It’s the “Summa Theologica”, Charlie Brown

… for [God] makes [the] sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

~Matthew 5:44-45

This passage from Tuesday’s Gospel reading always reminds me of a small work by one of my favorite twentieth-century theologians, Charles M. Schulz. The work in question shows Charlie Brown, Linus, and Snoopy outside in the rain. As the two boys make their way indoors Linus quotes this Gospel passage, that God “causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust”, leaving Snoopy outside wondering, “But why on us in-betweens?”

Okay, so it’s not Thomas Aquinas. Still, for fifty years Schulz managed to pack a lot of spiritual insight daily into four small, simply-drawn comic panels. His expressions of faith touched thousands because they were disguised as simple stories about simple children with complex issues, and people could relate to them.

Kinda like how Jesus operated, back in His day.

All my favorite theologians are storytellers. I read C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein for their ancient worlds of magic and fantasy, and I see the Truths I hold most dear are as much at work there as in our own time. Walker Percy turns his physician’s eye on the modern human soul, diagnosing its internal maladies as well as the spiritual toxins so prevalent in the environment. Sherman Alexie tells the stories of our society’s poor, marginalized, and downtrodden — God’s own people in our midst — capturing all the joys and sorrows; good, bad, indifference; the beauty and the ugliness, love and anger of life, all without ever losing his sense of humor.

I was rediscovering my faith as a Catholic, even as my marriage was falling apart, when I discovered the works of Graham Greene. His characters — mostly marginal Catholics stuck in loveless marriages — somehow helped me make sense of my own situation. Greene has a way of plumbing the depths of human despair and showing God’s Grace working in the unlikeliest of lives. It helped me hang on to my faith through the most difficult and painful experience of divorce.

One of my favorite passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,

God reveals himself to [us] through the universal language of creation, the work of his Word, of his wisdom: the order and harmony of the cosmos — which both the child and the scientist discover — “from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wisdom 13:3)

“…which both the child and the scientist discover…” and I would add to that the creative artist, who must be part child, part scientist. These are the ones who approach their spirituality not from the lofty heights of a mountaintop or an ivory tower, but from within the confines of the messy, tragic, comic, beautiful, ugly, joyful, confused lives of ordinary people just trying to do the best they can.

Kinda like Jesus did.

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9 thoughts on “It’s the “Summa Theologica”, Charlie Brown

  1. Yes, exactly. I love this post because I relate to the Sacred in the same way — through story, myth, creation. People often compare the ability to create human life with God’s power to create, which is a worthy comparison; but I also think people’s drive to create — to write, paint, make music, what-have-you — is also the yearning to make ourselves more like God. And I believe that God is there in every act of creation.

    I’ve only read ‘The Power and the Glory’ by Graham Greene (because it was mentioned in a lenten devotional I had), and I’ve always meant to read more. Although, truth-be-told, if I find a Graham Greene book that doesn’t have an obvious Catholic theme, I pass it by. Another book that’s been very important to me spiritually was ‘The Sparrow’ by Mary Doria Russel (and it fits rather well with the recent Vatican buzz about belief in aliens, actually!)

  2. This echoes a thought that has been swimming through me this past week: Isn’t it awesome how language can so beautifully point us to truth, yet is still so inadequate at reallly revealing it? We must never lose sight, I believe, of how language is still all symbolic, like all expression- especially when it comes to summarizing faith.

    I love that passage from the catechism! wow! what # is it?

    Thank you!

  3. Thanks, Lacey. I love what you say about our creative-artistic drive tying us to the Creator in whose image we are all made. I totally agree, and couldn’t have said it better myself. A wonderful little book that deals with this in more depth is Madeline L’Engle’s “Walking on Water”. It’s a quick read, and is full of wonderful spiritual Truths that I felt I’d always known if I’d have just thought of it. I’ve not heard of “The Sparrow” but it sounds interesting!

    I find Greene’s earliest works are his most Catholic… “Power and the Glory” of course; “The Heart of the Matter” is probably his most theological and deals with the tragedy of a Catholic trapped between his own failings and the strictures of pre-Vatican II dogma. It left me with a lot to think about. There’s also “The Honorary Consul”, which is more based in liberation theology; and I think “The End of the Affair” is my favorite of his works.

  4. Oh, I love Madeline L’Engle, but I’ve never read “Walking on Water.” And thanks for the overview of Graham Greene’s ‘most Catholic’ books — now I know exactly what to look for. (Just in time for summer library book sales, too!)

  5. Greene is one of those authors who, it seems like every time I browse a library, used bookstore, or library book sale I find a title of his that I’d never heard of before. So I’ve got something of a collection of his books that I haven’t yet read!

    And I never knew much about Madeline L’Engle beyond the “Wrinkle in Time” books that I read as a kid (and another series that my sister read … something with dolphins on the cover?) but my fiancee has a selection of her more mature works, so now I’ve read a few of those as well.

  6. Yes, I’ve noticed the same thing about Greene! That’s why I’m glad I know which books to look out for now. :) Andrew Greely is another Catholic author who shows up at a lot of booksales, so I have a bunch of his books I haven’t read yet, either.

    I’ve only read the “Wrinkle in Time” books (which are quite theological in themselves) but didn’t know she actually wrote more adult-oriented stuff. Good thing for this blog. :)

  7. Well said, Julia. I’ve always felt that’s why Jesus taught in metaphor — because it’s the only way to really begin to hint at the Truth about what God is really like.

    The passage is from CCC #2500, under the heading “Truth, Beauty, and Sacred Art”.

  8. I only have one L’Engle reference, but I think its a great one. She wrote a book called The Irrational Season which I read in undergrad for one of my liturgy classes. Its lovely, and very personal, thought provoking, and heartfelt. Something you might enjoy!

    This post was lovely, thank you for it.

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