Monday, July 12, 2010

John Updike on the Apostles' Creed

Alone at Morning Prayer in the church this morning, as I affirmed the Apostles' Creed, I was reminded of this from John Updike:

I call myself a Christian by defining 'a Christian' as 'a person willing to profess the Apostles' Creed.' I am willing, unlike most of my friends – many more moral than myself – to profess it (which does not mean understand it, or fill its every syllable with the breath of sainthood), because I know of no other combination of words that gives such life, that so seeks the crux. The creed asks us to believe not in Satan, but only in the 'Hell' into which Christ descends. That hell, in the sense at least of a profound and desolating absence, exists, I do not doubt; the newspaper gives us its daily bulletins. And my sense of things, sentimental I fear, is that wherever a church spire is raised, though dismal slums surround it, and a single dazed widow kneels under it, this Hell is opposed by a rumor of good news, by an irrational confirmation of the plenitude we feel is our birthright.
Quoted without citation in The Faith is Still There by David H. C. Read

One might wish for something a bit more robust from Updike. I do. Still, I find his almost wistful believing poignant. And there is something beautiful about the idea that a lonely voice professing the creed opposes the powers of Hell with a rumor of good news and "an irrational confirmation of the plenitude we feel is our birthright". Of course, that plenitude is our birthright, but we traded it for the lentil stew of our sin and idolatry.

For something more robust from John Updike there is his poem, Seven Stanzas at Easter.


Bob Kusiolek said...

I believe the Updike quote is from his collection of essays entitled "Picked-up Pieces." Updike was, as you probably know, very much influenced by Karl Barth (although perhaps not as robust, as you mention). Your last paragraph is pretty robust itself! Thanks again.

Matt Gunter said...

Thanks, Bob. I remember reading something years ago about Updike's affinity for Barth (can't remember now if it was by Updike or about him). Would you say his novels reflect any particuarly Barthian sensibility?

Bob Kusiolek said...

I suppose it is the emphasis on how truly amazing it is that God is "for us", that God has entered into a covenant with us. I don't think I could explain it any better than John McTavish did in an old article from Theology Today.

Here's a paragraph from that:

'Updike doesn't preach. He tells realistic stories with symbolic and theological overtones that, in effect, invite us to enter the discussion ourselves. Here we are invited to consider the goodness of our relationship with God. God's partnership with us in the covenant of grace disclosed in Christ does not, as has been said, solve our many problems. Yet, within our blood-soaked world, it does give us a place to stand. "Only goodness lives. But it does live."'

Matt Gunter said...

Wonderful. It must have been his esay on Barth that I read all those years ago.

I confess I've only read "Roger's Version". After reading the article you linked, I'll have to have a go at more of Updike's novels. Leslie has read the Rabbit books.