[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

Julia Walker walker at geneseo.edu
Thu Oct 1 12:08:12 EDT 2009

Hi Margie,

Are you not talking about the difference between the voices of poet  
and reader?  (in the case, reader who is writing about the poem.)  We  
know, of course, that Herbert is a Christian and must know that as we  
read the poetry or any criticism.  But need we have an over-lay of the  
reader/critic's ideology?

As both an English teacher and a professing Christian, I would say  
no.  For example, a feminist reader/critic, would, of course, reveal  
her/his ideology while writing, but would not assume a feminist  
reader.  (Not unless it was a badly written feminist critique.)  But I  
didn't get the sense that your student was providing a fundamentalist  
critique of Herbert, more that he was simply assuming that his were of  
the same faith.  This is bad taste and poor writing, regardless of the  
ideology on offer, and thus not -- as John suggested -- NOT, PC run  
amuck to correct it..

As for the word itself, I use the pope.  (He must be good for  
something.)  I point out that both "Christ" and "pope" started out as  
titles, but their relationship to articles has shifted in opposite  
ways (I'm sure there is a rhetorical name for this and John Leonard or  
Marshall will know it, but I do not.)    Now "the pope" refers to the  
the current holder of the hat or the current holder under discussion,  
while "pope" has come to mean the office itself in general usage.   
"The Christ" used to be a title, but now it has become a name, losing  
entirely its article for the particular, and, indeed, any sense that  
it is particular. But it Herbert knows the distinction, and so much  
those who write about him.

If they want scripture, I send them to Matthew:  16:20  Then charged  
he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the  
Christ. (King James trans, which -- as we all know -- was written by  
God, yes, in English)

And if they are very far to the right, they will most certainly want  
to avoid popes and feminist rants, and will thus embrace your  

BTW, as we now say, I find that my high Anglican piety counts for  
naught with those who call themselves devout in classrooms, so we are  
in the same boat here.



On Oct 1, 2009, at 10:40 AM, Margaret Thickstun wrote:

> I would appreciate guidance, especially from professing Christians,  
> about how to advise believing students in their use of "Christ" in  
> academic discussions of religious poetry.  Normally when my students  
> refer to Jesus as "Christ" they do so because they think "Christ" is  
> his last name, so I point out that to refer to him as Christ is to  
> make a faith claim, which they hadn't intended.
> But this semester I have two very devout students who, in writing  
> about Herbert poems, are using "Christ" in ways for which I don't  
> have easy corrections.
> Here is an example from a superb and subtle analysis of "The  
> Windows" which ended:
>> Such an example of wordplay serves as the perfect ornament to  
>> Herbert’s poem; for, just as the Christian is called to be like  
>> Christ and thus to be as a kind of filter for his image, so too  
>> Christ’s image filters through this poem about man.  He enters  
>> subtly, symbolically and yet perceptibly; and, in-so-doing, this  
>> poem about windows becomes, itself, a window for Christ’s light.
> I could just ask him to substitute "God" there, but that is not  
> precisely what he meant.  Here is what I wrote:
>> “Christ,” as you know, is an honorific and a faith claim.  As such,  
>> it needs to be used carefully and sparingly in literary analysis.   
>> When you refer to Christ in your intro paragraph, you present the  
>> argument—that the preacher must let Christ’s light shine through him 
>> —as Herbert’s argument.  So I think “Christ” is okay there.  But in  
>> your concluding paragraph, when you say that in John “we read of  
>> Christ that. . .” you not only reveal your faith position, but  
>> include your reader in that community.  What if the person reading  
>> your discussion of the poem does not identify as a Christian?  Is  
>> that person excluded from the paper’s audience?  Does the  
>> argument’s success require that readers share this faith position?
> I would appreciate knowing how others handle this issue.--Margie
> -- 
> Margaret Olofson Thickstun
> Elizabeth J. McCormack Professor of English
> Hamilton College
> 198 College Hill Road
> Clinton, NY 13323
> (315) 859-4466
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