(First, if this is placed in the wrong forum, I apologize, but I was unsure as to where this would best be placed.)
Oftentimes, when I (and, I presume, when many of the rest of us) read fictional as well as historical literature about various individuals, we rejoice with them in our minds when they rejoice (if their rejoicing is to good purpose) and we mourn with them in our minds when they mourn (if their mourning is proper).
Such rejoicing and mourning surely inspires us to a greater love in the present day. It also very likely causes many of us to meditate on the nature of God’s great Love for all of us.
However, should not every action, in Catholic theology, be directed to a purpose and, indeed, a purpose that may reasonably be achieved? Since the above figures (fictional and historical) most often cannot directly be affected/influenced by our love, if, say they are in hell (for many non-Christians), is it proper to feel, and, indeed, to enjoy the feeling of, compassion we have for them when we read of their lives? After all, such love/compassion can no longer be directed to any purpose in most of these situations.
(I hope I am making myself clear in how I’m stating this. As I often say, please ask me questions if you are unclear as to what I’m getting at.)
I myself am a very empath(et)ic person (INFJ), so, even when reading novels/histories, I tend to feel very deeply the emotions of the characters, so much so that I often find myself wishing, in the case of historical figures, that I could go back somehow and reach out. This does, indeed, inspire me to greater love in the present and in circumstances that I can influence. This also causes me to meditate on God’s Love and inspires me to a more empath(et)ic/compassionate understanding of those in present times/reality.
Do I, indeed, misunderstand Catholic theology to state that everything, and absolutely everything, with no exceptions, must be done to some effective purpose? Is this a correct understanding? If so, are such statements infallibly determined?
No. Why would you think there must be a purpose to everything? (That’s rhetorical).
Misty, I have this observation, which I say with utmost respect: you’re overthinking life. You’re making “reading historical fiction” into an exercise in deep moral theology. You did the same thing with learning a foreign language. Some things just “are,” and some actions are morally neutral.
Believe me, I mean this with all respect to you, but I always thought that every aspect of our lives should be brought into conformity with our Christian faith. I take this very seriously and, if I find even one small thing that might be lacking, I put it under deep examination/review. Unless I’m missing something? Should not our Christianity be at the foundation of everything we say/do/live?
Why should everything have a direct and effectual purpose? Again, maybe I am sincerely and truly mistaken in my understanding, but I thought that this was something that is taught by the Church?
I suppose a reaction of sympathy/love/etc. when reading fictional novels or even factual historical accounts is only natural. And, when I think about it more deeply, I suppose even this in itself serves some purpose, perhaps like the one that Pual may have intended when he told us to think/meditate on/consider whatsoever is good, noble, etc. Such inspires our own hearts to imitate such. In the same way, our hearts are inspired to charity even by the situations in which fictional and/or historical figures find themselves.
This does bring up in to my mind an interesting, though related, sied note: How aware are those in heaven, purgatory or even hell of what goes on here on earth? Are they aware of every word/action, or only some? Are they perhaps even aware of our internal thoughts? As I understand it, the angels, at least, cannot be aware of our internal thoughts, correct? I ask this because, if there is awareness of whatever kind of what is going on here in all cases, then even the compassion we feel, at least in the case of historical figures who have passed on, might rightly be directed toward a source instead of into our own minds or into, as it were, the empty air (though I suppose, in some sense, we could be directing them toward God who might also honor them). Indeed, as I understand it, God Himself does not cease loving all men, no matter their eternal state? I suppose, however, that perhaps those suffering in hell would be too, shall we say, pre-occupied to even give consideration to the things happening here on earth?
Perhaps I am, indeed, laying too much emphasis on the action part of love as being its ultimate end? I mean, I’ve always disagreed (I hope not to my peril!) with those who suggest that the central aspec of love lies in its action toward another person and not in the emotional side of it. For me, loving action results from a loving feeling which is, in turn, rooted (to me) in a key notion of empathy/sympathy. Even if nothing concrete can be done for a person for whatever reason, love for that person does not because of this cease. Truly, love is ultimately a caring for another’s welfare, but even that caring for another’s welfare, I would argue, is rooted in empathy/sympathy for him.
And, yes, I know these all seem perhaps like rather odd questions to those who have never thought in these ways. As PolarGuy points out, I do tend to thinkg things through quite deeply and sometimes in unusual (rare) ways. I would, nevertheless, ask that what I have asked/said be considered with carefulness and respect. I think you all in advance.
(BTW, PolarGuy, just to clarify, I am here speaking of both fiction (generally) and of (factual) history, not necessarily only of historical fiction – two separate things.)
You bring up some interesting questions, which are deserving of consideration,
It seems to me that you are asking (at least) 2 separate questions: is it okay to enjoy fiction and to relate to the imaginary characters?
What relation should we have to historical characters, people who actually lived?
I think fiction is useful for entertainment after a hard days’ work, for providing examples of how to live or how not to, and information about how the world works. I’ve found Jane Austen’s novels very helpful when dealing with disappointment - I try to follow the example of her heroines, who are very moral people.
My brain, at least, can’t operate on a practical level, i.e. dealing with math, computer stuff, medical info, constantly – I need a break, and fiction helps supply that.
As far as historical characters, I believe we should pray for them when appropriate, especially if we don’t know their stance on faith. God can use our prayers outside of time – for example, I can pray for Napolean’s salvation, since I have no idea whether he was a Christian at the moment of death or not, and God can use my prayers hundreds of years ago.
For an example of this, a good book is Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell, in which a woman prays for her ancestor who was martyred, and he is given strength to endure his death.
In my own books I attempt to present a pro-life message in an entertaining way, to bring it to the attention of young people, if only subconsciously. I was strongly influenced by the Narnia books as a young person; Lewis’ world view fascinated me, and led to my salvation eventually. God can use all kinds of things to reach us.
Nice!! I was just about to look at a separate thread here about “retroactive prayer”, as I’ve always wondered about it, even early on when I was a much more convinced Protestant. My interest in it, I do believe, was sparked from my strong connection to history/historical figures as people just like you and me. Viewing them like this, I treat them when reading/talking about them/etc. as if they were people, right here with us today. I respect them as such, honoring them where they deserve honor/censoring where censure (at least as far as I can interpret from their actions). Therefore, I do feel a great deal of empathy for them when I read of them.
Indeed, my specialty is Graeco-Roman antiquity, particularly pre-Christian and there are a lot of people out there, at least within the general public, who take a very, VERY negative view ofthese people, often considering them somehow “less” than us, or utterly immoral/amoral and that all by intent! I do my best to help change that perception and to make them more “human” for people in my position as a Latinist. (Honestly, I think that this also helps people to better understand modern folks who may differ from them in this way or that.) Honestly, though, not really sure why I feel such a strong connection to historical figures who are no longer with us, and, in particular, Greek/Roman ones. Still, it’s definitely there.
All that being said, I have always felt a strong desire to pray for historical figures I read about, both Christian and non-, and I’d always wondered how effective/to what extent such prayers would be beneficial/honored by God. So, then, maybe, at least so far as prayer for them, this kind of love may yet be affective in their lives?
Actually, this leads into another sort of related question: Can not only prayer but also good works be done retroactively? Take, for example, my desire to “humanize” the ancients. Can that be considered a “good work” that God would honor and that might, in some way, even benefit those in the past both directly and indirectly? As far as affecting historical people directly, we can be pretty convinced that they would have wanted understanding from future generations just as muchas they did from their contemporaries, as, frankly, they’re humans like us who have similar desires. So, in that sense, even though they’re not necessarily aware that person X in time period X is trying to honor that wish, could it still be counted as a “good work” to them? If God honors these things as “good works” and if they can be considered as effectual “good works”, then my “love” for such would, in fact, have some purpose to it and the question here of “love to no purpose” would be moot. I mean, particularly as far as non-Christians, even if very many of them have been condemned to hell, would desiring to do good for them “retroactively” still be considered a “good work” and honored by God? No matter where these man are, would they be aware of this kind of thing and be able, if only in the knowing, to benefit from it? Or, if they don’t know directly, would God desire to inform them of such? Again, though, I’m kind of unsure when it comes to those in hell, again, whether they would be too pre-occupied with the tortures they’re enduring for any good work of anyone after their death to make much difference.
I am indeed curious as to everyone’s thoughts on all these issues. I am also curious about any Church teaching (infallible or otherwise) that could be relevant to these issues, as I have not yet myself looked that deeply into these matters as far as Church teaching.
Thanks again, guys, for considering these questions. They may not be relevant to everyone, but, to me, as a career historian and a committed Christian, they are quite relevant.