Not-so-saintly literary giants

Not sure if this is the right thread…but I was reading a biography of the French Catholic monarchist author, Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly…when I came across a few articles on Baudelaire and Lord Byron. Now granted they had their own faults and made terribly bad decisions, is it wrong to read them or read about them…should I I stay way from that (avoid their influence, even literary, etc.?), I’ve often had the same question too of some of the surrealist writers, like Andre Breton, whose works seem to give an excellent example of surrealist writer…yet they were flippin’ commies who hated the Church :mad: (but I suppose Picasso wasn’t so religious either…being a Stalinist). Umm…anyway…yeah…that was my question…thank you all in advance. :o

The old question. What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? :slight_smile:

We’re supposed to keep our minds on “whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is beautiful”. A lot of artists run around having odd ideas and personal lives, but do make plenty of what is true, good, and/or beautiful. So read that, and ignore the rest. All these good/true/beautiful things came from Christ (whether the artist knows it or not); and so they belong to Christ, and thus to Christians.

St. Augustine, St. Basil, and many other people have been very definite that Christians can read even pagan authors writing about pagan religion, much less wayward Christians. They’ve also been quite sure that reading literature, pagan or secular, is a great way to sharpen your skills for reading the Bible and sacred literature, and to learn how to express yourself and thus better do God’s will. They are “the spoils of the Egyptians”, and we can carry them off and do with them what God says.

That said, if you feel a particular author or work is bad for you or influencing your thoughts the wrong way, you don’t need to keep reading him or it.

If holiness were essential to being an author, there would be very few left to read.

ISTM that we have a confusion between what belongs to grace & what belongs to nature. Natural ability to write is a great gift, which is no less real for not being allied to or elevated by grace. It is good that it should be graced - but not in the least necessary that it should: Homer may not be a Saint, but that in no way alters his status as the prince of poets. The only poet equal to him is Dante; & he too is unlikely to be “canonisation material” - yet it is safe to say he is the very greatest of all Christian poets :). Conversely, the Spanish priest Juvencus was a Christian - but his adaptation of Virgil to Christian purposes has every Virgilian quality except poetic ability. John Milton was a far greater poet than St. Alphonsus Liguori: St. Alphonsus had literary ability, but it was Milton who wrote “Paradise Lost”. Being Christian, like being a Saint, does not confer, or do duty for, literary talent: the two kinds of gift are radically different in kind, & there is no connection between them, except that which occurs when the same person has both. And most people don’t.

Literature has to be judged by the standards proper to it - it’s not a branch of ethics or theology, even though it is not irrelevant to either. “Not irrelevant to” does not mean or imply “identical with”.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit