A Renovation of Images

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


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.


Divine Power Orthodox Interpretation Biblical Criticism Popular Religion Orthodox Theological System 
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© David Jasper and T. R. Wright 1989

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  • John Kent

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