Saturday, 9 November 2019

A New Catholic Revival in the Arts

Mr Pearce looks at the revival in Catholic arts with a special interest in the new Catholic Novels.

From Faith&Culture

By Joseph Pearce

Throughout the past two millennia the Catholic Faith has inspired the greatest works of art. We think of edifying edifices of stone, such as St. Peter’s Basilica or Chartres Cathedral; we think of Michelangelo’s Pietà or Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa; we think of the works of Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael; or those of Dante, Shakespeare, Newman and Hopkins; or of Gregorian chant and the polyphonic Masses of Palestrina, Tallis and Byrd. It’s hard to imagine life without these effusive outpourings of the grace and grandeur of God.

Even in the twentieth century, in the midst of the dark ages of communism and national socialism, and in a world of Gulag, gas chamber, the abortion mill and the atomic bomb, the Catholic Faith has inspired some of the greatest art of the modern age. In architecture, Antoni Gaudi’s controversially majestic Sagrada Familia in Barcelona palpitates with living iconographic symbolism; in art, the equally controversial Salvador Dali has produced some wonderful religious art, most famously his Christ of St. John of the Cross; and in music, there’s Vaughan Williams, Poulenc and Messiaen. As for literature, there are almost too many great writers to mention: Chesterton, Belloc, Eliot, Waugh, Greene, Tolkien, Bernanos, Mauriac, and Flannery O’Connor, to name but an illustrious few.

Then, from the 1960s onwards, something went wrong. Church architecture succumbed to the ugliness of brutalism, reflecting the barbaric butchering of the liturgy that accompanied it, and music, the visual arts and literature entered the cultural doldrums. It was as though the West had wandered into a desert of despair characterized by the barren fruit of desiccated inspiration. During this period of deconstructed disintegration, one had to look to the East for the light of a new dawn. Alexander Solzhenitsyn rose phoenix-like from the dust and ashes of Soviet tyranny, a convert to Orthodoxy who exposed the grim and gruesome reality of secular fundamentalism in his novels and works of historical scholarship, and Arvo Pärt, another convert to Orthodoxy, pioneered a minimalist style of music inspired by his study of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony.

Now, after forty years in the desert, we are beginning to see a new Catholic revival in the arts. Michael Kurek and Frank La Rocca are blazing a trail in the composition of contemporary music rooted in a respect for tradition, and Igor Babailov is in the vanguard of the restoration of realism in the visual arts. But it is in the field of literature that the revival is most evident.

Beginning in the 1990s with the novels of Tim Powers and Michael D. O’Brien, both of whom write in the genre of what might be called supernatural realism, the revival of Catholic literature is now gaining real momentum. In recent years, novels by a new generation of Catholic authors have been brightening the literary firmament. Glen Arbery’s Bearings and Distances dissects the denizens of the culture of death with the grotesque satirical eye of a latter-day Flannery O’Connor or Walker Percy.[1] Lucy Beckett’s A Postcard from the Volcano is an historical novel set in pre-War Germany. The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera combines the charm of Jane Austen with the visionary hopefulness of Chesterton. Exiles by Ron Hansen, better known for his earlier Catholic novel Mariette in Ecstasy, is an historical novel based on Hopkins’ poem, “The Wreck of the Deutschland”. Dena Hunt’s Treason, another historical novel, is set in the anti-Catholic and tyrannical reign of Bloody Bess (Elizabeth I). Two Statues by Brian Kennelly is set in contemporary east coast America and revolves around reactions to an alleged miracle. Death of a Liturgist by Lorraine V. Murray is a delightful and light-hearted mystery story, set in a fictional Catholic parish in Georgia. The Letters of Magdalen Montague by Eleanor Bourg Nicholson is an epistolary novel in the Decadent mode, reminiscent of the works and the worlds of Baudelaire, Verlaine, Huysmans and Wilde. The Book of Jotham by Arthur Powers is a powerful encapsulation of the life of a mentally handicapped disciple of Christ, as moving as it is challenging in its depiction of the way the world views the proverbial “village idiot”. The Death of a Pope by Piers Paul Read is a contemporary thriller centred on modernist shenanigans at a papal conclave. And last but not least, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! by Chilton Williamson, Jr., surveys life in 1990s small-town Wyoming, evoking the presence of grace in the life of disparate folk. And this is but a sampling, and we haven’t even mentioned the new generation of excellent Catholic poets.

One thing is clear. If it could truly be said that contemporary Catholic culture was dead or dying at the end of the twentieth century, it could be said equally truly that it has now risen from the dead.

[1] Author’s note: Prospective readers of Arbery’s novel need to be aware of sexual content which is not explicit and certainly not lascivious but which might offend some people. Perhaps we might consider it to be R-rated fiction!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are subject to deletion if they are not germane. I have no problem with a bit of colourful language, but blasphemy or depraved profanity will not be allowed. Attacks on the Catholic Faith will not be tolerated. Comments will be deleted that are republican (Yanks! Note the lower case 'r'!), attacks on the legitimacy of Pope Francis as the Vicar of Christ (I know he's a heretic and a Protector of Perverts, and I definitely want him gone yesterday! However, he is Pope, and I pray for him every day.), the legitimacy of the House of Windsor or of the claims of the Elder Line of the House of France, or attacks on the legitimacy of any of the currently ruling Houses of Europe.