Coleridge is a monthly digest of significant developments in theology and the arts. 

By Ben Lima


Deal Hudson interviews poet Dana Gioia about his collaboration with composer Sir James MacMillan on their newly premiered grand choral work, Fiat Lux (Church and Culture Hour). According to Mark Swed, “MacMillan is the greatest musical gift to the Catholic Church since Olivier Messiaen merged birdsong, raga-inspired rhythms and all-around ecstasy with rhapsodic faith” (Los Angeles Times).

Peter Kwasniewski introduces his new book, Good Music, Sacred Music, and Silence: Three Gifts of God for Liturgy and for Life (New Liturgical Movement). He draws lessons from the 1895 revival of Gregorian chant: “We must not let the good be the enemy of the best. The chanted Roman liturgy is our birthright as Roman Catholics” (Benedict Institute). And Ken Myers reflects on music and silence, via Josef Pieper, Paul Hillier, and Arvo Pärt (Cantica Sacra).


Adam Kirsch writes about Hans Pfitzner’s operatic portrait of the composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Pfitzner’s dialogue with novelist Thomas Mann, and the pathos and the perils of conservative artistry in the modern world (The New Criterion). Valerie Stivers reviews Michael Marissen’s Bach Against Modernity (Compact).

Julian Kwasniewski introduces Guillaume du Fay’s 15th-century Mass for St. Anthony of Padua: “Pure, with a touch of medieval playfulness and youth not always found in later music of the sixteenth century” (Crisis Magazine), and interviews Bryan Roach: “The musical developments in Italy around the year 1600 were seen as a crucial element for the Counter Reformation cause north of the Alps” (Liturgical Arts Journal).

Orienting readers to the works of canonical composers, Rebecca Burgess introduces Edward Elgar (“Distant Strains of Memory,” Law and Liberty), Terez Rose, Rimsky-Korsakov’s magical “Scheherazade” (Voegelin View) and “The Many Musical Moods of Edvard Grieg” (The Imaginative Conservative), and Aaron James, Philip Glass, “the most influential of the minimalists” (The Lamp).


The Episcopal Church of Wyoming has commissioned 13 paintings by the artist Brian Whelan to celebrate “White Robe: The Sacred Journey of the Rev. John Roberts among Native Americans” (Facebook). “Whelan’s work follows in the tradition of East Anglian narrative painting” (Lander Museum). The Rev. Jonathan Evens reviews current shows by Gwen John, Marc Chagall, and others (ArtLyst).

Anna Della Subin reviews two new books on the cultural and visual history of Mary Magdalene: “She will remain, as the poet Ephrem knew, an invitation to a mystery — that of Christ’s death and resurrection, but also, perhaps more powerfully, that of everyday creation” (The TLS). Diane Apostolos-Cappadona on the Magdalene in art: “silent penitential tears — not the physical contortions of sobbing or hysteria — became a visual attribute” (Church Times).

Sculptor Simon Smith demonstrates Donatello’s carving technique in a video for the Victoria and Albert Museum: “Marble is ‘the Emperor of all stones’ and ‘like a slice of the moon,’ as he recreates a panel from the 15th-century Prato Pulpit in Italy” (YouTube). Jonathan Evens compares two middle 20th-century French painters: Georges Rouault and his student André Girard (ArtWay). Aidan Harte wrestles with the sculpture of Arno Breker in “The Art of Monstrous Times” (Law and Liberty).

Aidan Hart writes on liturgical art and human dignity: “In the icon tradition, for example, we find that the lines of perspective often converge in the viewer, and not in a fictitious horizon within the image” (The Way of Beauty). David Clayton on whether and how a new sacred art form might emerge from faithful communities of worship (New Liturgical Movement).

And in film, Nathan Douglas sets out the vocation of the Christian cinephile (Dappled Things). Also: David Hering, “Over the Water: Éric Rohmer after Europe” (The Point); Adam Simon, “Quentin Tarantino’s Escape from History” (Law and Liberty); Mitchell Beaupre, “God’s Lonely Man: Paul Schrader on leading with love” (Letterboxd).


An act on “beautifying federal civic architecture” has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Critical comment comes from Kriston Capps at Bloomberg, while comments in favor have appeared from Myron Magnet at The Wall Street Journal, Catesby Leigh at The American Conservative, David Clayton at The Way of Beauty, from the National Civic Art Society, and from Banks himself at Townhall.

The prominent classical architect Duncan Stroik discusses contemporary church architecture in “Stone Sermons” (First Things podcast), and Jeremy Tate praises the flourishing of traditional building techniques (First Things). Carpenters are rebuilding the roof of Notre Dame in Paris using medieval methods (AP News). Michael J. Connolly recalls “The Year They Tore Salem Depot Down” (The Imaginative Conservative).

Cammy Brothers reviews an exhibition on the architecture of Raphael, who “sought to recapture the material splendor and full colored magnificence of ancient Rome. Few others got even close” (The Wall Street Journal), and in “Against Inhumane Architecture,” James Stevens Curl reviews Branko Mitrović’s Architectural Principles in the Age of Fraud (The Critic).


An excerpt from Michael Edwards’s newly translated book, The Bible and Poetry: “The poetic act draws close to the real and, in order to go to the depth of things, it recreates them for us by welcoming them in sounds, rhythms, and unlimited ramifications of meanings, and places these recreations in the domain of the possible” (The Paris Review).

On the Beatrice Institute Podcast is “What Has Beowulf to do with Christ?,” a conversation with Peter Ramey, author of The Word-Hoard Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, “the first translation and popular commentary to take seriously the religious dimension of this venerable text” (Angelico Press). Joseph Pearce holds up “The Ballad of Walsingham” and “The Pilgrim Queen” as exemplars of Marian literature (National Catholic Register).

Mark Botts writes that “Lady Macbeth demonstrates what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, describes as ‘human love,’” which is not a good thing (Front Porch Republic), and Anthony Esolen praises George Herbert’s “The Windows”: “We then have, not the ‘waterish, weak, and thin’ blankness of doctrine alone, but both light and color, doctrine and LIFE. This is the work of God’s grace” (Word & Song).

Adam Kirsch reviews W.H. Auden (City Journal), Carl Eric Scott highlights Auden’s praise of Pascal (PostModernConservative), and Daniel Dorman explains “Why We Should Read Poetry” (Mere Orthodoxy).

Glynn Young on Andrew Frisardi’s The Moon on Elba: “It’s rooted in Italy and, to a degree, in Dante. It’s filled with an almost ethereal light” (Tweetspeak Poetry). Robert Grant Price reviews Spending the Winter by Joseph Bottum: “It’d be a mistake to call Bottum a religious poet, but he is” (University Bookman).

A.M. Juster reviews Bruce Beasley’s Prayershreds: “An admirer of the book, poet Lisa Russ Spaar, has called Prayershreds ‘Hopkins on psilocybin,’ but fortunately that assessment is only intermittently accurate” (Ad Fontes). James Matthew Wilson reviews Juster’s Wonder and Wrath (Dappled Things), as well as Marly Youmans’s verse novel Seren of the Wildwood: “She has invited us into the world as it actually is and as it would appear to us if we paid sufficient attention to the hidden presence of good and evil that shape our lives even when we pretend to disbelieve in them” (Catholic World Report).

Classic Fiction

Rachel Lu compares G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, and Ralph McInerny: “A holy whodunit offers readers hope and reassurance, reminding us that grace is always available to us and that forgiveness is real. But it should also cause some discomfort, as readers turn the magnifying glass inward and consider how often they too have yielded to temptation” (America).

Tyler Hummel contrasts C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy and James Cameron’s Avatar films: “Curiously, both Pandora and Perelandra stand as rebuttals to modern humanity’s corruption, but from entirely different angles” (Voegelin View). Also, Ross Douthat on Lewis’s That Hideous Strength and UFOs (The New York Times), and M.A. Franklin on Lewis, “The Right Books,” and moral imagination (American Reformer).

John Ehrett uses Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein to demonstrate the impossibility of any return to paganism, this side of the cross (American Reformer). Sarah Woodard writes on “Grace at Gunpoint: Flannery O’Connor on the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace” (Mockingbird), and Mary Grace Mangano on “Katherine Anne Porter’s Place in the Catholic Literary Tradition” (Church Life Journal).

Rachel B. Griffis reviews Reading for the Love of God: How to Read as a Spiritual Practice, by Jessica Hooten Wilson (Front Porch Republic). Also new: Jessica Hooten Wilson, “Dorothy L. Sayers’s Scandalous Recasting of the Gospel” (Plough), and a dialogue between Lee Oser and Jessica Hooten Wilson: “What Is The Relationship Between Books and a Healthy Culture?” (RealClearPolitics).

Dan Hugger reviews Mythic Realms: The Moral Imagination in Literature & Film, a new essay collection from Bradley J. Birzer, “knight-errant ‘Bearer of the Word’ from the plains of Kansas” (Religion & Liberty Online).

Contemporary Fiction

The first chapter of Eugene Vodolazkin’s new novel, A History of the Island, is online (Plough). J.C. Scharl reviews the book: “Truly seeking to understand the other is not a natural act; it is a supernatural one” (The European Conservative).

The passing of Cormac McCarthy (1933-2023) has elicited theological appreciations of his work. James Watson writes that “McCarthy uses the Catholic sacraments, hidden in plain sight, to mete out existential revelations to his most autobiographical protagonist” (Catholic World Report), Nora Kenney considers Cormac McCarthy, James Joyce, and the culture of death (The American Conservative), and Philip D. Bunn explores knowledge and science in McCarthy (University Bookman). Earlier Christian interpretations of McCarthy had appeared from Cyril O’Regan (and again), Jessica Hooten Wilson, Matthew Boudway, and Chris Green.

Simon Caldwell writes, “The time has arrived for the 21st-century Catholic novel” (Catholic Herald), and Katy Carl responds, “The truth is that we are living in an explosion of high-quality Catholic fiction being produced in every quarter” (Dappled Things). Thomas M. Ward on the gospel in Wingfeather: “Children’s literature hasn’t achieved such theological depth since the Chronicles of Narnia” (Plough).

Reviews of new work include Stephen G. Adubato on “Houellebecq, joy and Jesus” (The Critic), Joseph Pearce on William Baer’s Advocatus Diaboli (The Imaginative Conservative), Joan Bauer on Patricia Horvath’s But Now Am Found (Dappled Things), Jack Rosenwinkel on Lee Oser’s “prophetic satire” Old Enemies (Dappled Things), and Anthony Domestico on The Late Americans: “There remains in Brandon Taylor’s work the ghost of belief: the hope, often thwarted but still existent, that coldness might become warmth, that lives might be meaningful, that indifference might turn into a deeper, more beautiful kind of being seen” (Commonweal).

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