[percy-l] Percy and Lance and the Church

Michael Larson Mlarson at SOUTHEASTMN.EDU
Sat Jan 13 00:55:28 EST 2007

Nikki, I appreciate your comments. And I would be very interested in hearing about any first-hand observations that indicate Percy's affection for the changes brought on by Vatican II. I would also like to study the context for the Percy quotation you mention: "Don't folks know irony when they see it?" Is that in a published interview? (I do have Conversations and More Conversations--in case it is in one of those.)

As far as my impression that Percy speaks--at least in part--through Lance, I offer the following: 

>From Jay Tolson's biography (p. 413), "Joyce Carol Oates was right about how close Percy's ideas were to those of Lancelot. And not just his ideas. Lancelot, in all his fury and anger against the modern world, was both temperamentally and intellectually what Percy would have been were it not for one all-important difference: his faith."

Regarding his difficulties with faith (and by implication with the Church), especially during the time he was writing Lancelot, I offer the following:

>From Jay Tolson's biography (p. 382-383), "Percy's daughters could also see what few others saw: that Percy was going through a difficult period with his faith. This came out in a variety of ways, including an increasing reluctance to receive the host at mass. At lunch on Saturday, Mary Pratt could not help observing that her father had failed to say grace. 'I will say the damn grace if I feel like it,' Percy exploded ... 'You can't turn your back on the church,' she said to Percy. 'It's just too much a part of your life.' Percy sat silent and grim-faced on the couch. He could not reply because he had no response. He felt empty."

And this letter by Percy to Shelby Foote (p. 387 of Tolson), "Re Catholicism: I think that culturally speaking I am still a gloomy Georgia Presbyterian. It is impossible to escape one's origins completely. I believe in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church etc but it is intellectual and I often don't feel a part of the feast like merry Louisianians. Also, the conviction is growing that an end is at hand, whether the end of the U.S. or the West or the world I don't know yet; maybe all three."

And this commentary by Tolson (p. 434): "... perhaps because he had come close to losing his faith in the 1970s, Percy's wholehearted return to the fold seemed to include an almost penitential commitment to serving and defending the faith. For Percy, this service would consist largely of vigorous affirmations of the authority, dogma, and magisterium of the church, and particularly of the Holy Father himself, all of which he thought were under attack both from without and within the church. While never one to agonize over such things as the abandonment of the Latin mass, Percy was deeply troubled by any attempts to dilute dogma or to challenge the position and authority of the pope, and during the last decade of his life, he would become a forceful defender of orthodoxy"

And this (p. 460): "Percy also knew that there were worlds and worlds within the Catholic church, which was held together, only barely, by its bedrock of doctrine. ('If you talk to three hundred Catholic priests,' he once told his friend Ansley Cope, 'you'll end up with three hundred versions of Catholicism.')"

And this (p. 483): "One afternoon, [Percy] talked to [Ann] about the importance of that faith. He told Ann about how he had almost lost his in the 1970s, when he turned to psychology and other supports, even though they had failed him earlier in his life. Percy confessed to her that turning away from the church at that time had been the worst mistake of his life."

Worth considering also is Percy's priest in The Thanatos Syndrome, his last book. The following is from Patrick Samway's biography (p. 369): "[Fr. Smith's] preference for the Tridentine liturgy signals that he had not adapted to the changes in liturgical practice since the Second Vatican Council. Yet he finds a niche within himself, rooted in his experiences in Nazi Germany, where he once lived. The larger concerns of Feliciana Parish, especially the dire effects of heavy sodium in the water supply, seem not to invade his inner sanctum the way they do Dr. Tom More's. Walker's last fictional priest acts and speaks in a shockingly new way, which nevertheless is consistent with his prophetic calling within the Church."

To sum up, I would not argue that Percy speaks only through Lance (as I agreed in an earlier post, he speaks through Lance's confessor as well), nor would I argue that Percy did not do his best to try to reconcile the church he had converted to with the one he ended up with. It must have been, I am sure, quite a feat of grappling in his considerable mind. What I will stand by, until the evidence points otherwise, is that he speaks at least in part through Lance and that he was anything but enamored with the spirit of novelty in the post-conciliar church. On the contrary, there is some reason to believe that it may nearly have cost him the Faith.

Best Regards,
Michael Larson

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Today's Topics:

   1. Re: Lancelot the Jihadist (Nikkibar at aol.com)


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Date: Thu, 11 Jan 2007 16:22:56 EST
From: Nikkibar at aol.com
Subject: Re: [percy-l] Lancelot the Jihadist
To: percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
Cc: jamdi at bellsouth.net, marcus at loyno.edu
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I would dissent from mr. Larson's view that Walker is speaking through 
Lancelot, a mistake that even learned critics have been making for years. this 
awlays puzzled Walker after the publication of the book with the same puzzzlement 
Socrtes must have felt as they passed him the hemlock.

"Don't folks know irony when they see it?" opined WP. I would remeark that 
the reasson for the mistake is that there is something so appealing in the Lance 
character that put s the reader on his side despite his nihilism in the 
latter passages of the book.

Walker was by my personal observation of him, much taken with the Vatican II 
changes at a time when lots of RCs in Covington were not. I  mean to check 
these observations with others and supplement this hereafter.

Nikki Barranger
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