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Christology in the Works of Flannery O'Connor

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 September 2014

Rose Bowen*
College of Boca Raton


Christology and ecclesiology, both vital to Flannery O'Connor's thought, are reflected principally in her book reviews, letters, and essays. The reviews in particular (69 of the 143 titles reviewed pertain to subject matter that is religious or theological) attest to the range, depth, and vitality of her own theological investigation. By 1961, O'Connor's theology had been substantially influenced by that of Karl Adam, Romano Guardini, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Francis Durrwell. Through the influence of these theologians, one can trace in O'Connor's nonfiction the development of her Christology and its impact on her fiction.

Copyright © The College Theology Society 1987

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1 O'Connor, Flannery, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, ed. Fitzgerald, Sally (New York: Vintage, 1980), p. 231.Google ScholarO'Connor, also writes to “A,” “I am only slowly coming to experience things that I have all along accepted” (letter of August 28, 1955, p. 97).Google Scholar Two years later she writes to Lee, Maryat: “I take it that what you have come through is some expression of orthodoxy. I have come through several of those myself, always with a deepened sense of mystery and always several degrees more orthodox” (letter of January 9, 1957, p. 195).Google Scholar Subsequent references to this edition appear in the text as HB.

2 Review of Roots of the Reformation by Adam, Karl, trans. Hastings, Cecily (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1950), January 4, 1958Google Scholar, in O'Connor, Flannery, The Presence of Grace and other Book Reviews, comp. Zuber, Leo and ed. with introd. Martin, Carter (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983).Google Scholar Since most of the Reviews in this collection were written for The Georgia Bulletin, a local diocesan paper, the place of publication for each review will be cited only when the review is published in a work other than The Georgia Bulletin. Subsequent references to this edition appear in the text as PG.

3 In a letter to Dr. T. R. Spivey, O'Connor speaks of the Church as the body of Christ and as such a divine institution. If the Church is not a divine institution, it will turn into an Elks Club” (letter of June 21, 1959, HB, p. 337).Google Scholar See also letter to Cecil Dawkins, December 9, 1958, p. 307 and letter to “A,” August 2, 1955, p. 92.

4 Adam, , The Roots of the Reformation, p. 84.Google Scholar

5 Ibid., p. 85.

6 Ibid., p. 86.

7 Review of The Christ of Faith: The Christology of the Church by Adam, Karl, trans. Crick, Joyce (New York: Pantheon, 1957), April 5, 1958, PG, p. 55.Google Scholar

8 O'Connor, Flannery, “The Church and the Fiction Writer,” in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, ed. Sally, and Fitzgerald, Robert (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1981), p. 153.Google Scholar

9 Adam, , The Christ of Faith, p. 12Google Scholar (italics added).

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., p. 59.

12 Ibid., p. 207.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid., pp. 207-08.

15 Review of Jesus Christus by Guardini, Romano, trans. White, Peter (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1959), February 6, 1960, PG, p. 85.Google Scholar

16 Review of Meditations before Mass by Guardini, Romano, trans. Briefs, Elinor (Westminster: Newman Press, 1955), November 24, 1956, PG, p. 28.Google Scholar

17 Guardini, , Meditations before Mass, pp. 102–03.Google Scholar

18 Feeley, Kathleen S.S.N.D., , Flannery O'Connor: Voice of the Peacock, 2nd ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1982), p. 145.Google Scholar

19 Kann, Jean Marie O.S.F., , “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” The Cathoiic World 204 (December 1966), 159.Google Scholar

20 de Chardin, Pierre Teilhard, “Building the Earth,” Cross Currents 9 (Fall, 1959), 315–30.Google Scholar

21 Pontet, Maurice, “Evolution According to Teilhard de Chardin,” Thought 36 (Summer 1961), 167–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar This article contains excerpts from the following works by Teilhard: “Building the Earth”; “The Spirit of the Earth” (Pacific, 1931); “We Must Save Mankind” (Peking, November 11, 1936); “On the Possible Basis of a Common Credo” (Peking, March 30, 1941); “Thoughts on Progress” (Extract from a lecture given at the Embassy in Peking, March 30, 1941). In addition, references are made to works cited as follows: L'Avenir de l'Homme, Le Phénomène humain, La Vision du Passé, “La Messe sur le monde,” Le Milieu Divin, Lib. de Fide resurrect. Lect. IV.

An editorial note appears in the introduction of this article stating that the Fall, 1951 issue of Cross Currents ran an article which sketched an outline of Père Teilhard's understanding of Evolution. The Fall, 1952 issue contained a brief essay by Père Teilhard entitled “The Psychological Conditions of Human Unification.” The issues of Cross Currents housed in the Georgia State Library begin with the Fall, 1954 issue. Some of O'Connor's personal library, however, is still housed at Andalusia and is unavailable to researchers. In the event that O'Connor had access to these earlier issues of Cross Currents, her acquaintance with Teilhard through secondary sources would have begun before 1954.

22 Mooney, Christopher, “Blondel and Teilhard de Chardin: An Exchange of Letters,” Thought 37 (Winter 1962), 543–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar This article is annotated in four places, two of which are on the subject of Christology. Both of these passages are in the context of Teilhard's reply to Blondel. They read as follows: “There are two main points on which Mr. Blondel and I are in complete agreement…. Most of all on the fact that Christ must be loved as a World, or rather as the World, as the physical center, fixed with finality and absolute stability, and imposed on everything in Creation destined to survive,” p. 547. The second passage is in the context of a disagreement with Blondel on the subject of Christian renunciation. “There is in the life of every man and in the history of the human race as a whole, an enormous capacity for positive achievement and this must not be allowed to stagnate. It is absolutely necessary that Christ be as large as my life, my whole life. I must have an awareness of growing in Him, not only by asceticism and the painful wrench of suffering … but also by whatever positive effort I am capable of,” p. 548. See Maurice Blondel et le Père Teilhard de Chardin; Mémoires échangés en décembre 1919, présentés par H. de Lubac,” Archives de Philosophie 24 (1961), 135 and 138.Google Scholar

23 Review of Pierre TeiJhard de Chardin: His Thought by Tresmontant, Claude, trans. Attanasio, Salvator (Baltimore: Helicon, 1959), February 20, 1960, PG, p. 87.Google Scholar

24 Review of The Phenomenon of Man by de Chardin, Pierre Teilhard, trans. Wall, Bernard (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959), February 20, 1960, PG, pp. 8688.Google Scholar

25 For the novelist, this “prophetic vision” is dependent upon the imaginative faculty and involves a realism that does not hesitate to distort appearances in order to show a hidden truth (O'Connor, , “Catholic Novelists and Their Readers,” MM, p. 179Google Scholar).

26 Of the books by or about Teilhard de Chardin in the O'Connor Collection at Georgia State College, none is more heavily marked than Claude Tresmontant's Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: His Thought. One passage, quoted from The Divine Milieu, bears particular relevance to O'Connor's later works: “By virtue of the creation and still more of the Incarnation, nothing is profane here below on earth to him who knows how to see. On the contrary, everything is sacred for him who in every creature distinguishes the particle of the elected being that is subjected to the attraction of Christ in the process of consummation” (quoted in Tresmontant, p. 86).

27 Review of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: His Life and Spirit by Corte, Nicholas, trans. Jarrett-Kerr, Martin (Baltimore: Helicon, 1959), October 15, 1960, PG, p. 99.Google Scholar

28 Review of Teilhard de Chardin: A Critical Study by Rabut, Oliver (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961), December 23, 1961, PG, pp. 126–27.Google Scholar

29 Review of The Divine Milieu by de Chardin, Pierre Teilhard (New York: Harper, 1960), February 4, 1961, PG, p. 108.Google Scholar

30 The American Scholar (Fall 1961), PG, p. 129.Google Scholar

31 Pope John XXIII did not sign the Monitum and is reported to have stated later that the incident was “regrettable.” In his encyclical Pacem in Terris, 1963, Pope John adopted some expressions traceable to Teilhard. See Kraft, R. Wayne, The Relevance of Teilhard (Notre Dame, IN: Fides, 1968), p. 29.Google Scholar

32 Review of Letters from a Traveller by de Chardin, Pierre Teilhard (New York: Harper, 1962), PG, p. 160.Google Scholar

33 Wood, Ralph C., “The Heterodoxy of Flannery O'Connor's Book Reviews,” The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin 5 (Autumn 1976), 25.Google Scholar

34 Wood, Ralph C., review of The Presence of Grace and Other Book Reviews by O'Connor, Flannery, The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin 12 (Autumn 1983), 118.Google Scholar

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid., p. 161.

37 Kann, p. 159.

38 de Chardin, Teilhard, How I Believe, trans. Hague, René (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), pp. 1011;Google Scholar quoted also in Tresmontant, p. 81.

39 Tresraontant, pp. 80-81.

40 Since O'Connor was very clear in expressing her belief in the concept of evil (“The Christian drama is meaningless without Satan,” review of Evidence of Satan in the Modern World, PG, p. 139), concern has been expressed over her attraction to Teilhard when he appears to neglect the problem of evil (see, for example, Wood, Ralph, “The Heterodoxy of Flannery O'Connor's Book Reviews,” p. 22Google Scholar). In the Appendix to The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard's answer to the frequent reproach to his native or exaggerated optimism is that “… as my aim in this book has been limited to bringing out the positive essence of the biological process of hominisation, I have not (and this is in the interests of clarity and simplicity) considered it necessary to provide the negative of the photograph.”

41 de Chardin, Teilhard, How I Believe, p. 80Google Scholar, published in English in 1969.

42 In a previous section of How I Believe, Teilhard says of pantheism: “Faith in Christ fulfills my highest hopes, the very hopes which neither the pantheism of the East nor those of the West could satisfy,” p. 76.

43 de Chardin, Teilhard, How I Believe, p. 81.Google Scholar

44 Ibid., pp. 82-83.

45 Mooney, Christopher, Teilhard de Chardin and the Mystery of Christ (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 66.Google Scholar

46 McBrien, Richard P., Catholicism (Minneapolis: Winston, 1980), p. 470.Google Scholar

47 Review of Durrwell, Francis X., The Resurrection (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1960), PG, p. 120.Google Scholar

48 In the text of The Resurrection itself, a corroborating statement reads: “Thus Christ's unique hour encompasses both his death and his resurrection,” p. 36.

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