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Robert Browning, theologian: the incarnational politics of "Fra Lippo Lippi".

The history of Victorian religious practice involves a usual trajectory --traced most memorably by J. Hillis Miller in The Disappearance of God--from religious faith to epistemological doubt, spurred on both by self-professed skeptics such as Darwin, Carlyle, Hardy, and Eliot, as well as by those prominent Oxonians such as Matthew Arnold and Benjamin Jowett, whose Anglicanism was focused less on the divine than on the condition of England. This secularizing movement was paired with an opposite, though not equal, shift toward the high religious practice of Christina Rossetti, J. H. Newman, and the Tractarians, who often seemed to be fleeing the "real world" to live in an incense-filled ether. Meanwhile --and as a corrective--movements such as Christian Socialism sought to unite the spiritual and material worlds these other secularizing and high church movements seemed to separate. In so doing, they not only offered a theological corrective to nineteenth-century religious practice, but also made explicit its political ramifications. Robert Browning, though only vaguely Dissenting and even more vaguely Liberal, was among those who recognized the political and aesthetic implications of theology. Poems such as "Fra Lippo Lippi" show Browning using the doctrine of the Incarnation to launch and develop a discussion of the intersections between aesthetics and ethics, poetic praxis and politics. For Browning, the Incarnation redeems the material world and burdens him to do the same.

The connection between Browning's work and the doctrine of the Incarnation emerges in the space between high theology and down-to-earth pragmatism--what Christian belief, or even God himself, looks like on the ground. Victor Newfeldt argues that the goal of Browning's faith and writing is to unite God and man, faith and action, through examining how spirituality is lived out in practice (49-50). For Newfeldt, Browning uses his work to experiment with what applied faith might look like--how faith might become incarnate in everyday life. This is not simply the Broad Church liberalism, socially hyperactive but theologically flaccid, whose tenets Newman pillories in one of his appendices to the Apologia Pro Vita Sua: "Virtue is the child of knowledge, and vice of ignorance. Therefore, e.g. education, periodical literature, railroad travelling, ventilation, drainage, and the arts of life, when fully carried out, serve to make a population moral and happy." Rather, Browning's incarnationalism is, as Ryals explains, a way of ordering the world's chaos by channeling creative impulses in a useful, practical way (1040, 1047). The first chapter of John, announcing the advent of Jesus Christ, speaks to this ordering function of the Incarnation: "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." The use of "Word" here--logos--refers not just to language but also to order and logic; having an incarnational view of the world thus amounts to a heavily un-Derridean assumption that the world, though structured like a language, expresses truth, and that this truth in turn points to the divine ordering principles that govern everyday life. Formalized in Church documents such as the Nicene Creed, the Incarnation can best be understood as the belief that Jesus Christ, the true son of God ("true" in the sense that he was "begotten, not made" and of one substance with God the Father) took on human flesh, was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man, so much so that he was able to suffer and die, thus sharing in the most difficult and humiliating aspects of humanity. The Incarnation, perhaps more than any other core doctrine of the Christian faith, disrupts any clear boundaries between the divine and the material worlds--all's right with the world not just because God is in his heaven, but also because Emmanuel, God with us, has entered human history. This blurring of boundaries between cosmic spheres also upsets any easy hierarchies between the divine and human worlds--spirit and flesh. At the same time that the Incarnation reveals the willingness of God to condescend, so also does it bestow a divine mark of value on the material world, now inhabited in real, physical form by God himself. As the logic goes, if flesh were inherently corrupt, how could Jesus Christ inhabit it? For Browning, this point is key, and thus Fra Lippo Lippi takes the value of the material world as his artistic raison d'etre.

"Fra Lippo Lippi" rejects the assertion that art should elevate the mind above the physical world (the contention of his monastic superiors), in part because the relation between the divine and physical worlds is not easily reducible to an "above" and "below." For Lippo (and, as we shall see, for Browning), a person achieves transcendence not by escaping the bonds of flesh, but rather by learning to love others as Christ did--something that can be accomplished via a honing of artistic vision: art can help people to see the world around them more clearly, and thus to develop an affection for it. Browning's painter-monk, having brought down the wrath of his monastic superiors by painting realistic representations of people present in their monastery, explains that it is only biblical to see in this way:

   ... I think I speak as I was taught;
   I always see the garden and God here
   A-making man's wife: and, my lesson learned,
   The value and significance of flesh,
   I can't unlearn ten minutes afterwards. (265-69)

For Lippo, the Incarnation signifies so greatly not just because the Son of God came in the flesh, but because the world, and the flesh, is spiritual to begin with. This pattern underlies even the grittiest moments of the poem, and confers on them a value they might otherwise lack. For example, describing his out-of-control sex drive as a cup that runs over (250), Lippo playfully depicts his own carnality in biblical terms. We may react with some initial shock to his use of the twenty-third Psalm as a descriptor for his own randy behavior; yet, we know from Lippo's other comments that he has a serious point to make about "the value and significance of flesh." He may be "a beast" (270), but he is nevertheless part of "The beauty and the wonder and the power, / The shapes of things, their colors, lights and shades,/Changes, surprises,--and God made it all!" (283-85). Deliberately and insistently, Lippo refuses to draw a hard line of separation between man and beast, Scripture and sex, and the soul and the body.

Like his vocabulary, Fra Lippo Lippi's concerns range from the fleshly to the spiritual to the artistic--and it is virtually impossible to separate these categories. Russell Goldfarb notes that Lippo's expressed motives in the poem are simple: throughout his life, he has desired to gain bread for sustenance, and in the moment of the poem, he desires that the policeman, who has detained him, absolve him of his trespass so that he can go home. Yet, even Lippo, who claims he has arranged his life around "the good bellyful, / The warm serge and the rope that goes all around" (103-04), admits an intimate relationship between his physical life and his artistic sense: "when a boy starves in the streets .../... soul and sense of him grow sharp alike, / He learns the look of things" (113, 124-25). His fellow monks, by contrast, have been "taught what to see and not to see, / Being simple bodies" (167-68), and thus find Lippo's realistic artistic creations stunning--"the life," they call them (171). The Prior, for his part, revises their statement, but he does so in such a way as to indicate his fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between art and life: rather than being "the life," he says, Lippo's creations are "the devil's-game" (178), corrupt because they fail to lift viewers over "perishable clay," fail to teach them to "ignore it all," and fail to "Make them forget there's such a thing as flesh" (180-82).

On the surface, Lippo's superiors seem to occupy the theological high ground: their mandate, to "give ... no more of body than shows soul" (188), seems to fall in line with traditional artistic associations of the body with Greece and the soul with Christianity (Lerner 98), and also recalls the medieval tendency toward aestheticism as a reaction against the trans-gressive possibilities of sexual and creative freedom (DeLaura 371). Yet, Lippo's fleshy paintings, already aesthetically superior to the art the Prior wants to commission, in fact serve as a corrective to the Prior's faulty theology. For when Fra Lippo Lippi's superiors at the Monastery ask him to adjust his painting style, they are not simply expressing their outmoded aesthetic preferences, but also occupying a theological position that might even be classified as Gnostic, in that they value spirit and devalue flesh. Lippo's insistence on the value of flesh, by contrast, can and should be read as an incarnational statement: an assertion that when spirit and flesh meet, it radically revises the hierarchies in which they typically fall. Lippo's art, though theologically orthodox, makes a radical aesthetic and political statement. Indeed, it is so radical precisely because it is orthodox.

Lippo's incarnational aesthetic thus does not make him (or Browning) a Christian socialist or even a Dissenter of any particular stripe, but it does suggest that he sees clearly the disruptive political and aesthetic implications of religion--and vice-versa. Indeed, the assumption that even early Browning critics have made that his art is really religious discourse in disguise has contributed to their tendency to read Lippo's apology as Browning's own. For example, in 1898, John J. Chapman described Browning as "a theologian and a doctor of philosophy" (39); later, William Whitla argued that "Browning must have seen Fra Lippo's place in art as very close to that which he oocupied in poetry" (66). If Lippo's work is incarnational, then so also is Browning's. Thus, it makes sense that, for Browning, hyper-spirituality is as much a problem as a-religiosity, in that both tend toward a Gnostic separation of the spiritual and material worlds. Browning, for instance, is among the strongest literary opponents of the Oxford Movement, whose insistence on the forms and rituals of religion stood in the way, he thought, of true religious experience that could affect those beyond the Anglican pale (Blair 122, 130). Yet, not having a religious experience at all is, for him, equally unthinkable. In this, "Fra Lippo Lippi" serves not just as a commentary on realism and art, but also as a direct critique of Victorian religious culture, which for Browning too often works to separate spiritual life from the "real world"--often at the expense of its own orthodoxy.

Browning is fully aware of the difficulties of an incarnational artistic and religious praxis. Elsewhere in his oeuvre, he deals more explicitly with the difficult interplay between the ethereal spiritual world and religious practice as it exists in everyday life. For instance, in Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day, a Poem (1850), which predates "Fra Lippo Lippi" by five years, Browning's narrator escapes the unfriendly confines of a Nonconformist Church, in which the pastor "poured his doctrine forth, full measure" to those who need not hear it (145), for "Tis the taught already that profits by teaching" (469). The narrator wonders to himself how common this impractical and aesthetically appalling attempt to convert those already converted is:

   After how many modes, this Christmas-Eve,
   Does the self-same weary thing take place?
   The same endeavor to make you believe,
   And with much the same effect, no more:
   Each method abundantly convincing,
   As I say, to those convinced before,
   But scarce to be swallowed without wincing
   By the not-as-yet-convinced. (264-71)

His experience in Rome proves more successful, at least on first blush. Although the splendor of St. Peter's, the incense, and the music satisfy the spiritual needs of those in attendance, they do so at the expense of real-world action: "Their faith's heart beats, though her head swims / Too giddily to guide her limbs" (611-12). The gap between the experience of the worshipers in St. Peter's and the world whose needs their faith should address is largely, Browning's narrator believes, a fault of reason: he believes himself to be

   Able to mark where faith began
   To swerve aside, till from its summit
   Judgement drops her damning plummet,
   Pronouncing such a fatal space
   Departed from the founder's base. (628-32)

The narrator thus finds himself outside the church doors, standing his ground over what he sees as the serious theological errors of Rome. Yet, within minutes, he has changed his mind and entered, having realized that, even though there are "veils of lies" obscuring clear religious vision in the Vatican (644), he can "above / The scope of error, see the love" (647-48).

Yet, while Browning's narrator learns to find love beneath the ethereal experience of worship at the Vatican, he cannot find it at the university lecture on the Higher Criticism that he observes in Gottingen. Despite the fact that he feels "a shoot of love from [his] heart to the man" who speaks in the classroom (815), "That sallow virgin-minded studious / Martyr to mild enthusiasm" fails to excite his sense of religious wonder (815-16). The lecture --a typical Higher Critical exposition of the sources from which the idea of the divinity of Christ sprang--proves more intellectual than the service at Rome, though also more stifling: although "Truth's atmosphere may grow mephitic / When Papist struggles with Dissenter" (900-01),

   ... the frankincense's fuming
   And vapours of the candle star-like
   Into the cloud her wings she buoys on.
   Each, that thus sets the pure air seething.
   May poison it for healthy breathing--
   But the Critic leaves no air to poison;
   Pumps out with ruthless ingenuity
   Atom by atom, and leaves you--vacuity. (906-13)

Although the lecture provides all the intellectual heft he believes the Vatican needs, it lacks the redeeming affection--the fresh air--that worship at Rome, or even among the Dissenters, provides.

It turns out, in fact, that Browning's narrator has merely imagined, as though in a trance, his flights to Rome and Germany while having remained at the Dissenting chapel all the time. Returning home in his mind. Browning's narrator reveals that he has now understood that a mixture of divinity with humanity--of transcendence with the grit of everyday life--is God-ordained. Browning's narrator thus imagines that he has been dispatched by God to a river-head to fetch a drink of water, only to find that he is unable to procure any water unmingled with the earth of the river. Should he substitute an empty chalice instead, hoping it will quench his thirst, and hence disobey God's charge to him? No, he realizes, "Better have knelt at the poorest stream / That trickles in pain from the straitest rift! / For the less or the more is all God's gift" (1296-98). If it is most appealing to Browning's narrator to worship God with "the thinnest human veil between" (1307), he nonetheless also knows that Jesus Christ, "He himself with his human air" (432), the hem of whose garment sweeps him from scene to imaginary scene, has consecrated the Dissenting chapel with his presence. More than this, though, in learning to accept gratefully the muddy draught given by the Dissenters, Browning's narrator has learned as well the logic of the Incarnation--God come down, not just in the ethereal incense of a Roman Catholic cathedral and the heady logic of a lecture at the University but also, and especially, in the disappointing experience in the Dissenting chapel.

By the time Browning composed "Fra Lippo Lippi," his return to the Incarnation as both theme and aesthetic posture had become something of a pattern, (1) and had broadened beyond overtly religious spaces and discussions to larger spheres, including the political movements of the material world. Lippo's interlocutor, a policeman, and those of whom he speaks (his superiors at and visitors to the monastery as well as his patrons, the Medici) capture the several flavors of Florence's rich religious and political life, and Lippo's artistic self-reflections mingle everyday concerns with religious justifications. For instance, Lippo knows that he paints as he does because, as a hungry boy, he learned the look of things (125); yet, when he explains himself, he uses Scripture, specifically the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, to bolster and defend his aesthetics. Similarly, his superiors criticize his art as they do because, having never known real hunger, they undervalue the material world and are content to demand that Lippo "Rub all out!" (221). For Lippo, though, to rub out his world would be not just an aesthetic abomination but an un-loving gesture:

   [W]e're made so that we love
   First when we see them painted, things we have passed
   Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see;
   And so they are better, painted--better to us,
   Which is the same thing. Art was given for that;
   God uses us to help each other so,
   Lending our minds out. (300-06)

If for Browning the Incarnation is more "a reality of his experience [than] ... a Christological dogma" (Whitla 9), then there is also no firm dividing line between his experience of daily life and his religious commitments. One cannot rub out the world without also erasing God's presence in it.

Browning thus reacted strongly against those who, he felt, made religious experience difficult to attain; the Tractarians, for instance, drew ire from both Robert and Elizabeth Browning for their insistence on Anglican exclusivity and their desire to limit worship to sacramental settings (Blair 130). Like Lippo, Browning had a keen sense of what it meant to worship outside the fold. Himself a child of Dissenters, including an especially devout mother. Browning was home-schooled, having learned several classical languages by the time he was of middle-school age. Yet, Browning's doctrinal commitments on the whole remain murky. Altick ties this ambiguity to a lack of clarity in the belief system under which Browning was reared: "Though we know little about the origin and development of his beliefs, it is plain that he had a thoroughly pious upbringing, in which emotion played a great part and intellectual conviction little or none" (258). At fourteen, Robert horrified his mother by following Shelley in his atheism. Late in his life, Browning would not admit that he called himself a Christian, though the pervasive and sustained biblical allusions in his writing suggested that he retained immense Scripture knowledge, and his critiques of various other religious traditions remained both pointed and intelligent. In the 1860s in particular, he expressed dismay at what he perceived to be the attacks leveled at Christianity by the Higher Critics (Ryals 1041), especially Bishop Colenso, whose work he addresses directly in the poem "Gold Hair" in Dramatis Personae (Raymond 603). Still, Browning's engagement with the religious issues of the day remains at best indirect, bound to the viewpoints of the characters in whose voices he speaks, in part, Altick suggests, because his training simply could not have been sufficient to help him directly "face and conquer the stern challenges offered both by the backwash of eighteenth-century skepticism and by the rationalism of the new era" (258).

Yet, what appears to be an insufficiency in Browning's theological arsenal may instead be his attempt to enact an incarnational ethic in his work. Although Browning's favorite form, the dramatic monologue, may frustrate a reader attempting to learn from his work what he happened to think or how he would reason about any particular theological issue, it jibes well with his continual returns to the theme of Incarnation, which necessarily foregrounds questions about the relationship of the "mask," or the body, to the "person," or the spirit. Robert Langbaum ties Browning's use of the dramatic monologue form to his "relativist assumption that truth cannot be apprehended in itself but must be 'induced' from particular points of view" (131). At least during Browning's lifetime, this often took the form of squabbling over the significance of his level of commitment to various ways of framing religious truth. For instance, an anonymous review of Men and Women in The Rambler offered an assessment of Browning's religious beliefs as "by no means inconsistent" with Roman Catholicism (Review 71). (2) While this reviewer believes himself to have located Browning's covert Catholicism in his work, still another early essay on Browning suggests that he hides himself like Shakespeare, in that his ideas are present but his selfhood never is (Strong 380). This reading runs counter to other characterizations of Browning, however, in which he is rousingly, noisily present, in his "abounding physical resources, his bouncing animal spirits, his confidence, his masculinity" (Altick 249). Similarly, Mary Gladstone, his contemporary and the Prime Minister's daughter, sums Browning up in this way: "he talks everybody down with his dreadful voice, and always places his person in such disagreeable proximity with yours and puffs and blows and spits in your face" (qtd. in Altick 250). At once absent and present, Browning shuttles between poetic inspiration and close-talking exhalation, breathing life into his characters and saliva into Mary Gladstone's face by turns. Like Lippo, he asserts the value and significance of flesh--both his characters' and his own--by inhabiting it.

For an anonymous 1876 reviewer in The Saturday Review, Browning's close-talking poetic praxis had a decidedly political slant, with a posture toward the figure of Jesus Christ akin to F. D. Maurice's--one of the founders of Christian Socialism ("Militant" 455). Browning was not himself an avowed socialist any more than he was an avowed Christian; yet, his understanding of the role of the material world in religious practice (and vice-versa) often mimicked that of the Christian Socialist movement. Beyond this, Browning engaged in significant dialogue with Charles Kingsley, one of the movement's leaders. Kingsley disconcerted Elizabeth with his zeal but talked on questions of interest to Robert--particularly their shared belief that God was not absent from the world, in classically Deist form, but very much visible in it (DeLaura 380). (3) Christian Socialists went one step further, in fact, asserting that faith could not spread among those whose material conditions precluded it--hence, as a necessary condition for spreading the Gospel, social inequities needed to be addressed. According to a 1914 explanation in The Christian Socialist by Franklin Spencer Spalding, an Episcopal bishop in the US:

The Christian Church exists for the sole purpose of saving the human race. So far she has failed, but I think that Socialism shows her how she may succeed. It insists that men cannot be made right until the material conditions be made right. Although man cannot live by bread alone, he must have bread. Therefore the Church must destroy a system of society which inevitably creates and perpetuates unequal and unfair conditions of life. These unequal and unfair conditions have been created by competition. Therefore competition must cease and cooperation take its place, (qtd. in Berman 11-12)

Browning's painter-monk Fra Lippo Lippi is hardly as overtly political as this; yet, "Although man cannot live by bread alone, he must have bread" might as well be his creed. He joins a monastery so that he will be fed and clothed, and despite his artistic convictions, he changes the way he paints in order to assure that bread keeps coming. Lippo proves willing to set aside his expressed ideals in the face of real material need (Poston 260, 263-64); yet, in so doing, he powerfully revises his artistic practice both to reflect and to resist its own political and religious context.

Although on the surface Lippo's willingness to compromise may suggest that he is weak--an aesthetic sell-out--in fact, we could argue that Lippo's simple acknowledgement of the relationship between the bread that he eats and the bread of life is radical on all fronts: religious, aesthetic, and political. In fact, Catholic reaction to Christian Socialist ideology was immediate and forceful. As early as 1878, Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris strongly denounced Socialism--however Christian--on the grounds that it opposed the natural institutions of authority and property, preferring to substitute forcible governmental distribution of goods for charity. These reactions have continued: as recently as 1984, the Catholic Church again came out swinging in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, against one of the heirs of Christian Socialism, Liberation Theology, for its misconception of the Church as "a Marxist myth ... the antithesis of the hierarchy, the antithesis of all institutions." Ever an astute logician, Ratzinger rightly notes that if the people of the Church are defined in anti-hierarchical terms, then, by definition, the people of the Church are not in the Church, which is, after all, a hierarchy.

The Palazzo Guidi, the home which the Brownings began renting in 1847 and where they would spend their last fourteen years together, would have granted to Robert an ideal illustration of the theological point toward which he and Lippo were reaching--that religion and politics, bread served at meals and the bread of life, cannot really be separated, and that truly incarnational thinking requires a continual evaluation of the ways in which hierarchies inform the means by which bread of both sorts reaches the masses. Casa Guidi was located just paces from the south wing of the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, construction on which was begun in 1458--directly in the middle of the real Fra Lippo Lippi's lifespan--by Luca Pitti, the prominent banker who was the only real rival of the Medici family in that day. As Browning, though not Lippo, would have known, the Pittis would wax weaker and the Medici stronger, until in 1549, the palace was purchased by the Medici and made into a residence for the Grand Duke, then later becoming a personal art museum and treasure house. The Boboli Gardens, to which the Brownings had full access, were planted by the Medici; the south wing of the palace, which was nearest their apartment, was an addition by the Medici, and the rooms nearest to their home were those meant for the royal occupants of the house. And, of course, "the house that caps the corner" to which Fra Lippo Lippi is fleeing when he is apprehended (17), is not the Palazzo Pitti--for it was still in Pitti hands --but the Palazzo Vecchio, the personal home of Cosimo de' Medici, only a short jaunt across the Arno from Browning's own residence. The first political Medici, Cosimo pretended not to be interested or personally involved in politics, all the while using his money to control voting in the supposedly democratic town of Florence. Medici money, of course, steered not just Florentine politics, but also Florentine art, and later, it bought the papacy: within a hundred years of Cosimo's tenure, the first of the four Medici popes had ascended.

As in the Florence that the Medici built, Lippo's triangulation among politics, art, and religion--mirroring a similar triangulation in Brown ing's own praxis--suggests a more complex, and more truly incarnational, model. For the "masking" that we see in Browning runs deeper than a surface cloaking that merely points out the location of an other--and more powerful--divine reality. (4) Browning seeks instead to adopt a legitimately incarnational view by erasing the line between this world and the next. If his dramatic monologues remind us how hard it is to locate their author--how permeable are the boundaries between one person and the next--so also do his speakers, such as Fra Lippo Lippi, remind us just how hard it is to draw firm lines between the bread for which an artist paints, the life that his paintings supposedly call into being, and the bread of life around which the monks gather daily.

For Browning, thinking incarnationally creates an infinite series of deferrals, whereby religious language mediates an unending exchange between art and reality. Tucker describes this dynamic as Browning's "addiction] to anticipation" (4)--the process by which art creates meaning not by revealing it, but by refusing to specify it (203). This resistance to expressing clearly the meaning of art--Lippo's refusal, for instance, to paint the soul itself rather than the body that houses it--enables the spiritual work that Browning, like Lippo, feels burdened to accomplish. For Lippo, as for Browning, the purpose of art is to reveal the world, so that we can learn to love it as Christ did:

   If you get simple beauty and naught else,
   You get about the best thing God invents:
   ... and you'll find the soul you have missed,
   Within yourself, when you return him thanks. (217-20)

Living daily in the shadow of the Medici family, which had shaped Italy's artistic, religious, and political course by means that were often violent or crassly self-interested, Browning nevertheless insists on the beauty of the art they funded. As Lippo puts it, "This world's no blot for us, / Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good: / To find its meaning is my meat and drink" (313-15). But of course, for Lippo, the luxury of finding his figurative meat and drink in artistic interpretation is a result of the fact that his literal meat and drink have been provided first by the monastery, then by the Medici. Browning, like Lippo, knows that the error of Gnosticism--the separation of body from spirit, this world from the next--was not just a theological issue, but an inaccurate perception of the way that everyday life functions. The religious errors of Victorian England, Browning shows, could be conceived of as a version of Gnosticism: a failure to sense the interplay between this world and the next. At the same time, the deeper error is an artistic one: the tragedy is not that his peers have misconceived the relation between the bread we eat to fill our bellies and the bread of life on which we feed a deeper sense, but rather that it needed to be articulated at all. For anyone who knows the look of things--for anyone schooled by art--that relationship ought to be visible already.


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Berman, David. Radicalism in the Mountain West 1890-1920. Boulder: UP of Colorado. 2007.

Blair, Kirstie. Form and Faith in Victorian Poetry and Religion. New York: Oxford UP, 2012.

Bronte, Charlotte. "To Rev. P. Bronte." 17 June 1851. Charlotte Bronte and her Circle. Clement King Shorter. New York: Dodd, Mead, & Co., 1896. 461-62.

Browning, Robert. Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day. 1850. The Poems, Volume I. Ed. John Pettigrew. New York: Penguin, 1981.461-523.

_. "Fra Lippo Lippi." Poems of Robert Browning. Ed. Donald Smalley. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956. 127-36.

Chapman, John J. "Robert Browning." 1898. The Browning Critics. Ed. Boyd Litzinger and K.L. Knickerbocker. Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1965. 37-55.

DeLaura. David. "The Context of Browning's Painter Poems: Aesthetics. Polemics, Histories." PMIA 95.3 (1980): 367-88.

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Hecimovich, Gregg. "'Just the thing for the time': Contextualizing Religion in Browning's 'The Bishop Orders His Tom at St. Praxed's Church.'" Victorian Poetry 36.3 (1998): 259-72.

Kingsland, William G. "Robert Browning as Letter-Writer." Poet-lore. May 1896. 225-33.

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"The Militant Transcendentalist." 1877. Robert Browning: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Boyd Litzinger and Donald Smalley. New York: Routledge, 1968. 454-56.

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Ryals, Clyde de L. "Balaustion's Adventure: Browning's Greek Parable." PMLA 88.5 (1973): 1040-48.

Poston, III, Lawrence. "Browning's Political Skepticism: Sordello and the Plays." PLMA 88.2 (1973): 260-70.

Strong, Augustus Hopkins. The Great Poets and Their Theology. Boston; The Griffith & Rowland, 1897.

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(1) This was first noted in a 1904 essay that William Temple presented at Bulliol.

(2) Browning in an 1881 letter to a friend described this review as "The most curious ... [he] ever had" (Kingsland 230). Until 1968, it was widely accepted that the review was written by Cardinal Wiseman, on whom Browning based Bishop Blougram (Kennedy and Hair, 278). In contrast to this reviewer's hints, David DeLaura draws attention to Browning's anti-Catholicism, evident in his resistance to the tendencies toward idolatry --a glorification of flesh over spirit--that he sees in traditionally Catholic art (372-75). Gregg Hecimovich, similarly, notes the ways in which Browning's works take anti-Catholic stances in religious debates of the time, including the question of Apostolic Succession in "The Bishop Orders His Tomb" and an oeuvre-wide suspicion of the "vanities" of the Oxford Movement (267)--by which Browning probably meant the omnipresence in Anglo-Catholic churches of candles, robes, and incense.

(3) DeLaura describes this belief as Pelagian (380)--a curious assertion in that Pelagianism asserts presence of God in this temporal world by denying the inherent (not earned) divinity of Christ; it describes divinity not as something that enters the world via the Incarnation but as something attainable by all who follow Christ's example.

(4) I am here referring to Carlyle's understanding of divine revelation, which M.H. Abrams has dubbed "natural supernaturalism."
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Author:Heady, Emily Walker
Publication:Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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