Friday, December 31, 2004

A Congenial Spirit...

I am considerably at a loss as to how I can thank you enough for these books (a life of Baron von Hugel and the Essays and Addresses of von Hugel)...Have you read the essays? They are better than the letters to Gwendolyn. The old man I think is the most congenial spirit I have found in English Catholic letters, with more to say, to me anyway, than Newman. -- "Habit of Being", pg 165

On Faith...

About the only way we know whether we believe or not is by what we do...Bridges once wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins and asked him to tell him how he, Bridges, could believe. He must have expected from Hopkins a long philosophical answer. Hopkins wrote back, "Give alms." He was trying to say to Bridges that God is to be experienced in Charity (in the sense of love for divine image in human beings).

If you want your faith, you have to work for it. It is a gift, but for very few is it a gift given without any demand for equal time devoted to its cultivation. For every book you read that is anti-Christian, make it your bsiness to read one that presents the other side of the picture. --"Habit of Being" pg. 476

Sunday, November 28, 2004

From "The Habit of Being", pg. 530...

[Now Bless Thyself, by Elizabeth Sewell] is a poet's book sure enough. I very much like the notion she gets across that the poet deals exactly with the things that don't work out, that he's sort of a shock absorber, that he takes the first blows and mutes them through the imagination and makes things bearable.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Unpublished letter...

A fellow Flannery fan sent along this unpublished letter:
1 March ‘60

Dear Caroline,

Your letter meant a lot to me and I am terribly grateful to you for writing it. I think of people, strangers, all over the country with this evil image of the book—an unhealthy book from an unhealthy source. They must have gone and looked the disease up because I didn’t tell them it was a tuberculous disease of the skin and mucous membranes. Imagine that in a book review! I don’t know how low taste can get, but not much lower than that I should think.

The book seems to be a trip in a glass-bottomed boat to most of the reviewers. Anyway I can be thankful for Granville Hicks.

When you get through with yours in April, why don’t you come down and spend the weekend with us and take yourself a rest? I am not trying to steal Rosa Lee’s company but we have a lot of room out here. We have just put on the extra rooms and a bath—stuck on the side. Think about this. We are going to be here all during May except May 1 & 2. I have to talk in Savannah on May 1. After that I ain’t opening my mouth in public again, but am going back to my dabbling in the variants of sin and salvation. Good ol sin and salvation.


Monday, November 15, 2004

On Misinterpretations

The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction.Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.

On Proust's Novel

Jan 15, 1961:
Somebody gave me the complete Remembrance of Things Past for Christmas and I am eating my way through it like a mole. I think it would make good Iceland reading...

Jan 21, 1961:
I am on page 513 in [the Proust novel]. I cain't get over it.

Monday, August 23, 2004

On Fellow Writers Updike & Greene ('Habit of Being')...

Whoever was responsible for that editorial on John Updike's novel, Rabbit Run, should be confined for a while... If you get a chance you might like to look at that book. It is true that the sex in it is laid on too heavy. It is so burdensome that you want to skip those parts from sheer boredom; but the fact is, that the book is the product of a real religious consciousness. It is the best book illustrating damnation that has come along in a great while.

As between me and [Graham] Greene there is a difference of fictions certainly and probably a difference of theological emphasis as well. If Greene created an old lady, she would be sour through and through and if you dropped her, she would break, but if you dropped my old lady, she'd bounce back at you, screaming "Jesus loves me!" I think the basis of the way I see is comic regardless of what I do with it; Greene's is something else...

From "The Habit of Being"...

When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead. This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty.

I feel that you are distracted, particularly when you say, for instance, that it is B.'s writing that interests you considerably more than he does. This is certainly not so, no matter how good a writer he gets to be, or how silly he gets to be himself. The human comes before the art. You do not write the best you can for the sake of art but for the sake of returning your talent increased to the invisible God to use or not use as he sees fit.

When the Protestant hears what he supposes to be the voice of the Lord, he follows it regardless of whether it runs counter to his church's teachings. The Catholic believes any voice he may hear comes from the Devil unless it is in accordance with the teachings of the Church.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

"Apart from emulative envy, the only aspect of envy that does not seem to me pejorative is a form of envy I have myself felt, as I suspect have others who are reading this book: the envy that I think of as faith envy. This is the envy one feels for those who have the true and deep and intelligent religious faith that sees them through the darkest of crises, death among them. If one is oneself without faith and wishes to feel this emotion, I cannot recommend a better place to find it than in the letters of Flannery O'Connor. There one will discover a woman still in her thirties, who, after coming into her radiant talent, knows she is going to die well before her time and, owing to her Catholicism, faces her end without voicing complaint or fear. I not long ago heard, in Vienna, what seemed to me a perfect rendering of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and was hugely moved by it, but how much more would I have been moved, I could not help wonder, if I were in a state of full religious belief, since the Ninth Symphony seems to me in many ways a religious work. Faith envy is envy, alas, about which one can do nothing but quietly harbor it."
-Joseph Epstein, Envy

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.

40 Years Ago...

...Flannery O'Connor died of lupus at the age of 39. Amy Welborn offers suggestions on where to begin with O'Connor's works. Also, a Washington Times column, and J. Bottom link.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

On Travel...

I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickeness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it's always a place where there's no company, where nobody can follow. . .The surface hereabouts has always been very flat. I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.

from "The Habit of Being" via the Reading Experience

On Graham Greene...

The best thing I ever read on [Graham] Greene was written by an English girl named Elizabeth Sewell and was published in Thought. She allowed that his sensibility was different from his convictions, the former being Manichean and the latter Catholic, and of course, you write with the sensibility. Her word for him was Neo-Romantic Decadent. What he does, I think, is try to make religion respectable to the modern unbeliever by making it seedy. He succeeds so well in making it seedy that then he has to save it by the miracle.

Letter to Maryat Lee, January 31, 1957, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor --via just a reader aka Bookish Gardener

Thursday, July 15, 2004

On the beat poets...

Certainly some revolt against our exaggerated materialism is long overdue. They seem to know a good many of the right things to run away from, but to lack any necessary discipline. They call themselves holy but holiness costs and so far as I can see they pay nothing. It's true that grace is the free gift of God but in order to put yourself in the way of being receptive to it you have to practice self-denial. As long as the beat people abandon themselves to all sensation satisfactions, on principle, you can't take them for anything but false mystics. A good look at St. John of the Cross makes them all look sick. -(from "The Habit of Being")

On Education...

Total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me.

Amy Welborn article...

O’Connor’s characters are all afflicted by pride: Intellectual sons and daughters who live to set the world, primarily their ignorant parents, aright; social workers who neglect their own children, self-satisfied unthinking “good people” who rest easily in their own arrogance; the fiercely independent who will not submit their wills to God or anyone else if it kills them. And sometimes, it does.

The pride is so fierce, the blindness so dark, it takes an extreme event to shatter it, and here is the purpose of the violence. The violence that O’Connor’s characters experience, either as victims or as participants, shocks them into seeing that they are no better than the rest of the world, that they are poor, that they are in need of redemption, of the purifying purgatorial fire that is the breathtaking vision at the end of the story, “Revelation.”

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Letter to Louise Abbot...

Whatever you do anyway, remember that these things are mysteries and that if they were such that we could understand them, they wouldn’t be worth understanding. A God you understood would be less than yourself.

This letter is full of non-sequiturs [sp?]. I don’t set myself up to give spiritual advice but all I would like you to know is that I sympathise and I suffer this way myself. When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead. This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty... Come to see us whenever you can. We are building two extra rooms and a bath into the house – a back parlor. We will let you set in it. Cheers.

Letter to Cecil Dawkins..

I know what you mean about being repulsed by the Church when you have only the Jansenist-Mechanical Catholic to judge it by. I think that the reason such Catholics are so repulsive is that they don’t really have faith but a kind of false certainty. They operate by the slide rule and the Church for them is not the body of Christ but the poor man’s insurance system. It’s never hard for them to believe because actually they never think about it. Faith has to take in all the other possibilities it can.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Flannery O'Connor & Abu Ghraib

Godspy essay on Abu Ghraib (thanks to reader David):
Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor would have considered the images of the prison scandal grotesque, but not in what she called "the pejorative sense"—of just plain images of ugliness and ignorance. For O'Connor—whose characters are some of the most memorable grotesqueries in American literature—the grotesque makes visible hidden "discrepancies" between character and belief. Such images "connect or combine or embody two points; one is a point in the concrete and the other is a point not visible to the naked eye."

Pride sets us against each other, and, most important, against God. To cure us of it, God allows us to sin. Again, St. Thomas: "the gravity of sins of pride is shown by the fact that God allows man to fall into other sins in order to heal him from pride."...

For O'Connor, God's providence was realized not despite our sins, but through them. Removing sin from life—or fiction—meant essentially cutting yourself off from the possibility of grace. Life—or literature, becomes either sentimental or obscene, and while "preferring the former, and being more of an authority on the latter," the Catholic reader fails to see their similarity.

Thursday, July 01, 2004


This thing of demanding honesty of people is in the upper reaches of extreme Innocence. The only people of whom you can demand honesty are those you pay to get it from…..[A person’s] honesty is only honesty, not truth….To love people you have to ignore a good deal of what they say while they are being honest, because you are not living in the Garden of Eden any longer.

From Letter to Maryat Lee. 20 May 1958

Spiritual Advice...

Penance rightly considered is not acts performed in order to attract God’s attention or get credit for oneself. It is something natural that follows sorrow. If I were you, I’d forget about penance until I felt called upon to perform it. Don’t anticipate too much. I have the feeling that you irritate your soul with a lot of things that it isn’t time to irritate it with.

What people don’t realise is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.

From letter to Louise Abbot [undated] Sat. 1959

Dear Mr Corn,
I certainly don't think that the death required that " ye be born again," is the death of reason. If what the Church teaches is not true, then the security and emotional release and sense of purpose it gives you are of no value and you are right to reject it. One of the effects of modern Liberal Protestantism has been gradually to turn religion into poetry and therapy, to make truth vaguer and vaguer and more and more relative, to banish intellectual distinctions, to depend on feelings instead of thought, and gradually to come to believe that God has no power, that he cannot communicate with us, cannot reveal himself to us, indeed has not done so, and that religion is our own sweet invention. This seems to be about where you find yourself now.

From letter to Alfred Corn and 16 June 1962

One Liners...

Free will does not mean one will, but many wills conflicting in one man.

Ignorance is excusable when it is borne like a cross, but when it is wielded like an axe, and with moral indignation, then it becomes something else indeed.

You will have found Christ when you are concerned with other people’s sufferings and not your own.

God rescues us from ourselves if we want Him to.

I suppose I divide people into two classes: the Irksome and the Non-Irksome.

We are not judged by what we are basically. We are judged by how hard we use what we have been given. Success means nothing to the Lord, nor gracefulness…….. It is better to be young in your failures than old in your successes.

Art & Lit

(Thanks to Steve who provided these and all the quotes posted today.)

At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily. The fiction which celebrates this last state will be the least likely to transcend its limitations, for when the religious need is banished successfully, it usually atrophies, even in the novelist. The sense of mystery vanishes. A kind of reverse evolution takes place, and the whole range of feeling is dulled.

From Mystery & Manners: ‘Novelist and Believer.’

We (Catholics) are beginning to realise that an impoverishment of the imagination means an impoverishment of the religious life as well...Good and evil appear to be joined in every culture at the spine, and as far as the creation of a body of fiction is concerned, the social is superior to the purely personal. Somewhere is better than anywhere. And traditional manners, however unbalanced are better than no manners at all.

From Mystery & Manners: ‘The Catholic Novelist in The Protestant South.’

I mortally and strongly defend the right of the artist to select a negative aspect of the world to portray and as the world gets more materialistic there will be more to select from. Of course you are only enabled to see what is black by having light to see it by……Furthermore the light you see by may be altogether outside of the work itself.

From Letter to Betty Hester. 8 September 1956

To know oneself is to know one’s region. It is also to know the world, and it is also, paradoxically, a form of exile from that world. The writer’s value is lost, both to himself and to his country, as soon as he ceases to see that country as a part of himself, and to know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility, and this is not a virtue conspicuous in any national character.

From Mystery & Manners: ‘The Fiction Writer and His Country.’

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

On respecting mystery...

Dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality...It is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Christianity Today article...

A hillbilly Thomist pushes back against modernity:
In an age of unbelief, O'Connor was convinced that her faith was a help, not a hindrance, to writing fiction. "It is popular to believe that in order to see clearly one must believe nothing. This may work well enough if you are observing cells under a microscope. It will not work if you are writing fiction. For the fiction writer, to believe nothing is to see nothing." Nietzsche was therefore the enemy or anti-Christ, not just because he disbelieved in God but because he sought to destroy belief in God.

Edmondson's interpretation of O'Connor's fiction as a deliberate confrontation with nihilism is confirmed by her published correspondence. Entitled The Habit of Being (1979), O'Connor's letters to friend and stranger alike contain many reflections on the spiritual poverty of modernity. For example, in 1955 she wrote, "If you live today you breathe in nihilism. In or out of the Church, it's the gas you breathe. If I hadn't had the Church to fight it with or to tell me the necessity of fighting it, I would be the stinkingest logical positivist you ever saw right now."


Looking for her grave from Literary Traveler.
from Touchstone
from Touchstone
From First Things on her Collected Works
From First Things
From First Things
From First Things on Walker Percy & Flannery O'Connor.


When someone asked her, back in 1959, why she, a Catholic writer, wrote so much about Protestant zealots, she replied:
To a lot of Protestants I know, monks and nuns are fanatics, none greater. And to a lot of the monks and nuns I know, my Protestant prophets are fanatics. For my part, I think the only difference between them is that if you are a Catholic and have this intensity of belief you join a convent and are heard from no more; whereas if you are a Protestant and have it, there is no convent for you to join and you go about in the world, getting into all sorts of trouble and drawing the wrath of people who don’t believe anything much at all down on your head.

St. Cyril & the Dragon

Flannery O’Connor, reflecting on her writing, recalled a remark St. Cyril of Jerusalem made to catechumens:
"The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon." It was Flannery O’Connor who, in a perhaps unconscious echoing of Dante, said that all literature is anagogic. Here is her comment on St. Cyril: "No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller."

Paul Greenberg on the famous "To Hell With It" quote...

Paul Greenberg writes: "When does a symbol become a Symbol, a Presence? Flannery O'Connor came closest to answering that question in one of her splendid letters" [from a 1955 letter to "A"]:
I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, "A Charmed Life.") She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. . . . Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.

That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.

From "The Habit of Being"...

I am one of the laymen who resist the congregation yapping out the Mass in English & my reason besides neurotic fear of change, anxiety, and laziness is that I do not like the raw sound of the human voice in unison unless it is under the discipline of music...
...You are probably right about the dialogue Mass but I still think either chanting it or singing it would add the discipline necessary to make it endurable. There are always at least one or two loud voices, that make their business with the Lord loudly intimate, beseeching, aggressive, that destroy the feeling of the whole. This would be impossible if it were sung or chanted.
I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child's faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do....It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can't believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.
God made us to love him. It takes two to love. It takes liberty. It takes the right to reject. If there were no hell, we would be like animals. No hell, no dignity.
I believe there are as many types of saints as there are souls to be saved. I am quite interested in saving my soul but I see this as a long developmental evolutionary process, extending into Purgatory, and the only moment of it that concerns me in the least is the instant I am living in.

from "The Violent Bear It Away"...

Go Warn the Children of God of the Terrible Speed of Mercy.
Walker Percy, in a letter to Shelby Foote on his latest novel: "What is it about? Screwing and God (which all Catholic novels since Augustine have been about) - to use 'Catholic' somewhat loosely since you were right the other day about me not being a Catholic writer as Flannery [O'Connnor] was..."

From "The Habit of Being"...

I have a biography of St. John of the Cross and one of Rabelais. I read a little of one and then a little of the other; edifying contrast.
I am much more interested in the nobility of unnaturalness than in the nobility of naturalness. As Robert [Fitzgerald] says, it is the business of the artist to uncover the strangeness of truth. The violent are not natural. St. Thomas's gloss on this verse [i.e. the 'violent bear it away'] is that the violent Christ is here talking about represent those ascetics who strain against mere nature. St. Augustine concurs.
The Church's stand on birth control is the most absolutely spiritual of all her stands and with all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it causes unease. I wish various fathers would quit trying to defend it by saying that the world can support 40 billion. I will rejoice in the day when they say: This is right, whether we all rot on top of each other or not, dear children, as we certainly may. Either practice restraint or be prepared for crowding...
The Catholic finds it easier to understand the atheist than the Protestant, but easier to love the Protestant than the atheist. The fact is though now that the fundamentalist Protestants, as far as doctrine goes, are closer to their traditional enemy, the Church of Rome, than they are to the advanced elements in Protestantism.

From "The Habit of Being"

On Spritual Direction

I don't doubt she needs a good spiritual director but this takes a kind of genius and much grace and they are as hard to find as any other rarity. As to a confessor - one is as good as another. The confessional is not a place to discuss problems.

On Priests

It takes a strong person to meet the responsibilities of the priesthood. They take vows for life of poverty, chastity and obedience, and there are very few defections. Most of the priests I know... are unimaginative and overworked. Also the education they get at the seminary leaves much to be desired.

from "Habit of Being"

"God never promised [the Church] political infallibility or wisdom and sometimes she doesn't appear to have even elementary good sense. She seems always to be either on the wrong side politically or simply a couple hundred years behind the world in her political thinking. She tries to get along with any form of gov't that does not set itself up as a religion. Communism is a religion of the state, committed to the extinction of the Church...She condemns Communism because it is a false religion, not because of the form of gvt it is."


"The things that we are obliged to do, such as hear Mass on Sunday, fast and abstain on the days appointed, etc. can become mechanical and merely habit. But it is better to be held to the Church by habit than not to be held at all. The Church is mighty realistic about human nature. Further it is not at all possible to tell what's going on inside the person who appears to be going about his obligations mechnically. We don't believe that grace is something you have to feel. The Catholic always distrusts his emotional reaction to the sacraments."


"If [Cardinal John Henry] Newman is a saint, his saintliness didn't destroy his scrupulous intellect or his finickiness and you'll have to accept a finicky saint. Anyway, here he is dealing with [Charles] Kingsley, enough to bring out the finickiness in anybody. I didn't read the stuff in the back from Kingsley, couldn't stand it..."
The merit of the Church doesn't lie in what she does but what she is. The day is going to come when the Church is so hemmed in & nailed down that she won't be doing anything but being, which will be enough.

from "Habit of Being"...

My cousin's husband who also teaches at Auburn came into the Church last week. He had been going to Mass with them but never showed any interest. We asked how he got interested and his answer was that the sermons were so horrible, he knew there must be something else there to make the people come...
Responding to the claim that the Eucharist is a symbol] Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it. [She then explains:] That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.
All voluntary baptisms are a miracle to me and stop my mouth as much as if I had just seen Lazarus walk out of the tomb. I suppose it's because I know that it had to be given to me before the age of reason, or I wouldn't have used any reason to find it.

From "Habit of Being"...

On Bad Bishops & Other Catholics:
"As for bad Catholics, this is simply one of the facts of life. I am reviewing some sermons of St. Augustine on the psalms and ran across this:

'Still I want to warn you about this, brothers; the Church in this world is a threshing floor, and as I have often said before and still say now, it is piled high with chaff and grain together. It is no use trying to be rid of all the chaff before the time comes for winnowing. Don't leave the threshing-floor before that, just because you are not going to put up with sinners. Otherwise you will be gobbled up by the birds before you can be brought into the barn.'

She probably sees more stupidity and vulgarity than she does sin and these are harder to put up with than sin, harder on the nerves."

Of Faith & Novels:
"I don't think you should write something as long as a novel around anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else and for me this is always the conflict between an attraction for the Holy and the disbelief in it that we breathe in with the air of the times. It's hard to believe always but more so in the world we live in now. There are some of us who have to pay for our faith every step of the way and who have to work out dramatically what it would be like without it and if being without it would be ultimately possible or not. I can't allow any of my characters, in a novel anyway, to stop in some halfway position. This doubtless comes from a Catholic education and a Catholic sense of history - everything works towards its true end or away from it, everything is ultimately saved or lost..."

Billy F.:
"Yesterday I sold a pair of [peacocks]...These people showed up in a long white car...The man was a structural engineer. He said he had a friend who was a writer in Mississippi and I said who was that. He said, 'His name is Bill Faulkner. I don't know if he's any good or not but he's a mighty nice fellow.' I told him he was right good..."


Carl Olsen on the Art of Flannery O'Connor
To have the church be what you want it to be would require the continuous miraculous meddling of God in human affairs, whereas it is our dignity that we are allowed more or less to get on with those graces that come through faith and the sacraments and which work through our human nature. We can't understand this but we can't reject it without rejecting life. Human nature is so faulty that it can resist any amount of grace and most of the time it does.
One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited His goodness, you are done with Him. The Aylmers whom Hawthorne saw as a menace have multiplied. Busy cutting down human imperfection, they are making headway also on the raw material of the good. Ivan Karamozov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus' hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of the innocents. In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.

Mystery and Manners...

Poorly written novels - no matter how pious and edifying the behavior of the characters - are not good in themselves and are therefore not really edifying. Now a statement like that causes problems. An individual may be highly edified by a sorry novel because he doesn't know any better. We have plenty of examples in this world of poor things being used for good purposes. God can make any indifferent thing, as well as evil itself, an instrument for good; but I submit that to do this is the business of God and not of any human being.

I have found that people outside the Church like to suppose that the Church acts as a restraint on the creativity of the Catholic writer and that she keeps him from reaching his full development. These people point to the fact that there are not many Catholic artists and writers, at least in this country, and that those who do achieve anything in a creative way are usually converts. This is a criticism that we can't shy away from. I feel that it is a valid criticism of the way Catholicismis often applied by our Catholic educational system, or from the pulpit, or ignorantly practiced by ourselves; but that is, of course, no valid criticism of the religion itself.

Christian dogma is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery...The Catholic fiction writer is entirely free to observe. He feels no call to take on the duties of God or to create a new universe. He feels no need to apologize for the ways of God to man or to avoid looking at the ways of man to God. For him, to 'tidy up reality' is certainly to succumb to the sin of pride. Open and free observation is founded on our ultimate faith that the universe is meaningful, as the Church teaches.

And when we look at the serious fiction written by Catholics in these times, we do find a striking preoccupation with what is seedy and evil and violent. The pious argument against such novels goes something like this: if you believe in the Redemption, your ultimate vision is one of hope, so in what you see you must be true to this ultimate vision...The beginning of an answer to this is that though the good is the ultimate reality, the ultimate reality has been weakened in human beings as a result of the Fall, and it is this weakened life we see. And it is wrong, moreover, to assume that the writer chooses what he will see and what he will not see.

from "Mysteries and Manners"...

The fiction writer should be characterized by his kind of vision. His kind of vision is prophetic vision. For the Catholic novelist, the prophetic vision is not simply a matter of his personal imaginative gift; it is also a matter of the Church's gift, which, unlike his own, is safeguarded and deals with greater matters. It is one of the functions of the Church to transmit the prophetic vision that is good for all time, and when the novelist has this as a part of his own vision, he has a powerful extension of sight.

It is, unfortunately, a means of extension which we constantly abuse by thinking that we can close our own eyes and that the eyes of the Church will do the seeing. They will not. We forget that what is to us an extension of sight is to the rest of the world a peculiar and arrogant blindness, and no one today is prepared to recognize the truth of what we show unless our purely individual vision is in full operation. When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eye of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous.

It would be foolish to say there is no conflict between these two sets of eyes. There is a conflict, and it is a conflict which we escape at our peril, one which cannot be settled beforehand by theory or fiat or faith. We think that faith entitles us to avoid it, when in fact, faith prompts us to begin it, and to continue it until, like Jacob, we are marked.

The writer may feel that in order to use his own eyes freely, he must disconnect them from the eyes of the Church and see as nearly as possible in the fashion of a camera. Unfortunately, to try to disconnect faith from vision is to do violence to the whole personality...The tensions of being a Catholic novelist are probably never balanced for the writer until the Church becomes so much a part of his personality that he can forget about her - in the same sense that when he writes, he forgets about himself. This is the condition we aim for, but one which is seldom achieved in this life....


"To Rayber, the picture of the modern, rational man, such love is madness. It's inconceivable. It's absurd. It's just not USEFUL. And as I read those passages over and over and over I realized: THAT'S what the saints have that I don't have. That violent, inconceivable, absurd, non-utilitarian love of God. They have given themselves over to it, let themselves be swept up in it. Just for the love of Him. Just because. They aren't worried about appearing foolish. They just love."

-Blogger "Mama T" concerning Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear it Away.

Welcome... a blog of quotes about and by the great Catholic author Flannery O'Connor.
Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was an award winning novelist and short story writer who for the substance of her fiction, drew on the pot-pourri of the American South and twentieth century Nihilism. O’Connor was a devout Catholic. She was raised in Georgia and lived most of her adult life there. At the age of 26 she was diagnosed with Lupus and died from the disease thirteen years later in 1964. She published two novels; ‘Wise Blood’ and ‘The Violent Bear It Away’ as well as two highly acclaimed short story collections; ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’ and ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge.’ O’Connor’s collected letters were edited by her close friend Sally Fitzgerald and published under the title of ‘The Habit of Being.’ A selection of her essays and lectures was published under the title of ‘Mystery and Manners.’