Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.
The Times’ front-page Christmas and Easter poems are as forgotten today as their author, James M. Warnack. I’ll leave it to my theological betters to parse the significance of a Christmas poem that’s mostly about the crucifixion, but Warnack was just as contradictory as his work.
He called himself the Foothill Philosopher and was nicknamed around the office as “the Bishop” because of his angular features and long, white hair. An actor in his early life, he appeared in D.W. Griffith’s silent movies, portrayed a priest in the “Mission Play” and Judas in the first “Pilgrimage Play.”
Warnack was The Times’ religion editor for many years, but was not a church member. He called himself “a theoretical Christian but a practical pagan.” As a Southerner, he always said he “absorbed a little religion from the preachers, but not too much.” Over the years he expanded The Times’ religious coverage from Catholics, Protestants and Jews to include Buddhists, Muslims and Theosophists.
He died Dec. 31, 1957. His last poem, “Matchless Morn,” was published April 6, 1958, for Easter. It concludes:
“We may not understand the mystery
Of One with love so great He could not rest
Until He came to light a darkened world
And fold the weak and weary to His breast.
Yet whosoever seeks the way of truth,
Shall reach the path the loving Master trod.
And follow in His footsteps till at last
He finds his home upon the hills of God.”
The year after Warnack’s death, The Times ran the Christmas account from Luke on the front page. By 1960, the biblical account was moved inside to be The Times’ lead editorial.
Quote of the day: Suicide Spoils Man’s Christmas
Headline in The Times