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The Christmas Carol as Christian Truth. How Christian is Charles Dickens?.

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the christmas carol as christian truth

The Christmas Carol as Christian Truth

How Christian is Charles Dickens?

the word to live by

19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven..

The Word to Live By

Mathew 7:19-21 (KJV)

session truth

Charles Dickens would certainly have defined himself as a Christian and his text makes it clear that a Christ-less Christmas was the furthest from his mind. However this in fact is a mute point since truth is truth, even when told by an unbeliever. And the truth is that Dickens has prepared a work which shows both a Christ-like concern for the poor as well as the pattern required for a true change of heart.

Session Truth:


48 And [Jesus] said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great. 49 And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. 50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us..


Luke 9: 48-50(KJV)

chapter overview
Chapter Overview:
  • The Question of Dickens’ Christianity
  • His deep relationships with Christmas.
  • The Christian Inspiration of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
  • A Christ-less Christmas was unthinkable to Dickens--Jesus’ found throughout the text.
  • Dickens wrote his “little carol” in less than seven weeks.
  • Not so exaggerated, but gloriously probable.
was charles dickens a christian

Was Charles Dickens A Christian?

The famous Russian novelist Fyodr Dostoevsky spoke of Dickens as a “great Christian.”

not a simple question to answer
Not a Simple Question to Answer:
  • One, we scholars know that he was far from perfect. Late in his life Dickens’ marriage floundered. This is common enough, but he placed the blame for the breakup publicly, in the magazine or which he was the editor, entirely upon her. Even among his closest friends, the opinion was held that he behaved badly towards Elizabeth who in spite of this remained respectful of him and later of his memory throughout their separate lives. On the other hand, claims that Dickens had an affair with the young (the age of his daughter) actress Lawless, is more the product of a sexualized modern mindset than a Victorian one. Also one terrible event should not define an individual’s faith not for King David and not for Charles Dickens.
Second,he was a Unitarian, which for many conservative believers means a belief system without any overt claims of Christ’s divinity. However, his friend Foster maintains that he was drawn to the movement because of its active interest in the poor and that he, in fact, remained orthodox in his belief throughout his life. It is true that especially in the Victorian period there were many Unitarians who remained orthodox and in fact evangelical in their Christian beliefs. As for evangelicals, especially Methodists, Dickens had formed a very low opinion of them early in his life for their tendency to allow anyone who claimed to spirit to be a minister. Meanwhile he did not trust the high church tendencies within the very formal elements of the Church of England. His friend Foster while maintaining the safety of Dickens\' belief, rather ambiguously refers to it as being characterized by a "depth of sentiment rather than clearness of faith" (ii, 147).
Thirdin a time when faith was often used as a way to raise oneself up socially, Dickens refused to make public pronouncements about his belief system. In fact not long before he died he was queried by a clergyman about the ideas of Christianity within his novels. In response he wrote: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Savior, because I feel it. . . But I have never made proclamation of this from the housetops” (Qtd. in the Forward to Life of Our Lord 4). Yet in spite of these questions Dickens seems to have held to the last a reliance upon faith When Dickens bade farewell to his sixteen-year-old son Plorn, who was off to Australia, he wrote: "I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child...." (Qtd in Johnson, ii: 1100).

In spite of this vagueness of orthodoxy there is no debate among scholars that Christian principles and Christian images of at the center of Dickens’ attitudes towards the poor and towards the reclamation of individuals.

  • Steven Marcus, the famous Dickens scholar, says forthrightly that of course Dickens was a Christian.”
  • The English writer George Orwell said of Charles Dickens: “he ‘believed’ undoubtedly.
dickens involvement with christmas
Dickens’ involvement with Christmas
  • His view of life was later to be described or dismissed as "Christmas philosophy," and he himself spoke of "Carol philosophy" as the basis of a projected work.
  • His "philosophy," never very elaborated, involved more than wanting the Christmas spirit to prevail throughout the year, but his great attachment to Christmas (in his family life as well as his writings) is indeed significant and has contributed to his popularity. "Dickens dead?" exclaimed a   London costermonger\'s girl in 1870. "Then will Father Christmas die too?"--a tribute both to his association with Christmas and to the mythological status of the man as well as of his work.
  • The Carol immediately entered the general consciousness; Thackeray, in a review, called it "a national benefit, and to every man and woman who reads it a personal kindness."
dickens christianity in the carol philosophy of a christmas carol
Dickens’ Christianity in the “Carol Philosophy” of A Christmas Carol.
  • It should be noted that a Christ-less Christmas was unthinkable to Dickens.Even though he was criticized even in his own time for not being overt about his faith.
  • In a letter described in the introduction to his The Life of Our Lord, as "perhaps the last words written by Dickens" he describes his own tendency to incorporate but not preach his beliefs in his writings in a time when many used their faith as a way to political and economic advantage:
  • “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Savior, because I feel it. . . But I have never made proclamation of this from the housetops” (Life of Our Lord 4).
are there christian references in a christmas carol
Are there Christian References in A Christmas Carol?
  • Some thought not:
  • The most famous example is Ruskin\'s comment to a friend that Dickens\' Christmas was nothing more than "mistletoe and pudding--neither resurrection from the dead, nor rising of new stars, not teaching of wise men, nor shepherds." (Qt. in Davis 59).
actual textual references to christ
Actual textual references to Christ. . .
  • [Fred] "I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round--apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that--as a good time; a kind, forgiving time. . . " (Dickens 62).
  • [Marley] "Why did I walk through the crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down and never raised them to that blessed Star which led Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?" (Dickens 79)
  • [Marley] "Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness" (Dickens 79).
  • [Narrator] "He resolved to lie awake until the hour was past; and, considering that he could no more go to sleep than go to heaven, this was perhaps the wisest resolution in his power" (Dickens 84).
[Bob] "He [Tiny Tim] told me coming home that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made beggars walk and blind men see" (121).
  • [Narrator] "After a while they played at forfeits; for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself" (Dickens 136).
  • [Peter reading scripture] "And He took a child, and set him in the midst of them. . ." (Dickens ) (Matt KJV).
  • [Narrator] "He [the redeemed Scrooge] went to church.
but how christian is the carol
But How Christian is the Carol?
  • The matches Christ’s own mission on earth:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to head the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captive, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. ((Luke 4:18 KJV)

  • Jesus’ ministry was two fold: to bring help to the poor and to bring salvation to the individual and so does Dickens’ Christmas Carol.
the poor
The Poor
  • Dickens from the very start said that this work was going to be a sledgehammer in favor of the poor.
  • He had recently been encouraged to visit ragged schools which he found deplorable and it is interesting that his concern about those finds its expressions that poverty would actually block an individual from being able to pursue a relationship with God.
  • The Christmas Carol was his sledgehammer for the poor. “It may be that in the sight of Heaven you are more worthless and less worthy to live than MILLIONS like this poor man’s child.”
the pattern of salvation archetypal
The Pattern of Salvation—Archetypal?

C.S. Lewis wrote that. . .

“There is, then, a particular kind of story which has a value in itself--a value independent of its embodiment in any literary work.”

An Experiment in Criticism

the pattern of personal salvation
The Pattern of Personal Salvation
  • Scrooge passes through the universal pattern of true repentance and salvation:

Starting in Death

Unable to Self Save

Supernatural -- Terrifying --Grace

The Power of Memory

The Affirmation of Experience

The Recognition of Consequence

The Acceptance of Grace