Monday, February 6, 2017

Oscar Wilde, Homosexual, Repented and Converted to Catholicism, as did Closest Friends and leading English Decadents

The first thing we need to know about [Oscar] Wilde is that he was at war with himself. Wilde the would-be saint and Wilde the woeful sinner were in deadly conflict, one with the other. In this he was no different from the rest of us. Throughout his life, even at those times that he was at his most “decadent”, he retained a deep love for the Person of Christ and a lasting reverence for the Catholic Church. Indeed he spent much of his life flirting with Catholicism. He almost converted as an undergraduate at Trinity College in Dublin, and was on the brink of conversion a year or so later as an undergraduate at Magdalen College, Oxford. There were no doctrinal differences preventing him from being received into the Church. He believed everything the Church believed and even spoke eloquently and wittily in defence of Catholic dogmas such as the Immaculate Conception. The only reason he failed to follow the logic of his Catholic convictions was a fear of being disinherited by his father if he did so. Years later, after his fall from favour following the scandal surrounding his homosexual affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, he spoke wistfully of his reluctant decision to turn his back on the Church. “Much of my moral obliquity is due to the fact that my father would not allow me to become a Catholic”, he confided to a journalist. “The artistic side of the Church would have cured my degeneracies. I intend to be received before long.”* In the event, he was finally received into the Church shortly before his death in 1900.

Needless to say, Wilde’s Christianity informed the moral dimension of his work. His poetry exhibits either a selfless love for Christ or, at its darkest, a deep self-loathing in the face of the ugliness of his own sinfulness. His short stories are almost always animated by a deep Christian morality, with “The Selfish Giant” deserving a timeless accolade as one of the finest Christian fairy stories ever written. His plays are more than merely comedies or tragedies; they are morality plays in which virtue is vindicated and vice vanquished. And The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde’s only novel and a true masterpiece of Victorian fiction, is a cautionary tale in which a man destroys himself and those with whom he comes into contact in his insane desire to escape from the constraints of morality and the dictates of his conscience.

This is shocking enough, and warrants the censorship of Wilde’s puritanical modern admirers, but it’s only a small part of the whole shocking story. It is not only Wilde who succumbed to the love that dare not speak its name. Most of the other Decadents who influenced Wilde or with whom he fraternized also fell in love with Christ and His Church. Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Joris Karl Huysmans, the leading lights of the French Decadence, were all received into the Catholic Church, the last of whom spending the last years of his life in a monastery. Even more shocking is the fact that Wilde approved of Huysmans entering the monastery and expressed a desire to do the same...

And there’s more. Most of the leading lights of the English Decadence also became Catholics, including the poets Lionel Johnson, Ernest Dowson and John Gray, the last of whom, the physical inspiration for Dorian Gray, went on to become a Catholic priest. Even Lord Alfred Douglas, the man who induced Wilde to abandon his wife and children in pursuit of sordid and transient pleasures, saw the error of his ways and was received into the Catholic Church. And when all of Wilde’s fair-weather friends abandoned him, leaving him to a life of penury in Paris, it was another convert to Catholicism, Robert Ross, the very man who is thought to have first introduced Wilde to homosexual practice, who stood by him, fetching the priest who would receive Wilde into the Church.

...This is the love that dare not speak its name. It is the love of Christ which calls sinners to repentance, and the love of the penitent soul for the forgiveness of God. It is a love that is so shocking that it must be thrust into a closet and hidden.

Oscar Wilde and a host of others have learned that there is only one true love. It is the love that inspires the laying down of one’s life for ones friends and enemies. Wilde came out of the darkness of the closet into which his own sinfulness had thrust him, finding the true light of day. This is Wilde’s revolutionary secret, which the bourgeoisie seek to conceal. It is a secret which we should proclaim from the hilltops, in spite of the persecution and hatred that it might provoke. Come out of the closet of your self-enclosing Pride, all ye dwellers in the shadows. Come out into the fullness of the light of Christ and the Love that transfigures the soul.

*H. Montgomery Hyde, Oscar Wilde: A Biography (London: Eyre Methuen, 1976), p. 368

Joseph Pearce is the author of The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde (Ignatius Press). This and other books by Joseph Pearce may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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