Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Evangelizing with Truth, Beauty, and Reason

~from an interview with Joseph Pearce
Lazu: I know how important for you is the contact you’ve had with works written by Chesterton, Newman, Tolkien and others like them. It seems that books written by Christian authors can be at the "heart" of a conversion to Catholicism of some people (like yourself), or they can be "instruments" that are used by God to touch the reader’s soul in some way. Is it possible as a Christian be dedicated to the writing of literature meant to contribute to the re-evangelization of the contemporary world?

Pearce:
I believe that evangelization can take place in three distinct ways, constituting what might be termed "a Trinity of Truth". There is the evangelizing power of Reason, the evangelizing power of Love, and the evangelizing power of Beauty.

Ultimately, of course, these three, though distinct, are all one. The evangelizing power of Reason manifests itself in apologetics, philosophy and theology; the power of Love resides in the example of sanctity given by the saints and those trying to be saints (Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II being great examples of the evangelizing power of Love); and the power of Beauty is manifested through culture and the arts. I see my own vocation as being in the area of evangelizing the culture through Beauty, specifically the beauty of the work of great writers such as Tolkien, Chesterton, Lewis and others.

It is true that Chesterton and Lewis also evangelized through Reason in their works of apologetics. I also hope that I might grow in virtue so that I can evangelize through Love!

Lazu: How do you conceive the relationship between Catholic Faith and Literature?

Pearce:
Since God speaks to us, and shows Himself to us, through the Beauty of His Creation, so we can show Him to others through acts of artistic sub-creation, using the gifts He has given us, to reflect His Beauty and the Beauty of Creation through our own partaking of the creative gifts that He has bestowed upon us. In the same way that Faith is consummated in its marriage with Reason, Fides et Ratio, so Faith is ultimately inseparable from the Beauty that is its source. Catholic Faith and Catholic Art and Literature are united in the sacramental nature of Reality. They cannot be separated.

Lazu: It seems to me that the authors who have influenced your perspective are not only Newman, Chesterton, Lewis and Tolkien, but others such as Hans Urs von Balthasar and John Paul II. Who are the important thinkers who have influenced your conception and what are the most important books in your intellectual formation?

Pearce:
I must confess to having read very little von Balthasar and only asmattering of the writings of John Paul II. I've read some Augustine and someThomas Aquinas obviously but I think my conception about the Trinitariannature of Truth and the Trinitarian nature of creativity spring from thewritings and philosophy of literary figures such as Tolkien (On Fairy Stories/Mythopoeia/Leaf by Niggle, etc), Dorothy L. Sayers (Mind of the Maker) and T.S. Eliot, and perhaps simply through the contemplation ofsuch things, assisted by grace.

Lazu: You’ve studied C.S. Lewis’s work quite thoroughly. What is your conclusion about Lewis’s faith? Is he a Catholic (or "catholic") writer, or a Protestant (Calvinist) one (as scholars such as Daniel Callam have tried to demonstrate)?

Pearce:
I studied this whole question at considerable length in my book C.S. Lewis & the Catholic Church. By the end of his life, and indeed for most of his Christian life, Lewis embraced a sacramental approach that was predominantly Catholic and inimical to Calvinism. For instance, he went regularly to the Anglican equivalent of the Sacrament of Penance, i.e. Confession. He believed in the ordained priesthood in a pronouncedly and profoundly Catholic way, believing that the priest stood in persona Christi at the altar during Mass. For this reason he opposed the ordination of women and attacked it vehemently in his essay On Priestesses in the Church.

He believed in Purgatory, as is evident from works such as The Great Divorce, and as he stated specifically in his last book, Letters to Malcolm. Shortly before he died, he wrote to a friend, Sister Penelope, that he expected to go to Purgatory after he died. In short, and regardless of any remaining issues that prevented Lewis from feeling able to be received into the Catholic Church, he was far closer to the Catholic position than to anything remotely Calvinist. Indeed his opposition to Calvinism was expressed satirically as Puritania in The Pilgrim's Regress.

Lazu: Any reader who has read the fairy-tales written by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien sees that Lewis tried to introduce characters rooted explicitly in the Christian tradition, while Tolkien seemed to try to cover such references. What is the explanation for this difference between these two authors?

Pearce:
Tolkien's approach to mythology, and therefore to his own work, is rooted in the belief that all creative activity is based upon the cooperation between the artist and the gift he is given by God. God as Creator bestows His gift, through Grace, to the sub-creator who uses (or abuses) the gift to bring his sub-creation to fruition. As such, Tolkien believed that truths emerge more freely and fully (and deeply) if the gift is allowed to flow without the sub-creator stifling it through his desire to dominate the gift through the desire to dominate his reader.

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