Jane Austen on Henry V

Sunday, October 25, AD 2015

One Response to Jane Austen on Henry V

  • The Archbishop’s guess as to the meaning of the “terra vero salica” (in the MS published by Herold) or the “terra autem salica” (in the MS published by the Abbé Piuthou) is as good as any.

    No one really knows what it meant and “if it is to be guesswork, let us all guess for ourselves. To be guided by second-hand conjecture is pitiful,” as Henry Tilney observess in Northanger Abbey; a caution that deserves to be heeded by the whole tribe of textual critics, historians – and jurists.

Jane Austen is a Hot Button Issue?

Wednesday, February 6, AD 2013

Last week I wrote a post noting the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  I took the opportunity of mentioning that I found Austen boring and noted fairly vituperative criticisms of her by Twain and Emerson.  The reaction on this blog was restrained and got sidetracked into a debate about the Reformation in England and Protestantism and Catholicism.  So far, so normal.

I also put the post up at the American history blog Almost Chosen People that Paul Zummo and I run.  Almost Chosen People is a fairly sedate blog, unlike the raucous The American Catholic, where controversy rarely occurs and on the rare occasions when it does, it is usually about the Civil War.  I was therefore shocked when my light-hearted post aroused what for Almost Chosen People was a firestorm.  Here are the comments:

Continue reading...

19 Responses to Jane Austen is a Hot Button Issue?

  • I have to say I also fine Austen boring. My wife on the other hand loves her.

    I am looking forward to an Arnold Schwarzenegger version of Austen. “Pride and Terminate with Extreme Prejudice.”

  • “Pride and Terminate with Extreme Prejudice.” 🙂

  • Well, Don, birthday or no, your interlocutors are correct and you are wrong.

    😉

    Pride and Prejudice is simply one of the greatest novels ever written. Like Twain (“Every time I read …”), I have read it several times. Unlike Twain, I am not so full of myself that I can’t recognize the brilliance and simple elegance of her prose, and I come away with some new insight each time.

    As for Twain himself, whose genius I recognize (just as I mentioned in commenting on your first post on this subject), I have read many of his works and find only Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer to be the least bit compelling for me personally. The rest I find tedious. Again, just personal opinion.

  • Austen’s prose are simply incredible. Light, lucid, and sharp as a katana. I read P&P this summer and found it was nearly impossible to put down.

    Also, anyone championed by Alasdair MacIntyre as the last great representative of virtue ethics is a-ok in my book.

  • *laughs*

    Oh, dear, I may have to ding your geek creds!

    Jane Austen is a fandom. Of course folks fly off the handle about someone not utterly loving her, let alone disliking her– and since it’s in an area where they haven’t faced the usual geek pressures, they’re over-sensitive.

    I’ll stick with Terry Pratchett.

  • My wife and my sisters read Jane Austen. I’m waiting for the first person shooter video game to come out.

  • “Austen’s prose are simply incredible.”

    I just don’t see it. Of course I enjoy Edward Gibbon’s prose style and realize that quite a few differ with me on that.

    Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “Gibbon’s style is detestable; but it is not the worst thing about him.”

  • “My wife and my sisters read Jane Austen. I’m waiting for the first person shooter video game to come out” 🙂

    Or the alternate history novel: Jane Austen and the Peninsular War

  • “Jane Austen is a fandom.”

    Yes, I have had similar reactions from Tokien fans when I have indicated that some passages involving Bilbo and Sam on the way to Mordor seemed to be quite tedious.

  • With St. Paddy’s Day acomin’, I need to catch me a Leprechaun, get his pot o’ gold and find me a rainbow. That there will make me happy. And If I catch him napping under a tree while guarding his pot o’ gold, and the rainbow will lead me to him, I will have my Leprechaun. I have always wanted my own Leprechaun.
    The truth be told, I am concerned that the King James version of the bible, which Jane Austen certainly would have used, did not refer to the sovereign Person of God using the pronoun WHO in the Lord’s Prayer, as “Our Father, who are in heaven.”

  • I’ve not read Austen, but I know of her primarily through Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue which appears to have been the reference by JL above.

    If, for nothing else, that MacIntyre includes Austen in a lineage of moral philosophy that includes Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas and holds it against the disaster of the Enlightenment and Nietzsche and the rest of emotivism/moral relativism/modernist philosophy, then I approve of Austen…though I’ll probably never read her. Similar to the best I hope to do with St. Thomas is to read his Shorter Summa…

    To your point, Don…while I do agree that people arguing about taste is somewhat silly, the fact is that “arguing on the internet” often ends in higher emotions than a discussion at, say, a bar. Words in black-and-white carry more force than words spoken…and that amplifies the emotional impact. As an ex-hardcore gamer (former MMO guild leader), I found that the lack of nonverbal cues in forums and IM/in-game chat led to more volatility than I’d experience if I were having the same conversation in person. In fact, this post represents my first foray back into “internet speech” in probably 4 years, despite lurking on this board since about 2010…all because I generally regard comboxes and such to be a one-way ticket to futility. Single-player games and assiduously avoiding the “Comments” sections of news articles has led to a general balance in my life since.

    So, while I have no personal affection for Austen, I respect that others do…including some philosopher I think of highly…and, were someone to say something crass (not a sincere critique, but dismissive) of…say, GK Chesterton or John Henry Cardinal Newman, I might get a tad irrational myself.

    So perhaps, Don, Austen represents an articulation of virtue or an insight into the human condition with which her fans identify…and when someone slights Austen, that is perceived as a slight against not just a mere author but against the fan’s own identity. It’s then made worse by the medium.

    I find it similar to how I feel relative to anti-Catholic rhetoric…it’s taken me a long time to be able to feel charity toward those individuals…and C.S. Lewis has an apparent understanding of how we Catholics feel in regards to Virgin Mary. Maybe that can serve as an analogue for the reaction of some fans of Austen, albeit on a less theological basis:

    ” Some people draw unwarranted conclusions from the fact that I never say more about the Blessed Virgin Mary than is involved in asserting the Virgin Birth of Christ. But surely my reason for not doing so is obvious? To say more would take me at once into highly controversial regions. And there is no controversy between Christians which needs to be so delicately touched as this. The Roman Catholic beliefs on that subject are held not only with the ordinary fervour that attaches to all sincere religious belief, but (very naturally) with the peculiar and, as it were, chivalrous sensibility that a man feels when the honour of his mother or his beloved is at stake.
    ” It is very difficult so to dissent from them that you will not appear to them a cad as well as a heretic. And contrariwise, the opposed Protestant beliefs on this subject call forth feelings which go down to the very roots of all Monotheism whatever. To radical Protestants it seems that the distinction between Creator and creature (however holy) is imperilled: that Polytheism is risen again. Hence it is hard so to dissent from them that you will not appear something worse than a heretic-an idolater, a Pagan. If any topic could be relied upon to wreck a book about “mere” Christianity-if any topic makes utterly unprofitable reading for those who do not yet believe that the Virgin’s son is God-surely this is it.”

    Mere Christianity

  • Wonderful quote. Thanks. From a radical Protestant standpoint devotion to Mary seems very pagan. To the Roman Catholic, the Protestant critique seems unwarranted and wrong.

  • Mary De Voe —

    I find it disturbing that you object to ordinary historical English grammar. 🙂 Seriously, though, you should not make comments like this without going to see what the Our Father looked like in Old English, Middle English, and the original Douay-Rheims.

    “Faeder ure thu the eart on heafonum” doesn’t use “who” either. And the Saxons were good Catholics who never heard of Protestantism. “That art in heaven” was pretty common in Middle English, although some went with “wicche art” instead. It certainly doesn’t make the Our Father less personal; it makes it understandable and grammatical for people of that day.

  • It is funny that the first time I write a response is in defense of Jane Austen. I have always found it very interesting that she was able to capture the nuances of courtship and marriage having never experienced either one. I believe that Ms.Austen lived her whole life in the bosom of her immediate family and never ventured far from her home. What can I say I like her books, the depth of the characters makes them just as believable 200 years later. In the end I think it’s probably a girl thing, and explanations shouldn’t be necessary.

  • It’s not just a girl thing, and I think to limit it as such is to depreciate its inherent worth as a piece of great writing and insightful commentary.

  • While every author has his or her fans, this is certainly not adequate to account for people’s protectiveness of Austen. It has been noted in literary critical circles, for instance, that people who directly criticize Austen are immediately regarded as having done something obviously indecorous and in bad taste and as displaying literary incompetence. It’s not a mere matter of fans being annoyed by criticism of their favorite author; it’s a matter of people coming to regard one as obviously incompetent and gauche, so that you no longer have any credibility on any literary subject for that (at present very large) group of people. This happens with various authors from time to time; it used to be the case with Shakespeare, for instance, and people whose work took them into the vicinity of Samuel Johnson’s occasionally sharp criticism of the Bard had to disassociate themselves from it or risk being taken either as obviously incapable of appreciating the English language, or obviously questionable in moral matters, or (in England) obviously unEnglish. If you thought Shakespeare was overrated, flaunting such universally recognized bad taste was itself taken as undeniable proof of bad taste, and you would only do it if you were deliberately trying to provoke people. And as with Shakespeare, the expectation of deference to Austen will weaken over time.

    But I don’t think anyone can get out of it by saying that it’s all merely a matter of taste, either; it’s an argument about good taste and bad taste, not an argument about mere taste, and the two have never been the same kind of argument. People react not to someone disliking Austen, which will happen as it will happen, but to not admitting the dislike of Austen as a flaw in one’s taste, which is regarded as being deliberate defense of bad taste. And while matters of mere taste are matters of indifference, and everyone recognizes there is at least some slippage in determining good taste, everyone at least sometimes treats matters of good taste in the same way they treat matters of morals: character flaws are human, but deliberately and publicly insisting that what everyone else regards as character flaws are not flaws but virtues makes people angry. It’s a very human way of thinking about good taste; everybody can find a case which they regard as an egregious and unacceptable flaunting of bad taste as good taste. Criticizing Austen just happens to be one that’s widely regarded as such in our day.

    In full disclosure, though, I should say that I am undeniably pro-Austen, and think that this favoritism for Austen is one of the handful of points on which contemporary culture shows good sense.

  • When it comes to battles of literary taste there usually is a great deal of futile sturm und drang. The battle of the books in Seventeenth Century France comes to mind. The simple truth of course is that we humans are fairly cross grained creatures and our likes and dislikes are going to be diverse about quite a few items. What I find most interesting about such battles is, no surprise, their history and how popular opinions about an author changes over time. Winston Churchill, not the English prime minister, was a contemporary American novelist of Sir Winston. His novels were extremely popular in his life time. Sir Winston added his middle intial S. to American editions of his works to cut down on the confusion between works written by him and works written by the American Churchill. The two Churchills exchanged light hearted letters about this. Now of course the American Winston Churchill is almost entirely forgotten, remembered only in biographies of Sir Winston. Does that mean that he was a “bad novelist” or that simply popular literary tastes had changed? Will Jane Austen be a “bad novelist” if here fad subsides and her novels are little read five decades hence? Does a literary work have any intrinsic value if it is read only by specialists or doctoral candidates? Petronius was designated by Nero his “arbiter of taste”. Various individuals and institutions have attempted to play that role throughout history, but none successfully over time.

  • I read the Synoptic Gospels, and their narration is deceptively simple. I can say the same thing about Jane Austen.

    I have watched films based on Jane Austen’s books, and then read the books themselves. I must say that the films are better at fleshing out the story. Austen’s writing is somewhat bare-bones. Scriptwriters are forced to bring the drama to the fore. Nevertheless, Austen’s books are classics.

    Critics of Austen dismiss her work as fluffy and insubstantial. Yet truth be told, few things are as important as finding a good wife or a good husband. As a single man, if I ignore this truth, I do so at my peril. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

January 28, 1813: Pride and Prejudice Published

Monday, January 28, AD 2013

Two centuries today since the publication of Pride and Prejudice.  I confess that I have generally found Jane Austen to be a snore fest unless her text is enlivened, if that is the proper word when Zombies are involved, as in the above video.  Austen’s books began to be published in America in 1832, although they made little impact with the general public until the latter part of the Nineteenth Century when the novelist William Dean Howells wrote several essays celebrating Austen as an author.

One of her most biting critics was Mark Twain.  A sample of his Austen tirades:

Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.

I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

Continue reading...

63 Responses to January 28, 1813: Pride and Prejudice Published

  • Mark Twain is, arguably, America’s greatest writer, and certainly the author of America’s greatest novel, “Huckleberry Finn”. I have much respect for him and his opinions, although I strongly disagree with the one he expresses here.

    Emerson, on the other hand, is a proto-socialist whose only worthy literary contribution, as far as I’m concerned, is “Concord Hymn”. He can suck it.

    That ought to get the combox literary fight club off to a decent start.

    😉

  • Indeed Jay! 🙂 I have never had much use for the transcendentalists in general or Emerson in particular. On the other hand my reaction to Twain is decidely mixed. Some of his writings I greatly enjoy, most notably a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, while much of his writing leaves me cold. Funny Twain I like, serious Twain I find boring and bitter Twain I abhore.

  • I believe Jane Auten is the English Molière.

    No other novelist relies so heavily on dialogue to exhibit character, or does so with a surer touch. Take a sentence of dialogue from any her novels and one can instantly identify the speaker/ And what characters they are: Mrs Jennings, Mr Elton, the preposterous Mr Collins and the truly evil Mrs Norris. In fact, there are no minor characters; they all have the solidity of life. She can induce a suspension of disbelief by careful gradation, from portraying the eccentric Mr Bennett and his silly, but wholly believable wife to lull the reader into accepting the outrageous Mr Collins and Lady Catherine.

    No writer can be so concise. She can compress a volume of Christian metaphysics in a single parenthesis. “Was it new for any thing in this world to be unequal, inconsistent, incongruous — or for chance and circumstance (as second causes) to direct the human fate?”

  • M. P-S: Exactly. Well put.

    There are a few novels I re-read every few years. Pride and Prejudice is
    one of them. It never fails that I find some new reward each time.

    I’m not sure why Twain had such an antipathy for Miss Austen’s work. Could
    it be just a touch of envy for her more indirect, understated humor? And
    surely Twain couldn’t deny her unerring gift for characterization, so perfectly
    described by Mr. Paterson-Seymour above.

    As for the insufferable Emerson, I agree with Jay Anderson– he can suck it.
    Who cares what that gasbag thinks?

  • Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and other novels by Jane Austen, a canon’s daughter, were written to expose the banality and injustice of denying women the right to own and inherit property, estates and manors from their deceased husbands. (Job’s daughters in the Old Testament did indeed receive an inheritance. This inheritance would enable them to maintain their virginity and not be forced into an unhappy marriage for the sake of a livelihood. But then again, the English Reformation brought much evil into the culture.) Only the male person, as citizen, in England was allowed, by law, to own property and to vote. Women who were to be accorded all courtesy and gentility, were in fact, denied. Even their home, unless a male heir in their immediate family in-tailed the estate, as Mrs. Bennett decries “Are we all to be thrown into the hedgerow, penniless?” was in-tailed away. ..to Mr. Collins, I believe. And the Dashwood’s estate was turned over to the stepson and his evil wife. Maryann Dashwood near died of the poverty visited upon the family after the death of her father. Tom Jones, a rather ribald novel, also dealt with this unfair law, which denied the owner of the estate his free will to leave his estate to his widow. I cannot tell you how very much I appreciate American Law after watching Pride and Prejudice, but I also appreciate the respect and courtesy shown each person in the novels, always hoping such respect will fill our culture.

  • Pingback: MONDAY EVENING EXTRA | Big Pulpit
  • Mary, the Reformation brought far more good to English society than evil. England had been at her best for almost four centuries post 1559. The England we have come to know is the England of Reformation.

  • Actually I think the Tudors came close to transforming England into a fairly squalid absolute monarchy, and the Reformation played a large part in that. The greatest Englishman in the last century, Sir Winston Churchill, I think got it right in this paragraph:

    “The resistance of More and Fisher to the royal supremacy in Church government was a heroic stand. They realised the defects of the existing Catholic system, but they hated and feared the aggressive nationalism which was destroying the unity of Christendom. They saw that the break with Rome carried with it the risk of a despotism freed from every fetter. More stood forth as the defender of all that was finest in the medieval outlook. He represents to history its universality, its belief in spiritual values, and its instinctive sense of otherworldliness. Henry VIII with cruel axe decapitated not only a wise and gifted counselor, but a system which, though it had failed to live up to its ideals in practice, had for long furnished mankind with its brightest dreams.”

    My Irish Catholic ancestors of course had little reason to love post Reformation England that treated them as criminals for daring to follow the faith of their ancestors. Edmund Burke put it best in regard to the Irish Penal Laws:

    “For I must do it justice; it was a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts. It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

  • Well, Donald, from an Irish perspective of course the whole issue seems to originate with Henry and his children. But as to your comment concerning absolute monarchy, Elizabeth Tudor was actually the first monarch to realize that a ruler governs on consent. She consulted and took advice and after reading virtually everything she’s ever written, I have to say she really WAS humble and God-reliant. Unfortunately the Stuarts reverted and I think they were an ugly bunch.

  • No Jon, Parliament was a very well established institution from the thirteenth century. The Tudors successfully turned it into a rubber stamp. As for Bad Queen Bess, Peter Wentworth, member of Parliament and a frequent guest in the Tower courtesy of Elizabeth during her reign, would have disagreed with your characterization of her. Those who cherish liberty should praise the ham fisted Stuarts who, by rousing opposition, inadvertantly put England on the road to a restoration of the role of Parliament.

  • Well, if the Stuarts did it inadvertantly, what is there to thank? The fact is that Parliament grew used to a certain relationship to the Crown during Elizabeth’s reign, and James I ran roughshod over them–he was an obstinate proponent of Divine Right and the Charles’s were too. As for Wentworth I can’t remember what happened so I can’t speak to that. Let’s see. That was a time when many people were being killed for religious and political reasons. Others were placed under house arrest or secluded somewhere.

  • “Well, if the Stuarts did it inadvertantly, what is there to thank?”

    One can thank incompetence in leaders Jon, as well as competence, depending on what the leaders are attempting to do. The Stuarts were almost comically inept, except for Charles II, who was the only able one of the lot.

    “The fact is that Parliament grew used to a certain relationship to the Crown during Elizabeth’s reign, and James I ran roughshod over them”

    Actually the Puritans had gotten short shrift from Elizabeth and they were hoping for relief from James and were disappointed in their hopes. Peter Wentworth was a Puritan, but he also spoke out compellingly for liberty of speech in Parliament, something that Elizabeth was not keen on.

  • Charles II was obviously not very competent, nor was he seen to be by his contemporaries. The puritans of Elizabeth’s reign were unhappy with her settlement, of course. I don’t know what more they could have reasonably expected in that context, though. Their experiment even in the 30’s onward failed miserably. It was an extreme and eccentric vision that they had. Interestingly, THEY should be thanked since their actions were a catalyst for radical change in the monarchy and the status of parliament. Also, those who came to the new world began an experiment that, although admittedly also eccentric, was actually quite successful! Not bad for nutty Protestants! They seem to get the liberty part right.

  • “Charles II was obviously not very competent, nor was he seen to be by his contemporaries.”
    He restored the monarchy and maintained himself on a turbulent throne for a quarter of a century. He checkmated his enemies in Parliament and was a voice of tolerance in an intolerant age. During his reign England enjoyed peace and prosperity. His misfortune was to die at only 55, leaving his throne to James who only lasted five year.

    “The puritans of Elizabeth’s reign were unhappy with her settlement, of course. I don’t know what more they could have reasonably expected in that context, though.”

    Freedom as did the Catholics under Elizabeth. Such as was practiced in France after the Edict of Nantes in 1598. The Reformation made religion subject to the whims of the reigning monarch which meant that religion was going to be mixed up in politics for a very long time indeed.

    As for Protestants getting liberty right, the Catholics in Maryland who lost their liberty after the Protestants came to power in the 1650’s would have begged to differ.

  • 1775 – 1817
    In the conclusion of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ she writes almost autobiographically in the words between the dashes following:

    “Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favorite maxims. …. Instead of falling a sacrifice to an irresistible passion, as once she had fondly flattered herself with expecting, – instead of remaining even for ever with her mother, and finding her only pleasures in retirement and study, as afterwards in her more calm and sober judgment she had determined on, – she found herself at nineteen, submitting to new …. ”

    In ‘A Portrait of Jane Austen’ Lord David Cecil writes:
    Her genius was twofold. Along with her comedy sense she possessed a subtle insight into the moral nature of man. The union of the two is the distinguishing characteristic of her achievement, and it makes these lively unpretentious comedies of social and domestic life the vehicle of profound and illuminating comments on the human drama.

    I think it’s funny that Mark Twain said “Everytime I read Pride and Prejudice …”,
    and I can’t remember anything about the human condition from RW Emerson.

  • At least as many bad things could be said about Chales II as good. It depends on who you were and where you stood at the time. Donald, I won’t discuss how much liberty existed during the reformation and early modern periods for the simple reason that not much existed beforehand. Not to revert to the Whig interpretation, but this kind of thing IS incremental. By the time our nation was birthed, things looked pretty good at least on paper. It would look good for an increasing number of people in practice with time.

  • “At least as many bad things could be said about Charles II as good. It depends on who you were and where you stood at the time.”
    A truism for most historical figures. However, a quarter century on the throne is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering the fates of his brother and his father.

    “Donald, I won’t discuss how much liberty existed during the reformation and early modern periods for the simple reason that not much existed beforehand.”

    Actually what we know of liberty was largely a creation of the Middle Ages. It was the era of the Reformation that turned Kings and Queens into Caesar and Pope and ushered in the doctrine of the divine right of Kings. Those who fought such trends in liberty usually rallied around such creations of the Middle Ages as Magna Charta and Parliament.

    Liberty I do not think is necessarily an incremental process. The people of Rome never had a greater role in their government than just before the fall of the Roman Republic. Looking around at the contemporary world I do not see ever growing liberty, but rather the reverse currently.

  • You are correct to a point regarding the Middle Ages and liberty. But remember, centralization is what led to control. The Roman church WAS cnetralized in the Middle Ages and I shudder to think what they did all those centuries. I would not have wanted to fall afoul of them. Charles II could ahve reigned for a half century–I don’t consider the guy that great in comparison to other English monarchs. I’m sorry. True, liberty is not necessarily incremental. But if a reformation was underway it would probably take time for it to play out on various levels. I would look at the bigger picture there, not the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which were still sloughing some old skin. It’s true liberty can be lost, that a people must be fit for it, and that regress is as much a fact of life as progress. Various people see the height and beginning of declines in different places based on their judgement.

    But here is what really confuses me. Most of the things many people on this blog wish to promote and defend originate with Protestantism in the Isles and then transferred to America. That’s the framework into which everuthing else fell and the mould into which everything else was forced. It’s the topics people contend for here on this sight. And it’s all very Protestant. America, the Constitution, etc. for at least 400 years beginning when Christendom was first “shattered” to use the usual though incorrect term, is all very Protestant. Now I know Catholics and conservative Jews have picked up where the establishment left off in the 60’s or so. I get that. What I don’t get is how the Protestant nature of it all is missed.

  • Donald R. McClarey

    “It was the era of the Reformation that turned Kings and Queens into Caesar and Pope”

    I would be inclined t say that it was the Renaissance, rather than the Reformation that did so, for the same process of creating a centralised Royal power, exercised through salaried officials, dependent on the royal will, took place in Spain, in France, with its absolutism and Gallicanism and in the Italian states.

    It was welcomed by many, as a curb on the power of the nobles, the clergy and of the merchant oligarchs of city states. The feeling was widespread that government must be powerful enough to repress arbitrary action in others. If the supreme power is needlessly limited, the secondary powers would run riot and oppress. Its supremacy would bear no check. The problem, many of the leading thinkers believed, was to enlighten the ruler, not to restrain him; and one man is more easily enlightened than many. That was the feeling of the age

  • “The feeling was widespread that government must be powerful enough to repress arbitrary action in others.”

    Actually the whole absolutising trend was to make the central government arbitrary. People who opposed this trend, or who received the short end of the stick, would engage in revolts and/or end up in the New World. The Reformation weakened the Church across the board, and often caused the Church to develop an unhealthy reliance upon Catholic rulers. This was a powerful impetus to Gallicanism in France where Protestants and Catholics frequently engaged in civil wars in the Sixteenth Century. In Spain the monarchy had Crusader status from 1492 with the capture of Granada and the creation of a creakily centralized state. Spanish rulers usually attempted to be more Catholic than the Pope with grotesque results. In the petty Italian principalities the Popes could usually hold their own against the would be Machiavelli princes and princelets. The exception to his was Venice which was truly a world of its own.

  • “The Roman church WAS cnetralized in the Middle Ages”

    Alas that was not the case. Secular rulers usually picked the bishops and huge Church-State conflicts were the norm. These Church-State battles however normalized the concept that resistance to secular rulers was not only allowable but not infrequently praiseworthy.

    “I would not have wanted to fall afoul of them.”
    Actually I would much rather have had problems with the Church than the State throughout the Middle Ages. Church procedures tended to focus on evidence and trials with limited use of judicial torture. The State on the other hand was usually far more brutal. In each case the saving grace tended to be rampant inefficiency, unlike what we saw in the last century.

    “Charles II could ahve reigned for a half century–I don’t consider the guy that great in comparison to other English monarchs. I’m sorry.”

    Don’t worry Jon, we all commit historical errors from time to time! 🙂 I would place the Merrie Monarch among the top ten percent of English monarchs, although admittedly many of these monarchs help set the bar quite low.

    “Most of the things many people on this blog wish to promote and defend originate with Protestantism in the Isles and then transferred to America.”

    That is quite untrue Jon. That old anti-Catholic John Adams noted that the American fight for liberty was based on many rights enjoyed by Englishmen and accepted as “preliminaries” even before the existence of Parliament.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2FAAVPX-jg

    What is best in America has very deep roots and at their base those roots are frequently Catholic roots.

  • “I have generally found Jane Austen to be a snore fest unless her text is enlivened, if that is the proper word when Zombies are involved”

    It was the success of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” that prompted the same author to write “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

  • Donald R McClarey

    The rise of royal absolutism in France began before the Reformation, with the accession of the House of Orléans in the person of Louis XII, significantly known as « le Père du Peuple » [Father of the People]in 1498 and of Francis I and the Orléans–Angoulême branch in 1515, who assiduously cultivated the intellectuals. The French Wars of Religion only broke out in 1562, a long lifetime after the rise of the New Monarchy.

    Moreover, the Church was very far from being opposed to the growth of royal power at the expense of noble and provincial privileges. In France, it was brought to its highest development by three great ecclesiastical statesmen, Cardinal Richelieu, Cardinal Mazarin and Cardinal de Fleury, who, as the kings’ chief ministers, dominated the policy of the period from 1624 to 1743. The Gallican Privileges were seen by both the King and the hierarchy, who enthusiastically supported them, as cementing the “sacred and indissoluble alliance” between Throne and Altar.

    I would suggest the Reformation aided a tendency that it did not create.

  • Actually MPS, French centralization goes farther back to at least Philip the Fair. Louis XI, the Spider King, gave the whole trend a great shove forward after the anarchy of the Hundred Years War. It is correct that many French clerics were not opposed to this French centralization and helped it along. More fools they. In regard to Cardinal Richeliu I have long treasured this alleged quip of Pope Urban Viii after the death of the Cardinal:

    “If there is a God Cardinal Richeliu has much to answer for. If there is not, why he led a successful life.”

  • In which Philippe le bel was supported in his quarrels with Boniface VIII by the Archbishop of Rouen, Pierre Roger of Limousin, later Pope Clement VI. He remained a stalwart supporter of the French crown.

    I like d’Argenson’s remark, “Richelieu bled France, Mazarin purged it and Fleury put it on a diet.”

  • That England had such precursors prior to the Reformation was due to its geographical status as well as a couple of other factors, Donald. I totally agree that the Reformation cannot be held responsible for a humanism begun with the Renaissance in soutehrn Europe. One can easily argue the Reformation tempered the excesses of the southern Renaissance when it hit the north. As for the medieval church, the general practice was to decide whether you were guilty and then hand you over to the civil authorities who could kill you. If the evidence showed you were a heretic, you could face death. That’s Constantinian Christianity.

  • “That England had such precursors prior to the Reformation was due to its geographical status as well as a couple of other factors, Donald.”

    English liberties were largely the result of Common Law Courts, a fractious aristocracy, an extensive merchant class in London and a Church that often successfully defied the Crown. There was a reason that “The Holy Blessed Martyr” was going away the most popular saint in Medieval England,

    “As for the medieval church, the general practice was to decide whether you were guilty and then hand you over to the civil authorities who could kill you. If the evidence showed you were a heretic, you could face death. That’s Constantinian Christianity.”

    Very few death sentences were carried out during most periods of the Middle Ages. Usually a period of repentance was proclaimed when repentant heretics were received back into the fold without any penalties. Afterwards repentant heretics usually got off with penances of various sorts. The real massive blood letting, with the exception of the Albigensian Crusade, came in with the Reformation and both Protestants and Catholics were enthusiastic participants.

    As for the phrase “Constantinian Christianity”, that is part of a Protestant mythology that they represent the pure ancient Church that was led astray by those evil papists. As history it is baloney and as theology it is baloney.

  • Indeed in terms of the bigger picture one must say America and northern Europe are heir to centuries of Christianity prior to the Reformation. This is undoubtedly true. The Protestant argument is that Christianity in Europe for centuries was just that–Christianity. But Roman Christianity grew corrupt in its theology, worship, and practice. Then Protestantism revived the very best (and at times not so very best) of the Christian church so that Western civilization was able to carry on well for a while longer. And more importantly, so that the church was able to witness accurately in a lively evangelical spirit. Aside from Restorationists, early church fixations, and the cults, most Protestants see more continuity than anything else.

  • Historically, it is tempting for the Protestant to point out that the best of the past five hundred years of Western Civ. owed itself to the Protestant renewal of catholic Christianity and not to Roman Christianity immediately prior.

  • “Historically, it is tempting for the Protestant to point out that the best of the past five hundred years of Western Civ. owed itself to the Protestant renewal of catholic Christianity”

    Like all falsehoods it is a temptation that must be avoided. Such “historical analysis” is only worthy of a Jack Chick comic book.

  • “Then Protestantism revived the very best (and at times not so very best) of the Christian church so that Western civilization was able to carry on well for a while longer.”

    Protestantism is a fairly broad category only united by one belief: not Catholic. Luther had little in common with Calvin. Neither of them had much in common with the Anabaptists. If they had lived to see them, they would have been horrified by the Quakers. From a Catholic standpoint the amorphous nature of Protestantism is unsurprising as heresy has always worn a thousand guises. I might note that all of my relatives on my father’s side are Protestant, as was my father. My wife was Protestant, a Methodist, at the time of our marriage before her conversion. Most of the people I have loved in this life have been Protestants. My comments about Protestantism as a historical phenomenon contain no personal animus, but merely what I deduce from the evidence as I see it.

  • History can be ‘seen’ in many ways. I would argue there is a Roman Catholic view of it, a Protestant one, a secular progressive one, an Enlightenment view, etc. I feel I’m not motivated by any animus either. I see what I do. As to the amorphous nature of Protestantism, I had in mind the Protestantism of Scriptural renewal in line with the early creeds and traditional orthodoxy before Rome assumed massive innovation.

  • “I had in mind the Protestantism of Scriptural renewal in line with the early creeds and traditional orthodoxy before Rome assumed massive innovation.”

    As typified by Martin Luther’s comments about the Epistle of Saint James being an epistle of straw. The “Reformers'” methodology was fairly straight forward: what they liked they kept and what they didn’t like they threw on the scrap heap. This helped begin the factionalism that has been one of the constant features of Protestantism as the “Reformers” quickly began to quarrel among themselves like Kilkenny cats about what to keep and what to cast away. I doubt if Christ died so that Christianity could be divided into a thousand and one factions.

  • Luther lacked the ability to see how it all hung together. He thought too much in terms of dichotomy. It can be said that Calvin erred in the opposite way by way of too much synthesis. It is true that Protestantism further divided with time. I don’t see that as a reason to accept Roman Christianity as the one true approach, however.

  • Considering the horror that the Church Fathers had of heresy and their desire to preseve Orthodoxy I think the endless divisions of Protestantism indicate that what the Church fathers embraced had little in common with the new variants of Christianity ushered in with the Protestant Reformation and much in common with the heresies that the Church Fathers fought ceaselessly.

  • I don’t see that at all. The church fathers dealt with all kinds of errors, and the truth was consequently articulated in a balanced, biblically informed way. That was the starting point for the best of the Protestant reformers and their descendants. They wanted to maintain the simplicity of the Gospel while being guarded by the boundaries already estableshed in patristic times concerning doctrines like the Trinity, the dual nature of Christ, the resurrection and final return of Christ, the sinfulness of man due to the fall, etc. Have funny denominations and silly cults arisen since which deny the simplicity of the gospel and fundamental orthodoxy? Of course! I see them as on the wrong trajectory adn believe many groups go off like that all the time.

  • “The church fathers dealt with all kinds of errors, and the truth was consequently articulated in a balanced, biblically informed way.”

    Yes, especially on such items as the real presence, the veneration of the saints, the authority of bishops, the role of the papacy and many other features of the Faith that are completely at variance with what the “Reformers” proclaimed in the Sixteenth Century. As Newman noted, to be deep in History is to cease to be Protestant.

    As one of the earliest Church Fathers Justin Martyr noted in regard to the Blessed Sacrament:

    “And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19 this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.”

    When Catholics read the Church Fathers we have no trouble at all recognizing them for what they were: fellow Catholics.

  • The real presence is a doctrine that is as much intricate as it is absent in such detail in Scripture. It developed quite later on, though I do not know the time. The veneration of the saints represents another later development, and to venerate any part of creation flies in the face of both Judaism and Christianity. Elder, bishop, and presbyter are synonomous. The question often arises as to where they belong or, in other words, how church government should be structured. Richard Hooker took the position that the church can and often does adapt to surroundings pragmatically. I take Newman’s remark for what it’s worth. To a point, I agree. It makes us catholic with a small c. I’m not overly crazy about a guy who implied spirituality depended upon how many doielies and candle sticks lay about the alter. And the early church would have thought it quite strange if one placed a marian statue at the front of worship to be crowned and paraded—I’m going to be honest—I really think they would have been shocked and horrified. I’m just not convinced on the veneration of saints, I’m afraid. As to the Patristics, it depends on which one and what they said. Some elaborated beyond Scripture to introduce novelty. Others were mostly fundamental.

  • Newman started the Oxford movement. He was the product of a certain milieu which sought to recapture mystery and connection to the past. After all, his life spanned much of the nineteenth century! And he was very much an asthetician when it came to worship. But wherever two or more are gathered in my NAME, says the Lord, there am I with them. And that’s crucial. What that says is we worship God in spriti and in truth, that our right standing or inclusion with him is not from from apostolic succession and membership in a universally uniform church structure, but is the invisible communion of saints also expressed locally whereby all people across time and space are situated ‘in Christ.’ Yes, they are linked, then, wtih the church through the years, and their beliefs are at one with the apostles. But they need no other legitimacy. They require no visible or tangible link in the sense of pastoral succession historically. That notion is another one that crept through the back door.

  • I think what makes the discussion so confusing is that I don’t adhere to the simple idea that a golden age was corrupted by papal Rome. As I said, I do see the continuity of Christianity thorughout the centuries and across these two millennia. I believe the church started out with many problems, heresies, and dissapointments. All one has to do is read the letters of St. Paul to see that. I also believe the Roman church was the Christian church for most people in Eeurope throughout centuries of history. And I see that some church structures fail and sometimes beyond recovery, at least for a while. It then becomes necessary to begin outside that structure, particularly when you’re practically kicked out anyway. I’m not arguing between two eternally polar opposites of Christianity and Roman Catholicism. I actually agree with much of what you say! I disagree that the Roman church is the only appropriate church. I feel other structures exist with far less error. As an historian, again, I certainly see the continuity of Christianity throughout time. I never said I saw a stop, start, stop pattern or any kind of pause. Christianity can happen both within corrupt structures and outside them.

  • To be deep in history and to be educated broadly is to become catholic. I would not say it translates to becoming Roman Catholic. That’s an argument from those who went that route, beginning with folks like Newman and culminating in the lastest fashionable conversion by Tony Blair. When the English get bored of Anglicanism they turn Roman Catholic. It gives them more to chew on and it provides them with a greater sense of certainty, I think. I’m trying to be sympathetic, and I really like Chesterton.

  • “The real presence is a doctrine that is as much intricate as it is absent in such detail in Scripture.”

    Not at all: for my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. The Catholic Church has held to the real presence since the Crucifixion, as Justin Martyr, who wrote in the second century, indicates.

    “The veneration of the saints represents another later development, and to venerate any part of creation flies in the face of both Judaism and Christianity.”

    Rubbish, as the writings of the Church Fathers indicate:
    “Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the souls, for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth.”

    Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

    “I’m not overly crazy about a guy who implied spirituality depended upon how many doielies and candle sticks lay about the alter.”

    You clearly have read precious little of Newman if that is your opinion of him.

    “And the early church would have thought it quite strange if one placed a marian statue at the front of worship to be crowned and paraded”

    We fly to your patronage,
    O holy Mother of God,
    despise not our petitions
    in our necessities,
    but deliver us from all dangers.
    O ever glorious and blessed Virgin.

    That is from a Marian hymn written in 250 AD, the Sub Tuum Praesidium.

  • “Newman started the Oxford movement. He was the product of a certain milieu which sought to recapture mystery and connection to the past.”

    Actually he was a virulent anti-Catholic who thought the Church Fathers would support the Anglicanism he embraced. He was shocked when he discovered that they were Catholic.

    “What that says is we worship God in spriti and in truth, that our right standing or inclusion with him is not from from apostolic succession and membership in a universally uniform church structure”

    You are very much mistaken. Christ founded the Church not as some sort of group encounter session, but as a Church with a structure and a heirarchy. That is why he had the Apostles and made Peter their head. The Epistles of Paul are concerned throughout with the Orthodox teaching of Christ and against Catholics falling away into factions.

    “They require no visible or tangible link in the sense of pastoral succession historically. That notion is another one that crept through the back door.”

    Nope, the concept of Apostolic Succession has always been a core teaching of the Church.

  • “I disagree that the Roman church is the only appropriate church.”

    I am not saying that the Roman Catholic Church is an “appropriate church”, I am saying that it is The True Faith. One of the many damaging features of the Reformation is the destruction it wreaked to the concepts of unity and orthodoxy in Christianity. I believe implicitly in the teaching of the Church that Christ intended for there to be one faith which would serve to convey His teachings. From the earliest days the Church was beset by heresies, but the Church Fathers never accepted that the existence of heresies in any way altered the necessity for unity and orthodoxy.
    Saint Polycarp, who sat at the feet of the Apostle John, on one occasion encountered the heretic Marcion: “Do you not know me, Polycarp?” “Yes,” answered the saint, “I know you to be the firstborn of Satan.” Saint Jerome relates this to emphasize the horror that the earliest Church Fathers had of heresy.

  • “That’s an argument from those who went that route, beginning with folks like Newman and culminating in the lastest fashionable conversion by Tony Blair.”

    I can think of few people more unlike than Newman and the pro-abortion Tony Blair!

    “and I really like Chesterton”

    I don’t always. I sometimes think Chesterton is foolish in some of his writings. His frequent indifference to facts that do not support an argument that he is making I find annoying. However, Chesteron always makes me think, and I believe that is the highest accolade for any writer.

  • It is true that Christ spoke of his flesh and blood as food and drink and that he said “this is my body, this my blood.” I rather suppose he was speaking figuratively, such as when he told the woman at the well that she should ask him for living water. Otherwise Christ would be saying his flesh and blood were really present, as you say, during the passover. This is impossible since he hadn’t yet been crucified, neither had he yet resurrected and ascended to heaven.

    Quoting the patristic fathers is a double-edged sword. They spoke truth and error. Although catholic-minded Protestants draw upon them for thought and inspiration, I would not take them verbatim and neither would Protestants, typically.

    Finally and most importantly, Scripture must be our final authority. We can assess tradition, experience, reason, and so on, but it must all finally be brought before the Bible for acceptance or rejection.

    There is a theory that Scripture and tradition form an organic unity, and that truth is ongoing in that way. I don’t beleive that for a minute. Does God still speak? Yes, he does. But through his Word and Spirit in ways that accord with what the Bible already states. God never goes beyond his Word.

  • My feeling is that the church became too institutionalized and dogmatic at some point. I see this with Greek Orthodoxy, too. As truth is further articulated error amasses alongside it, and a behemoth is created. The Protestant stance is semper reformanda, or the church always reforming. The idea here is that the church CAN grow too beaurocratic, too widely dogmatic, and can accumulate quite a bit of error with time. That it can lose touch with its origins and its sense of mission. That the PEOPLE of the church can reform and continue the business of doing church, but that this may require serious change and possibly relocation. I think that’s a stumbling block for many Roman Catholics. I don’t have any difficulty in believing this, however. My difficulty is in believing that a church structure is alwyas the right one and can never decline. I think of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation. These were local manifestations of the church, Christ’s body. Some carried on quite well, others didn’t. They were warned not to be presumptuous, since their status was not guaranteed! This of course goes for any church structure or individual assembly. Much of this discussion would clear itself up if we both understood the nature of the church as it is Scripturally understood.

  • We have to think, too, of the historical situation with the fall of Rome and Constantine and all of that. Something a little different happened in the Byzantine East, and that structure’s evolution and thought is not the same as we know. I still disagree with their view of tradition also, but a different arrangement arose between church and state, and theology took a different direction. I guess what I’m saying is that the N. T. speaks of the body of Christ or the universal church, and it speaks of its local manifestations as assemblies. Then we have the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches which don’t really speak to that, but seem almost to represent different phenomena. Of course their argument is that an evolution took place and that tradition must be revered and taken for granted. I argue that while tradition may accrue and practices change, it must all remain in accord with Scripture. If it is such a departure as to contradict the principles and tenor of the N.T., then we must engage in reform. It simply will not do to say tradition continues and the church rules such adn such. Those elements must accord with what is already written.
    Another important point to raise is that the situation is not black and white with chruches and truth. We cannot always point to one location and say that only truth lies there, much less that truth lies only there. It just isn’t like that. What we have instead is a spectrum such as we see with the seven churches of Asia Minor. One can say that those churches are types and all kinds of variations exist today. What we don’t want to do is to become immersed at a location where much error abounds. We don’t want to become overly involved in a church where practices are terribly wrong.

  • So I think we need to remind ourselves first of the church’s definition. It is the body of Christ and that is universal. It is locally manifested in assemblies. These are the two ways in which St. Paul speaks of church. Then we consider the state of affairs of these early assemblies. Paul addresses a variety of problems (some things never change). Then the letters contained in Revelation tell us much the same thing, except that one or two of them were heading toward extinction. This fact immediately tells me a local church–not the church as in the body of Christ, but a local assembly—can drift so far away from Christian truth and practice that it is no longer a church in the true sense of the word.

  • “I rather suppose he was speaking figuratively”

    That certainly isn’t what people thought at the time who heard His words from His lips:

    “This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever… Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?… From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”

    More to the point, it is not what the Church taught from the beginning.

    “Otherwise Christ would be saying his flesh and blood were really present, as you say, during the passover. This is impossible since he hadn’t yet been crucified, neither had he yet resurrected and ascended to heaven.”

    Christ was present in both the sacrament and in Himself, just as he is present on Catholic altars and in his glorified body in Heaven.

    “Quoting the patristic fathers is a double-edged sword. They spoke truth and error.”

    Protestants always fall back on this position when it becomes evident that the Fathers of the Church were Catholic, a title they proudly claimed for the Universal Church to which they belonged.

    “Finally and most importantly, Scripture must be our final authority.”

    Rubbish. It was the Catholic Church that wrote the New Testament. The New Testament derives its authority from the Church and not vice versa.

  • “My feeling is that the church became too institutionalized and dogmatic at some point.”

    Christ established the structure of the Church, and the fate of Protestantism indicates why He did this. Without such a structure and a final authority within that structure, each Man and Woman becomes his and her own Pope and Christianity disintegrates into a thousand feuding sects, followed by indifferentism, followed by dying sects and mass apostacy.

  • “Then we have the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches which don’t really speak to that, but seem almost to represent different phenomena.”

    The basic problem for the Greek Orthodox is that they were too firmly under the thumb of the Emperor. This was fueled by a thousand misunderstandings and the fueling of animosities through mistakes and the natural antipathy of differences in language and rites. The Catholic Church recognizes the Greek Orthodox as being in schism and not in heresy. There are ongoing efforts to heal the breach but I am not sanguine.

  • “This fact immediately tells me a local church–not the church as in the body of Christ, but a local assembly—can drift so far away from Christian truth and practice that it is no longer a church in the true sense of the word.”

    Hence heretics. The attitude of Saint Paul to such factionalists helped determine the attitude of the Church towards heresy.

  • Once complete, the written Bible reigned the church in, so to speak. The church could not say anything contradictory to it. So anything we find in the patristic fathers or church pronouncements over the years must accord with Scripture. If it does not, it is error and possibly heresy. We are brought back to the role of tradition, which is subserviant to the Bible. Even in St. Paul’s day heresy had crept into the church. All kinds of ‘traditions’ abound at all times. We must dispense with those that contradict Scripture. If false apostles and teachers existed in the earliest churches, I can easily understand how they would exist several generations later and throughout time. I can certainly understand too, how the patristic fathers may have erred in some ways, and how some of them may have become too highly revered. The assumption I have is that we always remain one generation away from error. I don’t believe that any assembly or large-scale church structure is exempt from that.

    Scripture speaks of the church as Christ’s body, so we are obviously one in him. We are one in the Spirit. I do not believe for a minute that this necessitates structural uniformity, which would in fact be quite undesirable. For one thing if the structure fails where would one go? Then we have to carry on elsewhere and create alternative structures. That’s what happened during the Reformation.

  • “Once complete, the written Bible reigned the church in, so to speak.”

    No book or books can reign since book or books are subject to interpretation by Man. Without an authority that can write such books and interpret them authoritatively, the written word is of little use. That is why Sola Scriptura in Protestantism always boils down to Sola My Interpretation.

  • Donald, you’ve made a couple of assumptions. First, you assume the Roman Catholic church created the Bible. The Bible evolved over a very long time and the New Testament writings were penned before any such structure came into existence. I do not say Sola Scriptura, but that the Scriptures are the FINAL authority. If anything contradicts Scripture, we must dispense with that thing rather than trying to squeeze it in or to reinterpret Scripture.

  • Contrary to what you might think, Evangelical Protestants agree on essentials. Disagreement arises due to the human condition, and we find this with Roman Catholics, too. I’ve spoken to many Roman Catholics who don’t like various pronouncements or one of the popes, and they get vocal about that. Some wish to see the Roman church go in a different direction. Others want it to return to a more traditional time, and so on. Variety is healthy to a point. It becomes a problem when we cross the border into heresy—when we deny essential truths of Scripture.

  • “The Bible evolved over a very long time and the New Testament writings were penned before any such structure came into existence.”
    The New Testament writings were all written after the creation of the Catholic Church by Christ. The term was used by men who received their teachings directly from the Apostles and by men who received their teaching from men who received their teaching from the Apostles.

  • “I’ve spoken to many Roman Catholics who don’t like various pronouncements or one of the popes, and they get vocal about that.”

    Which has zilch to do with the teachings of the Catholic Church, which is rather the whole point. Protestants differ and they found new sects. Catholics differ with the Church and the Church stands for what she has always stood for: the teachings of Christ, whether such teachings are popular or unpopular among ever fickle mortals.

  • Words and meanings, however, are two different things. Apostles, the church, and so on have different meanings for different people. I think the biggest mistake made here is that one might be anachronistic. What happened early on and what evolved later must remain separate in our minds.

  • No, those who used the term Catholic Church understood that they were referring to the Church as opposed to heretical sects that claimed the mantle of “Christian”. The term was usually raised in battles with heretics.

  • That these terms alter with time remains true. I think of how we claim various meanings for words like radical, liberal, conservative, etc., across time and space. Example: Americans who call themselves political conservatives are really political liberals in the broader scheme.

  • So we must define terms like catholic, apostolic, tradition, and church more clearly and in line with ancient understanding. And we must avoid anachronism. If we have a system or structure that slowly developed or appeared later on, we musn’t read it back into an earlier period. The key is to think according to the patterns and categories of the earliest period. Who can prove whether what evolved is better or worse but by comparing it to what went before, and most especially to the written Word by which all things are ultimately judged?

Because Reading Is Hard

Tuesday, July 17, AD 2012

This might be one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. No, it’s not some Womynpriest ranting about the Vatican, or a sportswriter waxing poetic about a “gritty” but otherwise terrible baseball player, or anything written by Thomas Friedman. It’s a list of “six films that improve the source material.” There’s nothing inherently wrong in suggesting that a movie is better than the book it is based upon. For starters, The Godfather movie is arguably better than the book as it doesn’t cut out any of the good parts but it does excise the superfluous and frankly bizarre sublot from the middle portion of the book. Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List was much powerful than Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark. And though I haven’t seen and don’t plan to see the latest film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, it’s inconceivable that it could be any worse than the source material.

David R’s list, on the other hand, is a bit different.

The Social Network: Didn’t see the movie, didn’t read the book, and I generally don’t care.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: I never saw the movie. The book does drag in certain parts, but it’s still a classic. I’ll let this one go.

And now this is where he just gets nuts:

Pride and Prejudice (2005): 

I’m probably not the target audience for this particular book, what with being a 21st-century twenty-something male. That said, Pride and Prejudice has always struck me as a pretty good story wrapped up in circuitous, indirect writing. It’s light and frothy, and entertaining to an extent, but ultimately presented in a way that prevents me from really reaching out and connecting with the characters. I’m only passingly familiar with the much-adored BBC miniseries, but am under the impression that it more or less transcribes the book verbatim.

The 2005 version with Keira Knightley, on the other hand, does a much better job streamlining the story into a vibrant, energetic romance. It still retains the story’s amusingly frivolous air, but in a way that, for this viewer at least, renders the story both funnier and more touching than the original novel. Side characters are exaggerated, losing complexity but gaining a more tangible sense of fun — particularly in the case of one Mr. Collins. Director Joe Wright manages to make the dancing and socializing so much fun to watch that you can actually understand why so many people would show up to these parties. And the movie is simply gorgeous in a way that only a movie can be.

Speaking as a fellow 21st Century male, this is heresy. As I wrote on facebook, this isn’t even the best film adaption of this story.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: 

While the Harry Potter books are enjoyable for the most part, there are some notable problems with the series. One of the most obvious is J.K. Rowling’s tendency to veer off on wild tangents that derail the forward momentum of her stories. It looks like her editors were able to keep her on track for the first three books (with the third being the series’ best), but by the fourth she had become too popular for that. The Goblet of Fire— which, at 752 pages, is a whole book longer than any of the first three books — was filled with wandering storylines: S.P.E.W., the Quidditch World Cup, and plenty of other bits nearly cripple the already improbable storyline.

Screenwriter Steve Kloves and director Mike Newell took a scalpel to the book, skillfully extracting the core plot and character threads while leaving behind nearly everything that didn’t matter. Gone are the unnecessary distractions, bringing the characters and growing menace of the story to the forefront. And the movie still retains much of the detail that makes up the world, like Rita Skeeter, the Unforgivable Curses, or the eerie world of the Triwizard Tournament. It just never gets so enamored with any of these ideas that it forgets why we came in the first place.

Kloves and Newell didn’t take a scalpel to the book; they obliterated essential sublots and cut out fun little diversions. I recognize that tastes vary, but Goblet of Fire is the best book in the series in my mind particularly because of the fun little side excursions. Yes, I might be one of the few people who doesn’t hate the S.P.E.W. supblot, but that aside the movie just falls flat. Also, as my wife has pointed out, the climactic maze scene in the race for the Triwizard Cup is completely bland, as though they just ran out of money in their CGI budget. Rowling’s description of that part of the tournament is so much more vivid than what the filmmakers came up with.

It only gets worse.

Troy 

This is kind of an apples-and-oranges situation. The Iliad (not The Aeneid, like I thoughtlessly wrote earlier) is an ancient epic poem; Troy, a modern action film. They’re going after completely different things, going about their aims in completely different ways, and generally couldn’t be further apart from each other without being entirely unrelated stories.

That said, I don’t get a whole lot out of Homer’s original. The way the gods act in his text is distracting, particularly when they swoop into the middle of a battle to remove key players from the action. Homer’sOdyssey includes gods and fantastical creatures much better. Then again, the main conflict in The Odyssey is between men and gods (or at least men and fate). The Iliad’s conflict is much more between men; two nations are at war. In the film Troy, the gods were taken completely out of the story, allowing the focus to fall squarely on the war waged over petty revenge and hubris. The human element is much more important, allowing the story to resonate more for its human viewers.

This make me weep openly, as Achilles did at the death of Patroclus. Leaving aside Homer’s epic, Troy was one of the most wretched movies ever put on screen. Troy wouldn’t be  an improvement over a Dan Brown novel, let alone freaking Homer.

And for number one:

War of the Worlds (2005):

Before you burn me at the stake, let me clarify. I’m a huge H.G. Wells fan, and if you remove the different versions from their cultural context I don’t know that one is better than the other. However, War of the Worlds is one of those stories that deserves to be retold every now and then, as it can offer a lot of commentary on different periods in history. The first film adaptation was of reasonably high quality; it (like much of that era’s science fiction) pitched the story against the fears and imagery of the Cold War.

In the early 2000s, Spielberg came to a realization, “I thought that this story’s time had come again.” It was a stroke of brilliance to deal with 9/11 through H. G. Wells’s century-old classic. The images in the movie arise very organically out of the story, but the specter of 9/11 hangs over the event. Missing-person posters, victims covered in dust, military trying to keep the peace. This allows Spielberg and writer David Koepp to use the text to examine the paranoia and weaknesses of our current society, and as a member of that society, this is somewhat more compelling and noticeably more relevant today than Wells’s book, while still retaining the lean structure and addictive concept that make up the core of the story.

It’s not as bad as favoring Brad Pitt’s version of Achilles over Homer’s, but it’s still pretty silly. Spielberg is a great director, but his inability to constrain his own innate Spielbergness fails to do Wells justice.

The frustrating thing is that the author doesn’t appear to be some high school kid who really hates books. He seems fairly literate, and he’s a decent writer. Yet his reasoning for most of these selections is that he just can’t deal with the long slog of reading books that have plot points he can’t relate to. Or, as one commenter put it:

This is less a post about movies that improve the source material and more about the author’s inability to enjoy a complex novel.

I can understand, and as I said, tastes vary. That being said, David R should be banned from public commentary for the rest of eternity.

Oh, I do need to address one of the comments to the linked article:

Just wanted to say that the Lord of the Rings movies are worlds better than the books for a number of reasons, but the one most worth mentioning being the total excision of Tom Bombadil from the screen.

Not only should this person be banned from public commentary for all eternity, he should be shunned by polite society and forced to live in seclusion with nothing but the Twilight books to keep him company.

Continue reading...

12 Responses to Because Reading Is Hard

  • Wherein you report on the “fruits” of public education . . .

  • First, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – THE movie – with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier from the 1940’s managed to develop manners, morals, virtues, character, love and ‘fun’ with a lot left to the imagination. Mind over matter. Contemporary productions aren’t for the mind. So, vehicles that could inspire just feed fashion markets, outre behavior and the viewer’s desires.

    “That said, Pride and Prejudice has always struck me as a pretty good story wrapped up in circuitous, indirect writing. It’s light and frothy, and entertaining to an extent, but ultimately presented in a way that prevents me from really reaching out and connecting with the characters.”

    Skip the character development and go for the action – third millenium culture. Reading Jane Austen prevented connecting with characters ?!

  • @PM, The BBC P&P miniseries is by far the best version I’ve ever seen, beating out even Lawrence Olivier. However, it being a miniseries (3 hours long, I believe) they had a lot more time to get into the nuance of P&P. That being said, the book is wonderful and none of the movie versions, even my favorite one, do it complete justice.

    @ Paul Zummo, the only quibbles have with you is over S.P.E.W. That was a subplot that annoyed the snot out of me. However, I was disappointed that they didn’t go more into the discrimination themes that S.P.E.W. and the whole subplots involving the house elves brought about. The plight of the magical creatures, especially the house elves, was such a recurring theme that it made it all the more important when Dobby’s big moment came in the last book. And you really miss that when you go five movies without seeing him.

  • The Lord of the Rings movie left out one of my favorite parts, the setting the shire to rights near the end of the book. A movie couldn’t do the book justice. And the Harry Potter movies cut out way too much. And most of them made me feel like I wanted to take off my sunglasses, but I wasn’t wearing sunglasses. Just because the theme is dark doesn’t mean the film should be dimly lit.

  • “He seems fairly literate, and he’s a decent writer.”

    How anyone who can confuse the Aeneid with the Iliad can be described as “literate” baffles me.

    Jane Austen should be, of all novelists, the easiest to adapt to the screen, as her technique is so largely dramatic; she develops character principally through dialogue. On the other hand, I have often wondered why anyone thought it a good idea to dramatize “The Portrait of Dorian Gray.” When the leading dramatist of his age decided to tell the story through the medium of a novel, it i a bold person indeed, who decides to second-guess him. One might as well try making a novel out of Hamlet or Phèdre.

  • Part of me would love to see Tim Powers’ novels Declare or The Stress Of Her Regard made into movies, but a bigger part of me realizes that too much would be compromised for time, and the essences of the stories and complexities of the characters would be sacrificed.

    I can’t comment on On Stranger Tides being adapted for Pirates of the Caribbean 23 or whatever part they ended on, as I haven’t seen the movie, and refuse to do so.

  • “Just wanted to say that the Lord of the Rings movies are worlds better than the books for a number of reasons, but the one most worth mentioning being the total excision of Tom Bombadil from the screen.”

    “Not only should this person be banned from public commentary for all eternity, he should be shunned by polite society and forced to live in seclusion with nothing but the Twilight books to keep him company.”

    Or The Hunger Games series.

  • Unfortunately, some books are just not really adaptable to the big screen. Although it seems most modern novels are written with more than half an eye toward their big screen debut (the HP series seemed to exhibit this, particularly with the later books). Just finished reading Father Elijah, and although the book is good, and the basic plat seems it would make for an interesting film, so much occurs in the characters’ psyche that it would be difficult to translate to the screen. If it did, I could see someone thinking the film an improvement undoubtedly because it would have more “action” and less contemplation of big questions than the book. But to me, that would be an unfair assessment because of the differing purposes of the respective media.

  • I think LoTR could have been adapted to the screen better, but I suspect that the writer / producer / director did not share any of Tolkien’s commitments to a transcendental / hierarchical, universe, among other things. Credo ut intellegam, indeed.

    This becomes especially apparent in a scene from the extended version of RoTK where the King of the Nazgul mystically shatters Gandalf’s staff on the walls of Minas Tirith. The staff – the symbol of Gandalf’s status – shattered by a Nazgul? The staff of Gandalf – Olorin – recently elevated to the head of the enfleshed Maia on earth? What a stunning inversion!

    This article, coincidentally showing up this morning, does a very good job of describing it: http://www.imaginativeconservative.org/2012/07/entrusting-future-of-west-to-our.html

  • Comparing Troy to The Iliad “is kind of an apples-and-oranges situation”. That “kind of” may be the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.

  • I’m thinking “Howard the Duck” maybe?

  • I’m surprised Jaws didn’t make the list. The novel was pretty much forgettable.. the movie on the other hand, not so much.