Another excerpt from De Profundis. It struck me while compiling this ‘Wilde about Christ’ project that OW is one of the few writers whose every sentence and paragraph can safely be isolated and relished out of context. The beauty of it is that his life itself is the context.
Christ is most romantic — in the sense of being most real — when He deals with the sinner. The world had always loved and revered the saint as being on the next highest grade towards the perfection of God. Christ, through His divine instinct, seems to have always loved the sinner as representing the next highest type towards the perfection of man. His chief aim was not to better people, just as little as it was His main endeavour to lessen suffering. He did not strive to transform an interesting thief into a tediously respectable man. He would have thought little of a society for the aid of criminals and similar modern movements. To convert a publican into a Pharisee would not have appealed to Christ as a heroic achievement. But He looked upon sin and suffering as beautiful and sacred in themselves, as steps to- wards perfection, in a manner which we do not yet understand.
I know fully well this sounds like dangerous teaching. And it is so. All great ideas are dangerous. Beyond a doubt this was Christ’s belief. Of course, the sinner must repent. But why? Simply because he otherwise would not be able to comprehend, to realise what he had done. The moment of repentance is the moment of consecration. Still more: it is the means by which man may change his past. The Greeks held this to be impossible. In their gnomes and aphorisms they tell us : “Not even the gods can change the past.” Christ proved that the commonest sinner is able to do this ; that, in fact, it was the only thing he could do. If Christ had been asked, He would, without doubt, have said — I am absolutely sure of it — that the prodigal son, after he had squandered his substance with harlots, herded the rich man’s swine, suffered hunger and sighed for the husks which they ate, turned all these acts into beautiful, sacred moments when he fell on his knees and wept.
Most men find it hard to grasp this thought. Perhaps one must have suffered imprisonment to understand it ; if so, it pays to have been in prison.
Christ’s personality is absolutely unique. There were Christians before Christ, as the break of day is heralded by dim, deceptive rays of light, as the sun shining suddenly and brightly on wintry days deceives the careful crocus and leads it to spend its gold before its time, as many a foolish bird calls to his mate to build their nest on bare twigs. For this we should be grateful. Unfortunately, there have been no Christians since Christ — with one exception: Francis of Assisi. But to him God had given the soul of a poet, for he had, when he was quite young, in mystical union, chosen poverty as his bride ; with the soul of a poet and the body of a beggar he found, without any difficulty, the road to perfection. He understood Christ, and so became like Him. We do not need to be told by the Liber Conformitatum that the life of St. Francis was the true Imitatio Christi; that his life was a poem compared with which the book of that name is mere prose. Indeed, this is, primarily and ultimately, the charm which emanates from Christ: He completely resembles a perfect work of art. He really does not teach us anything at all; but by coming into His presence, by associating with Him, we become something. And every one is predestined to come into touch with Christ. Once, at least, in his life each one of us walks with Christ on the road to Emmaus. . . .