A Renovation of Images

Nineteenth-Century Protestant ‘Lives of Jesus’ and Roman Catholic Alleged Appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • John Kent

Abstract

Allow, if only for the sake of argument, that Jesus, in Frank Kermode’s incisive phrase, is a fiction in the fictions of others.1 Jesus, that is, wrote neither a theological treatise nor an autobiography; he did not, like Paul, leave letters behind him; we have no contemporary memoirs in the modern manner. And what we have in the way of post-mortem communication depends closely on that primary image of Jesus as a fiction in the fictions of others. Kermode used the word ‘fiction’ to suggest a form devoted to ‘finding out’, exploring the nature of experience; he distinguished ‘fiction’ from ‘myth’, in which (he said) experience was fitted into a system whose conclusions were already known and unalterable. Over the centuries the primary Jesus-fiction of the New Testament became the dogmatic Jesus-myth, so that if one wanted to modify the dogmatic conclusions, one had to modify the story, the fiction. A conviction that the orthodox interpretations of the Jesus-story had worn out lay behind the nineteenth-century enthusiasm for new fictions like the ‘lives of Jesus’, and this also helped to explain the series of alleged appearances of Jesus’s mother, Mary, appearances which may be classed with the ‘lives of Jesus’ as the Roman Catholic equivalent of the Protestant (and sometimes agnostic) lives.

Keywords

Assimilation Hunt Tate Harness Rene 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    F. Kermode, The Sense of an Ending (1967) p. 39: ‘myths call for absolute, fictions for conditional assent’.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    D.E. Nineham, ‘A Pattern for Cinderella’, in Explorations in Theology I (London, 1977) p. 144.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Henry Venn, The Complete Duty of Man (London, 1840) p. 115.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    C. H. Talbert (ed.), Reimarus: Fragments, trans. R. S. Fraser (London, 1971).Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    R.J. Hollingdale (ed.), Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ (Harmondsworth, 1968) p. 154.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    A. Schweitzer, Quest of the Historical Jesus, trans. W. Montgomery (London, 1910) p. 397.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Mélanie Calvat, who was fourteen, and Maximin Giraud, who was eleven, allegedly saw the Virgin near La Salette, in the French Alps, on 19 September 1846. See J. Jaouen, La Grace de la Salette (Paris, 1946).Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    E. Renan, La Vie de Jésus (Paris, 1974) p. 51 (editors’ translation).Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    For France, see e.g. Edward Berenson, Populist Religion and Left-Wing Politics in France 1830–52 (Princeton, 1984)Google Scholar
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  11. 19.
    See R. Moore, Pitmen, Preachers and Politics (London, 1974) for the story of J.G. Harrison, Primitive Methodist preacher and schoolteacher, who was imprisoned three times for pacifism in the First World War: he told the Durham tribunal that he became a pacifist as a result of reading Tolstoy, and was told by Judge Greenwell that it was a pity he read him.Google Scholar
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    E. Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, trans. E. Mosbacher (London, 1970).Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    R. Laurentin, Vie authentique de Catherine Labouré (Paris, 1980), is the official life. Her version, written down some years after the event, described how she woke to see ‘a child dressed in white, about four or five years old, who says to me, Get up quickly and come to the chapel, the Holy Virgin is waiting for you.’ She followed the child, who emitted rays of light, to the convent chapel where, after a pause, the Virgin appeared and spoke to her at length. The child then guided her back to her room; she thought he was her guardian angel. There seems to be no reference to Jesus in this account. Four months later Catherine had another vision of the Virgin, while sharing in convent worship; she was then told about the Miraculous Medal, which is associated with her. This depicts the Virgin. Laurentin regards both appearances as objective and rejects the suggestion that the first was a dream.Google Scholar
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    For an interesting discussion of the importance of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the nineteenth-century Marian revival, see Barbara C. Pope, ‘Immaculate and Powerful: The Marian Revival in the Nineteenth Century’, in Immaculate and Powerful: The Female in Sacred Image and Social Reality, ed. C. Atkinson, C. Buchanan and M. Miles (Harvard, 1985) pp. 173–200.Google Scholar
  15. 28.
    At the turn of the century there was a strong scholarly emphasis on the possibility that the ‘historic Jesus’ did actually expect an imminent judgement. Johannes Weiss (1863–1914) published Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes (Jesus’s Proclamation of the Kingdom of God) in 1892. Unlike Schweitzer, he held that ‘modern’ Christians were not obliged to share the eschatological mood of Jesus.Google Scholar
  16. 29.
    For the political background see, e.g., René Rémond, The Right Wing of France from 1815 to de Gaulle, trans. J. Laux (Philadelphia, 1966).Google Scholar
  17. There is a remarkable study of French Catholic life in Bonnie G. Smith, Ladies of the Leisure Class: The Bourgeoises of Northern France in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, 1981).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Jasper and T. R. Wright 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Kent

There are no affiliations available

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