The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Built on the four pillars of our Dominican life – preaching, prayer, study, and community – Godzdogz offers many resources for exploring the Catholic Faith today.
Read more.

Celebrating Priesthood in Fiction - Fr Brown

Monday, December 28, 2009
fr Richard Ounsworth OP, who teaches Scripture and Greek in Blackfriars, Oxford, and who is concurrently pursuing a doctorate in the typology of the Letter to the Hebrews, shares his reflection on a priestly figure whom he considers to be "a human hero":

"Glancing through a list of fictional priests on Wikipedia, I am struck by how many of them are either wicked or foolish. This is especially true of the more recent examples, and it confirms my impression that today’s popular culture casts the priest either as the villain, sinister instrument of a secretive and manipulative Vatican, or as the drunken idiot, out of touch with the real world and doltish in his refusal to recognise the reality of modern man.

On the other hand, who are our heroes? Wizards, time-travelling aliens and superheroes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter, and am almost breathless with excitement waiting for the next instalment of Doctor Who … but these heroes are difficult to emulate. I will never have a Tardis, never have superhuman strength, and don’t have an owl to deliver my letters.

But there is one hero, and a priest, who has always inspired me, and who in my more optimistic moments at least I might hope one day to be like in some way, and that is G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown: a man of transparent and instinctive goodness and immense compassion, a seeker after truth, and utterly unassuming. In the stories, Father Brown finds himself drawn into investigating crimes, not entirely unlike Sherlock Holmes (another great love of mine). Unlike Holmes, however, Father Brown’s brilliant solutions are not found through cold logical deduction but through a profound insight into humanity.

And it is because he is a priest that he has this insight. As he says to Flambeau – the villain that Father Brown converts and turns into his sidekick – in The Blue Cross, he spends a great deal of his time listening to people’s sins. So, of course, he knows what people are like. He has a great gift of empathy, and one imagines he must have been a wonderful confessor. He’s also a good Catholic theologian, who knows that true faith is reasonable, and his solutions come from this combination of reasonableness and compassion.

I suppose, though he never says so, that these are also the things that led him to become a priest. He seems an absolutely selfless man, not fascinated by himself like so many modern heroes with their endless navel-gazing and pampered vanity, not needy for praise or understanding. Instead, he is fascinated by other people, and by the wonders of the created order – fascinated by their mystery and yet their comprehensibility. This fascination leads him to love the truth, and to minister to every human being that comes his way, without distinction.

Father Brown is a true hero, the more so for being so truly human. This hero is a priest, and it is as a priest that he is a hero. I like to think he would have made a good Dominican.

Most of Chesterton’s Father Brown stories are available free on the internet, for example at this site. I urge you to read them."

Lawrence Lew OP


Post has no comments.

Post a Comment

Captcha Image
Follow us
Meet the Student Brothers

Meet the Student Brothers



Featured Series

Featured Series

Recent posts


Liturgical index

All tags & authors


Upcoming events

View the full calendar