God's sovereignty

Theology and poetry

The sovereignty of the biblical God is probably the most theological of the themes being considered. However, since Hopkins was a committed Christian believer, it is really important to try to get to grips with the theme in order to understand his poetry.

In biblical and Christian terms, God's sovereignty means:

  • his will and purposes
  • the power he has to exercise them
  • that God does not have to be constrained by human preference.

This doesn't mean he is seen as an arbitrary tyrant - far from it. The Bible states that God is both transcendent - that is, far beyond human understanding - and also immanent - present in the everyday world. Christians believe that his purposes are ones of love.

Love and evil

Belief in God's love challenges Hopkins in the major poem of his life, The Wreck of the Deutschland. He links it up with another theme, Understanding evil in a world God has made. One theme depends on the other and they should be studied together.

Hopkins sees the shipwrecking of the nuns in the Wreck of the Deutschland as being ultimately in God's will, and prays he will be able to work out fully the purpose of it. He has to pray like this, because God's sovereignty does not extend to forcing people to believe against their wishes, or their will. Otherwise they cease to have the ability to love God freely.

Free will

Duns Scotus was insistent on the freedom of man's will, and Hopkins follows him in this, although the language Hopkins uses, such as that of mastering and mastery, seems to suggest God did not give Hopkins personally a great deal of choice!

Just as God will not force individuals, so they cannot coerce God, a point Hopkins makes in My Own Heart. Sometimes people think of prayer as being like having God's help ‘on demand'. Hopkins believed that it was better to relax and trust God to give joy in life when he thinks best, not when humans want it.


That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire brings out God's transcendence. His Creation may be in a state of turmoil and flux, but it is nevertheless ordered. Although cataclysmic forces may bring about the end of the world, Hopkins believes that God's purposes run beyond this. He sees humankind as being at the centre of God's purposes in his Creation, and his intention being to create a new and perfect ‘immortal diamond' out of his children.

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