Quotation about Catholicism in Ireland
April 19, 2016 3:29 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone give me a source for a quotation about knowing what the Roman Catholic Church was like by looking to Ireland?

When I lived in Ireland for a couple of years in the 'oughts, I first heard about the Magdalene laundries. I vaguely remembered a quotation that I believe I read many years ago, which my memory attaches to Bertrand Russell. It was said or written at a time when there was a wave of conversions to Catholicism going on at Oxford and Cambridge, and Russell (or whoever) suggested that the people who converted were attracted by the aesthetic of the Church, and knew it only from England where it was weak; but that if they really wanted to know what it was like they should look to Ireland where it was powerful. Now, prompted by this story, I want to get a proper source for the quotation. Nothing that looks like it turned up on a search through the Russell archives at McMaster University. Can anyone help?
posted by Logophiliac to Law & Government (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This essay on "Conversions to Catholicism among Fin de Siècle [English] Writers" is full of quotes and references on the aesthetic charm of Catholicism in the "Oxford movement" and "Decadent Catholicism", perhaps you can see if anything in there brings back to memory more details?

There’s no reference to Bertrand Russell, but if you’re not sure it was him, it may be useful to see if any other names ring a bell, or if any definitions stand out as keywords you can use for further searching.

There is a quote in the last section that is not quite saying what you remember reading but has a reference to Ireland:
What Anthony Burgess, who was himself a “cradle Catholic,” wrote about the literary converts of the 20th century in the first section of his autobiography Little Wilson and Big God (1987) could apply to the Decadent writers, to whom Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh are heirs in many ways:
The great English Catholics of the age of toleration, from Cardinal Newman, to Graham Greene, have all been converts. A cradle Catholic finds it hard to take them seriously. . . . The converted Catholics of modern literature seem to be concerned with a different faith from the one I was nurtured in—naively romantic, pedantically scrupulous. Novels like The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, Brideshead Revisited and Sword of Honour falsify the faith by over-dramatising it. Waugh’s fictional Catholicism is too snobbish to be true. It evidently hurt Waugh deeply that his typical fellow-worshipper should be an expatriated Irish labourer and that the typical minister of the Church should be a Maynooth priest with a brogue.
[Anthony Burgess, Little Wilson and Big God (1987; London, Vintage, 2002) 7–8.]
Other interesting related, but no mention of Ireland:
- In his 1894 essay on Pascal, Pater declared that “Multitudes in every generation have felt at least the aesthetic charm of the rites of the Catholic Church.”

- The artistic use of Catholicism by Pre-Raphaelites had a lasting influence on fin de siècle writers, as was noted by David G. Riede, still writing about Rossetti: “His Art-Catholicism shows the temptation, which became increasingly powerful toward the end of the century, to embrace Christianity, particularly Catholicism, for the sake of its aesthetic tradition.”

- T. S. Eliot, in his essay on Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater, explains that Newman and the Tractarians have very little in common with what he calls Pater’s “aesthetic religion,”39 which led to Decadent Catholicism.

- …the seminal influence of Pater, which led many critics, most famously T. S. Eliot in his essay on Arnold and Pater, to dismiss fin de siècle conversions as superficial and unsubstantial.
Another essay with lots of references on "Fin-de-Siècle Catholicism" in English literature.
posted by bitteschoen at 7:06 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks bitteschoen (great username BTW). Interesting stuff but nothing there that looks like it. I think the quotation I have in mind is probably from later--say from the 1930s, when I think there was another rash of aesthetic conversions. Never mind, I suppose it will just have to bug me for a while longer.
posted by Logophiliac at 10:27 PM on April 19, 2016

« Older Ah dinnae ken whit ah dinnae ken... aboot Scotland   |   Is it fun for you to pretend you're me and buy dog... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.