No Time Like Fall for a New Springtime
THE THIRD SPRING: G.K. CHESTERTON, GRAHAM GREENE, CHRISTOPHER DAWSON AND DAVID JONES
by Adam Schwartz
CUA Press, 2005
416 pages. $64.95
To order: (800) 537-5487
Convert and Cardinal John Henry Newman proclaimed a wave of celebrity conversions in the 1890s that included Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde to be “the second spring” of the Catholic faith in England. This book looks at four leaders of a “third spring” of intellectuals who rejected modernity several decades later by likewise saying Yes to the Catholic faith — that is, Christianity at its most muscular, intellectually and artistically speaking.
Part biography and part literary criticism, the book is at its best when exploring how the conversion experiences of its subjects — essayist and storyteller G.K. Chesterton, novelist Graham Greene, historian Christopher Dawson and poet David Jones — influenced their critiques of the spirit of their age.
Boarding-school crises proved especially profound for Chesterton and Greene. Chesterton responded to a nihilistic classmate by first becoming a materialist, then a Protestant and finally a Catholic. Chesterton would always oppose the emptiness he found in modernity with the joy he found in creation.
Bullied horribly in a private school, Greene developed an appreciation of evil that neither liberal Christianity nor modern thought could explain. But while Chesterton loved Catholicism's optimism, Greene appreciated the faith first for its firm grasp on evil.
“To be Catholic is to believe in the Devil,” he wrote once. What brought him to a more Chestertonian understanding was his first love and first wife, Vivien Dayrell-Browning, who preceded him into the Church.
“When I see that Catholicism can produce something so fine all through,” he wrote her, “I know there must be something in it.”
David Jones, a World War I veteran who used modern free-verse forms to defend a traditionally Catholic understanding of the organic union of the spiritual and material, was raised in a staunchly Low Anglican home. He began at 6 years old to express his faith sacramentally, first by building a cross on Good Friday and marching in solo procession around his backyard.
“Upon beholding this sight [his father] James Jones admonished his son that ‘there were people called Roman Catholics who did that sort of thing,’” Schwartz relays, “‘but that true Christians carried their cross in their hearts.’”
Undeterred, young David soon began kneeling during the recitation of the words “He became man” in the Nicene Creed. “I just had to,” he told his mother.
On the Western Front, it was love at first sight when he chanced upon his first Catholic Mass being celebrated by candlelight in a hayloft with all the intensity of a mystery cult. Here was the unity of past and present, of humanity and divinity, that he would seek all his life through his poetry.
Christopher Dawson, by contrast, grew up High Anglican, but as a schoolboy mistrusted its claims. After a brief descent into high-school agnosticism, Dawson reclaimed his Christian faith even though he was aware it was based on what Schwartz terms “suprarational” experience rather than intellectual conviction.
His study of medieval history impressed him with the Catholic faith's contribution to Western culture while trips to Italy revealed a surprisingly vibrant post-medieval and baroque Catholic culture. Dawson ultimately rejected Anglo-Catholicism because it seemed to him insufficiently strong — and insufficiently divine — to stand up to secularism. As a historian, Dawson would prove counter-cultural twice over, practicing meta-history as others moved into micro-history and affirming the crucial significance of Catholic Christianity and religion generally in Western culture.
Sadly, Schwartz notes, Vatican II took the wind out the third spring. “While its pronouncements were consistent with traditional Catholic doctrine,” he writes, “the council's symbolic changes, such as the alterations in the Mass, signaled to many Catholics that their Church no longer saw uncompromising challenge of modernity as a hallmark of its identity.”
Nonetheless Schwartz urges that the challenge these men mounted should inspire us all to follow suit. His case is compelling.
Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.
Pull Up an Armchair With An Archbishop
CALLED TO BE HOLY
by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan
224 pages, $12.95
To order: (800) 348-2440
We all wonder what God wants from us in life, what his will is for us.
Does he want me to become a priest? Enter a convent or monastery? Marry and have a family? Should I become a doctor? A teacher? A soldier?
In his First Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul shows us that, even though these sorts of questions are important, the Catholic answer cuts through them and gets to the heart of the matter: “This is the will of God: your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
In other words, particulars aside, God simply wants us to become saints.
But how do we do that? Most of us know by now that God doesn't just zap us at baptism and voila! — instant holiness. We know we have to train ourselves in this area. Sometimes we need a little coaching.
Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan provides exactly that in his new book. It's a reworking of the first section of his book Priests for the Third Millennium (OSV, 2000) — but much of what he originally intended for priests applies equally to lay people: “[T]he Church needs holy priests and a holy laity.”
The archbishop's conversational writing style and evident love of illustrative stories, especially from his own life, make Called to Be Holy a quick and easy read that is nevertheless full of deep insights and useful wisdom. He starts off with a list of essential daily practices for what he terms “the stewardship of the spirit,” a spiritual game plan that will help the Christian grow in holiness.
“A steward carefully takes stock of what gifts, what treasures, what items he has at his disposal,” he writes, “realizing that he needs to draw upon them continually.”
The items in our Catholic stockroom include the sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours, personal prayer, spiritual direction, spiritual reading, the cardinal and theological virtues, devotion to the Blessed Mother and the saints, and human formation.
This last attribute — human formation — is an often-overlooked component of personal holiness but one the archbishop emphasizes with particular passion. He recalls asking a pastor about an alumnus of the North American College who was working out of his parish. The pastor rolled his eyes and shook his head. Archbishop Dolan then asked a litany of questions, trying to determine why the young priest was so unsuitable:
“‘Is it his preaching?’ ‘No.’ ‘His liturgical style?’ ‘No.’ ‘His lack of a prayer life?’ ‘No.’ ‘His inadequate theological foundation?’ ‘Not at all.’ ‘What's the problem then?’ ‘The guy's obnoxious.’”
“He elaborated,” explains Archbishop Dolan, “that the guy was haughty, dismissive with the people, selfish with his time, arrogant with the staff, a know-it-all … nothing all that supernatural here, but a man whose manner, style and personality drove people away instead of bringing them closer to Christ.”
At one point the archbishop shares something even more revealing from his personal life.
“One time while I was hearing confessions, I lost my temper and yelled at the penitent,” he admits. “She left the confessional — I'm sure in tears — in the middle of my tantrum. To this day I repent of that sin. To this day I pray for her. To this day I know that, when I stand before the judgment seat of God, that point will be brought before me.”
Thanks to such generosity and openness, the book ends up being as much an archbishop's inspiring personal witness as an opportunity to learn from one of the Church's top teachers.
One thing I thought could have improved the work: I found it unfortunate that Archbishop Dolan allowed his challenging and motivating theme of spiritual stewardship to peter out after only a couple chapters. But that's a minor quibble. Anyone who has ever asked what a Christian should do to become a saint need only read this book to connect the dots.
Clare Siobhan writes from Westmont, Illinois.
Rally ’Round the Imagination, Christians
RALLYING THE REALLY HUMAN THINGS: THE MORAL IMAGINATION IN POLITICS, LITERATURE, AND EVERYDAY LIFE
by Vigen Guroian
254 pages, $25
To order: (800)
526-7022 or isi.org
Vigen Guroian, professor of theology and ethics at Loyola College in Maryland, acknowledges that his most recent book “has neither the unity nor the coherence of a conventional monograph.”
However, that lack of unity does not detract much from a collection of essays containing much food for thought along with some thoughts that will provide fodder for spirited discussion — especially now that school is back in session.
Guroian has written numerous essays and books on literature (especially children's literature), politics, ethics and morality. These topics are all addressed in this work. Although Guroian is Eastern Orthodox, his major influences here are Catholic, or Anglo-Catholic: G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O'Connor, Russell Kirk and, to a lesser degree, C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot.
Chesterton, O'Connor and Kirk are the focus of the opening section, “Three Voices of Christian Humanism.” The author's affection for and knowledge of the three is obvious, making for a warm, helpful introduction to their work. While many readers will be familiar with Chesterton and O'Connor, they may not be familiar with Kirk, best known for The Conservative Mind, but whose wide-ranging work was not limited to politics. As Guroian rightly observes, “Most of Kirk's interpreters have failed to dig deeply into his views of religion and culture. … Yet Kirk often stated his belief that political questions are rooted in matters of morality, and that both of these, in turn, are grounded, explicitly or implicitly, in religious faith.”
Not coincidentally, this book sets out to explore the connection between politics, ethics and morality. In the second section, “On the Moral Imagination,” Guroian highlights the oft-neglected connection between imagination and public morality. Imagination always exists since it is part of human nature. “The important question is what kinds of imagination our contemporary culture encourages. … Imagination both expresses and trains the reason and the will.”
The moral imagination recognizes man as a moral being, not merely an animal or object. But this imagination is often at the mercy of “modern educators,” a group Guroian views with disdain. “In their penchant to treat fact as god,” he writes, “event as illusion, individual as datum, person as chimera, norm as relative value, and human nature as social construct, they leave the moral imagination to perish.”
As a defense against this subversive influence, he describes the three forms of moral imagination and the opposite, corrupted forms of the same.
The third section, “Wanderings in the Wasteland,” tackles complex topics such as the nature of family, “gay marriage” and sexuality, and contains the books most provocative comments. Although filled with excellent observations, these chapters are also marked by inconsistency and incompleteness. For example, in a chapter about childhood, “The Lost Children,” Guroian complains that the work of Catholic theologian John Saward, author of The Way of the Lamb, addresses childhood with “an element of Christian absolutism and exclusivism that can make one deaf to the truth of others’ beliefs.”
Yet in the chapter “On Gay Marriage,” he recommends that Christians pursue a “two-tiered arrangement” in which the distinction between civil marriage and sacramental marriage is strongly and absolutely made. Although the topics differ in many ways, the respective approaches seem to reflect inconsistent principles.
Also puzzling is the evident absence of any awareness of Pope John Paul II's monumental work regarding family, marriage and sexuality. In “The Vision of John Chrysostom,” a chapter devoted to the family and its relationship to the Church, no mention is made of John Paul II's repeated teachings about the “domestic church” and the incarnational nature of the family in the world. As familiar as he is with so many recent Catholic thinkers, one wonders how Guroian has overlooked the thought of one of the greatest Catholic thinkers in modern history.
Although flawed, Rallying the Really Human Things is a worthwhile reflection on timeless truths and a timely call to regain the moral imagination — an endeavor so desperately needed in the intellectual wasteland that is contemporary culture.
In other words, it will make for fine fall reading.
Carl E. Olson is editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.