Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 184

“Gladius Dei” dramatizes the perennial tension between Christ and Apollo, the sacred and the secular, Christianity and paganism, God and the world, the city of God and the city of humankind. It is another echo of the famous rhetorical question of the Christian apologist Tertullian in the second century—What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?—and of the question of Alcuin in the eighth century—Is there anything in common between Ingeld and Christ?

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For the radical believer, art and religion are antithetical unless art is employed explicitly in the service of religion: One cannot serve two masters. In contrast, the ordinary believer does not see an absolute dichotomy: For him, art and religion are two complementary realities; there is no necessary opposition between the two, and he believes that he can have the best of both worlds.

Thomas Mann dwells on this dialectical nature of the subject of art in a number of works, especially in his play Fiorenza (1906), his most important work of the years 1904-1907. “Gladius Dei” is an offshoot of Fiorenza, and Hieronymus is a descendant of Brother Girolamo.

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