Dorothy L. Sayers, Introduction from the Man Born to be King

“We are so much accustomed to viewing the whole story from a post-Resurrection, and indeed from a post-Nicene, point of view, that we are apt, without realising it, to attribute to all the New Testament characters the same kind of detailed theological awareness which we have ourselves. We judge their behaviour as though all of them–disciples, Pharisees, Romans, and men-in-the-street, had known with Whom they were dealing and what the meaning of all the events actually was. But they did not know it. The disciples had only the foggiest inkling of it, and nobody else came anywhere near grasping what it was all about. If the Chief Priests and the Roman Governor had been aware that they were engaged in crucifying God–if Herod the Great had ordered his famous massacre with the express intention of doing away with God–then they would have been quite exceptionally and diabolically wicked people. And indeed, we like to think that they were: it gives us a reassuring sensation that “it can’t happen here.” And to this comfortable persuasion we are assisted by the stately and ancient language of the Authorised Version, and by the general air of stained-glass-window decorum with which the tale is usually presented to us. The characters are not men and women: they are all “sacred personages”, standing about in symbolic attitudes, and self-consciously awaiting the fulfillment of prophecies…

Unhappily, if we think about it at all, we must think otherwise. God was executed by people painfully like us, in a society very similar to our own–in the over-ripeness of the most splendid and sophisticated Empire the world has ever seen. In a nation famous for its religious genius and under a government renowned for its efficiency, He was executed by a corrupt church, a timid politician, and a fickle proletariat led by professional agitators. His executioners made vulgar jokes about Him, called Him filthy names, taunted Him, smacked Him in the face, flogged Him with the cat, and hanged Him on the common gibbet–a bloody, dusty, sweaty, and sordid business.

If you show people that, they are shocked. So they should be. If that does not shock them, nothing can. If the mere representation of it has an air of irreverence, what is to be said about the deed? It is curious that people who are filled with horrified indignation whenever a cat kills a sparrow can hear the story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all.

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2 thoughts on “Dorothy L. Sayers, Introduction from the Man Born to be King

  1. Hey we both named our blogs from quotes from Eliot’s The Four Quartets! Isn’t that something! You know, I’ve never read Dorothy Sayers. I guess I should be embarrassed to say that. Until a couple of years ago I never even heard of her. The secular colleges I attended hid all the 20th century writers with any religious overtones. I’ll have to pick up something by her. What’s her most well known work?

    • Manny, I’m so sorry I never saw this! I was looking for this quote, so I wouldn’t have seen it otherwise! Sayers can be hit or miss – a lot of her stuff is phenomenal, but some of it kind of falls flat. She’s popularly known for her detective novels and they are amazing (my favorite, Gaudy Night, is actually about the place of academic integrity in everyday life!). Her plays are respectable too – Man Born to be King is a series of radio plays about the life of Christ, and it is incredible. She also has done an acclaimed translation of the Divine Comedy.

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