Christian Themes

Eliot prefixes two quotations to the collected Four Quartets. Both are from Heraclitus (c. 540-c. 480 b.c.e.), the Presocratic philosopher, but both use terms with specific Christian parallels. The first may be translated, “Although the word [logos] is common to all, most live as though they had their own words [logoi].” The second says, “The way [hodos] up and the way down are the same.” Although the pre-Christian Heraclitus was referring to his own teaching, or “word,” a Christian reader may think about the Word of God, which supersedes all the words of men. While Heraclitus’s ways up and down are rather like his near-contemporary Parmenides’ ways of being and nonbeing, a Christian like Eliot will recall the positive and negative ways of proceeding, known in mystical literature as the via positiva and the via negativa. These four basic concepts—the Word of God and the words of men, the ways of affirmation and negation—provide the conceptual framework for each quartet.

Human beings live in time and speak their more or less adequate words over intervals of time, but the Word of God breaks through time at the moment of incarnation, taking the believer out of time and into eternity. In the first quartet, Eliot calls this moment “the still point of the turning world” and says that the stillness contains all movement. He associates it with the major...

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