The Making of Humanity: Poetic vision and kindness by Dinah Livingstone

by
21 December 2017

Bridget Nichols finds a poetic interpretation of faith unconvincing

THE title that has been given to this short study does not quite prepare the reader for a demonstration that the Christian narrative as presented in scripture is to be treated not as the grounds for faith, but as a poetic vision offering a set of “leading ideas”.

Dinah Livingstone argues that the vision is realised most convincingly in the full working out of a humanist view. She approaches this proposition via a long introductory discussion of what she calls the “shining” that emerges through the poetic vision — the communication of unique and specific perceptions that could not take exact verbal form in any other way. Her next, and unexpected, move is to compare poetry to theology, a pursuit also concerned with what is “transcendent” and “supernatural”.

With reference to the parables, the Johannine Prologue, and the kenotic hymn of Philippians, Livingstone argues that Jesus was entirely wrong about the coming of the Kingdom, but that we can retrieve from these texts something more important: the total outpouring of the divine into humanity. The most orthodox claims about Christ, she proposes, are also the fullest realisation of humanism.

Further sections deal with the calendar through celebrations of the incarnation, the resurrection, and the coming of the Spirit. To these are added the feast of Mary on 15 August as acknowledgement of the “divine feminine”, and the Advent antiphons as poetic evocations of God in us. She admires liberation theology and the cosmogenesis of Teilhard de Chardin as the richest available Christologies, praising their rootedness in the evolving natural world and in concern for the poor. We might suspect that she has also found in them, despite the writings of their profoundest exponents, a way to have a Christology without Christ.

The book is the work of a poet and skilled translator who applies these gifts to reducing a “supernatural” God to some guiding ideas about how to be fully human. There are many reasons why it fails to convince as an argument, but alerting readers at the outset to what it is attempting would have made its design more robust.

 

Dr Bridget Nichols is a lecturer in Anglicanism and liturgy at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin.

 

The Making of Humanity: Poetic vision and kindness
Dinah Livingstone
Katabasis £10
(978-0-904872-48-4)

100 Best Christian Books

How many have you read?

Visit the 100 Best Christian Books website to see which books made our list, read the judges' notes and add your own comments.

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read twelve articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)