Tuesday, January 10, 2012

the new evangelization - almost

I just read today that Julian Fellowes, creator, producer and writer of Downton Abbey, has been made vice-president of the Catholic Association of Performing Arts (the British Catholic Stage Guild). He stated in a recent interview that Season Three of his popular series will feature an explicitly Catholic storyline. My jaw dropped and my heart jumped and they crashed into each other somewhere in the middle. Until now I've been content to be gratified by the implicit Catholicism of a show that has affirmed that unborn babies are persons worthy of reverence, that every form of impure behavior outside of marriage is gravely wrong and carries serious and lasting consequences, and that the individual does not know oneself nor find real joy until making a sincere gift of self in service to others. But next season Catholicism is going stride openly onto the exquisitely beautiful sets of Downton Abbey. Wow.

I've enjoyed speculating with Richard about how Fellowes might pull it off. A devout new servant? A "scandalous" conversion among one of the aristocratic family? It will be fascinating, however he does it. At present, most of the characters are very good people. None are saints. None are even really devout, though a few are growing in that direction. They all wrestle with real temptation - and sometimes they fall. But where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more and the characters who have well-formed consciences tend to be greatly humbled and converted by their mistakes, especially the huge ones. I like that. A lot. The viewer is never drawn into the sin but is always invited to cheer for virtue, moral conversion and restitution. The circumstances surrounding each fall are sympathetically portrayed (so that we can judge the sin, not the sinner) and serve as an effective reminder that no temptation hath taken you but such that is common to man. 

In addition to portraying numerous forms that the struggle for purity may take, the show has touched repeatedly on a number of "life" issues including the value of the unborn child, the plight of the unwed mother, the desperate horror of suicide (twice) and the tragic drama of capital punishment (also twice). I think it's awesome that a mainstream and popular show is addressing these common dramatic themes and gently suggesting the Catholic response. It's not a squeaky clean "Catholic series" or a "Christian program" that's simply a vehicle for a particular message - it does not feature saints engaging in saintly behaviour  (nor, to my understanding, is it produced by a saint - which makes me realize the need for a passing prayer about this new direction for the show!) It's just a normal TV show with broad appeal, but it consistently reinforces a very "abnormal" code of morality (an unapologetically Christian one) to a wide and varied audience. If I might quote modest Lady Sybil (who informed her new fiance, "You may kiss me, but nothing further.")  Bully for that!


  1. Love Downton so much!!!! Watched Christmas Special twice. It's so cool that Julian Fellowes is Catholic!

  2. I started watching the first season of Downton after I saw you post about it, and I'm loving it. Which is a good thing, because I despise TV and Trey would like to marry his TV, so it's nice to have something I actually enjoy watching with him. :)