Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Anthony Burgess on Catholic converts

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The converted Catholics of modern literature seem to be concerned with a different faith from the one I was nurtured in - naively romantic, pedantically scrupulous. Novels like The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, Brideshead Revisited and Sword of Honour falsify the faith by over-dramatising it. Waugh’s fictional Catholicism is too snobbish to be true. It evidently hurt Waugh deeply that his fellow-worshipper should be an expatriated Irish labourer and that the typical minister of the Church should be a Maynooth priest with a brogue.
Burgess may well be right but Catholicism since the Second Vatican Council looks and feels very different from Catholicism as it existed before I was born. And now we have Pope Francis giving papal knighthoods to abortion activists. By an oversight, they say.

The Second Vatican Council killed Waugh, of course, as it did not kill cradle Catholics. Before he died he said 
'In a more civilised age Hans Kung would have been burnt'.
He meant it of course. And I do understand him, though (for the avoidance of doubt) I do not want anyone burnt.

Muriel Spark, who got the knighthood that eluded Waugh, was a convert.


David Lodge is a cradle Catholic. Dryden a convert, Pope a cradle Catholic. Chesterton a convert, Belloc a cradle Catholic. A lot of literary ability for a small minority in England.


Burgess also said:
The Church of England began as the morganatic gift of a bloody monarch; it is ending as a cricket club in which nobody knows the rules.

I like and sympathise with this remark by William Trevor, who was Church of Ireland.
I don’t like the Church of England. I feel much more drawn towards Catholicism when I’m in England—not that I’d do anything about it. I always feel that Protestantism in England is strangely connected with the military. All the cathedrals here are full of military honors. It’s part of an establishment with the armed forces; tombs, rolls of honor, that sort of thing.

9 comments:

  1. Burgess also said:

    I was the first of my family to apostatize, and—since the family ends in me—I must be the last. It is, I suppose, an inglorious end for a Lancashire Catholic line that always prided itself on holding to the faith, even in the darkest of the penal days.

    I confess that I want pagan night—una nox dormienda—not solely, however, because nothingness is better than the prospect of pain, even terminable pain. It is more because I want Anthony Burgess blotted out as a flaw in the universe...

    But am I not rather asking God to cast me into the bottomless pit, having briefly—after death—vouchsafed a wink of the ultimate revelation? I cannot think that He would do this solely on my failure to believe, the breaking down of the faith engine. If He would, I don’t want Him anyway: We would be well rid of each other.

    I am an unbeliever. But if I were to become a believer again, it would not be the Church alone that would flame back to life for me; it would be Islam, Buddhism, even our own little schismatic English Church. It would be the numinous principle, the duality of good and evil.

    I have lived in the East and heard the muezzin call the faithful to prayer. And I have known pious Buddhists and been awed by most saintly Hindus. I have seen workmen in Malaya weeping over the accidental killing of an insect...

    If I accept once again that Catholicism has all the answers, then it is likely that I will have to do violence to certain elements in my nature—the conviction, for instance, that all life is one, or that it is better to have polygamy than the starving widows of soldiers begging in the streets.

    ...the state of being a lapsed Catholic is so painful that it sometimes seems to generate a positive charge, as though it had in itself a certain religious validity. Perhaps some of the prayers that go for the souls in purgatory might occasionally be used for us. Those souls at least know where they are. We don’t. I don’t.

    https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2017/08/on-being-a-lapsed-catholic

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    Replies
    1. Very interesting. Thank you. I didn't realise he lost his faith. I know him only from The Clockwork Orange (a brilliant but demonic book) and his journalism especially in the Daily Mail.

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  2. Now, here is something to brighten up your day:

    http://englishrussia.com/2018/01/11/49-weird-and-funny-photos-from-russia/


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  3. "The converted Catholics of modern literature seem to be concerned with a different faith from the one I was nurtured in - naively romantic, pedantically scrupulous. Novels like The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, Brideshead Revisited and Sword of Honour falsify the faith by over-dramatising it. Waugh’s fictional Catholicism is too snobbish to be true. It evidently hurt Waugh deeply that his fellow-worshipper should be an expatriated Irish labourer and that the typical minister of the Church should be a Maynooth priest with a brogue" - Anthony Burgess.

    I tend to agree, although it could be argued that those writers were using the faith for dramatic purposes in their work (and very effectively). But yes, real Catholicism is a lowly and humble thing (outside ceremonial pomp), which is one of its strengths in my opinion. All are weak and pitiful in the eyes of God.

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  4. Waugh was a snob who understood his own snobbery as a weakness, I believe, and he used it as a kind of compass to find a truth beyond snobbery. (I've never read Greene, and only know his stories from movies.) Brideshead Revisited could only ever present a facet or facets of religion, not anything in its fullness. It could only suggest a reality that cannot be fully captured. Fiction is trompe l'oeil. So I want to tell Burgess to go jump in the lake.

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  5. Waugh is funny, Waugh is elegant, Waugh is economical. His Catholicism which I despise as all cradle Catholics despise converts, is the thing in him which means least to me.

    https://web.archive.org/web/20071028164633/http://www.theparisreview.org/media/3994_BURGESS.pdf

    Do "...cradle Catholics despise converts?"
    Or rather those who lost their faith?

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  6. We don't despise converts but I smiled a smile of recognition when I read that. Converts are different from us.
    They don't know that you have to be in the church before the end of the Gospel for it to count, for example, or that you have to go to confession at a minimum once a year. But this is the fault of the priests who instruct them. Cradle Catholics learn things like that from their parents.

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  7. We definitely feel superior to them.

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