Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dorothy Sayers: 'It's a mystery...'

Dorothy Leigh Sayers
'Mystery Writer'

Thirty years ago near Stanford University, living as a boarder in the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Rosenfield, an octogenarian who had a lovely Atherton house with a large library and an even larger garden, I helped that elderly lady raise tomatoes and helped myself to reading her personal copies of all the 'mystery' novels written by Dorothy Sayers, creater of the unforgettable British gentleman detective Lord Peter Wimsey.

This morning, I was reminded of all that by a quote from one of the apologetics books written by Sayers in 'answer' to the question -- posed as part of a 'cathecism' -- "What is meant by the Atonement?":
God wanted to damn everybody, but his vindictive sadism was sated by the crucifixion of his own Son, who was quite innocent, and, therefore, a particularly attractive victim. He now only damns people who don't follow Christ or who have never heard of him.
According to Philip Yancey, in "Surveying the Wondrous Cross" (Christianity Today, May 27, 2009), this was the caricature of classical theories on the atonement drawn by Dorothy Sayers 60 years ago, apparently as her opening words to the section on atonement in Creed or Chaos? And Other Essays in Popular Theology.

I've never read that book, and doubt that it was in Mrs. Rosenfield's library, but I'm curious how Sayers walks the reader back through the astonishing clauses and provides her own solution to a 'mystery' worthy of the talents vested in Lord Peter Death Wimsey.

Have any visitors to this blog read Creed or Chaos?

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At 9:34 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

As I recall, she doesn't actually walk the reader back through -- there's a whole series of questions in the 'catechism'. She goes on from there to argue that while the answers are wrong as a description of Christian orthodoxy, they are a fairly common view of what that orthodoxy is, and the orthodox are to blame for that. To clear things up, the orthodox need to bring the dogma out on stage -- don't try to play it down or dress it up -- so that it can exert its own dramatic fascination rather than being clumsily mediated by bad descriptions. She isn't really dealing with the atonement so much as asking why Christian orthodoxy is so misunderstood. But it has been a while since I've read it, so I might be misremembering something.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for clearing that up, Brandon. If she's showing the 'wrong' formulation, does she then go on to put forward the 'right' one?

Incidentally, I found her 'wrong' formulation rather humorous. Did she intend the humor, and were the other questions and answers also humorous?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:55 PM, Blogger Brandon said...

I don't recall her ever explicitly going through it, but I might be wrong. I seem to remember her bringing up these wrong answers in the context of her discussing her religious radio plays; she notes that many times when she was just following the creeds or their traditional explanations on some point it was taken to be some novelty invented out of her own imagination. So it could be she thought she had already touched on it enough in one of those contexts.

The humor is deliberate; she gives a long catechism of similarly humorous answers. (Lots of Sayers essays on religious topics are humorous essays.)

At 8:49 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Brandon. I've even more intrigued by the lady. If life were longer, I'd read a lot more, but I find that I'm mainly recycling things that I've already read in my life . . . or reading about things that I haven't 'yet' read.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the television programs that feature British (English) folks, I note that they display the same type of humor produced in my family.
With our mixed Scotch/Irish/English/Welsh/German ancestry, this could explain our own brand of humor.
If fact, the word "Cranford" seems to be found in Wales.
I can't help's in my DNA.


At 6:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Your DNA's undoubtedly some funny stuff, Uncle Cran, but do you have to fault your ancestors for your humor?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Tanya said...

Hmmm, that was interesting. Looks like somethings will always remain mystery.

I myself has been trying to solve the mystery of the legend that forces you to have "earn it before

having it", for a wile now. Could not understand much though.

Let me know in case you get to understand the mystery of the Old Hound and the Legend

By the way, good writing style. I'd love to read more on similar topics

At 9:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Tanya from India, I went to the link but couldn't find any hound or legend . . . but that was perhaps the mystery.

Does this count as 'finding' it?

Anyway, best of luck in advertising your site, though you probably won't get much attention here.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:58 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Shalini, you and Tanya must be pretty desperate if you feel compelled to use fake comments on this blog entry to advertise your mystery site . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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