The Bare Bodkin

Pickwickian Popery

I’ve been reading Garry Wills for more than 40 years now, with mixed admiration, delight, and alarm.  In the early 60’s he wrote for National Review, the youngest of its many brilliant contributors.  He then seemed to be an orthodox Catholic and political conservative; but that began to change in 1968, when he suddenly matured into a man of the Catholic left: an opponent of the Vietnam War, an eloquent enthusiast of the Berrigan brothers, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lillian Hellman, I.F. Stone, and others of similar persuasion.

Now 74, Wills has written dozens of books on many subjects.  He seems incapable of producing a dull one, or even a trite sentence, so I still enjoy reading him.  I always learn from him, but as a rule his works, however impressive, strike me as marred by rather obvious fallacies, unworthy of a man of his intelligence.

This is especially true of his recent series of books about the Catholic Church, notably his little best-seller What Jesus Meant.  It deepens the mystery of another of his volumes, Why I Am a Catholic.  The real question is why he still calls himself a Catholic.

A tempting answer is that it pays better than open apostasy.  But that’s too cynical; Wills is obviously sincere.  Still, he rejects a lot of distinctive Catholic teachings—about the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary, the priesthood,...

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