Cathedrals of Bone: The Role of the Body in Contemporary Catholic Literature

Cathedrals of Bone: The Role of the Body in Contemporary Catholic Literature

John C. Waldmeir
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 224
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    Cathedrals of Bone: The Role of the Body in Contemporary Catholic Literature
    Book Description:

    The metaphor of the Church as a bodyhas shaped Catholic thinking since the Second Vatican Council. Its influence on theological inquiries into Catholic nature and practice is well-known; less obvious is the way it has shaped a generation of Catholic imaginative writers. Cathedrals of Bone is the first full-length study of a cohort of Catholic authors whose art takes seriously the themes of the Council: from novelists such as Mary Gordon, Ron Hansen, Louise Erdrich, and J. F. Powers, to poets such as Annie Dillard, Mary Karr, Lucia Perillo, and Anne Carson, to the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley. Motivated by the inspirational yet thoroughly incarnational rhetoric of Vatican II, each of these writers encourages readers to think about the human body as a site-perhaps the most important site-of interaction between God and human beings. Although they represent the body in different ways, these late-twentieth-century Catholic artists share a sense of its inherent value. Moreover, they use ideas and terminology from the rich tradition of Catholic sacramentality, especially as it was articulated in the documents of Vatican II, to describe that value. In this way they challenge the Church to take its own tradition seriously and to reconsider its relationship to a relatively recent apologetics that has emphasized a narrow view of human reason and a rigid sense of orthodoxy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4729-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: The Body, Flesh and Bone
    (pp. 1-15)

    It is as clear for the writers to be discussed here as it was for Leo XIII that, when one brings the strongest attributes of imaginative literature to bear directly upon Catholic faith and practice, liturgy becomes the primary site of interaction. Moreover, when that literature is dedicated to representing the body, the possibilities for a sustained and compelling correspondence increase significantly. During the drama of the Mass, individual bodies join symbolically and actually with each other and with the body of Christ. As the novelist Ron Hansen says, Catholics

    have three yoked concepts inCorpus Christi: Christ as human...

  5. 1. Discovering the Body: Catholic Literature after Vatican II
    (pp. 16-40)

    Because the panegyric discourse of Vatican II strives to embrace such a broad vision of the Church, it tends to laud the social dimension of the faith. Of course, Catholicism has a long and rich tradition of social engagement. Nevertheless, this council emphasized the tradition in new ways. Consider that the Tridentine Profession of Faith in 1564 had characterized the Church as not only “holy, catholic, and apostolic” but also as “mother and teacher.”¹ It had insisted that salvation depended upon “true obedience” to one individual: “the Roman pontiff, successor of the blessed Peter, chief of the apostles, and vicar...

  6. 2. Writing and the Catholic Body: Mary Gordon’s Art
    (pp. 41-63)

    Mary Gordon has said of that marvelous pre–Vatican II writer Flannery O’Connor that “For O’Connor, the habit of art … began with the habit of looking. It was,” Gordon insists, “the peculiar habit of her genius.” Several of Gordon’s own critics have used similar terminology to describe the role of “looking” in her art as well. Some have made their references to highlight strengths in Gordon’s prose. Kathryn Hughes, for example, praises Gordon for her “minute observation.”¹ Anita Gandolfo values Gordon’s art for its “prophetic vision” and its ability to bring Catholic issues into “sharper focus.”² Others have been...

  7. 3. Preserving the Body: Annie Dillard and Tradition
    (pp. 64-91)

    In an essay entitled “Expedition to the Pole,” first published inThe Yale Literary Magazinein 1982 and republished as part of the collectionTeaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard describes the experience of “attending Catholic Mass.” She has been going, she states, “for about a year.” Before that, she says, “the handiest Church was Congregational.”¹

    It is a hallmark of Dillard’s writing that one cannot summarize much more than such a brief portion before breaking off to provide background, establish a working chronology, or simply fill the gaps. For example: although she maintains that “I knew in my...

  8. 4. Clothing Bodies/Making Priests: The Sacramental Vision of J. F. Powers, Alfred Alcorn, and Louise Erdrich
    (pp. 92-119)

    There is a scene in J. F. Powers’ 1988 novel,Wheat That Springeth Green, in which the protagonist, Father Joe Hackett, is watching television in one of his favorite positions: reclined in a Barcalounger with drink in hand. His attention is evenly divided between what he sees on the screen and what he is hearing from his new curate, Father Bill Schmidt, who is trying to hold a conversation with him about fundraising. When the sudden appearance of a commercial for breakfast cereal captures Father Hackett’s eye, he sits up and studies the action in the ad. He then remarks...

  9. 5. The Body in Doubt: Catholic Literature, Theology, and Sexual Abuse
    (pp. 120-146)

    On 20 June 2005, about fifty people gathered at the diocesan headquarters of the Catholic Church in America’s heartland, Davenport, Iowa, to dedicate a monument to victims of clergy sexual abuse. During the ceremony they surrounded the “Millstone Marker,” a large, rough-hewn millstone suspended on a hastily made wooden frame, and listened to Bishop William E. Franklin. Today visitors can find the monument in a garden on the grounds, sitting atop a polished granite slab that contains three inscriptions. The first two come from the Gospel of Matthew and the third is provided by the Archdiocese; it praises the resilience...

  10. 6. The Body “As It Was”: On the Occasion of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ
    (pp. 147-165)

    On 22 January 2004, Peggy Noonan, columnist and contributing editor to theWall Street Journal, recounted her efforts to report accurately papal reaction to the year’s most popular artistic work about the human body by a Catholic: Mel Gibson’s filmThe Passion of the Christ. “My December 17 column,” Noonan wrote, “reported that Pope John Paul II had seen Mel Gibson’s movie on the crucifixion of Christ,The Passion, and had offered a judgment on it: ‘It is as it was.’” That quote,” Noonan went on to explain, “came from the film’s producer, Steve McEveety, who told me that it...

  11. Conclusion: The Body Mutinies
    (pp. 166-174)

    In a collection of poems from her bookDecreation, the Canadian Catholic poet and essayist Anne Carson reflects on time spent with her elderly mother, who suffers from both an aging body and mind. In the course of fourteen pieces that constitute the opening pages of Carson’s complex text, the poet’s mother appears in various guises: from a woman who worries about running up the bill on long-distance phone calls to one who no longer remembers to pick up the phone at all; from a bedridden lady “gripping a glow-in-the-dark rosary” to a frail body looking for all the world...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 175-202)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 203-208)
  14. Index
    (pp. 209-212)