Life and Literature
Some Catholic Writers
By Ralph McInermy
St. Augustine's Press, 2007
154 Pages, $23.00
To Order: staugustine.net
Awonderful mélange of philosophy, literary criticism and Christian charity, Some Catholic Writers by Ralph McInerny will challenge, educate and delight.
The book is, in essence, a love letter to literature that matters and to its writers.
McInerny knows his subject. During more than 40 years of teaching philosophy and medieval studies at the University of Notre Dame, he has published more than 100 books, including two dozen scholarly titles, poetry and the popular Father Dowling mystery novels. He is an acclaimed expert in the work of Aquinas, Kierkegaard and Maritain.
In Some Catholic Writers, McInerny writes about Maritain and his wife, Raïssa, as well as a host of others. The list is too long to repeat here, but includes familiars such as Belloc, Bernanos and Chesterton.
My only disappointment was the absence of Sigrid Undset, the Danish author of Kristin Lavransdatter.
In discussing authors who may not be exemplary Catholics, he gives sound reasons for their inclusion. And, when the state of a particular writer’s soul is in question, he reveals a generous spirit of forgiveness and even urges readers to pray.
McInerny writes with grace and poetic beauty. In discussing Baron Corvo, for example, he writes of “his Catholicism, twisted, grotesque, almost unrecognizable at the end, but always the pulse beneath the skin of what he wrote.”
Some Catholic Writers also abounds with interesting ideas. McInerny challenges the erroneous feminist reading of Kate Chopin’s fiction. He calls anti-Catholicism “the anti-Semitism of the liberal.” He corrects the modern assumption that “the serious use of the mind must lead to the abandonment of religious faith.” In contrasting J.F. Powers’ fictional priests with Graham Greene’s whiskey priest, he answers the question, “Who has not wondered how the priests depicted by Powers, with their relatively minor flaws, could have given way in so short a time to the scandal-ridden clergy of the 1990s?”
McInerny tells us exactly why great literature matters. Of Frank O’Malley’s work, he writes, “His vision of Catholic culture was one in which faith and reason, mind and imagination, thought and life, formed a single whole. Religious knowledge, he insisted, is the highest level of knowledge. And literature is as much an expression of it as philosophy and theology.”
He also writes that literature is important “just because it addresses the large questions of human life.”
Ideally, in addition to reading Some Catholic Writers, we might read every great book McInerny mentions. Yet simply reading about these writers and their work can give immense pleasure and deepen our understanding of how Catholicism — the only system, according to Graham Greene, “that makes spiritual and intellectual sense” — informs our lives, the lives of artists, and the way the world works.
Ann Applegarth is based in
Roswell, New Mexico.
- August 10-16, 2008