First Things RSS Feed - Matthew Boudway
en-usCopyright 2016 First Things. All Rights Reserved.firstname.lastname@example.org (The Editors)email@example.com (The Editors)Sun, 23 Oct 2016 18:09:29 -0400https://d25wp47b6tla3u.cloudfront.net/img/favicon-196.pngFirst Things RSS Feed Image
60Chaplain of Shadowshttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2005/03/chaplain-of-shadows
Tue, 01 Mar 2005 00:00:00 -0500 Second Space
by Czeslaw Milosz
Translated by the author and Robert Hass
Ecco. 102 pp. $23.95
The Old Countryhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2005/01/the-old-country
Sat, 01 Jan 2005 00:00:00 -0500 In that darkness there could be no hope”
Not merely light withdrawn but light refused.
The ashen trees had dropped, not lost, their leaves,
That green a smothering burden they abhorred.
The people in that place were all too old,
The children most of all, who wore their youth
As if it were a costume to be shed.
The willow was counted wisest of the trees.
There were no separate clouds. The sky was gray.
Nothing and no one waited for anything,
But all attention leaned back toward the past.
The wind, when it spoke at all, said simply, Once.
]]>The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845-1961https://www.firstthings.com/article/2004/04/the-catholic-revival-in-english-literature
Thu, 01 Apr 2004 00:00:00 -0500 The Catholic Revival in English Literature
by Ian Ker is not, as its title suggests, the study of a literary movement. It is instead a collection of six free-standing essays about six very different writers: John Henry Newman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, and Evelyn Waugh.
Some of these men were friends; some were influences on one another; but as a group they had surprisingly little in common apart from their faith. Belloc, who knew Cardinal Newman as a student at his Oratory school in Birmingham, always preferred Newmans great rival, Cardinal Manning. Evelyn Waugh admired Chesterton the thinker but considered him a careless writer. (Waugh even toyed with the idea of rewriting
The Everlasting Man
to rescue it from its Fleet Street barbarism.) In verse, Hopkins was a modernist before his time, Belloc a Victorian behind his. Greene and Waugh were contemporaries at Oxford and knew each other well. But while they were respectful of each others work, they had radically different temperaments and wrote radically different novels. Think of
The End of the Affair
A Handful of Dust
: both stories about adultery, and both
stories about adultery. Aside from that, they could hardly be more different. In
A Handful of Dust
, Waugh treats adultery as something ugly and frivolous”more an expression of anomie than of lust. If it werent such an efficient engine of destruction, the act itself would be hardly worth our notice. In Greenes novel, by contrast, adultery is anything but frivolous: it may be either the occasion of despair or the beginning of conversion, but whatever else it is, it is always a subject of fascination. Here Greene and Waugh were working two sides of the same street, but that is as close as they would ever get. By the end of their careers, they were living and writing in different worlds.
So, then, why these six writers? In his preface, Ker suggests two principles of selection. The first has to do with the connection between what these men wrote and what they believed. Joseph Conrad, Edith Sitwell, and Siegfried Sassoon were all baptized Catholics. But in Kers view, they cannot fairly be counted as Catholic writers, since Conrad had stopped practicing his faith before he began to write and Sitwell and Sassoon had stopped writing before they became Catholics. Such disqualifications seem fair enough, but Ker is just as fussy about those who were already, or still, Catholic when they were writing. In the work of a novelist such as Ford Madox Ford (described by Ker as a very intermittent Catholic), religion plays too small a role. Fords novels often address the incidental attributes of English Catholicism, especially its connection with what Ker calls feudal Toryism, but the essential drama of faith remains out of view. Among those who were truly Catholic writers according to Kers rigorous definition”including Robert Hughe Benson and Maurice Baring”Kers six stand out because they are still widely read and studied by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
But even when one knows why Ker chose not to include, say, Francis Thompson or David Jones, one is still left wondering why he decided to write about his finalists in a single book. Yes, both Hopkins and Greene were great writers, and surely both wrote
Catholics, but there the resemblance appears to end. For all the reasons mentioned above, as well as many others, most readers will have trouble thinking of these men as belonging to any kind of group.
To his credit, Ker makes no effort to conceal the striking differences among his subjects. He allows the writers to speak for themselves, quoting generously”sometimes excessively”from their best work. He doesnt say much about Bellocs deep strain of melancholy, but we find it anyway, in Bellocs own words. In a passage cited by Ker, Belloc wrote that it was only the faith that protected him from the extreme of harm, final harm, despair. As a young man at art school, Chesterton had his own demons to contend with, but by the time he emerged as a critic and journalist, his most striking quality was an almost Dickensian cheerfulness. Of all the writers covered in this book, Chesterton and Belloc were the closest in sympathy and conviction; nevertheless, George Bernard Shaws Chesterbelloc would have been a creature with a violent mood disorder.
Allowing for the remarkable contrasts, Ker believes he can still trace at least one theme through the work of all six of his subjects, a theme that has little to do with the obvious motifs of English Catholicism such as aestheticism, a love of ritual, ceremony, tradition, the appeal of authority, a romantic triumphalism, the lure of the exotic and foreign, a preoccupation with sin and guilt. What Ker discovers instead is a common concern for the sheer ordinariness of Catholic Christianity, the everyday matter-of-factness of its sacraments and sacramentals. Whereas Protestantism was for these writers a religion of words and inchoate dispositions, the Catholic Thing was a religion of hard facts and regular practices, a religion that offered definition in place of Protestant sentiment.
Ker is best known as a Newman scholar, and so it is not surprising that he sees this theme most clearly through the prism of Newmans genius. It was history and theology that had first drawn Newman to the Catholic Church. Even as an Anglo-Catholic, he knew little about Roman Catholic practices and made a point of avoiding Catholics themselves. As Ker writes, In Newmans case . . . the discovery of Catholicism was a consequence rather than a cause of conversion. What Newman discovered in his new Church was a religion that was never off-duty and never afraid of vulgar piety. In the Catholic cultures Newman saw after he was received into the Church, religion was not merely part of ones daily routine; it was the ground of that routine, something confidently, unpretentiously taken for granted. In
Difficulties of Anglicans
, a set of lectures written just after his conversion and addressed to the Anglo-Catholic community he had left behind, Newman describes the scene outside a Catholic church during a fiesta: