Richard A. RosengartenDecember 3, 2009 - 2:37pm0 comments
Modes of Faith
Secular Surrogates for Lost Religious Belief
The University of Chicago Press, $35, 296 pp.
Catholicism and modernity has proven to be a volatile mix. Illustrations are legion, and perhaps as tiresome as they are inescapable in the daily lives of Catholics. The two Vatican Councils present very different equations for the relationship. Today the church can be understood as a constant negotiation toward a grammar and syntax for the church and the modern world.
Theodore Ziolkowski did not write Modes of Faith to address that question, exactly, yet the book provides vivid examples of what it can mean for a modern person to negotiate the competing claims of tradition and contemporary life. Ziolkowski focuses on the arresting fact that, in the decades surrounding World War I, many leading writers experimented with new forms of belief and practice. He examines, with empathy and lucidity, more than thirty such experiments. Many involved were Catholic, lapsed or practicing (including renowned writers such as James Joyce and Ignazio Silone, and less well-known but rewarding exemplars of this theme like Roger Martin du Gard and Alfred Doeblin). They explored, in print and in practice, a number of new “modes of faith”: art for art’s sake, pilgrimage to the East, socialism, mythology, and utopian social orders. Each of these “secular surrogates” captured the imaginations, in print and in practice, of various creative geniuses who struggled with what belief might be in the modern world.