Anti-Catholicism in a Novel Bless Me Ultima

Categories: Novel

How Anti-Catholicism Is Displayed By Rudolfo Anaya In His Book Bless Me Ultima

Miguel de Unamuno once said, Faith which does not doubt is dead faith. This quote embodies a key element that is explored in the novel. This is the journey that Antonio Marex Luna explores in Rudolfo Anaya's (1972) Chicano novel Bless Me, Ultima. Tony spends most of the novel questioning God's role in the things happening in his life. Anaya brings to light three different forms of religion; Catholicism, Paganism and the belief in the golden carp which all three fights for some form of dominance in the mind of Antonio.

Throughout the novel, Antonio fights a psychological war in his mind about all the religions and faiths that surround him in his everyday routine. All his life he was raised to believe in God, and as a result he grew to be a devote Catholic.

However as the plot progresses, he is faced with some challenges that cause him to question his faith and this essay will specifically dwell on how Anaya in his novel portrays anti- Catholicism by presenting an incompetent religion with an unforgiving and unjust God and how the catholic authority is undermined by the subtle forms of disrespect from some characters in the book and also how the power of Catholicism is undermined by the two other religions.

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This is central to the kind of message Anaya wishes to put out because, in bringing out the shortcomings of the Catholic church, Antonio is now forced to choose his own pathway and to discover for himself whether or not one religion should be followed or he can decide to learn from all three and carve his own destiny for himself.

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In revealing the shortcomings of Catholicism also, he helps his readers realise the importance of acculturation in the novel.The author presents Catholicism as unable to solve Tony's questions and incompetent. Christianity is revealed to be totally unsatisfactory in helping Antonio understand the world and although he puts much hope and belief into the Catholic faith, he feels as though he cannot directly communicate with God, nor receive the answers to his questions. In hope of communicating with God, Antonio attends catechism lessons taught by the village Priest. On the day of his first communion, Antonio accepts the host while praying and asking God for answers to his questions: God! Why did Lupito die? Why do you allow the evil of the Trementinas [bruja sisters]? Why did you allow Narciso to be murdered when he was doing good?'...A thousand questions pushed through my mind, but the Voice with me did not answer...The mass was ending, the fleeting mystery was already vanishing. (Anaya, 221). This quotation depicts Antonio's first Communion.

The ceremony contrasts sharply with Antonio's experience with the golden carp in Chapter 11. When Antonio sees the carp, he witnesses something elemental, magical, and miraculous without much effort and without immediately understanding its intellectual consequences. At his first Communion, Antonio attempts to experience a similar epiphany, but he tries so hard and is so full of questions and anxiety that nothing happens, and he is left disappointed. Antonio's immediate, aggressive questioning of God, which begins as soon as he swallows the Communion wafer, is indicative of the impact of his moral quandaries”he is so anxious to discover the answers to his questions that he attempts to shout God down from heaven to ask him. His failure to find God is a further indication of the limitations of Catholicism.

Catholicism condemns magic as evil, but the priests fail at stopping Tenorio's curses. .. Yet Antonio is grappling with some of mysterious”and unanswerable”issues all people struggle with. These are the age-old questions asked by philosophers and supposedly answered by the teachings of religion, such as suffering and the existence and nature of evil. Antonio's life choices and identity will be shaped by the knowledge he receives from both sources of spiritual teaching. . In Antonio's view the God of the Christians is just not fair. Antonio prays to this God. He asks this God why good people suffer and why sinners thrive; why good seems to be punished while evil seems to be rewarded. The Christian God is mute, offering no answer and no insight into how the divine interacts with the world.

Ultimately, Antonio finds the Christian God to be unjust and capricious in His treatment of suffering humanity. This God is also totally noncommunicative in providing reasons for His seeming injustice. Antonio finds no knowledge, understanding, or solace in the Church.He presents to his readers as well an unforgiving and unjust. Antonio spends the entire book seeking answers to ultimate questions. The rigid beliefs of Catholicism are in almost constant opposition to the more gentle and fabulous belief systems found in myths and magic. Antonio is tutored in the established doctrines of Christianity via his mother's piety and the town priest's teachings. Christianity is presented as unyielding in its resistance to any belief system or possible reality not sanctioned by the Church.

The Christian God is also presented as lacking compassion, quick to punishment, and unfair in the incomprehensible suffering He allows people to endure. The Church's teachings come up against and are seen in sharp contrast to the ever-present realities of myth, magic, and the supernatural. Yet Christianity and its vengeful God form the framework for Antonio's grappling with issues of innocence and sin, good and evil. It is too rigid in its punishment of sin, and its God is too remote and vengeful to offer Antonio the insight he seeks. Antonio seems more drawn to the compassionate supernatural divinities, such as the golden carp, whose benevolence and kindness seem more merciful to the suffering of sinful humans. The forgiveness of the magical divine is more fair and understandable to Antonio.

The novel explores Antonio's quest to find fairness and justice in the world. Antonio looks to divine justice for the fairness he thinks should be the signature of a loving god. Instead Antonio is confounded by what seems to him God's injustice. However, Antonio does find compassion and forgiveness in the Virgin of Guadalupe. Antonio often asks her to intercede with the Christian God, imploring him to be merciful to sinners and forgive them their sins. Most often when Antonio prays it's to the Virgin, not to God. For him, she is the only forgiving figure in the Catholic faith. The god of the realm of the supernatural and magic”the golden carp”is not vengeful and does not punish sin with seemingly meaningless suffering. For this reason Antonio views the golden carp as a more forgiving, fair, and just divinity”one he can comfortably believe in and accept. Also, it shows that the believers of the Christian tenets can be as unforgiving as their God because when Florence refuses to acknowledge his sins the novel reveals that, they circled around me and advanced on Florence, their eyes flashing with the thought of the punishment they will impose on the non-believer. (204)

Furthermore, Anaya brings to light the failures of Catholicism by representing each of the three beliefs with people and in doing so, he brings out the shortcomings of the priest who is the representative of the catholic faith, whiles putting Ultima and the Golden Carp in another light. In his novel, Ultima is the other embodiment of supernatural magic. Her entire being is directed toward selflessly healing and helping people. Ultima opposes evil but treats all other people fairly, justly, and compassionately. The supernatural divine embodies compassion and justice, elements the Church seems to lack. Where the magical divine is fair and just in its mercy, the Christian divine is harsh and incomprehensible in its punishments and vengeance. Ultima represents the benevolent aspects of the supernatural. She is a healer but also a seer who can foretell fate and the future. Ultima embodies the good aspects of magic (white magic) and the supernatural.

However, father Byrne is a Catholic priest who gives catechism lessons to Antonio and his friends. He is a stern priest with hypocritical and unfair policies. Also, Father Byrnes's unjust punishment of Florence and not Antonio when both boys are late demonstrates to Antonio that even priests can be prejudiced and unfair, and the action undermines Antonio's faith in the goodness of the Catholic Church. However, in Antonio's society the only suggestion that there is room for questioning religious tenets comes from Florence's willingness to question Catholic orthodoxy during classes. Florence's concern is that Father Byrnes's teaching does not give the children a hopeful understanding of God but a fear of him. And despite Father Byrnes's teachings, it is hope that sustains Antonio in the face of doubt and the incontrovertible recognition that there is evil in the world. Also, benevolent mythic creatures such as the golden carp really exist in the novel's world. The golden carp is a god whose goodness and compassion contrast strikingly with Christianity's grim punishments for sinning and threats of hellfire. Antonio grapples with both Christianity and the supernatural in his quest to find meaning, knowledge, and spirituality in his life.

Antonio desperately wants Florence to have some form of hope as well, a wish he acts on when he agrees with Samuel that perhaps the golden carp will give him hope where the Catholic God has failed.The authority of the Catholic Church, is implicitly undermined by the attitude with which Antonio's friends treat the confession ceremony. The children sensationalize the confessional ritual with sexual voyeurism and compete with one another to confess the worst sin. None of them would probably explicitly acknowledge the element of voyeurism that is inherent in confession, even to themselves. However, their behaviour suggests that they have subconsciously recognized that the ceremony has a titillating element. This experience shows Antonio that he may not be suited to life as a priest. Florence does not suggest that it is any failing in Antonio, but rather that his mock congregation is not ready for the kind of priest that Antonio would be. Also, it is undermined when the children do not respect the fact that they are in church and speak vulgar words, insulting each other and even urinating against the church wall. Then Abel who had been pissing against the church wall, called out that mass was starting and we all rushed (35). This portion shows the little regard Antonio's friends have for the things related to their Catholic faith. In addition this point is emphasised in the fact that the children have little regard for the priest and pass funny comments during lessons.

Therefore, it can be concluded that Rudolfo Anaya's novel dwells on the theme of anti-Catholicism, where he does that to achieve his goals of bringing his readers attention to the shortcomings of the church, its failures to present to its people answers they seek and the fact that the representatives of the religion are themselves hypocrites. He also brings to light through his portrayal of the failures of the Catholic Church the fact that Antonio's struggle to reconcile the complexities of his experience with his religion leads him to conclude that he must make his own decisions.

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Anti-Catholicism in a Novel Bless Me Ultima. (2019, Aug 20). Retrieved from

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