Classical Catholic literature c. 1550-1750?

Friends :),

It’s very awkward to place this thread. Since it’s about old, classical poetry, literature, prose, and great epics, I thought it’d be best in Traditional Catholicism.

We often hear of great classical writing from the English. Shakespeare, Donne, Swift, John Gay, Samuel Johnson, and everyone in between. I’m looking for classical prose, poetry, literature, authorship, heroic tales, and epics of all sorts from the Catholic world. We may have a lack of this stuff, since it was undoubtedly the Anglicans, Lutherans, and Calvinists who loved classical storytelling, whereas Catholics loved the architectural and sculptural expressions more.

Does anyone know of classicism in the Catholic world between, say, the foundation of the Jesuits (1540) and the death of St. Alphonsus de Ligouri (1787)? I’d like to find a thread, something common to our Catholic heritage. They don’t have to be saintly writings, just epic prose, poetry, literature… really, anything with classical structure, heroic virtue, and grand tales of great men. :smiley: It’s inspiring beyond all description…

It kind of depends on whether Rowan Williams is right that Shakespeare († 1616) was a Catholic. :wink:

Yes, but I want verifiable sources. :slight_smile: We have de Montaigne and his essays, but what else is there from “our side”?

Boy, if Shakespeare was Catholic I’d freak out. :smiley:

Hmm, how about Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Alexander Pope?

If Shakespeare was a Catholic he probably wasn’t a very good one, since he kept up the appearance of being Anglican. I think the most plausible explanation may be that he was a humanist who empathized with Catholics and had more of a Catholic than Protestant outlook on the world because of a presumably Catholic upbringing (his father was indeed Catholic, from what I’ve read), but was willing to go through the motions of being Anglican for the sake of his career.

Answering your original question, one work from this period would be Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. I haven’t read it and don’t know if it explores recognizably Catholic themes, but it’s certainly a classic and I assume the Spanish author was a Catholic.

To both you and Aelred Minor: Cervantes was a little too harsh to chivalry for his work to be specifically classical, wouldn’t you say? The classical hero is flawless, muscular, and perfectly virtuous (like a Bernini sculpture :p), but Don Quixote is a bumbling parody. I’m referring to real archetypes here! :wink:

Had no idea Alexander Pope was actually Catholic. It just seemed like a carry-over name from older days. I’ll have to look him up! He’s in just the right period.

St. Edmund Campion wrote some fine poetry, but finding it translated out of the Latin is difficult. He was quite the renaissance man.

On the musical side, I would recommend William Byrd, especially “mass for five voices” to see what heights Catholic art can reach.

Badly needed these days, to my thinking.


PS: Read Belloc on the Shakespeare question. He advances what I think is the correct view of renaissance English society.

I really recommend Don Quixote by Cervantes. You can see clear in this book how the mindset of the Catholic renaissance man was already looking towards the past; when knights were seen as the pillars of chivalry and women were damsels in distress that their charming princes would save. sigh Alas for the glory days…:frowning:


I’m well aware of Catholic classical-era music. :smiley: Every well-composed Mass of the Renaissance era up to Haydn is pure gold. They speak to us of greater structures in the Cosmos, and lift our hearts up to heights we could never have imagined.

Campion, ok … I’ve heard the Jesuits were big classicists too. I wonder if their men wrote lots of heroic prose! :slight_smile:

I was always under the impression that the protagonist of that story was an unrealistically-idealistic man looking to the past, rather than focusing on the present. You’re sure it isn’t Cervantes’ comedy about antiquarians living in a dead world? I think his point was precisely that there never were damsels in distress or noble chivalric knights who upheld all virtues. It’d be nice if there were, but Don Quixote is a little too… quixotic to be an example of that. :stuck_out_tongue:

You would need to understand Spanish culture before you can truly make a proper assessment of Don Quixote. Don Quixote was a hidalgo, and his works and deeds usually remained in that realm, until some bum decided to make a more modern version and then cast good ol’ Don Quixote as a lunatic. :mad:

But you can trust me on that, Don Quixote is a great book. And it’s quite a romanticism as we know it.


Well, I somewhat know this is off-topic but… which Classical composers were Catholic? I’m a player of classical music so I’m familiar with names like Bach, Mozart and Chopin. I do know that Mozart attempted writing a Requiem Mass before his death. Beyond that, no idea. As for classical literature, …I have none. :frowning: Sorry…

Ok! :smiley: Thank you! I’ll try to evince modern interpretations I’ve heard suggested. Sometimes the baggage we have from hearing about a story makes us incapable of enjoying the story on its own terms.

This often catches people off-guard. What we call “classical” music today was not considered such when it was being composed. For one, music doesn’t follow these terms as easily as the other arts. Sculpture, painting, poetry, prose, and architecture generally mirror each other in period, but music tends to change after the fact. The smooth, melody-over-harmonies symmetrical style of music we associate with “Classical” (Mozart, Haydn) did not develop until the visual arts were long past the classical and into the neoclassical and early Romantic.

Bach was Lutheran. Händel was Lutheran, then probably converted to Anglicanism. If you see a famous German or English composer, he’s probably going to be a Reformed Christian. Spanish and Italian and French composers are always Catholics. It may sound like a stereotype, but religion was highly nationalised when these guys lived and worked.


Campion, ok … I’ve heard the Jesuits were big classicists too. I wonder if their men wrote lots of heroic prose! :slight_smile:

I think he composed an epic in Latin, on somewhat English themes!!! I have been trying to find a link for it, and if I do, I’ll either post it here or pm you. I have read some of his smaller poems, and they are like the Metephysical poets, but with somewhat more “bite.” Someone has tried to make the case that Campion, in fact, wrote many of Shakespeare’s plays!

The problem with renaissance lit is that so much of it was written in Latin, and it has not been translated. Of course, the English do not show much interest in their Latin poetry since that goes against the grain of the Augustan myth; the French may be a bit better, but nationalism has had a retarding effect on the rich body of late Latin literature. The nations love to claim their Catholic artifacts, but they eschew Catholic culture in its grandest sense.

One of the most famous English Catholics of the period was Ben Johnson. Loads of plays and poems in English are extant. He is interesting in that he was also pro protestant, but his sympathies with them were more in the nature of pro liberty, rather than doctrinal. The “sons of Ben” include some of the most famous renaissance men of letters, which lends credence to Belloc’s thesis that in temperment, the English renaissance was deeply Catholic.

Buffoonery is the result of vice. Buffoonery seeks self. Don Quixote lost himself.

Don Quixote was mad, but he lived for an ideal without compromise or discouragement. When he was knocked from his horse, he usually spat out a tooth, and continued on his way persevering in all of the virtues. I found myself laughing at him all through the book, and finally loving him in his mad simplicity at the end of the novel. It has been two years since my first read and Lord willing, I will read it again every few years for the rest of my life.

There is a story told of King Philip III looking out of a window and seeing a man below having an apparent fit of convulsions. The king sent an aide to see what was the matter. After investigating, the aide returned and reported to Philip that nothing was wrong; the man was from reading Don Quixote! We need good comedy, and Don Quixote IS a hoot. But at the same time, he had a virtuous and uncompromising love of the good, the beautiful, and the true without accurately identifying it. Those of us who DO know the good and beautiful and true could find worse examples of the way to die to self for a noble cause higher than ourselves than Don Quixote de la Mancha.

Take a look at the poetry of Richard Crashaw - I believe he did some composing also. He lived during the period of the English Civil War - if you have a copy of the Oxford Book of English Verse (preferably an older one!!!) his odes to St. Teresa of Avila are in there. His life illustrates the high degree to which Catholic thought influenced Protestants. In some ways, the divide between Protestant and Catholic was not as wide then, since the Protestant identity had yet to gel. I believe that the strict divide between Catholic art and Protestant art is a function of Protestant hagiography - a more or less conscious effort to distinguish themselves from Catholics, which has in turn destroyed unified European culture.

By way of analogy, what does one make of the Denmark and Norway, where the Reformation was strictly political. The Church was nationalised, but Catholic priests continued at their parishes for years. The beliefs of the people certainly did not change appreciably for generations, and was the result of the clergy being trained in Calvinist lands since there were no seminaries in the far north. Is that renaissance period Catholic or Protestant?

I would argue the former, because Catholic art exists where there is a Catholic mentality, which is distinct from strict confessional adherence.

By way of example, consider that the cathedral in Los Angeles ostensibly serves practicing Catholics, and was ordered by a bishop who held himself out as a faithful Catholic. Just one look at it tells you that it is not a Catholic thing. In contrast, google the Cathedral of Our Lady in Denmark (Copenhagen) - it has a far more Catholic atmosphere than the L.A. edifice, although a product of a Lutheran church.

We could, perhaps, say the same thing about Cardinal Richelieu - he was worse for the Catholic Church’s fortunes than many Protestant princes who remained loyal to their liege, the Holy Roman Emperor during the 30 years war. Granted, that was political and not artistic, but I think it makes the point that there is more to Catholicism than the label.

How did our Savior put it? “Not everyone who says, Lord, Lord…”


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