Above: Alessandro Manzoni (1785 – 1873).
In trying to preserve the traditions of Catholicism and indeed the entirety of Western Civilization, literary fiction is an incredibly useful tool. Fiction allows us to articulate truths about reality and the human condition without simply stating them in so many words. This is not to say that truth, simply stated, is insufficient, but truths repeated endlessly in a mere question and answer format can cause us to lose the wonder which is inherent to a proper appreciation of the world and the God-given truths that pervade it. Fiction allows us to put the same truths we learn about in the catechism into the context of a story, a story which, if told well, will bring human characters and experiences alive for the reader. While it is true that not all fiction writers follow the moral compass of the Catholic Church, or even the traditions of Western Civilization in general, the best of them do. They are arguably the best, not only because they write well, but because they articulate truth with their writing.
This showing forth of truth through fiction is obvious in the work of a Catholic writer like Allessandro Manzoni. His famous novel The Betrothed catalogs the adventures of a betrothed couple who have been separated by the machinations of an evil nobleman. This book beautifully illustrates perennial Catholic truths on such themes as marriage, love, forgiveness, suffering, providence, and more. It remains a classic in the Italian canon, surpassed only by Dante’s Divine Comedy. This book is profoundly Catholic, and it shows the truth, not by preaching, nor by reciting cut and dried questions and answers from a catechism, but through vivid illustration, clever wit, and richly human characters. The Betrothed is not only Catholic, but Real.
Contrast this with a writer like Jean Paul Sartre, who does not write in the tradition of western culture, but writes in rejection of it. Sartre’s short story, “The Wall,” vividly catalogs the thoughts of a man about to be executed in the Spanish Civil War. There is nothing beautiful about this story. It may be, and arguably is, well executed, but the view of the author, and hence the idea he is trying to articulate, is the existential nihilism for which Sartre was known. At a certain point in the story the main character has a conversation with another man, Tom, also condemned to death. Tom claims that he “can’t understand” what will happen to him after he is executed. He can go through everything in his head up to that point, but then he cannot imagine what will come after. His words are powerful:
I tell myself there will be nothing afterwards. But I don’t understand what it means. Sometimes, I almost can…. and then it fades away and I start thinking about the pains again, bullets, explosions. I’m a materialist, I swear it to you; I’m not going crazy. But something’s the matter. I see my corpse; that’s not hard but I’m the one who sees it, with my eyes. I’ve got to think… think that I won’t see anything anymore and the world will go on for the others. We aren’t made to think that, Pablo.
Pablo, the main character, ridicules this reasoning and asks Tom if he would like him to call a priest.
Sartre’s obvious purpose in this story is to drum the fact into his reader’s heads that there is nothing after death, and that the world is ultimately meaningless. His fiction is effective and vivid, and portrays the utter despair of nothingness very well. And yet, though Sartre himself believes the creed of nihilism, he ironically gets at the truth that man is made for immortality, when Tom states, after trying to imagine the nothingness after death, “We aren’t made to think that.”
Literary fiction, then, can still highlight truth even when it does not conform entirely to Faith and morals, because, if the author is honest, his writing will often bring some semblance of that truth to life, even if it is twisted to his own purposes. Fiction is a powerful tool both for good and evil; it gives us an almost living example of what right and wrong really are, or what happens when we forget what right and wrong really are, or even that there is a right or wrong. The atheistic and nihilistic authors of the past hundred years have highlighted man’s absolute need for a proper understanding of right and wrong, through their very lack of this perspective. The philosophical fiction of the modernist era has lost the sense of God, and so leads its characters into horrible lives with no hope, for the hope they are seeking can only be found in the God they have rejected. In this way fiction written from a skewed perspective almost serves as a via negativa towards the truth. But this via negativa is shrouded by the tenant of a godless culture and is not seen by all. We need much more than a via negativa.
This all serves as a precursor for us to tell you that we, with the assistance of some co-conspirators, have recently undertaken the ambitious goal of revitalizing Western Culture through fiction, of giving western culture more than just a via negativa to navigate our modern age. Our project is Incarnation, a journal of contemporary literary fiction in line with the Western tradition. While this is not a purely Catholic enterprise, in as much as we accept writing from non-Catholics, it ultimately all points back to Catholicism and Christendom. We are seeking writers of any genre of fiction who have the skill and perseverance necessary to write well and to do so in the tradition of the Western canon. We believe that there are many such writers in the world today, perhaps on our very doorsteps, and that they only remain dormant because there are so few outlets, outside of large publishing houses, for their work. It is the primary purpose of Incarnation to provide such an outlet.
We are currently accepting submissions for our first issue, which, God willing, will be released free to the public sometime between September and October. Your support and submissions would be greatly appreciated. It is my hope that we will be able to foster writers like those great men of the past, who illustrated the truth with immense beauty.
Of course, we are also looking for men and women who appreciate and desire to see more of good literature. If you are not interested in writing for the journal, please consider reading it. We aim to make it well worth your time. After our first issue we hope to offer subsequent issues at the price of $5 apiece, to help support our writers who are trying to produce works of enduring merit and beauty.
Please visit our website incarnationjournal.com to read more about the journal, view our submission guidelines, or subscribe to get email updates.
If you have thoughts or feedback, please feel free to contact us at: [email protected]
Ad majorem Dei gloriam,
Managing Editor, Incarnation
 Sartre, Jean Paul, The Wall. 1939 This edition found at: https://www.sjsu.edu/people/cynthia.rostankowski/courses/HUM2BS14/s0/Sartre-The-Wall-reading.pdf