Friday, October 17, 2003

From the lefty mag The Tablet
Waugh the Catholic
by Fr Ian Ker
I heard Fr K speak once in Oxford, hosted by the wonderful Ronald Knox Society there at the time. Fascinating article. Fr K obviously isn't sympathetic to traditionalism, something I sussed from his talk, but in England at the time (the 1980s) it was still a living presence to be reckoned with... which is perhaps why he mentions it in his lectures and writing.

Filtering out the condescension (after all, it's The Tablet)...

•Waugh was right about Vatican II.
•He was right about objectivity and Godwardness in worship and theology (ex opere operato). BTW, one needn't use 'the box' to have that in Confession - the Byzantine Rite way is just as objective.
Brideshead Revisited is a great book - I've read it (you can support this blog by buying a copy through the link - used for as low as 34 cents US + S&H!).
•Interesting lack of sympathy for the Christian East from Waugh... not that the East in practice is perfect either, but an Eastern critic might take that lack of sympathy (for 'mystery') as a sign of being only one jump removed from the destruction he saw and rightly hated.

This is fundamentally what appalled Waugh about the new rite which, in its flexibility and lack of detailed rubrics and exact ritual, struck him as incoherent, formless, and shapeless, introducing anarchy and chaos.
One of my peeves is seeing this end-stage dissolution in the West, into liberalism, passed off as Eastern Christian mysticism - something vagantes, some New Agers and a few people online (a half-Greek fellow on a so-called Catholic message board comes to mind) are fond of doing.

In Brideshead Revisited (1945), the pious Lady Marchmain is “popularly believed to be a saint”, but Cordelia makes the necessary distinction: “she was saintly but she wasn’t a saint”. Waugh fully understood that holiness is all about love, and this Lady Marchmain for all her piety and virtues lacks.
An ex-friend married somebody like that.

And of her children it is not the Jesuitical Bridey, who acts as the family theologian, nor Cordelia, whose matter-of-fact Catholicism is so attractive to her author, who is the saint. Rather, it is the alcoholic Sebastian who is the real saint, as Cordelia recognises. She explains to the astonished Nanny Hawkins (“Brideshead was one for church, not Sebastian”): “I’ve seen others like him, and I believe they are very near and dear to God.” Sebastian has by now entered a monastery in Tunis as a lay brother but is still suffering from alcoholism: “One can have no idea what the suffering may be, to be maimed as he is – no dignity, no power of will. No one is ever holy without suffering.” The non-Catholic narrator Charles Ryder had equated religion with morality, but now he understands that holiness is not the same as virtue.
Waugh 'got' the mystical after all.

The main point: this objectivity wasn't a 'straitjacket' to be 'transcended' after all but the very thing that freed up Waugh to be creative! I forget who said it but one can't play tennis without a net or lines on the court.