Our own Micah Mattix has a piece in the Wall Street Journal reviewing Rainier Marie Rilke’s newly translated, Letters on God and Letters to a Young Woman. One notable tidbit Mattix draws out is Rilke’s defense of corrupt clerics over against pious reformers:
For Rilke, “degraded Christianity” has wrongly disdained sex, which has resulted in its “distortion and repression.” His own version of Christianity celebrates boundless sex as a form of participating in the mystery of one’s own life. (This is a view, no doubt, that was at least a little convenient for a poet who, to put it delicately, maintained a number of complicated relationships with women.) He comically lauds in this letter the debauched popes “weighed down by illegitimate children, mistresses, and victims of murder.” “Was there not more Christianity in them,” Rilke asks, “than in the lightweight restorers of the Gospels; namely, something alive, unstoppable, transformed?”
Of course, the greatest sinner is not half so “alive, unstoppable, transformed” as the simplest saint. We never could look so whimsically at the sins of more contemporary figures like Maciel as Rilke does on those of the Borgia popes. Yet here as almost everywhere else, Rilke’s formulations are arresting, however unworthy they are of assent.