Wilde about Christ (2): The Artistic Temperament

In this excerpt from De Profundis, Wilde meditates on Christ, art, imagination and what Matthew Arnold called the “secret of Jesus”.

I said once to Andre Gide, as we sat together in a Paris cafe, that metaphysics did not interest me much, and ethics not in the least; but all that Plato and Christ had said, I claimed, could be transplanted into the realm of art, without change, and find there its complete fulfilment. In its generalisation, this dictum of mine was just as wide as it was new. It is not alone the close relationship of personality and perfection which we readily see in Christ that forms the real distinguishing feature between classicism and romanticism and makes Christ appear as the true herald of the romantic movement in life, but the kernel of His being which was the same as that which constitutes the artist, strong, fervid imagination.

He possessed, in a paramount degree, that soul-and-mind quality which enters into the understanding of all human relations, that sympathetic imagination, which is the sole secret of artistic creation. He understood the disease of the leper, the night of the blind, the grim misery of the devotees of pleasure, and the strange poverty of the rich. Some one wrote to me in my misery : “When you are not on your pedestal you are uninteresting.” How far this writer was from understanding and practising — what Matthew Arnold calls the “secret of Jesus” ! Both could have taught him that what happens to your neighbour, happens to you. If you wish to have a text which you may read by day and by night, in sorrow and in joy, then write on the walls of your house, for the sun to gild it and the moon to bathe in silvery light : “Whatever happens to me, happens to another.”

Christ is a true poet. His whole conception of humanity sprang from the power of imagination and can only be grasped by it. Man was to Him what God is to the pantheist. He, first, conceived all the different races of man as one, as a unity.

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