The church is hit with shells and a statue of Christ is buried, covered by its rubble and the church's rubbish. The saints packed together in ranks down in the cellars do not hear our trouble. There is still one statue of the Virgin that is immaculate and continues to smile her frozen smile for war. She wears an old tin hat as her halo, but a "piece of hell will batter her".
"Le Christianisme" is an extremely short poem – only eight lines in two stanzas of four – but it is nonetheless very effective. It was most likely written in France in April 1917. It can be summarized quite easily: a church is shelled and a statue of Christ is destroyed while the saints' relics are untouched. A statue of the Madonna remains as well, but wears a tin halo until she too is destroyed. Despite the simplicity of the subject matter, there is a great deal of ambiguity in the poem regarding Owen's feelings on religion.
One interpretation of the poem is that Christ, the Virgin, and saints are on the side of the soldiers. The statue of Christ is buried amid rubble and rubbish just like the young men fighting in the trenches. The saints are "serried", meaning they are lined up in ranks like soldiers. The Virgin wears a halo of tin, the same material of the soldiers' helmets. Even she, however, may be destroyed by war just like the young men who are fighting and dying for their country.
Another interpretation is derived from Owen's well-known problems with the Church and suggests that Owen was deriding the false message of Christianity propagated by the Church that was so popular during wartime. Scholar Andrew Gates writes, "there exists in Owen’s poetry a twin intent: to oppose a destructive and purposeless war and to restore the true Gospel, wherein such a war can never find a rationale." Owen understood, first of all, that the English did not have a monopoly on Christianity and the Gospel. He wrote on February 4th, 1917, "Christ is literally in no man’s land. There men often hear his voice. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life — for a friend. Is it spoken in English only and in French? I do not believe so." Germans were also Christian and believed God was on their side too; Owen was one of the few intellectuals during the war to so blatantly attempt to dispel the belief that God favored the English and the French.
This understanding of Owen's Christianity sheds new light on the poem. The statue of Christ is the church's statue – it is representative of the institution, erected to inspire devotion in churchgoers. Its destruction, coupled with the almost mocking imagery of the Virgin wearing a tin hat halo and the silent saints blissfully unaware of the events above their subterranean entombment, is a bitter commentary on the uselessness of the Church in trying to dictate morality and belief during times of war. Gates interprets, "The church has no place on the fields and in the trenches; it can say nothing of comfort to those whom it sends to be massacred. The creeds of the church are utterly complicit with the hellish brutality of the evil it abets."
In another letter to his mother, dated January 4th 1913, Owen writes, "I have murdered my false creed. If a true one exists, I shall find it. If not, adieu to the still falser creeds that hold the hearts of nearly all my fellow men." He believes that as an artist and intellectual it is his duty to illuminate the reality of war and the ineffectiveness of institutionalized religion to dictate behavior and belief. All of Owen's poetry, calling attention to the young men dying in the trenches and in war hospitals, and the inanity and absurdity of the conflict itself, is an attempt to get back to the true principles of Christianity, free of dogma – humility, brotherhood, mercy.
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples,2You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.3Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas,4and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.5But they said, Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.6Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,7a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.8And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, Why this waste?9For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.12In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.13Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.14Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests15and said, What will you give me if I deliver him over to you? And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.16And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.17Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?18He said, Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.19And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.20When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.21And as they were eating, he said, Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.22And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, Is it I, Lord?23He answered, He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.24The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.25Judas, who would betray him, answered, Is it I, Rabbi? He said to him, You have said so.26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, Drink of it, all of you,28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.29I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.30And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.31Then Jesus said to them, You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.32But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.33Peter answered him, Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.34Jesus said to him, Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.35Peter said to him, Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you! And all the disciples said the same.36Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, Sit here, while I go over there and pray.37And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.38Then he said to them, My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.39And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.40And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, So, could you not watch with me one hour?41Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.42Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.43And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.44So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.45Then he came to the disciples and said to them, Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.46Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.47While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.48Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.49And he came up to Jesus at once and said, Greetings, Rabbi! And he kissed him.50Jesus said to him, Friend, do what you came to do. Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.51And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.52Then Jesus said to him, Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.53Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?54But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?55At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me.56But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples left him and fled.57Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.58And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end.59Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death,60but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward61and said, This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.62And the high priest stood up and said, Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?63But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.64Jesus said to him, You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.65Then the high priest tore his robes and said, He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.66What is your judgment? They answered, He deserves death.67Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him,68saying, Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?69Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, You also were with Jesus the Galilean.70But he denied it before them all, saying, I do not know what you mean.71And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.72And again he denied it with an oath: I do not know the man.73After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.74Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, I do not know the man. And immediately the rooster crowed.75And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times. And he went out and wept bitterly.
1And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples,2Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified.3Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,4And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him.5But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people.6Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,7There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.8But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?9For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.10When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.11For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.12For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.13Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.14Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests,15And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.16And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.17Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?18And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.19And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.20Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve.21And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.22And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?23And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.24The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.25Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.26And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.27And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;28For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.29But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.30And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.31Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.32But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.33Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.34Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.35Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.36Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.37And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.38Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.39And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.40And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?41Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.42He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.43And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.44And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.45Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.46Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.47And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.48Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.49And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him.50And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus and took him.51And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear.52Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.53Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?54But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?55In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me.56But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.57And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.58But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end.59Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;60But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses,61And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.62And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?63But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.64Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.65Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.66What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.67Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands,68Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?69Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.70But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.71And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.72And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man.73And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.74Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.75And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.