“A Priest Of Eternal Imagination”

James Joyce elevated the role of writers by describing them in such terms. But he was less reverent toward actual priests:

James Joyce didn’t have much use for priests; he thought that priests like [“The Sisters” character] Father Flynn had lost their sight, their ability to focus their spiritual eye. Joyce’s characters often say things like, “We are an unfortunate priest-ridden race and always were and always will be till the end of the chapter. … A priest-ridden Godforsaken race” (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Like the rest of the Dubliners [in Dubliners], Father Flynn experiences his epiphanies, but is unable to reflect upon them, to know them. This is a task for artists.

In My Brother’s Keeper Stanislaus Joyce wrote of James:

“He believed that poets in the measure of their gifts and personality were the repositories of the genuine spiritual life of their race and the priests were usurpers.” If the priests ever knew eternal truths, the artist know[s] them now. The artist not only sees epiphanies, but makes them manifest by turning them into art. The artist, for Joyce, stands in the shadows with eyes and ears wide open, “like the God of the creation,” remaining “within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” Because artists have the gift of seeing they are especially called to notice epiphanies and, moreover, “to record these epiphanies with extreme care” as [Joyce’s character] Stephen Hero says. A writer, thought Joyce, is a kind of priest, “a priest of eternal imagination.” By collecting epiphanies the writer is “transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life.”