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

By Ben Lima


Andrey Rublev: The Artist and His World, a biography by Robin Milner-Gulland of “the greatest painter of religious icons and frescoes in medieval Russia,” is out now from Reaktion Books. Iconographer George Kordis reflects on whether icons are “painted” or “written” (George Kordis).

David Platzer reviews a show in Paris of medieval treasures from the Victoria & Albert Museum: “We are so used to seeing a dark-haired Italian Christ that a ginger-haired English Christ as portrayed in Crucified Christ (1275–1300), sculpted in elephant ivory, can be a surprise” (The New Criterion).


Elaine Velie explores an unfinished 15th-century book of hours at the Morgan Library in New York (Hyperallergic). David Clayton looks at the illustrations of St. Francis in a 13th-century manuscript of Matthew Paris’s Chronica maiora (The Way of Beauty), and presents a contemporary illumination of the Chi-Rho in the Hiberno-Saxon style (New Liturgical Movement).

David Stromberg tells the story of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi: “it was one thing to turn yourself into a woman, and quite another to paint Christ in your own image” (The American Scholar), and Sarah Dunant reflects on Renaissance ideas of women’s beauty as seen in an exhibition of marriage portraits (Literary Review).

An obituary for the minimalist painter Brice Marden describes his 1978 Annunciation series as an “apotheosis” of his monochrome work, and “one of the richest, clearest and most fulfilled of our century’s grand designs” (The New York Times). Each of these five paintings stands for one of the emotions traditionally attributed to the Virgin Mary in her response to Gabriel.

Victoria Emily Jones reviews Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt’s Redeeming Vision: A Christian Guide to Looking at and Learning from Art (Art and Theology), and highlights an Edinburgh retrospective of the Scottish painter Peter Howson, whose work shows “aggression, struggle and faith” (Art and Theology).

Matthew Conner, Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs, and Bernadette Carstensen, three of the artists featured in The Catholic Home Gallery: Eighteen Works of Art by Contemporary Catholic Artists, are interviewed in The Catholic World Report.

Film and Television

Andrew Petiprin praises the “gentleness and reverence” of Eric Rohmer, who wrote in 1964, “I believe that a true cinema is necessarily a Christian cinema, because there is no truth except in Christianity,” and whose Tales of the Four Seasons are now streaming on the Criterion Channel (Catholic Herald).

The late William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, claimed that his movie was “primarily about the mystery of faith.” Matthew Walther calls it “the best film ever made about the Roman Catholic Church” (The New York Times).

T.J. Clark introduces a newly translated collection of writings about painting by the filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who said that the “religiosity” of his cinematic work is “found in [the film’s] very mode of seeing the world, in the technical sacrality of seeing itself” (The Nation).

Joseph Epstein reviews a biography of Mel Brooks in Yale’s Jewish Lives series: “Jewishness provided the roots of Brooks’s comedy … historical longing and utopian optimism have always been the stalwart poles of not just Jewish comedy, but Jewish identity” (The Lamp).

Commenting on Netflix’s planned Chronicles of Narnia, Joseph Holmes claims that the views of God, man, good, and evil, held respectively by Greta Gerwig and C.S. Lewis, are fundamentally in conflict (Religion Unplugged).

Barbie has been dubbed a “Biblical metaphor” (Alissa Wilkinson, Vox), a “quiet rebuke of transhumanism” (Elayne Allen, Public Discourse), a “call to monasticism” (Cormac Jones, The Cormac Jones Journal), an existentialist “movie about death” (Santiago Ramos, Commonweal), and a parallel to Paradise Lost (Orlando Reade, LitHub).

Joshua Whitfield finds Wes Anderson longing for community, belonging, and solidarity (Church Life Journal), Timothy Lawrence warns of the danger of knowledge without virtue in Indiana Jones (Voegelin View), and Elizabeth Grace Matthew makes the case against Dead Poets Society (America).

Elizabeth Nelson surveys the “strangeness and nuance” of American religion as seen on HBO (The New York Times). Reflecting on the virtue of hospitality portrayed in The Bear, a restaurant business dramedy on FX, Jack Nuelle finds parallels with Benedictine monasticism (Commonweal).


Mary Harrington traces the genealogy of Taylor Swift’s doomed romances through the courtly love of medieval troubadours, all the way back to the Cathar heresy: “What began as an esoteric way of describing the yearning to leave flesh behind and reunite with the divine becomes, in a world with no divine, something more like a longing for passionate self-annihilation” (UnHerd). Joylanda Jamison hears a reminder of Psalm 139 in Swift’s 2022 album Midnights (Think Christian).

Anthony Esolen tells the story of the spiritual “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel” (Word and Song), Rachel Wilhelm introduces her album based on the Book of Jeremiah (Anglican Compass), and Ron Rienstra explains Wendell Kimbrough’s interpretation of Psalm 87 (Worship Leader). David Cohen celebrates the 24th anniversary of Slow Train Coming, Bob Dylan’s “menacing, exuberant, eccentric, and ambitious” first evangelical record (Quillette).

Karen Ullo endorses The Journey, which follows tenor Andrea Bocelli’s pilgrimage along the Via Francigena in Italy (Catholic Mom), and Jane Stannus reviews Verdi’s Macbeth, which “leads the spectator down the pathway of weakness, to the moment of crisis, to the horror of unrepented guilt and through evil’s destructive consequence” (The Lamp).

Michael De Sapio argues that “The mature music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven—the Viennese Classical composers—reflects the best ideals of the Enlightenment in that it embodies rational clarity and order and makes a direct appeal to the listener without undue obscurity” (The Imaginative Conservative).

Aaron James appreciates the late Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso. The practice of post-Tridentine composers, such as Lasso and Tomás Luis de Victoria, was to “reject the ‘profane’ but to retain the ‘secular’: by allowing the music of Italian love songs or French battle songs to echo in the Mass, old points of contact between secular and sacred could be retained” (The Lamp).

Kees Vlaardingerbroek praises “The neglected treasure of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina” (The European Conservative), while J-P Mauro gives a thumbs-up to VOCES8’s recording of Palestrina’s “Sicut Cervus” (Aleteia).


Roberta Green Ahmanson shows how the New Jerusalem provides the template for church buildings around the world (Plough).

Tyler Hummel pays an ambivalent visit to the 20th-century Washington National Cathedral: “the Episcopal tradition in all of its beauty and compromise is an excellent representative for modern America itself” (Voegelin View), while John Paul Sonnen introduces the 19th-century Baltimore Basilica (Liturgical Arts Journal) and Peter Kwasniewski appreciates the 18th-century Ursuline Convent in New Orleans (New Liturgical Movement).

James Stevens Curl reviews a book of architectural sketches by Lucien Steil: “Surviving traditional cities and architecture have always offered ideals in harmony and beauty in an increasingly destabilized, disrupted world” (New English Review), and Theodore Dalrymple reviews Branko Mitrović’s Architectural Principles in the Age of Fraud: “How could anyone even so much as glance at Venice and conclude that the best architecture is disharmonious—unless, that is, the word is used in some solipsistic technical sense?” (New English Review). Taking a different view of modernism, Travis Elborough introduces Ian Nairn’s newly reissued Modern Buildings of London (The Paris Review).

Contemporary Poetry

Nick Ripatrazone reviews Infinite Arrivals, a new collection by Nick Maione, poet and iconographer, about the experience of walking the Camino de Santiago (Catholic Herald). Two poems from Maione’s collection are online (Cleveland Review of Books).

Anthony Domestico interviews April Bernard, whose “spiritual cosmos is a place of love, and kindness, and harmony, and terrifying beauty” (Commonweal), and Fr. Michael Rennier interviews Catholic poet Anna Key about her work inspired by Renaissance woman Vittoria Colonna (Aleteia). James Matthew Wilson enumerates a list of “five American poets that every Catholic should read” (Five Books for Catholics).

Jessica Wills considers “misunderstood motherhood” in the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Sharon Olds (Voegelin View). Br. Jeremiah Tobin, O.P., endorses Anthony Esolen’s collection The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Dominicana), and Tamara Nicholl-Smith reviews Dana Gioia’s Meet Me at the Lighthouse (Dappled Things).

Classic Poetry

Rowan Williams reviews The Bible and Poetry by Michael Edwards (The Telegraph), A.J. Berkowitz asks when and how the Psalms became part of the traditional Jewish liturgy (Tablet), Calvin B. DeWitt interprets John Muir’s debt to the Scottish Psalter (Plough), and Jonathan Franzen frames his discussion of “the problem of nature writing” with reference to the Psalms (The New Yorker).

Ed Simon urges reading Paradise Lost: “No other book encompasses the maximalist perspective which Milton was somehow able to conjure, ranging from Copernican physics to Lapland witches, New World discoveries to the nature of the Trinity” (The Millions), and shares a memoir of his days as “an alcoholic Milton scholar on the loose in London” (The Chronicle of Higher Education).

Mary Grace Mangano examines confessional poetry in light of Augustine and the sacraments (Dappled Things), and traces how Virgil’s poetry resonates with Christianity (Genealogies of Modernity).

Sarah Ruden confronts the steep challenges of writing about Virgil’s life (The American Scholar). Ruden’s biography of Virgil is reviewed positively by Willard Spiegelman (The Wall Street Journal), and more critically by Micah Mattix (Washington Examiner). Nick Ripatrazone reviews Dana Gioia’s translation of Seneca’s Madness of Hercules (Catholic Herald).

J.C. Scharl reviews Rhina Espaillat’s translation of St. John of the Cross (The New Criterion), and James Como defends the unpopular final installment of the Canterbury Tales: the Pardoner’s sermon on sin and repentance (The New Criterion).

Noelle Canty reviews Timothy Bartel’s book on the heroines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who “drew his literary symbolism and characters’ virtues from early Church Fathers such as St. John Chrysostom” (Voegelin View), Casey Chalk commends Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “saving romance with the eternal” (The American Conservative), and Christopher Akers recommends the poet-painter David Jones, for whom the Eucharist was the greatest artwork, and the Mass “the locus point of existence and civilization” (The Critic).

Joel J. Miller tells how C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, once rivals, ended as friends (Miller’s Book Review), Jesse Russell reviews Jed Rasula’s tale of “How The Waste Land made poetry modern” (Dappled Things), and Paul Krause reviews Eliot After The Waste Land, by Robert Crawford (Agape Review).

Contemporary Fiction

Ayana Mathis traces the theme of forgiveness in the Gospels and in Yaa Gyasi’s 2020 novel, Transcendent Kingdom (The New York Times), and John Williams profiles David Duncan, author of The River Why and The Brothers K, whose new novel, Sun House, is “a spiritual epic comedy about the quest for transcendence in an anything-but-transcendent America” (The Washington Post).

Heidi White reviews Eugene Vodolazkin’s novel A History of the Island, whose characters discover that “a miracle is never itself the answer, but is instead an invitation to the true healing of the city and the soul, which is, of course, courageous and sacrificial love” (Law & Liberty).

Nick Ripatrazone reviews Fragile Objects, a collection of short stories by Katy Carl (Angelus News). According to John-Paul Heil, Carl “sees and articulates the workings of grace in the body with an attentiveness that surpasses perhaps any other author writing today” (Fare Forward). Seth Wieck interviews Carl on place, fiction, and contemplation (Front Porch Republic).

Eric Cyr interviews Joshua Hren about his debut novel, Infinite Regress (Dappled Things), and Hren traces the representation of everyday life from the Gospels until now (Genealogies of Modernity).

Michael Buhler reviews Joseph O’Connor’s My Father’s House, a historical novel about Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, “the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican,” who helped thousands escape Nazi-occupied Rome (Voegelin View), and Amanda Bird finds images of Christ in Fencing with the King by Diana Abu-Jaber, which is set in “territory held sacred by all three Abrahamic religions” (Dappled Things).

Dan Hitchens reviews the plays of Matthew Gasda, “one of those contemporary writers who, despite having no theological agenda whatsoever, find themselves unable to avoid the topic of God” (First Things). Sohrab Ahmari deems Gasda “above all, a perceptive observer and critic of American morals” (The American Conservative).

Classic Fiction

Seamus Perry looks at Evelyn Waugh, several of whose books have been recently reissued by Penguin: “While offering a compelling structure of dogma which, if properly attended to, would sort out the mayhem, Wavian Catholicism also provided something almost entirely opposite: an account, no less compelling, of ubiquitous human discontent and depravity” (London Review of Books). Will Lloyd explains Waugh’s remarkable ability to turn everything into a farce: “the same process that makes Waugh’s novels funny made his life miserable” (The New Statesman).

Julia Yost calls readers’ attention to the death, darkness, and hatred in Jane Austen (Compact), while Cornelia Powers points instead to Austen’s presentation of dancing, pleasure and communion (LitHub).

In an excerpt from his new book, Wonder Confronts Certainty, Gary Saul Morson shows how Russian writers deal with the problem of the meaning of life: “Meaning is not a proposition we could learn, as we master the binomial theorem. … Meaning cannot be learned by scientific demonstration or mathematical proof” (Plough). The book is reviewed by Richard Hughes Gibson (The Hedgehog Review).

Sam Sacks reviews Michael R. Katz’s new translation of The Brothers Karamazov (The Wall Street Journal); an excerpt of Katz’s introduction is online (Lapham’s Quarterly). Joseph Pearce comments on Henri de Lubac’s discussion of “Dostoevsky the Prophet” (The Imaginative Conservative), Philip Gonzales analyzes Dostoevsky’s apocalypticism (Church Life Journal), and Richard Hughes Gibson compares and contrasts the representation of belief in The Brothers Karamazov and in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God (The Hedgehog Review).

Joshua Hren notes Thomas Mann’s preoccupation with “the unnerving proximity of beauty and death, a problem that often plays out dramatically in the ties and tensions between youth and old age” (The University Bookman).

Janille Stephens illuminates the comedy in John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces (Dappled Things), Ralph C. Wood explores Flannery O’Connor’s fascination with the icon of Christ Pantocrator (Touchstone), and an excerpt from Understanding the Hillbilly Thomist, Fr. Damian Ference’s new book on O’Connor, is online (Word on Fire).

Joseph Loconte reviews James Como’s book Mystical Perelandra: My Lifelong Reading of C.S. Lewis and His Favorite Book (National Review), and Annie Crawford explores the gendered structure of the cosmos in Lewis’s Space Trilogy (The Symbolic World).

Elaine Gunthorpe assesses J.R.R. Tolkien’s lively legacy on the 50th anniversary of his death (National Catholic Register), and Liz Braswell reviews three new books on Tolkien (The Wall Street Journal).

Daniel J. Sundahl demonstrates the importance of Karl Barth for John Updike (The Imaginative Conservative), and Zachary Herdman sees D.H. Lawrence’s self-formulated religion as foreshadowing contemporary spiritual trends (Engelsberg Ideas).

Lee Oser reviews Joseph Epstein’s case for the novel: “Epstein’s Arnoldian take on religion and literature lends itself to a misunderstanding of both topics, which, when rightly understood, stand in a kind of dialectical tension” (Law & Liberty), and LuElla D’Amico reviews Jessica Hooten Wilson’s Reading for the Love of God: How to Read as a Spiritual Practice (Current).

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