Wednesday, August 14, 2002

What makes a Catholic Writer
What I mean is, what influences from the Catholic experience contribute to that intangible quality that one notices in Guardini, O'Connor, Newman, Houselander, etc. Here are some ideas:
  • Familiarity with Scripture, both OT and NT. I think for Catholic writers these stories are our stories. The very phrases are engraved in our memories and color how we write. That is why it is harder now to have a distinctive Catholic literary culture now that we don't have just one translation of the Bible.
  • Latin. Knowledge of Latin, whether acquired through formal training or absorbed through exposure to the liturgy, shapes the way Catholic writers think and shapes our aesthetic sensibilities.
  • St. Thomas. His modified realism is the ether of the Catholic literary universe, even if gotten indirectly through memorization of the Baltimore Catechism.
  • The Liturgy. The rhythm, texture, images, phrases, themes and attitudes of the liturgy give a Catholic writer an infinite well of inspiration. Let us hope that once we pass this era of painful reform the renewed Liturgy will continue to be such a factor in the formation of Catholic culture.
  • The Blessed Virgin Mary. I've read several essays recently that point to, for instance, the profound influence that the image of Mary had on Tolkien's conception of women, esp. Galadriel, in the LotR. One of the weaknesses of the movie is that Galadriel is turned from a heavenly mother into a kind of witch.
  • 2000 years of cultural history. The best Catholic writers will have tasted widely and deeply of the fruits of artistic greats of the past, including spiritual classics and theology as well as poetry, fiction, art, music and architecture. I'm sure great Catholic writing is possible without it, but it certainly is easier if you immerse yourself in the tradition.
I was once accused (sympathetically) of being hopelessly Catholic. I took it as the compliment that it was intended to be. The great Catholic writers are hopelessly Catholic, as well (although they are much better writers than I am). They can't help but infuse every sentence with the sensibility of the Tradition as absorbed through exposure to scripture, language, philosophy, theology, liturgy, and poetry.

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