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 Pearce

I 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

March 18th, 2015The Mysterious Virtue of Detachmentby Kevin O'Brien |

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Mat. 10:37)
These words of Jesus are about what the Church calls Detachment.

... which is not this
Detachment is a cold word, and implies that we can go through life with a Mr. Spock attitude toward people and things.  But that's not what Detachment means as a spiritual virtue.  Christians must always care, and care deeply, even to the point of self-sacrifice (as Jesus did), so Detachment is not a kind of clinical emotional distancing.

This is why I prefer the word Disinterest to Detachment.  But this word has problems, too, because most people think that to be "disinterested" is to be "uninterested", or bored.  As I wrote a while back ...

To be Disinterested is not to be uninterested.  To be disinterested means to have no claim on personal profit from a given situation.  We cannot love without being interested, but we must love for reasons other than our own selfish interest, otherwise it's not love.  

But what does this mean exactly?  Does this mean that we should put up with abusive relationships, remaining with people who take advantage of us or who treat us poorly?  Does this mean that employees should never negotiate with employers for better wages or for a share of the profits that they help generate?  Are we simply to give and give and give and ask nothing in return?

No, it does not mean that.  Detachment does not mean being a push-over or a floor mat.  In fact, even apostles spreading the gospel are to be Detached, and this Detachment means quite specifically not getting taken advantage of, not getting too wrapped up in anything, even in the success of your ministry.

And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them. (Mark 6:11)

This is Detachment.  This is Disinterest, not taking a personal share of the interest or gain that is, after all, God's business.  Indeed, it is usually egotistical Attachment that allows people to take advantage of us.  This is especially true for actors, who are always seeking to please others and to become stars who are worshiped and adored, leading us to bend over backwards, to work for little or no pay, to put up with horrific treatment and abuse by directors and producers and grad school programs, to keep giving and giving because we're never Detached, always looking out to take a share of that Interest that is not rightly ours.

To be Disinterested means that we realize what Paul says ...

I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. (1 Cor. 3:6

The "increase" is not ours.  While the "laborer is worth his wages" (1 Tim. 5:18), and while human dignity and the dignity of work make a claim on just compensation (in business relationships), and while friendships must be based on a mutual giving (in personal relationships), the "increase" is nonetheless never our own.  We can't make anything happen.  This is at the heart of Faith vs. Works - all we have are gifts, even though we are required to work in order to develop those gifts and allow God to make them "grow" - for, no matter how hard we work, we, ourselves, can make nothing grow.  We can merely plant and water, but God gives the increase.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.  (Mat. 6:28)

Jesus here uses the same Greek word translated "grow" that Paul uses above, there translated as "increase".

But what does this have to do with ordinary life?

Well, a lot if you're an actor.  Because we actors tend to think that the magic that sometimes happens on stage or in film is of our own making, forgetting that our very talents are gifts and assuming that the good that these talents produce - the increase or growth - is ours and that this somehow means that we-are-god.

And so if you love show business (or another person, or anything else), you fail to practice Detachment or Disinterest when you (usually slyly and in hidden ways) start doing things to stroke your ego, feed your Hungry I, or establish yourself as the miraculous cause of growth and increase, seeking to become an idol to the thing you love.  We all tend to do this, even though, after all, we are mere instruments and can never be more than secondary causes, vehicles for God's grace.

Here's an example of Lack of Detachment in an actor.


He toured with Theater of the Word.  He was a good guy, but had little professional experience.  After almost every show he would moan, "I was horrible tonight!  I gave a terrible performance!"

"No," I would tell him, "You were about the same tonight as you were last night.   Your performance was adequate.  It was fine.  We got the check and nobody tried to kill us.  Stop worrying about it."

By contrast, those of us who perform (as I do) about 150 shows a year, and over a dozen different scripts don't get as emotionally involved in each performance.  We certainly want each performance to be our best, and we desperately love what we do and work very hard at it, but we don't see our time on stage as the crucial thing that makes us or breaks us as human beings.  We don't get our value defined by any particular thing we do onstage.  Like a baseball player who may lose today's game, there's always tomorrow.

We develop a kind of professional Detachment.  In fact, I'd venture to say that with expertise and practice a certain measure of Detachment always develops in every profession: surgeons, psychiatrists, roofers - every skill that you become adept at or that becomes your trade becomes somewhat automatic for you, as it should, for Detachment - Disinterest - is one of the things that sets a veteran apart from a rookie.

But when ego's involved, Detachment is tough.  And, to be honest, I'm just as guilty of Attachment as my rookie actor.  But when I am, it makes me miserable.  And when I'm guilty of Attachment in personal relationships, of clutching and grasping, of not wanting to let go of the Ring, or of whatever person or thing I feel "validates" me, I'm even more miserable, sometimes becoming obsessed or sulky, crabby or sleepless.

And yet we know, as actors, and as human beings - we always know at some level - that it's not about us.  Some of us plant, some of us water, but God gives the increase.  We may toil and spin, but the lilies we cultivate grow miraculously, of their own accord, by God's mysterious design.

And any time we forget that, and secretly and shamefully invest our talents so as to have the interest accrue directly to us, and not to God, to whom the interest is due, we are far from Disinterested, far from Detached.

So, misunderstood as the virtue is, let us pray this Lent for Detachment.

March 13th, 2015Podcast on the Catholic Literary Giantsby Joseph Pearce

A few weeks ago I did a taped interview on my book Catholic Literary Giants with Pete Socks, the “Catholic Book Blogger”. In the half hour interview we discussed many of the giants of the Catholic Revival, including especially Tolkien and Lewis. Here’s the link to the recently uploaded podcast:

March 5th, 2015The Witness of Whittaker Chambersby Kevin Kennelly

In the 20th century, one of the turning points in the battle between the west and communism was the publication of Whittaker Chambers’ epic, Witness.  Chambers was an odd sort ....a journalist who turned from communism as he discovered faith ...... but he was , in the end,  a giant of man . He wrote: “Economics is not the central problem of this century. It is a relative problem which can be solved in relative ways. Faith is the central problem of our age.” The famed Father C J McCloskey ......delightful as always…...has written eloquently of Chambers and his epochal achievement in his recent article “A Man And A Book That Will Never Go Away.”

February 27th, 2015A Johnny Cash Lentby Michael Lichens |

I'm over at The Catholic Gentleman today talking about Lent, Johnny Cash, and St. Augustine. It's just how I roll. 

If I could go back eleven years ago and talk to my younger self I’d give a lot of advice; “See a therapist, don’t stop taking your medication, and try to go for a walk once-in-a-while.” However, I think I’d more likely tell my young, idiot self, the wisdom of The Man in Black, “It takes a real man to live for God—a lot more man than to live for the devil.”

Read the rest here...

February 26th, 2015Why Science Needs the Humanitiesby Joseph Pearce

Further to my most recent article for the Imaginative Conservative (What is Science?), in which I argued that true science (scientia) includes theology, philosophy, literature and history and the other liberal sciences (or arts), I was pleased to see this article in the Washington Post by a scientist who seems to essentially agree with such an understanding:

February 26th, 2015The Conversion of Jane Austen’s Emmaby Joseph Pearce

I very much enjoyed this article on the Christian vision of Jane Austen and thought that visitors to the Ink Desk would enjoy it too:

February 23rd, 2015Treason: Now on Audibleby Michael Lichens |

Many of you may have already read StAR contributor Dena Hunt's Treason. For those who have not, it is now available as an audio book through Audible. As a subscriber, this now allows me to listen/read it a second time. You can buy the audio book at Amazon or Audible

As well, if you prefer the paperback, it is on sale at a special price through Sophia Institute Press

February 22nd, 2015A Little Lenten Storyby Dena Hunt

It’s about excess and about privation.

Today, some acquaintances and I went to another town to visit a priest who used to be in our parish, one we admired and loved. I’d had difficulty making petsitter arrangements and commented on that recurring problem.

“Dogs?” scoffed an elderly lady, widowed twice. “I don’t want any dogs, no pets, no responsibilities.” Understandable. She’s blessed with family and friends who love her a great deal, but at this point, being able to go anywhere anytime at will is what’s most important to her. I’ve seen this attitude in other elderly friends. It’s especially understandable if a mate suffered a long illness before passing, but even if that’s not the case, just having raised, more or less successfully, a number of children is cause for feeling that one deserves freedom from perceived “responsibility.” They’ve had excess of a kind and are more than ready for a little privation.

For some reason, the remark reminded me of a woman I knew many years ago. She was a spinster, weighed over 300 pounds; she was quite unattractive, and she was middle-aged. She also had a remarkably disagreeable personality. Perhaps I need to confess this to a priest (it wasn’t charitable), but when she cleared her throat and announced that she had decided to take a vow of chastity, it was hard to fight the impulse to smile. I wanted to say (but didn’t, thank heaven), “Debbie, that’s like me saying that I’ll give up meat for Lent.” (I’m a vegetarian.)

The connection between Debbie’s vow and the comment today by the elderly lady is, I admit, obscure. But it’s there. The pearls one woman discarded as excess another woman surrendered all hope of ever having for herself. Not even a single one.

What do we have in excess? Of what are we deprived? No question is trickier, more demanding of real self-honesty, to think about what our excesses and privations really are. My elderly friend saw her deceased husband, her children, as “responsibility” and she felt deprived of “freedom.” I won’t presume to examine that point for view in search of truth or virtue, but I can easily say it’s one I do not share. On the other hand, I knew that my 300-pound acquaintance was a romantic. At middle-age, to give up the fantasy I knew she’d long cherished, and to embrace a looming old age alone was a privation of monumental proportion.

And so, the “understandable” wish for freedom from a woman who had apparently never known that the responsibility she’d disdained was, in fact, the greatest human blessing, is actually, in my mind, quite pitiable. Because she has no opportunity now to learn from her experience. But Debbie’s vow, on the other hand, is just plain admirable. Perhaps it was even heroic. Only God knows.


What do we give up for Lent? And what do we take up? Whatever it is, let’s not tell anybody.

February 22nd, 2015How to Readby Dena Hunt

Joseph’s post (“How to Read Great Literature,” Feb. 15) reminded me of a mini-lecture I used to deliver to students at the beginning of Intro Lit, a course that met the humanities requirement of many students who were not English or Humanities majors. How does one wade through and comprehend literary texts when one hates reading even modern fast-paced thrillers? How does one find a purpose sufficient for motivation when one’s only real purpose is to somehow get through this course with a decent grade? Most of them were science/technology or business majors. I summarized Donald Hall’s classic “Four Ways to Read,” adding a twist by linking it to intellectual development.

First—We learn to read for information. This includes reading directions, recipes, phone books, etc. It also includes newspaper accounts of events. We scan, we read quickly, we appreciate brevity; we are looking for content only. This is the way we first learned to read. We wanted to find out what those letters meant. We had learned our alphabet and now we encountered letters put together to make words and the words meant something. This is reading for information.

Second—We read for recreation. We discovered that the words could take us on imaginary adventures, the same way movies do. Stories allow us to escape our surroundings and experience another reality, perhaps another identity. We are not reading for information, so we don’t think about the fact that our second way of reading is actually built on our first way.

Third—Then, in high school, we learned to analyze. This course irritated those who had learned to love reading for recreation. They were forced to dissect the text, look for metaphors and similes, analyze themes, and criticize, research (read for information) what critics had said about the material and summarize it. (“I used to love reading until I took Literature in high school.”) Our reaction is a consequence of having learned the first and second ways of reading. Analytical reading is where we first encounter ideas. Although it’s distasteful for those who demand subjective pleasure and despise objectivity, it is a critical stage of intellectual maturation, necessary for the next way of reading.

Fourth—This can be likened to a symphony. It’s reading in the totality of experience. We know what the “movements” are, the instruments, etc. This is not informational, recreational, analytical, reading. It’s reading as an experience—yet each stage of our development as readers is a necessary preparation for reading literature.

We get into trouble when we try to apply the wrong purpose to reading. It’s just as nonsensical to attempt reading literature quickly, scanning it for information (like the plot, maybe, in order to pass a test), as it is to attempt to read a phone book for literary pleasure. That is why C.S. Lewis admonishes a young reader in one of his letters always to “read aloud” in her head.

Donald Hall’s famous essay can be easily found online: Four Kinds of Reading.      

February 19th, 2015Pilgrim Journalby Dena Hunt

The intrepid young Bronwen McShea, Columbia history professor, has just notified me that a new Lenten edition of her online journal is up. If you have not yet visited PILGRIM: A Journal of Catholic Experience, you’re in for an enriching and perhaps surprising experience of excellent art, essays, poetry, and fiction:

February 19th, 2015Hope in the Ashesby Joseph Pearce

I am gratified and humbled by the people with whom I am blessed to work at the St. Austin Review. Since StAR's official launch, four days before 9/11, I have been joined by a noble band of brothers and sisters in our shared labour of love to bring the evangelizing power of beauty to a world in desperate need of the presence of the Divine. Today I am especially honoured to highlight the work being done by StAR columnist, Fr. Benedict Kiely, to help the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. Here's a link to a recent news report on the charity that he's launched: 

February 17th, 2015“Fifty Shades of Grey” and the Islamic Stateby Kevin O'Brien |

"Lose Control" the poster says.

I think there is a connection between Fifty Shades of Grey and the Islamic State, and it's not the obvious one: the fact that devout Muslims, like devout Christians, would see sexual perversion and pornography as decadent and sinful.  No, there's something deeper than that.

Concerning Fifty Shades of Grey, I recently wrote to a friend of mine ...

The young secular women I know see absolutely nothing wrong with it.  It's porn with a story, which is the kind of porn women like.  [Men prefer their porn without a story; women prefer theirs with a story].
Having not seen it, I can only judge from what I'm hearing.  It is, first of all, shocking that perversion has become so mainstream that normal suburban young women get a thrill out of the degradation of women that BDSM portrays.  ... 
The movie also shows up the contradiction at the heart of liberalism.  The left wants both uninhibited lust and also respect for the dignity of women.  You can't have both.  You can't even have men with dignity under these conditions.

Of course, defenders of the movie say that the story is about a consensual relationship, that if a woman submits to being degraded and abused, it's OK as long as she does so willingly.

But that's exactly the point.  Masochism is thrilling because it's a form of willful submission.   It's like riding a roller coaster.  You can have the excitement of being swept up and down and side to side while being safely locked in to your seat.  The vacillations of the ride itself are beyond your control, but choosing to experience these thrills are within your control, and that bar is in place, giving you an assurance of safety.

It is that willful submission that is the key to the link with radical Islam.


Joseph Sciambria writes of how horrifying and pathological the real world of BDSM actually is, and Chris Hedges grapples with his disturbing realization that all pornography tends toward child porn, and is ultimately about not only the degradation of women, but about dehumanization and the abuse of the innocent, but both articles miss the allure that this sort of thing has, even for otherwise normal people.

Joseph Heschmeyer comes closer in arguing that Fifty Shades is a reaction against gender neutrality and an indication that young women are longing for men who take control, even if that control is expressed as sadism.  And here Graeme Wood comes the closest, while not writing on Fifty Shades at all, ending his long piece on the Islamic State by quoting from George Orwell ...

Fascism ... is psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.

The emotional appeal of the radicals of the Islamic State is that they take their religion seriously, and that it is a religion that calls for radical submission and that promises both a temporal and an eternal fulfillment.  It is a religion that appeals to a deep need in human nature.  It is a religion of black and white, with zero shades of gray.

But what we are learning from the soccer moms who masturbate to BDSM porn-with-a-story is that it's not the gray that appeals to them emotionally.  It's something of a far darker and a far deeper shade.  It is something, in fact, that would not be dark, nor would it be deeply buried, if it were properly channeled and worked out in the world.

This masochistic urge, this desire willfully to place ourselves in a situation where our will is limited and constrained, is deeply and mysteriously connected to submission (which is what the word "Islam" means), to the desire to humble oneself before something or someone greater.  When that need is frustrated, it turns very dark, and men like Hitler and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - and the fictional Christian Grey - take advantage of it.

For when we have no god to submit to, and no men to admire, the world slides from gray to black very quickly.

February 17th, 2015What is Science?by Joseph Pearce

Why is scientism unscientific? Why is Aristotle right about science and why is modernity wrong? These and a host of other questions are asked and hopefully answered in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:

February 17th, 2015A Little of Lothlorien in the Heart of Barcelonaby Joseph Pearce

There's a good and thought-provoking article by Cardinal Pell in the UK Catholic Herald about Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona:

I had a private tour of this wonderful basilica last year and, like Pell, was converted by its theological and aesthetic charm from my previously skeptical position. I have a couple of books on the architect, Antoni Gaudi, a devout Catholic. His vision might best be described as elvish, in the sense that he endeavours to express the organic life of the Church in his eschewing of straight lines and strict geometry in favour of the arboreal. The interior looks almost like an ossified Lothlorien, with tree-like columns ascending to the heavens. There is also an abundance of profound symbolism to the whole design. Agreeing with His Eminence, I see this truly edifying edifice as a symbol of Europe's resurrection.

February 16th, 2015Gerald Ford and Kenneth Clarkby Daniel J. Heisey

In Conservatism (1956) Peter Viereck noted that British thinkers tend to see conservatism as “an inarticulate state of mind.”  He explained, “The liberal and rationalist mind consciously articulates abstract blueprints; the conservative mind unconsciously incarnates concrete traditions.”  Although Viereck did not cite him, Stanley Baldwin summed up this view by saying, “I would rather trust a woman’s instinct than a man’s reason.”

In twentieth-century American political history, Gerald Ford (1913-2006) represented that inarticulate frame of mind, not only because as a boy he dealt with a stammer or as an adult could not pronounce certain words, so that, for example, professors and other intellectuals were to Ford “acamedicians.”  The United States’ thirty-eighth President knew he was not eloquent, and he liked a line written for him:  “I am a Ford, not a Lincoln.”

In his memoir, A Time to Heal (1979), Ford was candid about his dependence upon speechwriters, but his inarticulate conservatism emerged most clearly in that book when he found that the best way to convey his core beliefs was to quote someone else.  That statement of his basic principles occurs a few hundred pages into the book, and it comes from an English art historian.

“Conservatism has always meant more to me,” wrote Ford, “than simply sticking up for private property and free enterprise,” and he added, “It has also meant defending our heritage and preserving our values.”  Ford then quoted approvingly Kenneth Clark’s closing remarks in Civilisation (1969):


At this point I reveal myself in my true colours, as a stick-in-the-mud. . . . I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction.  I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta.  On the whole, I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology.  I believe that in spite of the recent triumphs of science, men haven’t changed much in the last two thousand years, and in consequence, we must still try to learn from history. . . . Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible.


Earlier in A Time to Heal, Ford had described his boyhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the discipline instilled by his parents.  They had, he recalled, “three rules:  tell the truth, work hard, and come to dinner on time—and woe unto any of us who violated those rules.”  Douglas Brinkley, in his concise biography of Ford, noted that Ford was an Eagle Scout and always adhered to those three rules.  “That wasn’t a sophisticated philosophy,” Brinkley conceded, “but he wasn’t that sophisticated a guy.”

Yet, Ford, Yale-educated lawyer that he was, astutely discerned that whereas his disgraced predecessor had hammered on about “law and order,” Ford ought to remind people of the Constitution’s mandate “to insure domestic tranquility.”  According to Ford, insuring domestic tranquility meant making sure citizens were secure in their persons and property, free from fear of crime.  It also meant easing their tax burden and letting them decide how best to spend and invest more of their hard-earned money.

In May, 1976, George F. Will wrote in his column in Newsweek that “Ford is the most conservative President since [Calvin] Coolidge,” but while Coolidge was taciturn and laconic, “Ford is the most inarticulate President since the invention of broadcasting.”  In A Time to Heal, Ford had other journalists in mind and noted, “I kept reading in the press that I was the most conservative President since Herbert Hoover.”  It therefore baffled Ford that conservative Republicans were never content with his policies, and he wondered whether some of them, regardless of his own words and deeds, would ever be pleased with anything.

As Brinkley put it, Ford “was always a Midwest conservative with a healthy skepticism about the power of government to fundamentally change people’s lives for the better,” and related to that conservative skepticism “was his libertarian belief that the government should stay out of the boardroom, the classroom, and the bedroom.”

That libertarian streak in Ford’s thinking informed his opinion regarding what during his Presidency was becoming a major political issue, abortion.  Ford came from an era when decent people did not discuss such matters in public, and as President he approached the topic with reluctance.  “While I opposed abortion on demand,” he wrote, “I also opposed a constitutional amendment that would prohibit it.”  To him the most sensible solution was a compromise whereby a constitutional amendment would allow each state to decide the question.  He seems not to have seen the issue as being solely about a baby’s right to life.

Still, in a new age of bombast and narcissism, someone interested in preserving continuity with the biblical and classical past can find much to admire in Ford’s reticent and intuitive beliefs.  As Ford understood, Kenneth Clark’s comments could become a manifesto for cultural conservatives.  The stick-in-the-mud ideals Ford loved but could best put into words by using the words of another man will appeal to many more as common sense.

Although critics and comedians thought Ford came across as dull and even dim, he was a determined and athletic man, his broad shoulders developing from football and boxing.  During the Second World War, he saw combat in the Pacific as a Navy officer, and after the war he served twelve terms in Congress.  In his rare leisure hours and especially in retirement, if rain kept him off the golf course or the ski slopes, a pleasant day at home with his golden retriever, some Field and Stream pipe tobacco, and a book by Louis L’Amour suited him just fine.

All the while, for him, faith and family came first, and from such a reserved gentleman it comes as a surprise that more than once in A Time to Heal he described that when he and his wife, Betty, went to bed, they would then hold hands and pray.  In 1973, for Ford’s inauguration as Vice President, his son, Mike, bought a Jerusalem Bible for his father, and Ford and his wife chose Psalm 20 as the text to which it should be open when he was sworn in.

When Ford narrowly lost the 1976 presidential election, he tried to console a friend by assuring him, “there are more important things to worry about than what’s going to happen to Jerry Ford.”  Ford was gratified when his own deeper yet unformed thoughts were articulated by his son, Jack:  “If you can’t lose as graciously as you had planned to win, then you shouldn’t have been in the thing in the first place.”  Kenneth Clark would have agreed.


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 S

February 15th, 2015How to Read Great Literatureby Joseph Pearce

Over the past few years I've been teaching on-line courses for Homeschool Connections. I am currently in the midst of teaching a course on The Merchant of Venice, having previously taught courses on Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet and King Lear. In late June and early July I'll be teaching one of the courses in the Homeschool Connections Summer School. My course will be on "How to Read Great Literature" and will look at the literary techniques employed in great works, such as the Iliad, the Odyssey, Beowulf, the Divine Comedy, the Canterbury Tales, the plays of Shakespeare, and the works of Tolkien, Lewis, Hopkins and Eliot. The course is open to people of all ages. Please follow this link for further details:

February 12th, 2015When the Devils Winby Kevin O'Brien |

I had just come from an experience that preyed upon me in ways that are hard to describe.  I had seen a common sight - the true Faith knocked down and a false one set mockingly in its place.  I often see this at suburban Masses, but today I saw it up close, outside of Mass.  I won't go into details, but it had disturbed me.

At any rate, I was walking and feeling better, but something was nagging at me, a little devil, the kind of devil who has gained the world but lost his soul.  Devils who do this get very smug.  If you show any kind of faith around them, they smile condescendingly at your naivety.  If you show any kind of enthusiasm, they patiently endure your childishness.  They sneer at hope, since the only emotion for the truly sophisticated is a tired cynical ennui.  Belief and trust in anything is simply the symptom of immaturity and a lack of education, you see.

And, of course, the world drags you down on its own.  We don't even need the help of devils.  The daily and hourly grinding away of inertia, the assault of selfishness that persists at every waking moment - the persistent selfishness of others and the stunning and dumbfounding selfishness we find in our own hearts, if we admit it.

I was walking and rehearsing my lines.  I am appearing in six different productions in the next six weeks and I have to keep my lines fresh, and the best way for me to do that is to go on hikes in the woods or long walks in the city and recite my lines aloud.  Today I was in the city, and I found myself beside a Mormon church, sitting high on a hill above the sidewalk.

And that's just another mild assault.  On the one hand, the Mormon faith is outlandish, contrived, ridiculous, clearly made-up; on the other, Mormons are very concerned about their families and have held to Catholic teaching on the sinfulness of pornography, masturbation and contraception far better than Catholics have.  Weird as they are, they are generally good people - but ... but there's something creepy about that church on that hill, about that belief; something creepy about that devil who smirks at my faith and who sees no difference between the shocking thunderbolt of the New Testament and the L. Ron Hubbard-ish inanity of the Book of Mormon.

And the sky was gray and the neighborhood in decline.  The older houses are sometimes abandoned and even the Protestant churches are closing and consolidating due to lack of attendance - but who can be fed at these Protestant churches?  Who can be fed at most Catholic Masses, the way they're typically run?  And that big Mormon church up on that hill - that big ugly Mormon church and the who-knows-what is going on in there.  Is this where all faith leads - was Freud right that all religion was an illusion, moronic wishful thinking?  Or is it worse even than Freud imagined - far from stretching our souls even by means of a wish and a desire to embrace the truth, beauty and goodness that is all about us and that transcends us, does religion actually drag us down, fill our heads with soporific condolences that are, in truth, ugly bulky lies that do nothing but burden us and blind us?

All religions are the same, after all, aren't they?  They are all equally true - which is a kind of way of saying they are all equally false.  "Believe" if it helps you; "to believe" is an intransitive verb, isn't it?  It doesn't matter what you believe in - just believe. We all need help, after all - drink, drugs, sex, power, money.  Even love is false, or that stirring of hormones and chemicals that we call love.  Just keep on keeping on as the universe itself slowly winds down and all things in it swirl with a funny sucking sound down the eternal drain of existence.  If there is a God, he pulled the plug out long ago.

Above all, be nice - even to those people who take good things and twist them to their own uses.  Because that's all any of us does with anything, isn't it?

As all these thoughts were passing through my head, as I glanced at the ugly Mormon church high above me, I said aloud a line from a special on J.R.R. Tolkien that I'm about to film at EWTN (one of the six shows I'm performing in the next six weeks) ...

The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. Its head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead. Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used. 
Suddenly, caught by the level beams [of the setting sun], Frodo saw the old king’s head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. “Look, Sam!” he cried, startled into speech. “Look! The king has got a crown again!”
The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.
“They cannot conquer for ever!” said Frodo. And then suddenly the brief glimpse was gone. The Sun dipped and vanished, and as if at the shuttering of a lamp, black night fell. 

They cannot conquer forever.

February 12th, 2015Is Britain Dead?by Joseph Pearce

The question is asked and answered in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:

February 12th, 2015The Feminine Principle, Dena Hunt

Continuing the discussion (February 2nd) of the destruction of the feminine principle of Being by the masculine principle of Doing, I should mention again the absolute necessity of balance and harmony of those two modes of all existence. Nature, indeed all of life, depends on it.  Ironically, the abstraction is easier to grasp for less intellectual, more agrarian cultures than for our modern more sophisticated times. Only when we recognize that this balance goes all the way back to pre-mythology of mother-earth and father-heaven can we understand the cataclysm of its destruction.

As the civilizer of the western world and most of the eastern as well, the Church introduced and then maintained the feminine principle among savage warrior-tribes, not only by means of the cult of the Blessed Virgin, but also in its own theology, spirituality, and moral code. Right conduct, both public and private, was established. “Gentlemen” (not meant to signify gentry, but behavior) defended and protected children and women, who personified—or tried to—the virtues of modesty, meekness, humility, virtues now lost as a consequence of the discarding of the feminine principle.

It is both useless and false to blame feminism (radical or otherwise) for this disaster. As already mentioned, feminism is a reaction to the destruction of the feminine principle, not its cause. The more immediate cause was identified by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968, but the remote cause dates from the sixteenth century, when civilization set out on a path toward its own inevitable end. Its progress has been steady.

Now we watch as the masculine principle, unfettered by any straggling remains of inhibition, demonstrates collective insanity in the Middle East. It is a reiteration of the hyper-masculine rebirth of the Germanic “warrior” seventy-plus years ago, and the raised fist of revolution in Russia, and in France, and other sites. Commentators on the news channels often seem to feel almost compelled to draw comparisons between the on-going brutal terrorism in the Middle East and the Nazism of almost recent memory. Not surprisingly, the former bears as much hatred for Jews as the latter, with Christianity as a close second, for the Judaeo-Christian God has ever borne a concern for the weak and helpless, for widows and orphans—in short, for the feminine principle. Atheistic secular devotion to human “progress” (a modern expression of pagan phallic self-worship) will always find that concern a stumbling block, unable to see that its antithesis saves it from its own self-destruction.

It is worth repeating too that the feminine principle cannot save itself because to act would be a contradiction of itself and thus its own self-destruction (e.g., feminism). As the passive element, it cannot save but must be saved by the active element. How? That can only be answered by the Gentlemen of the world, if any there are. Certainly, the first step would be to recognize that the Church must be allowed the salvific influence she alone possesses. By “Church,” I do mean the Holy Roman Catholic one. Protestantism is riddled with the anti-femininity that helped engender it. (Granting “rights” to women to fill male ecclesial roles is not a pro-femininity action. Quite the opposite, in fact.) That’s all I know. Except for faithful adherence to the Church and all her (ever notice that pronoun?) teachings, I have no idea how to save nature, the children, or civilization—all now steadily and surely dying from exploitation, from neglect, and from abandonment.

It is the business of the feminine principle to nurture, support, sustain. What prompted this meditation was the news today of the murder of the young humanitarian aid worker Kayla Mueller by her Islamic terrorist captors as she tried to nurture, support, and sustain Syrian refugees. CBS reports that she was given to an ISIS fighter as a “bride.” Then she was discarded.

We need heroes. And gentlemen. The feminine principle everywhere needs the masculine principle to be about its own business.

February 12th, 2015White Gloves and Methodismby Kevin Kennelly

If the attached picture were given a title it might be  "Civilization." Ladies in white gloves and gentlemen ( GENTLEMEN!) coming out of church .... that's what people used to do ,before football took over, on Sunday morning. While I am Catholic , my sainted mother was a Methodist and I will be forever grateful for the beauty of spirit that once great Christian church instilled in her. Can they get it back ? Oremus.

See the attached image and the article here:

February 9th, 2015Hobbits, Elves and Menby Joseph Pearce

The latest Tolkien Special that I've written and presented for EWTN is now available for purchase on DVD. It's an hour long feast celebrating the Catholicism to be found in Tolkien's masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. Featuring the acting talents of Kevin O'Brien, the artistic gifts of Jef Murray, and the production and editing skills of the team at EWTN, this latest DVD, the third that we've recorded, is entitled Hobbits, Elves and Men.

Here's the link to the DVD on the EWTN's website:

February 9th, 2015Storm Troopers of Secularism: Lessons for Today from the Nazi Pastby Joseph Pearce

The next issue of the St. Austin Review is winging its way to the printers. The theme of the March/April issue is “Storm Troopers of Secularism: Lessons for Today from the Nazi Past”.

Highlights include:

M. D. Aeschliman revisits “the German Tragedy” and its “Dissociation of Sensibility”.

Paul Baxa focuses on “The Hitler Visit to Rome in 1938”.

Stephen Brady pays tribute to “Otto Strasser: Catholic Radical and Hitler’s Number One Enemy”.

Brendan D. King hears “The Confession of Hannibal Lecter: Nazism, Extreme Nationalism and Kazimierz Moczarski’s Conversations with an Executioner”.

George J. Galloway recounts Franz Werfel’s encounter with Saint Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes, praising “A Jew’s Promise to a Catholic Saint”.

Tod Worner contrasts the swastika and the crucifix, “Twisted Cross, True Cross”.

Joseph Pearce surveys “Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church”, showing “The Truth at a Glance”.

John Beaumont examines “The Conversion of Dietrich von Hildebrand: A Doughty Fighter against the Nazis”.  

Fr. Dwight Longenecker looks at “Lewis in Wartime”.

Sr. John Paul Maher, OP, is “Beholding the Woman: Meeting Mary in Sacred Art”.

Ken Clark admires “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz” by El Greco.

Kevin O’Brien learns from “Eric Voegelin and the Masters of Reality”.

Fr. Benedict Kiely laments “Europe’s Uncertain Values”.

Donald DeMarco hearkens to the beauty “When Heaven and Earth Meet” in the genius of Yehudi Menuhin.

James Bemis praises D. W. Griffith’s classic movie, Intolerance.

Portia Hopkins reviews Beauteous Truth by Joseph Pearce.

Jay B. reviews Defending Marriage by Anthony Esolen.

Philip J. Harold reviews My Battle Against Hitler by Dietrich von Hildebrand.

Regis Martin reviews Let’s Not Forget God: Freedom of Faith, Culture, and Politics by Cardinal Angelo Scola.

Plus New Poetry by F. Dwight Longenecker, Ann Applegarth and Gene Fendt.

February 9th, 2015R. H. Benson versus G. K. Chestertonby Joseph Pearce

I've received an e-mail from a high school principal asking my advice on whether R. H. Benson's Lord of the World would be suitable reading for his senior honors classes as a theology text. Here's my response:

I love Lord of the World but I have mixed feelings about whether it should be a set text for high school students. It's very dark and could be misread as being defeatist, in the sense that the secular/demonic forces appear to emerge victorious and are only defeated offstage, i.e. after the novel's end, by a deus ex machina, i.e. the Apocalypse. I know that you would prevent a misreading but I'm still concerned that spiritually and emotionally immature teenagers could see the book as suggestive of the world's omnipotence and the Church's impotence. A more theologically uplifting work of fiction, me judice, would be Chesterton's Ball and the Cross.

February 6th, 2015Church or State: Who Should Genuflect to Whom?by Joseph Pearce

A friend has sent me a photograph of representatives of the Orthodox Church opening the Greek Parliament. He described this as an "effective merger of state and church" which "does not speak well for Greek Orthodoxy". I begged to differ.

Here's my response:

This is a complex topic. We don't want the Church to be in the pocket of the government but we do want the government to be answerable to the truths of the Church. I see nothing wrong with the Church opening parliament because it merely shows that the source all authority is God. A far greater problem is that of the Catholic Church in Germany, which is rich (and corrupt) because of state funding. It's no surprise that the German Church is secularized when it has become dependent on hand-outs from the secular government. It is, therefore, no surprise that the present modernism, seeking to change the Church's teaching on marriage so that it conforms to secular values, is being championed by Cardinal Kasper and the German bishops.

The moral is that we take the world's money at our peril. Look, for instance, at the way that so-called Catholic colleges in the United States are dancing to the secular tune in order to qualify for secular funding.  

To summarize, I see no problem with the secular power genuflecting before the Bride of Christ (as is the case with a constitution in which the Church opens parliament) and a huge problem with the Bride of Christ, or more correctly her wayward apostles, genuflecting before the secular power. 

February 6th, 2015Fiction Prizeby Dena Hunt

It’s that time again. Tuscany Press offers prizes for unpublished Catholic fiction. See the link below. Over $13,000 waiting to be won.

February 2nd, 2015The Feminine Principleby Dena Hunt

I’ve written on this topic before, so if I am a bit tedious, I apologize.

"Everything is like sex, except sex.” That’s an expression I’ve heard more than once. Literally everything in nature, everything in the physical world (and the spiritual, as far as the human imagination can muster), whether created by God or man—is like sex. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis, is universal: The positive (active, male) and the negative (passive, female) are united and something/someone new is made. At its most elemental, pre-mythological level, earth is soil, watered by heaven, to bring forth life. From there, allegories emerge.

Only superficially are we androgynous beings. Proven by the discovery of gender-determining chromosomes at conception (not “created” later by societal or cultural “influences”), we are born either male or female; there is no neuter anywhere in nature or in science. Neuter is impotent (“dead.”)

Most of us are familiar with the “serenity prayer” made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (the feminine principle), the courage to change the things I can (the masculine principle), and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s a good formula for mental health. Chronic unhappiness, depression, or anxieties that lead to all kinds of addiction can often be resolved by an examination of that formula, by finding where we are trying to be serene when action is required, or trying to be active where serenity is required, and thus perhaps attain wisdom. 

But I could probably fill a page with clichés that describe the confusion of our times—“road rage” that results from unwillingness to “go with the flow [of traffic],” for example. Frustrations, anger, aggression—“control freak”—and yet we are admonished by commercials and psa’s, and all sorts of advice at every turn to “take charge” of our lives/weight/health/future/whatever. Politically, we’re always trying to “empower” people. We live in a time when the masculine principle is universally admired and the feminine principle is universally despised. In fact, that which is feminine is regarded as deprivation. The very title of “The Female Eunuch” assumes that the opposite of masculine is neuter. There is masculinity—and then there is deprivation of masculinity.

The feminine principle has nothing to do with feminism—except that you could say the latter is a consequence of the destruction of the former. Feminism is not an action, but a reaction. It’s not a cause. It didn’t come out of nowhere. It wasn’t a result of men going off to war (they’ve always done that), or any other theoretical bit of non-explanation. Men ceased to value women, and women are dependent on men for their value as women. It’s really that simple, that devastating.

In the early seventies, Florida became a no-fault divorce state. I had just returned from Europe where I’d lived for five years. I remember walking down three blocks of a street in Orlando and encountering two parked cars with children in them, along with what appeared to be personal belongings. The vast majority of the destitute in the U.S. were abandoned wives and children, many of whom were living in parked cars. The number of hungry and homeless women and children was incalculable. To be mistreated or abused is bad, but it’s a remediable situation. To be discarded, literally thrown away, is irremediable. Feminism emerged out of necessity.

The twentieth century faced the worst wars in human history, all of which, despite incredible cost of lives, eventually ended (one can hardly claim any war “won.”) That which happened on the surface of history, horrific as it was, is no match for the catastrophe that befell humanity under the surface: As a seed planted by widespread “Enlightened” Protestantism, secularism grew quietly under the surface, and traditional lifelong (Catholic-in-origin) marriage disappeared while no one was watching. It survived longest in cultures where Catholicism dominated, but not in northern Europe, or the United States, and finally not anywhere. Contraception followed, and, as the night follows day, so did abortion.

In the sundering of the feminine and masculine unity, the feminine principle, as the passive element, was discarded, abandoned. It cannot, by its definition, save itself—it must be saved. It was not. Yet on that principle all natural life depends. Nothing is more allegorically accurate for our time than abortion. Now, hardly anyone knows what the feminine principle is. It’s best understood by these words:

   “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” 

February 2nd, 2015More Big-Hearted Big Businessby Joseph Pearce

A few weeks ago I posted the link to a wonderful TV commercial for a grocery chain in the UK celebrating the Christmas Truce in the Trenches of World War One. Today I'm delighted to post another commercial by a big-hearted big business, this time Pampers, which celebrates the joy of life, especially the joy of openness to life:

February 2nd, 2015Looking for God in King Learby Joseph Pearce

I received this e-mail from a friend about the apparent lack of God in Shakespeare. The text of the e-mail is given here in italics. My response follows.


Was watching King Lear the other night and it hit me as wondrous how little there is of God in Shakespeare..... Certainly ,  He is lurking in the background in the guise of death, life, joy , tragedy, despair , mystery, etc ...but.... it is not overt. I thought "I'll run this by Joseph. He'll know." But then I thought ... better think this through .... might be a stupid question . Then.... I pick up Flowers From Heaven:A Thousand Years of Christian Verse by the venerable Pearce and .... mirabile dictu .... not one entry by Shakespeare. So.... what gives?

My reply:


Shakespeare's work is profoundly Catholic, though not overtly so, and King Lear is one of the most Catholic of his plays. The problem is two-fold. First, it was illegal in Jacobean England to present contemporary religious or political issues on the stage, and doubly illegal to say anything positive about Catholicism. Not wishing to have his plays banned and himself thrown in prison, Shakespeare was constrained to be circumspect and ingeniously subtle. Imagine someone in Stalin's Soviet Union trying to praise the West and you'll have some idea of Shakespeare's challenge to present the truth in tyrannical times. Second, most modern productions of Lear, including presumably the one that you watched recently, are poisoned by the nihilistic spin that modern producers and directors place upon it.


I have written extensively on the Catholic dimension in Lear: There are four chapters on Lear (chapters 22-25) in my book Through Shakespeare's Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays. I edited the Ignatius Critical Edition of King Lear, which includes an excellent introduction by R. V. Young and six contemporary critical essays, including one by yours truly ("King Lear: Seeing the Comedy in the Tragedy"). I also lecture on Lear in the series of lectures on Shakespeare's Catholicism that I did for Catholic Courses and devote a couple of episodes to Lear in the second of The Quest for Shakespeare series that I did for EWTN. Finally, I've just finished a course on Lear for Homeschool Connections, the recording of which is available.  


Why is there nothing by Shakespeare in my anthology, Flowers of Heaven: One Thousand Years of Christian Verse? Well, first I decided that I would not include extracts from plays and would stick resolutely to verse written as verse; second, Shakespeare's sonnets and other poems are either not religious at all or else, as is the case with "The Phoenix and the Turtle" and several of the sonnets, the religious element is subsumed (and Catholic), not obvious to modern readers without appropriate critical exposition. Since the anthology did not include such exposition, I decided (reluctantly) to omit them from the final selection.


I hope this helps.

February 2nd, 2015Tolkien, Trees and Traditionby Joseph Pearce

What do Tolkien, trees and tradition have in common, apart from the fact that they alliterate? All is revealed in my latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative:

January 30th, 2015A Lesson from Thomas Mertonby Daniel J. Heisey

It seems more and more people are living to be a hundred, and if he were alive, Thomas Merton would this year be among them.  Merton (1915-1968) remains the most famous Christian monk of the twentieth century, and his writings will engage scholars and others for some time to come.  His fame began in 1948, when his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, became an unexpected best-seller.  In England it was published as Elected Silence, a phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “The Habit of Perfection.”

Once he had made the best-seller lists, readers and publishers wanted more.  Fortunately for them, Merton was a gifted and prolific writer, turning out essays, poems, translations, and book-length musings on the spiritual life.  In the decades since his sudden death at an international monastic conference in Bangkok, Thailand, several volumes of his private journals and letters have been published.

By the mid-1960s, Merton had begun exploring controversial topics.  He wrote about points where Zen Buddhism and Roman Catholicism might connect, especially in the area of monastic spirituality, and he addressed the era’s turbulence over race, poverty, and war.  These later writings have become favorites of activists for social change, while this same phase of his life has left others suspecting Merton of groovy syncretism.  Yet, at the time of his death he had at the press a slim book on contemplative prayer that fit in well with his early work, back when one of his first admirers was Fulton Sheen.

Since Merton’s centenary coincides with the Church’s Year of Consecrated Life, let us consider a passage from his early thirties.  In December, 1947, Merton noted in his journal the death of Brother Gregory, an elderly native of Switzerland.  Merton published that journal in 1952 as The Sign of Jonas.

“Brother Gregory,” Merton wrote, “was a saintly old man,” and Merton asked their abbot what had made the departed brother so holy.  “I don’t know what kind of answer I was hoping to get,” Merton admitted.  “It would have made me happy to hear something about a deep and simple spirit of prayer, something about unsuspected heights of faith, purity of heart, interior silence, solitude, love for God.  Perhaps he had spoken with the birds, like Saint Francis.”

Instead, the abbot replied, “Brother was always working,” and he added, “Brother did not even know how to be idle.  If you sent him out to take care of the cows in the pasture, he still found plenty to do.  He brought in buckets of blackberries.  He did not know how to be idle.”  Merton was crestfallen.  “I came out of Reverend Father’s room,” he recorded, “feeling like a man who has missed his train.”

Serving God and neighbor is the essence of the vocation of a religious brother.  It is, of course, the basic vocation that goes along with Christian baptism, and religious vows build upon and reinforce those baptismal vows.  The spirituality of brothers focuses on the example of the Holy Family’s hidden life of Nazareth.  Thus, Brother Gregory’s obscurity:  he is known only from the writings of a now famous priest who had met him.

Probably the most famous religious brother is the fictional Brother Cadfael, first appearing in the late 1970s.  According to his creator, Ellis Peters, he was an early twelfth-century Welshman who fought in the First Crusade and then entered a Benedictine abbey in western England.  There he tended the monastery’s medicinal herb garden and solved crimes.

Next to him in name recognition would be the real-life Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (Nicolas Herman, c. 1605-1691), a Carmelite friar in Paris.  There he worked in his monastery’s kitchen and is best known for his spiritual observations posthumously compiled under the title The Practice of the Presence of God.

Despite the perennial popularity of that little book, Brother Lawrence has not joined the ranks of canonized brothers.  Most recent among canonized brothers is Brother André Bessette (1845-1937) of Canada, and others include Majorca’s Alphonsus Rodriguez (1532-1617) and Bavaria’s Conrad of Parzham (1818-1894).  As it happens, all three served their religious communities as porters.  Saint Alphonsus, a Jesuit, has been commemorated in a sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Saint Conrad’s canonization in 1934 was a big event for the young Ratzinger boys, Georg and Joseph.

If priests are the Church’s fathers, religious brothers are the Church’s bachelor uncles.  Over the years brothers have been characterized by plain and even at times blunt speech, while also being known for reticence and a great capacity for inner stillness.  Tragically, religious brothers have not all been paragons of virtue:  one need only recall reports of a number of Christian Brothers in Ireland preying upon teenage and pre-teenage boys.  Nevertheless, as the presence of saintly brothers demonstrates, the vocation of brother can be a way to holiness.  If it were not, the Church would have suppressed it ages ago.

Once again the Church faces a shortage of vocations, and so the faithful ought to pray for an increase in vocations to the religious brotherhood.  Time and again one senses that a prayer “for priests and religious” really means “for priests and nuns.”  There is another way, as much a “little way” as that of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a way first marked out for men by Saint Joseph, the chaste and silent carpenter of Nazareth.  It is a contemplative way, yet for that reason it stands at the service of others, prayerfully doing the day’s work without any fanfare.

Sometimes one hears of a man who had entered religious life but then left, having discerned that priesthood was not for him.  One wonders whether the possibility of being a religious brother was ever presented to him.  Perhaps God was calling him to belong to a particular religious community, but not to the priesthood.  During vocation visits and religious formation, a healthy approach would be to remain open to seeing that option as both viable and respectable.  After all, the primary purpose of religious life is to provide someone with a way to sanctification.

Although he may never be among the officially canonized, Brother Gregory of Gethsemani answered God’s call to struggle along that hidden path to holiness.  One of Merton’s finest books is No Man Is an Island (1955), and Brother Gregory showed by his simple yet active life that Christian holiness has less to do with mastering encyclicals and esoteric concepts such as apophatic prayer than considering that one’s time is better spent thinking that others might like some fresh blackberries.


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.

January 30th, 2015The Best Biographies of William Shakespeareby Joseph Pearce

I'm in receipt of an e-mail from someone who has read my biography, The Quest for Shakespeare, and is keen to investigate the evidence for Shakespeare's Catholicism still further. She requested other biographies of the Bard that I would recommend. Here's my reply:

The biography of Shakespeare I would recommend above all others is The Life and Times of William Shakespeare, 1564-1616 by Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel (London: Chaucer Press, 2007). Unfortunately it's not cheap but it's a very handsome coffee table book with numerous illustrations throughout and 400 pages packed with solid scholarship.

Others that I would recommend:

John Henry De Groot, The Shakespeares and "The Old Faith" (Fraser, Michigan: Real-View Books, 1995). An excellent and thorough examination of Shakespeare's family, especially his parents, and the documentary evidence for their Catholic recusancy.

H. Mutschmann & K. Wentersdorf, Shakespeare & Catholicism (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1952). This is not strictly a biography but a scholarly study of the evidence for Shakespeare' Catholicism from both the biographical and the textual perspective.

Ian Wilson, Shakespeare: The Evidence (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1999). A solid biographical study that comes to the conclusion that Shakespeare was a Catholic. (Not to be confused with another biography by a Richard Wilson, which is problematic for a number of reasons.)

January 28th, 2015Finding Freedom in My Prison Cell: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Loveby Michael Lichens |

Over at Catholic Exchange, Joseph Pearce recounts his time and prison and how it finally led him into the Grace of God. It's quite the beautiful reading and well worth your time. 

Many good and worthy people in the past have found the experience of imprisonment a crucial and definitive period on their road towards faith and religious conversion, or as a means of deepening an already existing faith. Saint John of the Cross springs to mind, as does Miguel Cervantes, and the great Nicolae Steinhardt, whose book on his time in prison is called The Happiness Diary. We could also add the French poet, Paul Verlaine, the Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, and the iconic Russian Nobel Prizewinner, Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

As was the case with these illustrious figures, my own experience of prison exemplified the paradox that prison can be a liberator. It can free us from ourselves and our pride-ridden prejudices. In many ways, prison serves as a metaphor for the role and purpose of suffering in our lives, which is to remind us of our mortality and prompt us to ask deep questions about the meaning of life, suffering and death. Prison can serve as a memento mori pointing us toward the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven and hell.

Read the rest here:

January 28th, 2015Love vs. Nihilism in “King Lear”by Kevin O'Brien |

Yours truly overacting as King Lear.

Over at the Christian Shakespeare, I've been given permission to reprint an essay from Logos by Shakespeare scholar Ken Colston on how sacrificial love redeems nihilism in Shakespeare's King Lear.  Colston sees Lear as a fully Catholic play, and unpacks its Christian elements, using C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton and Pope Benedict.

Well worth the read!

January 27th, 2015Selective Reading List for Catholic Inquirersby Kevin Kennelly

A wise and scholarly friend recently drafted a superb list of books for use in responding to individuals who have expressed an interest in Catholicism. Included are Catholic classics of old ....Apologia Pro Vita Sua.....and excellent works of more recent vintage.....'Literary Converts' by Joseph Pearce.

We encourage readers to add their own favorites to this excellent but not exhaustive list.




  • St. Augustine of Hippo (former Manichean), Confessions; City of God (c. 5th century A.D., ‘in print’ for centuries).  
  • Bl. John Henry Newman (former Anglican), Apologia pro Vita Sua (1865); Development of Christian Doctrine (1845, 1878). 
  • G.K. Chesterton (former Anglican, Unitarian background), Orthodoxy (1908); St. Francis of Assisi (1923); The Everlasting Man (1925); St. Thomas Aquinas (1933). 
  • Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome (1902); The Great Heresies (1938).
  • Joseph H. Cavanaugh, Evidence for Our Faith (1949 and later). 
  • Ronald Knox (former Anglican), A Spiritual Aeneid (1948); Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries (1950).
  • F.C. Copleston (former Anglican), Aquinas (1955). 
  • Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ (1958 and later). 
  • Warren H. Carroll (former deist), A History of Christendom (Six Volumes, 1985 to 2013). 
  • Thomas Howard (former Evangelical and Anglican), On Being Catholic (1997).   
  • St. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994); Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (Pauline Books 2007).
  • Steve Ray (former Baptist):  Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church (1997); Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church (Modern Apologetics Library, 1999).
  • Scott Hahn and Kimberly Hahn (former Evangelicals) Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism (1993); Scott Hahn, The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth (1999).  
  • H.W. Crocker III, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church: A 2,000-Year History (2001). 
  • Joseph Pearce (former agnostic), Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief (2000); C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (2003).
  • Thomas E. Woods Jr. (former Lutheran), How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (2005).    
  • Devin Rose (former Baptist), The Protestant's Dilemma: How the Reformation's Shocking Consequences Point to the Truth of Catholicism (2014). 



January 27th, 2015Morality in the Market Placeby Joseph Pearce

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative is a review of A Catechism for Business:

January 26th, 2015Linguistics vs. Languageby Dena Hunt

There are those academics housed in English Departments who are called linguists and who maintain a staunchly scientific view of language that is often as rigid as the rabidly anti-intelligent design folks over in the Science Building. They’re not much interested in the Philosophy of Language (which is relegated to increasingly rare departments of philosophy), have little to no interest in literature as art (or in philology; e.g., Tolkien), except insofar as it provides opportunities to accumulate more data on evolutionary syntax or diction. Semantics is an interesting area, in that it provides so much opportunity for sociolinguists to extrapolate politically correct findings from exhaustive studies of the effects of colonialism on native cultures. They operate pretty much on the definitive formula language=communication, which places parameters around the field, protecting it from contamination by logos while opening up a world of dissertation possibilities along political/economic/sociological/anthropological lines, providing yet another chance of “proving” absolutely anything you want to prove via “data.”

Linguistics is a fascinating field that, owing to the politicization of academia, has fallen into the hands of the wrong people. Tolkien suffered much consternation over this subject, which, in his day at Oxford, appeared as an estrangement, often hostile, between “language” and “literature.” (His fame as a writer of mythopoeic fiction is so great that we forget he was, first and foremost, a philologist.)

I’m one of those people who believe we are on the cusp of an intellectual revolution which will involve (possibly among other effects) the passing of “science,” or at least of “the scientific method.” What has happened to linguistics is a serious case in point. It has, so ironically, collapsed into Babel, a mere mass of meaningless sounds. Linguistics is one of several fields that have lost either credibility or value or both. 

The other day I read a minor news piece about a linguist who declared that language is changing (surprise). Without naming parts of speech, she noted that we now use many more progressive verb forms because we have exchanged infinitives for gerunds. No mention of what this change might “mean,” of course. This constitutes news from linguistics.

What I noticed in decades of teaching English and evaluating texts, etc., is the loss of logic. Related to logos (in fact, its offspring), that should be no surprise. 

January 26th, 2015Tolkien, Catholicism and the Jackson Moviesby Joseph Pearce

I've just received an interesting and encouraging e-mail from an admirer of Tolkien who asks for my opinion of the Jackson movies. Here's an abridged version of her e-mail and my reply: 

Hello Prof. Pearce,

I just finished reading a 1998 edition of your book "Tolkien: Man and Myth", published in Great Britain by HarperCollins, a nice, used hardcover edition I ordered online. I can't tell you how pleased I am that I discovered it, and I honestly can't remember where I read about it. Of all the books on Tolkien and his work I have read over the years, yours is the only one that addresses the profound influence his Catholic faith had on his approach to his mythology, and of course his life. Perhaps there are other books out there that may do the same, but I have been reading Tolkien interpretations and analyses for almost 40 years and have not found one that has satisfied my own questions and intimations about his oeuvre the way your book has.

I discovered JRRT at age 14, and now at age 57 am still mining the depths of his great trilogy, and other writings, as well as his artwork and letters. I am also a devout Catholic, and recognized ,even before I knew it for certain, the themes that recur and run like threads through his mythologies, connecting everything to the Truth of Christianity. It has always pained me to read how others misunderstood him, as it must have pained him, but in the end his work has endured in spite of the critics, not unlike Christianity itself! Your book was a breath of fresh air to me, and I want to thank you for finally satisfying my longing for a validation of what I experienced in Prof. Tolkien's books as well. I especially liked Ch.7,"Orthodoxy in Middle Earth".  I often wondered about his personal thoughts on his faith as relative to his work.

Your book has made all other books about JRRT practically unnecessary, at least for me, with the exception of those books that deal with the literary sources he used for his mythologies, as I am an English Lit major myself and a lifelong student of the subject.  Perhaps it is my love for my Catholic faith and my love for the same literature and language which drew me to JRRT's writings in the first place - but at 14 how was I to know, except that it all resonated someplace deep inside, and still does.
This email is maybe too long an intrusion into your time, but I do have one question you perhaps may be able to answer: Do you think Prof. Tolkien would have approved and /or appreciated Peter Jackson's movies?  When the first one appeared in 2002, I refused to see it, as there had been so many bad attempts to bring LOTR to the screen in one form or another, but just before "The Two Towers" was released my husband brought home a video of The Fellowship, saying "I bought this for you because I know how much you like the books and thought you might enjoy this." I was, and remain, totally captivated by them all.  They are visually stunning, and despite the additions or omissions, I find them completely satisfying for what they are.  And the music is wonderful.  I think my poor husband is sorry he ever brought the first one home...but imagine a beloved book you have adored from childhood and enjoyed over and over as an adult brought to life so masterfully before your eyes.

Please feel free to disagree with me, I will not be offended. My opinions in these matters come not from scholarship but pure wonder and enjoyment. I truly want your scholarly opinion about how JRRT might have seen them. Have his children responded to the movies at all?
My reply:

Thanks so much for your encouraging e-mail. It's always reassuring to hear positive feedback! The reason that I wroteTolkien: Man & Myth was to address the woeful lack of scholarship on the importance of Tolkien's Catholicism on his work. On this topic, you might be interested to learn that I have a new book on the LotR coming out soon, entitled Frodo's Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of The Lord of the Rings (Saint Benedict Press), which goes somewhat deeper into the Catholic dimension.

Regarding your specific question about Tolkien's likely response to Peter Jackson's movies, I have written about this in my recent book, Catholic Literary Giants (Ignatius Press), in an essay entitled "Would Tolkien Have Given Peter Jackson's Movie the Thumbs-Up?" My conclusion is that he wouldn't have done, principally because of his own perfectionism and his suspicion of film as a medium. (Tolkien's son, Christopher, did not approve of the films, though Tolkien's grandchildren seem more positive.) In the same book I also wrote an essay giving my own judgement on Jackson's movies, entitled "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Successes and Failures of Tolkien on Film". My own view is essentially positive, with some reservations. I certainly enjoy the movies. I would add, however, that Jackson's recent Hobbit adaptation is horrible and bears very little in common with the Christian spirit or even the basic plot-line of Tolkien's book.

January 26th, 2015Chilling Thoughts for Tolkien Fansby Brendan D. King

On this site, I have often gone on record as both critic and a satirist of Peter Jackson's Tolkien travesties. From letting the Catholic out of the Baggins to the dumbing down of the dialogue, Peter Jackson's film treatments would not have received an enthusiastic reception had the creator of Middle Earth still been alive. They would have prompted, at the very least, an outraged letter from Tolkien, who would have demanded that Peter Jackson "show a little respect for the author." (See "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien", #210, Tolkien's Comments on Morton Grady Zimmerman's 1958 Film Treatment for "The Lord of the Rings"). 

Even so, the film industry has wreaked literary havoc well beyond Tolkien's Middle Earth Legendarium. From the Demi Moore adaptation of "The Scarlet Letter" to the Emma Thompson assault on "Brideshead Revisited", the hall of shame goes ever on and on. In fact, one shudders to think of how much greater damage an even less scrupulous director might have wreaked. For this reason, I have created the following examples as a reminder, both to myself and to my fellow Tolkien purists. It could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse...

A Film by Christopher Nolan.

Based on a Screenplay by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan.

With his sword ablaze, the Lord of the Nazgul rides into the Gate of Gondor, a gate which no enemy has yet passed. All flee before his face. All but one. Gandalf rides Shadowfax toward the Dark Lord's minion, Glamdring bared.

GANDALF: You cannot enter here! Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!

All the blood drains from Gandalf's face as a eerie, high pitched cackle escapes from the Nazgul Lord. He throws back his hood to reveal... Heath Ledger in Clown Make-Up.

THE JOKER: You've got nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your spells. That reminds me. Do you wanna know how I got these scars?

A Film by Francis Ford Coppola.
Based on a Screenplay by Mario Puzo.

Exterior. Fortress of Rohan. Morning. "The Godfather" Theme plays in the background. 

Cut To. Interior; Grima Wormtongue's bedroom. He awakens to find the sheets soaked with something red and sticky. Terrified, he frantically pulls the sheets up until he finds... A horse's head. He tries to scream; but cannot. Then, at long last...

GRIMA: Ah! - Ah! - Ah! - Ah!

DISSOLVE TO: Gandalf's face illuminated by the red light of his pipe. With dismay, he notices Aragorn and Legolas carrying a large and garish floral display with the words "Thank You" spelled out in flowers.

GANDALF: What is this nonsense?

ARAGORN: From Eomer son of Eomund. Grima Wormtongue just resigned his position and fled to Orthanc. What did you do, by the way?

GANDALF: I made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

A Film by George Lucas.

Saruman: [Addressing Sauron's image in the Palantir] What is thy bidding, my Master?

Sauron: There is a great disturbance in the North.

Saruman: I have felt it.

Sauron: We have a new enemy. The Ranger who dispersed the Nazgul. I have no doubt this boy is the offspring of Arathorn Arador's son.

Saruman: How is that possible?

Sauron: Search your feelings, Saruman of the Many Colors. You will know it to be true. He could destroy us.

Saruman: He's just a boy. Gandalf can no longer help him.

Sauron: Iluvatar favors him. The son of Arathorn must not become the King.

Saruman: If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.

Sauron[intrigued] Yes... He would be a great asset. Can it be done?

Saruman[Kneeling Down] He will join us or die, Master.


A Film by Martin Scorsese.

Based on a Screenplay by Nick Pileggi.

The Fellowship are sitting around a table in 'The Prancing Pony' laughing hysterically at a story told by Gimli.

        Aragorn: That's funny! You're really funny. You're really funny!

        Gimli: What do you mean I'm funny?

        Aragorn: It's funny, you know. It's a good story. You're a funny guy.

        Gimli(Bristling): What, do you mean the way I talk? What?

Everyone suddenly stops laughing.

        Aragorn: It's just... You know, you're funny. It's funny. The way you tell the story and everything

        Gimli: Funny how? What's funny about it?

        Gandalf: Gimli, no. You got it all wrong.

        Gimli: Yo, Gandalf. He's a big boy, he knows what he said. (To Aragorn). Funny how?

        Aragorn: Just...

        Gimli: What?!

        Aragorn: Just... You know, you're funny.

        Gimli: Let me understand this, cause maybe its me, I'm a little hopped up maybe. Funny how? You mean funny like a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh? I'm here to amuse you. What do you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?

        Aragorn: Just... You know, how you tell the story.

        Gimli: No, no! I don't know! You said it! You said I'm funny! How the heck am I funny?! What the heck is funny about me?! Tell me, tell me, what's funny?!

Long Pause.

        Aragorn: Get the heck outta here, Gimli.

Everyone laughs.

        Gimli: You stutterin' wimp, you! I almost had him! I almost had him! Gandalf, wasn't he shakin'? I wonder about you sometimes, Strider. You may fold under questioning!

Freeze-Frame on a very nervous looking Aragorn.

        Aragorn: (Voiceover): As far back as I can remember I've always dreamed of bein' a Ranger.

Tony Bennet's "Rags to Riches" plays over the opening credits.



A Film by Terry Gilliam.

Exterior. Fangorn Wood. Day. Foggy and Overcast. Spooky music plays. Merry and Pippin wander through heavy underbrush. Suddenly cut to EXTREME CLOSE-UP of Black-Brown Orc face.

MERRY: (Scared Stiff): Who are you?

ORC: We are the Orcs Who Say Ni!

PIPPIN: No! Not the Orcs Who Say Ni! 

ORC: The same!

PIPPIN: (To Merry): Those who hear them seldom live to tell the tale.

ORC: The Orcs Who Say Ni demand... a Sacrifice.

MERRY: Oh, Orcs of Ni, we are but simple travelers. We seek...

ORC: Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni!

Merry and Pippin scream and writhe in agony. 

ORC: We shall say Ni again to you if you do not appease us. 

PIPPIN: Alright. What do you want?

ORC: We want... A shrubbery! 

MERRY and PIPPIN: A what?!

ORC: (Pointing to a Nearby Shrubbery Plot): And when you have brought it back, place it right here next to this shrubbery, only a little higher so that we get this two-level effect with a little path in the middle. And then you must slay the mightiest Ent in the forest with.. A HERRING! 

MERRY: We shall do no such thing. Let us pass!

ORC: (Visibly Heartbroken): Oh please!

PIPPIN: We shall do no such thing. Kill an Ent with a herring? It can't be done!

Orcs scream and writhe in agony.

ORC: Don't say that word.

PIPPIN: What word?

ORC: The one word the Orcs of Ni cannot hear.

MERRY and PIPPIN: (Catching on): It!  It!  It!  It!

Orcs scream, writhe, and roll in the dust of the forest floor. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" plays as Merry and Pippin calmly walk away.

January 26th, 2015Chilling Thoughts for Tolkien Fansby Brendan D. King

On this site, I have often gone on record as both critic and a satirist of Peter Jackson's Tolkien travesties. From letting the Catholic out of the Baggins to the dumbing down of the dialogue, Peter Jackson's film treatments would not have received an enthusiastic reception had the creator of Middle Earth still been alive. They would have prompted, at the very least, an outraged letter from Tolkien, who would have demanded that Peter Jackson "show a little respect for the author." (See "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien", #210, Tolkien's Comments on Morton Grady Zimmerman's 1958 Film Treatment for "The Lord of the Rings"). 

Even so, the film industry has wreaked literary havoc well beyond Tolkien's Middle Earth Legendarium. From the Demi Moore adaptation of "The Scarlet Letter" to the Emma Thompson assault on "Brideshead Revisited", the hall of shame goes ever on and on. In fact, one shudders to think of how much greater damage an even less scrupulous director might have wreaked. For this reason, I have created the following examples as a reminder, both to myself and to my fellow Tolkien purists. It could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse...

A Film by Christopher Nolan.

Based on a Screenplay by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan.

With his sword ablaze, the Lord of the Nazgul rides into the Gate of Gondor, a gate which no enemy has yet passed. All flee before his face. All but one. Gandalf rides Shadowfax toward the Dark Lord's minion, Glamdring bared.

GANDALF: You cannot enter here! Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!

All the blood drains from Gandalf's face as a eerie, high pitched cackle escapes from the Nazgul Lord. He throws back his hood to reveal... Heath Ledger in Clown Make-Up.

THE JOKER: You've got nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your spells. That reminds me. Do you wanna know how I got these scars?

A Film by Francis Ford Coppola.
Based on a Screenplay by Mario Puzo.

Exterior. Fortress of Rohan. Morning. "The Godfather" Theme plays in the background. 

Cut To. Interior; Grima Wormtongue's bedroom. He awakens to find the sheets soaked with something red and sticky. Terrified, he frantically pulls the sheets up until he finds... A horse's head. He tries to scream; but cannot. Then, at long last...

GRIMA: Ah! - Ah! - Ah! - Ah!

DISSOLVE TO: Gandalf's face illuminated by the red light of his pipe. With dismay, he notices Aragorn and Legolas carrying a large and garish floral display with the words "Thank You" spelled out in flowers.

GANDALF: What is this nonsense?

ARAGORN: From Eomer son of Eomund. Grima Wormtongue just resigned his position and fled to Orthanc. What did you do, by the way?

GANDALF: I made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

A Film by George Lucas.

Saruman: [Addressing Sauron's image in the Palantir] What is thy bidding, my Master?

Sauron: There is a great disturbance in the North.

Saruman: I have felt it.

Sauron: We have a new enemy. The Ranger who dispersed the Nazgul. I have no doubt this boy is the offspring of Arathorn Arador's son.

Saruman: How is that possible?

Sauron: Search your feelings, Saruman of the Many Colors. You will know it to be true. He could destroy us.

Saruman: He's just a boy. Gandalf can no longer help him.

Sauron: Iluvatar favors him. The son of Arathorn must not become the King.

Saruman: If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.

Sauron[intrigued] Yes... He would be a great asset. Can it be done?

Saruman[Kneeling Down] He will join us or die, Master.



A Film by Martin Scorsese.

Based on a Screenplay by Nick Pileggi.

The Fellowship are sitting around a table in 'The Prancing Pony' laughing hysterically at a story told by Gimli.

        Aragorn: That's funny! You're really funny. You're really funny!

        Gimli: What do you mean I'm funny?

        Aragorn: It's funny, you know. It's a good story. You're a funny guy.

        Gimli(Bristling): What, do you mean the way I talk? What?

Everyone suddenly stops laughing.

        Aragorn: It's just... You know, you're funny. It's funny. The way you tell the story and everything

        Gimli: Funny how? What's funny about it?

        Gandalf: Gimli, no. You got it all wrong.

        Gimli: Yo, Gandalf. He's a big boy, he knows what he said. (To Aragorn). Funny how?

        Aragorn: Just...

        Gimli: What?!

        Aragorn: Just... You know, you're funny.

        Gimli: Let me understand this, cause maybe its me, I'm a little hopped up maybe. Funny how? You mean funny like a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh? I'm here to amuse you. What do you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?

        Aragorn: Just... You know, how you tell the story.

        Gimli: No, no! I don't know! You said it! You said I'm funny! How the heck am I funny?! What the heck is funny about me?! Tell me, tell me, what's funny?!

Long Pause.

        Aragorn: Get the heck outta here, Gimli.

Everyone laughs.

        Gimli: You stutterin' wimp, you! I almost had him! I almost had him! Gandalf, wasn't he shakin'? I wonder about you sometimes, Strider. You may fold under questioning!

Freeze-Frame on a very nervous looking Aragorn.

        Aragorn: (Voiceover): As far back as I can remember I've always dreamed of bein' a Ranger.

Tony Bennet's "Rags to Riches" plays over the opening credits.



A Film by Terry Gilliam.

Exterior. Fangorn Wood. Day. Foggy and Overcast. Spooky music plays. Merry and Pippin wander through heavy underbrush. Suddenly cut to EXTREME CLOSE-UP of Black-Brown Orc face.

MERRY: (Scared Stiff): Who are you?

ORC: We are the Orcs Who Say Ni!

PIPPIN: No! Not the Orcs Who Say Ni! 

ORC: The same!

PIPPIN: (To Merry): Those who hear them seldom live to tell the tale.

ORC: The Orcs Who Say Ni demand... a Sacrifice.

MERRY: Oh, Orcs of Ni, we are but simple travelers. We seek...

ORC: Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni!

Merry and Pippin scream and writhe in agony. 

ORC: We shall say Ni again to you if you do not appease us. 

PIPPIN: Alright. What do you want?

ORC: We want... A shrubbery! 

MERRY and PIPPIN: A what?!

ORC: (Pointing to a Nearby Shrubbery Plot): And when you have brought it back, place it right here next to this shrubbery, only a little higher so that we get this two-level effect with a little path in the middle. And then you must slay the mightiest Ent in the forest with.. A HERRING! 

MERRY: We shall do no such thing. Let us pass!

ORC: (Visibly Heartbroken): Oh please!

PIPPIN: We shall do no such thing. Kill an Ent with a herring? It can't be done!

Orcs scream and writhe in agony.

ORC: Don't say that word.

PIPPIN: What word?

ORC: The one word the Orcs of Ni cannot hear.

MERRY and PIPPIN: (Catching on): It!  It!  It!  It!

Orcs scream, writhe, and roll in the dust of the forest floor. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" plays as Merry and Pippin calmly walk away.

January 26th, 2015How to Find Communion in a Church that Doesn’t Careby Kevin O'Brien |

G. K. Chesterton

In the comment section of my most recent post on the clergy sex scandal, reader Michael R. asks ...

Got any advice for a Catholic who doesn't know where to stand with the clergy?
Should one's Church life merely consist of the sacramental life, and taking clergy's statements with a pinch of salt?

This question merits a post of its own as a response, so I'll give it a go.


Michael, the situation you describe is part of a larger problem.  The question is not only where to stand with the clergy, but where to stand with our fellow lay Catholics.

If we know anything about the Faith, we know that it should make a difference in our lives.  And yet, generally speaking, the Faith either makes no difference in people's lives, or, in many cases, it makes people worse - priggish, judgmental and self-satisfied.  This is, strictly speaking, not our problem.  We are to tend our own gardens and see to our own salvation, witnessing to others in the process, while realizing that our relationship with God is not the same as our neighbor's.

But, of course, given what's going on around us, this is hard.  Men grow closer to Christ through communion - communion with Him and with His Body, which is the Church - and communion is an aspect of community.  But the Church these days is not particularly conducive to communion or community.  I know of almost no parish in my archdiocese that functions as a parish should - "building up the Body of Christ", working as a community of people who are united in their love for God, and who are working to help one another become "mature in Christ" (Eph. 4:13).  In most suburban parishes, you can't really even say anything Catholic is going on (other than sin, which is quite catholic).  Many parishes are gathering places for Inconsequentialists, not Catholics.

Of course, I'm an idealist and I am much more prone to see the gap between where we should be and where we are than I am to see the simple good that's around me.  But, in most cases, the good that people do around us they do naturally and not by grace - which is to say that people can be quite loving and kind without any conscious participation in God's redemption.  They are good by nature or by habit or even by a great and deliberate sacrifice - but the sacrifice is not one that they understand to be united with the cross.  And, while God's grace is always present to all people in invisible ways, it's not clear where Jesus Christ and His Church visibly fits in to all of this these days.

Meanwhile, getting back to the original focus of your question, when the bishops have, by and large, proven themselves to be scoundrels, cowards and man-pleasers, when their clergy are sometimes wolves in sheep's clothing, and when (at the parish level) the gay music minister is a scheming monster, the Director of Religious Education is a power-hungry Amazon, and when the Parish Nurse keeps a handy supply of condoms in her desk drawer to give out, along with lollipops, to the kiddos, you've really got to ask yourself (as you do), "Where do I stand with these people?"

Yes, the answer is to focus on the sacraments (which you mention) and on prayer life and spiritual reading and doing good works (which you don't), but all of these things can tend to be isolating, tempting those of us who are called to live in the secular realm and who cannot afford to be contemplative hermits to see growth in the Faith as more of an individual than a communal thing - when, in fact, it is both, and when we must admit that we suffer when we have no communities around us that we can trust, that we can function in, that we can develop in.

But, in fact, there are some.  We have oases in the midst of this dessert, though mirages sometimes get in the way and obscure our vision.

In my case, I've experienced this tangibly and in a very profound way with the American Chesterton Society.  Fans of G. K. Chesterton are a diverse and fascinating group, from all walks of life, from all over the world, and from a variety of backgrounds.  We are all either Catholics in full communion with the Body of Christ, or Catholics who are stumbling and bumbling our way toward full communion with the Body of Christ, or Catholics who don't even know we're Catholic yet or what full communion with the Body of Christ looks like or feels like.  We are united in our love for this tremendous writer and saint because he always pointed the way toward the Way - the way toward Christ, the Everlasting Man.  We are united in our love of wit and humor and art and philosophy and beauty and nature and the great and dumbfounding gift that is Being itself.  We are sinners and saints working to help one another by means of our love for one another, and by means of our love for Him, Christ, the Man in whom we are bound.

The Chestertonians are not only what the Church should be; we are what the Church is.  And I imagine there are other communities out there that are similar - communities that may only gather in full once a year as we do, but that somehow (even if separated by great distances) worship together, suffer together, live and die together.

And yet, the second part of your question is troubling.  If we can't trust the clergy should we take their statements "with a pinch of salt"?

If you mean by that, should we be wary of our bishops, priests and deacons?  Yes, by all means!  Mephistopheles, the demon in Dr. Faustus, spends his time going around dressed as a clergyman, after all, and there is nothing magical about a collar or a cassock.

But if you mean by that, "Since our clergy are sinners, may we ignore their teaching on matters of Faith and Morals?" the answer is a resounding no.  God's great and mysterious wisdom was to give the keys of the Kingdom to Peter, an emotional, volatile, clumsy and fleshy sinner, who has ever since been speaking with the authority of God on matters of Faith and Morals, as have his clergy who are in communion with him and with Christ, who ordained him.  They teach infallibly on certain things and have the power to bind and loose both on earth and in heaven.

My answer, then, is to stay humble and obey the actual authority these sometimes-scoundrels exercise (when they can be bothered to exercise it, which they are usually reluctant to do, preoccupied as they are with themselves and with their worldly matters).  And find a community, a place of communion, a place that seeks to grow toward maturity in Christ.  It might be a parish, a book club, a social group, a Facebook group.  But if it's really a living cell of the Church, it will really be a channel of God's grace, and you will really find saints in the making right before your eyes - as I have.

Meanwhile, tend to your garden, and sanctify your job and your family, which is your domestic Church and which is the immediate and primary task you've been given.

January 22nd, 2015C. S. Lewis & the Catholic Churchby Joseph Pearce

A week or so ago I gave an interview to a Spanish magazine on C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church. I'm delighted to see that this has been picked up by the Catholic News Agency, thereby ensuring that the interview has an English-speaking readership also. Here's the link:

January 22nd, 2015C. S. Lewis & the Catholic Churchby Joseph Pearce

A week or so ago I gave an interview to a Spanish magazine on C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church. I'm delighted to see that this has been picked up by the Catholic News Agency, thereby ensuring that the interview has an English-speaking readership also. Here's the link:

January 22nd, 2015Why Should I Learn This?by Joseph Pearce

The Kindle and ePub versions of Why Should I Learn This?, published by Homeschool Connections, to which I contributed a chapter on Shakespeare, are now available. They are uploaded to the Homeschool Connections website and ready for download:

January 22nd, 2015Tolkien on Mortality, Myth and Moreby Kevin O'Brien |

Here are some clips of an excellent special recently aired by EWTN, in which I portray J. R. R. Tolkien, and in which author Joseph Pearce describes the Catholic elements of The Lord of the Rings.  Everything I say as Tolkien are word-for-word quotations from his writings.  The special also features artwork by Jef Murray.  As you can see, this was a very well produced program, and is well worth the $10 EWTN is selling the DVDs for.

In the first clip, Tolkien explains the relation between Myth and Truth.

In the second clip, Tolkien explains how he himself is a hobbit.

In the third clip, Joseph explains how Tolkien  understood The Lord of the Rings to be, primarily, about "death and immortality".

These clips are all copyright EWTN 2014.  The entire show is an hour long and is available from the EWTN Religious Catalogue.

January 20th, 2015Solzhenitsyn: Triumph of the Christian Willby Joseph Pearce

I'm honoured to have been quoted today in an excellent article about Solzhenitsyn on the Investor's Business Daily's website:

January 19th, 2015Catholic Daughters on Catholic Giantsby Joseph Pearce

I was pleased to see a review of my book Catholic Literary Giants in Share, the magazine of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas:

January 19th, 2015Eucatastrophe and The Hobbitby Joseph Pearce

Having recently discovered a wonderful and wonder-filled new website,, I was especially gratified to discover that one of my own videos promoting the Catholic Course on The Hobbit has been uploaded to the site:

January 19th, 2015The Best of Ratzingerby Joseph Pearce

Continuing my custom of sharing correspondence with my current and former students with visitors to the Ink Desk, here's the reply to a student asking for advice on which three books by Ratzinger (prior to his election as pope) I would recommend for special focus:

In my own studies of Ratzinger, I have found the following to be the most helpful and brilliant:

Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, 1998

“In the Beginning …”: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, 1990

The Ratzinger Report, 1985

The Spirit of the Liturgy, 2000

I would especially recommend The Spirit of the Liturgy for its importance in the restoration of tradition to the Church's worship.

I would also recommend "In the Beginning" as a brilliant exposition of the Book of Genesis and its importance to our understanding of who we are as human beings.

Milestones is Ratzinger's own memoir, containing many profound theological insights, and The Ratzinger Report illustrates Ratzinger's brilliant understanding of the problems besetting the Church at the end of the twentieth century. 

January 19th, 2015Is Beauty Sacramental?by Joseph Pearce

A former student of mine is currently embarked on a research project on the topic of "sacramental beauty". She sent me some questions related to her topic which are published below, together with my response:  


How would you personally define sacramental beauty?

Beauty, as one of the three transcendentals, is a manifestation of the presence of the Trinitarian Godhead. Goodness (virtue) manifests the Trinity; truth (reason) manifests the Trinity; and beauty manifests the trinity. As such, and properly perceived, beauty is always a sign of God's presence that is meant to lift us in prayer and praise. 


Do you think a vibrant and colorful sunset, or even just the warm glow of sunset, falls under the category of sacramental beauty? 

Yes. Absolutely. If we fail to see the sign of God's presence in the beauty of any sunset, it is we and not the sunset that is at fault. Humility opens our eyes to beauty; pride blinds us to it.


And, lastly, do you think one's ability to notice sacramental beauty is linked with the imagination?

I think our ability to express and communicate the beauty to ourselves and others is connected to the imaginative faculty but the ability to see beauty is much more primal and is connected to virtue (humility) or its absence. The humble soul will always be edified by the presence of beauty, even if he lacks the imaginative gifts to articulate his experience of it; the proud soul will be blind to beauty, regardless of any imaginative gifts that he has been given (and for which he lacks gratitude!).


Finally, you might find helpful an article that I wrote recently for the Imaginative Conservative:

January 19th, 2015Chesterton and the Power of Paradoxby Joseph Pearce

Why does Christ say that we must be child-like and St. Paul say that we have to cease being childish? Why are Bilbo and Frodo childlike? Why is Dorian Gray childish? And what did Chesterton have to say about the difference between the childlike and the childish? These questions are asked and hopefully answered in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:

January 19th, 2015Understanding Islamic Voluntarismby Bruce Fingerhut

I am fully convinced that Fr. James Schall is the man possessed of the clearest mind in Christendom. Whether he writes on political theory or basketball, he is bound to offer new insights that will provide something new to the reader, whether that person is an expert or a novice. The only other person I’ve ever read who was able to do that was C.S. Lewis.

In the short piece below, Fr. Schall brushes away the mist, the mystery, and the misstatements involving whatever everybody but our President calls Islamic terrorism. It may well be the most important short article you will read this year.

The text of the piece is found at:

January 17th, 2015Mammon or Mohammed?by Joseph Pearce

An article in the Wall Street Journal offers a doom-laden picture of the demise of Europe in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack:

Given the choice between secular fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism the only sensible solution is to echo the words of Shakespeare's Mercutio: "a plague on both their houses!" If, however, we wish to be more positive in our response to the World and to Heresy, we should do what Christ commands and evangelize the heathens! Mammon and Mohammed are the problem. Christ and the Church are the solution. 

January 16th, 2015Vesselsby Dena Hunt

I have always been fascinated by vessels. Containers that enclose…something. Not vases or open things, but vessels. In the fifties, there was a pop song that stayed on the charts forever—what was behind the “Green Door”? If the door were open, there would be no song, no mystery, no magic.

Small boxes, wooden, maybe, like the one on the table next to me now that contains a rosary. Beautiful boxes, painted china, that rest on dressers and contain a lady’s wedding ring. Faberge eggs or “Brown paper packages tied up with string” that may contain—who knows what treasure? And there are few things more thrilling to a child’s eyes than a Christmas tree with piles of beautiful presents underneath, wrapped in colorful paper and tied with beautiful ribbons and bows. We have email nowadays and are deprived of looked-for letters from those we love, arriving in sealed envelopes, perhaps marked “swak.” Letters are a real loss, I believe. And books. Opened, they reveal vast universes of treasure.

Vessels contain treasures, surprises, things that change our lives. They are all pregnancies. Vessels are bearers of joy, messengers. A vessel conscious of itself is a woman, who wakes every day knowing that her life is now not her own, but someone else’s, someone who is yet to come, someone who is new, a blessing from God who will change her forever, making her worthwhile, fruitful and purposeful.

And how must the vessel named Mary have felt? She tries to tell in the beautiful Magnificat.

Our churches contain her replica in the form of the tabernacle, containing our Lord, waiting to be received by us as the supreme joy and treasure that He is. The tabernacle, the new Ark of the Covenant, containing the Word of God. The vessel is the promise. It contains the promise fulfilled.

All of us are vessels, bearing talents, love, deeds, children, gifts to give to each other in the Name of the Holy Sire of all vessels and all that they contain. Each of us then is a de-sire, seeking its own fulfillment, the unique one for which we were made, and living the adventure of discovery, like children who gaze with shining eyes at the presents under the Christmas tree, full of mystery, wonder and magic.

January 16th, 2015Siegfried Sassoon versus Wilfred Owenby Joseph Pearce

A friend has just sent me a link to one of the finest and darkest war poems ever written, “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen:

“I can't get enough of this poem,” my friend writes, “a sense of loss, probably for a lost cause. But bravery anyway. Once cheered on by the crowd but now abandoned  in his misery. Golgotha. Oremus.”

Here is my reply, comparing Owen’s brilliant poem with a poem by Siegfried Sassoon:

Owen’s “Disabled” is also one of my own favourite poems, which I have taught on several occasions. It is brilliant but marred by its nihilism and despair. I always teach it side by side with Siegfried Sassoon’s poem, The One-Legged Man (, which treats the same theme but from a more positive and hopeful perspective (though the sting in the poem’s tale is the tragic irony of the last line).


January 16th, 2015The Gutter of Man and the Grandeur of Godby Joseph Pearce

What’s the connection between gratitude and grandeur, humility and hubris, and the gutter and the stars? Read on and find out:

January 15th, 2015‘Shouting Through The Water’: A Story of Strength in Weaknessby Michael Lichens |

Benjamin Mann, whose poetry will appear in the pages of StAR later this year, gives an introduction about his poetic gift and how his unusual style was developed by his personal and generational experience and struggles. It's well worth reading, as are any of his fine articles at Catholic Exchange. You can read it here.


















Read more at Catholic Exchange.

January 14th, 2015Heart Speaks to Heart - with Miraculous Graceby Kevin O'Brien |

From left to right around the table: Dale Ahlquist, Deacon Jack Sullivan, me, my son Colin, my wife Karen, our friend Jane Davies.

I've known Deacon Jack Sullivan for many years.  I got together with him again this past weekend, and he left with me a document that I'll be quoting from.  It's an account of his miraculous healing (I have taken the liberty of emphasizing some of what he says in boldface) ...

This story of mine began on June 6, 2000, when I embarked on a rather incredible and mysterious journey.  You see, I suddenly awoke that morning with excruciating and debilitating pain in my back and both legs.  At a local hospital a CT-scan revealed a serious succession of lumbar disc and vertebrae deformities turning inward and literally squeezing the life out of my spinal cord, causing severe stenosis.  I was in complete agony day and night.  Walking was nearly impossible as I was completely doubled over like a shrimp, only facing the ground.  

Paralysis was a distinct possibility for Jack.  The chief of spinal surgery at a major Boston hospital told him, "Without question, yours is the worst back I've seen in all my years of performing spinal surgery." The doctor scheduled Jack for surgery and told him to scrap his plans to finish his training in the diaconate formation program.  Jack was upset not merely because of his agonizing pain, but because his crippling condition meant he would perhaps never become a deacon in the Catholic Church.

Returning home, I was totally distraught realizing I would have to drop out!  I turned on the TV to get my mind off this calamity.  Switching channels, I accidentally stopped at the EWTN channel.  It was there that I was introduced to Cardinal John Henry Newman.  The program dealt with Cardinal Newman's uniquely difficult life and the crisis he faced in his vocation as an Anglican priest.

The program featured an interview with Fr. Ian Kerr, one of the major biographers of Newman's.  Fr. Kerr explained the great challenges that Newman faced over the course of his life, especially in his conversion to the Catholic Faith.  The program ended with a suggestion that if any viewers were to receive a "divine favor" through Newman's intercession, they should inform the postulator of his cause.  At the time, the Church had been waiting 110 years for a miracle to beatify him.

Jack continues ...

Because of this request, I prayed to him with all my heart, "Please Cardinal Newman, help me to walk so I can return to classes and be ordained."  I didn't pray for complete healing for that would be too presumptuous; merely to grant me this small "divine favor" which at that time was so urgent.  Then I went to bed.  To my amazement, I woke up that following morning completely pain free, when for months I was in constant agony.  Remarkably, I could walk normally with complete strength in my back and legs. 

Jack describes how his surgeon was astonished, for the MRI and Myelograms revealed that his spine was just as disfigured as it had been.  There had been no physical change and no reason why Jack was suddenly pain free and able to walk.  But Jack's joy was not confined to his deliverance from pain, as his baffled surgeon made a recommendation ...

He then suggested that I should cancel my surgery and RETURN TO MY CLASSES!

All along, Jack's focus had been on completing his training and becoming a deacon in the Catholic Church.  As the capital letters above indicate, health for him was not an end in itself.  A healthy back and freedom from pain were both good things in and of themselves, but also they were means to an end.  They were gifts from God to be used for the Kingdom.

But as soon as diaconate classes ended, and Jack had miraculously completed the third year of his formation program, the pain returned in full force.  Immediate surgery was required.

My dura mater (protective fibrous lining surrounding the spinal cord housing the spinal fluids) was very badly torn.  It also seemed very unlikely that my badly damaged and compressed spinal cord would decompress to its normal size because nerve tissue normally can't regenerate.  For days thereafter I continued to suffer incredible pain, day and night, with no relief in sight.  Even high dosages of morphine didn't help.  On the fifth day after surgery as I laid motionless in my bed, I was informed by one of the doctors that I "should forget about returning to my classes," scheduled to begin in three weeks, "because it would take many months to recover, if at all!"

And now the miracle continues ...

Upon hearing this tragic assessment, I suddenly felt a strong urge at least to try to get out of bed; to attempt to walk!  Inch by inch I slid to the edge of my bed in horrific pain.  With the nurse's help, I put my feel onto the cold floor, leaning on the bed with my forearms for support.  It was this moment of agony and frustration that led me again to prayer.  The exact same prayer I said the year before and under the same circumstances.  "Please Cardinal Newman, help me to walk so that I can return to classes and be ordained." 
Suddenly I felt a tremendous sensation of intense heat and a strong tingling feeling throughout my body.  It seemed to last a very long time.  I also felt an indescribable sense of resplendent joy and peace, the likes of which I had never encountered.  It was as though I was in God's presence and lifted up to heaven!  Then I felt a strong surge of strength and feeling of confidence that I could finally walk!  When I began my prayer I was leaning on my bed in utter agony.  But when this experience subsided, I found myself standing completely upright.  I then shouted to the nurse, "I have no more pain!"  

Jack then began bounding about the hospital room and walking briskly up and down the hall, the nurses worried and concerned, flocking about him and urging him to return to bed.

I was discharged two hours later without any need for pain medication nor rehabilitation!  Within a few days I was walking a mile or two daily.  Oh ... the date of my healing?  This wondrous event occurred on August 15th, the Feast of Our Lady's Assumption, body and soul into heaven.  It was later determined that my recovery and regeneration of the nerve tissue of my spinal cord on that unforgettable day was unexplainably accelerated in one mysterious moment.  And to everyone's astonishment, I returned to classes on time!

To make a long story short, the Vatican assembled a "team of spinal surgeons from all over Europe", who examined "all the films and medical records" and "unanimously voted by secret ballot that there was absolutely no medical or scientific explanation for my recovery."  This became the official miracle that led to Newman's beatification.

Jack Sullivan completed his classes and was ordained a deacon, and served with Pope Benedict XVI at the beatification Mass for John Henry Newman in England in 2010.

Pope Benedict (center), Deacon Jack Sullivan (far right) at the Mass of Beatification.

Jack reflects upon his miraculous healing (the capital letters are his) ...


And included in that is a share in the sufferings of your saint, which is a share in the sufferings of Christ ...

We must often endure similar sorrows, and afflictions of the saint whose intercessions we seek, before we can possibly share in that saint's victory! 


Now, Newman is not easy for many people to approach.  His writing is formal and his thinking quite deep.  He has a great sense of the need for austerity in religion - even severity - and this goes against our modern inclinations.  So at lunch I asked Deacon Jack, "How do you reconcile the friendship you feel with Cardinal Newman with what is sometimes a coldness in his writing and with his imposing intellect?"

"They key is sanctity," Jack responded.  "You've got to understand Newman through his holiness.  That's the key to everything he wrote and to everything he experienced and stood for."

John Henry Newman stood for the true Faith, a Faith we come to ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem, "out of the shadows and images into the truth", out of Unreality into Reality.  Newman always fought against the False Faith, what Deacon Jack Sullivan describes as man's attempt "to re-create for himself a humanly designed Heaven on earth to replace Almighty God's eternal Kingdom."

Finding this True Faith is finding not only "what a friend we have in Jesus" (to quote the old hymn), but finding what friends we have in one another - our friends here on earth and our friends in heaven.  Communion with this Truth is communion with a Person - with the Persons of the Trinity and with other persons on earth and in the Kingdom.  It is friendship.  It is when heart speaks to heart (which was Newman's motto).

For Deacon Jack Sullivan carries with him not only the effects of his miraculous healing, but also his deep and abiding friendship with the man whose prayer healed him. It is that friendship that is one of the marks of sanctity, of holiness; it is such friendship that is one of the blessed joys of heaven.


Here's our short movie on Newman's conversion, filmed on location where it happened in Littlemore, England ...

... and here I am as Bl. Dominic Barberi, the Passionist priest who received John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church ...

January 14th, 2015A Life of Leisure is a Civilized Lifeby Joseph Pearce

I was struck by this very good article on the importance of leisure, properly understood and properly practiced. Read on, at your leisure!

January 14th, 2015The Best of Ignatius Pressby Joseph Pearce

I’ve been asked by Ignatius Press to list six of its titles that I consider to be my own personal favourites and which I would recommend to others. Considering how many wonderful books Ignatius has published over the years, it was not an easy task. Indeed I am haunted by many significant sins of omission. In any event, here are the six titles that I selected with my brief reasons for choosing thus:

Ignatius Press has been blazing a trail with the publication of new Catholic fiction which I hope will be catalytic in the generation of a renewed Catholic literary revival in the twenty-first century. A Postcard from the Volcano by Lucy Beckett would be my pick of the bunch. Superbly well-written by an author who is steeped in western culture and thoroughly knowledgeable of European history, this novel should be on every well-read Catholic’s reading list.

Whilst on the subject of contemporary Catholic fiction, I would be committing a sin of omission were I not to mention the novels of Michael D. O’Brien. Any and all of his works are worth reading but I still think his first, Father Elijah, is possibly his finest.  

Ignatius has also blazed a worthy trail with its active promotion of the works and legacy of the great G. K. Chesterton. One thinks especially perhaps of the painstaking publication of the Collected Works. My Chestertonian choice (apart from my own biography of him!) would be one of Dale Ahlquist’s introductions to Chesterton, such as Common Sense 101.

I cannot get enough of the writing of the wonderful Thomas Howard and would especially recommend his Dove Descending, an engaging and enlightening study of T. E. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

As an aficionado of the great literary works of Christendom, it has been a true honour to be the series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions. I would unflinchingly recommend any of the titles in this very important series but will single out The Merchant of Venice, principally for the simply sublime critical essays which shed priceless light on this so often misunderstood and misconstrued play.

Last but indubitably not least would be any and all of the works of Pope Benedict XVI/Cardinal Ratzinger, of which the awe-inspiring brilliance of The Spirit of the Liturgy would be my first choice.  

January 14th, 2015King Lear Learns to Loveby Joseph Pearce

This morning I had the great pleasure of watching a delightful production of Twelfth Night on the campus of Belmont University, here in Nashville. This afternoon, I had the pleasure of reading this excellent article on King Lear:

January 13th, 2015My Eurekas Spring Forthby Kevin O'Brien |

Downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas

I am writing this late at night in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, one of the most charming and bizarre places on Earth.  And so I pass along a few observations, which may or may not be "eureka!" worthy ...

  • Fidelity to our vocations is part of fidelity to Christ.  Our identities are tied up in our vocations.  Thus, if a man cheats on his wife, his very identity is compromised.  Likewise if he cheats on his vocational calling in the world.

  • "History is a long defeat" is not only true for world history, but is true as well in our own lives.  We'll never be perfect, and if our zeal for God gets translated into zeal for perfection, we become impossible to live with - so much so that we can't even stand ourselves.  We must strive for perfection and be ever frustrated that we don't reach it.  This keeps us humble.  As does getting old.

  • The key to the Kingdom is humility.  To enter the vast cathedral with its heaven-high ceiling, you must bow very low to fit through the door, smelling the dirt on the way in.  And most of that dirt you smell is yours.

  • One of the best ways to be humble is to smell that dirt of yours - to realize you're always prone to sin.  This explains why the effects of original sin are allowed to linger in the baptized, even when the guilt is removed and sanctifying grace is given.  It is more important to be imperfect and aware of your own failure, than it is to be perfect and self-satisfied: for self-satisfaction is the uroboros.  And of course, self-satisfaction is an imperfection - which is why to be truly perfect, we need the cross.  Thus the cross is the great symbol of defeat, and by embracing this lifelong defeat, we take up our cross and are remade.

  • Gradualism, the gradual sliding into serious sin, is pernicious, much more pernicious than we can imagine.  We will slowly slide toward doing things that we would never imagine ourselves doing were the temptation presented to us immediately and outright.  Gradualism is grooming and grooming is gradualism.  A man will slowly slide into becoming a vile sinner by crossing one small boundary at a time, over many months or years.

  • I have invented a word for the childless contracepting shacking up Yuppies and gays who love effete cultural activities: the STERILIGENTSIA.  Here in Eureka Springs, the steriligentsia go to the fancy restaurants, crystal shops and aroma therapy spas downtown; the rustic reproducers go to the Passion play and country music shows and all-you-can-eat buffets on the ridge.  And in the same way that there are two competing cities described by St. Augustine of Hippo: the Earthly City and the City of God, so are there two other competing cities described by St. Kevin of Hipster: Sterility City and Toddler Town.

  • We become what we love.

January 13th, 2015Chesterton in Tennesseeby Joseph Pearce

This week finds me back in Tennessee at Aquinas College in Nashville. I have lots of exciting activities planned, not least of which is my first public speaking engagement of 2015. This Thursday evening I am speaking at New College in Franklin on “G. K. Chesterton: Champion of Orthodoxy”. I hope that any Chestertonians in central Tennessee will try to attend. My own talk is a curtain-raiser for Chuck Chalberg’s one-man Chesterton show (as seen on EWTN) which we’re bringing to the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College on February 24th.

This week, on my calendar, is dinner with Catholic composer, Michael Kurek, of Vanderbilt University, who, amongst his many other achievements, has composed a ballet of Macbeth.  Continuing with the Shakespearean dimension of this week’s activities, I’m going to see the Nashville Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night. I’m also guest-teaching a class on Tolkien at Belmont University for which I’m honoured to say that my book Tolkien: Man & Myth is being used as a set text. Life is good!

January 13th, 2015Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul”by Daniel J. Heisey

Sixty-five years ago premiered The Consul, an English-language opera in three acts.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1950, enhancing the growing reputation of its young composer and librettist, Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007).  A performance for television in 1960 is available on DVD.  That version recreated the original production, and Patricia Neway brilliantly reprised her role as Magda Sorel, the central figure in the opera.  Central, that is, unless one counts the looming presence of the never seen and unnamed Consul.

The Consul is set in a police state somewhere behind the Iron Curtain.  Menotti said that he got the idea for The Consul when he read a newspaper story about a woman in an Eastern Bloc country who was denied a visa to the United States and then committed suicide.  Menotti transformed that fleeting and tragic news item into a powerful and enduring work of art.

The late twentieth century saw topical operas by another American composer, John Adams, works such as Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer.  Controversial from their first performances, they will probably fade from the repertoire once people have forgotten the historical events on which those operas were based.  Meanwhile, Menotti’s The Consul will endure because of its timeless, almost mythological or fairy tale, quality.  In order to appreciate The Consul, one need never have heard of the news report that had inspired Menotti.

In the 1950s and 1960s, The Consul spoke to the fears and tensions of the Cold War.  In 2000, when Menotti directed a revival of The Consul at Kennedy Center, it fit into current debates about immigration.  All the while, The Consul transcends passing political worries and addresses perennial themes such as the duty a citizen owes his country, the state’s tendency to turn humans into numbers, the instinct of parents to provide for the security of their children.

In a large city in a totalitarian state in Europe, Magda Sorel lives in a small, walk-up flat with her husband, their baby, and her widowed mother.  Magda’s husband, John, is a critic of the oppressive regime, and because he attended a clandestine midnight meeting that had been raided, he is on the run from the authorities.

As plain clothes police officers arrive to search his residence, he hides on a ledge on the roof of the apartment.  The chief inspector questions Magda and tries to intimidate her with menacing, double-edged lines such as, “We like to give people a second chance,” “We could leave you alone if you would prove to be of help,” and “We shall see each other again.”

Once the police have gone, John climbs back inside and prepares to flee that night for the frontier.  Driven by fear for her family’s safety, Magda obeys John’s parting instructions and goes the next day to the consulate to apply for a visa for her family to leave the country.

At the consulate, she encounters the slow, heartless routine of any bureaucracy.  With several other aspiring emigrants, Magda must wait to see the Consul while a lone secretary sits at her typewriter and processes paperwork.  To an elderly man who has been retuning day after day, the secretary explains, “It isn’t our fault if you never bring the necessary documents.”  In answer to Magda’s repeated pleas, the secretary reminds Magda of the inflexible procedure:  “Your name is a number, your story’s a case, your need a request, your hopes will be filed.  Come back next week.”

Among the desperate people waiting day after day in that dreary office is a man claiming to be a famous magician.  He regales the secretary with his resume and attempts to charm her with magic tricks.  She tries to retain her cold façade but is clearly flustered by his antics, nothing ever covered in the training manual, and to his chagrin he realizes that confronted with such a resolute gatekeeper, there can be no magic word, no “Open sesame.”

Like the magician and the others, Magda must come back each day and fill out new forms.  Worn down by months of waiting to see the Consul, Magda despairs.  Her husband is a fugitive, her baby has died, her mother is dying, and the secret police patrol outside her flat.  All because the country she loves has become a prison.

At the end of Act Two, Magda sings a show-stopping aria, “To this we’ve come.”  She laments to the secretary, “If to them, not to God, we now must pray,/tell me, Secretary, tell me,/who are these men? . . . Who are these dark archangels?/ . . . Is there one—anyone behind those doors/to whom the heart can still be explained?/ . . . I ask you for help,/and all you give me is papers!”  The person left unmoved by Magda’s anguish is but a fist clenched around a hammer and sickle.

For close to seventy years some critics have disdained Menotti’s operas as second-rate Puccini.  Moreover, since Menotti’s operas are in English, those critics dismiss them as merely quaint operettas.  Menotti himself billed The Consul as “a musical drama,” hoping to attract a wider audience beyond the standard white-tie opera society crowd.

Still, there are worse fates than being labeled a poor man’s Puccini, and people who avoid opera because they cannot understand Italian (or French or German) have no excuse with Menotti’s works.  Like Puccini’s Tosca, Menotti’s The Consul explores themes of love, faith, and loyalty bullied and crushed under a dictatorship.  Unlike Tosca, there is no need for subtitles.  Opera distills human nature to elements common to us all and need not be obscure to be great.

A year after composing The Consul, Menotti wrote the first opera for television, Amahl and the Night Visitors.  Ever since, whether on stage or the small screen, it has been a favorite parable for Christmas.  Amahl’s tale is happier than Magda’s, but both characters reveal deep truths about family and faith, as well as about hope and love.  Menotti was a deeply religious man, yet he was full of questions and doubts.  As an artist, he used his inner struggles to shape his work; Menotti understood human nature and how to express its fears and desires in beautiful words and music.


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.

January 10th, 2015Inside Out - Actors and Catholicsby Kevin O'Brien |

I have known some actors who have an extrinsic view of their careers.  In other words, they see their success in show business as a kind of thing an actor acquires, an adornment, a sort of garment to be put on - and they seek with tireless energy the luck that will throw them that garment.

Others focus on the love they have for their craft and on doing good work and figuring out a way to make a living doing what they love.  The difference between the two is the difference between a man who marries a woman because he likes how she looks when he parades her in public and a man who marries a woman because he loves her and would do anything for her.  If, in the latter case, she happens to look good on a date, that's a bonus, but it's not the heart of the matter.

Love for your vocation is intrinsic.  The trappings of your vocation are extrinsic.

We see something similar in theology.  Martin Luther saw justification as an entirely extrinsic thing, a covering put on by a sinner that does not change the sinner in any way, but that merely makes him acceptable in the eyes of God.  This is radically different from the Catholic notion of justification, which involves sanctification, an ontological change, a change in the very being, an intrinsic change - indeed a death and rebirth - in the sinner who receives God's grace.

But most American Catholics are Protestants with beads.  Many of my Devout Catholic friends seem to have this same Protestant extrinsic view of their faith.  They may not articulate justification in a Lutheran way, but they act as if Faith for them is a kind of fashion, a garment they put on, not a change that starts from within.  In the same way that Hipsters dress and talk a certain way, and identify with the externals, thinking that the music they play and the things they say and the clothes they wear actually make up who they are, so some Devout Catholics go to Daily Mass, pray devotions, know the pop-Catholic catch phrases, fawn over Catholic media celebrities, and identify as Catholics because of this, getting trapped in the trappings of the Faith.

Please don't get me wrong.  I'm not judging them because of this, because I'm often like this, too.  Everything we do in life is a mixture of organic things that express who we are and extrinsic accotrements that we sometimes have to rely on when the motivation is lacking, when who we are falls short of what we ought to do.  

In a sense, we are all actors cast in roles that are too big for us to play.

St. John addressed this sort of thing about 2,000 years ago ...

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (1 John 3:9-10)

In other words, we shall know them by their fruits (Mat. 7:20), for the true works of Christians are the fruits of the seed of God - His Holy Spirit, dwelling in us.  But what a great rebuke this is to all of us unregenerate sinners who persist in our sins - and who thereby remain "children of the devil"!

... or, as I like to call them, bad actors.

January 10th, 2015Holy Motherhoodby Joseph Pearce

A few months ago I was honoured to be asked to write the foreword to a book celebrating the life of Rosie Gil, a woman who epitomized the path to sanctity to be found in the openness to life. A pioneer of Catholic homeschooling, Rosie Gil's devotion to her faith and family is truly inspiring. 

The book is now available:


Here's my Foreword:


See You in Heaven

The life of Rose Lee Gil



by Joseph Pearce


I never knew Rosie Gil because her earthly life passed away before I had the opportunity to meet her. Yet, in spite of this, I feel that I know her very well. The reason is that I have met her posthumously in the spiritual scrapbook of her life which this book represents. In the following pages Rosie’s own words of wisdom and love are interwoven with the memories of her daughter, Maria.

Wisdom and Love … In the life of Rosie Gil, as in the lives of the saints, these two great gifts are always inextricably interwoven; inseparable because they are ultimately One, united in the Divine Source from which they have their being.   

Rosie Gil was a homeschooling mother of eight who exalted the vocation of motherhood and assisted others in educating their own children. Rosie and her husband Robert organized the first homeschool organization in Louisiana and then the first Catholic homeschool organization in Alabama. Yet these are the bare bones of her life. The flesh was always the Word of God, which she lived and loved and which she taught others to live and love, not least of whom were her own children.

In our darkened and wicked world, which destroys marriage, denigrates motherhood and slaughters children, we need the powerful witness of Rosie Gil, a loving wife and mother who raised her children with the self-sacrificial heart of true love. As with the lives of the saints, she is a candle in the dark. But she is also a flame of the Family, shining forth the hope of the Home to the hopeless and homeless. Maria Gil, the author of this little gem of sanity and sanctity, hopes that it will serve as “a much needed handguide for women and mothers in a very confused world” and that it will be “a treasure for Catholic homeschool mothers and their families”. It is, however, a pearl beyond the price of any earthly treasure because it shows us that the hearth of home is a Mother’s heart.

I’d like to address my final words not to the reader who is about to be blessed by this book but to Rosie Gil herself whose life has been a blessing to all who knew her and to all who, through this slim volume, are destined to know her.

As the title of this little book suggests, Rosie Gil, we may indeed hope to see you in heaven. In the meantime, we give thanks for seeing a glimpse of heaven in the holiness of your life on earth. Through your love of Christ and His Church and in your Christian example of true motherhood, you have blessed us all. May flights of angels sing you to your reward, Rosie Gil, and may your posthumous presence continue to bless those of us still struggling in the Vale of Tears.

January 7th, 2015Africa’s Catholic momentby Kevin Kennelly

Why do we have a hard time accepting that the poor are more likely to accept  Christianity ( and remain faithful) than the rich, the beautiful , the self satisfied . This thought is nothing if not well documented in the New Testament and verified by history. Ireland was poor but Catholic ; Ireland is rich but not Catholic. As the first world shamefully sheds its beliefs , the faith thrives in Africa. In my hometown , we have several OUTSTANDING African priests ......missionaries , I suppose, to a flagging culture. Mr. George Weigel Africa's Catholic Moment on this subject is well worth reading.

January 7th, 2015The Politics of Tolkienby Joseph Pearce

Years ago, I had the honor of writing the foreword to Bradley J. Birzer's excellent book, J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth. Today I have the pleasure of posting a truly excellent article by Dr. Birzer on Tolkien's politics:

January 6th, 2015Pope Pius XII on Stalinism and Other Evilsby Brendan D. King

Pope Pius XII to "an enormous crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square" to protest the show trial of Cardinal Mindszenty, February 20, 1949.

Excerpted from "His Humble Servant: Sister M. Pascalina Lehnert's Memoirs of Her Years of Service to Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII". Page 150.

"Do you want a Church that remains silent when She should speak; that diminishes the law of God where she is called to proclaim it loudly, wanting to accommodate it to the will of man? Do you want a Church that departs from the unshakable foundations upon which Christ founded Her, taking the easy way of adapting Herself to the opinion of the day; a Church that is a prey to current trends; a Church that does not condemn the suppression of conscience and does not stand up for the just liberty of the people; a Church that locks Herself up within the four walls of Her temple in unseemly sycophancy, forgetting the divine mission received from Christ: 'Go out the crossroads and preach the people'? Beloved sons and daughters! Spiritual heirs of numberless confessors and martyrs! Is this the Church you venerate and love? Would you recognize in such a Church the features of your Mother? Would you be able to imagine a Successor of St. Peter submitting to such demands?"

In reply to the Holy Father came a single cry like thunder still ringing in our ears: "No!"

January 6th, 2015The Theology of the Bawdyby Joseph Pearce

I enjoy the literary musings of Sean Fitzpatrick and his latest piece on "The Theology of the Bawdy" is particularly good:

January 5th, 2015Absolute Comfort Corrupts Absolutelyby Joseph Pearce

My latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative makes the unlikely connection between Homer and Pink Floyd to show that comfort is the great corrupter:

January 4th, 2015Join Me and Fr. Dwight Longenecker in Englandby Joseph Pearce

June will be here before we know it, and for those of you who have not yet registered and yet would like to join me and Father Dwight Longenecker on the “English Martyrs & Catholic Writers” tour of June 3 – 12, 2015, there is still time to register.

The registration form is due by February 28th with the final deadline of March 31st. Late registrations will be accepted with a small late fee according to the terms.

January 1st, 2015A Literary Pilgrimage with Ralph C. Woodby Joseph Pearce

I've recently had the pleasure of reading the Christmas Letter of the great literary luminary and scholar, Ralph C. Wood, whose works I have admired for years. It contained details of such a joyous literary romp from the Deep South to the Mystic West (of Ireland) that I've sought and received his permission to share this part of his Letter with visitors to the Ink Desk:

  Two summer ventures were among the highlights of our year. In June, we spent a long weekend in Louisiana celebrating the life and work of a writer whom I’ve taught and written about for forty years: Walker Percy. Suzanne and I visited the gravesite of Percy and his wife Bunt in the burial ground of St. Joseph’s Benedictine monastery in Covington. We then circled back to St. Francisville, an historic riverport town located near a great bend of the Mississippi. We joined a host of other folks engaged in lively conversation about the things Percy believed and loved and criticized. Among other delights, there was a crawfish boil, a shrimpfest, a pig pickin’, even a bourbon-tasting tour of four historic homes. The whole event was organized and underwritten by Rod Dreher, author of a remarkable book about leaving the high places of New York journalism to live in his Louisiana hometown. It’s entitled The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. My talk was delivered in the restored Jewish synagogue. It was devoted to Percy’s complex relation to his adoptive father, William Alexander Percy— the Mississippi aristocrat, plantation owner, civic leader, and writer who is remembered mainly for his poignant memoir, Lanterns on the Levee. I would have trembled had anyone told me in advance that there were Percy family members in the audience, including Walker and Bunt’s daughter! Hence my relief when they assured me later that I had got things right.

  Then in July we traveled to Ireland for an international symposium on Flannery O’Connor held at All Souls College in Dublin. We especially enjoyed Trinity College library with its many antique holdings, including the Book of Kells. It was also worthwhile seeing St. Patrick’s Anglican Cathedral, where Jonathan Swift served as Dean from 1713-45. We then traveled northward to follow the trail left by St. Patrick, the heroic 5th century missionary who managed to convert the war-making Irish without incurring a single martyrdom. We visited the holy mountain called Croagh Patrick as well as his gravesite and museum in Downpatrick. We also ascended the gentle but stony slope of Knocknarea to behold a huge 3500 BC rock cairn raised in honor of mythical Queen Maeve. Perhaps the most moving places we visited was the memorial honoring the Irish émigrés who sought to escape the horrible 19th century potato famine—one million died and more than a million were forced to emigrate. As you will notice, its fleeing victims are figured in the ship’s rigging.

  We also attended Evensong in the Anglican church at Sligo where William Butler Yeats’ grandfather served as rector in the 19th century. It was the opening event of the annual Yeats Festival, which this year was led by my Baylor colleague Richard Russell. We visited various Yeats sites in Donegal, among them the medieval High Crosses. At these holy places located at or near monasteries, sermons were preached, covenants made and reconciliations sealed, as the Christian story was figured in the stone. These impressive monuments were Ireland’s chief contribution to medieval art. Then we ventured into Northern Ireland to learn more about the work of Seamus Heaney, the Nobel-winning poet who visited the Baylor campus only two years ago. A friend of the poet, Eugene Kielt, guided us on a splendid tour of several sites that feature prominently in Heaney’s work. Among these were Devlin’s Forge, the family farm in Anahorish, the statue of the Turfman (commemorating Heaney’s most famous poem, “Digging”), the bus station where his mother could have been incinerated when it was blown up by the IRA, as well as Heaney’s grave in Bellaghy. Thus did we enter into the living worlds of poetry and poverty and sainthood as books and pictures could never enable us to do.  

December 31st, 2014The Magical Thinking of Devout Catholicsby Kevin O'Brien |

There was a potential murder mystery client that I was hoping to land.  He had worked with every other murder mystery company around, and at that time there were three or four others in St. Louis.  They all told me the same thing, "The man is impossible to work for."  None of them lasted more than a few years performing at his venue.

"But I can do it!" I said to myself.  "They can't work with him, but I can work with him!  After all, I'm more intelligent and sensitive than they are.  I do well with difficult people.  I'll win him over, get him to like me.  I can succeed where all others failed!"

We lasted three months.  He was a monster.


I've noticed a strange sickness in Devout Catholics.  We don't seem to understand that trust is a form of rational assent.

This goes hand in hand with the malaise of our age - Unreality.

Let me explain what I mean.

We have faith in God because He is worthy of belief.  He exists.  Faith rests upon reason.  It goes beyond reason, for faith is an intellectual and emotional assent to something we have a rational basis for believing in, but which is not before our eyes.  Faith bridges the gap between indication and demonstration.  I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, for all indications are that it will (as it always has, and I notice, even late at night, the stars turning and light breaking in the east; therefore the indications are that it will again).  But once the demonstration is present, and the sun has risen, I need no longer exercise my faith, as the evidence is no longer hoped for, but present.

However faith can also be misplaced.  Every episode of American Greed demonstrates that the worst thing we can do is have confidence in a confidence man.

Faith, then, is justified in reality, in the test.  Faith is an exercise of the will.  It serves as a correspondence between the reality of the object-of-faith and our own belief in that object, even when the object is absent from our view.

However, when a man gives no indication of being trustworthy, it is foolish to trust him.  This is obvious, but Catholics too often indulge in magical thinking, and in that magical thinking lurks a good deal of pride, naive though the thinker may be: for even naive people, even the innocent, can be brim full of pride.

To say to someone, "I don't trust you" is not - or should not be - a subjective statement.  Unpacking that statement would go like this: "I don't trust you because you are not worthy of trust.  You have demonstrated bad behavior in the past, and there are no indications of good behavior in the future.  Because you are not trustworthy, if I were to exercise trust in you, my will would not be corresponding with truth, with reality - and that is a sin."

If a man burns through every murder mystery company in town, he will burn through you.  If you flatter yourself into believing that you can achieve what no one else has been able to achieve before you, you are both Innocent of the way the world works, and you are an Innocent soaked in Pride.

And yet, fellow Devout Catholics, we somehow think that faith justifies itself, or that - as the pop slogans and motivational posters tell us - it is a virtue to believe - though what the hell we're supposed to believe in is never hinted at.  Faith and trust are transient verbs (so to speak), they are actions that must take an object, and they are true if the object is worthy, false if the object is not.

Belief, faith, trust, hope - these things are not magical.  You can't make a man trustworthy by trusting in him.  You can't make a false god exist by believing in him.  You can't make Tinker Bell come back to life by gritting your teeth and believing really hard.   You can't make a bad actor a good actor, even if you're a brilliant director.  You can't make a bad husband a good husband, even if you think that by marrying him you can reform him.  You can't make neglectful bishops into caring bishops, no matter how many lawsuits you file or Dallas Charters you pressure them to pass.

Our wishes are not magical.

We need to get over our pride and start realizing, once again, that the whole purpose of virtuous living, for a Christian or a Pagan, is corresponding what we think and do with what actually exists.  We are to correspond with reality.  Anything less than that is not only hardly Christian, it's hardly human.

December 31st, 2014I am Dena Hunt

The Pope of the Catholic Church is not infallible. The papacy is. I understand this distinction. Spelled out, it goes like this: When the Holy Father speaks on faith and morals, he is speaking with the authority of Jesus Christ. That’s the parameter of his infallible authority. When he speaks on faith and morals, I listen. I obey. When the pope speaks on politics, scientific theory, or any other subject, I listen, but I am free to disagree, to disregard, and to choose to listen to those persons who actually do have authority in these areas.  The pope does not.

I regret that our current Holy Father speaks so strongly on topics about which no one expects him to know any more than anyone else. As far as his popular image is concerned, I don’t really care what color shoes he wears, what sort of car he goes about in, or where he chooses to set up housekeeping. I’m not given to judging such gossip-like details. Far from being impressed, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

I regret he got involved in clandestine political machinations with President Obama, and not because I agree or disagree with either man’s opinions on the subject of American foreign policy, but I regret even more that he’s now chosen to write an encyclical about climate change. I won’t read it. I prefer to read opinions from those who are more qualified in the areas about which they speak. And I also regret he was not clear, right out there, up front, overt and specific, about the faith-and-morals teaching of the Church on issues like divorce and homosexual marriage.

St. John Paul the Great lived and operated under total political suppression. What made his life as a cardinal in communist Poland so extraordinary was his focus on his responsibility as a religious leader of his people.  Eventually, that steadfast devotion to his duty helped to bring about the downfall of that suppression. He was never unclear or vague about faith and morals—quite the contrary—and he never touted his opinions on matters outside the faith.

Nothing is more seductive than flattery and applause, especially from a fickle and sensation-hungry press, and nothing is more fatal to our souls than vanity. Time spent alone on our knees, as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI are known to have done, can clear up a lot of confusion about what God’s will is, about what our responsibility is, even for the ordinary layperson. St. John Paul wrote every word of his encyclicals in the presence of Blessed Sacrament. But those encyclicals were about faith and morals. I suppose “encyclicals” on other subjects can be written anywhere, provided one wears shoes of a politically correct color.

December 31st, 2014The Movie and the Meta-Movie: Reflections on “The Interview”by Kevin O'Brien |

People don't realize how important we are to freedom.  The first thing a totalitarian society suppresses is its comedians. - Groucho Marx

John Lennon said something similar, which was that nobody would ever take him seriously enough to try to assassinate him the way they assassinate politicians, because he and Yoko were just fools - just comedians.  Of course, this was before he was assassinated.


So on Christmas Day, my son Colin and I thumbed our noses at North Korea - or whoever hacked Sony - and watched The Interview in the comfort of our suburban American home.

The movie was funny and provocative - more so because of the Meta-movie (the hack and the terrorist threats) - than the film itself.

In fact, the movie is quite bad in some ways.  There were parts of it that were utterly offensive and juvenile - not because I find gross out humor unfunny, but because it's obvious that corporate-think is behind so much of the garbage Hollywood feeds us these days.  Hollywood Rude Comedies are test marketed and aimed primarily at frat boys, or 14-year-old morons who will soon become frat boys.

And so, in the same way that every single movie made for young kids must have exactly three fart jokes, so Rude Comedies are now (apparently) required to include at least one joke about pornography and semen - regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you or how forced and unnecessary the joke might happen to be.

And this movie had that (and then some) - and that offends me, because it's so obviously a corporate insert designed for a specific effect.  The obligatory vulgarities seemed unrelated to the movie's artistic merit or integrity.

Which is a shame, for this film does have some artistic merit and does have some integrity.  It is a cut above most Rude Comedies, despite the uncomfortable moments.

But the real integrity of this movie is the Meta-Movie, the story outside the story.  For both the message in the move and the message outside the movie are the same.

And that message is this - rude, crass and vulgar as our American pop culture is, there is something authentic and liberating about it, something funny and spontaneous and alive, something Real - and our humor can topple tyrants, the way our typically American chewing gum topples a bad guy in a disturbing and yet strangely funny scene in this movie.

And indeed Lennon and Marx may long survive Lenin and Marx.

And North Korea has a long way to go before they learn this lesson.

South Korea (foreground), North Korea (background) at the Demilitarized Zone.  I took this picture on our Department of Defense tour to East Asia, 1991.


December 31st, 2014Physical Disabilities and the Origins of the Cosmosby Joseph Pearce

I sent the article about the origins of the cosmos, which I posted to the Ink Desk earlier today, to an atheist friend of mine in England. His response was good and enlightening. I was particularly touched by this paragraph, full of the humility that is sadly lacking from so many advocates of scientism:  

We don't really know all that much. Our physics is known to be seriously incomplete. The theory of the Very Large (General Relativity) conflicts in serious respects with the theory of the Very Small (Quantum Physics), so one or both are definitely incorrect (this is not controversial). Also both Theories end up with 96% of the mass/energy in the Universe comprised of Unknown Stuff ("Dark Matter" and "Dark Energy"). A body of physical theory that can only explain 4% of the Universe and even then contradicts itself is no basis for hubristic bragging....

December 31st, 2014Voegelin and the Two Waysby Kevin O'Brien |

I am in the midst of reading a number of excellent books, including several by Eric Voegelin, a brilliant writer, who has been recommended to me before.  Blog reader Marianne Bacon is the latest to suggest him - and I'm glad she did, as I've been devouring whatever ebooks I could find of his since last week.  He gives a name to the nameless heresy of our age, and writes profoundly about what I've been calling Unreality, and he analyzes it philosophically, psychologically and historically.

I plan on writing about Voegelin at length and in detail soon.

But here's what he seems to be saying in a nutshell.

There are two primary ways societies organize themselves.  One is in accordance with transcendent truths and with the truths of the human psyche.  The other is in accordance with Unreality, subjective systems that reject transcendent truths and that brutalize the human psyche in order forcibly to reshape it to suit the society's ends.  Socially we see this most clearly in totalitarian states, and in fiction Orwell captured it in his novel 1984, which is about the exhaustive and violently dehumanizing attempt to keep Reality suppressed so that the arbitrary Unreality of the party can hold sway.  Voegelin calls this Gnosticism and traces it back to the original Gnosticism of ancient times.

What he says is crucial to today's insanity, for our society has now become so utterly "Gnostic", and so absurdly devoted to the Unreal that even a person's sex is denied.  Neither our chromosomes nor our genitalia determine what sex we are anymore - or so the Lie goes.  Men are not men and women are not women.  Even the most fundamental distinction in our very nature is up for grabs.  And that's just the most startling example of an age wherein we honestly believe that reality is whatever we call it, that our powers of creating fiction are limitless, that our Unreality is real, and by God we'll crush anyone who points out, even meekly, that it isn't.  We are even forced to believe that marriage, for example, is not a real thing but a fictional creation, a merely subjective human whim that bears no relation to anything beyond itself.

As I say, I'll write more about this later, for it goes to the heart of the single most fundamental distinction between people these days.  That distinction is not Christian vs. Secular, it's Gnostic vs. Realist.  You'll recall that much of my critique of Christopher West and the Sex Magic he's peddling is that it's Gnostic.  I called it that long before reading Voegelin, and it shows that even those within the Church can be as devoted to Unreality as those without - sometimes more so.

Again, that which divides us (at least to an outside observer) is not our position within or without the Catholic Church.  What divides us is this ...

1. Do we think of reality as something ordered, awesome and transcendent, a Truth to which we struggle to correspond, both in thought and action (and for Christians through worship and prayer), something beyond us, which can only be approached with humility?


2. Do we think of reality as a subjective construct that we must work very hard to maintain, even if we must use brutal or immoral means to do so?

In other words, do we approach reality with humility or with pride?  This is the fundamental question at the root of everything Voegelin says.

And many of my friends, even my Devout Catholic friends, are of the second camp, prideful, Unrealists, Inconsequentialists.  They find themselves in the wrong branch of the divide - perhaps through no fault of their own, for our society is Gnostic and is as viciously insistent on its Untruths in 2014 as the Soviet Union ever was in 1954, when Voegelin was writing.  It's in the air we breathe - even (perhaps especially) in the air inside our weird suburban shopping mall parishes.

Meanwhile, here are some aspects of this modern Gnosticism of Unreality that I've noticed ...

UNREALITY (Gnosticism) =

  • Lack of boundaries (since we create our own reality, reality's boundaries are always shifting)
  • Formlessness & vagueness (form fades with the denial of metaphysics, and without form nothing can be defined)
  • Exhaustive effort to maintain the fiction (my fellow neurotics and addicts - you know what I mean by this)
  • Contempt for the real world (Unrealists are very angry that their Cloud Cities are always evaporating in the heat of that real thing we call the sun)
  • Ingratitude (you can only be grateful for a gift, and if you work very hard to make reality, reality is never a gift)
  • Addictive behavior (addicts are clear examples of people devoted to their own make-believe, even if it kills them or kills others)
  • Inversion - light becomes dark (a demonic inversion always results from these points)
  • No humility - as you are the god of your own reality

These are simply notes, first impressions of a profoundly important writer that I'm very grateful I've discovered.

December 31st, 2014The Best of all Impossible Worldsby Joseph Pearce

G. K. Chesterton once said that we don't live in the best of all possible worlds, we live in the best of all impossible worlds. As this article from the Wall Street Journal illustrates, it seems that science is finally beginning to agree with Chesterton: 

In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself.
Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.

Read the rest here:

December 30th, 2014Is the Catholic Church Elitist?by Joseph Pearce

I've just replied to an e-mail correspondent who seemed to be suggesting that the literary converts at the heart of the Catholic Revival were "upper class" and that "it is not surprising that so many of the upper classes of Europe were drawn to Catholicism with its rigid emphasis on the divine right of the hierarchy and natural inequalities between people".

  Here's my response:

  I'm not sure that you make your perspective very clear so I'm not sure of the extent to which I agree with you.

  I will, however, make a few observations suggestive of my unease with what I take to be your drift.

  First, the majority of the literary converts were certainly not "upper class" in the sense in which that term is usually understood in Europe. Far from being blue-blooded aristocrats most of the converts were from the middle class, sometimes, as was the case with Tolkien, from the impoverished middle class.

  Catholicism does not teach "the divine right of the hierarchy" any more than it teaches the divine right of kings. It teaches the divine right of Divinity! It is true that within the Mystical Body of Christ, i.e. the Church, there is a divinely instituted hierarchy but it is perilous in the extreme to conflate the Body of Christ with the secular Body Politic.

  As for the Church's alleged "rigid emphasis on the natural inequalities between people" this is always trumped by an even more rigid insistence on the supernatural equality between people as creatures made in God's image. Whatever natural differences exist between people they remain co-heirs of the Kingdom. This is why the Church protects the weakest members of society, such as the disabled and the unborn.  

December 30th, 2014Big Hearted Big Businessby Joseph Pearce

The pernicious secularism promoted by big business was epitomized for me during a visit to Walgreens on Christmas Eve. As I searched for the tinsel that my six-year-old had requested for the tree, I heard a commercial for flu shots to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Since the word "Christmas" is verboten in the language of modern big business, the singer in the commercial altered the words to remove the offensive language. If my memory serves me correctly, he sung words to the effect that "on the first day of the holidays" his true love had given him the flu. With this admittedly trivial effort by Walgreens to inoculate its customers against the harmful effects of Christmas ringing in my ears, I was heartened upon my return home to discover a wonderful commercial being shown in the UK this Christmas season for the supermarket chain, Sainsbury's. It takes as its theme the famous Christmas Truce in the trenches in 1914. It presents a profoundly Christian message and rekindled my faith in the ability of big business to be big hearted. 

I urge all visitors to the Ink Desk to take a few minutes to watch this heart-lifting commercial:

December 30th, 2014Christmas Musings by Sister Xby Joseph Pearce

I've just received this wonderful e-mail from a religious sister whom I met on my recent travels. Whilst protecting her privacy, I thought I'd share her thoughts on Christmas, Aragorn, George MacDonald, Father Faber, the Rosary, and my own conversion: 

(Dec. 25) When you came in December, it was Advent; I waited for Christmas to write you. I enjoyed listening - again - to your talk on the Catholic Significance of Lord of the Rings. I was happy as well to be able share conversation over breakfast with you and Sister and Father. Hope you had an enjoyable visit and that you can return again sometime.

  So here we are celebrating the day that Jesus came forth to establish His Kingdom in the darkness of sin and hate. Tolkien's visual of Aragorn leaving Rivendale at night on Christmas is such a vivid portrayal of the symbolism: He is going to establish his kingdom, but going into a dark, frightening world of corruption and fear - the extent of the corruption seems to compound the further he goes. He is ready to take it on, having prepared for it all his life.

I am reading Race With the Devil. My gracious, Joseph. You are lectures in your teens! No wonder you are such a good speaker -- giving lectures with police escort and under fire. God gave you a determined drive to give 150 percent to whatever cause you were behind. You didn't know it, but you were already in training for His work. Remember St. Paul? He had such zeal for the Jewish Religion, and he wouldn't accept any but the pure religion. And look how God used his ability and drive.

  The 60's were sadly a time of general decline and upheaval. The race riots, the social, political, economic, and even religious beliefs were all under fire. People were looking for independence and ascendency, and unfortunately came out the worse for it, because of leaving God out. He gave you the incredible grace to remain alive through it all and to look for something higher, through dependence on HIM. May He be praised. The story of the Rosary is amazing. Your father threw it (the symbol, not that exact set of beads) out the window and someone else gave it back to you. Our Lady listened to your inarticulate prayer in that unique place of retreat as you held on to her hand (the beads), just as a toddler holds onto its mother whimpering in fear. The mother needs no articulation.  May I share a Rosary story? A man with no religious background liked to collect old books and things. He acquired a small book, and in reading through it he was quite taken by a section that had "Our Father, Hail Mary, Hail Mary..." (ten times). He found such peace as he said it that he would repeat it on the way to work and even shared it with his wife who picked up the practice. Not long after, he found out from a Catholic in his office that those were just the first two words of the prayers. He and his wife then faithfully said all the prayers, and eventually one thing led to another, and they got instruction and were baptized Catholic.

  (Dec 26) Today my Rosary was for your brother Steve especially.

  I started praying for the repose of the soul of your father as I read the first part of your book, thinking he must have been a good man to have passed on such fire and drive to his son. I looked ahead to find the date of his death, which I did not find. What I did find gave me instead a moment of eucatastrophe....that he had a deathbed conversion. That was a thrill!! Thanks be to the mercy of God and the holy Rosary!

  George McDonald's Princess and the Goblin is my current aloud reading with the sixth grade students and they don't want me to stop when the bell rings. (I don't want to stop either, but we have to do Math next.) They are so into it, they want to give up their own quiet reading time to hear more. It is perfect for a mixed group; the boys like the bits with Curdie and the goblins, and the girls like the bits with Irene and the "great big grandmother" up in the turret. We haven't yet talked about some of the possible symbolic meanings in the story, but there are a lot and it will be interesting to see how many they come up with.

  Have you read any works by Father Faber? He was an Oratory priest shortly after Cardinal Newman, I believe. Most of his books are about doctrines of the Faith: Bethlehem, The Precious Blood, Foot of the Cross. When I first read some of his books I was amazed at his ability to write such long sentences (some being almost a page long) and still give the reader the ability to follow. That takes quite a command of the language. His descriptions are quite detailed and vivid.

  (Dec. 27) I just got your email address, so I am sending this off. Have a wonderful rest of the Christmas season... and a happy New Year.

  Keeping you and your family in prayer. May Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph bless you all.  

December 30th, 2014A Note for Chestertoniansby Dena Hunt

Father Robert Barron, the media genius responsible for the wonderful Catholicism series, is currently producing a new series entitled Catholicism: The Pivotal Players. In January, he will go to England to film an entire episode on G. K. Chesterton. Chestertonians might want to take note. Here’s an excerpt from an email mentioning his plan:

I'll be traveling to England next month to continue filming our new series, CATHOLICISM: The Pivotal Players. We'll be filming two episodes, one on John Henry Newman and another on G.K. Chesterton. During the trip I'll share exclusive, behind-the-scenes videos through, so be sure to visit and sign up.

December 23rd, 2014The Motto of Liberal Catholics: “Let’s Get the Green Beans Off the Buffet!”by Kevin O'Brien |

One of the readers of my latest post (It's Not the Abuse Crisis - It's the Neglect Crisis) somehow got it into his head that I was making the claim that only the liberals are to blame for the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Church - which would be a pretty insane position for me to take.  Perhaps he hasn't read my criticisms of all of the so-called "conservative" bishops who have enabled abuse, such as Finn, Carlson, Niendstedt, Livieres, etc.

In fact, as everyone knows (but this lone reader),  the Abuse crisis cuts across the Big Divide.  If liberals could point to hung-up conservatives as abuse enablers, they would, except that conservatives can point to loosey-goosey liberals as abuse enablers.  The problem continues to be so wide-spread that every single type of bishop is guilty - and while some of the worst are from the right, some of the worst are also from the left.

But this shows how strange our thinking is.

Conservatives in the Church are a weird bunch, rebelling against the Church on Torture and Lying and Economic issues; but liberals in the Church are even stranger, for not only do the liberals rebel on any issue that has to do with our "naughty bits", the liberals go one step further and make the appallingly stupid mistake of thinking that Church teaching is up for grabs, and that it can be changed, despite 2,000 years of history to the contrary.  Not only can it be changed, it will be changed!  Just wait long enough and the bishops will endorse "gay marriage", contraception, abortion and pornography - all things most bishops even now wink at and ignore ... but someday these will be positive goods that the bishops will not only tolerate and enable - the bishops will proudly endorse every last one of them!  What a strange fantasy to have.

There are days when I wish I was taller than 5' 10".  But I don't demand that the yardstick be changed and that feet and inches be redefined to make me 6' 3".  In other words, I can understand not liking the measure the Church proposes by which we are to measure ourselves in relation to Christ.  I can understand ignoring that measure, discrediting it, making fun of it.  What I can't understand is how changing that measure will somehow change us.  My height will not change regardless of any tricks I play with the ruler.  But liberals are in awe of their ability to alter reality by changing the standards by which we measure reality.

Or try another metaphor.  Picture a liberal Catholic approaching the Catholic Cafeteria.  Almost all Catholics, liberal or conservative, are cafeteria Catholics, picking and choosing what they want from the buffet and ignoring the rest.  But the lefties go one step further, "I'm putting mashed potatoes on my plate, but no green beans!  And someday these green beans will be gone!  They won't even be on the buffet!  I won't even have to look at them any more!  And nobody will be able to take them!  Once we get the right kind of night manager in this Golden Corral, all of the food that we don't like and refuse to sample will be off the menu for good!"

The fact is, the Church of Christ is not about liberal vs. conservative, right vs. left.  It's about Catholics who are integrated with the Church and her teachings, as opposed to Catholics who are disintegrated from the Church and her teachings and who are therefore themselves disintegrating.  

Our integrity as Catholics stems from our degree of integration into the Body of Christ - and the proper word for that integration is Communion.

The Church offers on her buffet the foods that sustain us, and green beans don't cease to exist, even if they're off the buffet.  And the Church offers us a standard by which to measure our integration with Christ - and our integration won't change if we simply mess around with that standard.

December 22nd, 2014Christmas in the Cradleby Joseph Pearce

My good friend, Fr. Benedict Kiely, priest, Englishman and regular columnist with the St. Austin Review, was a guest last week on EWTN's The World Over with Raymond Arroyo. He was discussing his passionate mission to succour and support the persecuted Christians in the Middle-East, who have seen their lives in the cradle of Christian civilization transformed into a hellish existence in the cauldron of Islamist hatred. Here's the full ten-minute interview:

December 22nd, 2014No Room at the Inn: Celebrating in the Stableby Joseph Pearce

My latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative has me musing on the spirit of Christmas:

December 22nd, 2014It’s Not the Abuse Crisis - It’s the Neglect Crisisby Kevin O'Brien |

The Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church, horrible as it is, is simply the flip side of the Neglect Crisis in the Catholic Church.

What do I mean?

I mean that Neglect is a form of Abuse, and for the past fifty years, bishops, priests and lay Catholics have been neglecting the Faith, and the Vatican has accommodated this by neglecting the Neglect.  A predominantly homosexual clergy, covering and enabling a large number of child molesters, is simply one symptom of this Neglect.

Things are really as bad as Anonymous at First Things describes it, as he paints a picture of a real suburban parish that he leaves unnamed.  I would call it St. Somewhere, a Portrait of Neglect ...

Fr. Dave knows better than to suggest to his flock how to live as Catholics. He does not speak of sin. Ever. He does not discuss the saints, devotions, the rosary or prayer of any kind, marriage, death, the sacraments, Catholic family life, the Devil, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the young, mercy, forgiveness, or any other aspect of the Catholic faith that might be useful to a layperson. His homilies are the worst sort of lukewarm application of the day’s Gospel reading—shopworn sermons that sound very much like they were copied word for word from a book of Gospel reflections published in 1975. No one in the pews ever discusses his homilies as far as I can tell.

Rod Dreher quotes a reader of his who explains why this is so ...

An opposite case than Father Dave in the article. In Holy Family Parish in St. Albert, Alberta a wonderful Polish priest showed up two years ago. He began preaching solid Catholic homilies. He spoke of sin and how it separates us from God. He spoke of the machinations of the devil. He spoke of (gasp) marriage being between one man and one woman. He spoke against contraception and abortion. He moved the blessed sacrament behind the altar and he replaced a resurecifix with a crucifix. This was too much. Members of the parish council complained to the Archdiocese of Edmonton and had a sympathetic ear from parasitic bureaucrats there with no fondness for the faith. A year ago he was removed from the parish. The message is clear. Priests are not expected to challenge parishioners with the powerful and sometimes uncomfortable teachings of the faith but give lukewarm therapeutic feel good sermons. They are expected to operate just like Father Dave. Live a celibate life and perform weddings and funerals for people who never attend church and provide base sacraments without substance. Not a surprise that there is no surplus of men interested in this deal. 

Except such functionaries are not expected to live a celibate life.  Certainly not by their bishops or fellow priests.  Gay cruising, use of pornography, even affairs with married parishioners are common and either winked at or encouraged by the folks in charge.

Meanwhile, at the First Things article, the comments are typical, which is to say most of them applaud the author for describing the horror of St. Somewhere in detail, but many give the kind of reactions I get here and see elsewhere, such as ...

  • Things may be that bad where you are, but my parish is great!!!!!
  • Oh, so Mr. Holier-than-Thou Catholic talks about how bad things are at his parish when he should be busy praying and keeping his mouth shut!  The fact that he notices how bad things are around him tells you that he's not a good Catholic by any means!!!
  • Just love the Eucharist and pray some devotions, say a novena, and everything will be just fine!!!!  Mejugordje!  Yay!

But, of course, the point is that things are this bad and far worse.  Yes, there are good parishes and good Catholics here and there, but the Church in America is indistinguishable from the shopping mall down the street - except there are fewer gays running the shopping mall and the music is better.  At the very least the salt has lost its savor.  

And I could add an even sadder chapter to the First Things article featuring a few observations about the odd Catholics here and there that I have met who do care and who do try to be devout, but who either end up trapped in a cult like Regnum Christi because Rome is Neglectful about curtailing cults within the Church, or they end up throwing themselves into Catholicism-as-Entertainment (Matt Kelly on a headset / Christopher West on a loud speaker), not being able to distinguish Understanding (which is a gift of the Spirit) from mere emotion or excitement, or they end up heretical themselves, not realizing that the Faith is more than a fashion, and that Christ wants transformation not factionalism, or they become proud of their seriousness about the Faith when all around them are trivializing it, or (most commonly), they pray devotions and go to Mass frequently, but they don't let grace penetrate into their personal lives, nor do they let Christ approach their hidden treasure and cure their clutching Dragon Sickness because, for one thing, no one's shown them how and since the Faith seems so Unreal around them, they have no model for discovering its true Reality, as they (like their suburban brethren) are suffering terribly from decades of Neglect.

Meanwhile, on a dark and still night very long ago, a child was born in bitter cold, neglected by the world.  And so we share with Him a suffering that He somehow redeems.

December 21st, 2014On the Duty of a Monarchby Brendan D. King

Many years ago, my father asked my grandfather, Scottish immigrant Laurence Joseph King, about the abdication of the Duke of Windsor. My dad was then a teenager with Marxist ideas and considered it ridiculous that an abdication was insisted upon by the British Government. To Dad's shock, Grandpa Larry responded, "He could not be King because he would not do his duty." It took many years for my Dad to realize the wisdom of his father's words.

I must say that I agree with my grandfather. It is very dangerous when the Crown rests upon the wrong head and my grandfather's words apply, not only to the Duke of Windsor, but to many other Royals from many nations and centuries. Queen Elizabeth I of England, Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria-Hungary, and the last Shah of Iran definitely bear this out.

Blessed Emperor Karl once said that, as Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, he certainly had rights, but that those rights were tempered by his duty. This duty is, in my opinion, best expressed in the words the current Queen of England spoke in her first address to the nation, "The whole of my life, whether it be long or short, shall be dedicated to your service." The last word is best left to the Marquis de Custine.

During the 1830's, the Marquis, a French Catholic Royalist, paid a visit to Tsarist Russia which he believed could save Europe from the lingering  ideas of the French Revolution. The Marquis left Russia deeply disillusioned by how the Tsar governed the State, the Orthodox Church, and the people by personal decree and backed up by police state tactics. 

The Marquis wrote that nations which prize "fidelity to insane masters" are neglecting their duty. Monarchy is only venerable, he says, when it governs justly. He concluded, "When Kings forget the conditions under which man is permitted to rule over his fellow men, the citizens have to look to God, their Eternal Governor, Who absolves them from their oath of fidelity to their temporal master."

December 21st, 2014The Radical Catholic: An Interview with Cardinal Burkeby Kevin Kennelly

What to make of Cardinal Burke's steady opposition.....I do not think that too strong a word to the vector of Catholic belief and/or action being set by Francis? The good cardinal refers to having grown up in " a very beautiful time in the Church." If those days were beautiful than the present time is not must conclude. One respondent writing about the interview says "Why aren't there hundreds of bishops in the church like Cardinal Burke? Why?" Not a bad question.

December 19th, 2014God or Mammon? Preview of the Next Issue of the St. Austin Reviewby Joseph Pearce

The January/February issue of the St. Austin Review is now winging its way to the printer.

  The theme of the next issue is “God or Mammon? Choosing Christ in a World in Crisis”.

  Highlights:   Thomas Storck considers “The Church’s Judgment on Capitalism and Socialism”.

  John Medaille examines “Distributism and the Polity of Political Economy”.

  R. McKay Stangler connects “Agrarianism and Christendom”.

  Edward Lawrence tackles the problem of “Serving God in Mammon’s World”.

  Donald DeMarco poses the question, “How do we know which side we are on?”

  Kevin O’Brien insists that “Choosing Christ Means Choosing the Cross”.

  Ken Clark admires The Transfiguration by Raphael.

  James Bemis praises the movie, Tree of Wooden Clogs.

  Fr. Dwight Longenecker contrasts “Distorted Desires and the Weight of Glory”.

  Fr. Benedict Kiely laments the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and asks “Why a Silence?”

  Susan Treacy reveals “The Transfer of Grace” in Poulenc’s Dialogues de Carmélites.

  John Beaumont pays tribute to Fr. Oliver Vassall-Phillips, “A Great but Neglected Catholic Apologist”.

  Joshua Schulz reviews A Catechism for Business.

  Matthew P. Akers reviews Liberty, the God the Failed.

  Brian McCall reviews The Wound and the Blessing: Economics, Relationships and Happiness.

  Deborah Savage reviews Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars.

  Carl R. Hasler reviews Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society.

  New Poetry by Timothy Lusch and Leah Acosta

  Remember: Wise Men Follow the StAR! Subscribe now at

December 18th, 2014Tolkien on EWTNby Joseph Pearce

The latest Tolkien special that I have written and presented for EWTN was aired this week. For those who missed it, or those who would like to see it again, it is now available on DVD:

What are your thoughts on the subject?