Nearer the Source
Matter and Mind, A Christian Synthesis by Edward Holloway, edited by Roger Nesbitt, Keyway Publications, 427pp, £15.00.
Fr. James Tolhurst
Travellers say that the best water can be found at the source. It holds true in many ways of Fr. Holloway’s original work. I only witnessed what became the second version of his Catholicism, A New Synthesis, when he was photocopying pages on a 1960s photocopier in his presbytery in Bramley, which tended to char the edges. Matter and Mind is the first version, written in the late 1940s, over which Fr. Roger Nesbitt has now taken considerable pains, providing sub-headings and sorting out the syntax. It certainly has an immediacy and a conciseness to differentiate it from the final, more elaborate version twenty years later.
Matter and Mind is shorter (427 pages of text compared with 518). The layout is similar, but the book was to be reorganised for Catholicism: there are five parts in
Matter and Mind and eight parts in Catholicism, with the final part largely accounting for the changes that had taken place in the intervening years. Fr Holloway also placed ‘The Church’ before ‘The Redemption’ in the first version and after in Catholicism. The first two of the three appendices in Matter and Mind, which occupy 39 pages in all, were substantially incorporated in the later book.
Vein of poetry
Readers will appreciate the particular turns of phrase used by Fr. Holloway. Among them are the special alliterations of which he was fond, such as “modern man, that poor proud plaything of the volcanic energies of his own unleashing”; and “Christ gives the Divinity of God to be the food and life of the sin-soiled souls of men”; as well as saying that scientists “can summon seven devils to the service of sin”. This is not a book without humour, as for instance when he says the same scientists are “exchanging their messianic crowns for the sackcloth of Jeremiah. Apparently Scientific Positivism, like the Church, has its liturgical seasons, only with us Lent comes before, not after, the resurrection.” Also, “It is not man’s prerogative to inform the Deity that consequent upon a mandate from the electorate, agreement has been reached at cabinet level concerning His nature and attributes.”
here is present that vein of poetry which reminds us of the side of Fr. Holloway which he let shine through on occasions. He speaks of one “who strolls by scented hedgerows with his friend and his pipe, at eventide.” He also talks about “a deeper vein, and richer yet, of God’s pure gold, latent within the inexhaustible mine of Christian faith long worked by men.”
The need of urgent action
Throughout Matter and Mind you gain the impression that here are concepts which were straining to be expressed, now that the author had finished his studies and was finally able to give them shape and form. This was to be slightly less in evidence when he came to produce Catholicism. But Matter and Mind is the first elaboration of Mrs Holloway’s vision: ‘How much is matter and how much is mind.’ Fr. Holloway aims to mine the deeper vein, conscious that opportunities have been and were being lost.
Although he would express the same sentiments in his later book, he maintained that his first work “may be easier to understand”. The situation was that “men have long since emptied out of the content of Christianity those marks and characteristics which alone make sense of the Divinity of Christ and the mission of a Divine Person among created beings”. The situation in Europe, “where men subconsciously remember something better” was seen even then in need of urgent action, and work “had best begun with the rapid re-conquest of those provinces which Christendom has already lost or is still in danger of losing.”
For this there must be “the reconciliation of the truths of the Church and the truths of the physical sciences ... in the unity of an economy which is one wisdom, a wisdom in which Science and Religion are necessarily complementary”. The theme of Divine wisdom is a thread which is woven throughout the book for “wisdom is embodied in the mechanism of the substance of all matter”. Although the sentiment can be found in Catholicism, here it is unembroidered.
It is the same when the artificial creation of a human cell is considered: “Nothing more than reproducing those conditions in which under the Law of Control and Direction, life emerges.” Fr. Holloway weaves into the argument his grasp of science (which often tends to go over my head), saying for instance that life below man is “a formula of causal substantial relativities integrating its finality within the universe”. But then comes that trenchant statement, “Mind is the non-material determinant of matter.” From this stems the role of the Pope, “the governing centre and source of authority within the Church in much the same way as the brain is the centre of control and direction in the body of any creature.”
In Matter and Mind creation through evolution is also given extended treatment in an appendix, which is a profound Scripture lecture (Fr. Holloway had the good fortune to have Fr. Dyson SJ in the English College). In passing we understand, “Man is not a cuckoo in the nest of nature” and there was “no biological environment for man”. By 1967, the teachings of the Jesuit palaeontologist Fr. Teilhard de Chardin were much in vogue, and an analysis of his shortcomings merging matter and spirit occupied an important place in Catholicism. In a similar way, the introductory chapter of Matter and Mind talks of “being bogged down in a peace which is no peace” and of the world divided into two opposing blocks which was very much the scenario of the 1940s.
When he came to write Catholicism he would produce a deeper and more penetrating assessment to begin the book and what became a more finished work. Newman would do the same with his second version of An Essay on the Development of Doctrine written over thirty years after the original.
Fr.Holloway’s was a mind constantly at work, and he was continually revising and perfecting his arguments. He tells us “every chapter ought to be a separate book”, and he spent the rest of his life issuing ‘chapters’ which were his editorials and pamphlets, while adding as he does in the book, “It can be shown and we will not delay on it here ... ”
A new hope
Fr. Holloway talks of “the present time of transition between an old order and a new”. The hiatus is still with us, and we no longer have his voice with us encouraging us to persevere, as well as urging the work at last to begin; when it does, it will draw on what he expounded. There are those who say that the thoughts of Fr. Holloway are too abstruse;
Matter and Mind now reveals them in greater simplicity. Others say that he is too confrontational; let them consider what he wrote seventy years ago and how accurate his diagnosis and his solution was. Christianity has not been found wanting; it has usually not been tried. The insight which has been given has languished; may this book make people look again and consider the possibility that it offers a new hope and a new synthesis both human and divine in our modern conflicted and confused world.
Fr. James Tolhurst has been a parish priest and a seminary Spiritual Director and is a former Book Reviews Editor of Faith Magazine
Scripture as Literature?
The Hebrew Bible as Literature cby Tod Linafelt, Oxford UP, 116 pages, ₤7.99 UK; 11.95 USA .
Sister Mary Dominic Pitts,
Are the Hebrew Scriptures as much a genre of literature as they are the theological pillar of Judaism and Christianity? Dr. Tod Linafelt of Georgetown University develops this idea in his book The Hebrew Scriptures as Literature, one of the titles in Oxford University’s
Very Short Introduction series. Linafelt adopts the approach called “new criticism”, concentrating solely on internal features of literary texts to unfold their meanings. In the case of the Hebrew Bible, this approach, while not denying the importance of Scripture’s historical context or significance as a religious document, examines the text without them. As a result, Dr. Linafelt finds the Hebrew Bible to be “literary art”.
Some characteristics of biblical narrative are easily recognised as literature by modern standards. A modern reader would find it natural for there to be character development over time, as in the David and Jacob cycles, to which Linafelt devotes four pages (pp.42-45). There are even two short stories—Ruth and Esther—which satisfy the criteria of the new criticism, their characters and plot developed and brought to a climax and denouement within a few chapters.
Chapter Three, “Reading Biblical Poetry”, introduces the lyric element in the Hebrew Scriptures. Linafelt demonstrates differences between Hebrew and Western poetry,in particular the use of figurative language and couplets with parallel meanings in the Hebrew—for example, in the Books of Job and the Psalms. Linafelt writes, “Metaphor, simile, personification, and a variety of figures of thought pervade the poetry . . . serving both rhetorical and intellectual function” (p.83). He also notes that brief lines of lyric within a narrative sometimes give a glimpse into a character’s emotions, such as Ruth’s famous “Wherever you go, I shall go” (p.78).
Narrative, by far the genre most used in the Bible, is at the same time the least obvious as lending itself to modern critical analysis. If we are to see the Hebrew Bible as literature, as Linafelt hopes, we must see it as a different kind of literature from what we in the West expect.
Defying modern expectations
Why does Biblical narrative defy modern European and American expectations? The “new criticism” was originally designed to find meaning in a text through intrinsic details—for example, what a character looks like and how that character speaks and thinks. In contrast, the ancient Hebrew author seldom finds it necessary to set a scene with details or to describe what a character looks like unless these facts advance the plot. For example, David’s appearance as “ruddy and handsome” is included only to emphasize Goliath’s contempt at being challenged by a mere boy (p.30). Linafelt argues that the austerity of the unornamented Hebrew narrative should not be mistaken for “ absence of style, but . . . as a particular style” (p.29).
One aspect of Hebrew Scripture frustrates the attempts of modern criticism to find insights into the characters’ inner lives. These glimpses into the characters’ emotions and motives are what most fascinate Linafelt, for he returns to the point again and again. For example, in Chapter Two he praises Hebrew narrative as showing the reader the significance of what is left unsaid:
The ability to hint at unexpressed thoughts, feeling and motivations on the part of the characters is one of the things that make it most comparable to the [modern] novel. . . . biblical narrative counts on and exploits exactly that which defines the treatment of character in novelistic fiction: a genuine inner life and a private complex subjectivity (pp.31-33).
The author could use his expertise (and does, in some places) to go on to show the reader why ancient writers included certain details but did not consider others important enough for the narrative. Biblical narrative typically leaves unsaid a character’s thoughts, feelings and inner motives, preferring to leave these hinted at by external actions and direct speech. In The Art of Biblical Narrative, Robert Alter suggests a key to characters’ inner thoughts and motivations which would be helpful even to the inexperienced reader of Scripture: first, external details (appearance, clothing, gestures); second, “one character’s comments on another”; third, “direct speech by the character”; fourth, “inward speech ... quoted as interior monologue”; and fifth, “statements by the narrator about the attitudes and intentions of the personages” (pp.116-117).
Linafelt prefers to pose questions to prompt the reader to wonder along with him what a character is thinking. Such questions can be valuable. Unfortunately, the question sequences are perhaps the weakest aspect of this book. They tend not to be necessary and are usually unanswerable. What are Eve and Adam thinking when
they reach for the fruit (p.32)? What are Abraham’s thoughts as he leads Isaac to sacrifice (p.37)? Is Naomi trying to send Ruth away to have one less mouth to feed?
Is Ruth offering Boaz sexual favours instead of making a customary and understoodrequest for betrothal (pp.46-47) ? Sometimes the questions stray into the fearfully unknowable: What is God thinking in forbidding the fruit? What motivates God to demand the sacrifice of Isaac?—for God too is a character, says Linafelt, whose motivations may be demanded of Him.
Such question sequences appear frequently in Chapters One and Two, no doubt an attempt, a little too lighthearted, to bring complex literary issues down to the reader’s level. On the other hand, Linafelt truly does bring his discussion to the reader’s level with highly technical literary critical and theological terms, usually defined or illustrated.
A unique purpose
Linafelt’s strongest case is laid out in Chapter Four, “Narrative and poetry working together”. Linafelt attributes to the mutual benefits of the two genres the “very best of ancient Hebrew narrative technique: a lengthy, artful and coherent story, with complicated and conflicted characters who grow and change and who . . . are capable of surprising the reader” (p.72). The Abraham-Isaac-Jacob and David cycles are brought back in Chapter Four as evidence that Biblical narrative together with lyric is in fact rich in figures of speech and can afford insight into characters’ internal and external features. If Near Eastern poetry is analysed according to modern Westerncritical techniques, then we can to some extent agree with Linafelt’s finding “literary art” in the Bible.
Is the Hebrew Bible literature? Alone of all ancient civilizations, the ancient Hebrew writers used narrative as the medium of their sacred writings. Unique and profoundly different in purpose, the Hebrew Bible may be termed “literature” because, like all literature, it reveals universal truths about mankind. It “cut[s] across cultures and historical periods” (p.11), literature indeed, but a different kind of literature whose beauties and profound poetry surpass all others.
The Long and the Short of it
Adventures in the Book Pages: Essays and Reviews by Edward Short. Gracewing. 432pp. £25.00.
Reviewed by Richard Ormrod
If you have never encountered author, reviewer and essayist Edward Short, you are in for a real adventure in the pages of this book; and if you know his work already, you know what to expect from this erudite, articulate writer of both catholic and Catholic interests.
This compendium brings together reviews and essays written over many years on a comprehensive range of writers (many of them Catholic), politicians, actors, painters, historical figures, and so on. His themes are as wide-ranging: the Irish sweepstakes; abortion; theology; theatre; poetry; art; biographers. His tone is always judicious, rarely judgmental; his style eminently readable. Here he is introducing Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family by Evelyn Waugh’s grandson, Alexander: Here is the story of four generations of Waughs, told with wit and brio ... [it] reveals aspects of the novelist’s poisonous relationship with his father, Arthur, that have never been given adequate attention ... The book opens with a portrait of Arthur’s father, Alexander, otherwise known as ‘the Brute’ who ... with his booming voice ... and mad, piercing eyes ... terrified family and associates alike.
His son, Arthur, had been ‘brutalised’ by his upbringing and idolised Alec, ‘the golden boy he had never been able to be himself.’ This was—understandably—resented by his brother Evelyn (who knew his parents had wanted a girl) and was to influence his life and writings ever after. Short clearly empathises with Evelyn:
He did poorly at Oxford. He took teaching jobs from which he was ignominiously sacked. He even enrolled in a course for carpenters. But mostly he drank. When he did finally put pen to paper, settling scores with his father became paramount. The younger Alexander suggests that Evelyn’s conversion to Catholicism in 1930 was to outrage his father, but Short takes issue with this, saying: ‘Evelyn may have relished play-acting but there was nothing make-believe about his Catholic faith.’
In reviewing a new abridgement of Henry Mayhew’s
London Labour and the London Poor, originally published in four volumes between 1851 and 1865, Short shows a keen appreciation of Mayhew’s methods and achievement: whilst he ‘can be excessively fond of statistics ... he was first and foremost a reporter, who never let his regard for the quantifiable stand in the way of his deep sympathy for the poor. Then, again, Mayhew eschewed the jargon that makes so many social historians unreadable.’
Perhaps most of all, Short praises Mayhew as ‘a truth-teller,’ who, ‘when so many of his contemporaries were celebrating the Great Exhibition ... was content to study the direst poverty imaginable in rookeries and alleyways where respectable Londoners seldom, if ever, ventured.’
Short quotes brief, poignant extracts that illustrate both Mayhew’s style and his compassionate sensibilities. He is also quick to pick out ‘another characteristic of Mayhew’s work: its droll humour.’ He links aspects of London Labour to Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), ‘which was ostensibly written to expose the evils of poverty but ended up celebrating the comedy of class’ (my italics). It is here that we remember that Short lives in New York and writes for an American audience!
Strangely perhaps, Short sees T.S. Eliot, another American, as ‘a profoundly confessional man,’ not in a religious sense, but in reviewing his letters from 1889- 1925 he detects that Eliot’s ‘epistolary candor was always at odds with his yearning for concealment’. This yearning was shown by a stipulation in his will that no biography should be written until fifty years after his death. Valerie Eliot adhered to his wish, which was why Ackroyd’s 1984 biography was ‘unauthorised’, and his ability to quote severely limited. Ackroyd himself said of Eliot: ‘Both as a writer and a man, his genius lay in his ability to resist the subversive tendencies of his personality by fashioning them into something larger than himself.’ How many other writers/poets would that also describe, one wonders? ‘Here is a thesis that elucidates the full range of Eliot’s art,’ Short proclaims of Craig Raine’s
T.S. Eliot, before himself expanding on the famous ‘objective correlative’: the idea that every precise emotion tends towards intellectual formulation; the absolute opposite of the fallacies of romantic art. Short concludes with characteristic generosity: ‘In excavating the buried life of Eliot’s art, Raine ... has written a book that all Eliot fans and all Eliot foes will find an instructive, witty read.’ How could any writer be other than delighted with such a review?
In considering Orwell’s question, ‘During a period of three hundred years, how
many people have been at once good novelists and good Catholics?’ Short comments that, ‘The novels of James Joyce ultimately disappoint ... because they repudiate ... [a] Catholic sacramental view of life.’ He finds Ulysses, for example, ‘an oddly sterile book’ and, ‘one of the most stupefying exhibitions of virtuosity in the language.’ This suggests that he finds Joyce neither a good novelist nor a good Catholic. However, of Greene, he remarks: ‘His faith was central to his being both as a man and as an author.’
Brighton Rock, Short maintains is, ‘a book of breath-taking originality’ which ‘has the wild and exultant energy of early rock and roll.’ On a more serious note, ‘although no good Catholic novel should read like a theological tract, it is remarkable that a book whose hero has his heart set on damnation should ultimately reaffirm the power of grace.’
In his essay ‘The Catholic Tradition in English Poetry’ Short disagrees with the biographers of Hopkins who see him as ‘the gifted artist hobbled by a repressive faith.’ No, Short insists, ‘The Ignatian discipline of the Society of Jesus gave Hopkins all the spiritual grist that his poetic mill could require.’ Of the so-called ‘terrible sonnets’ Short remarks: ‘the reports that Hopkins sent back from the dark night of the soul still astonish ... Good as they are, his last sonnets were aberrations ... If one looks at his work as a whole one sees that praise is at its heart.’ Short himself has a way of cutting to the heart of the matter, whatever the matter might be.
When Catholicism tried to be
The Catholic Enlightenment: The Forgotten History of a Global Movement, by Ulrich L. Lehner, Oxford University Press, 257pp
.Reviewed by Richard Whinder
Professor Lehner’s thesis can be simply stated. Traditionally, the Enlightenment, seen by its admirers as representing liberty, rationalism and intellectual enquiry, has been viewed as fundamentally opposed to Catholicism, founded, in this view, on religious authority, conservatism and credulity. On the contrary, Lehner argues, Catholics were often very much involved in the Enlightenment project, so much so that one can indeed speak of a ‘Catholic Enlightenment’, one which took on board many aspects of the wider, secular Enlightenment, but did so while remaining true to the Catholic Faith.
Lehner traces the roots of this ‘Catholic Enlightenment’ back to the reforms of the Council of Trent in the late sixteenth century. The Protestant Reformation had shattered mediaeval Christendom, and the Catholic Church found itself, in many places, having to rebuild itself from scratch. In this context, serious-minded Catholics realised they needed, among other things, a better educated clergy and laity, the reform of abuses which brought the Church into disrepute, and the elimination of superstitions which undermined the true Faith. It is easy to see how these concerns chimed with the development of Enlightenment thought, and how Catholic reformers could work happily alongside the secular Enlightenment in many areas.
More progressive than the Philosophes
Having established his thesis, Lehner goes on to look at various ways in which this ‘Catholic Enlightenment’ manifested itself. It must be said that these chapters rather stand alone and don’t flow naturally into one another. Nevertheless, they contain many fascinating details, and Lehner is unafraid to tackle popular prejudices. He gives the Catholic reformers full credit for their work and shows how, in certain ways, the Church was able to adopt more ‘progressive’ policies than its secular counterparts.
Thus, for instance, the philosophes of the secular Enlightenment (overwhelmingly male) frequently disparaged women as weak and emotional, and in seeking to restore an ancient, ‘classical’ model of society undermined the rights women had enjoyed since the Middle Ages (a process which culminated in the laws of the Code Napoleon, promulgated in 1804). By contrast, the Catholic Church had its numerous female convents, in which women could often attain a level of education, autonomy and authority denied them in the secular sphere. Similarly, while the mainstream Enlightenment (which privileged order, good behaviour and obedience) frequently sought harsh remedies for beggars, runaway slaves and other undesirables, Catholic religious houses could provide beacons of mercy and refuge, and moralists such as St Alphonsus Ligori sought to develop a theology which did real justice to the complexities of human life.
Tensions and disaster
But while it is undoubtedly true that well-educated Catholic reformers could, and did, participate in elements of the wider ‘Enlightenment’, there remained constant tensions between these two movements. Partly this had to do with politics. The secular Enlightenment sought to reduce the powers acquired by the Church during the Middle Ages, in favour of the rapidly-developing nation states. ‘Enlightened Despots’ such as Joseph II of Austria were no doubt sincere in their beliefs, but they were also keen to further their own power at the expense of the Church. But beneath this lay another, still deeper tension. Catholicism is, after all, a revealed religion: it believes that human nature has been radically corrupted by the Fall, and requires Redemption and Salvation through Jesus Christ.
Such a belief could never sit easily alongside the Enlightenment notion that mankind is effectively perfectible through better education and social reform. Here Lehner, I feel, fails to acknowledge fully this fundamental disparity. He is obviously enamoured of the ‘Catholic Enlightenment’ and does not wish to see that there remained a gulf between the Catholic Faith and the Enlightenment thought that would one day lead to disaster.
Disaster certainly unfolded. The French Revolution was, as Lehner notes, initially welcomed by many ‘Enlightened Catholics’ who even participated enthusiastically in its early stages. But within a few short years the Revolution led first to schism (with the ‘Civil Constitution of the Clergy’ in 1790) and soon to the outright de- Christianisation of France, accompanied by the unleashing of the Terror, in which hundreds of thousands of innocent Catholics were murdered – not least the 115,000 peasants of the Vendée, slaughtered in the first genocide of the modern age.
The Church, with her Divine constitution, survived the Revolution – but the ‘Catholic Enlightenment’ did not. Discredited by its association with a movement which had sought to eradicate Christianity itself, ‘progressive’ Catholicism withered on the vine, while a newly confident ‘conservative’ faith, characterised by rigorous orthodoxy and strict adherence to the Pope, would come to dominate Catholicism throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Lehner is clearly uncomfortable (and perhaps unfamiliar) with nineteenth century Catholicism, and slips into cliché in describing it. His somewhat shallow judgments need to be qualified by further reading (for example, Aidan Nichols’ excellent little work, Catholic Thought since the Enlightenment) which would give the lie to the idea that the 150 years following the French Revolution were an arid wasteland in Catholic theology.
Nevertheless, Lehner makes a good case that something valuable was lost in the reaction to the horrors of the French Revolution, and that the Church, almost without realising it, was distorted by the times in which she lived. The ‘voice of the people’ could no longer be ignored, and the Papacy sought to rally the faithful to its cause through a very personal devotion to the person and utterances of the Pope.
This ‘ultramontanism’ was not without its advantages to the Church, but it led to unhealthy exaggerations. And so today, for instance, the casual remarks of a Pope made while travelling can be treated almost as magisterial teaching – something which would have been incomprehensible to a Catholic of the eighteenth century, whether ‘enlightened’ or not.
Lesson and guide
Professor Lehner ends his volume with the hope that the movement he has described ‘can serve as a lesson and practical guide for twenty-first century theology in its continuing dialogue with modernity’. It is indeed a period with much to teach us, and Lehner deserves credit for rescuing much of this material from obscurity. But if the Catholic Enlightenment’ is really to serve as a guide for today, its weaknesses and failures, as well as its successes, will need to be honestly assessed.