He was nick-named ”The Gloomy Dean”.
Meanwhile, what made him known across the scholarly world during the 20th century is the fact that he was one of its foremost and most erudite scholars in Neoplatonism and its relation to Christianity.
I am talking of William Ralph Inge (1860-1954), Anglican clergyman, university lecturer, Dean at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, prolific writer and essayist.
The reason why he was given his particular nick-name was the pessimistic views on the moral and spiritual state of humankind that he used to express, on an almost daily basis, during his years as a columnist in the London daily Evening Standard.
Well, Dean Inge was nothing like a mainstream person – neither as a scholar and theologian, nor as a columnist and essayist. In his theology – which was, in an over-simplifying way, branded “liberal” - he expressed a radically holistic view of Christianity in its historical context of philosophy, spirituality and religious plurality. Very much unlike Tertullian, Luther, Barth and many other theologians of different periods, who would renounce any links between Christianity and classical philosophical thought, Dean Inge did not hesitate to talk of Christianity as Hellenistic antiquity’s “last great achievement”. Which – needless to say – was a gross provocation to many of his contemporary colleagues in theology (many of whom, however, never really took the effort to read his books).
But this was not the only provocation that came out of his pen or his lips. The quote here above reveals another aspect of the Dean’s thinking, and this, perhaps, is where some of his gloominess comes in.
Humankind has invented many evil and essentially destructive things, he tells us, and nationalism is one of those. National and ethnical pride, symbolically represented by a national flag, has caused the world far more bloodshed, harassment, cruelty and sufferings than it has given her any sort of blessings or benefits.
That too was, no doubt, a tremendous provocation in his day. Dean Inge dared, even in the midst of wartime (World War I and II inclusive), profess himself to be a pacifist and a globalist, in a very deep sense of these words. A pacifist and a globalist – though bereft of any kind of illusions.
Using Dean Inge’s writings as a mirror to reflect our present time is a fascinating undertaking. At the outbreak of World War One he held a sermon which, at the outbreak of World War Two, he repeated word by word. It had lost none – literally none – of its relevance in the meantime.
And this is how we could read his texts even today – as a mirror reflecting and commenting all the wickedness, moral and spiritual, happening all around the globe.
Yes, Dean Inge had his “blind spots” too; not all his judgements were well-founded. Some critics even thought that his gloominess would possibly sometimes tend to weaken his sense of human compassion.
But all this appertains to his comments on things and events happening in his time. Reading his books on Neoplatonism and Christianity, and Christian Mysticism, however, is an astounding adventure where all gloom evaporates and is replaced by light and clarity.
This would take some more time and space to expound, though.