Beauty

The 120 Best Film Soundtracks

Going to the trouble of making a list such as this may seem trivial to some, but, in fact, the tradition of musical scoring for cinema should be considered the ‘classical music’ you’ve liked but didn’t know it was ‘classical.’

Let me explain. I will assume you, like I, enjoy an immediately rapport with great film music, that the main themes to movies like ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘Gone With the Wind,’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ I will assume you find them ‘beautiful’ and that, if you have given it any thought, that you know they are composed for and played by a full symphony orchestra. In other words, the same orchestra that plays Beethoven at Carnegie Hall on Friday night may be in the studio the next day recording the next John Williams soundtrack.

Let’s go even further: Not only does the film composer employ all the potencies of the modern symphony orchestra, and often vocal soloists and a chorus, the composer draws upon the entire development of Western music (and sometimes non-Western) in creating a 90 to 120 minute musical narrative to accompany the action and dialogue on the screen.

But here there’s an even more important point to make: At the very time that film music was emerging as a developed art form, the mainstream of classical music took a wrong turn towards atonal and twelve-tone compositions. The late Romantic musical tradition, as represented by Mahler, Bruckner, and Richard Strauss, was carried forward by film composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, Miklos Rozsa, and Bernard Herrmann. Both Korngold and Rozsa had been established classical composers before arriving in Hollywood, so they literally embodied the bridge I am describing.

As chronicled superbly in Robert R. Reilly’s Surprised by Beauty: A Listener’s Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music (Ignatius, 2016), the rejection of traditional tonality dominated the concert hall well into the 1980s before composers like George Rochberg and David Del Tredici began to realize the mistake.

If my argument holds, the list below represents a classical music tradition that never broke with the development of tonality in the Western music tradition. In other words, an appreciation for film music is, necessarily, an appreciation for ‘classical music,’ that is, music reflecting the legacy of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner, and Strauss.

Many American composers who never took that atonal turn, such as David Diamond, Paul Creston, Howard Hanson, Vittorio Giannini, Nicolas Flagello, but for decades their compositions were rarely played or even mentioned in surveys of contemporary music. Conductors like Gerard Schwartz and Leonard Slatkin have been at the forefront of rediscovering their music as well as other composers who refused the break with tonality.

It’s not too far-fetched to say that film music has been the ‘classical music’ for far more listeners than the music played symphony halls around the world for the past fifty years. The time has come to claim to not merely admit it, but to celebrate the music and musicians who have continued to minister to the human ear, and the human heart.

-1. City Lights, Charles Chaplin (1931)
-2. King Kong, Max Steiner (1933)
-3. She, Max Steiner (1935)
-4. Modern Times, Charles Chaplin (1936)
-5. The Charge of the Light Brigade, Max Steiner (1936)
-6. Anthony Adverse, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1936)
-7. Alexander Nevsky, Sergei Prokofiev (1938)
-8. Gone With the Wind, Max Steiner (1939)
-9. Sea Hawk, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1940)
-10. Thief of Bagdad, Miklos Rozsa (1940)
-11. 49th Parallel, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1941)
-12. Citizen Kane, Bernard Herrmann (1941)
-13. The Uninvited, Victor Young (1941)
-14. That Hamilton Woman, Miklos Rozsa (1941)
-15. Now, Voyager, Max Steiner (1942)
-16. Kings Row, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1942)
-17. The Song of Bernadette, Alfred Newman (1943)
-18. Mr. Skeffington, Franz Waxman (1944)
-19. Henry V, William Walton (1944)
-20. Laura, David Raksin (1944)
-21. Spellbound, Miklos Rozsa (1945)
-22. Forever Amber, David Raksin (1947)
-23. Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Bernard Herrmann (1947)
-24. Red River, Dimitri Tiomkin (1948)
-25. Scott of the Antarctic, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1948)
-26. The Red Pony, Aaron Copland (1949)
-27. The Heiress, Aaron Copland (1949)
-28. All About Eve, Alfred Newman (1950)
-29. Quo Vadis, Miklos Rozsa (1951)
-30. A Christmas Carol, Richard Addinsell (1951)
-31. A Place in the Sun, Franz Waxman (1951)
-32. Scaramouche, Victor Young (1952)
-33. The Bad and the Beautiful, David Raksin (1952)
-34. High Noon, Dimitri Tiomkin (1952)
-35. The Quiet Man, Victor Young (1952)
-36. Shane, Victor Young (1953)
-37. I Vitelloni, Nino Rota (1953)
-38. Around the World in 80 Days, Victor Young (1954)
-39. Prince Valiant, Franz Waxman (1954)
-40. On the Waterfront, Leonard Bernstein (1954)
-41. Richard lll, William Walton (1955)
-42. Love Is A Many Splendored Thing, Alfred Newman (1955)
-43. Night of the Hunter, Walter Schumann (1955)
-44. Diane, Miklos Rozsa (1956)
-45. Peyton Place, Franz Waxman (1957)
-46. Raintree County, Johnny Green (1957)
-47. The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Malcolm Arnold (1957)
-48. Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann (1958)
-49. Ben Hur, Miklos Rozsa (1959)
-50. North by Northwest, Bernard Herrmann (1959)
-51. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Bernard Herrmann (1959)
-52. The Nun’s Story, Franz Waxman (1959)
-53. The Magnificent Seven, Elmer Bernstein (1960)
-54. Exodus, Ernest Gold (1960)
-55. Psycho, Bernard Herrmann. (1960)
-56. The Alamo, Dimitri Tiomkin (1960)
-57. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Henry Mancini (1961)
-58. King of Kings, Miklos Rozsa (1961)
-59. El Cid, Miklos Rozsa (1961)
-60. Lawrence of Arabia, Maurice Jarre (1962)
-61. To Kill a Mockingbird, Elmer Bernstein (1962)
-62. Taras Bulba, Franz Waxman (1962)
-63. The Pink Panther, Henry Mancini (1963)
-64. Charade, Henry Mancini (1963)
-65. The Leopard, Nino Rota (1963)
-66. Goldfinger, John Barry (1964)
-67. The Fall of the Roman Empire, Dimitri Tiomkin (1964)
-68. Doctor Zhivago, Maurice Jarre (1965)
-69. Sylvia, David Raksin (1965)
-70. The Greatest Story Ever Told, Alfred Newman (1965)
-71. A Man and a Woman, Francis Lai (1966)
-72. Sand Pebbles, Jerry Goldsmith (1966)
-73. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Ennio Morricone (1966)
-74. Casino Royale, Burt Bacharach (1967)
-75. Two for the Road, Henry Mancini (1967)
-76. Far from the Madding Crowd, Richard Rodney Bennett (1967)
-77. The Lion in Winter, John Barry (1968)
-78. Romeo and Juliet, Nino Rota (1968)
-79. David Copperfield, Malcolm Arnold (1969)
-80. Anne of a Thousand Days, Georges Delerue (1969)
-81. True Grit, Elmer Bernstein (1969)
-82. Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Miklos Rozsa (1970)
-83. The Last Valley, John Barry (1971)
-84. The Godfather, Nino Rota (1972)
-85. Lady Caroline Lamb, Richard Rodney Bennett (1972)
-86. Antony and Cleopatra, John Scott (1972)
-87. The Wind and the Lion, Jerry Goldsmith (1975)
-88. Jaws, John Williams (1975)
-89. Superman, John Williams (1978)
-90. Death on the Nile, Nino Rota (1978)
-91. A Little Romance, Georges Delerue (1979)
-92. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, John Williams (1980)
-93. Somewhere in Time, John Barry (1980)
-94. Body Heat, John Barry (1981)
-95. Krull, James Horner (1983)
-96. Once Upon a Time in America, Ennio Morricone (1984)
-97. Splash, Lee Holdridge (1984)
-98. Out of Africa, John Barry (1985)
-99. The Mission, Ennio Morricone (1986)
-100. Untouchables, Ennio Morricone (1987)
-101. Cinema Paradiso, Ennio Morricone (1988)
-102. Time of Destiny, Ennio Morricone (1988)
-103. A Summer Story, Georges Delerue (1988)
-104. Born on the Fourth of July, John Williams (1989)
-105. Henry V, Patrick Doyle (1989)
-106. Glory, James Horner (1989)
-107. Dances With Wolves, John Barry (1990)
-108. Dracula, Wojciech Kilar (1992)
-109. Gettysburg, Randy Edelman (1993)
-110. Jurassic Park, John Williams (1993)
-111. The Age of Innocence, Elmer Bernstein (1993)
-112. Sense and Sensibility, Patrick Doyle (1995)
-113. Apollo 13, James Horner (1995)
-114. Far From Heaven, Elmer Bernstein (2002)
-115. Love Affair, Ennio Morricone (1994).
-116. Hamlet, Patrick Doyle (2009)
-117. Kingdom of Heaven, Harry Gregson-Williams (2005)
-118. Patton, Jerry Goldsmith (1970)
-119. Midnight Cowboy, John Barry (1969)
-120. The Lives of Others, Gabriel Yared (2006)
—–

A Video Interview About Jacques Maritain

In 1993 James and Tyra Arraj interviewed me about the French philosopher Jacques Maritain as part of their excellent documentary, “Understanding Maritain: The Man Who Loved Wisdom.” I was teaching at Fordham University at the time and had been president of the American Maritain Association for several years.  The first book I had published was co-edited with Matthew Mancini, Jacques Maritain: Philosopher and Friend, Mercer University Press, 1987. Maritain, as I describe, had been central in my conversion to Catholicism in 1984. For those who want a solid introduction to Maritain, I can strongly recommend the Arraj documentary, which can be seen here.

Marion Montgomery’s Summa: A Journey through the American Mind

Deal W. Hudson
Readers may already be familiar with the name Marion Montgomery. For many years his articles have appeared regularly in Modern Age, Hillsdale Review, This World, and Chronicles, and Crisis recently published his comment on “De-construction and Eric Voegelin” (June 1988).

But the growth of Montgomery’s reputation has been spurred by the publication in the early 1980s of his massive trilogy, The Prophetic Poet and the Spirit of the Age (presently being reprinted by Sherwood Sugden and Company). Mentioning the trilogy by its proper title can draw a blank stare, while the catchy titles of the individual volumes — Why Flannery O’Connor Stayed Home, Why Poe Drank Liquor, and Why Hawthorne Was Melancholy — are usually recognized.

This, unfortunately, has obscured the real intent and significance of his achievement. Certainly these volumes consider O’Connor, Poe, and Hawthorne, but the whole trilogy, as its title indicates, is after much more. Its 1,400 pages contain nothing less than a “prophetic” Thomistic critique of the American “popular spirit,” as it has evolved from the New England Puritans and Transcendentalists to the present legion of modernists.

Montgomery writes in the Preface:

“We shall consider whether, in consequence of the triumph of opinion over reasoned judgment, a consequence of ideological illusions practiced upon the community of man this past four or five hundred years in the interest of gathering power over nature and man — the popular spirit of our age has reached a condition whereby each man must be his own ideologue; whether indeed he insists upon being so as a “natural right”; and whether there is rescue from the isolation of that position.”

That such a project is unique in American studies, cultural and literary criticism, as well as in Thomism, makes Montgomery’s trilogy distinctive; that he brings it off in a compelling fashion earns The Prophetic Poet and the Spirit of the Age pride of place on bookshelves next to Cornelio Fabro’s God in Exile, Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, and Friedrich Heer’s Intellectual History of the West. Their application of Christian realism in diagnosing the rise and fall of Western culture is directly comparable to the method and scope of the trilogy. This parallel with works whose foci are European also indicates the gap that Montgomery has filled for his audience: a critical reading of American culture, founded upon the Catholic realism of classical and Christian Europe, which attends to the specific spiritual development of America.

Montgomery is a scholar who, beyond being deeply read in the classics, clips his daily newspaper, a habit which provides the trilogy a richness of illustrative detail normally not found in books of similar conceptual reach.

The trilogy attests to Thomism’s continuing vitality: Montgomery has brought St. Thomas to America like no one else before him. In doing so, he has provided an entree into our own inherited past. By providing a map to the spiritual terrain of American literature, Montgomery makes it possible to rediscover the American classics — Hawthorne, Emerson, Poe, James, Pound, Eliot, Faulkner, Nathaniel West —in the light of the Anglo-European Catholic culture to which many Catholics have for years felt bound. For this, Americans owe a lot to Montgomery.

Like Flannery O’Connor, whose witness inspired the trilogy, Montgomery speaks with a distinctly Catholic voice from the heartland of the Protestant South (he worships in an Anglo-Catholic church). Widespread recognition of O’Connor’s writing came slowly because she “stayed home.” When Montgomery says of O’Connor, “Being a Southerner does not in fact set her in a separate world,” he speaks also of himself.

Slowly, the worth of his contribution is being recognized. Gerhart Niemeyer has paid him tribute in the Center Journal (“Why Marion Montgomery Has to Ramble,” Spring 1985). Christendom College held a major symposium on the trilogy, the papers from which were subsequently published in The Hillsdale Review (Spring/Summer 1986). His commentators agree that Montgomery’s voice is not just another in the chorus decrying the woes of the modern world. Montgomery breaks through the impasse created by mere angry protest and supplies what Niemeyer calls a “spiritual therapy.” It is therapy on a high intellectual and broad historical plane. Note Montgomery’s comment on O’Connor’s view of Southern manners:

Let us say that manners are what we discover in community as an aid to the individual member in those moments when his good will falters and best thought weakens. It is the poetry of being beyond the literal words or gestures that embody manners. Manners let the soul catch its breath in the difficult journey of the world where at every moment one may lead himself astray…. To deliberately abandon or reject that deportment of being in nature which we call manners, which order our fallible inclinations, is to willfully enter the jungle, no matter how attractively chrome-plated or path-paved that jungle.

Montgomery moves back and forth between the worlds of the philosopher and the poet with ease, saying he falls “somewhere between Faulkner’s poet and Plato’s philosopher, committed at times to metaphor, at other times to definition.” His facility at connecting these different worlds of discourse seems so natural and unforced that you are left wondering why this kind of “undulating conversation,” as Niemeyer describes the trilogy, has fallen into disfavor. Montgomery’s courage to move beyond the accepted limits of literary criticism, without descending into the murky depths of deconstruction, reminds one that Samuel Johnson once called literary criticism “good talk about books.”

Montgomery’s ability and willingness to undertake such a project naturally provokes interest in his background. He had the good fortune to study English literature at the University of Georgia in the late 1940s, after his military service. Those who are familiar with the history of American letters will remember that Georgia had enjoyed close ties to Vanderbilt’s Fugitives and Agrarians since the 1930s. The legacy of Donald Davidson, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Andrew Lytle was strongly represented on the Georgia faculty by William Wallace Davidson (Donald’s brother), John Donald Wade (founder of the Georgia Review), and Robert Hunter West, who became Montgomery’s early mentor and lifelong friend.

Thus situated, Montgomery was near the center of one of this country’s most important intellectual and literary circles (witness the influence of Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren while on the English faculty at Yale in the 1950s). He enjoyed personal friendships with many of them and with Flannery O’Connor as well. Only last year did Montgomery leave the University of Georgia, having been a member of the English faculty for over 30 years.

While a graduate student he was introduced not only to the classicism, literary discipline, and cultural criticism of the Fugitive-Agrarian movement but was also introduced to Aquinas, Dante, the Neo-Thomists, and other Catholic authors. Montgomery and his wife Dorothy met weekly for several years with other couples from the department to study these texts in a group they called “St. Thomas and Rabbit Hunters.”

Reading St. Thomas in the context of his Fugitive-Agrarian education, Montgomery began to see the similarity of their concern for the recovery of our “ordinate relation” to being. Thomas’s metaphysics of esse, “a sort of static energy in virtue of which the being actually is, or exists,” established for him a larger context in which to pursue Fugitive-Agrarian concerns.

Whereas some readers are tempted to view Montgomery as the last of the Fugitive-Agrarians, he calls himself an “enlarger upon them.” The reason for his continued interest in Fugitive-Agrarian literature and ideas can be understood from a statement made by one of its early leaders, Stark Young: “We defend qualities not because they belong to the South, but because the South belongs to them.” These qualities include an affirmation of history and tradition, of the family and community, a distrust of urbanization and the claims of technology, the social role of the poet, and the universal need of a religious faith.

Thus, Montgomery’s ties to the Fugitive-Agrarian tradition are far from sentimental or reactionary. Tara, mint juleps, and ante-bellum gowns only draw his fire: “History, when it is preserved in its viable form, is in people, not in things, in clothes or buildings on which attention is focused by idle holiday curiosity or with a vague sense of guilt for the neglect of heritage.” What Montgomery finds prophetic in the writings of Davidson, Tate, and Ransom, he also found in Thomas Aquinas and Solzhenitsyn, both of whom he has had the good humor to describe as “Southerners.”

Why? Because together they have sought to protect being from those who would deny its otherness, the integrity of its existence apart from the mind, and to establish a genuine stewardship of creation grounded in a well-ordered love of what is given. In order to explain the “spiritual dislocations” that have perverted our relationship to being, Montgomery, following Eric Voegelin, employs the names of the ancient heretics, primarily the Gnostics and Manicheans.

The bulk of his trilogy traces the American versions of these two heresies, each leading from a metaphysical denial of being to a denial of the human body and its role in the order of knowledge and the formation of virtue. These heresies deny the necessary function of the senses as instruments of knowledge and the necessity that virtue be embodied in actions repeated over time.

It is not the scope of these three volumes alone that makes them difficult to describe in a short space. If Montgomery were busy running his authors like grist through an ideological mill toward a pre-established outcome, summarization would be easy. Montgomery, however, loves his subjects too much to treat them as grist. He turns them round and round for his reader’s gaze. His generous scrupulousness becomes a source of enjoyment; it provides the unexpected turn, the personal aside, the unforeseen comparison, and, as I have said, the embodiment of his analysis in concrete detail.

For example, in his discussion of “The New Sentimentality: Man as Wind-Up Mouse,” Montgomery brilliantly connects the best-known character in O’Connor’s fiction, the Misfit (from A Good Man Is Hard to Find), with Hannah Arendt’s portrait of Adolf Eichmann — who represents “the banality of evil”— along with Charles Manson, the Jonestown massacre, and, of all things, transactional analysis. “A little time,” he writes, “a little distance, and a magnitude of effect in time and place make for dramatic speculation on the question of evil. But the same questions, seen in our immediate present, lacking the authority of history’s spectacles, those large accomplished effects, are likely to strike one as merely trivial.”

Chapter after chapter (and it is no accident that each volume contains 31) of such counterpoint between idea and historical consequence may at first seem like mere “rambling,” until one realizes how used to the constricted range of academic writing we have become in our reading habits. Don’t be fooled by the casual, almost offhand tone of his writing. Montgomery has brought his art to these books, in addition to this prudence and his speculative insight (theoria). As he told me, you have “got to make the watch before you can wind it,” to which we might add, “and tell the time.”

The trilogy is packed with major and minor characters. Aquinas, Voegelin, Eliot, the Fugitive-Agrarians, all play an equally important role in Montgomery’s argument, second only to Flannery O’Connor. Dante, Eliade, Faulkner, Maritain, Nietzsche, and Teilhard de Chardin are discussed throughout the O’Connor volume, while Bergson, Baudelaire, Heidegger, Pascal, and Sartre surround the discussion of Poe. The treatment of Hawthorne’s melancholy takes the reader backwards to John Locke, Jonathan Edwards, and John Winthrop, and forward to George Santayana, Nathaniel West, and Henry James. Here we also receive the answer to O’Connor’s question,” Why did Henry James like England better than America?” Montgomery notes that “there [James] discovers a devotion to form still pervasive in the rarer reaches of the intellectual community; it is with subtle English manners, examined as an outsider, that James is concerned . . . But one does not find James concerned with the mystery upon which Miss O’Connor found manners to depend.”

This concern for mystery takes us to the heart of Montgomery’s trilogy. It is a mystery witnessed to by the silence of Aquinas, the “Ash Wednesday” of Eliot, the grotesques of O’Connor; a mystery sinned against by James’s aestheticism, by Poe’s Manichean denial of the body, by Emerson’s attempt to restructure being; and by Hawthorne’s inability to break free from idealism. Mystery, as Jacques Maritain taught, can be approached, though not encompassed, by thought.

A mystery is supra-rational, but not irrational. Montgomery takes the reader toward what can be known and felt of the mystery that expresses itself in and through what Voegelin calls the “in-between” nature of human existence. Gnosticism and Manicheism both seek to escape the “tensional” nature of life; they fail to see the esse (thatness) behind the ens (what-ness).

Metaphysically confused from the start, modern heretics have gradually reduced all of creation to mere products of thought, of consciousness. Thus established as what Voegelin calls “gnostic directors of being,” they void the problem of evil and pursue in this world the perfect beatitude they deny in the next. Montgomery locates the entry point of this millennialist utilitarianism in the Puritan mind, represented in Winthrop’s image of “a shining city on the Hill.”Montgomery observes:

“One may discover here a shift from St. Augustine’s careful concern for the difference between the City of Man and the City of God, a shift which in its subsequent consequences following the Plymouth landing has secularizing consequences beyond Winthrop’s anticipations.”

Indeed, for Montgomery it was Emerson who translated this Gnostic Puritanism into a full-blown secular program for the restructuring of human existence, “a closed Eden,” within the individual human mind. Commenting on the hostile reception given to Solzhenitsyn’s speech at Harvard, Montgomery writes: “Emerson, we must insist, is a considerable force in that establishment [Harvard] —a Gnostic thinker whose influence we have yet to overcome.”

One only has to listen to the gurus of the “New Age” telling us that we “can create our own reality” to realize how strongly that influence continues to be felt. Hawthorne, living down the road from Emerson in Salem, was not taken in by the growing influence of the latter’s abstract optimism, detached as it was from an immediate encounter with the world of particularity. Hawthorne preferred the surroundings of his “town pump” to Emerson’s creation of the “New Man” in the utopian “city on the hill.” But Hawthorne failed in his prophetic attempt, through his adoption of allegory, to escape the growing narcissistic mood and to recover his love for the world as given to the senses.

Poe, however, can hardly be said to have attempted a step in the right direction. He explicitly rejected the manipulative empiricism of the eighteenth century, particularly its nadir in utilitarianism. But “the anemic, lost soul in that new world dreamed into being since the Enlightenment seems indispensable to Poe.” Instead of recovering the vitality of the world, Poe sought refuge in a supremacy of the intellect that excludes the outer world altogether. Poe reversed the direction of Locke’s epistemology: instead of a tabula rasa receiving a world of perceptual impressions, Poe’s mind created the world on its own; his symbolism operates as a mental mirror rather than a window.

Montgomery describes Poe as countering the absurdity of the Enlightenment by ushering in the Absurd — “He may even be called obscene, practicing a sort of necrophilia upon the dead body of the world.” Thus, his status in the trilogy as a “prophetic poet” seems ironic compared to Hawthorne, and certainly compared to O’Connor.

The vision that Montgomery finds in Poe, one that strains toward “a spot of time, a still point, a moment of grace,” gazed, nevertheless, more in the direction of the deified Self, in the direction of Heideggerian and Sartrean existentialism, rather than toward the prophetic recovery of “old but forgotten things.”

Readers of the trilogy will immediately notice that Montgomery regards Flannery O’Connor as the prophetic poet of twentieth-century American letters. Montgomery’s treatment makes this a highly plausible claim. Whether the literary establishment will listen is another matter.

The popular “Catholic” novelist Brian Moore, reviewing the newly issued Library of American edition of O’Connor’s works (New York Times Book Review, August 21, 1988), went out of his way to call her work “not great.” Not only was his remark inappropriate on such an occasion but it also betrayed, along with a touch of envy, a “we’re- beyond- this-kind-of- thing” attitude toward O’Connor’s straightforward Catholic orthodoxy.

If you haven’t read O’Connor, Montgomery will send you in search of her collected works; if you have read O’Connor, you will want to begin re-reading. Montgomery knew Miss O’Connor well. They exchanged letters; she praised his fiction. After her death, Montgomery spent many hours in her library at Georgia College in Milledgeville reading the books she had collected and noting her comments and underscoring. In Montgomery’s hands Flannery O’Connor emerges as both a “major” writer and critic, a “realist of distances” whose philosophical and spiritual understanding was not limited, but rather enlarged, by both her Southernness and her Catholicism.

As Montgomery explains in his chapter entitled “Getting to Know Haze Motes: Nietzsche as a Country Boy,” it is to O’Connor’s Wise Blood we should look for an explanation of why existentialism was so easily assimilated in American high and low culture: “You don’t have to have attended the Sorbonne to be an existentialist.” Next to her collected essays, Mystery and Manners, and her letters, The Habit of Being, there is no better place to discover the remarkable mind behind the fiction than in Why Flannery O’Connor Stayed Home.

Long before he wrote his trilogy, Marion Montgomery had established his reputation as a literary critic and as a novelist and a poet with four novels and three books of poetry to his credit. In 1974 his last novel, Fugitive, was published by Harper and Row. His first books of criticism appeared in 1970: Ezra Pound: A Critical Essay and T.S. Eliot: An Essay on the American Magus, for which Allen Tate wrote on the jacket, “I have learned for the first time how to read ‘Ash Wednesday’ and ‘Prufrock.’”

These were followed by The Reflective Journey Toward Order: Essays on Dante, Wordsworth, Eliot, and Others (1973), which Montgomery considers a prelude to the trilogy, and a second study of Eliot, Eliot’s Reflective Journey to the Garden (1978). Then came The Prophetic Poet and the Spirit of the Age (1980-84), followed in 1987 by a book which could be called its “afterword,” Possum and Other Receits for the Recovery of “Southern” Being, resulting from the invitation to deliver the thirtieth Lamar Memorial Lectures at Mercer University.

For those who are interested in a shorter, more accessible introduction to Montgomery, I recommend starting with his forthcoming Concerning Virtue and Other Modern Shadows of Turning: Preliminary Agitations. Based upon a series of 1982 lectures sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Concerning Virtue discusses the Socratic question of whether virtue can be taught, and in the process restates many of the major themes found in the trilogy.

This book will appeal to those who are put off by the rather dense, intricate pattern of intellectual cross-references in the trilogy, in Possum, and in The Reflective Journey Towards Order. Like Possum, Concerning Virtue extends the argument of the trilogy even further into the fabric of American life, featuring as its centerpiece a provocative expose of “Ralph Nader as Gnostic Puritan.”

Montgomery is far from finished. What would be the fitting finale for most scholars, the trilogy appears to be only a deep gathering of breath, but one many of us will be studying for years. Closely upon the heels of Concerning Virtue will follow Montgomery’s Words, Words, Words, based on the Younts lectures given at Erskine College, in which he enters the fray, created by Allan Bloom and E.D. Hirsch, over the deterioration of the liberal arts curriculum and the responsibility of the university to society.

Nearly forty years ago Marion Montgomery published a verse that has subsequently proved prophetic:

In February Freeze

I am beginning to think of the possibility of song:

These too froward flowers in a cold abstraction

have burst grossly outward.

Black tissues will grey in a slough of March’s ease-

ful deceptions.

Still, I am beginning to think of the possibility of

singing:

These dead flowers’ risk, vision in praise of possible

song.

[from The Gull and Other Georgia Scenes, 1969]

Published MAY 1, 1989

Unicorns in the Toybox

Deal W. Hudson

A friend of mind, a cradle Catholic who doubts her faith, asked what she should teach her four-year old about religion. “Everything,” I said, “Heaven, Hell, God, Angels, Sin, Grace, Forgiveness, don’t leave anything out.” “How can I do that,” she responded “When I’m not sure myself.”

Such attempts at parental honesty can leave a child in the lurch. Consider what children lose when they don’t learn Bible stories. They are deprived of a framework in which to think about the big questions — life, death, good, evil, and most especially, God. Their natural spiritual curiosity goes unfed.

Stories of fairies and goblins are not enough. As C. S. Lewis shows in The Chronicles of Narnia, stories and myths can prepare the mind for understanding spiritual reality. The day comes, however, when unicorns are packed away in the toybox.

Thinking about the immaterial world comes easily to children. Last weekend, on a long car trip, my six-year old suddenly asked me “who made God?” She insisted God, like everything else, must have a cause. I countered that God’s being was unique and uncaused. We argued back and forth, laughing, but her mother and I were appropriately dazzled by this flash of metaphysical intelligence.

My friend also pressed me about how to talk about death. Her child was easily frightened; she didn’t know whether to take her daughter to visit her grandmother’s grave. Wouldn’t death come to mean being buried under the ground? I suggested she use it as an opportunity to talk about eternity, about heaven, about the soul rising to God. “But I don’t really believe that,” she said.

We all know mothers and fathers like this, torn between the urge to pass along the religious training they received, but held back by their own doubts and disappointments. Among Catholics in this country there is the added fear that their children will be infected by the old prejudices and parochialisms of an immigrant church.

As a result, the children get little or no spiritual formation, certainly no spiritual information, before they are let loose on the culture. What happens? Lacking the intellectual measure of a basic catechism, lacking the affective measure of religious awe, they accept whatever the culture at hand serves up to them. Evolutionary materialism becomes the last word on the “scientific truth.” Media images of soulless self-gratification become the height of personal ecstasy. Whatever the pitfalls of early religious training they must be preferable to these!

As a convert from Protestantism, I am always asked, especially by cradle Catholics, what made me enter the Church. They are often perplexed when I tell them about my discovery of Catholicism, the benefits of its sacramental system, the priesthood, the Magisterium, and its unparalleled gifts to the development of our culture. The look in their eyes tells me I am describing a church they have left without ever really knowing it. This is not the church they vaguely hoped would arise from the backdraft of Vatican II — democratized, therapeutically sound, willing to bend with the times.

As we approach the 30th anniversary of Vatican II it must be admitted that Jacques Maritain’s prediction has come true: the new pastoral emphasis of the Council was used to subvert Catholic intelligence, character, and culture. Maritain, who was the darling of the young intellectuals and religious who attended the Council until he published The Peasant of the Garonne in 1966, was suddenly branded as a senile, embittered old man who had lost touch with the modern age.

His point was simple and profound — if you lose the mind of the Church you will eventually lose its faith as well. Catholics who cannot affirm intellectually that God exists, created the world, and sent his Son to redeem us will struggle to remain faithful. They also will not know what to tell their children, thus passing on confusion to the next generation.

Some will argue that this is not so bad, at least these children will be able to make up their own minds. On this point, I can only say that children’s religious training is precisely what enables them to make up their own minds when they are older.

Others will argue that these children will lack the vices of the old Catholic ways — they will be more tolerant, more sensitive, more open to different perspectives. Flannery O’Connor commented that our age has achieved its gain in sensibility through a loss of vision. The post-Vatican II generation has not flocked to the new Church with its greater sensibility. Like children of every age we hunger for vision, even if it keeps us awake at night.

Published October 1, 1995

On Beauty – A Message to Its Religious Despisers

Deal W. Hudson

What did Fyodor Dostoevsky mean in The Idiot when one of his characters asserts, “Beauty will save the world”? Taken at face value, it’s a claim that beauty plays a role in the salvation of us all.

There are quite a few Christians, of all denominations, who would respond to that claim with suspicion, if not outright denial. Beauty, they would say, is more like the road to ruin than the path to God.

I think these “religious despisers” of beauty are mistaken. They are not only missing the deepest significance of our desire for beauty, but they are also putting unnecessary limits on their witness to faith in Jesus Christ.

Let’s begin the argument by acknowledging that beauty is part of everything we do, not just our enjoyment of the arts. Each of us has known moments of overwhelming beauty that caused a reorientation of our lives; it elicits such a sense of aspiration in us that we resolve to live in a better way.

Such moments come to many of us from works of art as well: a film, a novel, a poem, a play, a painting or sculpture, a ballet or musical, a building, or – as it did for me – an architecturally arranged place like the Piazza del Campo in Sienna, where it is said the Mother of God laid down her cloak to mark its boundaries.

Remember that aspiration you feel as you are lifted up and out of yourself, when you experience the ecstasy of beauty. You aspire to live in accord with something you glimpse at that moment – something you sense is real and within your grasp.

Certain great works of art, of course, have been transforming people for centuries. Another of the great Russian novelists, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, argues that works of art have an advantage over unadorned concepts (as in philosophy and theology) in changing lives.

Concepts which are manufactured out of whole cloth or overstrained will not stand up to being tested in images, will somehow fall apart and turn out to be sickly and pallid and convincing to no one.

He contrasts bare concepts to works of art that, “steeped in truth and presenting it [the truth] to us vividly alive will take hold of us, will attract us to themselves with great power – and no one, ever, even in a later age, will presume to negate them.”

The force behind the power of art, Solzhenitsyn claims, is “that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty.” Indeed, it is precisely the unity of these transcendental properties of being – truth, beauty, and goodness – that makes possible the notion that beauty can be an agent of salvation.

The ancient and medieval philosophers considered this oneness a demonstrable fact of metaphysics, unaided by faith. Theology, however, provided the ultimate cause for the unity: the doctrine of creation. When God creates, He shares His being, His existence – an existence that is perfectly true, good, and beautiful. It’s their status as properties across all beings that make them “controvertible,” meaning wherever you meet one you encounter the other.

Those “religious despisers” of beauty would welcome someone they meet who is searching for the good or the true. So why not also welcome those who search for the beautiful? The despisers do not understand that underlying the hunger for beauty is the search for God.

It is God’s beauty that will be seen in the Beatific Vision, the state of eternal happiness where our infinite desire meets the only infinite object: God. As Dante says, at the end of the Paradiso, it is impossible to turn away:

And as I gaz’d, I kindled at the sight;
No Mortal from the glorious view could turn,
Paradiso. (Canto XXXIII)

Our unending delight is found in the beauty of God, in His presence to our souls. Yet beauty is also part of the journey, not just the destination. Hans Urs von Balthasar devoted his life’s work to showing how God’s revelation to us has an aesthetic character that cannot be ignored. Through revelation, God made Himself known to us in His Son and in His Church.

Von Balthasar writes,

If God wishes to reveal the love that he harbors for the world, this love has to be something that the world can recognize, in spite of, or in fact in, its being wholly other.

In other words, God had to make His beauty visible to the material eye in order to draw that eye back to the spiritual. God literally lured us back to Himself with the beauty of Christ – a beauty unlike any of the ancient world; a beauty whose chief symbol is the cross. Von Balthasar wrote volume after volume tracing this “Christ-form” of beauty through history, culture, Scripture, and the spiritual life.

Solzhenitsyn claimed there were times when beauty did the work of its transcendental counterparts:

If the crests of these three trees [the true, good, and beautiful] join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light – yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.

Perhaps beauty will “perform the work of all three.” That’s a line that might make many Christians choke, but if they understood the desire for beauty, they would also understand these things: If someone comes asking about beauty, don’t turn him away. If you meet someone looking for beauty, don’t tell him you only know where to find Christ.

If a friend weeps at what is beautiful, don’t tell them they are wasting their tears. If you deny a person beauty, in the name of God, he may reject Him, He who is beauty itself. If you say beauty belongs to the Evil One, you are aiding in Satan’s most devious ploy.

Instead, Christians should tell these pilgrims that their desire for beauty is as natural to the creature as the hunger for goodness and truth. Tell them that beauty can be the way, and then tell them about the beauty of Christ and His cross.

Even better, Christians should show them the art that Christians have produced to glorify Him – art so great and lasting that it is gazed upon every day by millions who don’t even share the faith that inspired it.

Show them that before there was Hollywood, there were poets, composers, painters, architects, novelists, and sculptors that dwarf all but a few who have created films over the past one hundred years.

This is not meant as a dispensable addendum to faith or to the evangelical witness; the fullness of our Christian witness demands it.

As von Balthasar wrote at the beginning of his incomparable To the Glory of the Lord:

Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past – whether he admits it or not – can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.

Who Cares If We Know the Ending?

Deal W. Hudson

Why are we able to enjoy a movie that we have already seen, or tell a well-known story whose outcome we already know? Cyprian and I sat down over the weekend to watch the 2004 film, Miracle, starring Kurt Russell, about the 1978 victory of the US hockey team over the Soviets at the Lake Placid Olympics.

I had seen this movie at least two times. I knew the ending and several of the key plot points along the way, but I was completely absorbed watching all of it for 2 hours and 15 minutes. So was Cyprian, who knew the US was going to win because I had told him, and we both were disappointed when there were no “extras” to watch on the DVD.

Much of the reason we were enthralled by the film was because it was extremely well-made, with Kurt Russell as the US coach, Herb Brooks, taking on the entire hockey establishment with his commitment to beat the Soviets, perhaps the greatest hockey team of all time. Not only was the story of the 1978 victory familiar to us but also the narrative trope of the underdog winning in spite of the odds, in spite of the resistance against him. In this case, it was Herb Brooks and his college hockey players overcoming the resistance of his own colleagues as well as the Soviet hockey team.

We knew everything that was going to happen in that film, but for two hours we were completely in the grasp of the storytelling, skillfully directed by Gavin O’Connor. It must be the case that our appreciation of art, whether a film, a novel, or a painting is not found in its presentation of the new, per se. All art, with the exception of kitsch, offers its audience something new in the way the familiar is represented on stage, on the movie screen, on a canvas, or in a book.

When the human form was contorted in cubes by Picasso in his 1907 painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, his audience, no matter how shocked or delighted by the new cubist style, still recognized the human figures, the Young Woman, i.e., prostitutes of Avignon. Indeed, it would have been a superficial critic who applauded Picasso for the stylistic invention if it had not succeeded in revealing something interesting about the young woman it depicts. In other words, we know in general what a young prostitute might look like, that’s not new. But Picasso succeeded by his new style in depicting the harsh realities of a prostitute’s life. One might say an artist employs the new, his creativity, to re-imagine or re-present what we are already familiar with, and in doing so offers us insight, or greater clarity, into the subject of the work. (Obviously this description would be amended in the case of totally abstract works.)

Once we have it that art reproduces the human, nature, and the spiritual we can appreciate how Aristotle in his Poetics captured the aesthetic experience with his description of Greek tragedy involving the “catharsis of pity and fear.” What we can tease out of this highly compressed statement is important for two reasons: first, the viewer undergoes an experience called a catharsis, and, second, that catharsis has something to do with “pity and fear.” Thus, even without defining precisely what Aristotle meant, we know that for him tragedy was about the human experience, about what we all face along the way, from the impact of misfortune to the consequences of our own mistakes, especially the mistake of pride.

Allow me to use Aristotle’s discussion of tragedy to apply to the arts in general, especially those that employ narratives such as film, novels, and paintings. What Aristotle meant by the “catharsis of pity and fear” is precisely what answers my original question: how we can enjoy a story we’ve already been told. First of all, the human stories we meet in art are very finite. Somewhere in my studies I came across an author who had created a list of all possible human narratives, and it wasn’t very long. Secondly, these narratives are familiar, along with the emotions and worries that accompany them. Aristotle’s “pity and fear” represent the common thoughts and emotions we all have when, for example, a son rebels against his father, or young lovers disobey their parents, and so on.

We can enjoy, even be riveted, by the retelling of these human stories because their artistic representation, if skillfully made, provides us greater clarity, i.e., catharsis, about the dynamics of that story, our story, thus allaying our predictable emotions and worries about being faced with that situation ourselves. Catharsis is not an emotional purgation, it is an experience of clarity, of insight, that in making sense of the human condition allows us at least a moment of relief from the anxieties that we bear from day to day. In fact, we welcome the retelling of traditional stories because we are always seeking both to understand and endure the stories we inhabit and ultimately the narrative which is our entire life.

Why else would both the main characters in Casablanca, played by Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, ask for the same song to be played over and over? The subtext of “Play it again, Sam” is, “I am still trying to understand, to put the pieces of my life together.”

Real Presence Fallen Flat

Deal W. Hudson

My wife, also a Catholic convert, has said several times over the years, “The Church makes it so hard to be a Catholic.” If she was really precise she would have said, “I go to Mass and it looks, sounds, and feels perfunctory — there is no attempt at ‘celebration’, which is what it’s supposed to be, right?”
For the record, I concur, completely, and with sadness.

I have addressed this issue before and each time I receive dismissive, sometimes condescending, comments such as, “I attend Mass to be in the Real Presence of Christ, what else do you need?” Or, “I don’t want my prayer and contemplation interrupted by people and personalities!” Or, “It doesn’t matter if the music is bad, the homily weak, the congregation unresponsive, Christ is objectively present!”

It is to this last “accuser” that I will address myself — because, though disagreeing, he has put his finger on the issue: It’s precisely because of Christ’s objective presence that the Mass should look, sound, and feel closer to a celebration, than an audition for the next zombie film. After all, don’t call refer to Mass as “celebrated”?

I’ve watched the parishioners as they came out the side door of the parish, usually no one speaks on the way to the parking lot, few smile, and as slipped as quickly as possible into their cars already parked facing the exit.

Try this thought experiment: You arrive at Mass, walk through the nave, enter, and see Jesus Christ standing at the altar. You take your seat, but you kneel of course, probably trembling. After the pews are full, Christ steps forward saying, “Welcome! I thank you for being here. But I’m only here to observe.” Christ turns to the priest, lector, choir, organist, and altar servers, saying, “Please continue!” and then He suddenly disappears.
Imagine what kind of Mass would follow? Now that everyone knows Jesus Christ is watching. What would change, if anything?

Most would agree, I believe, on the kind of celebration of Holy Mass that would result: inspired, animated preaching; the lector reading loud and clear, with feeling; the choir and organist making music at the peak of their powers (all wishing they had rehearsed more); the altar servers moving with dignity as if blocked for a stage play; the congregation responding in full-throated unison, grateful to be on their knees.

In short, the Mass would be celebrated with a beauty and joy that breathes the breath of God into each and every one.

As they leave Mass, they are quiet – but then turn to look at each other – smiles break out, tears fall, and laughter rises as well.

And there would be another outcome: Some would start attending daily Mass; others would no longer wear blue jeans and polo shirts; some would join the choir or volunteer as lectors and altar servers; very few would “forget” to bring a donation to put in the collection plate; the parish itself would be transformed into a vibrant, compassionate place where parishioners felt eager, rather than obligated, to gather.

The lesson? The Real Presence of Jesus Christ is an objective truth that should incite a celebration and all that a real celebration entails. He is not an objective presence like a mathematical truth or a principle of physics, which elicit detached contemplation. His objectivity is the Person at its divine pitch and beauty, the sound and sight of which transforms the subjects in His Presence.

Praise Him! Worship Him! Let Him lift you up, raising your voice and spirit in true celebration!