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No one has ever written about passion like Iris Murdoch

Religion, though, she didn’t understand

By on Friday, 20 May 2011

Every now and then I am tempted to re-read a novel that delighted me in the distant past, to see if it really was as good as my memory suggests. In this spirit I recently returned to Iris Murdoch’s The Bell, which I first read as a sixth former. I was extremely lucky to have had an inspirational English teacher, Fr J F Morris, and he too was an admirer of Iris Murdoch, and often used to speak of The Philosopher’s Pupil as a favourite book of his. By the time I had finished my first year at university, I had read that too and all her other works. At Oxford I was blessed to have the late great Dorothy Bednarowska (obituaries here and here) as my tutor: Dorothy had for many years been dean of Saint Anne’s College, and had known Iris Murdoch well. In fact Dorothy’s sitting room in Wolvercote, where she gave her inspirational tutorials, was lined with signed first editions of Dame Iris’s work, all containing breathless dedications. However, though Iris admired Dorothy, the compliment was not returned.

“Every year she writes a book and sends me a copy, with “To dearest Dorothy” written on it; and every year I think, oh God, have I got to read this? And what on earth am I going to say to her when I have done so?” was The Bedder’s comment.

“Her novels?” said Freddie Copleston, when I mentioned Murdoch to him. “You mean her novel. She writes the same one every year.”

Much as Fr Copleston (obituary here) remains a huge hero for me, and much as I admired Mrs Bednarowska, having re-read The Bell, I think Iris Murdoch’s reputation is secure. Her books will last.

The Bell is a marvellous and memorable book. Many of the scenes have stayed in my mind over the last 30 years. I think this is partly because it is such an elemental book, by which I mean that the actions and characters seem to have such depth to them. The book is replete with symbols – the convent and its wall, the lake, the tower, and of course the bell itself. The simple truth is that no one has ever written about the passions, the sexual passions, in the way Iris Murdoch did.

I remember once discussing Iris Murdoch with the great critic A N Wilson. “But don’t you think that she had a real insight into religion?” he said. “No,” I replied. “I think she did not understand religion at all.” (I still think this – she was looking in from the outside.) “But I do think she had a real insight into sex.”

Funnily enough I have a personal reason for liking The Bell. It is a pursuit frowned on by literary purists, but it is fun to spot how many of the characters in Iris Murdoch’s books are thinly disguised real people. Back in the 1950s she stayed at the Anglican Malling Abbey, where she met the then Abbess, who is supposed to have inspired the figure of the Abbess in the book. Mrs Bednarowska said (correctly, for she was right about everything) that Murdoch was an atheist who did not like religion, but the nearest she got to sympathy with faith was the scene where the Abbess appears and says “The way is always forward”. The Abbess Murdoch knew was a cousin of mine, Dame Violet Lucie-Smith.

Incidentally, I went to Malling Abbey years ago to visit my cousin, then in her 90s, and found there the truth of what Iris Murdoch describes as the “annihilating silence” of the cloister. That too is a phrase that has stayed with me.

  • Anonymous

    Ian749, priests have one aim and one aim only; to take us to holiness.  If St Paul and other saints including Our Lady got it wrong by warning us against dwelling on sexual matters, and it is possible for priests to lead us to holiness by ignoring these warnings, then I’ll stand corrected. So far, however, I’m not convinced. 

    As for “engaging…” The author of this blog has enthused about the recent royal wedding without taking the opportunity to speak out against the grave sin of cohabitation (despite the several opportunities afforded him by my posts alone – give William Oddie his due, he at least responds to comments, but this priest appears to be way up there above us hoi polloi – so, I’m not convinced about this professed motivation to “engage” for pastoral reasons, when this “engagement” has resulted in coarsened priests and unrepentant sinners, encouraged by the silence of the clergy, to justify their sins – sexual sins.

    Finally, listen.  I am the way God made me.  I’m no more perfect than  are you or anyone else on this blog. I write the way I write. I just don’t have time to dress up my every sentence. But most importantly, although I’ve read plenty of very rude and very  nasty comments on these blogs, I’ve not noticed anyone taking the authors of such rude posts to task. Only me.  For some reason, probably because I’ve made the mistake of taking a username that easily identifies me and modern Catholics  just don’t like traditional Catholics – end of – but whatever the reason, I’m heartily sick of the persistent “advice” to me to watch my tone and style and take care not to “alienate” anyone.   If I “alienate” people it can only be because they don’t like the truth. Nobody who speaks the truth ever alienates ME.  Indeed, I once had the rudest email from a man, pointing out an error on the Catholic Truth website. I was initially livid at his cheeky words, his arrogant “tone” etc.  I was convinced that I was right. When I went back to the website and re-read what I’d written, I recognized immediately  that I was wrong and HE was right. Before I’d even corrected the webpage, I fired off an email to him, thanking him profusely for correcting my error.  Tone, Style, etc is irrelevant. The fact is that what he wrote was true and what I’d written was false.  How could I be anything but grateful to him for pointing that out?

    So, Ian749, I suppose I would have to agree with you that I sometimes “alienate” people with the “tone” of what you describe as my “attacks” (attacks on errors and heresies).  But I could bet my last pound coin that if I wrote the same “attacks” under a different username, I would get a very different reception. As long as I concealed the fact that I adhere to the entirety of the traditional Catholic Faith and attend the traditional Latin Mass.  I must try it sometime.

    Finally, thanks for your well-meant comment.  I like you. Really.  Just tell me – am I the “pot” or the “kettle”? (Rhetorical question, she added hastily!)

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your reply. I appreciate that you took the time to respond at length.

    Where I would come back is on the question of truth. As fallen and flawed individuals we can never, in this life, have full and perfect knowledge (through a glass darkly etc). As Catholics, and I’m sure you agree with me here, the way in which we determine truth in matters of faith comes from out trust in the Church, which leads us to accept its Magisterium.

    As far as I am aware, there is no Magisterial teaching on the question of whether we may discuss sex. The fact that JP II wrote about it suggests that there is no such teaching.

    This being so, it is simply a matter of opinion as to whether it is appropriate to discuss sex. In matters of opinion, there is no sense in which you can be “certain” of the truth of your own viewpoint – it is open to debate.

    On this question the writing of JP II is key. I would say that what he was doing was not departing from previous teaching, but defining a pre-existing “impression or implicit judgement in the mind of the church” which had not previously been explicitly stated – i.e. that sex has a unitive value, in the right context. He did this in response to the challenge of modern sexual culture, in much the same way that the Council of Trent defined Catholic doctrine in response to the challenge fo Protestantism. In order to surive, the faith does not change, but it must adapt its forms of expression in a way that is appropriate to the times. This is precisely what was done at the Council of Trent, which is now so beloved of traditionalists.

    You mention in another post that the values of purity and chastity, which were once central to Church teaching, are now widely rejected. Another authentically Christian value which is now widely rejected is that of humility. I would suggest to you, that in your too-easy assumption, even certainty, that you have truth on your side, even in matters that have not been dogmatically defined, you exhibit a lack of humility, and an unwarranted certainty. How would you respond to this? Do you not think it is better to open-mindedly debate issues which are legitimately matters of debate, rather than simply asserting that one’s own view is “truth”?

    I do not say this in order to be provocative, I am genuinely interested in how you would respond.

  • Anonymous

    I attended the novus ordo Mass for around twenty years after Vatican II and didn’t once hear a sermon/homily on the subject of purity.  Archbishop Lefebvre said that Satan’s masterstroke has been to get Catholics to disobey the whole of Tradition in the name of obedience. Hence, I cannot be too surprised that I am thought to lack humility for adhering to Catholic Tradition on the virtue of purity.  It’s a topic that’s been abandoned by contemporary clerics.  Satan is a clever old devil.  Literally.

    If you compare John Paul II’s Theology of the Body to the  teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church  authorized by him, you have a dilemma.  Here’s what he reminds us is Catholic teaching, sourced (see footnotes) from Scripture and the Fathers of the Church:

    Article 9, The Ninth Commandment: (1) Purification of the Heart

    #2517 – “The heart is the seat of moral personality: ‘Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication” (Mt 15:19).  The struggle against carnal covenousness entails purifying the heart and practising temperance: “remain simply and innocent, and you  will be like little children who do not know the evil that destroys man’s life” (Pastor Hermae,…) 

    Also, # 2518 – The sixth Beatitude proclaims ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see  God.; (Mt 5:8)   “Pure in heart” refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity, chastity or sexual rectitude, love of truth and orthodoxy of faith (scriptural sources cited). There is a connection between purity of heart, of body and of faith. (St  Augustine teaches that:) The faithful must believe the articles of the Creed ‘so that by believing they may obey God, by obeying may live well, by living well may purify their hearts, and with pure hearts may understand what they believe.’

    # 2519 – The ‘pure in heart’ are promised that they will see God face to face and be like him.  Purity of heart is the precondition of the vision of God. Even now it enables us to see ACCORDING to God (emphasis in the CCC) … it lets us perceive the human body – ours and our neighbour’s – as a temple of the Holy Spirit, a manifestation of divine beauty.

    Then in Section II, The Battle for Purity we read:

    # 2520 – … the baptized must continue to struggle against concupisence of the flesh and disordered desires. With God’s grace he will prevail by the virtue of ….  purity of vision, external and internal; by discipline of feelings and imagination; by refusing all complicity in impure thoughts that incline us to turn aside from the path of God’s commandments: ‘appearance arouses yearning in fools.” (Wis. 15:5)

    # 2521 – Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate centre of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden… It guides how one looks at others…Modesty is decency.  It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet…There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body.  It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies … Purity of heart brings freedom from widespread eroticism and avoids entertainment inclined to voyeurism and illusion.

    And finally (for the purposes of this post):

    # 2526 – So-called ‘moral permissiveness’ rests on an erroneous conception of human freedom; the necessary precondition for the development of true freedom is to let oneself be educated in the moral law…END.

    Now, I have taken the time to type all of this out directly from the CCC (if I was brighter I’d have copied and pasted it from the online CCC but there you go, I lack not only humility but common sense as well)… I’ve typed it all out because I think it makes very clear that everything I’ve said about not reading sexually explicit literature, talking about sexual intimacy in public like this, isn’t the personal opinion of a pre-Trent extremist, but is rooted in Catholic teaching on purity, derived from both Scripture and the Fathers of the Church. I’ve got a busy week ahead of me, so if this doesn’t convince you of the truth of what I say, then I’m afraid there’s nothing more that I can say to convince you.

    Our Lady warned at Fatima – an apparition approved by the Church, which means there was nothing in the revelations at Fatima that contradicted the teachings of the Church already revealed – that more souls go to Hell through sins of impurity than any other sin. We don’t just wake up and decide to rob a bank.  The thought comes to mind, we dwell on it, start,perhaps, to look for a partner in crime, then plan the deed before commission.  Same applies to sins of impurity. The thoughts come first, which is why we must guard against them by avoiding company, reading, talk, films etc which might lead us to act on our thoughts. That’s not  a  pet theory of mine; this is what the above sections from the CCC are warning against. This used to be par for the course in Sunday sermons. Ask yourself, Ian749 when was the last time you heard a sermon propounding the above Catholic teachings?

    God bless.

  • Horace Zagreus

    For a former teacher, you seem to suffer from rather poor reading comprehension.

  • Anonymous

    What’s your occupation Horace?  I notice that you people who just LOVE to show that you know something about me (though, happily, nothing that’s not already in the public domain) never give anything away about yourselves. Cowardly.

    Since I haven’t a CLUE what you mean by my “poor reading comprehension” – a nasty, calculated insult from someone who appears to be a very nasty person, I can’t respond.

    Your lack of good manners, not to say charity, suggests that you need to spend some more time at your mother’s knee.  With respect.

  • Joan

    I hate to say this, but you sound like a jealous person, Horace,and I don’t mean that to be rude. No matter what you disagree with EditorCT about, there is no reason to make such an insulting statement. There’s obviously nothing wrong with her reading comprehension at all, so why would you say that if not to hurt her feelings and humiliate her? That’s not charitable at all.  I think it is OK to be straight speaking and to argue over issues, but these personal comments really put me off.  I think in your shoes I would be offering her an apology.

  • Joan

    I am really amazed at the hatred for you coming over these posts. I’ve visited your website and can’t see a thing wrong with it, the opposite, actually, it is very informative. I think these personal attacks is the devil at work, so don’t let it get you down.

  • Joan

    That is really good to have those references in one post, so thank you. I don’t see how anyone could argue that going along with the sexually permissive society we live in, is OK for Catholics, after reading that. You really do wonder how Pope John Paul could have written his  Theology of the Body.  I have friends who are working in Natural Family Planning (Billings) who are totally shocked at TOB. I think they’d be more shocked if they read those bits from the Catechism. Thanks again.

  • Joan

    I did mean that we are no longer taught properly about purity and chastity, it’s never mentioned in the homily. I aso take your point about criticising the priest. I think they are very careless these days in how they speak and dress and it is sad that they no longer stand out as a beacon in the world and no, I wouldn’t want my children exposed to lax-living priests. You’re right. 

  • Joan

    I don’t like the tone of your post and I don’t understand it. I don’t think EditorCT is hounding us at all, she’s just answering posts like the rest of us.  I think you need to look at yourself because you sound like someone who is jealous of her. I don’t mean to be rude and I’m sorry if I’m misjudging you but I’m struck by these comments aimed at one blogger who seems to know what she’s talking about, this is why I wonder if it’s jealousy.  Sorry if you are offended. 

  • Joan

    I’m very interested that you mention the World Youth Day events. I’ve wondered about them and don’t really like any of these massive outdoor services. I had hoped the new pope would end them but no. Also I agree with you wholly about sex education. This is one of the ways people have been conditioned, and that includes priests, and made to feel they should be like everyone else, dress the same, talk the same, read the same books and so on. When you look at the books they read in schools, at least in secondary schools, they leave a lot to be desired. Sex education is a huge problem – you’re so right.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, her settings and characters were often quite similar- but that was their strength. Within her books she explored differnt types of love and their consequences. the familiarity of many of the settings meant that they didn’t distract from the central themes of her books which were these permutations of human desire and need. As a teenager growing up, I feel I learnt a great deal from her work andas the writer of the article I still re-read- always discovering something new or reaalising something which I now understand better because I am myself older. As a Catholic, the greatest thing that she has given me is this deeper understanding of the consequnces of our desires in that what happens if we act upon them in particular ways or not.

  • Anonymous

     Ah! but what did Our Lady mean when she referred to impurity?

    We have to counter this with the postulate of His Holiness John Paul I that sexual sins are among the least offensive to God because they are where we are at our weakest in our frail humanity.
    BUT Intellectual sins are among our worst sins – for they travel so closely with spiritual pride – and the reminder by St Francis de Sales that anxiety is the breeding ground for all sin and obsession has a hard shell against grace…Adultery in the heart obsessively corrupting everything can be even more destructive than fleetingly recklessly acting it out…

    I’m reminded of Sister wendy looking at classical male nudes and the salacious feminist documentary treating the song of songs like pornography…’evil be to [s]he whom evil thinks’

    It’s the purity of heart that’s at the core – some of us are fully aware that we are not the type of people who should allow ourselves anywhere near that which can bring about occasions of sin – a wise bishop knows what priest can be relied upon to minister to the prostitutes in the east end just as much as the person with a magpie predilection to accumulate things lying around should not be in charge of the petty cash…

    Personally if I were to read a ‘pornographic’ story I’d be grumbling at mixed metaphors, dodgy subjunctives and sentences ending in a participle – sex scenes in films are intrusive, boring and spoil a film; but I know that I should never inquire upon my friends/associates sexual activities lest they – in their ‘reality’ incite imaginative fantasies within…

    EditorCT there are horses for courses…
    The innocent and innocuous for one can be arousing and deathly for another…
    Our purity in one extent might not traverse onto other potential occasions of sin which the average person might easily ward off.

    So I haven’t got a clue whether the ‘passion’ incited within the works of Iris Murdoch is one of awe and empathic understanding for ‘higher things’ or whether it’s  deadlier than ‘naughty nurses on nightwatch’…but I know it will have different affects on different individuals – so I have a tendency to be be mindful and wary of all things while , perhaps naiively, remain wiling to give everyone the benefit of the doubt [except my kids of course!]

  • Peter

    Saint Paul does not tell us not to talk about sexual matters. What he writes is “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints.” (Eph. 5,3). If you think that all sexual activity is immoral and unclean, then the chances are that you are infected by Jansenism, or even by Manichaeism and other heresies. God created sexuality and what he created is good. The fact that many abuse the gift does not take away its goodness – abusus non tollit usum.
    So you have not understood St  Paul correctly, just as one gets the impression when reading many things you write, that you do not understand Our Lord himself, when he says “Judge not”. You seem to specialize in revealing the sins of others – every traditional manual of moral theology I have consulted says that this is a grave sin, and they make no exceptions, as far as I can see, for self-appointed vigilantees of orthodoxy.
    As for Fr Lucie Smith, you are engaging in temerarious mudslinging, based solely on the fact that he does not share your narrow, censorious moral vision. That he does not is entirely to his credit, and thanks be to God, most priests are more like him than like you.

  • Joan

    I think when St Paul said not to “name” such things, he means not talk about them and it is quite clear from the Catechism paragraphs that the Editor quoted earlier, that “purity means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden..” as one entry states. It doesn’t mean that all sexual matters is immoral and unclean as you say, just that we should guard against misusing sex and trivialising it  by talking about it all the time etc.

    I also think, reading all of Editor’s posts, that she wasn’t getting at Father reading Iris Murdoch’s book but at the way he homed in on sex,sexual passions, which is even in the headline. I was struck by that too and one of my friends who read the article and comments says he is “appalled” at them. So, it’s not just Editor or me who thinks what is going on here is unhelpful to Church teaching. If we are supposed to achieve purity of heart, we have to try to achieve purity of body, about sums up those catechism quotes which I’ve read again and found helpful. Again I can’t understand why you name call Editor as being narrow and censorious. She’s only repeated church teaching so I think you must not agree with the church on this. To be honest, most people don’t so that is understandable these days.

  • Joan

    I am totally amazed that a Pope would contradict Scripture so if you are quoting Pope John Paul correctly and he did say that sexual sins are least offensive to God, when St Paul said the opposite, then Pope John Paul is wrong. He was only Pope for a very short while so I haven’t read anything of his writings, so can you  give a source for that statement, it is very interesting and very worrying that a Pope would teach the opposite of Sacred Scripture and on a matter of such importance. 

    Also, I can’t say I agree with you about spiritual pride because an intellectual person can be the humblest of souls while someone who is illiterate but prays a lot could think themselves above the rest of us, as we’re all open to spiritual pride. I have an example in mind.

    Also, I also don’t get your point “adultery in the heart can be even more destructive than acting it out” -  the whole reason Jesus warned against looking at someone lustfully is that sins that begin in the eyes/heart end up being acted out which brings us full circle to the reason why purity is so important and if you  haven’t seen the post with the Catechism paragraphs, I would encourage you  to find it now and read it because it spells out Catholic teaching and the good reasons for taking care over purity.

    Also I think you are wrong in saying that some people are the “type” to be able to not be affected by impure stuff and others are not – the church says we should all avoid impurity and immodesty, there’s no mention of some people being stronger than others. I was taught at school that original sin caused human nature to be weakened and especially regarding chastity and purity (as it was put then, I suppose they’d say “sex” now.)

    If you don’t mind me saying so, your comment bout “naughty nurses” seems to prove what I’ve noticed on this blog that there is a definite liberalization that has taken place among Catholics on this subject and the traditional teaching on purity is now kind of laughed at, which I find very sad.

  • Joan

    When you say she explored different types of love and their consequences, do you mean loving relationships that are sexual or did she write about other types of love. She’s not a writer I know, so I would be interested to find out if she specialised in sexual passions or if she wrote about non-sexual types of relationships.

  • Anonymous

     Joan – Where did St Paul say the opposite?
    According to my catechism the greatest sins are intellectual – the twin faces of spiritual pride: presumption and despair.

    You also didn’t get my point about adultery in the heart – the worst adulterers need not have necessarily ever physically cheated on their I really need to spell it out?

    Ma’am if you truly believed what you say then it would be the case that you obviously don’t understand human nature!
    Original sin scars us all in different ways and we are all highly susceptible to various differing forms of sin – therefore we must constantly examine our conscience and recognise our vulnerability and avoid those potential opportunities for occasion of sin.

    when it comes to psychosexuality the human individual is just that – highly individualistic and we cannot simply adjudicate on what is safe for all and what is dangerous – someone might find a pornography video utterly repulsive and in no way would it induce the viewer into occasion of sin [whereas many might never dare to look] but that same person might invoke within themselves all manner of exotic, lurid immoral imaginings from that which to many might be seemingly innocuous – a shakespeare sonnet or a cheap tupenny-ha’penny romance…we have no idea where our imaginations might lead us – therefore we must exercise caution in all things.

    nobody is saying we should not censor certain things from vulnerable susceptible minds – vut Ma’am st Thomas Aquinas informs us that all too often when we sin the devil tricks us into thinking we sin in one regard when in actual fact we are sinning in a completely different way – therefore the next time around we try to defend ourselves against the wrong sin to which we are vulnerable – or we confess to the wrong sin – or we spend a long time trying to remedy one sin while the wounds of other sins lay wide open and fester

    therefore as individuals we have a duty to remain alert in all things – and not rely on the normative proscriptions to protect us…

    Now frankly when it comes to your accusation of ‘liberalisation’ – HOW DARE YOU!!!
    If you wish to take offence – maybe you should spend some time in self-reflection considering that which is truly offensive – accusing someone of pruriency when they are being anything but is…well as you’re the self-professed expert on the catechism why don’t you tell us? look it up under s…

    porngraphy takes many forms ma’am – some of it significantly more lethal than mere imagery – and I repeat – what is innocent to the many might be lethal occasion of sin to another…

    therefore – rather than being draconianiacally rigorist on particular aspects of the more lurid aspects of society we should instead be constructing an armour of grace against it by appealing to spiritual purity

    a physical figleaf might be an intellectual incitement
    instead of promoting human lovemaking as a sacramental act – an overflowing union of love, passion and desire where love can be graced by God to overflow into new life…

    [oh and while we're on the subject - let's go back to St Paul - where did he say we were most Godlike?
    give you three guesses...]

    if we dare to distort human lovemaking into something filthy and disgusting and shameful – THAT’S when we have the problems of psychosexual pathology and stunted development – that’s when we have the grave obsessive, compulsive diseases whch destroy the human being and their capacity to be able to love…forbiden fruit, secret passions etc…the exotic becomes so much more tempting…when the truth would ensure this mentality and perverted understanding would never arise – have you any possible notion what deviancy was wrought by victorian prudery and hypocrisy?

    Purity of heart ma’am – we may [wisely] choose for our children to never be around pornography or in the company of prostitutes – but what kind of parent would we be if we did not educate and guide them in a spirtual purity which guaranteed they would be able to survive being in the presence of such phenomena and said people and having the strength to not be led astray… ?

  • Annie

    Joan,Teresa makes a very good point, and where you get ‘jealousy’ from I don’t know.
    You agree with CT, so she’s right, you don’t agree with others so they’re wrong. There’s debate for you.
    The point has been made above by PaulPriest, that when it comes to sin, it’s different strokes for different folks. That’s probably a phrase you’ll also think uncouth and proof beyond a shadow that I’m irredeemably  ‘sexualised’ but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
    If you don’t want to read literature, that’s absolutely fine. But to condemn anyone who does because you/CT don’t approve is ridiculous. 
    Reading Harry Potter has not turned me into a Satanist.

    Ovid is one of my favourite poets,

  • Annie

    Oops lost the end of that post, what I was going to say was, what I like to read, I read.

  • Peter

    “I can’t understand why you name call Editor as being narrow and
    censorious. She’s only repeated church teaching so I think you must not
    agree with the church on this.”
    No, she is putting forth her own interpretation of church teaching and stigmatizing anyone who disagrees with her as if she and the Church were essentially the same – a typical ploy of latter-day inquisitors. Since two popes have been censured in this discussion by her defenders, it is clear that we are in the presence of a parralel magisterium here. Those who are scandalized by JP IIs theology of the body need psychological as well as spiritual help.

  • Joan

    I don’t think you are right at all.  The Editor has quoted Scripture and the Catechism. Also, I don’t see her name calling anyone or “stigmatizing” anyone. She’s the one being called names as far as I can see.
    Also, how does someone need psychological help for disagreeing with Pope John Paul about his TOB? I’ve heard priests as well as people saying they dislike TOB, or do we all have to agree with every word a Pope says?  I don’t think it’s up to you to decide who needs spiritual help, frankly. That is for someone’s confessor, not for you.

  • Joan

     It’s not about “agreeing with CT”. The Editor hasn’t said anything that’s not Catholic teaching. She’s quoted Scripture and the Catechism so I presume you don’t agree with Scripture or the Catechism on purity teaching? I really can’t recall any personal opinions from Editor so you would need to quote  something to jolt my memory which is very bad, I admit.

    I don’t think she or I have said not to read literature just to be careful what literature we read, as the Catechism says, some things should remain hidden. You don’t agree and so you get very angry with anyone who disagrees.  That’s your call, but you can’t say the church doesn’t teach what the church teaches.

  • Joan

     I actually got “jealous” from somebody else who was reading this blog and who noticed the way Editor being the one who was quoting church teaching was getting bad mouthed.  He said usually jealousy beings out that kind of reaction, when someone is obviously right and the other person can’t acknowledge that, jealousy sometimes comes out.  I really don’t know if Teresa or anyone else is jealous, but that’s the way it looks when someone attacks someone personally and is very nasty but can’t really contest the argument.

    The argument that not everyone is affected in the same way is not the point because as I understand it, sin is an offence against God, so if God is offended by us reading descriptions of people having sex, surely we should not read it, whether or not it affects us?

    Nobody mentioned Harry Potter so I don’t really understand your point in a discussion about sexual matters.

  • Peter

    The devil quotes scripture, so I guess he can quote the CCC too. Indeed it is not necessary to agree with every pope about every issue, but most Catholics will conclude that the pope – any pope – is a more reliable guide than you or Ms McK….
    However, you obviously share with the editor of CT (presuming that is that you are not she under another name) the belief that you cannot be wrong. The French call this “psycho rigidité” and the consequence to be drawn is that it is useless to argue with you. So this is the last you will hear from me. Happy witch-hunting.

  • Joan

     I think what you say is absolutely amazing. As if only Editor thinks that the church is right on purity. You just keep on making personal attacks you don’t prove what she (or I) say is wrong.

    There is only one witch hunt going on here that I can see. For example you write “Ms McK” so I presume you want to let everyone know you know her name.   What is your name? 

  • Annie

    I’m not angry dear :)  I’m just saying we are all different. I also haven’t called any church teaching into question.

  • Annie

    Well, reading harry Potter hasn’t turned me into a witch, not has reading Iris Murdoch turned me into a nymphomaniac. Reading something doesn’t have to be sinful.

  • EditorCT

    Many thanks for your supportive comments, Joan, I’ve had a quick peruse after being elsewhere for the past couple of days, but please do not make yourself even more unpopular by defending me.  Bad enough that you are accepting of Catholic teaching on purity, but in defence of li’l ole moi is a test too far for my enemies. I truly appreciate your kindness but I sincerely suggest that you stick to the issues of the topic and do not defend me.  All that will happen, as you can see already, is that you’ll be accused of being me in disguise.  Honestly, it would be impossible, as I keep saying, to make this stuff up. 

    And don’t waste  your time, either, trying to get these people to give THEIR names or THEIR locations.  They take some kind of seriously weird pleasure in dropping information about me into their brain-dead posts, but they ignore all requests for a level playing field, going silent when they are asked to provide identification themselves. Coward. Of the highest order.

  • EditorCT

     Quote one thing – ANYTHING – on this topic that is not Catholic teaching but can be categorized as my “interpretation”

    Here’s the “interpretation” which Msgr Paul J. Glenn puts on St Thomas Aquinas’s teaching on the subject, in his famous Tour of the Summa: Section ‘Temperance’ (Questions 151 # 4)

    Chastity: The words purity and chastity are sometimes used interchangeable, but they are not perfect synonyms. Chastity directly regards the sexual union. Purity refers to all that is in any way associated with this union,  Thus a person is unchaste if he indulges in unlawful coition. But a person is impure by reason of thoughts, imaginings, words, desires and actions that have an unlawful sexual reference. Unchastity involves impurity, but impurity can exist without unchastity. END.

    Thus, the argument prevalent on this blog, that it doesn’t much matter what we read or say or no matter what crudeness we view in films and listen to, doesn’t mean that we will act it out, is an irrelevance. Clearly, as St Thomas Aquinas teaches, impurity is, itself, sinful and in the same section of his Summa, question 153 on Lust, St Thomas states that Lust (defined as “the vice of indulging in unlawful sexual pleasures” – NOTE, not necessarily actions ) is listed with the capital sins because many other sins flow from it as their source.  Obviously, reason dictates that “unlawful sexual pleasures” must include entertaining impure thoughts, and all activities that have as their purpose, stimulating the imagination to impure thoughts, whether or not they lead to actions. What other purpose can there be in the description of explicit sexual activity but to make us think about sexual activity?  It is perfectly possible to communicate ideas and situations without explicit sex.  There is no shortage of examples of films and books about chaste romance or even where there is an affair included, where the writer or film-maker has not resorted to explicit scenes.

  • EditorCT

    Typical.  You can’t prove me wrong, so make it up as you go along.  Please quote me, from of my comments, anywhere, writing anything that suggests that I think “that all sexual activity is immoral and unclean.”

    I’m waiting.

  • Anonymous


    I notice elsewhere that you say you don’t question any Church teaching but you do – you just did.

    The Church warns us – see the lengthy quote from the CCC I put up the other day – through the Catechism and through the teachings of the saints and public prophetic revelations from Our Lady at Fatima in our own times not to mention other revelations to saints classed a “private” revelations – that we must be on our guard against giving the devil a foothold into our souls. Harry Potter may (!) not have turned you into a witch but if it encourages people to dabble in the occult (I haven’t a clue, not remotely interested in HP) then you would have a duty to avoid it.

    You say that “reading something doesn’t have to be sinful.”  Could you explain to simple ole me, very clearly and simply, how reading explicit sex scenes could ever NOT be sinful? I’m jes DYING to know! So,please answer carefully – you just may have a convert to the ‘sexual permissiveness cause’ in me…

  • Anonymous

    Do you notice something Annie.  You and MOST others on this blog hold to the “permissive” view.  I (and now Joan) hold to the Church’s stated teaching on purity and we both get it in the proverbial neck.

    I mean, to say “if you don’t want to read literature…” because we’ve commented on a priest’s apparent dedication to studying writers who deal in “the sexual passions” (his words, not mine) is ridiculous.

    Only today  I was working with a student I’m helping home-educate in preparation for her English exam. Pride & Prejudice. A beautiful novel of romance and skulduggery and many much more – but no, absolute NO explicit sex.  She’s loving the book.

    There’s “literature” Annie and there’s “literature.”  I think more people talk about and will remember Jane Austen long after Iris Murdoch has been forgotten.

  • Anonymous

    I think it is very interesting that you approve of Jane Austen while you “have never been a fan” of Shakespeare. While you think that you are upholding “Catholic tradition”, what you are really doing is trying to uphold a very parochial 19th century English (or British) view of sex. The Catholic tradition is far broader and richer than you understand. Shakespeare, who may himself have been a Catholic, has a far more Catholic worldview than Austen. The word “catholic” means universal, all-inclusive – consider whether that applies better to Shakespeare (who used some very explicit sexual imagery – beast with two backs etc) or to Austen (who had nothing like the broad sympathy or spiritual range of Shakespeare).

    I am sorry if it seems that I am focusing on criticising your views – it is just that I do think it can be very damaging to the Church if people persistently attack other members of the Church in a narrow and unsympathetic way. I am sure that you do what you do with the best of intentions, but you should be prepared to consider that you may sometimes be wrong.

  • Anonymous

    I should add – this 19th century English view of sex derives very much from the puritanical strain within Protestantism, from Luther to Calvin to Richard Baxter. This is a Protestant, not a Catholic way of looking at sex. Catholicism is more inclusive and forgiving.

  • Anonymous

    I should add – this 19th century English view of sex derives very much
    from the puritanical strain within Protestantism, from Luther to Calvin
    to Richard Baxter. This is a Protestant, not a Catholic way of looking
    at sex. Catholicism is more inclusive and forgiving. 

  • Anonymous

    You are focusing on sex in literature. I’m not.  That’s my point.  I mentioned Jane Austen as an example of a classic writer who can communicate love and attraction etc without resorting to bedroom scenes. Shakespeare  does the same, so I really don’t see why you insist on creating a false dichotomy.

    And how can it be damaging to the Church to quote Catholic teaching on purity?

    This game of equating Catholic teaching on purity with “the 19th century view of sex” is disingenuous. Until  the sexual licence of the twentieth century, what is now known as Catholic sexual morality was the norm in British society and the reason for the oft-spouted “Victorian hypocrisy” was that even those who were promiscuous didn’t try to justify their sins but recognised the morality of the God-given sexual norms they were flouting.  You’ve no doubt heard the saying that “hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”

    As a matter of interest, Ian, do you have an opinion on Catholic teaching on contraception, or do you embrace that teaching, without question? 

  • Susan

    I read it and it’s more like “idolatry of the body”!!

  • Susan

    Funny you should say that, Joan, as I have come to the same conclusion myself.

  • Patricia

    You are right, Louisa, and it was for that sort of reason that we stopped getting the Catholic Herald.

  • Anonymous

    I do feel bound to accept the teachings of the Church, on contraception as on other matters, though teachings such as this are rather difficult to follow in contemporary society, and I think it is understandable, if not justifiable, if people in good conscience reject them. I would also say that I think that the focus of traditionalists on sexual issues betrays a lack of proportion – was Jesus more concerned about love for the poor or condemnation of the sinful (which of course, includes us all)?

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Susan.  Now stand by and be prepared to be told you’re me in disguise!  Anytime, no matter where I blog, if anyone agrees with me they’re accused of being me!  Incredible.

    It doesn’t get me down – I’m used to criticism, but it’s a pleasant change to have some support. God bless you!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Joan – I am very used to this kind of reaction, so it doesn’t bother me, to be honest.  I know very well from whence all hatred comes, so it doesn’t affect me.  I’m grateful, though, for your support. Helps to underline the fact that I’m not “giving my own opinion” but merely repeating what the Church has always taught. It also helps to remember that people are not hearing Catholic teaching on purity taught any more so it is no surprise that they’ve imbibed the contemporary permissive culture. Sad, but not surprising.