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Coleridge: Dune’s Manichaeanism, Pesellino’s Renaissance, and Dickens’ Sentimentality

Coleridge is a monthly digest of noteworthy items in theology and the arts.


Fugue State Films is raising money for Lighten Our Darkness, a film about choral Evensong. John Ahern critiques both eclecticism (Theopolis) and alienation (The Lamp) in music. Harry Rose unpacks Verdi’s complicated relationship with Catholicism in La forza del destino (Commonweal).

Josh Rodriguez interviews Julian Davis Reid about “Black music as cross-cultural medicine for the soul” (The Big Picture), Michael Buhler has a Lenten reflection on Nina Simone’s 1965 “Sinnerman” (Voegelin View), and Dave Holmes interviews Scott Stapp about the resurgence of his rock band, Creed (Esquire).

Tyler Cowen interviews Masaaki Suzuki, whose Bach Collegium Japan regularly offers 30 performances of the St. Matthew Passion each Holy Week (Conversations with Tyler), Charles T. Downey reviews The Thirteen’s performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor (Washington Classical Review), and Jennifer Voster appreciates Fanny Mendelssohn’s long-lost Easter Sonata (Commonweal).

Kate Quiñones previews Frank La Rocca’s new Requiem for the Forgotten (Catholic News Agency), James Davy reviews Pax Aeterna, a collaboration between pianist Tom Donald and the Benedictine monks of Pluscarden Abbey (Catholic Herald), and Joseph Pearce interviews composer Michael Kurek (The Imaginative Conservative).


Jaspreet Singh Boparai reviews Werner Herzog’s memoir: “Traveling on foot has a kind of spiritual significance for him that he has never been able fully to explain” (Quillette).

Poor Things is an unwitting argument for the Victorian era, at least as a preferable alternative to whatever carved-up, drugged-out techno-hellscape awaits us” (Rejoice Evermore). “Luis Buñuel, raised Catholic in an intensely God-fearing part of Spain, was endlessly fascinated by the ‘voluptuous’ powers of sinful sex” (4Columns).

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune duology offers an anti-heroic anti-myth (U.S. Catholic), echoes of the original Manichaean synthesis (The American Conservative), a dilemma between despotism and fanaticism (The New York Times), a sterile, desacralized cosmos (Tablet), figures of fatherly love (Mockingbird), and lessons in human dignity, prudence, and moderation (Law & Liberty).

Michael Lockshin’s adaptation of The Master and Margarita has met with both popular success and official denunciation (Literary Hub). Why are there so many nuns in horror movies? asks Carino Hodder (The Lamp).

Nick Ripatrazone introduces Ric Burns’s new two-part documentary, Dante (Humanities). Cabrini, Alejandro Monteverde’s biopic of the missionary saint, secularizes its subject (Catholic Culture) and mutes her spirituality (National Review). Protestant-Catholic conflict shapes the background of Shōgun (Slate).

Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon contrasts sacred and secular approaches to death (The Point). Scorsese is working on a Jesus film (The Film Stage) and a docudrama about eight saints (Variety). Christian Barnard identifies several aspects of the brilliance of Terrence Malick (The Big Picture), who is working on a Jesus film of his own (The Film Stage).


Andrew Cusack praises Immanuel on the Green in New Castle, Delaware, “the most beautifully situated colonial church in America.” James Stevens Curl reviews An Architectural History of the Church of Ireland (The Critic), and Clive Aslet reviews Gavin Stamp’s history of interwar British architecture (Engelsberg Ideas).

Benjamin Riley reviews The History of England’s Cathedrals by Nicholas Orme (The Wall Street Journal). William Newton (The Spectator) reflects on the almost-finished restoration of Notre Dame de Paris, which has recently received a new spire and golden rooster (Smithsonian Magazine). In Barcelona, Sagrada Familia will be finished in 2026 (CNN).

Martin C. Pedersen interviews Peter Pennoyer, winner of the 2024 Driehaus Prize, otherwise ignored by the architectural press (Common Edge), Catesby Leigh advocates the rebuilding of Penn Station (Claremont Review of Books), and David Schaengold calls for architectural heroism (Compact).

Shawn Tribe tours Santa Maria Novella in Florence (Liturgical Arts Journal), and Jamie McGregor Smith has a new photo book of brutalist churches in Europe (The Guardian).

Classic Poetry

The last lines of Tu Fu (712-70) are “rich with resignation, though still exquisitely Taoist/Ch’an in their apprehension of the oceanic existence-fabric” (Poetry Foundation). Lynda Kong approaches the sacred through the poetry of Wang Wei (699-759), T.S. Eliot, Geoffrey Hill, and John Burnside (Mockingbird). Baukje van den Berg investigates what Homer meant to the Byzantines (Antigone).

Edward Howells reviews The Spring that Feeds the Torrent: Poems by St. John of the Cross, translated by Rhina P. Espaillat (Ad Fontes). Mark Edmundson uses Milton’s Satan to interpret the godlike powers of AI (First Things), and Andrew Klavan holds up King Lear and The Tempest against the transhumanist temptation (City Journal). Phil Christman interviews Alan Jacobs about W.H. Auden’s Shield of Achilles (The Tourist).

Contemporary Poetry

In Somaliland, poetry is politically and socially consequential (Noēma). Samuel Hazo offers a three-part argument for the relevance of poetry to modern life (Genealogies of Modernity).

Brad East writes that “Of apophasis in all its varieties, Christian Wiman is a poet without living peer” (Comment), and Nick Ripatrazone praises the wit and depth of Maryann Corbett’s The O in the Air (Catholic Herald).

Ben Palpant’s new series of interviews with poets begins with Luci Shaw and Scott Cairns (Rabbit Room Poetry). James Matthew Wilson rebuts Matthew Walther’s claim that poetry is dead (The European Conservative) and is interviewed by Kelsey Marie Bowse about his work (The University Bookman).

Classic Fiction

Jonathan Geltner places Thoreau’s Easter sermon in context (Romance and Apocalypse), David Mikics considers the prophetic Emerson (Tablet), Sarah Clark critiques the Transcendentalist response to death (Fare Forward), and Ian Olson offers qualified approval to Thoreau’s attack on Christian orthodoxy (Plough).

Is Dickens too sentimental? Robert Wyllie attacks (The Lamp), and Michael Warren Davis defends (Theologoumenalia). The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896) portrays Catholic ecclesiology from the outside (Church Life Journal), and Gary Saul Morson introduces a new graphic novel of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor (Plough).

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson assembles and analyzes the clues in the matter of Agatha Christie’s faith (Mockingbird), and Timothy Larsen tells the story of H.G. Wells’s conversion (Current). Sam Woodward traces the influence of H.P. Lovecraft’s “cosmic indifferentism” (Aeon); despite his atheism and misanthropy, Lovecraft had inadvertent Christian impulses (Voegelin View).

Iris Murdoch came to fiction via existentialist philosophy (The American Scholar); Sigrid Undset’s The Wild Orchid portrays the “spiritual confusion of early 20th-century Europe (The Imaginative Conservative). In Ulysses, “Life might not be eternal but it can be wonderfully agreeable as long as it lasts …. the lucky denizens of the 20th-century world are free to enjoy an innocence that has been denied mankind since the Biblical Fall” (Claremont Review of Books).

Both Mircea Eliade (The Imaginative Conservative) and René Girard (Touchstone) ground literature in the metaphysical. Anthony Burgess’s The Wanting Seed sees “rationalistic utilitarianism as the logical development of the Pelagian heresy” (First Things), and Sophia Belloncle makes a Christological reading of The Once and Future King (Voegelin View).

The medieval works that fascinated Tolkien the philologist encourage “the displacement of our typical worldly desires toward an often-slippery love of God” (Church Life Journal). Sally Thomas (Religion & Liberty Online) and Joshua Hren (Dappled Things) review Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage?’: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Work in Progress, by Jessica Hooten Wilson, and Chuck Chalberg reviews Understanding the Hillbilly Thomist: The Philosophical Foundations of Flannery O’Connor’s Narrative Art, by Father Damian Ference (The Imaginative Conservative).

Contemporary Fiction

In Jane Clark Scharl’s murder mystery Sonnez Les Matines, Loyola, Calvin, and Rabelais try to reconcile “the reality of a redemptive God, a Word made flesh, with the utter alienation of the material world” (Religion & Liberty Online). Katy Carl’s Fragile Objects appropriates Virginia Woolf’s methods and insights for a fuller vision of beauty (National Catholic Register).

Daniele Mencarelli’s The House of Gazes “is a profusely optimistic novel that will challenge even the most determined nihilist” (RealClearBooks). The characters in Mathias Énard’s The Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers’ Guild experience metempsychosis, as their souls transmigrate at death into new humans or animals (The Nation). In Tara Isabella Burton’s Here in Avalon, as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Fairie’s amoral realm beyond good and evil doesn’t afford the chance of being good” (First Things).

Patrick Deneen limns the Reagan-era existential angst of Don DeLillo’s White Noise (Sacred and Profane Love); DeLillo’s work has a “theological warmth,” proving the inadequacy of secular axioms (N+1 Magazine).

Nick Ripatrazone considers Alexander Sammartino’s debut novel Last Acts in light of Pietro di Donato’s classic Christ in Concrete (The Bulwark). T.M. Doran’s “Orwellian noir” Seeing Red is concerned with human dignity and the value of every human life (Catholic World Report).

Blake Butler’s Molly “seems haunted by God, even though nobody in it is obviously a practicing or believing Christian” (First Things). Jamie Quatro’s characters do things like “leave their Presbyterian congregations to join nature-worship cults with sexual initiation rites” (The Paris Review).

Marilynne Robinson’s Reading Genesis is reviewed in The Guardian, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Telegraph, Plough, Fare Forward, and Marginalia Review of Books. Robinson is interviewed on The Ezra Klein Show, and her “five best books on faith” include the Theologica Germanica and John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments (The Wall Street Journal).

Classic Art

In London, the small but precious Francesco Pesellino exhibition highlights David and Goliath (The Guardian), St. Mamas as a sign of 15th-century Christian unity (Church Times), the journey of King Melchior to the Holy Land (The Wall Street Journal), and the artist’s overall excellence and mastery (Apollo).

Jeff Reimer reviews Jeannie Marshall’s non-Christian book on the Sistine Chapel (Commonweal), while Wayne Kalayjian’s book on the dome of St. Peter’s is reviewed by Cammy Brothers (The Wall Street Journal) and Ingrid Rowland (The American Scholar). Sarah Tillard reflects on Paul Delaroche’s 1833 depiction of the beheading of Lady Jane Grey, Protestant martyr (Voegelin View).

Now on view: Jan van Eyck’s freshly restored Madonna of Chancellor Rolin at the Louvre, Sacred Presence: Virgin of Kazan in Massachusetts, and a 15th-century limewood sculpture of Jesse in Cleveland.

Painter Gwen John turned to God after breaking up with Rodin (The University Bookman), and sculptor Elisabeth Frink wanted to “do away with the bambino” in the name of the human spirit (Catholic Herald). Megan Buskey reviews the New York retrospective of renowned Ukrainian artist Maria Prymachenko (Commonweal).

In the midst of grief, Lanta Davis traveled to Station Island, Ireland, to see Harry Clarke’s stained-glass windows there (Plough). Hermione Eyre praises Pop artist Joe Tilson’s window in the 15th-century gothic Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland (Apollo).

William Newton concludes that “in his imperfect, weird way, Dalí was trying to understand something that is perfect, something that represents pure love, something so deeply beautiful in itself, mere created beings cannot fully grasp it” (The Spectator).

Contemporary Art

Margaret Adams Parker introduces her letterpress book of Saint Francis’s Canticle of the Creatures (Vita Poetica), and Gareth Harris interviews Anselm Kiefer about his new exhibition Fallen Angels (The Art Newspaper). In ArtWay, Scott Rayl appreciates an Annunciation panel by Nigerian carver Lamidi O. Fakeye, and Anikó Ouweneel gives the spiritual background of Alevi Muslim artist Güler Ates.

John P. Burgess explores the iconography of Fr. Zinon (Orthodox Arts Journal), and Hilary White explains the iconographic prototype (The Sacred Images Project). Reflections on sacred art are offered by David Clayton, Margarita Mooney Clayton, and Roseanne T. Sullivan.

Louise Giovanelli is now an atheist, but her painting remains steeped in religion (The New York Times). Amy Mantravadi reconsiders Edwina Sandys’s 1984 sculpture Christa at St. John the Divine (Sub-Creations). Catherine Opie’s photographs take a critical view of the Vatican (ARTNews and Financial Times).

Protests have greeted Martin Jennings’s Jane Austen statue at Winchester Cathedral (The Guardian), Shazia Sikander’s Witness at the University of Houston (Hyperallergic), and Andrea Saltini’s sexually explicit exhibition at Sant’Ignazio in Carpi (Daily Compass and Barron’s). Joshua Katz objects to the removal of Alexander Stoddart’s 2001 John Witherspoon monument at Princeton (Law & Liberty), and Christopher R. Altieri objects to the Vatican’s continued patronage of Marko Rupnik (Catholic World Report).


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