Tag Archives: Dorothy L Sayers

“The Incarnation is the most dramatic thing that ever entered into the mind of man; but if you tell people so, they stare at you in bewilderment.” Dorothy Sayers


Cover of

An excellent book on the theology of Dorothy Sayers–indeed the only such book that I know of–is George Fox University professor Laura K. Simmons’s Creed Without Chaos (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005). Simmons goes methodically through Sayers’s theological thought, stopping at one point to examine the writer’s handling of the Incarnation:

77: “The dogma of the Incarnation is the most dramatic thing about Christianity,” Dorothy L. Sayers wrote in October 1937, “and indeed, the most dramatic thing that ever entered into the mind of man; but if you tell people so, they stare at you in bewilderment.”One of the doctrines on which Sayers reflected perhaps more than any other was the incarnation. A proper understanding of Christ’s essence, character, and mission on earth was “the difference between pseudo-Christianity and Christianity,” she wrote in June of 1945. The relationship between the God who created the world and God’s Son, Jesus, who walked in it, was a crucial part of her theology. Continue reading

Would we fail this exam on what the church believes? Dorothy Sayers at her best


Into her famous mid-20th century essay “The Dogma Is the Drama,” mystery writer, religious playwright, and Dante translator Dorothy L. Sayers inserts the following scathing and humorous assessment of what many unchurched people think the church believes. Sadly, this portrait may still not be far off. And as they were then, these sorts of mistakes are still largely the fault of the church itself.

Q.:          What does the Church think of God the Father?
A.:          He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfillment. He is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferers by means of arbitrary judgments and miracles, distributed with a good deal of favoritism. He . . . is always ready to pound on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the Law, or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary. Continue reading

The intuitive medievalism of C S Lewis–a paper proposal for Kalamazoo 2011


Just submitted a paper proposal to the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI, 2011, for a session sponsored by the Purdue C S Lewis Society. Whether or not it includes me, this session will be a historic event: as long as I or the convener can remember, Kzoo has done without even a single C S Lewis paper.

This is quite odd, given that, in the words of Norman Cantor, “Of all the medievalists of the twentieth century, Lewis and Tolkien have gained incomparably the greatest audience.” I’ve seen lots of Tolkien sessions at Kzoo, but nary a Lewis session.

Wish me luck . . .

ABSTRACT: The Intuitive Medievalism of C S Lewis

Lewis did not set out to be a medievalist, but from early in his life—before his conversion—medieval thinking and values drew him inexorably, eventually forming his deepest commitments. Continue reading

Beyond C S Lewis: Glimpses of 20th-century British literary Christians from biographer Joseph Pearce


Cover of "Literary Converts: Spiritual In...

A Christian literary feast

One of the more fascinating books I’ve read in the last 10 years is a sort of group biography by the prolific Catholic writer Joseph Pearce. Called Literary Converts (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000), this sprawling account leads us through a surprisingly large and varied network of 20th-century British literary Christians. Here are G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ronald Knox, T. S. Eliot, Dorothy L. Sayers, and many more. They all play their part in the spread of Christianity in English literary culture after the spiritual doldrums of the 1910s and 20s.

Pearce weaves themes and connections that will grip any fan of those writers who shares their faith. His keen eye for the telling detail, the revealing vignette, and the colorful anecdote make this book both a rich resource and a pleasure to read, if you can forgive the Roman Catholic triumphalism that emerges here and there along the way. Continue reading

Dorothy Sayers on “romantic theology” in Dante Alighieri and Charles Williams


High resolution scan of engraving by Gustave D...

"The Souls of Paolo and Francesco," by Gustav Dore, illustrating Canto V of Dante's Inferno

The following are some reflections on Dorothy L. Sayers’s essay “Dante and Charles Williams,” published in The Whimsical Christian: 18 Essays by Dorothy L. Sayers (New York: Collier Books, 1987):

Dorothy Sayers rarely wrote an uninteresting word–much less when talking about her chief late-life passion: the great Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri.

Like C. S. Lewis, Sayers saw in the quirky novelist, Dantist, and romantic mystic Charles Williams something of enduring value. Especially, she saw Williams as having grasped a crucial point about why Dante–and countless other historical figures–are still important to us today. [I posted here on how Sayers, Lewis, and Williams all drew different sorts of sustenance from that great poet.]

The point is this: Dante, despite the fact that he lived “long ago and far, far away,” was a human like us, with experiences in many respects like ours, and he is still of great value to us because he had acute insights into the truths behind those experiences, along with a poet’s ability to express those insights deeply and brilliantly. Continue reading

Dorothy L. Sayers: The passionate popularizer


It’s always fun to find a reviewer or biographer who “gets” one of your favorite figures. Here is Adrian Leak, commemorating Dorothy L. Sayers on the 50th anniversary of her death.

Unlike the portrait of Sayers we derive from her Oxford magazine article I just posted on, here Sayers (an accomplished scholar of medieval French) separated herself from academia to position herself as a woman of the people, “no academic but a common popular soapbox lecturer.” The truth was at both ends of this paradox.

I recommend you click through to the full article, both for the pleasure of reading it and for the wonderful photo (which I had not seen before) of Sayers standing on stage with with actors performing in St Thomas’s, Regent Street, Westminster, and other photos:

Adrian Leak, “From Lord Peter to the Lord Jesus,” Church Times, Dec. 14, 2007.

THE FIRST THING that struck you about Dorothy L. Sayers was her magnificent size. It was not something that worried her, however. “The elephant is crated,” she gasped as, after a struggle, she subsided into the back of a friend’s car. At Marshall & Snelgrove, in Oxford Street, it took nine months to construct a corset robust enough to contain her.

Not that any conventional constraints ever restricted her for long. During a successful run of one of her plays in the West End she could be seen — and heard — entertaining the cast to large, bibulous suppers at the Soho restaurant Le Moulin d’Or. Wholehearted enjoyment characterised her approach not only to food and wine: when she lectured on Dante to the Society of Italian Studies at Cambridge, some of the academics were shocked by the vigour and élan of her delivery. Continue reading

Why we need scholarship and intellectual integrity–Dorothy L. Sayers


While snooping around in the Marion Wade Center‘s archives last year, I discovered a gem of an article by Dorothy L. Sayers in the little magazine Oxford. In it, she explained with her characteristic verve and insight why academic scholarship, while it may seem otiose and impractical to the outsider, is in fact a very great boon to the world. And I noted the resonances between this article and her now world-famous essay (which has become the founding document of countless Christian private schools–especially in the classical model) “The Lost Tools of Learning.”

At that point, I skimmed the article, noting that this was the same theme that animated her wonderful novel Gaudy Night. Then I put it away and went on to other things. This summer, back at the Wade, I dug out the article again and made some notes on it, then had it photocopied. Here is a sample: Continue reading

The Christian integralism of Dorothy Sayers: Precursor to radical orthodoxy?


It occurs to me as I look over the previous post of notes from Lee W. Gibbs, The Middle Way: Voices of Anglicanism (Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1991) that Sayers sounds like a precursor of today’s “radical orthodoxy” movement. This is so both in her insistence that theology be resurrected as “queen of the sciences” and in her ressourcement from the Middle Ages. Here’s the bit that triggered the thought:

“Sayers is not so much anti-science or anti-technology as she is a Christian integralist who perceives that science and technology have become over-emphasized and predominant in the modern world, too often at the expense of theology and philosophy as equally valid and necessary paths to truth and knowledge. What she calls [109] for is a return to the more proper balance achieved during the Christian Middle Ages, where philosophy was seen to be a subdivision of theology, and science a subdivision of philosophy.” (108 – 9)

And here’s the wikipedia bit on radical orthodoxy. Note especially the “Main Ideas” and “Influences” listed here: Continue reading

Dorothy L. Sayers: Reclaiming the “integrated medieval worldview” for today


I’ve been at the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College, IL for a couple of days now, looking through a slew of sources on C S Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, and G. K. Chesterton, who will be the key modern “guides” in my forthcoming book Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants. Below are notes from one fruitful source I ran into today, on Sayers.

The words in block capitals at the beginnings of some paragraphs relate to my chapter topics (search on the book’s title on this blog, or look back to early posts via the calendar, and you’ll find summary descriptions of each chapter). I’ve short-handed the thematic chapters Creation, Tradition, Theology, Ethics, Monks, Emotions, Incarnation, and Death. Here are the notes from my new-found source:

Lee W. Gibbs, The Middle Way: Voices of Anglicanism
(Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1991)

[The “voices” are Richard Hooker, John Donne, Jeremy Taylor, Joseph Butler, F. D. Maurice, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, and William Temple]

From the Sayers chapter:

THEOLOGY          “Dorothy learned to play the piano and the violin, and even as a child she liked to sing hymns—especially those that were about ‘Prowl and prowl around, good swinging thick stuff, with a grand line or two about heresies and schisms, with all the sinners deeply wailing, the Father on His sapphire throne and the lowly pomp, and all the Good Friday hymns, wallowing in a voluptuous gloom.’” (95)

THEOLOGY          “It was also very early on that she was exposed to modest catechetical training. She found the doctrine of the Trinity intriguing and the language of the creeds overwhelming: ‘I know I should never have dared to confess to any of my grown-ups the over-mastering fascination exercised on me by the Athanasian Creed . . . So I hugged it as a secret delight.’” (95) Continue reading

Postcards from some patron saints


Re-post from the Christianity Today history blog:

One of the reasons it took me five years to write Patron Saints for Postmoderns is the sheer volume of reading necessary to get a handle on the lives of ten complex people. It was worth it—and not just for the book: I discovered some bibliographic treasures along the way.

So, if you’re looking for some excellent historical reads, have I got a line-up for you! Continue reading