Saturday, December 5, 2009

Clark Gable, The Confederacy, and Catholicism

I watched "Gone With The Wind" tonight with my family, and it was a heartbreaking but good movie. I kept thinking, the lessen of the movie is about disordered love. If you pour out your love on someone - even a great person - there will always be heartache. It's a beautiful thing - the love between people - but in the end to use the words of St. Augustine, "Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee". I think of the love Rhett had for Scarlet all along, throughout all of her unfaithfulness and hatred and apathy, and think of God's love and how painful it must be when I go to my 'other love'/sin.

Anyway I noticed that the O'Hara family were Irish Roman Catholics and they had family prayers (which I could partially pray along with). I found it interesting how in the American South it seemed us Papists could be respectable. Deep South Catholicism, not something I've seen much (any?) of.

There's a british Catholic blogger who wrote about this:

He writes interestingly enough:

"Margaret Mitchell, who wrote the book on which the film is based, was a Catholic, albeit a lapsed one, and there is an astonishing scene near the beginning of GWTW in which the heroic O'Hara family, gathered for family prayers, recite the old Confiteor in English.

It seems extraordinary that such a thing could have happened in what is now the Bible Belt, but until the middle of the 19th century the states south of the Mason-Dixon line were probably more Catholic than the states to the north: just think Louisiana and Maryland. Even well into the 20th century there was a strong Catholic culture in the South, which showed itself in the work of such writers Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy and the tragic John Kennedy Toole, who committed suicide and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize posthumously for his comic masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces.

But can a Catholic think well of the Confederacy? What about slavery? The truth of the matter is that in the last century (as in the first century AD) people were not quite as sensitive as they are today, and that includes Church people.

In 1820 the Jesuits had almost 400 slaves on their plantations in Maryland, and Bishop John England, the first bishop of Charleston, South Carolina (from 1820 to 1840), was opposed to the slave trade, and indeed to slavery in general, but was against the abolitionist movement and felt that Catholics could in good conscience own slaves. Even the Pope in Rome - Pius IX - apparently had a soft spot for the Southern cause, and therefore could not have regarded slavery as the deciding moral factor in the conflict. He was at any rate the only European head of state to lend his support to what turned out to be the Lost Cause.

The author of the Syllabus of Errors (1864) corresponded with Southern leader, Jefferson Davis, addressing him as "His Excellency Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America".

In 1866, when Davis, having lost the war, was in jail, the Pope sent him a letter with which he enclosed a miniature Crown of Thorns that he had made with his own hands.

Pius IX's support of the Confederacy was de facto rather than formal, as the Vatican made clear, but it can be no coincidence, as the Marxists used to say, that the Pope did not correspond with Abraham Lincoln. In any case, you can see why Pius IX would have liked the South: it was agrarian, conservative, chivalrous, backward-looking, suspicious of centralising government, and no more inclined than His Holiness to come to terms with what had been anathematised in the Syllabus as "Progress, Liberalism and Modern Civilization".

But Progress, Liberalism and Modern Civilization won. It is hard to imagine any post-conciliar bishop defending Pio Nono on the Confederacy, or, for that matter, on another pressing concern of those times: religious freedom.

Pius was no fan of religious freedom. But at least he could see the funny side of the divide created by presumed religious freedom. He once greeted a party of Anglican churchmen with the blessing reserved for incense: Ab illo benedicaris in cuius honore cremaberis - "Mayest thou be blessed by him in whose honour thou shalt be burnt." The churchmen were not amused."

Funny, as a history student I've always defended the Confederacy and when I researched some Southern Generals I found that General Longstreet of the Southern army was a convert to Roman Catholicism. Who woulda known?


  1. I am a native New Orleanian, now transplanted to Kansas, writing to applaud your very fine post. The Confederate Museum in New Orleans has the crown of thorns woven by the Pope for Jefferson Davis. When I was a child, my family and I often passed Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis's lovely home on the Gulf of Mexico in Biloxi, Mississippi; alas, I believe it's been destroyed by the last hurricane to hit that area. As girl, I used to play at Destrehan Plantation and to hear the calliope of the Delta Queen on the Mississippi. The Angelus bells tolled everywhere throughout the city of New Orleans, and there were traces of the Faith everywhere. Now,sadly, there are few. Gone with the wind indeed...

  2. I wish I could've experienced that while it lasted, it sounds beautiful. By God's grace perhaps it will come again. It reminds me of Flannery O'Connor's statement "while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted"