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This review is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

THE ORTHODOX VERSION J. A. W. Bennett, Poetry of the Passion - Studies in twelve centuries of English verse (Oxford University Press) £17.50.

'And perhaps only poetry can present the ineffable mystery of the two natures of Christ that meet us whenever we survey this wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died': so the late Professor Bennett remarks at the very beginning of this study of English poetry of the Passion. Modern theologians, too, often profess a certain fondness for the notion that the ideas with which they deal are best handled by means of poetry, though often this seems to mean that Christianity is conveyed by myths that have a certain emotional appeal and is not capable of expression as truth demanding precision and care in those who attempt to grasp it. Such would have been far from Bennett's mind, as the quotation shows, for what he claims poetry can present is a fully orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation of the second Person of the Godhead in two natures, a doctrine that presupposes the doctrine of the Trinity of three Persons in One Godhead, and provides the basis for a doctrine of the Atonement as the interpretation of one single historical event - the Passion and Death of Christ - as determinative of all human history. Poetry subserves orthodoxy; it does not undermine it, as some of our contemporaries would have it.

Professor Bennett explores in this book some of the ways in which poetry has sought to give expression to the Passion of Christ and its significance. He is clearly happiest in the Middle Ages. We ...


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