Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wings Not of Fire, But Weak and Feeble

'John said that a hermit saw in a rapture three monks standing on the edge of the sea and a voice came to them from the other side saying, "Take wings of fire and come to me." The first two did so and reached the other shore, but the third stayed where he was crying and weeping. Later on wings were given to him also, not of fire but weak and feeble so that he reached the other shore with great difficulty, sometimes in the water, sometimes over it. So it is with the present generation: the wings they are given are not of fire, they are weak and feeble.'

-The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (Penguin Books, 2003)

I don't know if Lafferty knew much about the Desert Fathers (at least one story features a group like them - 'And Mad Undancing Bears'), but I think this little vision resonates strongly with what Lafferty was saying and some of how he was saying it. I wonder if a reading of Lafferty would be hugely enriched by reading these and other early church sources. Certainly Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle had a huge effect on his novel Fourth Mansions. Perhaps Catholic visionary literature is a significant source influencing Lafferty's whole vibe of life-is-bigger-than-you-think-and-here-let-me-show-you. It would make sense as yet another historic root that makes his writing so vastly weird and wonderful and devilishly irascible in a post-Enlightenment world.


Stephen Cefalo said...

Dang and heck. This knocked my face off. Great words, amazing picture.

Stephen Cefalo said...

"The Desert Fathers" would also be a kick-something name for a band.

Gregorio said...

Daniel, thank you for this important post. While Lafferty is generally recognized to be a writer deeply influenced by his Catholic faith, analyses of his work rarely delve deeper into individual writings in order to elucidate the specifically Catholic themes, images, and concepts which they contain. This is perhaps best seen in the case of his novel Fourth Mansions. It is widely understood that the book is inspired by the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila. Teresa’s work traces the progressive journey which a soul undertakes in its trek towards union with God, which is at the same time an ongoing movement inwardly into the believer’s soul, for it is at the center of the soul that the spiritual journeyer encounters God most profoundly. She represents the soul as a vast castle with a series of rooms or mansions, each mansion designating a further stage towards sanctity and spiritual enlightenment.

The fourth of these mansions is of particular importance for Teresa because it symbolizes the most perilous juncture of the entire spiritual journey, the precise point where the “natural is first united with the supernatural,” so that it is “here that the devil can do most harm” (St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, trans. E. Allison Peers [Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1961]: 94. Lafferty uses the Peers translation in his work; indeed he quotes this very passage as the epigram to chapter VII of Fourth Mansions).

I think most of Lafferty’s readers see how the all-important fourth dwelling place or stage of spiritual development provides Lafferty then, not only with the title of his novel, but the overall theme of his narrative. What I believe is less regularly recognized is that Teresa of Avila’s spiritual itinerary not only inspires the dramatic arc of his story, but also informs many specific concepts and images employed in the novel. Even more significantly, it has gone unremarked that in the course of the novel Lafferty deploys Teresian notions of spiritual interiorization and integration within the wider context of a fairly elaborate theological anthropology (and often in sharp dialogue with other, more recent developments in Catholic theological and philosophical thought) in order to explore some of his most cherished notions of the nature of truth, evil, existence, etc. This is the focus of my own work on Fourth Mansions.

I think that you make a very insightful connection between Fourth Mansions and the Desert Fathers, not because I’ve been able to find any indication the either Lafferty or Teresa read these particular texts, but rather because the Fathers and Teresa are both currents of that vaster stream of Christian mystical theology which issues from certain common sources. I would agree with you that Lafferty is very much in tune with elements of this tradition, not just in Teresa, but also to some extent with the other great Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, who is mentioned or evoked , sometimes quite subtly, in various works such as The Devil is Dead. I think this is an extremely rich area of research for Lafferty fans, and certainly one that I’m actively pursuing.

drew said...

Looking forward to the Fourth Mansions piece—one of the centerpieces of the volume. Extremely glad that someone is saving me the trouble of going through divinity school to get at those aspects of Lafferty.

Speaking of, I'm getting back into planning that now now, pulling together a CFP to circulate shortly. I'm a little stuck at this point on what to call the volume though.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

@Stephen: yes, Steve! You and I should start that band together, considering we're each a rather seasoned, bearded, and prodigious paterfamilias nowadays.

@Gregorius: so loving hearing a precis of what you've been up to on the Fourth Mansions study. It's gonna be RICH. And as you say, this is really a whole field of study for Lafferty scholarship.

That's exactly what I was thinking: whether Lafferty read the Desert Fathers or not, they are part of a stream of tradition that surely flowed through his bones from one connecing source or another (or, more likely, from many converging sources).

Lafferty's theological anthropology in particular is one of the absolutely central elements of his work that I'm most interested in. Do you know if Teresa herself explicitly or implicitly referenced the four-faced cherubim of Ezekiel chapter one that Lafferty subtly weaves into Fourth Manstions? Or if there is any other Catholic source that does so, especially in considering what it means to be human in the image of God? Or is this an 'original' insight from Lafferty?

@Drew: Hurrah! I'll let you know if I think of any title ideas. Perhaps named after one of his stories or a phrase from his work? (With a subtitle that says plainly what the volume's about, of course!)

And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire

East of Laughter

Arrive At Easterwine

All But the Words

Cliffs That Laughed

Groaning Hinges of the World

Days of Grass, Days of Straw (there's a winner!)

Flaming Ducks and Giant Bread

In Deepest Glass

From the Thundercolt's Mouth

Or a mix of titles, like:

*Laughter in Fourth Mansions*

*Strange Doings and Easterwine*

*Annals and Apocalypses*

Just tryin some stuff out! Heh.

Kevin Cheek said...

How about "East of Lafferty?"

It could have an abbreviated companion volume: "The Cliff Notes that Laughed."

Kevin Cheek said...

And of course, I could print a bound edition of all my comments on your blog under the title: "Entire and Perfect Coprolite"

(sorry! I think I'll go drink some coffee and be quiet for a bit).

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Hahahaa! Very funny stuff, Kevin. I had to look up 'coprolite' - glad I did. There at least needs to be an essay entitled 'East of Lafferty' - maybe a summary of the s.f. scene since his death (or retirement from writing).

drew said...

"East of Lafferty" would be an excellent title for an essay on those he's influenced in one way or another: Wolfe, Gaiman, Swanwick, Bishop, Bisson, etc.

I'm liking "Annals and Apocalypses" maybe with, as suggested, a straightforward subtitle eg "Critical Writings on R.A. Lafferty" or "An R.A. Lafferty Primer" or somesuch (the book will also include my best swipe at a paper-based bibliography, as well as the working calendar, so forth).

More on topic, I know Lafferty was impressed with Miller's Canticle for Leibowitz, which obviously is interacting with these Desert Father-type texts. And Wolfe draws on the spirit, if not the letter, for the Book of the New Sun—there is an awful lot of work to be done here, I think.

Andrew said...

Hmm, I seem to have entered "drew" without even noticing—I answer to either that or Andrew, so it's likely me under either name.

Kevin Cheek said...

I stumbled across this quote in a review by John J. Reilly of _The Flame is Green_ (

One does not read Lafferty books for quite the reasons one reads other fiction.

Philip said...

I hope I may be permitted to post a rather long piece but I do so in the belief that it is rather Laffertian and also, more importantly, may correspond to his views of the state of the Church and the World during the latter part of his writing career.

Thoughts like these might, I feel, have been expressed in "The Day After the World Ended" were Lafferty not then a science fiction writer addressing a meeting at a science fiction convention.

"Put yourself in the position of a born-and-bred city dweller setting out for work on the route you have used every morning for the last twenty or thirty years. Up one long avenue, then round a certain corner and down another avenue that seems never to have changed. That’s it. You’ve done it hundreds of times, five days a week, for who knows how many weeks, year after year. It is a morning like all the other mornings, in a city that is exactly like it always has been for you yesterday and last month and as far back as you can remember.

So you travel scarcely noting the landmarks and all the things you know so well and that tell you you’re at home here – the pavements, side-crossings, traffic lights, trees, lampposts, shops, buildings; the rising and falling rhythm of cars, buses, trucks; the newsstands, the usual man panhandling at his permanent spot, the medley of sounds from voices and machines, the smells in the air, even the usual variants in the weather; the crowds of businessmen, officeworkers, hardhats, householders walking their dogs, messengers, tourists, shoppers, loungers and loiterers.

All is so expected, so predictable, so reassuring, that no matter what the noise, or what the jagged movement of street things, in a certain sense, all of it ensures your peace of mind. Around that well-known corner, it will be the same as it always was. This is what you assume unconsciously. Rightly, too, for certain things don’t change. Life is built on that premise, especially life’s insignificant actions – like walking to work.

Bur picture yourself turning that corner and being suddenly seized from behind by a blasting high wind that seemingly comes from nowhere and in its hurricane passage shatters buildings, levelling some of them, throwing people about, littering pavements, uprooting trees and traffic lights, transforming the very skies above your head with a twilight colour, and bending the clear vision straightness of the avenue into corkscrew twists, as it carries you off willy-nilly with everyone and everything else in dizzying directions. This is a change so total, so abrupt, so irresistible in fact, that you no longer know where you are, where you’re going, what is happening.

Before you have time to even reckon that you can’t get your bearings, another high wind interlacing with the first comes screaming incoherently around your ears and, to your further panic, seems to affect most people around you with a sort of ecstatic joy, so that they throw themselves unresistingly into the rushing streams of those tow winds that now carry everyone, yourself included, out of sight of all the old familiar landmarks. So eerie is the effect of the second blast that even in all this violence and turmoil, the most disorienting thing of all for you is the strange euphoria of expectation and of joyous confidence that seems to grip most of the people who are being tossed about as you and they hustled forward on an unknown and uncharted journey."

Continued in next post

Philip said...

"A bizarre element of this disturbing euphoria is the way that people begin to talk, whether among themselves or to God. They seem in an instant to have learned a new language, to be thinking about everything with pop-up, prefab concepts. “Don’t worship vertically! Worship horizontally!” “Whatever helps creative growth toward integration!” “Facilitators are needed!” “How are you performing interpersonally?” And, as if that were not disorienting enough, an almost manic tone pitched just this side of hysteria weaves its way from time to time into the vast confusion as men and women, claiming the Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues, begin to jabber nonsense-sounds. “Ik bedam dam boolah” – or something to that effect – a Roman catholic cardinal is heard saying ecstatically, ensuring confusion at the highest place. Glorious confusion. Euphoric confusion.

For a moment, you are tempted to fall in with it all as into magical, fictional world. But wild questions assault you, and no consoling answers follow. Why was there no warning? Where were these wind movements before they struck? Were they in cover all along? Up above the clouds, perhaps, or hovering somewhere out beyond the streets and buildings? Or have they come from utterly alien and distant regions? Why is everyone so euphorically confident about the future, even while being carried away on the backs of these winds? Is their joyous leap forward into darkness illuminated by longings and informed by their instinct for the divine? Whence their new concepts? Their new language?"

Whatever the answers, you know you cannot go back to the way things were before. Nobody will ever be able to go back home again to the old familiar places. Things will never again be the same in your home city.

Perhaps it is that stark realisation that suddenly makes one thing sure and clear in your mind: Wherever they came from, those two violent hurricanes – the one tumbling all that was familiar to you, the other blowing that strange euphoria through people’s minds – were no ordinary storms.

Such a scenario, wild and surreal as it seems, is barely enough to convey the completeness and the suddenness of the change, and the strange euphoria, that overpowered Roman Catholics – and, surprisingly, Jesuits along with them – in the 1960s. For an entire traditional way of religious life and practice was seemingly killed off just that suddenly, without warning. A centuries-old mentality was flushed out in a hurricane of change. In one sense, a certain world of thought, feeling, attitude ceased to exist – the old catholic world centred on the authority of the Roman Pontiff; the cast-iron “either-or” of Catholic dogma and morality; the frequentation of Mass, Confession, Holy Communion; the Rosary and the various pieties and devotions of parish life; the militancy of the Roman Catholic laity in defence of traditional Catholic values. That entire world was swept away, as it were, overnight."

The Jesuits. The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church. Malachi Martin. Linden Press 1987 pp244-246.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ha, Andrew, I thought you were trying to get us to call you by your more familiar shortened name or something. Great idea on the 'East of Lafferty' essay. This really needs to be written. A Lafferty fan whose thick in the industry, as either author or editor or critic or what have you, would be good to write it.

Yeah, tying together Lafferty with his fellow Catholic authors, s.f. and non-s.f. is another whole field. So, including Flannery O'Conner and Walker Percy too - the latter's novel Love in the Ruins features the main character Tom More and is more or less self-consciously s.f. actually. Tim Powers surely has to be factored in. And perhaps John C. Wright nowadays (Both of whom are professed Lafferty fans by the bye.)

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Wow, Philip. Thank you for pasting in that 80s Jesuit piece. Very interesting indeed in relation to Lafferty. I would love for someone someday to outline *historically* just what Lafferty was talking about with the whole 'the world has ended recently and we're living in the ruins' that he was constantly going on about. I've taken it generally about a moral/spiritual shift in America from perhaps the 50s onward (well, even that dating I'm totally unsure of - but in 'modern times', the 20th century, etc.).

It sounds like Lafferty very significantly overlaps with this piece, yet it seems to me that both Lafferty's diagnosis as well as his proffered 'cure' or way forward went even higher and deeper than this is some way(s). That's another study I'd like to see: how Lafferty was, sure, a self-professed 'conservative' of sorts who crankily bemoaned a loss of 'old ways' in the modern world, but how his roots in 'old ways' went a lot deeper and further than a lot of conservatives and how his vision was at the same time hugely *forward* and 'futuristic'.

He was no obscurantist and I'm becoming more and more thoroughly convinced in my reading of him that he really had a deep well of compassion in his heart that came out in a spectrum of angry and satirical denunciation of what he thought killed or was killing his beloved world, mixed with joyful, laughing encouragement, and sincere pleading and persuasion.

Lafferty was a prodigal gift-giver to the world he felt had gone wrong - he tirelessly plied it with steep stories to try to be a part of revivifying it again. That honestly makes a huge difference when trying to convince the world it's severely off track and needs to be righted - especially when this is in VERY unpopular terms that don't fit 'save the world' trends.

Gregorio said...

Philip: I'm glad you posted this piece because I think it perfectly echoes some of Lafferty's own feelings--ranging from bemusement to confusion to rage--that he felt about the monumental, some would even say destructive changes (In interviews Lafferty would would certainly say so, at times quite explicitly) which engulfed Catholicism in the immediate post-Vatican II years. Martin's dizzying image of a kind of Pentacost in reverse resulting in a babblinng theological glossolalia is quite apropos.

Interestingly enough, this anger fueled some of Lafferty's most creative efforts, calling forth both mocking laughter and a positive joyful vision to counter the desolation --the ruins--that he often mentions In his writing. This is quite evident in Fourth Mansions, which has some absolutely devastating things to say about some of the theological trends gaining power and popularity in the Catholic Church in the mid to lste 1960s. Needless to say, this topic will also play a prominent role in my analysis of the novel. It is a mark of Lafferty's genius, I think, that even his most polemical works can be enjoyed even without one being privy to this subtext that is often present just slightly below the surface of the narrative.

Gregorio said...

Daniel: Another excellent insight! Teresa doesn't feature the four creatures from Ezekiel's vision in her work, but it is a significant symbol in certain other Christian Mystical writers. Interestingly enough, it also features fairly prominently in the theories of a modern-day thinker with whose work Lafferty had a somewhst contentious although extremely fruitful encounter. But I think will I will reserve further details on this, at least at this point, for my finished Fourth Mansions piece.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ok, that's just cruel, Gregorio! Ha! Well, I'm gonna hazard a guess that maybe you're referring to Carl Jung? You don't have to say. (Although you could tell me I'm wrong at least if you wish!)

Yes, Lafferty has really taught me how to be 'cranky' about the world's ruin but in a manner that is CREATIVE and JOYFUL and a BLESSING to that same world, whether they 'get' it all or not.

Gregorio said...

Daniel: Bingo! Jung is one of the keys to understanding how Lafferty melds the Christian mystical tradition with his own powerful personal symbolism. Sometimes, is some interviews, Lafferty downplayed his dept to Jung, and one has to admit that the appropriation was never uncritical (in fact in Fourth Mansions some of Jung's ideas come in for quite a severe critique), but the dept at times is also quite deep.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yes, I've heard something like this before: that Lafferty 'poo-pooed' Jung in interviews but that his debt to some of Jung's thinking and terminology is quite evident in his works. I think that's great that he had a positive critical engagement with a major modern thinker like that. (Would this be similar to what Aquinas did with Aristotle? Except that they weren't contemporaries or even of the same millenium, of course.)

I'm working on a closer reading of Past Master right now and Lafferty's contention that we *need* our 'feral strips', swamplands and stormy mountain ranges and oceanic depths populated prodigiously with pungent mega-monsters, to be fully human is a major theme. I love it. Extremely interesting.

It seems he comes to this again with the 'Shining Person' Aurelia and her 'Dark Companion' or 'Dark Counterpoint', Cousin Clootie - who *together* preach the full and complementary homilies the world of their visitation needs to hear.

This is again why I love Lafferty as a Christian writer - his faith is full of rich wildness and monstrosity, coming from the Creator he believed in who made Leviathans as his 'playthings' to frolic in the sea (presumably 'out there' in the fauna as well as 'in here' in the psyche and pneuma) and who, when they represent evil instead of play, crushes their heads soundly. ('The Devil has his several forms, but we must kill him every day to limn his limits.' Past Master, p. 110)

Indeed, such a beautifully monstrous theological anthropology is not an escape into any kind of final irrationalism for Lafferty. Rather, this just *is* true, robust rationality.

'It was prototype nightmare country where everything was bigger and woolier... "It uplifts the soul," Thomas said with some awe. "Be careful, little Thomas," Evita jibed. "What has uplift to do with the golden mediocrity of Astrobe? With the blessed levelness? And the soul, Thomas, is it not an obscenity and a superstition, except for a little while in the morning?" (Past Master, p. 146)

Gregorio said...

Your observations that the way Aquinas uses Aristotle can be seen as analogous to the way Lafferty approaches Jung is very good. In fact, in a little known auto-biographical portrait that Lafferty wrote for the Oklahoma Librarian journal he seems to say something akin to this. Perhaps we could label Lafferty---even though he's really too complex for any labels---at least in some respects as a kind of Aristotelian-Thomistic Jungian.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Lafferty was an Aristotelian-Thomistic Jungian! Love it! Somehow that makes me smile and chuckle, but honestly, that sounds remarkably right.

I know very little about Jung, but the theological rationality of Aquinas combined with something fruitfully murky and woolly about the subconscious or unconscious seems to be a right fit for what we get from Laff's work overall. It's a powerful combo, the metaphysically realistic logical and rational joyfully wrestling and working together with something darkly dreamlike and intuitive and creative - all organised under a theistic cosmic teleology.

Edward Thomas Horan III said...

Three Cheers for The Ants of God are Queer Fish. I don’t have much to say in the way of criticism, but I thought it would be helpful to the discussion to post this excerpt from the Walker Interview:

Walker: In your brief autobiographical note in DANGEROUS VISIONS, you mention your fondness for heavy drinking, bar talk, Catholicism, and language. Do you feel there is any relationship between these predilections? That perhaps one arises out of another?

Lafferty: Not really. I escape being a WASP to find myself a RIC, a ruddy Irish Catholic. Actually, I’m not very good at any of these things. Booze is a means to an endlessness, the attempt to avoid an end either in the meaning of a termination or a goal. I’m not a good drinker, and the drinking isn’t good for me, but few of the heavy drinkers I run into are Irish.

I am not a good conversationalist: it is merely that I love and admire good conversation but I am more often a spectator or auditor than a participant. And even the best conversation too long continued will degenerate into something else. It is the same with language itself, and its sickness is called logorrhea. And with Irishness, though it is seldom any more severe than any other ethnic disease.

My Catholicism, yes, it does tie these things together in a way, or rather it helps to balance them. It is one order against four (actually very many more) disorders. I have never known how any disordered person could possibly get along without it, but maybe they have other foods that I don’t know about. To me, the Faith is the inescapable logic, the complete clarity, and I am puzzled that everyone doesn’t see it so. However much I stumble and fall short of it, I know it is there and what it is. Maybe more complete personalities haven’t the same need for it, or get their order from the same source under another name.

Walker: You say “Faith is the inescapable logic, the complete clarity,” but “Faith” in what? The logic of what? And what does it clarify?

Lafferty: Let’s not get too profound about this, or try to find a philosophy or eschatology behind every aptitude or trick (sometimes dignified by the name of talent). I sometimes have (and sometimes miss) the aptitude or trick of doing certain sorts of fiction. That gives me no more authority to pontificate on high matters than it gives a pool shark the authority to do so: at the same time it gives me as much authority as it gives the heads of the UN or the USA.

First, let it be understood that I am a very prejudiced man. “Prejudiced” means simply working from prejudgements, from previously acquired information. A juryman in a trial case should be free from prejudice as to that case, but I cannot think of another circumstance where prejudice is a disadvantage, though unfortunately the word has a bad name. It is a distinct disadvantage to have to wake up in a new world every day and to learn it all over again.

To me (and to my fathers for some fifty generations) there is only one Church (the word has no meaning as a categorical plural). The Church is the faith, it is the logic and clarity, it is the order : it is the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit and it is the Body of the Lord. But, for saying such things, one is commonly turned away from.

I am very disordered and very often a very bad man, but I know that there is this clarity and order and certainty : the Procession of the Creatures, the Distinction and Adornment of the World, the Final Things are all a part of it.



Ray goes on to clarify these terms quoting at length an interesting passage from an early version of Archipelago that never made it into the 1979 Manuscript Press Edition. From my acquaintance with this particular book I know that Lafferty held St. Thomas Aquinas (especially Father Farrell’s brilliant Companion to the Summa) and Saint John of the Cross in the highest regards. (See especially Finnegans finding of the Golden Fleece).

Philip said...

Clootie is an old Scottish term for the Devil, who is explicitly given the name in More than Melchisedech. I was unaware of this when I read Aurelia. Do others consider Cousin Clootie to be a diabolical character and what do they think about the whole idea of dark companion planets which, I think, only turns up in Aurelia?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Edward, thanks for reading, commenting, encouraging, and pasting that amazing interview excerpt! I've got to get hold of these interviews! This one almost sounds like he has *written* his responses?

Philip, very interesting indeed. From my first read of Aurelia I'm pretty convinced Clootie is a 'dark' good guy. Various 'bad guys' are pretty clear (druggies, media people, people in positions of power, etc. - though there is compassion for all of these).

Lafferty's short story 'Horns On Their Heads' comes to mind as an example of clearly Christian characters being satirically called the Devil Kids (and even God himself is called the Devil in this story).

Also, in Arrive at Easterwine and perhaps a few other places Lafferty seems to make a distinction between devils and devils - some are the theologically defined beings of satanic evil and some seem to be just paranormal creatures - imps or something I guess.

Plus, isn't the 'Devil' of his novel The Devil Is Dead not the devil himself but a monstrous neighbour of homo sapiens or something like that? (It's been about a decade since I read that book, so I'm probably way off!).

Even if dark companion *planets* only turn up in Aurelia, it seems to me a similar concept is at work in Past Master between the Golden Cities and the Feral Strips - the former are false because they've excised the latter in the name of secular humanism. Hence, many people would rather suffer horrifically in the slums of Cathead rather than 'pretend' this is all there is in the banal comfort of the Golden Cities.

The Shining part needs the Dark part. (*Not* in a yin-yang sense as Aurelia makes crystal clear. It's not about Good and Evil 'needing' one another symbiotically or something, but about two disinct *areas* of being fully human in terms of imago Dei. God made us with murky depths as well as shining surfaces and in his creation and redemption these are integrated rather than disintegrated in the Fall.

Hence, the line in Fourth Mansions about how we can't 'edit God' and cut monsters out of ourselves that he placed there, he who is 'Father of monsters also' as it says.

That's my working theory, though it no doubt will undergo major development and revision - thanks for any help!

P said...

The plot of "The Devil is Dead" is hard to recall even if you have read it quite recently. There are several characters who might be descended from the Devil or might be monstrous neighbours of homo sapiens.

Diabolical ancestry is at least possible. The ambiguity about these neighbours of ours runs through many books, including "Fourth Mansions".

Gregorio said...

Philip brings up an aspect of Aurelia that I also found disturbing. I was initially puzzled by the character of Clootie until I realized that he starts to make sense if we see him as Aurelia’s ‘shadow.’ In analytical psychology, the shadow embodies those repressed, often unconscious, and darkly irrational aspects of the human psyche---in other words, those aspects of the soul that most people want to avoid encountering or even acknowledging. According to Jung, a person cannot become healthy and whole, or fully ‘individuated’ to use his parlance, until that person has confronted, brought it to light, and integrated whatever positive qualities resides in their shadow-selves. If--as I’ve conjectured before--this novel is Lafferty’s attempt at writing a kind of darkly humorous work in the Gospel genre (as opposed to many of his other writings that can be categorized as mock Apocalypses), and the character of Aurelia thus best understood as a messianic figure, then perhaps this would make Clootie the shadowy, that is anti-messianic, or diabolical aspect of Aurelia.

This would also make some sense of Clootie’s perplexing claim that he comes from one of Earth’s ‘dark companion’ or shadow planets. As well as Clootie's even more bewildering confession that he feels a strong affinity for Earth because, in turn, our own world is a ‘dark companion’ (or ‘anti-earth’) to a heavenly body only identified in the narrative as the ‘bright primary’---a shining counterpart that most Earth-dwellers are simply too blind to see. This, in nuce, is what I take at this time to be the evangel or Good News that Aurelia and (again, paradoxically) Clutie have come to Earth to preach: that we must overcome our often willful blindness, recognize our shadow nature, integrate our broken, disordered natures, and find the faith to ‘believe in the bright, primary planet’ that would give us ultimate clarity and meaning.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Utterly superb summary, Gregorio. The only part I'm still iffy on is that Clootie would be a *diabolical* or *anti-messianic* figure. I don't have the book with me at the moment, but some of his sayings seem totally in agreement with Aurelia's transcendent orientation. They still look like they're on the same team to me. She even eventually makes this rather clear from her perspective, affirming Clootie on several occasions in several ways.

I'm not sure how closely we can push the Gospel genre connection - I think it's there, but it's loose. So, if anything, I wonder if Clootie's a bit more like the Disciples or something. 'Dark' in the imperfect, fallen sense not outright demonic. But even there the analogy breaks down because Christ didn't 'need' them in order to integrate his character.

But that Clootie represents the psychological 'shadow' of Aurelia that needs cleansing and reintegration for fullness of human being seems very likely to me, whatever the details.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

By the bye, George MacDonald's fantasies deal with the shadow-self and would probably add another rich conversation partner to Lafferty studies. (Indeed, MacDonald's stories too are full of monsters, used very complexly.)

Gregorio said...

Daniel, I think we agree in all the essentials, so let me unpack my analysis of the particulars a bit further. Any similarities between Aurelia are indeed loose just as The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeney bears only a loose similarity to the book of Revelation; nevertheless, I think there is a deep importance to the fact that Lafferty in using these particular genres, which I think finally reveals something very powerful about the deeper significance and purpose of these fictional works. Hence, if you don’t follow Lafferty’s ‘evangelism’ in Aurelia you will surely miss out on its deeper meaning, just as much as you won’t really get “Judy Thatcher's Epistle to the Church of Omaha in Dispersal” if you don’t see its connections with the Pauline Epistles, however loose the connection may appear at the surface level. Perhaps what I am advocating for here is a kind of deep reading of Lafferty (for lack of a better phrase, let me call it a Lafferterian hermeneutic of deep structures -- I really haven’t worked out all the implications of what this would mean, so any thoughts on your part, or on the part of any other readers of this post, would be greatly appreciated).

Also, I use the term anti-messianic’ when talking about Clootie quite cautiously. Remember that initially Aurelia and Clootie appear to be polar opposites, and that --as Philip pointed out in his post --the very name Clootie relates the character to the diabolical realm—the very opposite of what we associate with the term messiah. However, things in Lafferty are almost never what they appear on first inspection (again, the distinction between surface detail and deep structure), so the form of the story itself, as disclosed by arc of the narrative, actually reveals a progressive convergence of the two figures, which culminates in an overlapping of the messages they preach (a message which we eventually see as two aspects of the selfsame message), a message (evangel?) which ultimately leads to their deaths (Do we dare call these deaths as some sort of sacrificial deaths? Here, the connection with early martyr accounts, which trace the lives and deaths of their protagonist upon the template established by Christ—for example, in the Martyrdom of Polycarp—may be instructive).

These deaths somehow also completes their separate missions, which we now recognize were merely two aspects of the same mission, so that their demise also seems to symbolize that Aurelia (a ‘bright primary)and Clootie (her shadow or ‘dark companion) have reached a kind of ultimate reintegration. Perhaps, then Clootie is misnamed if we take his identification with Clootie too superficially—rather than labeling him as demonic we should perhaps thing hi as a kind of monster—in the sense of that word which your own theology on monsters is developing? I am only beginning to explore these aspects of the novel and I look forward to your own wok on monsters for further insights.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Gregorio, I so appreciate you taking the time to explicate and elucidate your working theory on this. This thread has turned out to be a rich resource on that score.

I like your fine handling of Clootie - as I pointed out above, I think Lafferty at times calls 'devil' that which is not literally diabolical or demonic. The most explicit case is 'Horns On Their Heads' where 'devil children' are actually some of the few people left in the world who have 'powers' because they still believe in God (despite the fact that officialdom has declared God dead and that God and the Devil were the same all along - hence, why the God kids are called devil kids). It seems some of that play is at work here with Clootie - to one degree or another.

What a potentially great insight that he might be more of a monster than a literal devil. In terms of my work on a theology of monsters (forgive me! I only do it because I believe in the practice of lay theology - but only in tandem with and deference to real theologians!) - I think I've found that, biblically, the concept of 'monster' is very rich and layered indeed. It can represent both out and out Good and blatant and plain Evil - AND shadowy, weird things in between (not because there is ultimately any kind of good-evil composite, but because there is a journey of the Fallen to be undertaken that partakes of both the Good kind of monster and the Evil kind).

In that way of thinking it would make sense for Clootie to be initially ambiguous and then to be found converging with Shining Aurelia. (Again, I hasten to make clear that Lafferty in that book has nothing but scathing scorn for the explicitly named 'yin-yang' philosophy, so we are NOT talking about that sort of merging symbiosis of good and evil so popular in various fantasies (Star Wars, Dark Crystal, Matrix, the story behind the Bionicle toys, and so on).

I agree wholeheartedly with your insistence that we understand the genres Lafferty was meaningfully employing in order to appreciate the deep structure of his work. I'm glad you pointed that out. My mention that it is a 'loose' version of the Gospel genre could be very misleading. I did NOT mean it was thereby not a DEEP use of that genre. It is. And your suggestions of how he might be using it, martyrdom and all, are very fascinating and plausible.

Argh, sorry for another long comment on my own blog posts! (You guys are all very welcome to be as longwinded as you want in the comment threads. I shall try to be more perspicuous - not my strong suit!)

Philip said...

Something that caught my eye:

"That was at a time when the Ship was named the Brunhilde [Saxon Seaworthy's ship in "The Devil is Dead"] and was owned by evil men. The Holy Argo had the strumpet habit of coming into the ownership of infidels."

I read this in "Argo" (unpaginated) but see also "Episodes of the Argo" page 11. "Argo"'s discussion of the Argo expands on that in "Episodes of the Argo".

Gregorio said...

For Lafferty, the Argo is also the Barque (or Bark) of Peter--i.e., the Catholic Church. In his estimation there were times, especially his own, when the "ownership" or leadership of the Church fell into the hands of those he considered severely unorthodox, perhaps even heretical, hence "infidels." When reading any part of the Argo cycle it’s important to keep this in mind.

Philip said...

I am sure he rightly considered the Modernists as heretics and he must have been distressed to see their seeming victory after Vatican 2.

Still, I find a straightforward identification of the Argo with the Church problematic.

For one thing, it is hard to comprehend Melchisedech's function within this framework: "Melchisedech and Biloxi had been going into the future to root out things that might spill back into the present, and to have some of those evils already cleared out of the way when that future might have become the present."

For another, although the Argo had carried both Peter and Paul, it also carries the Devil. In passing, the theme of the redemption of the Devil, which admittedly plays more of a role in Promontory Goats (though I consider that this should be seen as a detached part of More than Melchisedech), seems more heretical than anything the Modernists dreamed up.

Though are there degrees of heresy?

Edward Thomas Horan III said...

Lafferty's ecclesiology is based on his identification of the Argo as the Catholic Church or "Salvation Ship." No, no, its not always as straightforward as all that though. But what makes it so fascinating, especially in the Post-Conciliar era, is his attempt to identify what appears to be another ship following the Argo/Barque in time:

"As to the voyages, there was the question of ships. Was the Brunhilde the first ship, or was it the third? Was it the original Argo? Or was it a later and unsanctified appearance of that ship, following the Bark in time?" (Tales of Midnight)

In some Traditionalist circles there is frequent allusion to the existence of a “Counterfeit,” “Conciliar,” “Modernist,” “Novus Ordo,” “Robber Church” as against the True Roman Catholic Church and that what passes for the Catholic Church today is by no means "The Peter Ship."

Gregorio said...

Philip, I share caution about making a straightforward identification of the Argo and Church, and I would want to extend that caution (as perhaps Edward also indicates) to all of Lafferty, and emphasize that nothing in his work should be taken as merely what it appears at face value or even as simple one-to-one symbolic equivalency for anything else. However, regarding the odd creaturely cargo that one time or another is ascribed to the Argo’s passenger list, I would say that Lafferty may be alluding to the fact that the Church offers its salvific mission universally, and must be capacious to carry all of humanity within her bows, even those who will eventually reject the Church, and that in many cases this eventual rejection will pertain particularly to many who will be firmly ensconced within the Church. Here I recall the parable of the wheat and tares which Christ warns us will only be ultimately separated at the Eschaton.

Edward, you also bring up the fascinating example of another ship, perhaps a counter-church, which ‘shadows’ the Argo. I’ve read Lafferty closely to see just how much of a Traditionalist ecclesiology Lafferty shows in his various scattered remarks on the Argo, and while he was horrified by many aspects of the Vatican II Church, as far as I can see he never makes any indications that he was a Sedevacantist, that is, that he believed the helm of the Argo (i.e., the throne of Peter) had been permanently vacated because of heresy, and thus the Church is no longer the true Church. So the Argo/Church endures despite the fact of widespread heresy, and even the presence of the Devil in the Argo itself. So, as far as I can determine, while the Brunhilde (and perhaps other ships?) may take on the semblance of being the Church at some periods of time, they are at most only a shadow-church, and the Argo will ultimately prevail.

Philip, as for the Argo and its relationship with the past/present/future, this is also a part of Lafferty that I struggle to understand. Perhaps we should see the Argo as both in time and also sub specie aeternitatis, a vantage point from which its entire mission is already taking place (has taken place?), and part of Melchisedech’s and Biloxi’s task as crew members permits them to traverse the entire span of the Argo’s mission. However, this all begins to draw me perilously close to the subject of Lafferty’s temporal philosophy (in some ways one of the central themes explored throughout More Than Melchisedech), a subject that I’m frankly too confused about at this point to really offer any useful insights. Philip or Edward, any ideas on Lafferty’s understanding of time, especially in relation to the Church?

Edward Thomas Horan III said...

Thank you for your wonderful response, Gregorio.

No, Ray would not have espoused Sedevacantism as its come to be known. Though, "How Many Miles to Babylon" does posit a future? scenario where the last king has been strangled with the guts of the last priest---the Pope, and that a hidden enclave thousands of miles from Rome gathers to elect a man Pope who has been resurrected from the dead. (I will not spoil the rest for those who havnt read one of Ray’s finest eschatological comedies/spy dramas). So while Ray would remain a staunch defender of the Conciliar Pontiffs, even through the reign of John Paul II, he did not shy away from wrestling with one of the profoundest of mysteries, the mystery of iniquity, especially as it pertains to the Modern Papacy, i.e. “only that he which now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way.” (II Thess. 2:7) That is, the Pope, in a certain sense, has been “taken out of the way.” I highly recommend Henry Edward Cardinal Manning’s “The Present Crisis of the Holy See Tested by Prophecy” on this subject.

As to “the Argo and its relationship with the past/present/future” I must admit that I too can be as baffled as Gregorio. We might not be talking about the same thing, but one thing I've noticed is that in the Argo Legend Ray’s characters prophesy about events that will happen twenty years in the future, events which actually were happening in the real present in which Lafferty is writing his books. Take for example this dialogue between Henry Salvatore and his father in "Archipelago," set in the 40’s and 50’s but written by Ray in the 60’s and 70’s.

“Is it really such a rush, Henry? Are you trying to do this too fast?”
“Yes. I try to do it too fast. The Church may go down.”
“In Mohammed’s time, it was thought the world would be lost.”
“Half was lost.”
“And at the time of the Great Schism?”
"Half was lost then.”
“And at the Reformation?”
“Half again lost.”
“So many halves? At the Revolution, it was thought France would be lost.”
“France was lost.”
“Do you know to whom the next half will be lost, Henry?”
“Yes, to those of the Secular-Liberal Religion, working from inside the Church, but with no Catholic element in their make-up. Within twenty years, one-half the priests, nine-tenths of the priest editors, and one-quarter of the laity of America will be advocates of this dirtiest thing ever to rise against the Church. To the number of one priest I will counteract it.”

Philip said...

Edward, might I add one other prophetic quotation from "Archipelago", which I find deeply moving:

"Vincent also says that we are the last young people ever to believe that the Church is perfect. I think so too. I'll be sorry to see us go." [from a letter of Show Boat]

I also agree with what you say you about "How Many Miles to Babylon". I think I already mentioned that ISFDB wrongly classifies it as a novel. A pity it is hard to find. It might be a good candidate for the Best of book were it not for the fact that it might have less of an impact on readers unfamiliar with the Argo mythos.

Gregorio, I doubt I could say anything very worthwhile about Lafferty's understanding of time except that it would seem to be closely linked to the equally baffling theme of doubles, fetches and characters with several lives, above all Finnegan and Melchisedech himself.

Ending on an off-topic sign and wonder note, I have a recipe for making a superior bubble mix which would (and did) amuse my seven year old son. One of the ingredients is corn starch which I assumed to be different from the more common cornflour. It proved hard to find in London and I ordered some from the US via amazon. I have had it for no little time and have used it more than once but I only just noticed the brand name: Argo.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Philip, your 'Argo' brand corn starch anecdote made me chuckle.

This is all great stuff guys. I hope to read the entirety of this variegated work someday. Only then will I be able to intelligently comment.

It would be interesting to see you guys tie these thoughts on the true church and true pope to those same themes in Past Master (some of my very favourite elements of that excellent novel). Also, if you're familiar with the short story 'And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire' it also deals with the theme of true apostolic succession and so on. (At least, as far as I understand it from my all too uninformed perspective, not being a Roman Catholic myself. My wife did grow up in the Catholic church, but it was, though very 'committed' in a way, quite nominal in terms of faith.)

One more thing: I can't go look up the exact coordinates right at the moment but Andrew Ferguson's Lafferty paper does deal at least some with the time(s) and live(s) aspect of Lafferty. You may find some helpful clues there. I'll have to re-read to remember and ponder.

Philip said...

I would like to reread "And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire" first. For those who do not have this story, I suggest it is better to get it in the anthology "Sacred Visions" than in the eponymous volume.

Gregorio said...

I follow Philip and Edward in their very high regard for “How Many Miles to Babylon”—it is one of Lafferty’s grandest achievements, but its true stature is only really revealed in one reads it as the capstone to the entire Argo mythos. Philip detects a melancholy strain in it, and it is indeed sad, but it is also contains some of Lafferty’s fiercest and darkest humor. And it ends on a triumphant note.

As for Lafferty’s ecclesiology, in this tale (as in “And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire”) he upholds the notion of apostolic succession, traced in unbroken succession from its institution in Matthew 16:18 (kago de soi lego hoti su ei Petros, kai epi taute te petra oikodomeso mou ten ekklesian, kai pulai hadou ou katiskhusousin autes) on through the election of a new Bishop of Rome by eleven other Cardinals in a secret conclave, then given the triple crown as the Successor of St. Peter, Pope Finnegan the First. This is possible because Finnegan was named a Cardinal ‘in petto’ by the previous Vicar of Rome, Paul XI, one week before his death. Contrary to popular misconceptions, one does not have to be ordained a priest to be a Cardinal, and Cardinals who had not received major orders were more common in previous centuries, although there have been no such Cardinals in some time. Reportedly, the last non-prelate to be offered the office was the great Thomistic philosopher (and layman) Jacques Maritain, who in deep humility refused Pope Paul VI’s offer – and in any case, at his very advanced age the office would have been a strictly honorific post. But as Lafferty explains, in order for the papacy to continue, “Only one [Cardinal] is required. One lone Cardinal left in the world could hold his own private conclave and nominate himself Pope. And the Holy Ghost would confirm that nomination” (p. 34).

Gregorio said...

I've done a little more research on the whole question of non-priest Cardinals and the hypothetical possibility of a Finnegan-like papacy since my previous comment , looking particularly at the Pio Benedictine Code of Canon Law and its more recent reiterations. After examining canon 232, par. 1 (Cardinales libere a Romano Pontifice ex toto terrarum orbe eliguntur, viri, saltem in ordine presbyteratus constituti, doctrina, pietate ac rerum agendarum prudentia egregie praestantes), I now see that current strictures against lay Cardinals may make Pope Finnegan the First more of an impossibility than perhaps Lafferty initially anticipated. However, I yield to Edward, Philip, or any other reader of this blog who may have a better grasp of current Canon rules on this issue.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Some melancholy, but also dark and fierce humor, and ending on a triumphant note - that is what I see overall in the body of Lafferty's work. (I've tried to begin to explicate this in my two-part 'Of Cosmic Laughter and the Black Melancholy of Giants', especially part 2.)

That was a beautiful quote from Lafferty on the lone Cardinal and the Holy Ghost. Whether he got his theology right on that detail or not, he seems definitely to have had a firm hope that *somehow* her Lord would enable the church to continue against all odds.

Gregorio, I meant to say I found your following comment very explanatory and illuminating of so much of what Lafferty was doing:

'regarding the odd creaturely cargo that one time or another is ascribed to the Argo’s passenger list, I would say that Lafferty may be alluding to the fact that the Church offers its salvific mission universally, and must be capacious to carry all of humanity within her bows, even those who will eventually reject the Church, and that in many cases this eventual rejection will pertain particularly to many who will be firmly ensconced within the Church'.

That makes so much sense of the careening casts of misfits and oddballs - believing, half-believing, & unbelieving - that populate his novels and stories. His work is 'capacious' and, as you went on to point out, it awaits the final just and accurate separating at the Eschaton.

Philip said...

Gregorio, you are kind but I have no knowledge of canon law. But there is no issue here.

Even in "How many miles to Babylon", it is expressly mentioned that "there were two other real Cardinals" at the conclave. In "Argo", the matter is referred to several times, the canonicity of the election specifically affirmed and it is suggested that the two Cardinals were Cardinal Salvatore (Henry) and Cardinal Artemis.

What, though, might be your thoughts regarding the uncertainty as to whether Finnegan was of human origin?

Gregorio said...

Philip, I wasn’t focusing so much on the need for other Cardinals to be present in order for the conclave to truly elect Finnegan as Pope, but more on the indication in section 232 that, under the newer reading of Canon law, in order to become Pope one first has to be ordained in holy orders. I don’t remember if Lafferty makes any mention of this vis-à-vis Finnegan in “How Many Miles to Babylon.”

Your comment about Finnegan’s humanity does bring up an intriguing question as to the eligibility of a “monster” (and here I cautiously use Daniel’s working theological understanding of that term) for the papacy. My initial response is that eligibility rules could be interpreted as being broad enough to allow that position to be open to all ‘persons’ as defined by Boethius (a definition subsequently adopted by the Scholastics—most notably Aquinas—and still in use by many contemporary Catholic philosophers and theologians): “persona enim est substantia rationalis individuae naturae,” that is, a person considered to be any rational substance of an individual nature. Of course, in addition to possessing this basic ability to reason (the ability to understand the difference between right and wrong and freely choose between them), the individual under consideration would in addition also have to receive the appropriate sacraments (this is where my concern with holy orders arises; this criteria would also seemingly exclude angelic beings, who are rational substances, but not being embodied, have no recourse to sacraments), and finally be in full communion with the Church (so schismatics would not be eligible, even if they met the first two criteria). There are other rules that could be added to the list, for example age and gender restrictions, but these three would seem to be the most pertinent for the purposes of our discussion, and I think Finnegan, regardless of his biological classification, would certainly meet these criteria.

Philip said...

I could not read the canon law extract - I suppose I should have looked up a translation - and earlier discussion was of lay Cardinals. So I trust my error is forgiveable.

Gregorio said...

Philip, no problem about the translation. The really important point you bring up is about Finnegan's humanity and the whole issue of "monsters" like Finnegan in the economy of salvation, particularly in regard to papal/ecclesial and other theological issues as they crop up in the Argo mythos. I would love to hear more of your thoughts...

Gregorio said...

Also, sorry about all the Latin in earlier comments, it is the result of a misspent youth in grad school, and it's a very bad habit of mine to keep throwing it around indiscriminately. From now on I'll stick to the Queen's English.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

No, no, don't stop the Latin and Greek! I enjoy that (with translation!) and it may come in handy if other similarly trained scholars stop by. But, of course, do as you please! There's just no need to apologise or cease if you don't want to.

I'm going to say something about monsters in regard to this discussion, but I need to get to my copy of Past Master. And I may just make it a separate post.

Philip said...

Although I do not want to move too far away from the topic, I did look for the Code of Canon Law in English and found it here:

I think you meant to refer to canon 332, par. 1, though even this does not seem to correspond with what you wrote even with my poor Latin.

The English text is "The Roman Pontiff obtains full and supreme power in the Church by his acceptance of legitimate election together with episcopal consecration. Therefore, a person elected to the supreme pontificate who is marked with episcopal character obtains this power from the moment of acceptance. If the person elected lacks episcopal character, however, he is to be ordained a bishop immediately."

I am not quite sure how it follows from this that the Pope must be at least a priest.

Gregorio said...

Philip, thank you for the link, this is very helpful, but my original Latin quotation was from canon 232 of the 1917 Pio Benedictine Code of Canon Law, the code in force throughout most of Lafferty’s life, the relevant portion which roughly translated reads something to the effect that: “Cardinals are men, freely chosen by the Roman Pontiff from throughout the whole world, who are at least in the order of priesthood, and outstanding in matters of doctrine, piety, and prudence.” It was to the first section of this canon, the one regarding the necessity of being in the priesthood, that I was calling our attention.

The current version of the Canon Law code was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1983, and it has a slightly different numbering scheme, so I would have to look through this current version, the one in your link, to see precisely in which sections the eligibility for becoming a Cardinal is now taken up. However, even though the numbering systems do not correspond exactly, and even some of the wording has probably changed, the basic rules remain in force to this day: Since 1917, in the Catholic Church, in order to be elected Pope a man first has to be a Cardinal, but in order to be eligible to be a Cardinal, he first has to be given the sacrament of holy orders.

Taking this into account, Finnegan could not be made a Cardinal, and then elected Pope, unless he had first been ordained a priest, a point upon which (to the best of my knowledge) Lafferty is wholly and somewhat oddly silent in “How Many Miles to Babylon.” Did Lafferty simply neglect to apply this rule when he was writing the story, perhaps following instead the old, pre-1917 code which allowed men to go almost directly from a lay state, to the Cardinalship, and then directly to the Throne of Peter? Is there any deeper meaning to be found in all of this regarding Lafferty’s ecclesiology, or his sacramental theology, or his theological anthropology? Or is this just a bit of poetic license, and I’ve been making a theological mountain out of a literary molehill? I admit that this last option is probably the correct one. I’ve probably been reading too much into this small matter, but nevertheless I thought it was an interesting point to bring up at the time.

Gregorio said...

I've had a little bit of time to look through the 1983 Code of Canon Law and located the relevant section: "Can. 351 sec. 1. The Roman Pontiff freely selects men to be promoted as cardinals, who have been ordained at least into the order of the presbyterate and are especially outstanding in doctrine, morals, piety, and prudence in action; those who are not yet bishops must receive episcopal consecration."

While, as I suspected, the language has changed slightly, the essential rule regarding the need for a Cardinal to be first given holy orders (the presbyterate) remains in force from its initial promulgation in the 1917 version of Canon Law.

I apologize for going on at such extended length upon what may be a fairly small matter.

Edward Thomas Horan III said...

I would really love to discuss The Devil Is Dead in light of the situation in the Church at the time it was being written. I have a sneaking suspicion that the characters on the Brunhilde are archetypes, representative of certain movements, elements, factions, or influences in the world and more particularly in the Church in the 50's and 60's.

Saxon X. Seaworthy
Marie Courtois
Harry Scott
Art Emery
Chris McAbney
Peter Wirt
Papa Devil
Don Lewis
Joe Cross
Anastasia Demetriades
Mr. X

I think this could also dovetail nicely with our discussion of Lafferty's ecclesiology. How about the following quote? How's this for "dark and fierce"?

"Don Lewis and Joe Cross were people who belonged, belonged with such as Finnegan and Anastasia, belonged with all good people everywhere."

"Harry Scott, Art Emery, and Chris McAbney were people who do not belong, the other sort of people. There are only two sorts of people in the world, and they are these two sorts. Unless you understand this, you belong to the wrong sort, and you can go to Hell with Harry and Art and Chris, and nobody will care; you belong in Hell."

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Edward, what book is that last quote there from? I scanned through my copy of The Devil Is Dead and couldn't find it. I certainly didn't remember it from that novel and it seems like a line that would have stuck out to me.

Anyway, it's certainly 'dark and fierce', but where's the humour, the comedy, the 'cosmic laughter'? Without context it seems almost uncharacteristically harsh from Lafferty. (But I know he could be this way from time to time perhaps.)

Lafferty's novel Aurelia is damning of where humanity is at, but it is also very compassionately *solicitous*. It is trying to draw people *away* from the gaping jaws of hell if you like, rather than saying 'nobody cares' or 'you belong there'.

I think it's important to let Lafferty's various 'moods and modes' sit in tension and play with one another.

Edward Thomas Horan III said...

Sorry for not providing the page number. The passage can be found at the beginning of Chapter 2, Section 2. of The Devil Is Dead.

Certainly, all is not laughter. The passage I quoted from Archipelago before was not either. Stating that half the world was lost at the time of the Reformation and that half again would be lost during the Liberal Revolution in the Church is not humorous. Nor is the giggle-nuns and giggle-priests in Tales of Midnight any laughing matter. Lafferty's writings, especially the ones that pertain to the plight of the Church in the second-half of the twentieth century are heartbreakingly tragic for any true Catholic to read.

I pray I do not come off as harsh, but we of the household of the Faith have a singularly unique view concerning Salvation. One that excludes Heretics, Apostates, and Reprobates. (Harry, Art, and Chris?). That is why I thought this passage relevant to our discussion of Lafferty's ecclesiology.

Gregorio said...

Edward, I think bringing up The Devil is Dead as a means to explore the question of Lafferty’s ecclesiology is a most excellent idea. At the end of your comment you quote one of Lafferty’s harsher statements, wherein he very explicitly separates everyone into two groups: those who are going to hell and those who are not. You then speculate the three characters which Lafferty says are hell-bound can be identified with three specific groups: Heretics, Apostates, and Reprobates. I think perhaps we could discuss who precisely comprises these groups, especially the Apostates, and how you see the this group in the larger context of Lafferty’s soteriological views, especially since I take it that you are implying that we must ascribed a fairly strict doctrine of ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ (outside the Church there is no salvation) to Lafferty...

Gregorio said...

Thus, for the sake of discussion, and to make things a little bit more interestingly complicated, let me widen the scope of our examination and offer a possible counter-example, one taken from Lafferty’s “Ishmael into the Barrens.” In the the middle of this dystopian fable, Lafferty offers the reader a kind of idyllic interlude in which he describes a valley (“the Vale of Pailliun, which is in the Knockmealdown Mountains of the Disunited Commonwealth of Ireland”) that offers refuge to three-hundred incorrigibles who refuse to accommodate themselves to the deadening secular utopianism to which the rest of the world has succumbed. The most notable of these refugees is Paul XIII, the “last ‘Pope’ who strangely insisted that he was not the last of them" -- who spends most of his time saying Mass for his twelve followers, sheep-herding in the surrounding hills, and conversing with God (Who Lafferty delightfully describes as the “Odd God”). Among the Pope’s compatriots are various other “devout men,” including a “kaftaned Jew,” a “Hard-Shell from the southern United States,” in other words a Protestant, probably of the Southern Baptist variety, and a “Mosulman.” This idyllic vignette of a final enclave where God and humanity exist together concludes in this manner:

“Then Paul returned to mending the stone sheep-bridge, and the Hard-Shell talked to the Odd God in his own way. And later the kaftaned Jew came and talked to Him, deeply like low music, shivering with fear and quaking with merriment at the same time. Old Jews are said to have several private jokes between themselves and the Odd God.

And again later the Mosulman came and talked to Him in the desert manner which He especially understands.

They were an odd clutch in that valley of the Knockmealdown Mountains, and it was an Odd God who provided for them.” (“Ishmael into the Barrens, from Golden Gate and Other Stories, p. 124)

Note here that by quoting this passage I am not attempting to blithely ascribe to Lafferty the sort of broad ecumenism often associated with such Vatican II documents as Nostra Aetate (The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions), or drawing parallels to Unitatis Redintegratio’s apparent rapprochement towards ‘separated brethren.’ With his demonstrably deep mistrust of the Council and its attendant theological developments, this would probably be a foolhardy endeavor at best. Nevertheless, I do think the “Ishmael” vignette problematizes any easy ascription of the strictest understanding of ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ to Lafferty. In other words, perhaps we must examine other texts beyond The Devil is Dead in order to see just how ‘capacious’ or narrow Lafferty’s understanding of the economy of salvation may turn out be.

Finally, I would make the observation that it seems to me that Lafferty always saves his harshest, most bitter denunciations for specifically intra-Catholic disputes. So perhaps the best way to read those bitter passages from The Devil is Dead -- as Edward initially noted -- is to take them primarily as jeremiads aimed squarely at various theological and cultural trends within the post-Conciliar Church, rather than as disputes between the Church and various other religious groups. What say you all?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

@Edward: yeah, in Lafferty's fiction there is laughter and there is laughter. Some of it is hideous and some truly joyous (if often mirthfully mischievous). I should have been more clear: I didn't mean that Lafferty could never be tragic or heartbreaking or grim or what have you. He often is, rightly so, and it's often very powerful.

When I asked where was the 'cosmic laughter' and comedy in a comment like that, I meant on the *worldview* level - i.e. where's the mercy, grace, hope, and charity usually pungently characteristic in Lafferty, even in the midst of denouncing. But I desperately need to re-read that book. (And will even that help that much since it's smack in the middle of a larger work whose whole probably needs to be digested to really 'get' it?)

@Gregorio: exactly along the lines I was thinking! I want to better understand Lafferty's soteriology as represented in his fiction. I totally get that Christian theology divides humanity down the middle in terms of salvation and damnation, but the question is whether Christians, in this life, always know who is on what side of that divide.

I'm genuinely curious what Lafferty thought about this, especially based on some things he wrote. Your 'Ishmael' quote is amazing and arresting. There is something very similar, but shorter, in Past Master where Thomas sympathetically mentions a mosque, synagogue, and 'sects' or 'schismatics' (or some such Protestant category I believe).

I too would not at all blithely take Lafferty as a freewheeling ecumenicist or, even less so, a religious pluralist of any sort. But there's something interesting going on here! And, importantly to me, it bespeaks some desire on Lafferty's part to at least *sympathise* rather broadly, whatever his specific soteriology may be.

Indeed, and again, I suspect these sympathies actually derive from his theology: that salvation is a thing the church is to graciously and compassionately offer to all right to the end. (I need to think of less 'gushy' language to employ for these aspects that will fit better in a literary discussion.)

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

And yes, Gregorio, I suspect you're on to something in suggesting Lafferty is sometimes writing grieved jeremiads toward his beloved church in some of the harsh passages in certain stories.

Edward Thomas Horan III said...

I did not mean to project a traditional Catholic soteriology onto that Devil is Dead passage. As Gregorio said: "Lafferty always saves his harshest, most bitter denunciations for specifically intra-Catholic disputes", and it is in this passage that I think Lafferty has reserved his harshest judgment for those who would remain within the Church (the Brunhilde?) using it as a vehicle for Disorder and World Revolution instead.

Gregorio said...

Edward, I don’t think you were projecting; I absolutely agree with you that Lafferty is working within thoroughly orthodox, pre-Conciliar notions of salvation, and we should all read his statements in that light. When you write that you concur in my assessment that Lafferty reserves his harshest critiques for “those who would remain within the Church (the Brunhilde?) using it as a vehicle for Disorder and World Revolution instead,” that helps clarify for me your earlier elucidation of Harry, Art, and Chris as symbolic of Heretics, Apostates, and Reprobates. I now see that we are both speaking primarily of the same sort of destructive groups/trends within the communal boundaries Church proper. But I do hope that you will find the time to address the wider issue I subsequently brought up, especially Lafferty’s soteriological position insofar as it attempts to come to terms with groups not officially within the Church/Argo, and the question of whether those groups ever find room to travel in the Argo, even as (to extend the metaphor to the breaking point) we may perhaps say ‘guest passengers’? This is an issue that I struggle with both in Lafferty’s fiction and in my own theological work, and I would appreciate any insights you may have on the topic.

Edward Thomas Horan III said...

Yes, yes, the Interlude to Ishmael Into the Barrens: Laff’s unfortunate and very muddled reflection of the Divine Mind. It is one thing for a Catholic to accept as inevitable the pluralistic society in which they find themselves in as the only possible situation at the time in which they are allowed the freedom to practice their religion (think of Catholics in England in the mid-19th century), it is something else entirely to posit as idyllic the valley Lafferty does in this Interlude. It is a strange Divinity indeed who asks His children in one instance to worship Him as a Trinity and in another to utterly reject said Trinity as the Muslims do. Let alone the Jews (“Every one that denieth the Son, neither hath he the Father.” I John 2:23) or Protestants who repudiate the authority of Our Lord’s Immaculate Bride the Church. What an intolerable cacophony of confused voices in this valley...

Frankly, I think Lafferty hadn’t really thought this one through. In fact there is much reason to believe that Ray changed his sympathetic stance towards Judaism and Islam later in life. (See especially his short story "Holy Woman" or his letters to the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic, Feb 26, and April 9, 1992). And wasn’t it in Dotty, one of Ray’s best and last published novels that he declares that there is no middle ground between Christ and Calvin. (Either Christ is right and Calvin wrong or Christ wrong and Calvin right.)

As to the “guest passengers” on the Church/Argo metaphor, I consider the discussion to be wholly unedifying to Protestants present unless the Church’s traditional ecclesiology is presented. If, as Gregorio says, “Lafferty is working within thoroughly orthodox, pre-Conciliar notions of salvation,” and that “we should all read his statements in that light” we must then turn towards the light. For brevity’s sake we will confine ourselves to a couple quotations from some modern Doctors, Bellarmine and Canisius.

“The Church is one only and not two, and this one true Church is the congregation of men bound together by the profession of the same Christian Faith, and by the communion of the same sacraments, under the rule of the legitimate pastors, especially of the one Vicar of Christ on earth, the Roman Pontiff.” - Saint Robert Bellarmine

“Outside of this communion - as outside the ark on Noah - there is absolutely no salvation for mortals: not for Jews or pagans who never received the faith of the Church, nor for heretics who, having received it, corrupted it; neither for the excommunicated or those who for any other serious cause deserve to be put away and separated from the body of the Church like pernicious members...for the rule of Cyprian and Augustine is certain: he will not have God for his Father who would not have the Church for his mother."

“Who then is to be called a Christian?”

“He who confesses the salutary doctrine of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, in His Church. Hence, he who is truly a Christian condemns and detests thoroughly all cults and sects which are formed outside the doctrine and Church of Christ, everywhere, and among all peoples, as for example, the Jew, the Mohammedan, and the heretics, cults and sects; and only he who firmly assents to the same doctrine of Christ will be called a Christian.” - Saint Peter Canisius

Do I think Lafferty had these passages in mind when envisaging the Argo? Barring evidence to the contrary in the actual Argo Legend itself, maybe.

Enough for now.

Gregorio said...

Edward, thank you for your extensive and detailed response, which includes all sorts of very interesting details, such as Lafferty’s letters to the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic, of which I was completely unaware and which I will now have to add to my ongoing research. Your response represents a serious theological argument which deserves an equally serious and respectful response—a response which may take several comments spread out over several days in order to do it justice.

So let me begin by offering one initial thought: I don’t think we can off-handedly ascribe any theological position in Lafferty, no matter how “unfortunate” we may find it, to a lack of intellectual thoroughness or religious exactness on Lafferty’s part. Frankly, in my experience, Lafferty was just too well read, and his religious thoughts to well thought out, for that likelihood to be the case...

Gregorio said...

You then go on to quote two very distinguished and holy Counter-Reformation Saints, Bellarmine and Canisius, in order to advocate the most rigorist possible interpretation of ‘extra Ecclesiam nulla salus’ (outside the Church there is no salvation). I would say that we should first take into account the fact that these are figures writing at the very height of the Church’s reaction to the Reformation. So, in order to understand what the Church says about salvation, not just what two Saints in a particular historical era may have said on that topic, one must read them within the broader context of the Church’s Magisterium or official Teaching Office. In other words, what does the Church Tradition as a whole tell us about how we are to understand on the difficult issue of salvation, and what are we to believe regarding the specific doctrine that there is no salvation outside the Church?

Perhaps one of the best ways to determine that is to turn to the Popes who are entrusted by Christ to carry out this task. I will deliberately eschew any post-Vatican II Popes are perhaps too latitudinarian in soteriological matters (largely as a result their ecumenist zeal) to be taken as truly representative of the Church’s traditional view, so I will turn instead to Pius IX, the Pope who presided over the First Vatican Council (1869-1870), the very same Council which established the doctrine of papal infallibility, to see what this extremely traditionalist Bishop of Rome had to say on the issue of Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. I will take two of his pronouncements as indicative of the traditional teaching of the Church as understood in the years before Vatican II:

“We must hold as of the faith, that out of the Apostolic Roman Church there is no salvation; that she is the only ark of safety, and whosoever is not in her perishes in the deluge; we must also, on the other hand, recognize with certainty that those who are invincible in ignorance of the true religion are not guilty for this in the eyes of the Lord. And who would presume to mark out the limits of this ignorance according to the character and diversity of peoples, countries, minds and the rest?” (Papal allocution, 1854)

Furthermore, “It is known to us and to you that those who are in invincible ignorance of our most holy religion, but who observe carefully the natural law, and the precepts graven by God upon the hearts of all men, and who being disposed to obey God lead an honest and upright life, may, aided by the light of divine grace, attain to eternal life; for God who sees clearly, searches and knows the heart, the disposition, the thoughts and intentions of each, in His supreme mercy and goodness by no means permits that anyone suffer eternal punishment, who has not of his own free will fallen into sin.” (Papal encyclical, Quanto conficiamur moerore, 1863)

In other words, even though the Church (i.e., Bark of Peter/Argo), is the only ark of safety those who are prevented from coming to know the ark as the one Church may still be saved from the waters of the deluge. I would posit that Lafferty would have been quite conscious of this crucial position on salvation as taught by the Magisterium, and that, moreover, this teaching seems perfectly consistent with the attitudes he expresses in both the Argo Legend and in “Ishmael.”

Edward said...


Ahh, I do not wish this to become a lengthy discussion of the finer points of "The Doctrine". Not that I am ill-prepared to defend the Church's position on it, but do not have the time or energy to expend arguing about something that people generally have their minds made up about before coming into the discussion.

It is enough for me to know that I myself have never met an invincibly ignorant person in my life. As far as I can tell, in these latter days, with the light of the Gospel gone out into all the earth, there is not one good reason in the world for anybody to refuse to enter the Catholic Church, not one good reason not to go to Mass, not one good reason not to receive the Holy Eucharist, not one good reason not to say the Rosary, not one good reason not to submit to the Roman Pontiff. And Lafferty expects me to believe that in the future there could be such a valley where the Vicar of Christ dwelled with a small remnant of the faithful in harmony with an even smaller contingent of "invincibly ignorant" heretics and infidels?

As to the Argo Legend, any "guest passenger" on the Argo/Barque would be instructed by the talking oak or current Argo Master and eventually find his way into the Bread and Wine Room. So no, I do not think anyone can sail on that ship without eventually picking a side.

When evangelizing, I myself make no equivocations. At the heart of my missionary effort is the firm conviction that everyone must enter the Catholic Church to be on the right road to Salvation, and that any discussion beyond this principal necessity, i.e. various baptisms, invincible ignorances, the native on the desert island, etc. poisons the will of potential converts. Any rational creature who is catechized in our Creed and brushes it off to return to their own Idols and devilish doctrines, sins against the first commandment.

If you wish to discuss this further, my email address is

teddy (dot) horan (at) gmail (dot) com

In fact, I do hope you or Daniel or any other earnest Laffertean contact me because I would love to have your email addresses and mailing addresses as I am now engaged in a number of Lafferty projects of which I would love to solicit your opinions.

Gregorio said...

Edward, I would also welcome any messages from you and other fellow devotees of Lafferty. My email: g_montejo (at) msn (dot) com.

As always, I appreciate your spirited and intelligent responses, and I commend your evangelical zeal and devotion to the true Church. I see Lafferty as an equally ardent advocate of the Church, it is one of the main reasons I find his work so appealing, though I believe that his own method of spreading the message, including an open-hearted poetic vision and generosity of spirit, may ultimately yield more fruitful results.

Edward said...

Funny we have been having this discussion in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to Germany. The headlines :

Pope praises Martin Luther in landmark visit

"...the pope praised Luther for his "deep passion and driving force" in his beliefs."

Pope Benedict meets Germany's Muslim leaders

"As believers, setting out from our respective convictions, we can offer an important witness in many key areas of life in society."

Pontiff's Speech to Orthodox Representatives

"We Are All the Early Church That Is Still Present and New"

Pope Benedict expresses special 'closeness' to Jewish people

"We Christians must also become increasingly aware of our own inner affinity with Judaism. For Christians, there can be no rupture in salvation history. Salvation comes from the Jews."

Maybe we can discuss, how this kind of "ecumenism" differs from Lafferty's vision in the Interlude. It seems the Pope would like to unite the world's religions together against the secular onslaught. (That is said in the most charitable way I can muster) Lafferty imagined a Valley where the remnants of various religions live harmoniously? in exile.

Gregorio said...

I think you make an excellent point, Edward, although I’m afraid you probably won’t be happy with my interpretation of it. Yes, the state of religion in the world today is quite sad. Soon—perhaps within our lifetime—Christianity could die out in Europe and other parts of the western world, very much as Lafferty predicted in “Ishmael into the Barrens.” In that case, we may also live to see a Pope and his remnant Church become the last safe haven left for any and all believers of whatever confession, and then Lafferty’s portrait of a valley of believers under the protection of the Vicar of Christ would turn out to be more prescient than perhaps even old Laff could have imagined. In fact, the current Pope, with his marvelous theological erudition, and boundless love for God and the Church, reminds me very much at times of some great Lafferty character.

Philip said...

Some time ago, DOJP asked that Gregorio or Edward consider the ecclesiology expressed in "And Walk now Gently Through the Fire". I second this. From recollection, the soteriology in this story is more orthodox but the view of the church less so.

I will quote some of the introduction to the story, as is to be found in "Sacred Visions":

"Growing up Catholic in America meant growing up different and apart, beginning with schools that were separate from the public ones. We avoided meat on Friday, attended Mass on Sunday, rooted for Notre Dame, and took sly pride in discovering fellow "queer fish" on baseball teams or in the astronaut corps.

Perhaps this is no longer true. The New York Times recently reported that, while at the end of World War II less than one fifth of those in "positions of power" in American society were Catholic, by 1989 over sixty percent were.

Raphael Aloysius Lafferty was born in Iowa in 1914, but moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the age of six. He still lives there, in the house his parents bought in 1920. he has described himself as Catholic for whom "the Faith is all."

easterwine said...

This is a great post and a very interesting set of comments as well. I have tried to find copies of "Holy Woman" and "How Many Miles to Babylon," but to no avail. I am baffled by how difficult it is to track down Lafferty's stories. Any word on if Locus is going to publish a book of his stories? Any more thoughts on the topic of this post---on the conncections between Catholic spirituality and the themes/motifs expressed in Lafferty's writings?



Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

I know, Craig, this thread is one of several that exhibit this small Laffertian community's genius for insightful commentary on his work.

I haven't tracked down those stories yet either - they are currently in the 'unobtainable' category for me. They are part of his Argo cycle that is essentially unavailable (aside from the popular The Devil Is Dead). I haven't yet been able to look more into Catholic spirituality in connection with Laff, but that day will come for me and for others.

Have you read his novella 'From the Thundercolt's Mouth'? That's another one I think goes well with stories like 'Ishmael Into the Barrens' and 'And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire' - not as overtly spiritual as those, but similarly themed. It's also another fragment of this whole Argo Legend.

easterwine said...

I've ordered "Thundercolt," and am looking forward to reading it. It would be nice if Locus would put together in one volume all the "argo" stories, and maybe in another volume all the institute of impure science stories...etc, etc...


Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yeah, I think a nice 'series' or 'box set' of the Argo stuff would be great - four volumes: vol. 1 Archipelago, vol. 2 The Devil is Dead, vol. 3 More Than Melchisedech (Tales of Chicago, Tales of Midnight, Argo), vol. 4 How Many Miles to Babylon (novellas and short stories).

I've been thinking it'd be great if in the re-issue of Arrive At Easterwine they just added all the Institute for Impure Science short stories after the novel as a sort of coda or what have you.

But yes, there is talk of a new 'Best Of' collection of Lafferty short stories to come out in the next few years. Beyond that, there's no rumour, except that it's likely all the rest of his stuff will at least *begin* to be re-published (and some published for the first time) subsequently. 'Days of Grass' are ahead of us!

'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)