Evelyn Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited (1945) while on a six-month leave from the British Army during World War II. It proved a hit with the public, but the critics who had praised Waugh’s earlier satirical novels were less impressed, objecting both to its religious themes and its lush prose. Waugh never apologized for the former, but by 1959, when he wrote a preface to a new edition, he had come to agree with the critics about the latter, blaming the novel’s “glaring defects” on the grim reality of the wartime circumstances in which it was written. “It was a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster—the period of soya beans and Basic English—and in consequence the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language, which now with a full stomach I find distasteful,” he wrote. Waugh needn’t have apologized. The public and the younger Waugh were right. In fact, the book is needed more now than when Waugh wrote it.
Today it is possible to graduate from college without ever encountering beautiful prose. The antidote is immersion in the type of “rhetorical and ornamental” language that helps make Brideshead such a memorable book. Today’s reader will likely have been taught that ugliness in art is a mark of profundity; he needs to hear that most modern art is in fact “great bosh.” Today’s reader will also have been taught to be suspicious of the past and wary of nostalgia; he needs to read a book whose “theme is memory, that winged host that soared about me one grey morning of war-time. These memories, which are my life—for we possess nothing certainly except the past—were always with me.” Today’s reader will likely regard philosophical materialism as the only way to view the world; he needs to read that one cannot “live in a world of three dimensions—with the aid of my five senses” because “there is no such world.” Today’s reader also likely believes that the highest good in life is unfettered sexual freedom and that nothing good comes from the denial of sexual pleasure. He therefore should read a book whose central characters find what they need most by giving up what they most want.
In the 1959 preface, Waugh wrote that Brideshead’s theme was “the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters.” Waugh found that grace despite all the obstacles created by his difficult nature and an intellectual climate that rejected the Church, which Waugh came to see as the preeminent channel of divine grace. God’s grace is always at work, beckoning us to accept it, including in the pages of Waugh’s masterpiece.
Sometimes the most relevant treasures are found in the most unexpected places. I discovered this truth when I stumbled upon Richard Wurmbrand’s Marx & Satan (1986) in a small library. I was not disappointed. Drawing on personal writings, firsthand accounts, and biographical works, Wurmbrand asserts that Marx, along with fellow famous Communists, demonstrated active devotion to the Devil. Evidence supporting this claim includes Marx’s early interest in the occult, his strange religious exercises, and scraps of drama and poetry Marx wrote that glorified Satan:
The hellish vapors rise and fill the brain,
Till I go mad and my heart is utterly changed.
See this sword?
The prince of darkness
Sold it to me.
For me he beats the time and gives the signs.
Ever more boldly I play the dance of death.
Wurmbrand explains that Marx was not an atheist lover of the proletariat, but a religious devotee of Satan intent on destroying the Christian religion. This fact explains the outright evil of Communism, its obsession with “permanent revolution,” and the use of torture in Communist regimes.
Wurmbrand had personal experience with Communist brutality. A Romanian Comintern agent turned Christian minister, he suffered grievously under the Communists for over a decade, a story that he tells in Tortured for Christ (1940). His time in prison led to his founding of The Voice of the Martyrs, a ministry drawing attention to persecuted Christians.
Despite this ill-treatment, Wurmbrand did not write Marx & Satan as a vindictive tirade aimed at his persecutors. It treats the Marxist-minded reader with love and concern, and tries to shed light on those misguided Marxist ideas that even Christians embrace.
It struck me that Wurmbrand’s spiritual insight into Marx mirrors the thoughts of another ex-Communist, Whittaker Chambers, who wrote an essay in Life magazine entitled “The Devil.” Chambers describes the diabolic process of erasing God from the public consciousness through the competition of various philosophies, among which he names socialism and communism.
Marx & Satan is an alarming but eye-opening read, suggesting we wrestle not merely with social justice warriors, cultural Marxists, and woke academics, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in high places.