Academic journal article Magistra

Flannery O'connor's View of Alienation from Sacramental Faith within Catholicism

Academic journal article Magistra

Flannery O'connor's View of Alienation from Sacramental Faith within Catholicism

Article excerpt

In her article "The Church and the Fiction Writer," published in the literary journal America on March 30, 1957, Flannery O'Connor said that she perceived that the reason that Catholic religious literature displays sentimental overtones is that Catholic believers are being subjected to "the parochial aesthetic and the cultural insularity."(1) In the same essay she stated that she disliked Catholic literature where "the finished work suggests that pertinent actions have been fraudulently manipulated or overlooked or smothered, whatever purposes the writer started out with have already been defeated" (MM, 145).

Sentimentality

O'Connor felt that "not enough Catholics read good fiction."(2) She wrote to John Lynch on February 19, 1956, that sentimental Catholic literature represented "a nice vapid Catholic distrust of finding God in action of any range and depth. This is not the kind of Catholicism that has saved me so many years in learning to write, but then this is not Catholicism at all."(3) Furthermore, she said in "The Church and the Fiction Writer," (MM, 236) that the Catholic reader is "more of a Manichean than the Church permits"(MM, 147). She observed that it is common for the modern Catholic reader to have a dual perception of the relationship between spirit and matter. In this essay she reflected:

By separating nature and grace as much as possible, he [the modern Catholic reader] has reduced his conception of the supernatural to pious clichÉ and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only two forms, the sentimental and the obscene(MM, 147).

On the sentimentality that she frequently noticed in the Catholic reader, she commented:

He forgets that sentimentality is an excess, a distortion of sentiment usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence, and that innocence, whenever it is overemphasized in the ordinary human condition, by some natural law becomes the opposite. (MM, 148)

To Janet McKane, on June 30, 1963, she confided that she was reading a book about Teilhard de Chardin. She affirmed that she agreed with Teilhard's rejection of the "devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus." She stated "I have always thought it a shame that this devotion to the Sacred Heart couldn't be explained in some way that was not just sentimental piety" (HB, 527). Many Catholics, O'Connor felt, are, contrary to Catholic doctrine, reluctant to believe that evil is a spiritual reality. In the essay "Catholic Novelists and Their Readers" O'Connor affirmed that "the Church has never encouraged us to believe that hell is not a going concern" (MM. 182). She expounds her beliefs:

We lost our innocence in the Fall, and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ's death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite. (MM, 148)

She stated that human innocence denounces the historical reality and the consequences of the Fall, original sin (MM, 148). Furthermore, O'Connor criticized the belief among many Catholics that the religious experience comes suddenly without effort. She says:

We Catholics are very much given to the Instant Answer. Fiction doesn't have any. It leaves us, like Job, with a renewed sense of mystery. St. Gregory wrote that every time the sacred text describes a fact, it reveals a mystery. (MM, 184)

Contrary to the underlying assumption of the belief in the possibility of knowledge about the divine, "the instant answer," O'Connor insisted that the human understanding of the divine will is not received directly but is gradually reached through suffering" (MM, 209). O'Connor reproached Catholics because she thought that they in modern times do not recognize evil as a physical reality. She saw an isolation of the American Catholic from the mainstream, reflecting that, "insularity seems to be a general Catholic failing in this country. …

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