In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Matthew Arnold in his “Dover Beach” said that he could hear only “the melancholy, long-withdrawing roar” of the tide of faith that had once been at the full. Many a thoughtful mind and earnest spirit were swept away by the receding tide, caught in the undertow of rationalism and skepticism.
Robert Browning, now generally recognized as the greatest English poet of his time, and one of the chief celebrities of English poetry, stood like a pharos-tower against these forces that were weakening the hold of the Christian faith upon many of the great minds of the age. William Lyon Phelps called him “of all true English poets, the most definitely Christian, the most sure of his ground.”
Brought up in an evangelical home by a devout mother and a highly intelligent father, Browning, after a period of youthful skepticism and rebellion, was to turn the great combined powers of his penetrating intellect and brilliant imagination to the defense of the Christian faith, and to expressing again and again in his poetry the centrality of Christ, whom he adored as very God and very man, in whom he found the key to all this unintelligible world, as he has the aged Apostle John say in “A Death in the Desert:”
I say, the acknowledgement of God in Christ,
Accepted by thy reason, solves for thee
All questions in the earth and out of it
And has so far advanced thee to be wise.
And he ends that poem with the heart-wrung cry:
“Call Christ, then, the illimitable God,
Browning’s poetic method is generally that of the dramatist, communicating ideas through his characters objectively rather than directly and didactically in his own ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more