Reclaiming Catholic Culture through Classic Literature

An Interview with StAR Magazine’s Editor, Joseph Pearce

You may know him as the acclaimed expert on J.R.R. Tolkien, or you may know him for his Ignatius Press critical editions of the classics, but Joseph Pearce is also the dedicated editor for St. Austin Review (StAR), a publication comitted to reclaiming culture.

Getting to Know the Great Works of Our Civilization is Akin to Embarking on a Great Adventure

Joseph Pearce

The magazine centers on reviews of classical reads, articles that delve deeper into children and adult literature, and advice for why and how to approach the classics, so I was very excited when I found them! I reached out to Joseph Pearce, and he kindly agreed to share the story behind StAR, as well as some of his insider wisdom on the importance of reading the classics, particularly for Catholics.

PLUS: read to the end to find out Joseph Pearce’s favorite classic!

Interview with Joseph Pearce

What inspired you to begin StAR? What need did you see?

Joseph: The St. Austin Review was launched by Saint Austin Press, a Catholic publisher in the UK, way back in 2001. I was asked to be the founding editor and have been privileged and honoured to hold that position for the past eighteen years. StAR is now published by Saint Augustine’s Press here in the States, a different publisher with a similar name. StAR was launched as a catalyst serving to convert the culture through the power of beauty. Its mission is in the area of what might be called cultural apologetics.

What writers do you publish in StAR?

Joseph: Over the years we have published many well-known writers. Cardinal Ratzinger granted us permission to publish the first English language translation of his essay on “Catholicity”, shortly before he was elected pope. Rowan Williams wrote for us shortly before he became Archbishop of Canterbury. Other well-known writers who have graced our pages include Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howard, Cardinal Biffi, Mike Aquilina, Fr. James Schall, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Ralph McInerny, Stratford Caldecott, and best-selling novelists Tim Powers and Michael D. O’Brien.

What is the mission of StAR, and how do you hope to help others through it?

Joseph: Our mission is to rebuild Christian civilization by reclaiming culture. We will never see a revival of civilization until we see a revival in Catholic culture. What is needed is a vital and vigorous Catholic revival in the arts. StAR aims to be at the vanguard of the struggle to make this happen.

One Way of Preparing for Our Eternal Destiny is to Be Aware of Our Priceless Heritage

Joseph Pearce

In your opinion, why is reading the classics important, particularly for adults who have completed their schooling?

Joseph: The most important thing about the humanities is that they teach us about humanity. A culture which neglects the humanities will also be neglecting humanity. A culture that treats the humanities with contempt will also treat humanity with contempt. Reading the classics and knowing the classics puts us in communion with our brothers and sisters who lived in the past, and who bestowed their timeless gifts of goodness, truth and beauty to us in great works of art and literature. The classics free us from being slaves of the fads and fashions of our own time. They liberate us from slavery to transient ideas and values, giving us a broader perspective based upon the experience of three millennia of civilization.

Do you have any advice on how you would encourage adults, especially those who did not have a classical education, to pursue the classics in their own lives?

Joseph: Getting to know the great works of our civilization is akin to embarking on a great adventure into the greatest minds and hearts that have graced our civilization. It is to get to know the giants upon whose shoulders our civilization stands. Who would not want to embark on such an adventure?

My Only Hope is that I Can Give Back to the Giver of the Gift the Fruits of the Gifts Given

Joseph Pearce

Do you have any stories about how you have impacted others?

Joseph: I am always being humbled by stories of how my books have impacted others. The words from the Mass come to mind: Domine, non sum dignus (Lord, I am not worthy). To God be the glory and the praise! It is He who has rescued me from myself and from the mess I’d made of my life. It is He who gives me whatever gifts I possess. My only hope is that I can give back to the giver of the gift the fruits of the gifts given.

How do you decide which books and products to promote in StAR?

Joseph: I allow StAR’s wonderful book review editor, Dena Hunt, to decide which books to farm out to our team of reviewers. As a general rule, we concentrate on literary works, avoiding politics and mainstream theological apologetics, at least as a general rule. There are always exceptions to
the rule.

I Return to The Lord of the Rings More Often than the Other Classics

Joseph Pearce

How are Catholicism and the Classics related?

Joseph: Most of the Classics are the fruits of Catholic civilization. The Church has bestowed on civilization the greatest of the visual arts, the greatest architectural edifices, the greatest musical masterpieces, and the greatest literary treasures. This is our inheritance as Catholics. It is an inheritance that we have a duty to respect and reverence.
It is imperative that today’s Catholics learn to respect our common inheritance, being in communion with our brothers and sisters in the past, as well as those who happen to be living in our own time. We need to remember that God is omnipresent, which means that all time is present to Him. In some sense, we should strive to be like God in making ourselves present to all times, and not merely slaves of the time in which we find ourselves. When we die we will be part of all that is good, on the assumption that we avoid damnation. One way of preparing for our eternal destiny is to be aware of our priceless heritage.

And this is a BONUS question I include for anyone being featured on The Fairy Tale Blog: What is your favorite classic, and why?

Joseph: This is a very difficult question. I love the epics of Homer and Dante’s Divine Comedy but, to be honest, I would have to say that I return to The Lord of the Rings more often than the other classics. My favourite classic play is Hamlet or perhaps King Lear; my favourite classic poem is probably Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland”; my favourite classic novel (Lord of the Rings is not a novel but a prose epic) is probably Brideshead Revisited. The problem is that, were you to ask me the same question next week, I might have changed my mind!

2 thoughts on “Reclaiming Catholic Culture through Classic Literature”

  1. “The classics free us from being slaves of the fads and fashions of our own time. They liberate us from slavery to transient ideas and values, giving us a broader perspective based upon the experience of three millennia of civilization.”
    That is a MAGNIFICENT statement. I have often shunned fads and fashions in my own life and have taught my kids to do the same. I didn’t know why, though. Thank you, Mr. Pearce, for putting it into words for me!

  2. Pingback: Interview on the St. Austin Review – Joseph Pearce

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