Month: June 2021


“As to St. John Rivers, he left England: he went to India. He entered on the path he had marked for himself” (Chapter 38)

I intend to make this a quick note rather than anything that might be considered a scholarly note! I really have been trying to make sense of that strange ending to Jane Eyre regarding her follow-up (or epilogue) on the missionary journey of St. John to India (in the last page or two of the novel). After all, it seemed like the novel was going to end on the happiest of terms regarding Jane’s marriage to Mr. Rochester, but then at the very ending Bronte relates some rather grim details of St. John’s lonely life and impending death. Thus, after such a joyous ending, the novel returns to the stark realism of death and to the hope of resurrection.

Let’s face it: Jane Eyre is a Death and Resurrection story. I mean, look at the life of Mr. Rochester: his life journey may be a bigger death and resurrection story than Jane’s! After all he lives through a literal holocaust in the burning down of Thornfield from which he emerges a humbled, repentant, maimed man who begins to pray and turn his life towards God. You don’t need to be a literary genius to see the death and resurrection motif here. Clearly after the burning down of Thornfield Rochester is a changed man with a new life. 

Then there is Jane’s own resurrection story. I won’t go into all the details, but after her failed marriage at Thornfield she undergoes a sort of religious passion where she is basically stripped of everything she ever had and all that is left is her faith in God. Perhaps at the very doorstep of death, and famished from lack of food, she is rescued by the kindness of St. John’s household and given a new life there! Jane admits later on in Chapter 35 that St. John had “once saved my life.” The death and resurrection motif here is quite patent, and is resumed again when she flees Moor House and is reunited to the now completely transformed Mr. Rochester whom she marries (against all odds).  

And of course there is that famous and touching scene in Chapter 9 where Jane stays with Helen Burns at her time of death. Helen tells Jane about her faith in God despite her impending death: “I believe; I have faith: I am going to God.” After Helen’s death Jane “learned that Miss Temple, on returning to her own room at dawn, had found me laid in the little crib; my face against Helen Burns’ shoulder, my arms round her neck. I was asleep, and Helen was—dead. Her grave is in Brocklebridge church-yard; for fifteen years after her death it was only covered by a grassy mound; but now a gray marble tablet marks the spot, inscribed with her name and the word ‘Resurgam'(Chapter 9).” Resurgam is a Latin word meaning “I will rise again,” so the theme of death and resurrection is powerfully displayed in the life and death of Helen Burns, inspiring Jane to such a degree that fifteen years following Helen’s death Jane marks the grave with the word Resurgam! Indeed, Jane Eyre is a Resurgam story!

Even Adele is rescued by Jane from her overly strict school as related at the end of the novel. When Jane visits Adele, the child is “pale and thin,” and very “unhappy.” Jane found the school to be “too severe for a child of her age” and Jane “took her home with me.” Jane placed Adele in an English boarding school which corrected her “French defects” and molded her into a “good-tempered, well principled” young lady and an obliging companion for Jane. So we see, then, that even Adele’s story has an implicit resurrection theme as she is given new life in a new school and thus a happy and fulfilling existence.

Finally, we return to St. John Rivers. What is his Death and Resurrection story? It is given to us by Bronte in the very final pages of the novel. It is the grim reality that his “toil draws near its close.” There almost appears to be a slight tone of acerbity for St. John in the words used by Jane, but this cannot be true because she says that his last letter “drew from my eyes human tears, and yet filled my heart with Divine Joy.” St. John anticipates his “sure reward,” his “incorruptible crown,” and “no fear of death” will “darken his last hour.” Jane adds that “his hope will be sure; his faith steadfast.”

Jane Eyre does not conclude with a fairy-tale happy ending. The stark reality of St. John’s impending death concludes the story. And the hope of resurrection related there (in the very last sentences of the novel) underscores the underlying Christian nature of the novel, consistent with the theme of death and resurrection so prevalent in the story.

Tom Mulcahy

References: In her very helpful essay, Human Performance, Divine Reality: The Spectacle of Jane Eyre, Corinna Cole makes the following insightful observation regarding St. John Rivers’ impending death: “The inevitability of death is the truest claim Bronte can make on her audience. It collapses the distance between the characters and the reader and resolutely grounds the novel in the divinely sanctioned final reality of death. Thus, the enchanting pageantry of the novel concludes by returning both her audience and characters to realism.”  

To SHARE on SOCIAL MEDIA: click on “Leave a comment” or “Comments” below (and this will bring up social media icons if they are not already present).

To LEAVE A COMMENT: click on “Leave a comment” or “Comments” below, and then scroll down to the box which says, “Leave Your Own Comment Here,” which is at the end of any comments already made. If the comment section is already present, merely scroll to the end of any comments already made.

All rights reserved.

Any ads in this note are by WordPress and not CatholicStrength.



The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1)

The “metaphysical content of perception” is a power-packed phrase I came across in a book by Fulton Sheen, Peace of Soul. Sheen quotes Franz Werfel, who said: “The atheist…betrays his own psychology when he thinks he is unveiling the mystery; and his denial unwittingly becomes the proof of God by confirming, against his own troubled will, the tremendous and vital importance of the metaphysical content of perception” (p.49). I confess I have not read Franz Werfel, but perhaps he is implying that the more one explains life on purely material grounds the more obvious it becomes that he has simply omitted an explanation of its ultimate origin. As Chesterton once observed, mystery is not eliminated by meticulously explaining the processes of life because “nobody can imagine how nothing turned into something.” Dietrich von Hildebrand spoke of “man’s metaphysical problem” on a number of occasions, and the problem here is that man seeks an ultimate explanation for life.  

Albert Einstein (commenting on our human perception of the universe) once said: “I’m not an atheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws” (Einstein: His Life and Universe, p. 386).

We are talking here about natural knowledge, what theologians call acquired knowledge, the knowledge gained from sense perception acted upon by human reason (ratiocination). The great Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain, states: “The part played by the senses in the perception of beauty is even rendered enormous in us, and well nigh-indispensable…only sense knowledge possesses perfectly in man the intuitiveness required for the perception of the beautiful.” Father Thomas Dubay adds: “Creation is a book proclaiming the Creator. It is a book of beauty that our intellect reads, but through the passageways of our five senses.”

The Church proclaimed infallibly in Vatican Council I that God can be known by the light of human reason. It said: “The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certitude by the natural light of human reason from created things; ‘for the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made’ ” [ Rom 1:20] (Dogmatic Constitution “Dei Filius”).

St. Thomas Aquinas expounds further: “Our natural knowledge begins from sense. Hence our natural knowledge can go as far as it can be led by sensible things. But our mind cannot be led by sense so far as to see the essence of God; because the sensible effects of God do not equal the power of God as their cause. Hence from the knowledge of sensible things the whole power of God cannot be known; nor therefore can His essence be seen. But because they are His effects and depend on their cause, we can be led from them so far as to know of God ‘whether He exists,’ and to know of Him what must necessarily belong to Him, as the first cause of all things, exceeding all things caused by Him” (Summa Theologica, First Part, Q 12).

We see, then, that faith in God is intrinsically linked to human reason. “Being Atheist, it is characteristic of the advancing wave that it repudiates the human reason….But the Faith and the use of the intelligence are inextricably bound up. The use of reason is a main part – or rather the foundation – of all inquiry into the highest things” (Hilaire Belloc).

Michael Corey, in discussing the possibility whether our “wondrous universe could have evolved by blind chance” quotes the distinguished University of Montreal psychiatrist Karl Stern as  labeling such a view of the universe as “crazy.” He further quotes Stern as saying: “And I do not at all mean crazy in the sense of a slangy invective but rather in the technical meaning of psychotic. Indeed such a view has much in common with certain aspects of schizophrenic thinking” (God and the New Cosmology, p.220). Stern is basically maintaining that it is flat out irrational to believe the universe came about by chance or accident.

The metaphysical content of perception is God. The Bible confirms this: “For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists, nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works;…If through delight in the beauty of these things people assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them. And if people were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is the one who formed them. For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wisdom 13: 1-5, as edited).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Note: In Catholic theology a distinction is made between natural and supernatural knowledge. The focus of this note has been natural or acquired knowledge.

To SHARE on SOCIAL MEDIA: click on “Leave a comment” or “Comments” below (and this will bring up social media icons if they are not already present).

To LEAVE A COMMENT: click on “Leave a comment” or “Comments” below, and then scroll down to the box which says, “Leave Your Own Comment Here,” which is at the end of any comments already made. If the comment section is already present, merely scroll to the end of any comments already made.

All rights reserved.

Any ads in this note are by WordPress and not CatholicStrength.