Friday, May 7, 2010

Christianity and Literature

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is unquestionably the greatest writer in the world of English literature.  A committed Christian, Shakespeare used biblical themes as the foundation of many of his greatest literary ideas. The Christian impact on his work is documented by Ernest Marshall Howe’s Spiritual Values in Shakespeare, and in Dr. George Morrison’s Christ in Shakespeare.  In Hamlet, the writer builds on a theme from Psalm 8: “What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?  And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?  Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, and dost crown him with glory and majesty,” to write:

What a piece of work is a man!  How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a God!”

Shakespeare articulated his belief in Jesus Christ in his last will and testament:

I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping and assuredly believing through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting; and my body to the earth, whereof it is made. [Quoted in Herbert Lockyer, The Man Who Changed the World, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 355]

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) is considered by many to be the most gifted writer of the 20th century.  He had an enormous impact on contemporary literature.  Eliot was converted to Christianity in the late 1930s, and began to reflect thoroughly Christian views in his works, most notably in Ash Wednesday (1930), The Rock (1934), and his play, Murder in the Cathedral (1935), based on the 12th-century martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Eliot's fame as a playwright dates from the successful production of The Cocktail Party (1949), which explored the theme of salvation in the context of a modern social gathering.  Other dramatic presentations of religious and moral themes are The Confidential Clerk (1954) and The Elder Statesman (1958).  In 1948, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Space does not permit for me to list all the great writers who created their literature around scriptural motifs, such as John Bunyan, Dante, Milton, John Donne, Hans Christian Anderson, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Amy Carmichael, C. S. Lewis, Flannery O’Conner, G. K. Chesterton, and Leo Tolstoy.

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