Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Diana Walsh Pasulka's "Heaven Can Wait"

Diana Walsh Pasulka earned her B.A. degree from the University of California at Davis, her M.A. from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Syracuse University. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and has published on the subject of conceptions of the afterlife and Catholic history.

Pasulka applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Heaven Can Wait: Purgatory in Catholic Devotional and Popular Culture, and reported the following:
From page 99:
He [England] specifically addressed two other aims of the periodical: to unify the faithful and to correct misperceptions of Catholicism:

“By its means [the paper] the thousands of Roman Catholics spread through these states, from Maine to Florida and from Kansas to the Atlantic may hold constant communion; by its means they may also learn the state of their brethren in communion with them in other parts of the globe; by its means those persons who have been misled into erroneous opinions of the principles of their neighbors, will be enabled to judge correctly of their tenets and to form rational opinions of their practices.”
On page 99 of Heaven Can Wait, we enter the world of the nineteenth century Irish Catholic immigrant bishop, John England. England was a dynamic figure in American history and was the first Catholic Bishop of the diocese of Charleston, South Carolina. In Ireland he had been an articulate and outspoken advocate for Irish independence from England, for which he was probably sent to the United States. In the United States he quickly became an American citizen and launched the Catholic Miscellany, the young country’s first Catholic periodical.

England was a colorful figure and, as a Catholic priest, a rare sight to Southerners. He was eloquent and popular. Reports of the era portray him as a handsome gentlemen who made his calls on horseback and who preferred wine to whiskey. England is an important figure in the book because he represents how the French Enlightenment impacted belief and representations of the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Like many within the North American elite, England was a staunch advocate of Enlightenment reason. He was also combating anti-Catholic sentiment and trying to counter nativist charges of superstition that were associated with Catholic devotions and beliefs like purgatory. This caused England to denounce stories and anecdotes about a popular Irish pilgrimage called St. Patrick’s Purgatory.

St. Patrick’s Purgatory was, and still is, an actual place. It was a cave in Northern Ireland on the island Lough Derg (Red Lake). Today, instead of a cave there is a church, but the island still receives about sixteenth thousand pilgrims per year. England’s efforts were representative of how clerics would write about and represent purgatory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries —as a condition of soul, but not an actual place. Earlier, in the early modern and medieval eras, many Europeans believed that purgatory, or at least its entrance, was in Ireland, on Lough Derg.
Learn more about Heaven Can Wait at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue