God's sovereignty in The Wreck of the Deutschland

God's active rule

Hopkins' theodicy is necessarily bound up with his ideas on God's sovereignty. However, he is never fatalistic, in the sense of ‘It was God's will – end of discussion'. He spends most of the first part of the poem giving us his own experience of God's ‘mastery'. In fact, this is how the poem begins; ‘Thou mastering me/God!'

God's sovereignty, then, is an active mastery.

Humans are fallen, and, therefore, naturally rebellious against God (stanza 9). Rebellion can be an active flouting of God's will and law; it can just as easily mean totally ignoring them. But God fights back, as Hopkins discovered.

Hopkins, as many other people, finds initial dread and fear in the divine approach as stanzas 1-3 show. Yet having submitted to God, he finds his mercy in ‘the gospel proffer' (stanza 4), and comes to find the meaning he is looking for in Christ's own fight and suffering against evil.

Good from evil

Working out from his own experience, Hopkins applies God's mastery to the shipwreck. It is not that God willed the storm (stanza 6), but that he wills to use the circumstance for good, in this case:

  • the revelation of himself to the nun
  • the triumphal death of all the nuns, when everyone else was panicking.

Death comes anyway (stanza 11); it is the manner of dying that matters, he believes.

This might not seem much of a triumph; but, to Hopkins, God had got the attention of those on board and the country as a whole, and this could be the beginning of a new mastery over the people of England. What had once been a Catholic country might now be reclaimed, and the nuns' martyrdom might be the beginning of that process.

Sovereign language

Hopkins' language is full of terms of power:

  • ‘mastering', ‘master', ‘mastery', ‘King', ‘Head', ‘lord it', ‘triumph' are just some of the terms used.

But there are also:

  • terms of submission
  • terms of fear and dread, as humans come into contact with the divine (see Language and tone).

However God's sovereignty is merciful for Hopkins, so words of mercy outnumber these others.

The poem ends where it began, with a full declaration of Christ's lordship.

Investigating God's sovereignty in The Wreck of the Deutschland
  • What different styles of exercising power can you think of?
    • Which might be applied to a supreme being?
    • Which does Hopkins use of God?
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