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A review of a new book on Auden and Christianity

All these deviations from orthodoxy had something in common, however. They all flowed from Auden’s passionate belief that Christianity, rightly understood, was the truest of the great world religions because it consistently affirmed the flesh. The doctrine of the Incarnation, that the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, was the font of all his Christian inspiration. Any ideas or doctrines that disparaged the body and its functions, exalted the idea of disembodied spirit, or that required the faithful to withdraw from the world to be holy, were anathema to him.

Devotion to God should be ever-present, but should not crowd out our appreciation of the fleshly world given us; instead, such devotion should be the cantus firmus of our lives, against which we play the sweet and sad counterpoint of our lives and works. Manicheanism and Platonism and Gnostic heresies were frequent targets, precisely because of their flesh-denying propensities, which fell short of the full Christian vision. So, too, did pure scientism or naturalism. The Incarnation meant, for Auden, "the coinherence of spirit and flesh," so that "materialism and manicheanism are mirror images of one another," the one by denying the spirit, the other by denying the flesh.

The flesh and spirit were in perpetual tension, yet they were also meant to be conjoined. As he wrote in 1963, "Our bodies cannot love: / But, without one, / What works of Love could we do?"

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