Inquisitions and Imprimaturs

Now here’s a puzzle for you. I’m setting up an interview with Anne Rice for various publications I write for. Some Catholics are worried that she may publicly dissent from Church teachings on matters like homosexuality, abortion and women’s ordination.

If an artist dissents from church teachings what should we do with their art? Should a novel, which is in itself, orthodox, beautiful and true, not be promoted because the novelist is not totally orthodox, beautiful and true? What if the artist does not dissent to church teaching, but dissents from Christian morality by living an immoral life? Shall we criticize their art by their morality? 
This is tricky because we acknowledge that the holiness of a person’s life may influence his art for the better. Tolkien’s work, for example, is infused with a light and beauty that must come from his devout Catholicism. Is the inverse also true? Can the depravity or sinfulness of a person’s life or opinions be detrimental to their art? I believe the artist Caravaggio was a terrible scoundrel, but his art was sublime. Do we rubbish his paintings because of the rubbish of his moral life? 
What are we to make, on the other hand, of the devout and holy and perfectly orthodox believer, who sadly, produces poor art? Shall we praise the mediocre because the artist is pious? Clearly those who pray well do not necessarily paint well. The person who is good on his knees may not be good as a novelist. 
What do my readers think? If it turns out that Anne Rice supports, let us say, women’s ordination, shall we burn her books?

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04446241126728692642 niggle

    “Is the inverse also true? Can the depravity or sinfulness of a person’s life or opinions be detrimental to their art?”I would say most certainly. Charles Bukowski, Jackson Pollock come to mind. But in cases as these, I would call “detrimental” simply “blockage” instead. There is also the empty, psuedo-aztec balloon figures of Eric Gill, of whom there is some discussion over at the Dappled Things forum.Clearly, it goes both ways. Holy people can produce bad art. Rotten people can produce bad art. But the defeciency, of not producing good art, is not of the same kind between them both. The case may be that both neither have the talent. But if the case is that both do have the talent, but are employing it wrongly, well, I’ll take the talented devout person who needs to let go of certain embedded, pious tendencies towards religious emotionalism over the self-important, unscrupulous reprobate who needs to empty his head of theory and acquire humility – the destruction of his artistic pride. The former will be more likely to “start over” with inspired yet trembling brush than the latter.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01277661194721619082 Andrew Guidroz II

    Merton moved closer to Eastern spirituality at the end of his writing career but I think there are still things that we can learn from his writings.Perhaps questioning Rice about the fact that the book is very orthodox while she may not be so orthodox will add some interesting body to your article.But I don’t envy you as a priest balancing this interview with trying to avoid giving a platform to things that contradict the Church.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05765959701992923298 Jeffrey Smith

    Oh, for crying out loud. It’s not as if she shouts dissent from the rooftops. Doesn’t even seem to mention such matters unless specificly asked. I’d say avoid bringing it up.As for burning at the stake, you shouldn’t give them ideas.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09819523933502820341 Terry Nelson

    “They’re tryin to make me go to rehabI said no, no, no”Anyway – who cares what she personally believes – she is not a candidate for canonization. She has a gay son – do people think she should disown him?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17691145638703824456 kkollwitz

    Well, Graham Greene was no paragon of virtue, but I regard The Power and the Glory as indispensable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17120108669030817877 my15minutes

    I say stick with the discussion being about her art, not her theology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11900159133427169416 timothy

    Probably, we have to determine what constitutes good art, and of course, it would first be necessary to define what art is at all. And a further point, and not to be relativistic, but “good” and “bad” are little too simplistic.But here, I think, it is somewhat besides the point. Rice’s books (which I haven’t read and probably won’t) as I understand it have an overtly evangelistic slant, they are not “pure art” — if there could be such a thing. If she is publicly discussing and giving approbation to ideas and beliefs that are opposed to fundamental teachings of the Church, then she must and should be taken to account for them.On a side note, after having briefly researched certain aspects of 19th century aestheticism, which is the origin of the “Art for art’s sake” idea, in fact it was used to justify some pretty opprobrious behavior. Take a look at some of the lives of the French Symbolist poets: Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, and there you have it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06739569698760671303 Royce

    kkollwitz,The Power and the Glory was also placed on the Index. That said, though, when considering a book to be placed on the Index, I don’t think the Sacred Congregation considered the author’s personal views, but rather just the views presented in the book.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08110341406524333073 chimakuni

    My husband’s daughter was quite a fan of Ann Rice’s work when the author was writing about vampires and such. Sadly, she is not interested in the author’s work anymore … and that is tragic. I have not read Rice’s work, but I do think that if you are interviewing her regarding her work, then by all means, discuss her work. If you are discussing her theology, then discuss her theology.It does make a difference to me as a reader as to how an author views life – because I believe that they cannot divorce their views in their work and it taints their work. If I know someone is pro-abortion I will not add to their income by purchasing their work because abortion is so hideous and has damaged all societies dreadfully.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11357441841842897534 jasoncpetty

    It’s like distinguishing between good and bad works. Love the good, hate the bad. Always love the sinner. Seems very simple to me. I mean, I see where you’re coming from, but it’s a rather basic moral dilemma.But Chimakuni’s right in that we can’t necessarily pay someone for a good work when they might use those funds for ill.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11484509700642430451 Theocoid

    Timothy, I think you’ve been misinformed concerning the “evangelical slant” of her book. The books are steeped in Sacred Tradition and pull from many extra-canonical sources (including the “Protoevangelion of James,” which is hardly what I would call evangelical).I don’t recall her saying anything about abortion, just about homosexuality and even that, she admitted, had to do with acceptance of her son. Given that writing this novel has been part of a growth process in her faith, I would expect that she will come to a greater understanding of the Church’s teaching, which doesn’t condemn people with same-sex inclinations, but condemns intrinsically sinful acts that some of those people may commit. If this is about the book, her personal struggle with doctrine is only relevant inasmuch as it is reflected in the work. I would argue that it is reflected there, and reflected in a way that addresses false, hasty judgement rather than the rightness or wrongness of the doctrine. My sense is that compassion was what concerned her more than anything.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00277922447843163814 fried chicken strips

    Father, you and John Martin did a wonderful job explaining this in Challenging Catholics. On pages 67-68, the discussion turned to papal infallibility. The difference here and the difference there was between what John Martin called “Aristotelian theology” and “by their fruits you will know them.” Can the faithful rely on a human person to tell the truth, and know he is telling the truth? Can Anne Rice produce works of beauty and is that beauty her intent? I say yes and yes. As you wrote in your book, it is best if those who speak the truth live the truth, but, I’ll add, the inspiration of the Truth permits us frail shallow creatures to speak the truth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16141414361291882691 Augustine

    Nikos Kazantzakis was excommunicated by the Greek Orthodox Church, yet he wrote one of the most beautiful novels based on St. Francis’ life after that.In Rice’s case, although I haven’t read any of her novels, old or new, it seems to me that she’s struggling with some truths of the Faith. If this is so, nobody is required to not struggle with any part of the Faith to become an adherent.I trust that the same Person Who called her to be a faithful daughter of the Church will help her in her struggles and lead her ever closer to Him, Truth Himself, Jesus Christ.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09829257111579899926 Jonathan

    When choosing a novel, I am really not much interested in knowing whether the author can pass some sort of doctrinal litmus test. Even less, whether their life measures up to some notion of apparent righteousness. Same goes for Anne Rice’s biographical novels about Jesus: I’ll choose to read them, if and when I do, regardless of whether she has gotten herself excommunicated because of something she said or something she did. The question I would be most interested in having Anne Rice answer in an interview, would be: “When writing about a subject like Jesus, how much are you aware of needing to confine your story to certain boundaries out of a sense of respect for what already out there as holy scripture and sacred tradition: in other words, do you feel that you need to write piously? And, how much does it matter to you that you yourself remain a believer? For example, could you see yourself writing with the same degree of freedom as you did with “Out of Egypt,” about the hidden years of the Prophet Mohammad? What about some real historical figure about whom little is known, like Joan of Arc, or King Edmund the martyr? Is the ‘piety’ impulse a help or hindrance to the artistic impulse in you?”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07637491041886997999 MAB

    I have not read Rice’s novel. But, this reminds me of the same questions which arose when Mel Gibson produced and directed “The Passion of the Christ.” I have seen that, and I bought the DVD. It is a treasure!Mel Gibson and his family, I believe, are members of a schismatic traditionalist religious group not in full communion with the Pope. His unfortunate religious affiliation did not in any way detract from the beauty and truth of the film.So, I think that we should enjoy and encourage creations which are true and beautiful. And we can pray for the creators!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15628137193525409363 Robert

    I feel we must avoid falling into an unpleasant neo-puritanism. I’m sure we can take something from the parable of the wheat and the tares. Good & bad co-inhere in all of us. I agree entirely about the Power & the Glory. Gill’s work in Westminster Cathedral inpires in spite of any peccadilloes he may, or may not, have had. The novels of McLaurin are very good & orthodox and they deal with how God can use the compromised and weak, as do the novels of Graham Greene. It is the Bishop of San Fernando & the soldier in Mortal Sins who are the heroes of the gospel in those novels. Some people struggle with the faith. They are not more distant from god because of it? The church is for all and we are all discovering truth.Incidentally, Fr Dwight, do you remember we communicated by email when you were in England. Have you read Aidan Nichols new book, Realm?Robert Tickle

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02593623229090447427 Coletta

    Can the depravity or sinfulness of a person’s life or opinions be detrimental to their art?As someone who has seen the level of the depravity in the older writings of Anne Rice and have heard that the older writings are still something she sells I would/ and do avoid her current writing. There are too many wonderful things to read.In Father Amorth’s books about his work as an exorcist he says that even if a family member who had been involved in the occult seems to be converted, it is best to not fully trust them. I see no reason to trust my heart and soul to someone who wrote “Queen of the Damned” and still sells it. I see every reason to avoid her writings. I do believe God may have converted her and wish her every good. She needs to find a different line of work.If she has truly had a conversion she should be grieving over some of the awful things in her older writings and though she cannot remove them from circulation, in conscience she would not continue to sell her pornography.I also think there may be a difference with a painter since each piece of art doesn’t come with the spiritual charge that words and stories do carry.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08110491371985845560 kentuckyliz

    Book burning?! Fr D, you really don’t trust people’s prudence and the work of the Holy Spirit, to that degree? OMG.I recently re-read “The Gifts of the Jews” by Thomas Cahill. There’s things in there with which I don’t agree, however, overall it’s a good book, and it was the basis for an essay for an Old Testament class, “How has the OT affected history?”


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