The Corner

Auden At The Crucifixion

The poet W.H. Auden, who became a

Christian, once speculated on how he might have reacted had he witnessed the


Just as we were all, potentially, in Adam when he fell, so we were all,

potentially, in Jerusalem on that first Good Friday before there was an

Easter, a Pentecost, a Christian, or a Church. It seems to me worthwhile

asking ourselves who we should have been and what we should have been doing.

None of us, I’m certain, will imagine himself as one of the Disciples,

cowering in agony of spiritual despair and physical terror. Very few of us

are big wheels enough to see ourselves as Pilate, or good churchmen enough

to see ourselves as a member of the Sanhedrin. In my most optimistic mood I

see myself as a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria visiting an intellectual

friend. We are walking along, engaged in philosophical argument. Our path

takes us past the base of Golgotha. Looking up, we see an all too familiar

sight-three crosses surrounded by a jeering crowd. Frowning with prim

distaste, I say, ‘It’s disgusting the way the mob enjoy such things. Why

can’t the authorities execute criminals humanely and in private by giving

them hemlock to drink, as they did with Socrates?’ Then, averting my eyes

from the disagreeable spectacle, I resume our fascinating discussion about

the nature of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.


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