Coleridge is a monthly digest of noteworthy items in theology and the arts.

By Ben Lima

Art History

In Washington, D.C., the Catholic Art Institute will host a Christmas tour of the National Gallery on December 12, while in New York, Morgan’s Bibles: Splendor in Scripture is on view until January 21.

Matthew Milliner offers a Marian critique of the cult of the mother goddess (Comment), while Jason Byassee praises Milliner’s Mother of the Lamb: The Story of a Global Icon (The Christian Century). Margarita Mooney Clayton holds up the Sinai icon of the Annunciation as demonstrating a “Marian gift of dependence” in contrast to the “masculine impulses of liberalism” (Comment), as Nathan J. Robinson asks Tara Isabella Burton about Albrecht Dürer’s 1500 self-portrait: “Is this the first moment where a guy paints himself as God?” (Current Affairs).


Philip Getz reviews Azzan Yadin-Israel’s story of “how the forbidden fruit became an apple” (Jewish Review of Books), and a 2,700-year-old, 18-ton sculpture of an Assyrian protective deity has been unearthed in Iraq (The Art Newspaper).

In Italy, Massimo Scapin celebrates the music in Luca Signorelli’s Renaissance paintings (One Peter Five) and Shawn Tribe surveys Andrea della Robbia’s Renaissance ceramics (Liturgical Arts Journal). Anna Momigliano visits the Sacri Monti, nine pilgrimage stations in the Alps of Piedmont and Lombardy (The New York Times).

G.E. Schwartz reviews Charles Scribner’s Sacred Muse: A Preface to Christian Art and Music (Voegelin View).

Modern Art

Art needs narrative, insists the sculptor Aidan Harte, however much modernism may claim otherwise (Quillette).

Up north, Matthew Stewart visits the Rose Castle in Oslo, a “monument to freedom” created by artists Vebjørn and Eimund Sand. Open since 2020, the site remembers the Nazi occupation of Norway, and is dedicated to “democracy, rule of law, and humanism” (Law & Liberty). Maya Clubine muses on the “great grey” Canadian landscape (Ekstasis).

On the occasion of the Gwen John exhibition in Chichester, biographer Alicia Foster explains the painter’s conversion (Catholic Herald), and Helena Anderson highlights her paintings of nuns (The Burlington Magazine).

Also in Chichester, David Clayton comments on James Blackstone’s new mosaic of St. Dominic (New Liturgical Movement), and gives more background on the new liturgical art workshop there (New Liturgical Movement). Nathan Sonnen tours the new high altar for the Fraternité Saint-Vincent-Ferrier in Chémeré-le-Roi, France, “a beautiful Medieval-style triptych” (Liturgical Arts Journal).

Other contemporary art in churches includes Makoto Fujimura’s My Bright Abyss: Paintings & Prints at St. George’s, Nashville; Anne Patterson’s Divine Pathways at St. John the Divine; and Layne Rowe’s Solace Angel Wings at Sheffield Cathedral. Two consecutive shows of Chinese and American artists — Matter + Spirit: A Chinese/American Exhibition and Transcendence + Immanence: The Sacred Ink Wash Art of DaoZi — are at Duke Chapel.

Temptations, Torments, Trials, and Tribulations, comprising 30 works on the temptation of St. Anthony by prominent British painter Cecily Brown, is on view at the Museo Novecento in Florence.

Jonathan Evens interviews the polymath David Miller about negative theology and much else (ArtWay), and reviews Paula Rego and Richard Harries on art and religion (ArtLyst).

John Freeman Gill pays tribute to the Piccirilli brothers, whose prodigious contributions to New York’s stock of public sculpture included hundreds of works for Riverside Church (The New York Times).

Casey Cep mulls over the ethics and aesthetics of Jamie Lee Taete’s photographic series, “Christian Tourism” (The New Yorker).

Fr. Patrick Briscoe says the art of an accused abuser, former Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik, must be removed from the sacred spaces where it is installed (Our Sunday Visitor).


John Byron Kuhner eloquently praises Richard Morris Hunt and the generation responsible for New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose unified social and aesthetic vision reached across barriers of social class (First Things).

David Clayton calls attention to Cayala, Guatemala, a “beautiful new Christian city” planned by Leon Krier (The Way of Beauty), and John Paul Sonnen tours the Neo-Romanesque Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica in Medellín, Colombia (Liturgical Arts Journal).

Now embraced by the British establishment, architectural designer Ben Pentreath claims vindication against the modernists: “Research by the think tank Create Streets found that 84 percent of people preferred traditional architecture, made from local materials” (The Sunday Times).

Philip Johnson’s Chapel of St. Basil in Houston is “a golden wonder” (Texas Monthly), and Henri Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence possesses “a sense of rest” (ArtWay). A new book by Sofia Singler explores the religious architecture of Alvar, Aino, and Elissa Aalto. Russell Page’s garden design was informed by the esoteric spirituality of George Gurdjieff (Aeon).

Alberto M. Fernandez visits the churches of the Holy Land, particularly praising the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Apostles in Capernaum and the Church of the Prophet Elisha in Jericho: “I wondered if these painted churches, which follow rigid, some might say stilted, rules of decoration dating back centuries, have something more to teach us today” (The Lamp). Nearby, the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center bears the marks of its history (Liturgical Arts Journal).

In vivid contrast to the Romanesque San Miniato al Monte in Florence and Santa Maria in Valle Porclaneta in Abruzzo, and to the newly proposed Basilica of St. Benedict in Norsia, the Colosseum in Rome represents “the inescapable fear, suffering, and death awaiting us in our fallen world” (Dominicana).

Classical Music

In Berlin, Daniel Barenboim’s academy carries on, gathering Israelis, Palestinians, Iranians, and others to study music together (The New York Times).

David Clayton argues that Sonatas Venezolanas, a collection of late 20th-century Venezuelan music, shows “how a culture that is simultaneously national and Christian ought to develop” (The Way of Beauty). Pedro Blas Gonzalez finds spiritual value in the compositions of György Ligeti, Olivier Messiaen, Richard Strauss, and Arvo Pärt (Voegelin View).

Anthony Esolen introduces the hymn “Now the Day is Over,” by the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, a remarkable Anglican polymath (Word & Song).

The Tallis Scholars’ new album of music by English Renaissance composer John Sheppard is “technically pure and close to perfection” (Financial Times), and “glorious … ecstatic … effortless … impeccable … joyous” (The Arts Desk). John Quinn praises Tenebrae’s recording of motets and sacred songs by James MacMillan and J.S. Bach (MusicWeb International). Charlotte Allen explores poet Dana Gioia’s musical turn, done in collaboration with MacMillan (Benedict XVI Institute).

Joel Clarkson traces the theme of harvest in “Turn Our Captivity, O Lord,” William Byrd’s setting of Psalm 126:4-6 (Plough). Peter Leithart reports an upsurge in psalm-singing among Protestants, “including the mean parts of the mean Psalms” (First Things).

Griffin Oleynick reviews the Metropolitan Opera’s Dead Man Walking, based on Sister Helen Prejean’s memoir: “Did Sr. Helen’s unabashed love for God — and her practice of chastity, poverty, and obedience — really resonate?” (Commonweal). David P. Goldman finds Verdi’s Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar), recently at the Met, a work of “deep Jewish sensibility” (Tablet).

New England composer Arthur Foote exemplified “the cult of the restrained,” with pensiveness and romantic mystery lurking just beneath the surface (Voegelin View).

Pop Music

Tara Isabella Burton places Madonna in the context of “the seismic cultural and theological shift her music presaged” (The Wall Street Journal), Russell Moore draws lessons on revival from the story of Willie Nelson (Plough), Nick Cave has hard-won wisdom about “how to get out of the cage that constricts and destroys the human soul” (Church Life Journal), and Matthew Mullins explores David Bazan’s exvangelical indie rock (Los Angeles Review of Books).

Javelin, the new album by Sufjan Stevens, is an “album about resurrections” (Mockingbird), replete with references to David, Saul, and Jonathan (Vulture). Christopher Parker celebrates the 20th anniversary of Stevens’s Michigan: “on this album, love is home, and love is God” (America), while Lexi McMenami has found Stevens a trustworthy guide on her faith journey (Them).

Film & TV

Jake Romm credits the Kierkegaardian Icelander Hlynur Pálmason, director of the 2022 film Godland, with being among the “few working directors making genuinely sublime cinema. I mean sublime in the real sense of the word — not beautiful, not good, but a cinema of vivifying, terrible, generative awe (Image).

Paul Baumann is dubious about recent Catholic praise for The Exorcist (Commonweal), and Sonny Bunch wishes that The Exorcist: Believer had not abandoned the Catholicism of its predecessor (The Bulwark). Jason Miller, who played Father Damian Karras in the original film, left seminary after his crisis of faith (City Journal).

Charlie Camosy wonders whether Oppenheimer has reinvigorated the debate about whether nuclear weapons are intrinsically evil (The Pillar), and “Ivan Karamazov’s meth lab” is Sophia Belloncle’s Dostoevskian interpretation of Breaking Bad (Voegelin View).

Hannah Long laments that Indiana Jones fails to attain wisdom or the fear of God, despite his repeated encounters with the holy (Plough), and Josh Hollman speaks on “Wes Anderson and the theology of adulting” (Mockingbird).

Colin Marshall sees Frasier as a sign of the modern triumph of therapy over religion, as prophesied by Christopher Lasch and Philip Rieff (The New Yorker).


Rachel Hadas offers a profound extended reflection on translating the Dionysiaca by Nonnus, a fifth-century Egyptian-Greek who swung like a pendulum between Christianity and Hellenism (Literary Matters).

Zane Johnson admires the George Herbert who “struggled greatly with the joys and agonies of discipleship, but in the end cast all into the simple fire of his love for Christ” (Plough).

Bill Borror remembers his two West Virginia grandmothers in the light of Dante’s vision of divine love (Mockingbird), Anna Key traces Shakespeare’s turn from eros to caritas in Sonnets 153 and 154 (Close Reading), Renee Waller follows Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ascent from mortal beauty to divine love (Public Discourse), and poet Christian Wiman muses on love amid despair (The American Scholar).

In the silence of The Kalevala, Paul J. Pastor finds a resource with which to meet the challenge of loneliness, boredom, and desolation (Ekstasis).

The Incarnation was the keystone of Denise Levertov’s faith and of her poetry (The Christian Century).

James Matthew Wilson assesses a new volume from Robert B. Shaw, who “brings something of a New England Presbyterian sensibility to bear on his subject matter that casts a shadow of divinity or devil over the familiar objects he discovers and mulls” (Modern Age), and elsewhere comments on the nature and importance of poetry (Roseanne T. Sullivan).

Fifty years after W.H. Auden’s death, Alan Jacobs writes that the poet “has done more than anyone else to help me understand what it means to be a Christian in my own moment — one neither hankering after a vague Utopia or pining for an illusory lost Arcadia” (The Homebound Symphony).

Jane Cooper reviews A Century of Poetry: 100 Poems for Searching the Heart, edited by Rowan Williams: “Williams sees God in the questions and qualms of poets as well as their proclamations of faith. If he can be faulted, it is for his benevolence. … Impressively, Williams resists didacticism in what is essentially a series of sermons” (Catholic Herald). Elsewhere, Williams discusses Olga Sedakova’s collection Old Songs, along with the author and translator Martha Kelly (SlantCast).

An exhortation, with accompanying advice, from Jane Clark Scharl: “Your home is happier with poetry in it” (Plough).

Irish author Críostóir Ó Floinn has died at the age of 95. In his 1999 memoir, he observed that “the truth of the Catholic religion does not depend on the behaviour of its ministers” (The Irish Times). His play The Order of Melchizedek was canceled for blasphemy, but won two awards (Tuairisc).

Contemporary Fiction

The Norwegian Catholic mystic Jon Fosse has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. This month, critics have hailed Fosse as “our age’s great writer of light and darkness” (Randy Boyagoda, The New York Times), “almost liturgical” (Gregory Wolfe, The Lamp), “apophatic and apocalyptic” (Jonathan Geltner, Close Reading), exemplary of contemplative realism (Katy Carl, Depth Perception) and of Pascalian possibility (James K.A. Smith, Quid Amo), and a student of “absent presence” (Merve Emre, The New Yorker).

Earlier, Fosse’s seven-volume Septology, translated into English by Damion Searls, which follows a few days in the life of a solitary painter in rural coastal Norway during Advent, was greeted as “what it’s like to come to rest by receiving the gift of Jesus” (Paul J. Griffiths, Commonweal), “an intense, unbroken feeling of connectedness to God” (Boyagoda, The New York Times), “taking on, in its incantatory language and formal repetition, the rhythm of the rosary” (Ruth Margalit, The New York Review), “a work of art that itself approximates a religious experience” (Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal), and “a masterpiece of renunciant, Eckhartian negative theology” (Geltner, Church Life Journal).

Reviewing Bill Watterson’s new book The Mysteries, Rivka Galchen credits Watterson with “offering the means of enchantment for seeing reality properly” (The New Yorker), while according to Watterson, “We’re on a planet, we’re just little specks, and Nature will kill you if you’re stupid. … That’s my church” (The American Conservative).

In Anne Enright’s The Wren, The Wren, Valerie Sayers observes “a clear reflection of the vast changes in sexual practices and gender expectations transforming religious countries like Ireland in especially jarring fashion” (Commonweal). Joseph Pearce praises S.P. Caldwell’s “grippingly gruesome” The Beast of Bethulia Park as “a powerful fictional exposé of the culture of death” (The Imaginative Conservative).

Classic Fiction

The philosopher Vladimir Solovyov recognized Dostoyevsky as a prophet of “universal Christianity” (Marginalia Review of Books). Gary Saul Morson’s Wonder Confronts Certainty: Russian Writers on the Timeless Questions and Why Their Answers Matter is reviewed by Rowan Williams (First Things) and by Jessica Hooten Wilson (Current).

Igor Damous appreciates Dickens: “In every time period hides a timeless city of affections over which fantasy shall have no dominion, which time shall have no dominion, which death shall have no dominion” (The University Bookman).

LuElla D’Amico calls attention to the Catholic side of Edgar Allan Poe (Church Life Journal).

Clare Carlisle is “well placed to animate the heterodox spirituality that caused George Eliot to affirm marriage as sacred even as she flouted its clerical definition” (The Point).

C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet illuminated Josh Nadeau’s once-chilly perception of the stars and outer space (Ekstasis), and David J. Davis tells how Lewis became “America’s professor” (The Spectator). Dwight Longenecker reviews Tolkien’s Faith: A Spiritual Biography, by Holly Ordway (The Imaginative Conservative); her introduction is online (Church Life Journal).

James K.A. Smith eulogizes Frederick Buechner’s “stewardship of pain” (The Buechner Review).

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