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James Joyce and his Early Church: The art of schism and heresy

James Joyce and his Early Church: The art of schism and heresy
Christopher David Laws


Department of English and Related Literature, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UNITED KINGDOM.


In ‘Telemachus’, the first episode of Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus declares himself ‘servant of two masters [...] The imperial British state and the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church’. Amid clanging church bells there follows in the text, as if in answer to Stephen’s invocation, a ‘horde of heresies fleeing with mitres awry: Photius and the brood of mockers of whom Mulligan was one, and Arius, warring his life long upon the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father’.

From the outset critics have tussled with the role of religion in James Joyce’s texts, and with the nature of his attitude towards Catholicism. But though recent years have seen, according to Geert Lernout, attempts to ‘recuperate’ Joyce for a ‘liberal form of Catholicism’, scholarship still dwells on Joyce’s upbringing and the social contexts of his youth, framing the question as one of belief rather than practise. Ignoring the evidence of ‘Telemachus’, which implies their centrality for any discussion of Joyce and the church, the heretics themselves have received scant attention.

Against recent scholarship, including Roy Gottfried’s Joyce’s Misbelief and Geert Lernout’s Help My Unbelief, this thesis will show how specific heretics from the early church appear and persist throughout Joyce’s literature. Charting a course from Dubliners through Finnegans Wake, I will focus on a chronological reading of Ulysses and the figures of Arius and Photius. Saint Patrick figures at the conflux of east and west, as I argue that Joyce moved from a combative attitude towards Catholicism to one which used its material as connective tissue.

In the process I define Joyce’s ‘early church’ as one stretching until the ninth century. This thesis will significantly expand the scope of Joyce’s library, showing through close reading the hitherto unidentified sources from which Joyce drew his understanding of Arius and Photius.