Recent News

“Tolkien”: a Review

J.R.R. Tolkien was a writer who, it sometimes seems, launched a thousand books and now a thousand movies. (I exaggerate.) And at the start, I have to say that I am not a fan.

Of course, I love the life of Tolkien – the idea of him: the young scholar who became a soldier and then an Oxford don, and later creator of what, beyond his scholarly work as linguist and philologist, may surely be called an unequaled legacy of fantasy literature. Unequaled except, perhaps, by his friend and Oxford colleague C.S. Lewis.

Lewis’s books are – to me – more accessible, and that includes his scholarly work. His The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition is a favorite of mine. And my sons, when they were young, truly loved The Chronicles of Narnia.

I’ve tried to read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and failed. My problem with Tolkien is similar to my struggles with Tolstoy: prolixity. And I’ve never found the Tolkien equivalent of Anna Karenina, a better, shorter book than the tedious War and Peace.

The work of the aforementioned writers has been given excellent screen treatment, although Peter Jackson’s versions of the LOTR trilogy (and the Hobbit film trilogy) have far surpassed the those of Lewis’s Chronicles series in terms of critical acclaim and financial success. Again, I find the Narnia movies (directed by Andrew Adamson and Michael Apted) more entertaining.

Now comes the biopic, Tolkien, by the Finnish director Dome Karukoski – designed to do what, by his own plain words, Tolkien said he never wanted to have done: generally, films made from his fantasy novels and, specifically, any attempts to explain where he “got” Middle-earth.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s review at The Catholic Thing . . .

The Many and the One

An old philosophical question concerns the relationship between the Many and the One, which seems like the kind of abstraction that only troubled long-dead philosophers and theologians. But there’s more at stake – much more – in the question than first appears, everything from living a life of integrity to the meaning of heresy.

Most of us assume that everything just fits together – somehow – until we encounter deep divisions, in ourselves and others. And realize things do not much fit together at all, particularly in times of trouble, which means all times. That’s why every civilization, until our own lately, has labored just to keep from falling to pieces.

The Church was once the universal institution in the West, the one body that tried not just to include but to reconcile all truth, so far as humanly possible. That reconciliation allowed for legitimate differences and freedom, but also wisely insisted that there are limits built into the nature of things. (LGBTQ+. . .has no limit.)

The Church’s absence from the living center of our civilization explains why there’s so much that’s ec-centric and worse in our world. And it’s regrettable that, even within the Church, there’s also been a steep decline lately in valuing the fullness of truth.

W.B. Yeats famously wrote, “the center cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Lots of people today, for various reasons, don’t want the center to hold – with entirely predictable results. You can understand that, given the centralizing power of globalist economics and politics. And why God’s commands, too, transmitted by the Church, can look like just another global tyranny. But merely invoking “diversity” and “inclusivity” doesn’t eliminate such dangers, and in fact may make things worse.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Recalled to Life: a Review of “Breakthrough”

Book I of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is titled “Recalled to Life,” which refers to a man’s release from the Bastille after eighteen years of imprisonment. That could have been a suitable title for the true story of John Smith told in Roxann Dawson’s new film, Breakthrough, the true tale of a teenager who fell through the ice of a small lake near St. Louis in 2015, was under water for a quarter of an hour and without a pulse for another forty-five minutes (“clinically dead,” in other words), but was recalled to life after his mother prayed over his lifeless body in the hospital. And that’s when the story really comes to life.

But . . . will the boy, John Smith (played by Marcel Ruiz), survive after being deprived of oxygen for so long? If he makes it through the first night in the hospital, will he have suffered permanent neurological impairment? Will he ever have a normal life after that? Everybody tells Mrs. Smith not to get her hopes up; to prepare for the worst. Joyce barks at them: “No negative talk!”

The film is based on the book The Impossible: The Miraculous Story of a Mother’s Faith and Her Child’s Resurrection by John’s adoptive mother, Joyce. That subtitle pretty well serves as a spoiler alert about the film’s resolution, which is a very happy ending, indeed.

Chrissy Metz (of TV’s This Is Us) plays Joyce Smith as a bit of a churl, as perhaps Mrs. Smith was – perfectly understandable during the ordeal depicted. In any case, in Miss Metz’ performance you certainly feel like you’re watching a real person.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Faith in Motion

“Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

At Mass on the second Sunday of Lent, the homilist at my church decried films about Jesus and the saints as shallow and, in some cases, profane. Instead of watching movies during Lent (and, I presume, Holy Week), he suggested reading good biographies about the saints. I take the point, although I’d add that such books are sometimes hagiography, not history.

In an earlier column about portrayals of Jesus in the movies, I mentioned that Jesus never laughs on screen. Father Schall told me it’s also true in Scripture. But he referred me to Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, which speaks about Christ’s openness (“He never concealed His tears. . .”) although Jesus did keep something hidden: “one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

I want to expand at length on that earlier column by focusing on three films about faith you may not have seen. I beg the reader’s indulgence because all are from the Silent Era: From the Manger to the Cross (1912); Ben-Hur (1925); and The King of Kings (1927). The links below are to YouTube versions, but these films do pop up now and then on Turner Classic Movies.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Of Hell and Logic

In 1294, Celestine V was elected pope, after an interregnum of two years without one, owing to a deadlock among the Cardinals. He resigned only five months later because, though he had founded and run the Celestines, an offshoot of the Benedictines, he felt himself inadequate to the papal office. In 1415, Pope Gregory XII “withdrew” in a somewhat different case – in order to prevent schism over the apostolic succession. Celestine’s, therefore, was the last pure resignation prior to that of Benedict XVI in 2013.

Most Dante scholars have believed over the centuries that Dante was referring to Celestine in Inferno Canto 3 (the place that contains souls who were so indifferent that they refused to choose God or anything else for eternity). He speaks of meeting one, without naming him, “who out of cowardice made the great refusal,” (che per viltade fece il gran rifiuto).

Dante thought this a profound betrayal of the Church, not least because Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII (a political schemer) was involved in Dante’s exile from Florence.

Boniface himself had a troubled life after that because of his constant efforts to expand papal powers. His famous Bull Unam Sanctam claimed authority over secular rulers, which led to his condemnation on a whole list of charges by French bishops. And French King Philip the Fair sent forces that captured and humiliated Boniface, an experience that contributed to his death.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

 

In Search of Young People

Some years ago, my pastor talked me into teaching “Catholic Morals” to high-school sophomores. I can’t say that I look back to those three years with, uh, pleasure. Or satisfaction. Some of my students are still Catholic; others lapsed. The whole experience left me with profound appreciation for anyone who knows how to work with and really reach young people with the Good News in a dying culture like our post-truth West.

I’m, therefore, somewhat indulgent towards anyone who even tries to evangelize young people, especially since the dreaded Millennials have made their appearance. It’s easy to criticize failures; hard to know what to do – or sometimes even where to start. If you think you have an answer, try it out somewhere – see what happens. I’ve written here about a few outfits who may yet save us. The harvest could be great, but there aren’t nearly enough laborers (or good ideas) in the vineyard.

I also wrote almost daily about the Synod on Youth last October, with a mixture of hope about the goals and doubts about the approach. And I read Pope Francis’ Post Synodal Exhortation for that synod, Christus vivit! (“Christ Lives!”), which was released Tuesday, with similar expectations.

There are some quite moving pages in this lengthy document, encouraging young people to aspire to great things, to become themselves actors in their own stories, to speak to the Church, even when they have doubts, and be open to answers they may receive from older relatives and trusted authority figures in the Church. And above all to be open to the reality of Jesus Christ.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Wetwork: a Review of “Unplanned”

My anti-abortion views solidified in 1976 when I bought a copy of Esquire magazine. There was something in it by or about George Plimpton that I wanted to read, but thumbing through the pages I came to an article titled “What I Saw at the Abortion” by Richard Selzer, M.D.

I’d been a Catholic for about three years and knew what I was supposed to believe about abortion. I’d recently read Humane vitae for the first time and been deeply impressed by its clarity: “all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, [is] to be absolutely excluded.” But it was when I read Dr. Selzer’s article that my view was forever set.What knocked me for a loop was Selzer’s reference to a “flick,” a resistance, the fetus defending itself against its murder. Read it for yourself (The Human Life Review has reprinted it here), but here’s the good doctor’s conclusion:

I am not trying to argue. I am only saying I’ve seen. The flick. Whatever else may be said in abortion’s defense, the vision of that other defense will not vanish from my eyes. What I saw I saw as that: a defense, a motion from, an effort away. And it has happened that you cannot reason with me now. For what can language do against the truth of what I saw?

So, it seemed to me before I watched the new movie, Unplanned, that the defining scene would have to be just such a moment, one in which Abby Johnson (played by Ashley Bratcher) witnessed the abortion that changed her life. (The film is based on her book of the same title.)

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s review at The Catholic Thing . . .

What May Save Us

Around our house, we’ve been reading lately about a figure largely unknown to the world – as almost all of us are – but courageous and saintly and worthy of notice: Sylvester Krcmery. A Czechoslovak doctor and Catholic layman, Krcmery was engaged in lifelong evangelization, outreach to those marginalized under Communism, organizing the underground Catholic Church, clandestine publications, and leadership in the “Candle Demonstration.”

That last item was, in 1988, a peaceful protest – on the demonstrators’ side anyway (the Communist government turned water cannons on the grandfathers and grandmothers, parents with children, and students who flooded a square in Bratislava because they had had enough of “scientific” socialism). That brutality was one of the sparks that set off the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, which encouraged similar uprisings throughout the Warsaw Pact.

This heroic history along with many other stories has been lost to us because we care and teach about almost nothing in the past now except the alleged sins of the West and the Church. Even the great Cardinals who resisted Nazism and Communism – Faulhaber, von Galen, Stepinac, Wysinski, Mindszenty – have all but disappeared down the memory hole.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Catholic All the Way: Michael Novak’s Legacy

Michael Novak was a thinker whose sweep was without peer in his time, or ours. As a public intellectual, his contributions ranged over a staggering list of fields – theology, philosophy, journalism, economics, politics, poetry and fiction – just for starters. His public service included work as an ambassador for human rights, as a professor, as a public speaker in great demand; and his service was recognized by a staggering list of honors: 24 honorary degrees, the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, awards from the Central European governments and associations for whom his towering work, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, would serve as a providential blueprint during the years in which they clawed up from decades of communist oppression.

Peering into Michael’s legacy can’t help but make anyone feel inadequate to the task of addressing any of it. I’d like to focus on one aspect of Michael that deserves more attention in the public eye: that is Michael Novak, Catholic, and the influence of Catholicism throughout his life’s work.

Of course, he was always identified as a “Catholic intellectual.” But in a secularizing age, it bears special emphasis that Michael’s Catholicism was the irreducible nucleus that held together every orbit in which his life’s work was spinning, and spins still.

Click here to read the rest of Mrs. Eberstadt’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Sodom: the Official Guide

Although there’s nothing in it about Roman weather or the various sites you might like to visit on a trip to the Vatican, French journalist Frédéric Martel’s In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy is a curious sort of Baedeker to the ins and outs of the Vatican City State. To read it is a little like stepping through the door of Professor Lewis’s wardrobe, except it’s not Narnia you enter but Sodom.

Mr. Martel’s book purports to be an objective exposé that is the result of “1500 interviews in the Vatican and in 30 countries” over four years, during which Martel and his team of 80 “researchers, correspondents, advisers, fixers and translators” spoke to “421 cardinals, 52 bishops and monsignori, 45 apostolic nuncios and foreign ambassadors.” All were in-person interviews. (A note of skepticism: there are currently just 222 living cardinals, so unless Martel was doing séances . . .)

Nearly all those interviewed are members of what, according to Martel, they themselves call “the Parish,” which is what Pope Francis, in that famous (“who am I to judge?”) interview on the flight from Rio to Rome, denied even existed: a “gay lobby.” According to Martel’s accounting, it’s not just a lobby, it’s a small city.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s review at The Catholic Thing . . .