Author Profile: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)

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Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov 1872

One of the greatest writers not only in Russia but in the world, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote books which reflect a deep appreciation of human psychology, a profound interest in philosophy, and a devout Christian faith. His plots at times seem rambling to the point of chaotic, and his cast of characters extensive, but the reader is never left in any doubt that the author has a point and intends to make it.

Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow on 11th November 1821, to Mikhail Dostoyevsky, a doctor estranged from his family, who had expected him to become a priest, and Maria Nechayeva, who came from a family of merchants. He was raised in the family home in the grounds of the Mariinsky Home for the Poor, where his father worked, an upbringing which was steeped from an early age in the Christian faith and the literature of Russia and Europe: Pushkin, Goethe, Cervantes, Walter Scott, and Homer all joined the Bible in expected family reading. He had a ‘delicate constitution’ but a determined attitude which would see him in good stead in later life. Continue reading “Author Profile: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)”

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Random Poem: The Journey of the Magi, by T. S. Eliot

This Sunday just passed marked Epiphany in the Christian calendar, the date when we remember the visit paid to Jesus by wise men from the East (the Magi, also known as the Three Kings) as recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew (Matthew 2:1-12). Continue reading “Random Poem: The Journey of the Magi, by T. S. Eliot”

Treasure Trove: ‘Christmas Bells’ by Henry Wandsworth Longfellow

I first came across this poem as a Christmas carol adaptation by one of my favourite contemporary Christian bands, Casting Crowns (you can listen to their version here). Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote the original in 1863, in response to the American Civil War (1861-1865). It was an intensely personal poem: Longfellow’s eldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, had joined the War in the Union cause without his father’s blessing, and had later been seriously wounded in Virginia.

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Sidney E King, ‘The Capture of Rickett’s Battery’

Although it has subsequently been adapted several times, with the more specific references to the War altered or omitted, the original runs as follows:

 

 

 

Continue reading “Treasure Trove: ‘Christmas Bells’ by Henry Wandsworth Longfellow”

A Very Short History of Art: The Early Christian to the Gothic

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Early depiction of Jesus, c.375 C.E.

As the Roman Empire fell into decline and collapse another unifying cultural force began to spread through Europe, this time not by a process of conquest and empire-building, but through the gentler methods of persuasion and spiritual transformation. Legalised by Emperor Constantine I in 313 C.E. and declared the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius I in 380 C.E., the rising influence of Christianity and the waning power of Rome had a huge influence on art throughout Europe.

Christianity had inherited from its Jewish roots strong taboos against idolatry and nudity. Moreover, the new religion emphasised the pursuit of spiritual over physical perfection. Where once the athlete’s sculptured muscles and the maiden’s curvaceous beauty had epitomised all that was most desirable in humanity, now the focus was on gaining spiritual enlightenment and eternal life in the hereafter. Continue reading “A Very Short History of Art: The Early Christian to the Gothic”

Art You Should Know: The Angel of the North by Sir Antony Gormley

Angel of the North
The Angel of the North, by Sir Antony Gormley,

‘…but [the angels] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”‘

Completed in 1998, the towering (20m tall) Angel of the North dominates the skyline over the A1 and A167 roads near Gateshead in Tyne and Wear, England, and is instantly recognisable throughout Britain. Continue reading “Art You Should Know: The Angel of the North by Sir Antony Gormley”

On Whose Authority? The King James Bible Part 2: The Birth of a Legend

King James VI
Portrait of King James I of England (King James VI of Scotland)

When King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England he faced a slew of problems, from war with Spain and Ireland which had led to a national debt of £400,000, to periodic outbreaks of plague and a growing fear of witchcraft. Religiously England and, to a lesser extent, Scotland were split between the mainstream Protestant Churches of the two countries, the Catholics who continued to look to Rome, and the Puritans who were agitating for radical Protestant reform.

James was a man of literary leaning (he authored several books over the course of his reign), and in 1604 he convened the Hampton Court Conference with representatives of the Church of England, including leading Puritans, to discuss a solution. As well as addressing such topics as baptism by laypeople, and excommunication, the Conference agreed to authorise a new English translation of the Bible. Thus was the Authorised Version, the King James Version, conceived. Continue reading “On Whose Authority? The King James Bible Part 2: The Birth of a Legend”

Art You Should Know: Michelangelo’s Pieta

Michelangelo's_Pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta, 1498-1499

“… and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Simeon’s prophesy to Mary when she presented the infant Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem, Luke 2:35b (NIV)

Michelangelo Buonarroti carved his ‘Pieta’ from Carrara marble in 1498-1499, originally as a funeral monument for the French Cardinal Jean de Bilheres. It measures 1.74m by 1.95m and is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed. Continue reading “Art You Should Know: Michelangelo’s Pieta”

Poet Profile: Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

One Crucifixion is recorded—only—
How many be
Is not affirmed of Mathematics—
Or History—

One Calvary—exhibited to Stranger—
As many be
As persons—or Peninsulas—
Gethsemane—

Is but a Province—in the Being’s Centre—
Judea—
For Journey—or Crusade’s Achieving—
Too near—

Our Lord—indeed—made Compound Witness—
And yet—
There’s newer—nearer Crucifixion
Than That—

A year or so ago I had some friends over for dinner and my dear and devoutly-Catholic friend Mary shared the poem above. “What does it mean?” she asked, drawing all of us into a protracted conversation not only of the themes and meanings of this particular poem but of the work of Emily Dickinson, and poetry in general (dinner conversation at my house is not to everyone’s taste). Continue reading “Poet Profile: Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)”

Author Profile: C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)

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Poster for the 2005 Disney adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, based on the book by C. S. Lewis.

If you’ve read my list of Six Christian Classics it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’m quite a fan of the work of Clive Staples (‘Jack’) Lewis, who is regarded by many Christians as the pre-eminent apologist of the twentieth century.

This great ‘man of letters’, who taught at both Oxford and Cambridge, was born in Belfast and raised in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, but a series of events, which included the death of his mother from cancer in 1908, the influence of early twentieth century intellectualism, and his experiences as a Second Lieutenant in the trenches in World War One (beginning on his nineteenth birthday), led him to reject the faith of his childhood. Continue reading “Author Profile: C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)”

Six Christian Classics

At the very end of John’s gospel, the author adds this postscript:

‘Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.’ – John 21:25, NIV

There may be a certain amount of hyperbole involved in that statement, but a vast number of Christians have spent the last two thousand years endeavouring to remedy the lack. This list is somewhat biased, being based on books which I actually have on my shelves, but it is at least brief. It includes three fictional works, and three non-fiction. Showing still further bias one author, C. S. Lewis, appears twice. Here, then, is my list of six Christian classics, each of which I would heartily recommend.

Continue reading “Six Christian Classics”