(urth) Wolfe and Catholicism

Eric Mattingly eric_mattingly at hotmail.com
Tue Nov 30 20:49:05 PST 2004

Not to switch subjects too quickly, but I think that an interesting line of 
discussion has been broached.  But on the whole successor thing-- I think 
that we have to see Wolfe as building on Tolkien's work rather than 
mirroring it precisely.  Both are indeed philosophical writers, but I 
honestly find more philosophical depth and-- even more importantly-- 
questioning in Wolfe.  And here is one major reason I see that.  Whereas 
Tolkien is interested in establishing a history, Wolfe is interested in 
establishing a path of evolution (as has been said already in our 
discussion).  Where the former wants to establish a mythology, the latter 
wants to move beyond mythology into blessedness.  Wolfe's use of mythology 
then (especially in the Book of the New Sun and Urth of the. . .) has some 
uncanny (and conscious I would argue) parallels with the ascent to bliss in 
gnostic mythology (this element in the New Sun series deserves a thread of 
its own).  The dynamic at the heart of the New Sun, then, is one of 
evolution at the core-- the universe is being conformed slowly and with 
epochal carefulness into an eventual direct communication with the 
Pancreator (Ein Sof?).

This leads directly to the question of Wolfe's religious heritage in his own 
work.  Textually speaking, I believe that trying to apply the term 
"christian" to something is moot and bound to fail.  Rather, we cannot truly 
define Christianity unless it is a kind of mysticism that is beyond language 
or a kind of experience at the root of action (a la Kierkegaard) and which 
also resists definition.  Rather, we get a mixture of acceptance and 
reaction to certain ideas that arise from Christianity and which are 
patterned in certain ways.  The end result of all my babble is to say that I 
believe we can call Wolfe more readily a "Catholic" writer than we can a 
"Christian writer."  My own beliefs lead me to question whether or not 
"christianity" even exists, but certainly I can't see how it becomes 
embodied textually.  As a "Catholic", then, I think it is clear that he is 
neither doctrinaire or even orthodox.  At the base of the Book of the New 
Sun is an idea of evolution that (as I have already said) is gnostic-- but 
it is also a variety of a famous almost-heresy called the "apocatastasis" 
(restoration) wherein all souls must eventually through the suffering 
inherent in their own actions be restored to grace.  All will eventually 
choose the "good" once the "good" is known.  That includes the damned and 

Anyway, I apologize for that mess.  That's what you get for thinking as you 
write :).  I hope that it isn't total tripe.


A heretic is a man who sees with his own eyes.

-- Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

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