Pontifex Minimus Blog: Presidential Reflections on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition

By Dr. Michael W. Higgins, President and Vice-Chancellor of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC

I had a number of books I wanted to read during the Easter holidays—some entirely appropriate to the Holy Week season and some a bit of a stretch—and I was successful in finishing all of them before ambling back to my workstation.

Etched by Silence: A Pilgrimage Through the Poetry of R. S. Thomas was especially seasonal.  Thomas, a master religious poet and Church of Wales priest, has a Kierkegaardian sensibility, an Ingmar Bergman on the bleak shores of northwest Wales, a melancholy Celt with a taste for God.

Opening New Horizons: Seeds of a Theology of Religious Pluralism in Thomas Merton’s Dialogue with D. T. Suzuki by Joseph Quinn Raab is an original and insightful examination of the dynamic exchanges between the two eminences.

The last of my trinity of books is Ken Bruen’s Galway Girl.  At first glance, a strange work to include among the others given that it is a mystery novel, based on the life of a fictional ex-Garda outlier--Jack Taylor—who plays by his own rules.  Taylor is an unalloyed Hibernian parallel to Michael Connelly’s Los Angeles renegade detective Harry Bosch, except more lawless, more provocative, more violent.  Not to everyone’s taste.

Having visited Galway, Ireland on half a dozen occasions, actually lecturing on John Moriarty at the University of Galway, and spending time exploring its historical and architectural wonders, I found myself  drawn to a writer,  himself a native Galwegian, whose literary style, rough-hewn characters, increasingly incredible narratives, and bizarre collection of village oddities, I found initially off-putting.

Why the attraction?

Could it be that Bruen, who has a doctorate in metaphysics and has discovered that detective fiction is his way of being grounded (and employed) appeals to my Catholic sensibility?

Actually, unreconstituted Thomist that I am, I like my metaphysics straight up. And I am not Tarantinoesque in my reading and visual entertainment choices.  So what gives, I ask.

Perhaps it is Bruen’s unfettered willingness to push the boundaries of morality, at the same time acknowledging the presence of evil in the human soul, that impresses me.

Bruen is no P. D. James, nor John Banville for that matter, but his fictive world, with its stark brutality, opens the mind to the madness—however fleeting—and to the capriciousness of evil in addition to the unsullied goodness of the generous heart.  No small feat.

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