Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The most significant Christian theme that emerges from the volume is that of the suffering of God. The official theology of the Church of England taught the “impassibility” of God, that God was not affected by human emotions and was beyond suffering. Christ had entered into the world and had undergone suffering but was now in glory. Studdert Kennedy violently opposed this view of God. To him, the only Christian answer to the suffering of the soldiers was that God was down there with them, suffering along with them. That was the basis for his theodicy. The many “Calvaries,” roadside crucifixes set up by the Catholic churches, became symbols of this suffering God in Christ. Christ continued to suffer. The “once for all” suffering of Christ at his crucifixion was challenged. It was not “once”; it is always, as Studdert Kennedy makes clear in “The Suffering God.”

The centrality of the cross and its suffering is used to oppose the typical teaching that this is the will of God because it is patriotic. Faith and doubt are closely linked in his poetry: Much received truth is shown to be grossly inadequate; old questions have to be re-posed and new answers found. Studdert Kennedy’s theology is worked out at an emotional level, as in “Tragedy,” “Faith,” and “The Truth of May.” One of his difficulties is maintaining the transcendence of God. His stress on God’s suffering leads him to emphasize his immanence, his presence, even in the fighting men. In a poem such as “Right Is Might,” Christian orthodoxy is strained to its limits. The title poem, “The Unutterable Beauty,” expresses Studdert Kennedy’s belief in the pastoral and prophetic role of his poetry. There is a passionate mysticism in much of his verse.