Oscar Wilde and Salvation By Faith Alone

Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray” and Salvation by Faith Alone

As I browse through my past year of blogs, I found these interesting excerpts.

I had met a young South American woman, who was desperately trying to get through a community college course which required her to write about Oscar Wilde’s novel and subsequent trial and conviction. Her English fluency was so minimal, that it was difficult for us to even converse or correspond. I felt distressed that someone who really needs a college course conducted in Spanish, should wind up in such a course which demands native fluency in English. I tried to help her as best I could, but I fear she did not succeed in getting through the class.

But I found the topic of Oscar Wilde and the “Picture of Dorian Gray” very interesting from a theological point of view with regard to the doctrine of Sola Fides (Salvation by Faith Alone).

Martin Luther of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th. century suggested that one should “pluck out the eyes of reason” and simply accept, rather than question, and perhaps suffer some loss of faith.


Excerpts from my notes:

My personal theory about this novella is that the picture which grows ugly, while the person remains attractive, is a metaphor for the negative aspects of Christian forgiveness. Gandhi explained in his autobiography that he rejected Christianity because Christians seemed MORE interested in escaping the consequences of their sins, whereas Gandhi desired, if possible, to diminish or even extinguish sin at its source.

Here is what I wrote several years ago regarding Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray”:

I was so shocked the day I first realized the possible interpretation that Oscar Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray in order to demonstrate his perception of the potential ugliness inherent in the Christian notion that all sins may be forgiven. Wilde may have seen such forgiveness as sort of sweeping all the ugliness and hypocrisy under the carpet.

In the very last chapter of the “Picture of Dorian Gray” we read:

Ah! in what a monstrous moment of pride and passion he had prayed that the portrait should bear the burden of his days, and he keep the unsullied splendor of eternal youth! All his failure had been due to that.

Better for him that each sin of his life had brought its sure swift penalty along with it. There was purification in punishment. Not “Forgive us our sins” but “Smite us for our iniquities” should be the prayer of man to a most just God.

I suspect that Wilde’s attitude might have been influenced by his bitterness over the judgment and ruin often brought upon people by Christian society because of their sexual orientation, and the hypocrisy Wilde saw in such a society.

Christian forgiveness is seen by some existentialists as a lovely tapestry which conceals the indelible, ugly handwriting on the wall beneath, written by our actions and freewill choices, which tell us that we have been “weighed and found wanting.”

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it

— Omar Khayyam

It dawned upon me this morning that Dorian Gray says a kind of prayer, in a sense, when he impulsively wishes that the painting would age while he remains unchanged.

His prayer is answered; the picture becomes hideous while Dorian retains the outer appearance of purity and innocence.

The demons beseech Jesus to allow them to enter the herd of swine. The prayer of the demons is answered.

The five wise virgins, who have sufficient oil for their lamps until the bridegroom comes, cannot answer the petition of the five foolish virgins who have too little oil.

The five foolish virgins ARE VIRGINS. That is, they possess a form of moral purity. But their virginity is not sufficient to sustain them until the bridegroom comes. They must have oil. And no one else can give them that oil. What is the oil? In the Greek of the New Testament, ELEION or oil, is a pun on Eleyison, or mercy, compassion. The five foolish virgins are lacking in WORKS, acts of mercy, compassion, generosity, self-sacrifice.

I do not believe that one is saved by faith alone. Salvation by faith alone is the dream of foolish virgins.

It was Maximos the Confessor (born 580 AD, died 662 AD) who wrote:

“Do not say that you are the temple of the Lord, writes Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah. 7: 4); nor should you say that faith alone in our Lord Jesus Christ can save you, for this is impossible unless you also acquire love for Him through your works. As for faith by itself, ‘the devils also believe, and tremble’ (James. 2: 19).” – Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Volume Two, p. 56.


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