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Coleridge: Scorsese’s Jesus film, the Erasmian Quixote, and ecstatic poetry

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

Contemporary Art

Mark K. Spencer reviews Beautiful Ugliness: Christianity, Modernity, and the Arts by Mark William Roche (Law & Liberty), and Joseph Pearce praises the realism of Igor Babailov and Albrecht Behmel (The Imaginative Conservative).

David Mills responds to Ann Schmalstieg Barrett’s 2023 painting of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Commonweal), Hannah Rose Thomas’s book Tears of Gold: Portraits of Yazidi, Rohingya, and Nigerian Women has been published by Plough, and the Lanecia Rouse Tinsley Gallery at Holy Family HTX Episcopal Church in Houston recently showed a “poetic ode to epiphany” by Catherine Martinez.

Morgan Meis appreciates the “full embodied experience of being” in the work of Robert Irwin (Slant Books). Brice Marden’s last works have the “undercurrent of chthonic realms and unfixed time found in paleolithic cave painting” (Two Coats of Paint).

The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has an exhibition on Russian Cosmism, “an early-twentieth-century philosophical movement that sought humanity’s salvation through technology, conquering death, and exploring outer space.” Daniel Larkin reviews Spiritual Moderns: Twentieth-Century American Artists and Religion by Erika Doss (Hyperallergic).

An icon of Josef Stalin meeting St. Matrona of Moscow was vandalized in Tbilisi, Georgia, prompting protests and the icon’s removal from the Holy Trinity Cathedral (Al Jazeera and BBC). Anna Ballan explores Jules Bastien-Lepage’s 1879 portrait of Joan of Arc, and her artistic legacy (Commonweal).

Classic Art

On March 29, “The Sacred Arts: Preaching the Gospel Without Words” will feature lectures on sacred art, iconography, architecture, and music from Father Maximos Constas and Jonathan Pageau (Patristic Nectar). Jonathan Jones reviews The Book of Kells Experience in Dublin (The Guardian), and Peter Brown reviews Africa and Byzantium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (The New York Review).

In Apollo, read about a 15th-century processional fan from an Ethiopian mountain monastery, a late medieval south German carved boxwood prayer nut, and the 15th-century prayer book of Catherine of Cleves.

Seventeenth-century paintings of Lot and Moses are newly on public display in England, and a High Renaissance Nativity is now on view in Belfast (Catholic Herald).

The U.K. government has temporarily barred the export of a rare Romanesque sculpture of the Deposition from the Cross, carved from a seven-inch piece of walrus tusk (Artnet). Three American museums have been accused of hiding the theft of stained-glass windows depicting the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (ARTNews).


In Theopolis, Philip Bess presents two countercultural Christian humanist academic case studies in urban planning, and Tim Gorringe responds. Nicholas Boys Smith writes that cities should be sacred (UnHerd).

Owen Hatherley seeks a way past the “false choice” between a classicism and a modernism that are both “equally committed to the same polluting, carbon-intensive construction technologies and global capital flows” (Aeon). Witold Rybczynski traces the rise and fall of the Shingle Style (The Hedgehog Review). Peter Pennoyer has won the 2024 Driehaus Prize in architecture (Notre Dame News).

London’s Bevis Marks Synagogue, open since 1701, may be overshadowed by new tall buildings (Jewish News). A new temple to the Hindu god Ram has been consecrated in Ayodhya, India, on the site where a mosque stood from 1528 to 1992 (Al Jazeera and The Hindu). Hundreds of mosques in China have had their domes and minarets removed in the name of “Sinicization” (Made in China Journal).

Contemporary Fiction

Francis Spufford’s underappreciated Light Perpetual is “saturated with religious significance” (Comment). In Jon Fosse’s Septology, “belief is completely private and beyond reason” (The Paris Review). Cormac McCarthy’s novels are not about pointless violence, but about hope and a search for meaning (Southwest Review).

R.F. Kuang’s Babel engages with challenges of translation, migration, and empire (Plough), and Bonnie Garmus’s Lessons in Chemistry gives voice to women and the marginalized (Christ and Pop Culture).

Jane Clark Scharl’s Rabelaisian Sonnez Les Matines enters the world of Carnival and fleshly excess (The European Conservative). Jeffrey Burnop interviews Lee Oser about his satire Old Enemies (The Montréal Review). The epigraph of Trevor Cribben Merrill’s campus novel Minor Indignities reminds the reader that “Humiliation is the way to humility” (The Imaginative Conservative).

Tara Isabella Burton’s Here in Avalon concerns an underworld cabaret troupe that might also be a dangerous cult (CrimeReads).

Paul Lynch’s Booker Prize-winning Prophet Song gives a picture of post-Christian Ireland (First Things) and Peco Gaskovski’s Exogenesis is set in a not-too-distant transhumanist dystopia (The Imaginative Conservative). Jonathan Russell Clark takes stock of the shortcomings of the literary multiverse (Esquire), and Greg Jackson’s The Dimensions of a Cave shows the limits of simulated reality (The Baffler).

Classic Fiction

Lee Oser places the “Erasmian” Don Quixote at the head of the Catholic novel tradition (Religion & Liberty). For the Rev. James Woodforde (1740-1803), author of The Diary of A Country Parson, “religion was like the frost: an obvious and unexceptional part of life” (UnHerd). Dostoevsky’s critique of scientism in Notes from the Underground anticipates today’s attacks on free will (Law & Liberty).

Jason Christian sees George Orwell as a “failed saint” (Los Angeles Review of Books), and Joseph Pearce credits Oscar Wilde with using masks to reveal the truth (The Imaginative Conservative).

Katy Carl reviews Flannery O’Connor’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Work in Progress, by Jessica Hooten Wilson (Current), and Henry T. Edmondson III reviews Understanding The Hillbilly Thomist: The Philosophical Foundations of Flannery O’Connor’s Narrative Art by Fr. Damian Ference (The University Bookman).

Excerpts from Mark Noll’s new book, C.S. Lewis in America: Readings and Reception, 1935-1947, are in Ad Fontes and Current. The introduction to Maisie Ward’s Return to Chesterton is in The Imaginative Conservative.


In 1785, the first English translation of the Bhagavad Gita, a “classic of Indian spirituality, which is much concerned with liberation,” found a receptive Christian audience (The Spectator). Dwight A. Lindley III takes lessons in forgiveness from Homer (Church Life Journal), and Ilya Kaminsky writes about reading Dante in wartime Ukraine (Asymptote).

Ishion Hutchinson responds to the “wild butchery” of World War I (Commonweal), Yehuda Fogel turns to Rilke after the deaths of his grandparents (Tablet), and Sarah Reardon appreciates Christina Rossetti’s “eyes of hope” (Voegelin View). Confronted with a diagnosis of AIDS, John Finlay turned to Thomas Aquinas before his death (Church Life Journal).

Poetry can be a channel for the ecstatic (Commonweal), or for the permanent things (Voegelin View). Christian Wiman’s Wheaton College lecture, “The Art of Faith, the Faith of Art,” is online (YouTube). The older and wiser Darwin was correct to urge the regular reading of poetry (The Imaginative Conservative). Timothy E.G. Bartel has published The Poets and the Fathers: Theology and Poetry from Gregory Nazianzus to Scott Cairns (Wipf and Stock).


Revisiting The Lord of the Rings, Thomas M. Ward finds the ambiguity of Peter Jackson’s heroes to be lacking by comparison with Tolkien’s original vision of goodness (Plough). Wildcat, the Flannery O’Connor biopic, places viewers “in the profound and vulnerable dream state of the writer utterly committed to their craft; that in-between time that Frank Kermode calls aevum—the time of the angels” (Church Life Journal).

Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming film about Jesus is meant to “take away the negative onus of what has been associated with organized religion” (Los Angeles Times). In Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, Niela Orr finds love, care, family, and shared memory (The Paris Review). James K.A. Smith finds Killers taking up “Augustine’s burden,” that is, “how to help the seeker see God’s love incarnate in Christ when the smokescreen of fraudulent Christianity blocks out the light” (Image).

While Barbie and Poor Things are haunted by Frankenstein (Modern Age), Ferrari is haunted by the death drive and male melancholy (The Nation). Despite itself, Maestro prompts questions about the ends of art (The Imaginative Conservative). Reflecting on Maestro and on Werner Herzog’s new memoir, Liel Leibovitz concludes that “art needs faith” (First Things). The characters in The Curse are suspended between Judaism and an unforgiving secular morality (Tablet).

The Color Purple gestures toward communion (The Nation) and has a sense of mystery and wonder (The New Yorker). Freud’s Last Session confronts Freud with C.S. Lewis (The New York Times), and The Book of Clarence tells the story of the 13th apostle (Mockingbird).

Thomas V. Mirus (Catholic Culture) and Victoria Emily Jones (Part 1 and Part 2 at Art & Theology) offer best-of-2023 lists. Film and Faith: Modern Cinema and the Struggle to Believe is out now from Rowman & Littlefield.


George Harrison rejected his mother’s Catholicism but kept a “longing for some kind of sanctity” (The Washington Free Beacon). With The Troublemaker in 1976, Willie Nelson “found a way to get a record full of Baptist hymns” onto both the pop and country charts (Law & Liberty). Peter Bast reports on the “sustained trancelike frenzy” of a Taylor Swift concert (Dappled Things), while Laura van der Linden reflects on Swift’s feminisms (Public Discourse). Fugue State Films is crowdfunding a film on Olivier Messiaen.


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