Why Does Sebastian Drink? Brideshead Revisited and Understanding God’s Grace.

A favorite post of mine.

Brideshead Revisited was written by Evelyn Waugh, and it is an exceptionally good book, so much so that now I feel simply lost without it.  The book has been great to reflect on the importance of my Catholic faith and morality in a world that seems quite averse to it; I am even prolonging finishing the television series, as I am having a hard time letting go of this family that I’ve come to develop a relationship with over the course of time. I’m always reading books, although now all other fiction titles seem to lack in substance. It’s because the dignity of humanity is one of the great themes of Brideshead Revisited, and of course, it’s something missing in our society today and in many of the arts.

A reader of this blog asked me one time to comment on a post of his on the book on “Why does Sebastian drink?” I felt that I needed to share my thoughts that I shared with him because it deals with many of themes of my most recent posts on this blog such as sin, mercy, contrition, grace, and forgiveness. Sebastian’s drinking could most certainly have been to seek instant gratification of every moment, he may even say something of this nature early on, but what I believe is what drives Sebastian’s thirst is that he doesn’t believe he deserves the Grace given to him freely by God, and it eats away at him inside.

Waugh never clearly states if there is any reason for Sebastian drinking; however, I think the reason may have several layers of depth. Of course, in the novel, there is the connection of The Church and the state of Grace. Sebastian, for the most part, wishes to reject his mother throughout the entirety of the novel, which I believe he views her subconsciously as a replacement for his animosity toward God. In the last half of the book in a conversation between Charles and Cordelia, Sebastian’s youngest sister, the sentiment is expressed by Cordelia when she describes Charles’ feelings toward her mother:

“I never really knew your mother,” I said.

“You didn’t like her. I sometimes think when people wanted to hate God they hated mummy.”

What do you mean by that, Cordelia?”

“Well, you see, she was saintly, but she wasn’t a saint. No one could really hate a saint, could they? They really can’t hate God either. When they want to hate him and his saints they to find something like themselves and pretend it’s God and hate that. I suppose you think that’s all bosh.” ( p. 254-55 Bay Books 2012)

Sebastian believes his happiness is found disconnected from a Catholic world, which has all but revealed God to him. God is very much a part of Brideshead, and Sebastian seeks to find an Island, an oasis, from it. The relationship between Charles and Sebastian takes off into a joyous experience at first, and Sebastian needing his oasis seeks to keep Charles away from any and all sort of connection to this Catholic world.

I remember after the jail incident, Charles speaks about Sebastian believing his happiness to be tied to this separation from Brideshead, and in effect God. However, as Charles emphasizes Sebastian’s need for the disconnect, Sebastian begins to reject even Charles as Charles becomes friendly with his family and closer to Grace. 

Thomas Merton perhaps speaks of a different layer in his book No man is an Island. Merton says, “Only the man who has had to face despair is really convinced that he needs mercy. Those who do not want mercy never seek it. It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency that has never felt the need of forgiveness. A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair.”

Sebastian always has had a degree of faith no matter how much he tried to reject it. When Charles challenges him about his faith, Sebastian cannot outright reject his faith. Sebastian says “Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.” There is something deeply rooted here, like Grace, that compels him to believe it. Perhaps, Sebastian rejecting the world through drinking is also a method for Grace to enter into this young man of wealth to fully accept the Grace of God. As a society, the humanist tells us, and tries to conform God, that moral actions must relieve suffering. However, these are not the same rules for God. (see: The Book of Job) If God truly relieved the worldly suffering of Sebastian would Grace enter his heart among the brothers later?

It wouldn’t appear so; this is why it is so vital that we understand that the state of souls do matter , even more so than our earthly state.
via Brideshead Revisited: Understanding God’s Grace. – The Latin Community

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