Academic journal article Flannery O'Connor Review

"You Are a Very Ignorant Boy": Romano Guardini's Theology of Dogma in "The Enduring Chill"

Academic journal article Flannery O'Connor Review

"You Are a Very Ignorant Boy": Romano Guardini's Theology of Dogma in "The Enduring Chill"

Article excerpt

Let me make no bones about it: I write from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy. ... I write with a solid belief in all the Christian dogmas" (17 Mar. 1956, HB 147). Elsewhere, Flannery O'Connor also wrote that "[t]he truth in my stories is watered and fed by dogma" (1 Mar. 1955, CW 930). Flannery O'Connor took dogma seriously. However, dogma itself plays a significant role in only one of her stories-"The Enduring Chill," in the climactic scene wherein Father Finn verbally assaults Asbury Fox with questions from the catechism.1 O'Connor's use of dogma in "The Enduring Chill" reflects her theologically sophisticated view of dogma's function in the human person: to protect mystery and to serve as an instrument of freedom by which one observes reality. Obviously, the Baltimore Catechism of her childhood did not teach her this; how did she come to such a nuanced appreciation of dogma? This paper will argue that O'Connor derived her position from theologian Romano Guardini, and "The Enduring Chill" may be understood as a literary demonstration of Guardini's ideas.

O'Connor drew from many theological influences- The Habit of Beings index lists nearly forty modern philosophers and theologians. In this area, she seems to have been self-taught; there is no evidence that O'Connor formally studied theology as a student at Georgia State College for Women or the State University of Iowa. While O'Connor was a professed "hillbilly Thomist" (18 May 1955, HB 81) who claimed to read the Summa Theologica twenty minutes every night before bed (9 Aug. 1955, HB 93-34), it seems that twentieth-century French and German thinkers bore a greater impact upon her. Writing to Cecil Dawkins in 1957 (at the same time she was creating "The Enduring Chill" [2 Nov. 1957, HB 250]), O'Connor described her pedagogical journey of faith-it reads like an intellectual autobiography. She wrote:

[T]o discover the Church, you have to set out by yourself. The French Catholic novelists were a help to me in this-Bloy, Bernanos, Mauriac. In philosophy, Gilson, Maritain and Gabriel Marcel, an Existentialist. They all seemed to be French for a while and then I discovered the Germans-Max Picard, Romano Guardini and Karl Adam. (16 July 1957, HB 231)

This group of thinkers seems to shape the constellation of her theological formation. In the area of dogma, however, one star outshines the rest: Romano Guardini. W A. Sessions, a long-time O'Connor correspondent, noted in 2006 that "... no single published study (not even a dissertation) has dealt with this direct influence . . . except in a general manner" (58). It is hoped that this paper will assist in filling that gap.

1. O'Connor's Exposure to Guardini

There are three main sources from which to draw in assessing O'Connor's reliance on Guardini's theology: her letters, the contents of her personal library, and her book reviews for a Catholic newspaper in Georgia.

O'Connor appears to have discovered Guardini in late 1954, writing to Sally Fitzgerald that "I am reading everything I can of Romano Guardini's [Italian priest and theologian]" (26 Dec. 1954, HB ??).2 As is evident, Guardini is new to O'Connor because she does not yet realize that he is a German. She recommends his book The Lord to Fitzgerald, a work she also advocates to two others-to T. R. Spivey (28 Sept. 1958, HB 296) and to Betty Hester, writing that "In my opinion there is nothing like [it] anywhere, certainly not in this country" (28 Aug. 1955, HB 99). Indeed, O'Connor made the humorous comment that "If Msgr. Guardini is the Msgr. Sheen of Europe then that only says how far Europe is ahead of us on that score" (11 Aug. 1956, HB 169). Over the course of her correspondence, she encourages others to read Guardini, including Cecil Dawkins (16 July 1957, HB 231), and Tliomas Stritch (14 Sept. 1961, HB 449).

By April 1956, O'Connor published the first of six reviews of Guardini's books for The Bulletin, a Georgia Catholic newspaper. …

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