Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.” I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”
You’ve probably figured out by now that theology and literature are pretty inseparable disciplines for me, two areas of study that I feel compelled to pursue together, however well I may be able to integrate them. After all, for Evangelicals theology is based on the exposition of a text—the Bible. Theology is the Queen of the Sciences and Philology is her Handmaid.
The interesting thing about this poem is that it was inspired, not by Calvin, but by Chaucer, who wrestles with the question of predestination and free will in a number of his poems, “The Knight’s Tale,” “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” and “Troilus and Cressida” among them. Of course, having read Calvin and a few other people didn’t hurt.
On Election and Free Will
All night long we’d sat up and debated
If Man is free, or if his will is fated
To choose as it has been predestinated.
Or, if Man is responsible and free
By God’s immutable and fixed decree,
Yet God rules all by strict necessity,
How can necessity and freedom mix?
The whole thing left my mind in such a fix
That I went walking, trying to explain
It all, and so got caught out in the rain.
The first drops turned to steam upon the road,
But then they all came thick and fast, and flowed
Together. It was possible to tell
The precise moment they no longer fell
Directly on the pavement with a hiss
But joined to form a watery abyss
That rushed to pile itself up in a heap
Along the curbs, and soon was ankle deep.
And all that water had to go downhill
Until it found some river it could fill
Which, in its turn, would have to find the sea.
They did not ask advice from you or me
Or stop to talk abstruse theology,
But just went on about their business, free
To be what their own natures bade them be.
Chaucer tries to capture both sides of the mystery, as I have essayed here. Read those tales and see how well you think he does. As for Calvin, he is really not so much about determinism as grace; and if he has to emphasize one side of the mystery of predestination and free will to preserve sola gratia, so be it, as far as he is concerned. And I say amen to that.
Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
Donald T. Williams, PhD
Posted on December 15, 2014, in Christianity, Donald Williams, Theology and tagged free will, Geoffrey Chaucer, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, predestination, The Canterbury Tales. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.