The follow is the third of four posts highlighting the deeply Christian thought of Oscar Wilde while serving time in Reading Gaol. Having been given a Greek New Testament for reading, Wilde thinks about the suffering of his life and the person of Christ in a fresh way. The passage below reflects a version of the theology of the cross as applied to suffering and sin. Ultimately, Wilde sees God’s redemptive work through such suffering. It is a lengthy quote, but worth reading in its entirety. (See also Part 1 and Part 2.)

But it is when he [Jesus] deals with the Sinner that he is the most romantic, in the sense of most real. The world had always loved the Saint as being the nearest possible approach to the perfection of man. His primary desire was not to reform people, any more than his primary desire was to relieve suffering. To turn an interesting thief into a tedious honest man was not his aim. He would have thought little of the Prisoners’ Aid Society and other modern movements of the kind. The conversion of a Publician into a Pharisee would not have seemed to him a great achievement by any means. But in a manner not yet understood of the world he regarded sin and suffering as being in themselves beautiful, holy things, and modes of perfection. It sounds a very dangerous idea. It is so. All great ideas are dangerous…

Of course the sinner must repent. But why? Simply because otherwise he would be unable to realise what he had done. The moment of repentance is the moment of initiation. More than that. It is the means by which one alters one’s past… Christ showed that the commonest sinner could do it. That it was the one thing he could do. Christ, had he been asked, would have said – I feel quite certain about it – that the moment the prodigal son fell on his knees and wept he really made his having wasted his substance with harlots… beautiful and holy incidents in his life. It is difficult for most people to grasp the idea. I dare say one has to go to prison to understand it. If so, it may be worth while going to prison.”

For the next installment, go here.