Study Guide / Exsules Filii Evae

religion / in Exsules Filii Evae

With the exception of Burgess Lichter, everyone who appears in Exsules Filii Evae is Roman Catholic.  Although Professor Coughlin jokes about seeking refugee status among the Episcopalians, none of the Catholics in the novel, whatever their feelings about Rome's policies or doctrines, gives serious consideration to leaving the faith.  This is attributable in part to the principle of universality espoused by the Church--the belief that there is one faith for all of human experience, for all time.  Leaving is never really presented to Catholics as an option. 

It stems partly, too, from a teaching voiced by Father Keenan, that the individual conscience is considered to be bedrock, whatever the hierarchy teaches.  Keenan is saying nothing radical when he voices this belief, and in fact he's saying nothing unfamiliar to anyone schooled in the Roman catechism.  A Catholic who decides to pick and choose among Church teachings in order to accommodate him- or herself into the faith can give at least these two reasons for doing so.

The disparities between the Catholics in the novel, rather than lying in any familiar distinction between liberals and conservatives, stem more from diverging views of the value and relative importance of authority to faith.  While Burgess' glib division of humanity into pick-me-up children and put-me-down children might be seen by religious persons of every viewpoint as trivializing the issues at stake, there nevertheless is a certain incisiveness in her observation.  Catholics, even liberal ones, are less likely to detest the papacy per se than to decry it's use by a particular pope to put an authoritarian stamp on his decisions and opinions. 

Adrian and Eileen are equally Catholic, yet have opposite feelings about the meaning of authority.  Eileen is less enamoured of religious life since her order loosened the hold of central authority over its members; while Adrian finds that freedom to entertain ambiguity in meaning fuels his faith.  Adrian feels more connected to a Church with humble claims to knowing clear answers, while Eileen feels disappointed.