The Romantic Covenant

The spirit of Moses and David: the former a prophet who preaches, and the latter a poet who pledges. Moses led the march out of slavery, under a divine passage; David wrote the psalms as a prophecy, under a divine promise.

“How long? Not long!”

Martin Luther King—as half prophet and half poet—proclaims to Selma that the Romantic revelations of the 18th century American Transcendentalists will prevail:

William Cullen Bryant’s “truth crushed to earth will rise again”; Thomas Carlyle’s “no lie can live forever”; Paul the Apostle’s “you shall reap what you sow”; James Russell Lowell’s “standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own”; and Theodore Parker’s “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

King preaches the eternality of objective truth, and the temporality of subjective lies. The first is the Truth of God’s justice, and the other the ‘truth’ of men’s injustice. King pledges that history, akin to Biblical Theology’s progressive revelations, shall fulfill Romantic revelations:

The Romantics abhor the norms of Industrial Revolution, Aristocratic Regulations, and Scientific Rationalization. Instead of conforming to the “Enlightenment Era,” they pursued knowledge above reasoning and experience. Imagination, intuition, and inspiration in individuals will unite man and Mother Nature, not man and mechanism.

Agape that leads to wisdom, peace, and justice, then, comes not from secular-political measures, but spiritual-emotional treasures. Passion in communion—not reason in legislation—is the driving force of a “we-centered” brotherhood instead of an “I-centered” neighborhood.

“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph; I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one; my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

The faculty of conscience (inherent knowledge of right and wrong) is as significant as the faculty of intelligence (logical knowledge of the natural world), as we are limited in epistemic observation constrained by physical laws. It follows that we cannot draw the whole moral arc with our eyes and minds, but with our gospel hearts.

King preaches that the gospel heart in Selma pledges that the suppressed truth will become the fulfilled truth, through the Romantic spirit of Agape.


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