In this excerpt from De Profundis, Wilde recalls Renan’s Life of Christ and how it sustained him when he was denied contact with his sons, Cyril and Vyvyan.
Ernest Renan says, somewhere in his Life of Christ — the charming fifth gospel which one might call the gospel according to St. Thomas — that the greatest achievement of Christ consisted in His retaining after His death the love which He had inspired during His life. If His place be among the poets, He surely leads the procession of those who love. He recognised that Love was the secret spring of life for which the wise men had been searching, and that you can touch the heart of the leper or approach the throne of God if you have love in your heart. But above all, Christ is the most perfect individualist. Humility is only a form of revelation, like all the experiences of an artist. Christ is always in quest of the soul of man. He calls it “God’s kingdom” — and He finds it in every human being. He compares it to small, simple things : a seed, a handful of leaven, a pearl, for the reason that one can purify and improve one’s soul only by getting rid of all passions foreign to its nature, all acquired culture, all material possessions, whether useful or harmful.
I refused to realise and to receive this truth with all the force of an obstinate will and all the power of a rebellious spirit until I had lost everything I possessed in this world except Cyril. My name, my position, happiness, liberty, fortune: all were gone. One precious possession alone consoled me — my sons. Suddenly they, too, were taken from me by the law of the land. This blow completely stunned me; I did not know which way to turn. I sunk to my knees, bent my head, wept and said : “The body of a child is as the body of the Lord; I am unworthy of either.” And in this moment I felt that I was saved. Then and there I realised that there was nothing left for me but to take my burden upon myself and bear it to the end. Since then — no doubt it sounds strange — since then I have been far happier.