The Gift Half Understood: Incarnation as “Impossible Union,” Way, and Intersection

  • G. Douglas Atkins


“The hint half guessed, the gift half understood” writes Eliot in Four Quartets, “is Incarnation.” By omitting the expected “the” before “Incarnation,” he refers to the pattern of which “the Incarnation” is the paradigmatic instance. The particular pattern that Incarnation names—as “impossible union” of opposites and the way of proceeding in, through, and by means of one “term” in its difference from the other—appears in hints as early as The Sacred Wood (1920). It finds its fullest expression in Ash-Wednesday (1930) and Four Quartets (1935–1943).


Literal Meaning Diffi Culty Paradigmatic Instance Divine Reality North American Literature 
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    T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1943).Google Scholar
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    Barry Spurr, “Anglo-Catholic in Religion”: T.S. Eliot and Christianity (Cambridge: Lutterworth, 2010), 32.Google Scholar
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    Nicholas Lossky, Lancelot Andrewes the Preacher (1555–1626): The Origins of the Mystical Theology of the Church of England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Spurr, “Anglo-Catholic in Religion”, 229; quoted from T.S. Eliot, The Rock (London: Faber and Faber, 1934), 52.Google Scholar
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    T.S. Eliot, “The ‘Pensées’ of Pascal,” Selected Essays, 3rd ed. (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), 408.Google Scholar
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    See T.S. Eliot, “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” The Dial 75.5 (Nov. 1923): 480–83.Google Scholar

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© G. Douglas Atkins 2013

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  • G. Douglas Atkins

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