perspective, but in many cases, the third person he or she can create an effective distance that gives unexpected power to the poem's observations.
5). Does the Poem Have Specificity?
Ezra Pound rightly warned, "Go in fear of abstractions." This is not to say that poets should not write about love and courage and faith, but they should do so with a specificity of image and language. Otherwise, the reader will quickly get bored with all the generalization. The old adage of, "Show, don't tell," is a very helpful guidline. Don't let your poems go on about love in the abstract; rather, let them signify that love with specifics: a memory, an incident, an object, a spoken remark.
6). Does the Poem have Power or Beauty or Both?
These two concepts, sometimes foolishly disparaged in the 20th century, are at the very heart of the poet experience.
7). Is the Poem Marred by Easy Cliches and Old Fashioned Diction?
8). Is the Poem's Syntax Convoluted to Conform to the Meter?
October 15th, 2014The Decline and Fall at 250by Daniel J. Heisey
If, as Alfred North Whitehead said, the European philosophical tradition is but a series of footnotes to Plato, all of history about Rome is but footnotes to Gibbon. From the time the first of the six volumes of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire rolled off the press (in 1776) until now, historians writing about the Roman Empire have had to take into account that smug, pudgy, eloquent little man’s version of ancient people and events.
Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) first got the idea for writing about the demise of Rome and her empire on the evening of 15 October, 1764. Seldom can we date so precisely the origins of a great work of literature. For along with being a great history, Gibbon’s most famous book is also a classic of English prose.
On that fine evening 250 years ago, Gibbon was in Rome, sitting on the steps of a Catholic church, Santa Maria in Aracoeli. He heard Franciscan friars chanting Vespers, and he thought about how the magnificent structures of the Caesars were now in ruins while in their place were Christian churches. Long interested in history, he saw that here was a story worth telling.
Ten years after his life-changing visit to Rome, Gibbon became a member of the House of Commons, and during his nine years there, he kept silent and listened to the debates, especially regarding the problems posed by the British colonies south of Canada. The course of human events involving the king, the parliament, and the people gave Gibbon another perspective on Roman history.
At the beginning of Chapter 3 of the Decline and Fall, Gibbon observed: “The obvious definition of a monarchy seems to be that of a state in which a single person, by whatsoever name he may be distinguished, is entrusted with the execution of the laws, the management of the revenue, and the command of the army.” After all, monarchy means rule by one person. “But unless,” Gibbon continued, “public liberty is protected by intrepid and vigilant guardians, the authority of so formidable a magistrate will soon degenerate into despotism.” Thus far, Edmund Burke or John Adams would agree.
Then Gibbon claimed, “The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people.” We will return to this critique.
Gibbon correctly saw only one safeguard against a monarch becoming a despot: “A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince.” A few paragraphs later he noted, “The principles of a free constitution are irrevocably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive.”
Gibbon’s critique of Christians, especially the clergy, recurs throughout his history. In Chapter 16, he wrote: “History, which undertakes to record the transactions of the past, for the instruction of future ages, would ill deserve that honourable office if she condescended to plead the cause of tyrants, or to justify the maxims of persecution.” True enough, and he then declared: “It must, however, be acknowledged that the conduct of the emperors who appeared the least favourable to the primitive church is by no means so criminal as that of modern sovereigns who have employed the arm of violence and terror against the religious opinions of any part of their subjects.” One assumes he meant Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.For Gibbon, history was grim entertainment. In Chapter 3 he defined history as “little more than the register of the crime, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” As an Anglican who had converted to Catholicism and then left behind Christianity altogether, Gibbon deemed the most heinous of those crimes, follies, and misfortunes to have occurred at the behest of Christians, especially priests and bishops.
At the end of Chapter 38, Gibbon summed up his subject by saying, “the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness.” The Empire had grown to be too big. Meanwhile, according to Gibbon, Rome’s martial and manly heritage had been drained and weakened by Christianity, whereby “the active virtues of society were discouraged” and “the sacred indolence of monks was devoutly embraced by a servile and effeminate age.”
A former soldier as well as a politician, Gibbon saw himself also as a philosopher, a lover of wisdom. In Chapter 38 he suggested modern application of the lessons deriving from Rome’s decline and fall. “It is the duty of a patriot,” he wrote, “to prefer and promote the exclusive interest and glory of his native country: but a philosopher may be permitted to enlarge his views, and to consider Europe as one great republic, whose inhabitants have attained almost the same level of politeness and cultivation” as had ancient Rome.
“The savage nations of the globe,” he wrote, “are the common enemies of civilised society,” and for Gibbon savagery and religious fanaticism rode together. “Should the victorious barbarians” of his day, Gibbon predicted, “carry slavery and desolation as far as the Atlantic Ocean, ten thousand vessels would transport beyond their pursuit the remains of civilised society; and Europe would revive and flourish in the American world, which is already filled with her colonies and institutions.”
Near the end of Chapter 71, the last chapter of his great work, Gibbon surveyed the sorry state of eighteenth-century Rome, edifices such as the Colosseum in ruins because Renaissance Popes had quarried them for their palazzi. An honest man, Gibbon noted the efforts at historical preservation undertaken “by the most liberal of the pontiffs,” Benedict XIV. Gibbon added as an aside, “For myself, it is my wish to depart in charity with all mankind, nor am I willing in these last moments, to offend even the pope and clergy of Rome.” It is a pity he chose not to do so for the previous seventy chapters.
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 14th, 2014Four Ways G. K. Chesterton Engaged His Culture and Why He Still Matters Todayby Kevin Kennelly
A big question presently on the floor is how Christians should or could engage the modern culture which has become wrong headed, vulgar and virulently if subtly anti Christian. The Christian roots of western civilization have pretty much rotted away. An Evangelical friend , upon returning from Sweden once said to me that over there .....should you mention Moses .....there is more chance that minds would direct to Moses Malone , the professional basketball player , than to the Moses of the bible. And post Christian Europe is slouching toward us.
In " Four Ways G K Chesterton Engaged His Culture And Why He Still Matters Today," Chesterton is shown to be a force of nature taking on the question of how to respond to the stuff that comes at us every day in the most weird ways. Economics, Art, Family, Politics , Human Nature .....and so on . We can not help but think .....where is today's Chesterton?