As has become customary, Fr. Peter Milward has written an appraisal of the contents of the new issue of the St. Austin Review. Also, as has become customary, I am publishing his comments on the Ink Desk:
Comments on StAR 17.3, May-June 2017
“The World’s a Stage, The Drama of Faith”
By Peter Milward SJ
The Editorial is, as usual, brilliant, in looking through the world of Shakespeare, as he himself does, to the “primary world of Creation”. It is as if God has first written Shakespeare, and he has in turn communicated the Word to the world. Bravo! And what a wonderful epithet to describe the Merry Wives of Windsor as “rambunctious”. And then there is the nihilism of Macbeth described as “cankerous and cantankerous”. Further, I may add, if God has written Shakespeare, then Shakespeare in turn (as Chesterton says) has written us. This is the very theme of my monograph onShakespeare Today. (2012).
Strangely enough, I have nothing special to say about the main articles devoted to the plays of Shakespeare, but only when it comes to Robert Speaight I do have something to say. It was in the centenary year of Shakespeare’s birth, in 1964, that I invited him (as he had been invited to Japan by the British Council) to come and give my students at Sophia University a talk on Shakespeare, about whom he had recently published a book. However, his talk wasn’t so interesting. Only, when one of my students who was directing a production of Macbeth ventured to ask him for advice, he answered that instead of any advice he might give he would present the soliloquy of Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger that I see before me?” and thus he brought the house down. Subsequently, when I published my Shakespeare’s Religious Background in 1973, he kindly reviewed it for The Ampleforth Journal. At the same time we had a meeting at the Garrick Club, where I was also introduced to my publisher, Lord Longford.
In response to Benedict Kiely, I quite agree that in today’s media, especially in such book reviews as the TLS, The London Review of Books, The New York Review, and The New York Times Review of Books, there is a “soft persecution of orthodox Christianity”, which is so characteristic of the postmodern period. Although one isn’t supposed to say so, for fear of being derided as “anti-Semitic”, I attribute this tendency to the prevailing admission of Jews after World War II to the worlds of academia, of journalism, and of the movies, especially when they give up their religious beliefs. This is what I see in the books reviewed and in the reviewers, namely that in so many cases there is something Jewish in their names and/or their preferences. As for Rod Dreher’s much discussed book (which I haven’t yet read), I think there is much to be said for “The Benedict Option”, as also for the Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, as also for the way certain colleges and universities in America, which are mentioned here, and which I have personally visited, seem to draw committed Catholics to themselves. I might add the name of Christendom College.
As for Dwight Longenecker’s article on “The Inklings”, I knew both Lewis and Tolkien during my time at Oxford (Campion Hall, 1950-54). Lewis was a splendid lecturer, whose every word one could hear from the back of a large class, but he was undercut by what his friend Tolkien referred to as his “Ulsterior motive”. He could never shake himself free from the Protestantism he had imbibed during his formative years in Ulster, as I came to realize on reading his volume for Oxford on English Literature in the Sixteenth Century excluding Drama (1954). Of course, the task of dealing with the drama of that age had to be assigned separately to a specialist on the subject, but I knew that Lewis himself was singularly unfitted to deal with it, both because of his preference for poetry over drama and because he instinctively recognized the underlying Catholic presence in Shakespearian drama. But why the Catholic Tolkien had a “dislike of Shakespeare”, I can’t say. After all his “Shire” is implicitly set in Shakespeare’s Catholic enclave of the Forest of Arden. Only, he may well have been misled by the prevailing secularism of what I call “the Shakespeare establishment”, swayed by Professor Stanley Wells.
In Kevin O’Brien’s article on “Everything Rotten”, I felt like applauding his “pearceworthy” epithet “cringeworthy”, till he repeated it, and then it seemed to me that his repetition was too “repetitious”. He went on to mention his review of the play Shakeshafte by Rowan Williams, and when Colin further stated that the play “ridicules Shakespeare”, I thought that the reference was to Williams’ play – with which I would have concurred. From what I have read about it in The Tablet it was a really shameful play, and I even wrote to the author himself about it but got no response.
As for the review by Trevor Lipscombe concerning Particles of Faith, I thought how wonderful is the contrast between science that merely “explains the how of the cosmos”, and God “who is its why”. But then nowadays, as I have noted, any suspicion of “God-talk” is dismissed out of hand as superstition.
Again, as for Marie Dudzic’s review of Lucy Beckett’s The Time Before You Die, I quite agree with her, and I can’t help prizing the review over the book reviewed – as I have had frequent occasion to criticize the opinionated writings of the lady author. Only, there are two points I have to take up against the review, first that I have had occasion to review no fewer than two books in defence of Mary Tudor, in contrast to one book on the “dissing” of Elizabeth. Still, one has to say, “Poor Mary Tudor!” She was such a good lady. Secondly, the name of the good Cardinal wasn’t “Robert” but “Reginald Pole”, though in a historical novel the change might be permitted. That is all.
Several years ago, I was repeatedly distracted by the idea of one-vs-many. It seemed to present itself in all sorts of contexts, the way something does when it demands admittance into our consciousness. I even wrote several posts on the subject, seeing the conflict (for that is what it was) in several different guises. When that sort of thing happens, we usually find the source of the disturbance in our own psyche, and so I searched for it there, found its personal manifestation, and set about resolving the conflict in my own life.
But it’s not merely personal. That’s increasingly obvious. It has pervaded our lives, not only in the United States, but abroad as well. It is at the root of the political unease in Europe, the religious intolerance, cultural chaos, and loss of identity. The economic success of the EU has kept the thin fabric of society together, but the edges are fraying. Brexit in the United Kingdom came as a shock; so did the phenomenal unexpectedness of Trump’s election in the United States.
It is also manifested in the Church under our current pope, whose excursions into national political and economic issues outside the Church are unprecedented in the papacy, and whose unusually reluctant and vague incursions on matters of Church doctrine have been extraordinary—as noted even by secular observers. It has almost become a cliché among Catholic journalists to correct secular reporters with “What the Pope really said was … “ His recurring theme is community, sometimes varied by references to unity. The Catholic in the pew is taught that he must not perceive himself a Catholic person, but only a part of the Catholic Church, perhaps with ecclesial, social, economic, political, racial or sexual markers attached to give him his group identity, since there is no individual identity. The notion of selfhood exclusive of these tags is sinful, hence, the reluctance of the Holy Father to refer to matters of personal morality, and his eagerness to talk about group morality.
It seems to be the reigning desire everywhere to dissolve distinction into some kind of amorphous unity. Yet this rush to “inclusiveness” has only bred intolerance, now grown to an alarming degree—such that anyone of a different opinion is not even allowed to speak but literally shouted down. Examples are too numerous to mention. The term individualism is pronounced with a sneer at best; it’s most often used to explain away the apparent evil of withdrawal, non-participation, or even just a different opinion.
This affects us on all different levels—offices and faculties, parishes and families, and of course, all media. There is no escape from the omnipresent demand for conformity, including, sadly, in our churches. Because the gospel of “Community” sounds so Christian, rather like the ease with which the Christian “God is love” was inverted to the secular “Love is God,” and opened the door for all sorts of crimes against the dignity of the human person, all in the name of love.
The many have declared war on the one, and in some way or other, we are all combatants in that war. I remember a teacher who said she loved teaching—she just couldn’t stand the students. And I remember a young assistant priest who was at our parish briefly. He was very popular, “cool,” and older parishioners were thrilled by his appeal to the younger crowd. He often remarked that he loved being a priest. One evening he held a “faith-sharing” group, and an older lady (not one of his crowd), so excited by the long-awaited opportunity to share her faith, talked about her encounter with Christ in prayer. But the priest wanted us to encounter Christ in each other, in “community.” He interrupted her with: “That’s good, Anne, but let’s give someone else a chance to speak.” The hurt on the woman’s face was visible. She didn’t say another word, and neither did anyone else, so the cool young priest was able to light the candle he’d brought with him and play his guitar for everyone. A shepherd loves his flock—it’s just those annoying bleating lambs that get in the way.
And a good pastor is now defined as a good administrator; thus our parishes become just another club we join for family or group social activities, and we are made to feel guilty for the smallest timid request for personal human kindness. We learn to curb our “expectations.” After all, “it’s not about you.” It’s especially not about you if you’re not influential in some useful way that would help the parish grow, or diminish its debt for the new social hall. And it’s most especially not about you if you’re an unattractive, unintelligent, unconnected, old, poor, lost, lonely, sick—sheep. Go away. And many do just that.
Fortunately, some Christians have learned not to confuse “pastor” with “shepherd.” And the result of the painful invisibility that comes from the gospel of community is that we seek—and then are found by—the Shepherd. He always seeks out those of us who don’t matter, for it takes a sheep to recognize the voice of the shepherd. We know him because he calls us by name, individually, personally. He does not call communities—groups, clubs, families, parishes, nations or tribes. He calls persons.
All the foregoing is the local, personal, picture; the larger and more global picture is called The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher. I haven’t read that controversial book, but I’ve read the reviews, and it sounds as though someone has seen with an eagle’s eye what I have seen with my snail’s eye.
The many have always despised the One. I don’t know why. But whatever their reason, it’s the same reason that Christians are the most aware of the conflict and the same reason that Christians are persecuted now more than any other time in modern history. Ideological totalitarianism is anti-Christian by its very nature, for even though it expresses frequently as the misnomer “anti-Semitism,” it’s always been simply hatred of the Jew.
Dear Ink Desk Readers,
I thought you might like my videos for my Homeschool Connections courses. Here’s the whole playlist – https://www.youtube.com/
And be sure to sign your kids or grandkids up for Homeschool Connections!
There’s a Life Magazine special issue out about Mary.
At the end of the main article, the writer laments, “If only we had a simply human Mary, that would be enough.”
My reaction: We do have a simply human Mary. No orthodox Christian has ever believed or taught that Mary is anything other than human. So that should be enough.
My wife’s reaction: For people, it’s never enough.
And that’s really it. That’s what it’s all about. We’re a mess. Insatiable, unhappy, lost – in need of a Savior (though that’s not a politically correct thing to say).
You may choose to believe the Gospels or to think of them as mere myths, but what they present in perhaps the most telling and compelling way in all of literature is human nature in its truest form.
The Father’s call throughout the Old Testament, through the voice of his prophets, is “Repent! Stop doing evil, do good and turn to me. Otherwise you will face disaster.” That’s the message of the Son in the New Testament as well, but we don’t want to hear it.
We’d rather have the Buddy Jesus, the Jesus-as-Inner-Self, the Vague Jesus, the Jesus of our Own Desires, the Jesus we can make jump and entertain us.
We don’t want a Jesus whose first words are (as in the Gospel according to Mark): “Repent and believe!”
And the Gospels simply tell us what we do when we are given “enough”, when we are asked to repent and believe. What do we do when we are given all that we need? A loving God, a good man, a man who walks the earth healing and forgiving and asking us to do the same? What do we do?
We torture Him, mock Him and kill Him.
No work of literature before or since has ever shown so clearly the Resistance in our Hearts.