‘Tree of Life,’ divine suffering, etc.


Model Review

With his brilliant review of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (August 12), Richard Alleva provides further evidence that he is the most gifted film critic appearing regularly in the Catholic press. Alleva is insightful and yet cautious in analyzing Malick’s very demanding film.

The Tree of Life, more than any other film I know of, depicts and explores the mystery of being human and the depth of the divine. Alleva points out that some of the artistic devices Malick uses tackle a most difficult philosophical and religious question: Why, if there is a loving Creator, do humans suffer? For example, Alleva notes that in the first twenty minutes of the film, Malick employs a small amount of dialogue, mournful music, and special lighting to draw us into an intimate identification with a family’s grief. Those twenty minutes are the beginning of an experience that is, I suspect, unique in the history of cinema. Our identification with the family continues throughout the film. Malick never distances us from their struggles and so, though we are observers, much of what we observe is ourselves. Even in scenes that we may not be able to explain completely, the director has our attention. Though he observes and comments, he never removes or solves the mystery.

In his comments, Alleva mirrors Malick’s approach: he points to the depth of The Tree of Life but he does not presume to offer a complete analysis. He insists that he has viewed something extraordinary while admitting that he can’t completely comprehend it. Shouldn’t that be our confession before all great art?

(Rev.) Robert E. Lauder

Douglaston, N.Y.


Yes As Man; No As God


Edward T. Oakes’s kindly response (Letters, July 15) to my article “The Suffering of God” (June 3) seems to interpret me as denying that suffering is a part of human existence, including that of the Word Incarnate. I do not. Rather, I was denying that the divine nature is something that suffers.

Meanwhile, Edmund F. Kal’s response (Letters, July 15) seems not to understand that Aquinas, on whom I was drawing in my article, takes it to be evident (even granted his teachings on analogy and God) that God cannot suffer, period—assuming that to suffer is to undergo an effect, to be passive in some way. A vague reference to “the ‘plurality’ of the one Godhead” does not dispose of Aquinas’s arguments when it comes to the suffering of God.

Brian Davies, OP

Bronx, N.Y.


Hold Fast


Your editorial “Protecting Religious Freedom” (August 12) is a prime example of continued belief in the myth that if we engage the world, it will accept us. For at least fifty years the Catholic Church has been lukewarm in its faithfulness to Christ. Often it has been hostile to Christ, as demonstrated by pedophile priests and the bishops who enabled them. Some in the Catholic hierarchy have traded faithfulness to Christ for perversity. Ever and always there are those, such as the writers of the editorial, who say that only if we listen to and accept those who disagree with us will we be respected.

The exact opposite is true. In fact, we must hold fast to our truths and, if necessary, endure suffering in doing so. The only respect worth earning is self-respect, and that is earned only by listening to and obeying the Word of God. God’s will takes precedence over everything else, over all abstractions, over every exercise of human intellect.

Patricia Mccarron

North Andover, Mass.

Published in the 2011-09-09 issue: 
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