One of my favorite writers is Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936). Born in Bilbao, Spain he experienced the 125 day Carlist siege of his hometown (1874) and wrote a novel about it entitled Peace in War which reflected the futility of war and the politics of his time. Allen Lacy commented that it has “a didactic intent, lessons taught about the course of history, about time and eternity, about death-in-life and life-in-death, about the famous and their follies and about ordinary people, who have their patient and noble courage as well as their follies. Above all, Peace in War has lessons to teach us about the vexing problems of the Spanish past and the Spanish future.”

After graduating from the University of Madrid with his doctorate he was appointed to the chair of Greek at the University of Salamanca. In 1901 he became Rector of the University. Because of his support of the allies in World War I and his criticism of his government policies he was deprived of his post in 1914. In 1924 he was exiled to the Canary Islands but was rescued and spent six years in France. When the dictatorship of Prima de Rivera fell in 1930 he returned to Spain and was received with enormous enthusiasm as a great national figure. He returned to his position at Salamanca. He published philosophical essays, novels, drama, poetry and essays. He died in 1936 when General Franco was taking power in the Spanish Civil War.

I have recently read the English translation of his major poetical work, The Christ of Velasquez, a meditation on the crucified Christ. It is profoundly moving in its depiction of the significance of the agony of Christ and the humanity of God. Unamuno saw Christianity as agony, a struggle, as he wrote about his own personal struggle with the institutional Roman Catholicism of his culture and his encounter with Protestantism through Kierkegaard. He reminds us that God in Christ on the Cross shares our suffering and struggle with the tragedies of life. Here is an excerpt.

“With thine arms stretched

 out in a beautiful gesture of giving,

uncovering thy body and offering it

to all who suffer the lashing of love,

Thou dost draw back the thick curtain of darkness

from the terrible abode of the secret

that was afflicting the offspring of Adam

while anxiously they devoured the centuries;

with thine arms flung open wide Thou dost rend

the darkness of the abyss of God, the Father,

and throwing it back, dost hang from thy cross

the black cloak in which Thou wast muffled giving

Thyself to us naked. Thou, shaken, dying,

the purple veil of the temple was rent

from top to bottom, tombs were opened wide

and sleeping saints, rising, saw thy white body

that in nakedness showed the Father nude.

Thou didst lay bear before our human eyes

the humanity of God; with thy hands

unfastening the dark mantle of mystery,

Thou didst reveal to us the divine essence,

the humanity of God which discovered

the divine in man.”