Oscar Wilde's Meditation before a <em>Christ, Man of Sorrows</em>

On the left: "Oscar Wilde", no. 9A by Napoleon Sarony (1882). On the right: "Christ, Man of Sorrows" by Luis de Morales (1586).

This week we have the partnership of Ana Lucía Córdoba, student of 2nd year of Degree in language and Spanish Literature. The author will compare two identical works of art, but with 300 years of antiquity between them.

Locked up in Reading jail - he had already lost his freedom, name and wealth - Oscar Wilde still had something precious left: his two children. Suddenly, they were taken away from him by the law. He fell to his knees, bowed his head, and wept: "The body of a child is like the body of the Lord: I am not worthy of either".

I reread De Profundis, the long letter he composed during his last months in prison. It has been, at precise moments, a letter of redemption, a critique of the prison system, a love letter. It has also been a truce with the broken and immense heart of the world, an aesthetic treatise for artists, a cry to God from the depths. I read De Profundis again with Holy Week still fresh, in front of a Christ, Man of Sorrows, and its ninety pages reach me like a meditation. A meditation that, in the words of Oscar Wilde -in this brief condensed adaptation- reads:

Humility is the last thing I have left, and the best: the final finding , the starting point of a new path. It has come to me from within, and I know therefore that it has arrived in time. If I had been told about it, I would have section; if it had been brought to me, I would have rejected it. Since I found it, I want to keep it. I have to keep it. Humility cannot be bought without first giving up everything, and today it is the only thing that contains the elements of a new life for me.

Thus, I have found that the soul can reach its most perfect revelation in that which was meant to defile or destroy. The board bed, the foul food, the ropes that have to be undone until the fingertips are corky, the menial offices with which each day begins and ends, the brutal orders, the dreadful costume that makes pain grotesque, the silence, the loneliness, the shame: each and every one of these things I have to transform into spiritual experience. There is not a single degradation of the body that I must not try to convert into spiritualization of the soul. Like Christ.

Christ is with the poets, he has in an unsurpassed way that imagination and sympathy. For me there is still something almost unbelievable in the idea of a young Galilean who imagines he can carry on his shoulders the burden of the whole world: the sins of Nero, the children in the factories, the thieves, the imprisoned, the outcasts, those who are mute under oppression and whose silence only God hears. Not only does he imagine it, but he achieves it: all those who come to him, though perhaps not bowing before an altar or priest, feel the ugliness of their sins disappear and the beauty of their pain is revealed to them . The life of Christ is sample of how entirely Pain and Beauty can be one.

For the fully human artist, expression is the only way of conceiving life: the mute is dead. Christ, however, also took for his kingdom the world of the unexpressed. His desire was to be, for those who had not found a word, a trumpet with which to call to Heaven. And feeling, like an artist, that an idea has no value until it is incarnated, he made himself an image. He makes of himself the image of the Man of Sorrows, and as such has fascinated and dominated Art as no Greek god ever did.

Christ is just like a work of art. It is not that he really teaches anything, but that by entering into his presence one becomes something. He tells us that every moment must be beautiful, that the soul must always be ready for the coming of the Bridegroom, always waiting for the voice of the Lover. He saw that love was that lost secret of the world that the wise men came looking for: only through suffering and love can one approach the heart of the leper or the feet of God. Love is a sacrament to be received on one's knees.

What I have before me is my past. I must manage to look at it with different eyes, to make the world, no, God look at it with different eyes. The moment of repentance is the moment of initiation, the means to alter one's past. The Greeks considered it impossible. They often say in their aphorisms: "Even the gods cannot alter the past". Christ showed that the most vulgar sinner could do it. That it was just what he could do. The moment when the prodigal son got down on his knees and wept, he actually transformed the prostitutes, the tending of the pigs, and the hunger for carob into the holy episodes of his life. Most people have a hard time work grasping the idea. I would venture to say that you have to go to jail to understand it. If so, maybe it's worth going to jail for.

I know this prison system is absolutely wrong. I would give anything to be able to alter it when I get out. I intend to try. But I also know that there is no prison in the world that Love cannot storm.

Oscar Wilde was released in May 1897 and died three years later. Books and films have already recounted the ups and downs, falls and anguish he experienced after his release from prison. For my part, I imagine my Irish poet's last years as he longed for them in his letter: outside, many beautiful things would be waiting for him, from his brother wind and his sister rain to the shop windows of the great cities and the restorative sea of the ancient Greeks. Truly, Oscar, you said it; He made the world for you as much as for anyone else, for whoever can look upon its beauty and share its pain, and understand something of the wonder of both, has approached the secret of God.

More blog entries