Catholic Novel/Literature: August 2002 Archives

Richard Crashaw


Richard Crashaw

From the first time I read this poem, the imagery of the "purple wardrobe" stuck with me.

Upon the Body of Our Blessed Lord, Naked and Bloody
Richard Crashaw

They have left thee naked, Lord, O that they had!
This garment too I wish they had deny’d.
Thee with thy self they have too richly clad;
Opening the purple wardrobe in thy side.
O never could there be garment too good
For thee to wear, but this of thine own Blood.

I have seen this typified by some would-be critics as a "macabre epigram." Perhaps. But I think a moment's attention would show it for what it really is--a passionate poem about the passion. The imagery is stark and startling, and the truth of it undeniable to anyone who has spent any time meditating on the meaning of Good Friday. But, in a post-Christian world, what can one expect of those who refuse to absorb even the slightest hint of their own culture?

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Another metaphysical poet with a very disturbing and lovely poem:

by Henry Vaughan

I SAW Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright ;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years
Driv'n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov'd ; in which the world
And all her train were hurl'd.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
Did there complain ;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
Wit's sour delights ;
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
Yet his dear treasure,
All scatter'd lay, while he his eyes did pour
Upon a flow'r.

The darksome statesman, hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog, mov'd there so slow,
He did nor stay, nor go ;
Condemning thoughts—like sad eclipses—scowl
Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digg'd the mole, and lest his ways be found,
Work'd under ground,
Where he did clutch his prey ; but one did see
That policy :
Churches and altars fed him ; perjuries
Were gnats and flies ;
It rain'd about him blood and tears, but he
Drank them as free.

The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust
His own hands with the dust,
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
In fear of thieves.
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
And hugg'd each one his pelf ;*
The downright epicure plac'd heav'n in sense,
And scorn'd pretence ;
While others, slipp'd into a wide excess
Said little less ;
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
Who think them brave ;
And poor, despisèd Truth sate counting by
Their victory.

Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing, and weep, soar'd up into the ring ;
But most would use no wing.
O fools—said I—thus to prefer dark night
Before true light !
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
Because it shows the way ;
The way, which from this dead and dark abode
Leads up to God ;
A way where you might tread the sun, and be
More bright than he !
But as I did their madness so discuss,
One whisper'd thus,
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
But for His bride.”

JOHN, CAP. 2. VER. 16, 17.

All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the
lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the
Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lusts thereof ;
but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

source: Luminarium

What I like particularly about this poem is both the rhyme scheme with couplets and the eccentric end-stopped half-lines that cause the rhythm to stumble along unnaturally, mimicking in verse the fallen nature of the world discussed in the details of the poem. Overall, a poem that speaks both in its subject matter and its structure--a very neat trick to accomplish.

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Flannery O'Connor Tribute


Flannery O'Connor Tribute

Chez Gerard Serafin,you will find a wonderful tribute to Flannery O'Connor, including:

Hers is a vision rooted in the Mysteries of Creation, the Fall, the Incarnation, the Redemption. But she speaks of these in stories that can both stun and shine! This edition of her works is the best I know and the most beautiful to behold and touch. A treasure-house - and it has most of her letters too! These letters have had me both crying and laughing - what a noble soul radiates in these stories and letters! She once called herself a "hillbilly Thomist" and you will find in Flannery O'Connor - A GREAT ARTIST AND GREAT CATHOLIC!


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On Walker Percy


On Walker Percy

In an e-mail, one writer had this to say about Walker Percy:

It's been a while since I read it, but I thought that The Second Coming was more cogently Catholic. One of the major themes in the book had to do with how we might expect God to work in our life when we are complacent and lacking in joy, and sprouting out of that, the role of tradition and traditional culture in our lives. I might be losing my mind, but I believe that this is the book in which the main character goes into a cave in order to commit suicide and is prompted to come out by a toothache (God works in not so mysterious ways). (I don't think it was Love in the Ruins.) On the whole, though, I don't think that Percy's books are going to "wear" particularly well, for reasons having to do more with his style than his subject or content.
Thanks to BR for permission to quote.

I find the impression interesting. I don't know that I disagree exactly, its just that I think several different kinds of Catholicism wend their way into Percy's writing. Love in the Ruins is a heady whiff of highly intellectual Catholicism dealing a lot with scholastic theory and practice. For example, the whole question of "angelism" and "bestialism" seems to partake of a deep understanding of Aquinas's theory. The Catholicism of Second Coming seems much more up-front and easier to notice. As to style, the writer may be correct--that's always difficult to tell. I wonder whether the same might not have been said of Flannery O'Connor at one time.

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Catholic Novel (cont.)


Catholic Novel (cont.)
A couple of people have commented on the question of the Catholic Novel. And we make some headway. Let's start with Dylan's question:

"One might ask, Why categorize? Why impose a denominational test?"

Indeed, we might ask the question, but it seems that scholars and critics from ages past (when they were still working with the writing at hand, rather than inventing something to write about and then writing about it. {If you think I joke see most of the work by Judith Butler and others, for example, ""The Lesbian Phallus and the Morphological Imaginary." differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies(Spring 1992), 4(1): 133-171."}) had identified something called "The Catholic Novel." They were able to point to examples of this creature. Evidently it had some definable morphology and, perhaps, spirituality.

In addition, I would like to separate the Catholic Novel from other "Christian Fiction," because in my reading there is a large sensibility gap between the two forms. There are many novels with a "generic Christian" sensibility, some of them great. But the Catholic Novel, that mysterious entity we seek to define, but into whose confines The Violent Bear it Away is always admitted, has a profoundly Catholic sensibility and understanding of the world. Or does it? Is any novel by a Catholic necessarily a Catholic Novel? Are those potboilers by Father Greeley truly "Catholic Novels?" Does it matter?

I think it does. I think there is a lineage of very reputable work which, while not expressly apologetical, does serve to advance the Catholic view of the world. At one point in our history (and perhaps the point hasn't passed) such works were necessary to counteract and just-short-of-virulent anti-Catholicism pervasive in our culture. There was a time when it was wondered whether a Catholic would be fit to serve in the government-- (until we got that wonderfully comforting reversal of the great St. Thomas More--"God's good servant, but America's first").

A post of digressions, a post we might never see live, yet I revel in writing in and urging us onward to consider the question at more than a superficial level. What is a Catholic Novel? What makes a novel a Catholic Novel? And then, what are the very best Catholic Novels that fall within our definition?

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Catholic Novel/Literature category from August 2002.

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