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5 Seeing Christ on the Battlefield: Sign-Making, Sacrament and Conversion

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Chapter Summary

The developments in Roman Catholicism in the past century can be characterized by a growing awareness of the unity of faith, on the one hand, and the historical and political context in which that faith is lived and testified to on the other. In this contribution, I illustrate this by presenting a portrait of David Jones, a British soldier in the First World War who painted and wrote poetry about his experiences during that war. He is virtually unknown outside of Britain where he is considered to be one of the main modernist writers, alongside T.S. Eliot and James Joyce. Shortly after the Great War, he converted to Catholicism. He did not convert because the faith would help him cope with the horrors of the war. Rather, he engaged with the Catholic tradition through his encounters with friends. Only after his conversion, the Catholic vision offered him a different perspective on the brutal reality of war. This newly obtained vision did not contradict the horror, but instead showed him the inescapable meaning of it, and challenged him to respond with a creative answer. Jones painted and put into words a changing reality and, in doing so, has imparted history to us. He understood that history had changed forever, because it had changed in and with him. He did not merely want to report or describe the war, he wanted to show the sacralised reality that paradoxically manifested itself on the battlefield, even though it took him twenty years to realize this. In doing so, he became one of the forerunners of a new Catholic culture, at the core of which is a sacramental world vision.



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