Irked Again

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May 7, 2013 by lucieromarin

I was going to write about vocation. Then I opened a magazine and read a book review, the first section of which dealt with the priest-poets of English literature. Then my hackles rose. Then I walked away from it. Then I drafted a savage reply to the review. Then I remembered that savagery is helpful to no one. Then I looked at the review again. Again, my hackles rose. Then I found that a friend had read the same review, and professed herself disgusted by it. Then I decided that I couldn’t know the reviewer’s mind for certain, so I’ve left his name out of it; this is not about him, but about an idea, of which he is certainly not the lone bearer.

The paragraphs in question were these:

“His was a Christianity at ease with the body, in which, for example, a bride would vow before God not only to “have and hold” her husband in sickness and in health, but also to be “bonnie [sic] and buxom in bed, as the Sarum Rite of Marriage puts it.”

Also (don’t read this if you need to avoid references to female body parts!): “Simply to invoke them is to sugget the variety of the tradition they represent, one that has narrowed, sadly, in the ensuing centuries. It is difficult to imagine a modern priest, Anglican or Roman Catholic, writing a celebration of the nipples of a woman’s breasts, as Herrick did; or, as Donne did, comparing the church, positively, to a loose woman, “Who is must true and pleasing to thee then / When it is embraced and open to most men.”


For as start, ‘bonny and buxom’ meant ‘good and obedient’, not ‘lusty and busty.’ The contemporary reading of this vow is a projection of fantasy – there was never a time when bosomy Christian wenches publicly promised bosomy Christian wench-nights to their overlords.

Our chief objection to this writing was not the extraordinary idea that the Church would be better off if priests spent more time publishing poetry about female nudity and how delicious it is. Neither was it the idea that publicly enjoying literary fantasies about bosomy wenches proves you’re a Christian at ease with the body, rather than…well, something else.

No, the underlying problem is the idea that talking about women as sexual objects proves that a) you’re an intellectual, and b) you’re as cool as other intellectuals (whoever they are). It’s like, “Look at me! I’m religious, but I’m talking about naked women! (So don’t hate me!)” The same goes for the idea of the priest: in this review, the admirable priest is the one who breaks his commitment to chastity, or who writes about those parts of women which excite his lust, (never asking if the women themselves would prefer to be written about differently) … poetry makes it okay.

Look, I understand that Jansenists and super-pious people are annoying. I understand that artists and writers need certain freedoms that can appear shocking to the easily-shocked. However, to imply that there is something wrong with the Catholic culture around you (yeah, it’s so sad that priests don’t compare the Church to ‘loose’ women anymore) because it doesn’t ‘celebrate’ nipples anything-other-than-the-woman’s-smile like you do is something else… it sounds like putting down one group of friends in order to appear acceptable to another.

Don’t value verse over chastity. That’s idolatry.

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