A Conversation with Don Briel and Father Paul Murray, OP, August 2004
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Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 8.2 (2005) 89-106



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A Conversation with Patrick Pye

Born in Winchester in 1929 and brought up in Dublin by his mother, Patrick Pye was educated at St. Columba's and taught painting by Oisin Kelly. The formative influences in his adolescence were T. S. Eliot and El Greco. It was Romanesque sculpture seen in Barcelona that turned his mind to painting the Christian theme. Pye was baptized into the Roman Rule in 1963, and he read von Balthasar's The Glory of the Lord 1985 - 95 . His etchings are in the collection of the Marian Institute of Dayton University.

In an introduction to the catalog for a recent exhibition of Patrick Pye's works in Dublin, Brian Lynch wrote, "In the face of modernity and its reductionism, which he regards as 'destructive to the paradoxes of the opposite ends in life,' Patrick Pye has struggled to hold together imagination and reason, intuition and doctrine, emotional and moral truth."1 But it is not merely the vast Catholic imagination of Pye's work that distinguishes it but also his remarkable artistic talent. It is clear that Patrick Pye's faith provides an underlying context for all of his work, but he is insistent that his is not the theoretical task of the philosopher or the theologian but that of the Catholic [End Page 89] artist. He has argued that "Art cannot tell us what to believe, but it can tell us what it feels like to believe."2 In this sense, we cannot really experience our believing or "see this life as a believer" until it is illuminated by art. In Apples and Angels, Pye has carefully analyzed the impoverishment of the imagination in modern culture and reflected on the task of the Christian artist in an age of radical unbelief:

The believer (whether an artist or not) finds himself born into an age of unbelief. We cannot find in this disposition anything other than the sickness of the age. Nevertheless, we cannot put our heads into the sack of our own belief as though all were well with the world, as though our own beliefs were joyously reflected all around us. We must suffer this sickness ourselves in such a way that the infidel (our neighbour) realises that it is his own. The artist suffers this sickness in a special way. Everywhere the language appropriate to the faith has been killed off. There are no longer the words to talk of spiritual things; indeed the absence of the words is a habit that people no longer notice. In this, Rouault seems to me to be the exemplar for our generation of artists. He brought the faith to this point: Where does man suffer? We have to begin again by pointing to that sphere where man through his solitude and pain, becomes aware of the "disrelation" of his own self. Naturally, man will do everything to dull the pain, to escape the pain; he will call it morbid or "anti-life" but the believer will work to keep the pain awake, to kindle the spark of desire that is concealed.3

For Pye, art is a manifestation not only of feeling but of desire and he believes desire then connects us to religion because "as well as being the Word of God, religion is for us the passion of all passions; it is the region where we begin to deal with our desire and to deal infinitely desirously."4 With Kierkegaard, Pye holds that the prevailing failure of modernity is not the depth of its sinfulness but its lack of passion. The problem with the often superficial and self-congratulatory language of modern agnosticism is that it reveals not a genuine [End Page 90] humility before a radically new awareness of cultural pluralism but a "determination to live within defining consciousness, to grasp only that over which the mind can imperiously rule...