Anthony Esolen under attack by his school, Domincan-run Providence College

I often direct you to the writings of Anthony Esolen, who contributes frequently to the increasingly-valuable Crisis.  Esolen is a prof at Domincan-run Providence College.

I saw this at Touchstone, where Esolen is an editor.

If you have benefitted from the writings of Touchstone Senior Editor Anthony Esolen–and there are many of us out there who have–you need to know that he is under severe attack at his school, Providence College, where he teaches Renaissance Literature. His “crimes” include 2 articles written for the Catholic web-magazine ‘Crisis’ which Rod Dreher links to in his post today at The American Conservative:

“We may wish to maintain a faithful presence in the institutions of culture, but that doesn’t mean the culture wants us there, or will let us remain without crossing lines that we cannot in good conscience cross. What then? At the present moment, the literature professor, Dante scholar, and orthodox Catholic Anthony Esolen is under severe attack at his own institution, Providence College, for having recently written a couple of essays criticizing the present conception of “diversity” on his Catholic campus, and reflecting on the persecutorial phase of our culture (here’s one, and here’s the other). Protesting students and even some faculty are attempting to drive him out of the college for wrongthink. They may not succeed, not if tenure means anything, but they are likely to succeed in making his life there hell, such that he would love to shake the dust off his feet and get out of town.


Read the rest there.

Esolen, by the way, translated Dante’s Divine Comedy into English and did a great job of it.  If you have never read the Divine Comedy, you should.  You could start with Esolen (Part 1, Inferno HERE) or perhaps with Dorothy Sayer’s fine version (Part 1, Inferno, HERE).  There are many renderings to choose from.  I would very much like to teach on Dante someday.  Maybe it’ll happen.

When you make the excellent choice to read the Divine Comedy, here are a couple tips.  First and foremost, make the decision that you will read the whole thing.  Don’t read just the Inferno.  The really great stuff comes in Purgatorio and Paradiso.  Also, read through a canto to get the line of thought and story and then go back over it looking at the notes in your edition.  Sayers has good notes.  Dante was, I think, the last guy who knew everything.  Each Canto is dense with references.  You will need notes to help with the history, philosophy, cosmology, poetic theory, politics, theology, etc.  Really.  You will need help.

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  1. Lepidus says:

    I can’t comment on the translations, but there are a number of eBooks versions out there for free. Google Books has one and if you run a Google search, you can find a downloadable PDF translated by Longfellow.

  2. Christopher Meier says:

    Very disheartened to hear of this. Esolen also writes the always delightful “How The Church Has Changed The World” feature that appears in each issue of Magnificat. His translations of Inferno and Purgatory are very good, and I’ve just started Paradise.

  3. Nick says:

    The Great Courses has a terrific CD commentary on Dante. They take you through canto by canto, very thoroughly. Quite pricey last I looked, but well worth it for anyone looking to take a Dante “course” from the comfort of their own armchair.

  4. un-ionized says:

    I wondered whether there would be trouble, especially from the first article listed. The Dominicans are celebrating an anniversary but I ask whether they are really celebrating something that no longer exists. There remains a thin veneer of orthodoxy but engage them individually in conversation and oh wow.

  5. majuscule says:

    To add to Nick’s comment on The Great Courses CD

    They often (read almost always) have items on sale at 70% off. So just wait a few months. You can also just get the audio to download and/or stream. Courses usually have a PDF guidebook to download also.

    There’s Great Courses app for your phone or tablet, too.

  6. The Masked Chicken says:

    ” There remains a thin veneer of orthodoxy but engage them individually in conversation and oh wow.”

    That depends on the particular province and the particular Dominicans. Every order has its off-the-deep-end members. Both Reginald Garrigou-lagrange and Yves Congar were Dominicans.

    The Chicken

  7. LarryW2LJ says:

    My parent’s generation fought to keep the world free from facism. Little did I think that what’s left of my generation would be fighting for the very heart and soul of our nation and the Church. There’s lots of wackiness in both that is passing itself off as learned and elite.

  8. Joseph-Mary says:

    No surprise that the wonderful and VERY faithful Mr. Esolen is persecuted by modernists. I have his translation of the Divine Comedy but still need to read Paradisio.

  9. Toan says:

    Mr. Esolen wrote at the end of one of the cited articles, “All, now, in the name of an undefined and perhaps undefinable diversity, to which you had damned well better give honor and glory. If you don’t—and you may not even be aware of the lese majeste as you commit it—you’d better have eyes in the back of your head.”

    How appropriate that they’d attack him for this article in particular. They’re proving him absolutely right!

  10. un-ionized says:

    MC, key word, were. Matthew Fox was one also. Key word, was. The province I know has mostly men hiding behind this veneer. they have people fooled until they start acting like fifth grade girls. There is a policy of who they will or will not ordain that is very much the problem.

  11. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Masked Chicken. Sure Garrigou-Lagrange and Congar were giants, but G-L died fifty years ago and Congar died more than twenty years ago (having ceased to write for a couple of decades before). How does your point help us to assess the PRESENT state of the order? We can all agree, there are always good religious and bad, but where is the median these days?

  12. Benedict Joseph says:

    Regret to read this, but honestly, no surprise. How has he escaped the thought police in the ecclesiastical academy this long?
    God preserve him.

  13. un-ionized says:

    Dr. Peters, often it just takes a relatively few who are allowed to determine the behavioral tone. A majority or even a large number are not required. See what the former Master of the Order has accomplished in the area of getting homosexuality accepted.

  14. Veritatis Splendor says:

    I happen to be a student at Providence College right now, and I know Dr. Esolen personally and indeed have been to lectures on Dante by him.
    Let me reassure you of the general orthodoxy of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph. The vow of obedience prevents them from giving public dissent when one of their brothers does something stupid. What is happening here is that each academic department chooses their own faculty. Over years, when adherence to Catholic Identity was not the first criteria in the hiring process, some anti-catholic faculty snuck in and did the normal “act nice and lie in wait” thing that we’ve seen so many examples of. Since faculty meetings are usually, by chance or design, scheduled at the same time as Office, which the Dominicans are of course canonically obligated to attend, the lay Catholic faculty are alone at the faculty senate meetings, so disgusting liberalism is forced through. The students are mostly caught in the crossfire. There is still an extremely strong Catholic presence at PC, despite the political machinations that are now coming to fruition, which without many prayers will destroy the institutional Catholic identity of this school that I love so well, even if pockets of orthodoxy will remain and will never be fully driven out, for the Dominicans are still on campus preaching and teaching, and every new class of them is more orthodox than the last. Please pray for this school. This is a dark hour for us.

  15. Packrraat says:

    Well, I need to dust off my copy of Dorothy Sayers version and get busy. So sad to hear this about Anthony Esolen. I enjoy his writing immensely.

  16. mlmc says:

    Catholic courses has a DVD series with Prof Esolen teaching a course on Dante. Have not watched it yet, but if it is good as his YouTube discussion on his book Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching it will be great (

  17. The Masked Chicken says:

    “How does your point help us to assess the PRESENT state of the order?”

    I wasn’t addressing that point. I was only trying to prevent the genetic fallacy from rearing its ugly head.

    Of course, if you really wanted to assess the present state of the Order, that is simple (but, probably not easy) – anonymous polling and cluster analysis could, theoretically, track the time-evolution of the various factions within the Order.

    The Chicken

  18. Benedict Joseph says:

    “Since faculty meetings are usually, by chance or design, scheduled at the same time as Office, which the Dominicans are of course canonically obligated to attend, the lay Catholic faculty are alone at the faculty senate meetings, so disgusting liberalism is forced through.”
    This in itself is a scandal. The friars should be, must be, at the faculty meetings and exercise their responsibility. Something does not add up here. Either change their horarium or change the schedule of the faculty meetings — and make sure the minutes are published.

  19. Thomas Sweeney says:

    The mind set of those who promote diversity and multiculturalism, are the same type of people, give or take a generation or two, who promoted socialism, and, or, communism. Neither worked wherever it was tried, and it now has a stigma attached to it’s disciples.
    It is almost impossible to root out this so called revolutionary type of thinking. A bulwark against this encroachment on western civilization was always the Catholic Church, and we have the martyrs to prove it. But since Vatican II we have been infiltrated in our clergy, and layman, by revolutionaries with this mind set. The sure answer to this nonsense is the Traditional Mass, and in my way of thinking, it is the reason for it’s suppression by so many Bishops.

  20. iamlucky13 says:

    I clicked through the links, but am not seeing any details about what specifically the attacks on him entail, and who specifically is behind them. Father Z’s quoted excerpt says students and even some faculty. I see no additional details.

    Is it the college president, and/or some of the other resident Dominicans? Is it the board of directors?

    Or is it specific lay members of the faculty? In that case this is not an official act of the college that they should be directly blamed for, although the college could arguably be criticized for not discouraging academic suppression among its ranks.

    Unfortunately, Providence seems to be like most Catholic Universities in the US – Catholic in name, but increasingly watered down for the sake of the vast, high value market of non-Catholic students. As a result, both the student body and faculty are almost certainly filled with no small number of modernists. That situation also owes at least partially to the shortage of faithful Catholics in academic careers looking to fill those faculty positions.

  21. The Masked Chicken says:

    A better fallacy I was trying to head off is the fallacy of limited sampling – just because a person knows a few Dominicans they cannot conclude that call Dominicans are like that, either orthodox or non-orthodox. One has to do comprehensive statistical polling to find out.

    I am sorry about Prof. Esolen’s situation. There are some groups that will assist faculty against unjust firing. I strongly doubt it is the Dominicans who are giving him the problems, but the secular faculty. I do know of some ultra-liberal Dominican universities with liberal Dominican faculty, but from the student testimony, above, this may not be the case, here. I have no direct knowledge.

    The Chicken

  22. The Masked Chicken says:

    “That situation also owes at least partially to the shortage of faithful Catholics in academic careers looking to fill those faculty positions.”

    Faculty employment is terrible, in general, these days. There is no shortage of faithful Catholics looking for academic work. There is a shortage of jobs. In music, for every one opening, there are 300 applications. I have excellent teaching and research credentials, but when I submitted an inquiry to Christendom College, all they had available were adjunct positions, which pay about as much as a post-doc position (about 1/2 the national wage average). Many colleges are going to part-time faculties so that they don’t have to pay benefits. Tenure is becoming a thing of the past. The only stable well-paying positions are administrative positions (which may, partially, account for rising tuition).

    The Chicken

  23. un-ionized says:

    Or you could ask someone who works with all levels of the hierarchy. Everything does not boil down to statistics.

  24. un-ionized says:

    There’s nothing fallacious about the deconstruction of a parish that we have been watching for ten years.

  25. PTK_70 says:

    I’m with The Masked Chicken here (not that I’m not with anyone else)…I think anyone assessing the Dominicans does well to proceed province by province. My view of the Western Province is that they have NOT veered into a conscience-based, make-it-up-as-you-go-along Catholicism (thanks, MC!). I understand that the Eastern Province is similarly well-grounded. Rhetorical question: is it any coincidence that these provinces have made room for celebration of Mass according to the ancient Dominican Rite?

  26. Veritatis Splendor says:

    Surprisingly enough, the student body is relatively apolitical. There are about 150 students, total, on either side, that clearly care about politics enough to act. The protest that started this all had only 60 students in it, which is about 2% of the college. Certainly, I have found painful ignorance of Church teaching everywhere, but that is a symptom of the poor catechesis of the Church over the past decades, not any malice. Even Dr. Esolen always says that the students are mostly good kids.

    Also surprising, only four years ago, Providence was in the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College. Everyone has their Gaugamela, and this might be Providence’s, but the battle is not yet over. Please pray for us. Pray for the conversion (or utter destruction) of the faculty and students that run contrary to the faith. Pray for the Dominicans on campus, that they might continue (or resume) defending the faith. Pray that we continue to receive more faithful Catholic students (less likely now that this has finally become widely disseminated in the Catholic news sphere) who can fight this on the ground. Pray for the faithful students, such as myself, and the faithful professors, that we might not lose heart.

  27. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If you have Audible, they have the Great Courses. The length of the courses on Audible looks weird at first, but it’s because they’ve “sped up” their digital audiobook files lately, for the benefit of those folks who like to listen to books at 2x the original speed of recordings. So the rest of us just adjust our books back to 0.5x the current speed, and we’re back to having the original hours of courses and books. :)

  28. un-ionized says:

    Being well grounded isn’t the behavioral issue.

  29. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Thank you for bringing this to my (/our) attention!


    I followed a link in one of the comments at the Touchstone post to that post: it is certainly something to read for more detail (including two updates, so far)!

  30. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Veritatis Splendor,

    Thank you, too, for your informed comments! Indeed, let us pray for the Dr. Esolen, for all those faithful or of whatever good will, and for the frustration and conversion of their effective persecutors.

  31. michael de cupertino says: also has available for purchase courses on the Divine Comedy, taught by Anthony Esolen. Perhaps a good way to support him (and learn something :-)

  32. bobbortolin says:

    Has anyone taken the Divine Comedy course on edX? It’s offered by Georgetown and taught by Professor Francis J. Ambrosio.

  33. iamlucky13 says:

    @ Veritatis Splendor and jameeka,

    Thanks for the followups with more details.

    It is more or less as I suspected – not really the school as a whole, but some of the faculty and students. Yet, the administration doesn’t really interested in restoring a balanced discussion that evaluates the reality of the racism, sexism, etc accusations on the basis of the actual content of the articles. As he wrote in the interview jameeka posted:

    When the president said that he believed that he had to act “for pastoral reasons,” they [supporters of Prof. Esolen] replied that it was a strange form of pastoral care that pits every member of a community against one.

    “The Demands” just make my head spin. The volume of tripe some people can make up is mind-numbing.

  34. JPK says:

    In many cases, the faculty use their students as a kind of proxy against a fellow faculty member. Then, both students and faculty go to the President of the college and demand he do something “for the good of the students”.

    Mr Esolen seems to be taking this in stride. For me, I would like Dr Esolen to go on the offensive. He should demand an open debate with his accusers, a debate moderated by the college President. This is an institution of higher learning; it’s not Romper Room. If the students or faculty complain about the debate is a microagression (or whatever the lingo is, today) and refuses; then the President should declare the matter closed. And if the faculty or student body doesn’t like the ruling, they should find new safe spaces at another college.

  35. un-ionized says:

    ” it was a strange form of pastoral care that pits every member of a community against one.” This is what I observed also. Slander, shunning, etc. are the weapons.

  36. un-ionized says:

    It could very well be that the friars don’t want to get involved. Every one of the 20 or so friars that I have known personally exhibited passive aggressive behavior and did things like refuse to return phone calls when it was for things that they didn’t like to do such as interact with the elderly needing pastoral care. They are a studious bunch and are at their very best in the library and writing.

  37. Patikins says:

    un-ionized: I’m sorry that your experience with the Domincans has been so negative. From what province are these passive-aggressive friars that you encountered?

    I am a member of a Dominican parish in the Province of St. Joseph (where PC is located) and I’ve encountered dozens of Dominican friars over the years. I’ve never seen any passive aggressive behavior from the friars and they’ve always returned my phone calls and assisted me or referred me to someone who could. They all have different personalities and I like some of them more than others but I never doubted their orthodoxy or commitment to serving parishioners. And I know perfectly well that the OP after a friar’s name does not guarantee theological or liturgical orthodoxy, even within the provinces of the Order that are flourishing.

  38. un-ionized says:

    Patikins, how can someone be sure that priests are not playing favorites? This was the source of scandal after scandal at my former parish yet most of the people didn’t know what was going on until they noticed people leaving. This doesn’t require an answer, just some thought. How can you tell, when there is a culture of dishonesty? This is why I said they were acting like fifth grade girls, favoritism, shunning, spreading rumors.

  39. Kathleen10 says:

    Fr. Brian Shanley shoved Professor Esolen right under that bus. Like PC’s neighbor to the south, Yale, PC appears to be in the process of handing over the reins of who’s running the university to whoever yells the loudest. This will lead to increased demands over nothing, and general tyranny and censorship from know-nothing “youths”, who are probably really just doing the bidding of fomenters on campus, people who don’t care for Mr. Esolen’s POV. They can’t say so, but they can get these dudheads worked up. Same result.
    It costs a lot of money to attend Providence College, do people care they are sending their children to these schools to have them turned into good little Marxists?
    Everyone should consider going to the PC Facebook page and leave some commentary there in support of the good professor. He is a TREASURE, and Providence College should send the message that expressing an opinion not especially welcomed by one faction is protected under our Constitution, something these junior fascists have clearly not been told. I’m altogether sick of these college students preventing conservatives of any kind from simply speaking on their campus, and their Communist tactics. We have far too many leftover 60’s wannabe radicals teaching courses today, and young people are always looking for a cause. This is going to get worse. As someone very familiar with public education, I can promise you many more leftists in years to come. Children in an elementary school I was in the other day were lauded for attending a bullying conference. They were all wearing T-shirts that touted “I WILL BE AN AGENT FOR CHANGE”. These were fifth graders. They are startin em young now.

  40. Grant M says:

    Yes! Everyone has to read the Commedia of Dante. That’s an order. In the not too distant future when you are exiled to the proverbial desert island you’ll need your Bible, your Shakespeare – and your Dante. I first became acquainted with the Commedia when I was a teenager and discovered Sayers’ translation of Purgatory selling for 45 cents in a second-hand bookstore. As a Kiwi I could appreciate a story set on an island in the South Pacific with the sun in the North and the Southern Cross in the sky. I was still a pagan at the time, but so apparently was Dante’s guide. I went on to read Hell and Paradise in the same translation, but as Sayers’ predicted, my first love remained the Purgatory for the reasons given in her introduction to the translation.
    Later I studied Italian for two years at university and obtained the annotated bilingual Temple Classics edition, as well as the 1972 Grandgent and Singleton edition (Italian only but with introductions and annotations in English). When I grew impatient with myself for always reading the Temple edition with the aid of its crib, I went from cover to cover three times through G&S with only a pencil and a dictionary.
    And learn Italian- or some Italian. The translator of the Temple edition writes: “Of the supreme poets none loses so much by translation as Dante; none so quickly repays a study of the original text.” A lot of you will know some Latin, French or Spanish so you have a head start.
    Where I am living now I could only bring a few books, but I still have Dante in the Temple and G&S editions. I’m now progressing slowly through Purgatorio once again, studying each canto in both editions.

  41. crych says:

    Let me add my voice to those urging all to read the Divine Comedy. I would probably not be a Catholic were it not for the baptism of the imagination, as CS Lewis, I believe, called it, that I received in reading the story. The one danger is that Dante makes Purgatory sound rather like a place one would like to visit. On the other hand, Virgil’s words to Dante at the entrance to hell:’We are come to the place … where you will see the sorrowful who have lost the good of intellect’ are, to me at least, some of the most chilling ever written. Let me also recommend Dorothy Sayer’s introductory essay, ‘… and Telling You a Story’ : a Note etc. (pub. in CS Lewis, Essays Presented to Charles Williams, OUP 1947 / Eerdmans 1966, 1973). Her point is that, though knowledge of classical and mediæval history, theology, philosophy and politics helps one appreciate the breadth of the poem, it is a grand story that carries one lacking such knowledge along just fine.

  42. benedetta says:

    Obviously he is being used as a scapegoat — why else on a university, no less, would people deliberately “dialogue” with him and then, including the university president, take a few words out of context in order to see him suffer and made an intimidation example of? He never said he opposed diversity. For critiquing the fashionable campus totalitarian scapegoat protesting, and for being a Catholic, a few who really oppose dialogue and progress have decided he must be harmed. It seems to me it would be just as easy, and equally if not more beneficial to a campus’ culture and dialogue, to enter into the discussion points he raises in his writing, yet, the only goal, antithetical to humanism and dialogue, is to bash him, harm him, intimidate others who would logically critique in the same provocative vein, and seize totalitarian, mindless power via intimidating. If he were not a Catholic would this be happening at all.

    The whole thing is, pardon my poverty of language, a “trigger” hearkening back to the mid-80s when I haplessly wrote an article for my secular “liberal arts” college on some points showing how the true-er position on abortion for “feminism” had to necessarily be a pro life (non violent, women supporting, etc) one.

    Overnight my whole life changed. I was not prepared for the blowback. Neither was I prepared for the betrayal of the sister who was in charge of the campus Newman Center, my pastor, my Bishop, Catholics close to the situation who left me hanging and turned their backs cheerfully.

    As this sort of persecution has now become, commonplace and standard, and it is mindless, unthinking, and a monster of totalitarianism hanging out in supposed free speech, dialoguing , intellectually free, logical, reasonable, progressive academe, as its first place to set up shop, to, get them young and hold their minds to this bondage, forever…and particularly at the Pavlovian voting booth,then I say, let the USCCB and the Newman Centers, the Knights of Malta and the Knights of Columbus, chanceries, set up formal outreach to assist Catholics who are undergoing white and professional, particularly professorial or student martyrdoms via Nazi like persecutions hopped up on hate for practicing Catholics, looking to stamp them out of existence via such means and methods and alinskyist tacticianing, and let solidarity and union with those who are suffering in our communion be made closer and more of a comfort, inspiration, encouragement, and protection of mental health and intellectual freedom, through formal programming and official actions, and let Mr. Esolen be psychically and wholly healed of this attack. Has his Bishop reached out to extend his spiritual closeness to him? I certainly hope so.

    And, while I’ve read Ciardi and liked it, I’m happy to set up friends and family with Esolen editions of Dante and then some, because I’ve completely had it with this kind of nonsense that kills.

  43. benedetta says:

    After the Podesta revelations all this crap activism and pseudo protest animated by bigotry and hatred against Catholics is all going to fall under the RICO statutes anyway. Buckle your seat belts. And Catholics who are complicit like university presidents, hierarchs, pastors, etc., VP candidates, who engineer harm against their very own co religionists in the supposed communions, should not think themselves above the law in this regard.

  44. Random Friar says:

    Speaking as a Dominican friar: In general, I believe our younger friars to be a good, solid, orthodox bunch. Well, except for their vocabulary being limited to the word “awesome” at times. But we can work on that.

  45. un-ionized says:

    As I said, the issue is not orthodoxy or the ability to spout same.

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