14 July 2014

Another Straw In The Wind

You know what it's like: no sooner do you see one odd thing but something just as odd pops up as if to confirm that the first wasn't something by itself.

Looking for something else in the third volume of George Orwell's Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, I came across something really odd in an As I Please dated 3 March 1944.  A reviewer had made some disparaging comments about St Teresa of Ávila and St Joseph Cupertino; a Catholic reader complained.  Orwell defended the reviewer, and his Catholic correspondent responded even more indignantly.  What is odd for the time, and what Orwell notes as odd, though I will draw different conclusions from his, is that the correspondent says that the fact that the two saints were reputed to have flown is irrelevant: what mattered, in the case of St Teresa, was that

"her vision of the world changed the course of history". 


"The figure of Christ (myth, man, or god, it does not matter) so transcends all the rest that I only wish that everyone would look, before rejecting that vision of life".

Orwell cites Fathers Woodlock and Knox to point out the unorthodoxy of his correspondent's view, but goes on to say that

"what my correspondent says would be echoed by many Catholic intellectuals.  If you talk to a thoughtful Christian, catholic or Anglican, you often find yourself laughed at for being so ignorant as to suppose that anyone took the doctrines of the Church literally".

Orwell goes off in his own direction at this point, but I want simply to register surprise, not at the fact that this nonsense was being spouted by somebody calling herself a Catholic, but by the fact that she, and the others Orwell knew, were talking like this in 1944.  I had thought that this level of cynical heterodoxy—I want everybody to think I'm Catholic but you and I are far too intelligent to accept all the stuff that has to be peddled to the masses—is of much more recent appearance.

Two straws in the wind.  Two worms in the apple?


Lazarus said...

I suppose it does depend precisely on what is meant by 'literally': I'm not sure that a simple (and even proud) rejection of dogma would have been so common then as it is now. But certainly a reinterpretation of dogma and traditional beliefs as having merely a moral or pragmatic value seems to be a feature of the modernist crisis and is tackled (eg)(originally in 1909) by the traditionalist Thomist Garrigou-Lagrange in his book 'Le Sens Commun': https://archive.org/details/lesenscommunlaph00garr

Left-footer said...

Thank you, Lazarus. 'Le Sens Commun' is now on my reading list.

Thank you, Ttony. I did not know that things had been so bad for so long.

God bless!

Lazarus said...

Hope you enjoy it, LF! Although it can look a bit specialized at times (superficially, it's a response to followers of Bergson and Vitalism) I think that it's as helpful generally in dealing with post-modernism/empiricism: it's the same basic set of issues. (I suspect its focus on the now unfashionable Bergson is why it's not -so far as I can see- been translated into English.)

I find it oddly comforting that the rot has been around for a while. If it was just a matter of 'The Spirit of VII', then it would be difficult to explain why, suddenly, after two thousand years, the Church is in a crisis. If it's a matter of an eternal tension between different aspects of authority (eg tradition and the will of the legislator) then a) we'd expect this tension to go wrong regularly and b) we who are trying to be orthodox are in a similar situation to the faithful in previous generations and can look to the past for comfort that eventually balance will be restored. (But no excuse for not doing our bit in the meantime.)

Mike Cliffson said...

I don't think Eric Blair would lie, yet on the one hand his London intellectual/BBC/literary/political etc/ aquaintance included Catholic Bultmanites like this along with our separated brethren, on the other they were among letter-writers to the tribune (or even the Beeb), were they at all representative of middleclass educated Catholics in provincial UK , which includes a heck of a lot of gretaer London?

I am reasonably sure, in the forties when Orwell wrote, and the fifties, Not.
Remember then , In numbers ,as everywhere where the persecution is more dhimmistyle, You ccould get richcatholis, landowning catholics, workingclass catholics, and poor catholics, but far fewer than the proportion would suppose of civil servants , teachers, doctors, labtechs, supervisors, overseers, foremen even.
Those there were, were orthodox, or , may be, lapsed, rather than lighting candles in pairs as the Spanish say, firstone for God , t'next for 't devil.
This last from my own memory and the testimony of so many converts;Catholics were perfectly capable of being quite awful, but none that weren't "different" however the mid to late sixties saw both a massive expansion in the catholic provincial "middle classes" and their increasing worldliness and hterodoxy and plain heresy.
Why ?
Were they coming out, going over, moved by the "sprite of VatII" following clergy, following some sophisticated Londoners, leaping into the available slot of "moderate catholic" their workplace institution, or wiider society was making room for them ?
I don't know.
Ttony says seeds.
Any anology like seeds seed crystals etc makes it seem deterministic .
Surely it wasn't so inevitable.
I for one am tempted to want to join the serrried ranks of right.
But the lines of heresies are seldon so clearcut, and a good many of us poor weak sinfl men....
Me, I'm more likely to be the battleground. (see our Emeritus Pooe's remarks on Arianism's spread and defeat, so often the heresy and orthodoxy were in combat in a single individual's head)
I don't know.