At the height of her fame, Sayers was asked to write a play to be performed in Canterbury Cathedral for an annual festival. Having spent 15 years writing about a sexually adept aristocrat who entered churches more for aesthetic contemplation than spiritual renewal, Sayers hesitated. She finally accepted the commission, due, most likely, to the prestige of her predecessors in the job, T. S. Eliot and Charles Williams.
However, in writing a play about the 12th-century architect who rebuilt part of Canterbury Cathedral after its fiery destruction, Sayers experienced her own baptism by fire. As though a hot coal had touched her lips, she began speaking, through her characters, about the relevance of Christian doctrine to the integrity of work. Intriguing even professional theologians, her play ends with an angel announcing that humans manifest the “image of God,” the imago Dei, through creativity. After all, the Bible chapter proclaiming the imago Dei presents God not as judge or lawgiver but as Creator: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).
Even more radically, Sayers’s angel suggests that creativity is Trinitarian. Any creative work has three distinct components: the Creative Idea, the Creative Energy “begotten of that Idea,” and the Creative Power that is “the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul.” Indeed, Sayers’s angel says of Idea, Energy, and Power, “these three are one.”
Called The Zeal of Thy House, Sayers’s 1937 play ran for 100 performances, having moved from Canterbury to London’s West End. Audiences valued its unusual communication of Christian belief. Rather than endorsing pietistic practices, it celebrated the sanctity of work; rather than obsessing over sexual sins, it denounced arrogant pride as the “eldest sin of all.” The play’s self-aggrandizing protagonist, a womanizer who believes he alone can make the cathedral great again, is humbled by a crippling fall. Only then does he abandon his narcissistic need for mastery and acclaim, telling God, “to other men the glory / And to Thy Name alone.”
Perhaps too subtle, but masterful @CTmagazine article about Dorothy Sayers as a reluctant prophet being relevant at time when “political passions have become the new piety”. Well done @crystalldowning. https://t.co/6vgVQl8PMR pic.twitter.com/0aiEtGxXBM
— Tom Long (@Tom4Surfing) June 14, 2018