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.’