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Coleridge: Christina Rossetti’s Anglo-Catholicism, Chichester’s new workshop for liturgical art, and Cormac McCarthy’s contemptus mundi

Coleridge is a monthly digest of significant developments in theology and the arts.


In “Spiritual Renewal and Modern Choral Music,” Michael De Sapio praises the work of American composer Morten Lauridsen in comparison with the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (The Imaginative Conservative). The ensemble Cappella Romana has released Arvo Pärt: Odes of Repentance, presented as an Orthodox Service of Supplication (Cappella Records).

Richard Morrison profiles John Rutter, the most-performed “Christmas composer” in the world, who says, “When I am setting a religious text I am profoundly religious. When I go back into everyday life, however, I pass into a slightly more sceptical state” (The Times).

Robert C. Reilly endorses the music of Jean Sibelius, who wrote that “composition is brought to life by means of the Logos, the divine in art. That is the only thing that really has significance” (The Imaginative Conservative).

Time’s Echo: The Second World War, the Holocaust, and the Music of Remembrance considers compositions by Benjamin Britten, Arnold Schoenberg, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Richard Strauss (The Wall Street Journal).

Reviewing a biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Allen C. Guelzo concludes that natural law allows the composer’s music to speak to both universal values and English national particularity (Claremont Review of Books).

Milton Mermikides explores Bach’s interest in numerology and puzzles (Aeon), Robert P. Imbelli finds Trinitarian rhythms of grace, love, and communion in Bach’s The Art of Fugue (First Things), and Anthony Esolen praises Bach’s motet version of Johann Frank’s hymn, “Jesus, Priceless Treasure” (Word and Song). Paul Riley outlines the work of Michael Pretorius (1571?-1621), “unofficial guardian of the Lutheran musical conscience” (Classical Music).

Sheehan Quirke introduces Thomas Tallis’s Nine Tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter (The Cultural Tutor). The Tallis Scholars have released a recording of the Missa Cantate by English Renaissance composer John Sheppard (Gimell). Andrew Riley reports on a research project that aims to connect and unify medieval plainchant databases around the world (Medievalists.net).

Steve Moffatt calls the recording of William Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices by the Gesualdo Six a “gem” (Limelight), and Fabrice Fitch critiques the Orlando Consort’s recording of Guillaume de Machaut’s The Fount of Grace (Gramophone).

Secular Sabbath is a version of Sunday worship promoted by Diplo, the Grammy-winning DJ who was raised as an Episcopalian and who says of Jesus, “He was a perfect person. He was kind. His ambition was to be the best person you could be” (The Free Press).


Jonathan Pageau encapsulates the story of contemporary art as a “desperate search for a proper means of participation in a desacralized world. … Contemporary art has to confront alienation, power dynamics, and the minimization of, yet yearning for, ritual, participation, and community” (The Symbolic World). On October 24, four artists will participate in a Zoom panel on “The Work of the Hands: The Ordinary and Divine in Contemporary Art” (Collegium Institute).

What is the role of the Christian artist in society? In an interview, artist Betty Spackman states that “one of artists’ main gifts to culture is to have reckless courage. … We often get rejected from the very places in which we need to have a sense of belonging. And yet, we are to be obedient” (Radix Magazine). Katy Carl implores Christian artists to jettison the “myth of the art monster” and embed themselves in healthy communities, building “bohemia in the suburbs” (Ekstasis). Apropos of the art commune that was home to David Jones and Eric Gill, Alexander Adams reflects on the strengths and weaknesses of the separatist strategy he dubs the “Benedictine Option” (Alexander Adams).

Amit Majmudar has a prophetic warning: “Stop Looking at Yourself: On the Dangers of Mirrors and Selfies” (Marginalia Review of Books). James Stevens Curl writes that “the totalitarian trend in Modernism demands acknowledgement” (The Critic). Anticipating Ridley Scott’s forthcoming film, Aidan Harte thinks about portraits of Napoleon by Ingres, Gros, and Delaroche (Law & Liberty).

Martin Bailey tells the story of a 16th-century Flemish painting that became a holy icon of Ethiopian emperors (The Art Newspaper). Another sacred tablet seized by British troops in 1868 has been returned to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (The Art Newspaper).

David Clayton compares three objects on view at the National Gallery: a 13th-century Italo-Byzantine icon of St. Francis, the saint’s woolen habit, and a 1953 painting on sackcloth by Alberto Burri (The Way of Beauty).

Acts of Faith: Religion and the American West is on view in New York (New-York Historical Society). Seventy-five essays by Mary Elizabeth Podles on art and Christianity have been collected into a new book (Touchstone).

Chichester Cathedral has established a new “profoundly ecumenical” Workshop for Liturgical Art, open to Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox alike, according to encouraging reports in The Way of Beauty and the Orthodox Arts Journal.

Introducing The Shape of the Artistic Mind, a new book by Bradley T. Elliott, OP. Margarita Mooney Clayton explores the idea of “art as a virtuous participation in God’s governance. For Elliott, both art and moral virtue are ways that humans imitate God” (The Public Discourse). Her book, The Wounds of Beauty: Seven Dialogues on Art and Education, is reviewed by Elizabeth Bittner: “beauty is not superfluous to living a good life, it is essential to it” (The University Bookman). Robert Royal asks whether beauty will save the world (The Catholic Thing).


In view of the public, shared nature of buildings, Samuel Hughes advocates for the virtue of agreeability in architecture. Underlying the popularity of “traditionalism,” he believes, is a desire for “easy” architecture (Works in Progress).

After historical Warsaw was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II, Poland made heroic postwar efforts to rebuild the city, guided in part by the 18th-century paintings of Bernardo Bellotto (Wrong Side of History). New American synagogues from the same postwar era show a spirit of progress, optimism, and integration (The Wall Street Journal).

Tour the Renaissance Church of San Zaccaria in Venice, the modern Venetian Gothic Immaculate Conception Church in New Orleans, the Sicilian Baroque Chiesa di Santa Caterina in Palermo, the Middle Byzantine Church of Hosios Loukas in Greece, the modern French Renaissance Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, and the Brutalist St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, in the Liturgical Arts Journal and New Liturgical Movement.

Film and TV

Regarding the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, Armin Rosen writes that “The light in Tarkovsky comes from the possibility that the sublime terror of a higher power can eventually shock us out of the frivolity and delusions that rule us. His movies portray faith as a path out of unreason” (First Things). According to Andrew Petiprin, Tarkovsky shows that “Truth is presented as a more valuable commodity by its elusiveness. Revelation is proposed better by the complexity of the image than by the clarity of the syllogism” (Catholic World Report).

In preparing to direct Wildcat, his new Flannery O’Connor biopic, Ethan Hawke struggled with questions of race and racism (Variety). Jessica Hooten Wilson questions whether the film will do justice to O’Connor (Washington Examiner). Hawke and his daughter Maya, who plays O’Connor in the film, sat for an interview with Bishop Robert Barron (Word on Fire).

Barbara Castle elucidates the theme of redemption in Oppenheimer (Front Porch Republic), C.W. Howell finds an Augustinian probing of selfhood in the show Severance (Plough), and in the new Criterion edition of Pixar’s 2008 film Wall-E, Timothy Lawrence discerns a Christian cosmos that “gets love right” (Anselm Society).

On a visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, Martin Scorsese was deeply moved by the Christ Pantocrator icon. He also intends to film an adaptation of Marilynne Robinson’s novel Home (Time). Brett McCracken lists seven edifying films to watch this fall (The Gospel Coalition).


Tessa Carman surveys Christina Rossetti’s poetry in light of her Anglo-Catholic faith: “She demonstrates that a life of ordered, faithful loves, undergirded by the conviction that every human soul is made for beauty, is no stranger to making great art” (Religion & Liberty).

Christian Wiman recommends Michael Edwards’s book The Bible and Poetry “for those literate Christians out there who often find themselves caught between the clarity of their call and the obscurity of its course, and who find themselves alternately drawn to and repelled by the Bible” (Commonweal).

Julia Hejduk presents evidence that ancient Greek and Roman poets were reading Genesis (Aeon), and Rowan Williams reviews Emily Wilson’s Iliad: “The confusion between humanity and deity, the identification of self-interest with the eternal order of things, is the root of murderous and uncontrollable strife” (The New Statesman). Peter Ramey discusses the Christian imagination in Beowulf (Mars Hill Audio).

Wallace Stevens’s poem “Sunday Morning,” published 100 years ago, attempts to replace a lost Christian faith with sensuous pagan hedonism (The Wall Street Journal). Algis Valiunas traces T.S. Eliot’s trajectory from The Waste Land to Four Quartets: “The objective always remains saintliness, however impossible it may appear” (Claremont Review of Books).

Eric Potter reviews Christian Poetry in America Since 1940 (Front Porch Republic), and Canadian Catholic poet Maya Clubine has won the Vallum Chapbook Award (The Catholic Register). James Matthew Wilson offers reasons for hope about the state of poetry (Academic Questions) and reviews Dana Gioia’s new collection, Meet Me at the Lighthouse (First Things).

Contemporary Fiction

Joshua Hren offers a Dantean interpretation of Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee’s new novel, The Pole (Church Life Journal), while Matthew Gasda reads the same book in terms of the contest between rationality and passion for control over the human soul (RealClearBooks).

Reviewing Katy Carl’s Fragile Objects, Mary Grace Mangano writes that “true change—especially when it comes to transforming a life—is a fragile thing” (America), and Joan Bauer writes that “Fragile Objects quietly punctures the ideals—or, rather, the idols—that can leave young people foundering in loneliness and division” (Psaltery & Lyre).

Jason Baxter places Cormac McCarthy’s final two novels, The Passenger and Stella Maris, in the medieval literary genre of the contemptus mundi (“how to develop a visceral disdain for the world”; Christianity Today), while for Valerie Stivers, these books contain both “the eternal and immutable presence of evil, savagery, and chaos within the human heart” and “light and goodness in the form of sexual and reproductive virtue” (First Things).

Stivers also praises Mary Gaitskill’s “visit to hell” in The Devil’s Treasure: “Few people have written as well about broken, dystopian America, both urban and suburban … Her form of radical truth-telling recovers her characters’ shattered dignity” (Compact).

The first chapter of Elizabeth Goudge’s biography of St. Francis is online at Plough, and Joseph Pearce enumerates a “dazzling dozen” of spiritually rewarding contemporary novels (The Imaginative Conservative).

Jessie van Eerden reviews David James Duncan’s Sun House, whose “spotlight shines brightest on the in-betweens and exceptions in religious tradition, the cracks” (Commonweal), and Peter Leithart writes about time and allegory in Eugene Vodolazkin’s A History of the Island (First Things).

Classic Fiction

Blake Smith argues that Civil War historian Shelby Foote, who was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, was “one of the greatest Jewish American writers” (Tablet), and Maxim D. Shrayer considers questions of Jewish identity, conversion, and interfaith marriage in Vladimir Nabokov (Tablet).

Caroline McCoy explores the biography of Emma Jackson, a Black woman who worked as Flannery O’Connor’s caretaker (The American Scholar), Sophia Belloncle considers the Book of Job, Calvinism, and the problem of suffering in Moby-Dick (Voegelin View), and James E. Hartley reviews Jessica Hooten Wilson’s Reading for the Love of God: How to Read as a Spiritual Practice (The University Bookman).

Fifty years after J.R.R. Tolkien’s death, his work’s relationship to the contemporary world is elaborated by Sebastian Milbank (The Critic) and Josh Allan (Quillette). Ross Douthat defends Tolkien’s moral complexity, subtlety, and realism against his critics (The New York Times), and Holly Ordway reports from Oxford on the state of Tolkien scholarship (Word on Fire).

Michael Oppizzi reviews a three-volume, 1,128-page biography of C.S. Lewis (Ad Fontes), and Jem Bloomfield introduces his new book, Paths in the Snow: A Literary Journey through “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (Quite Irregular).


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