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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Ten Major Artists You Did Not Know Were Catholic


Determining someone's religion is not an easy thing. People's views change throughout life; and for many, their deepest convictions are a very private matter. It involves something very close to mind-reading. As a result, different sides sometimes claim the same prominent figure. Both atheists and theists claim Albert Einstein. I was surprised recently to see an artist I thought of as a prominent Catholic featured in a list of “Ten Atheists to be Proud Of.” Based, it turned out, on one anonymous and ambiguous anecdote.

As a Catholic, I think I encounter less temptation to fake anything—there are enough real Catholics that there generally no need. And this is especially true in the arts. For important theological reasons, Catholics are naturally more drawn to the arts as a field of endeavour than are Protestants or Muslims. Atheists? That depends on whether they are Catholic atheists, or Protestant atheists.

Still, the ambiguous figures are often the most interesting ones. There is a certain triumph in discovering that some prominent artist nobody realized was Catholic actually was, and having this suddenly shine a new light on their work.

So, here is a list of prominent artists who are Catholic, and whom you might not realize to be.

For those who are departed, I propose a simple rule: if someone has a Catholic funeral, he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic in the understanding of those who knew him best, and he is a Catholic in good standing in the eyes of the Church. As often as not, such thing are also stipulated in one's will. And we know that, whatever thoughts he may have had previously, his own meditations upon life led him to this as his ultimate conclusion.

Ergo, for example, contrary to claims by some atheists, Hitler was not a Catholic. He may have been raised Catholic, nominally, but he showed no desire for the Catholic last rites at his death, and specified a non-Catholic funeral. He even demanded cremation, which would have been understood by Catholics at the time as an implicit denial of the resurrection. He made anti-Catholicism his final statement.






10. Andy Warhol.


Born, raised, and died Catholic; he apparently never wavered. He attended mass regularly throughout his life. Funeral at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church, with a memorial at St. Patrick's Cathedral, NY.

Yeah, he's a gay icon. But there is apparently no clear evidence he ever practiced gay sex.

And in his case, this revelation really does shed some new light on his work. His pop “iconography” is pretty plainly a direct extension of Christian iconography.




9. Salvador Dali.


Commonly thought of as the court painter of Freudianism and psychoanalysis. Funeral at Church of Sant Pere, Figueres, Catalonia, Spain. Although raised Catholic, his final Catholicism was the result of a long journey. He took a good deal of flak from his surrealist pals for so openly returning to the Catholic fold in his later years.

His final works were generally explicitly religious, and traditionally so.




8. Alfred Hitchcock.


He's the one who has been claimed by the atheists, as noted in the intro above, but I think entirely illegitimately. Educated at a Jesuit school—he was three-quarters Irish--he had a proper Catholic funeral at Beverley Hills' Good Shepherd Church.

This ought not to be a surprise: don't his films show a stereotypical Catholic sense of guilt? Actually, Catholicism seems to be a good background for writing murder mysteries: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the inventor of the murder mystery, was also Catholic; as of course was G.K. Chesterton. The field of film direction is also especially heavy with Catholics, I think because Protestantism is more hostile to the visual.

Hitchcock sometimes wore his Catholicism on his sleeve--”The Wrong Man” turns on a miracle effected by prayer.



7. Jack Kerouac.



Yep, the founder of the counterculture. He's one the Buddhists regularly claim. He is quite properly credited with introducing Buddhism to North American culture, and making it cool. This does not mean he was ever a Buddhist. He insisted publicly late in life, during an interview with William F. Buckley, that he was Catholic. He is also on record as calling himself a “solitary Catholic mystic,” a “Jesuit,” and “a field marshal in the Jesuit armies.” I can't find him ever claiming to be a Buddhist. Funeral at St. John the Baptist Church, Lowell, Massachusetts.

Catholicism is the original counterculture, in America and in the English-speaking world. It is natural, therefore, that Catholics tend to countercultural ideas. Most of the big names of the Sixties seem to have had a Catholic background.




6. Oscar Wilde.



Yep, the poster boy of the Gay Rights movement and the sexual revolution. I can recall being ridiculed when I expressed my opinion, back as a college undergrad, that Wilde read a lot like a Christian mystic. But he probably would have been appalled to learn of the associations he is forced into today. Wilde was not raised Catholic, and went to Protestant schools; he was a member of the Anglo-Protestant Ascendancy. But, having grown up in Dublin, he was certainly exposed to cultural Catholicism from an early age. He showed deep interest in Catholicism throughout his life, and formally converted on his deathbed. His “De Profundus” is the great confessional poem in English.

Married with children, he also always denied, by the way, being a practising homosexual.





5. Sean Connery.


Yep, James Bond, the ideal “Englishman” is not just Scottish, but Catholic. In fact, an uncanny proportion of cinema's tough guys and “savoir-faire” types have been Catholics, by birth or by conversion. John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, Gregory Peck, James Cagney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudolph Valentino, Nicholas Cage, Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner), Patrick McNee (The Avengers), Liam Neeson, Martin Sheen, Clark Gable ... charisma, it seems, comes with the territory.





4. William Shakespeare.


We don't know this directly, but the case is generally considered proven. We know his family was Catholic, and analysis of his plays has produced the critical consensus that Shakespeare's world view was and is that of a believing Catholic. Alexander Pope, John Dryden, and many other prominent English poets were also Catholics, despite this being a dangerous minority position.

Incidentally, if the picture doesn't look like Shakespeare to you, you're out of date. Recently discovered, this is believed to  be the only surviving portrait of Shakespeare from life. That bald guy with a pointy beard? Who knows--the more familiar conventional image was painted many years after his death.





3. Tennessee Williams.

Another gay icon. Though raised Episcopalian, he converted to Catholicism late in life. His funeral was held at St. Malachy's Catholic Church, NY.

He had been a practising homosexual, but apparently later repented of it. It is striking how many with homosexual tendencies have felt drawn to the Catholic Church—counter to what you would think from modern gay activists.





2. Bob Newhart.

Because he is still living, this could still change. But he was raised a Catholic, attended Catholic schools and a Catholic university. He has raised his own children as Catholics.

This one even surprises me. Newhart's style seems to me essentially Protestant, which is to say, taciturn.





1. Ernest Hemingway.


Hemingway converted to Catholicism in adulthood, and received a Catholic funeral. That, given that he was a suicide, gives him a strong endorsement from the Church. Some have wondered about this, but it was probably doctrinally correct. It seems clear that at time of death he was not in his right mind. He apparently had a hereditary physical disease which caused severe secondary mental effects.

Another tough guy Catholic.

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