Bringing up the Body: Martin Luther vs Thomas Cromwell

GenericsLike my master the king, I am a faithful son of the holy Catholic church. Only just now we are not in communion with the Pope. – Thomas Cromwell, Bring Up the Bodies (Hilary Mantel)

Before I would have mere wine with the fanatics, I would rather drink sheer blood with the Pope. – Martin Luther

In his book Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (see previous post), Heiko A. Oberman contrasts Luther with other Reformation figures such as Andreas Carlstadt and Ulrich Zwingli. Luther famously disagreed with Carlstadt and Zwingli over the Lord’s Supper, insisting on the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the consecrated bread and wine, and rejecting the “fanatics'” symbolical interpretation of the Words of Institution.

Oberman argues that this theological disagreement reflects a sociological disagreement over the nature of the Reformation. As we saw in my previous post, Luther didn’t see what he was doing as “reformation” or himself as a “reformer”: he was a prophet and an evangelist, proclaiming the Gospel while the Devil and his Antichrist raged and the End Times drew near. Other Reformation leaders – Zwingli, Carlstadt, Bucer and so on – were indeed reformers, intent on forging a new model of urban, bourgeois Christian citizenship, freed from the mediaeval past. As Oberman observes:

The contrast between the community-oriented urban reformers and Luther, minister to a godless world, is sharp. Luther focuses on the individual Christian, not because the “individual soul” is more important “before God” than a responsible forging of political life, but because service to the world demands a stout heart. For it is not a question of honour and dignity, but—whether in city or country, townhouse or farmhouse—of resistance to the destructive power of the Devil. Political affairs make enormous demands on Christians, and that is why they must be fortified in their faith. (p.235)

The urban reformers were rejecting a “sacramental, sacerdotal Church” in favour of a “spiritually unified, true community of faith.” This was then inextricably linked with their rejection of the real presence:

The presentation of one’s position on the Eucharist showed where one stood: on the side of the privileged clerics and ruling elite, or in the ranks of the citizens united in true faith.

This shift from a a “sacramental, sacerdotal Church” to a “spiritually unified, true community of faith” has been acted out for us in recent weeks in the superb BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

An underlying theme of both the novels and the TV adaptation is Thomas Cromwell’s covert links with English Protestants. Some of these Protestants are outspoken in their rejection of the real presence, even when it means their death. As John Frith says when Cromwell visits him in the Tower to urge him to take the opportunity to escape martyrdom (Wolf Hall, p.435):

I will say before any tribunal what I will say before my last judge – the Eucharist is but bread, of penance we have no need, Purgatory is an invention ungrounded in scripture –

Cromwell would never be so incautious. However, the “citizens united in true faith”, the “privileged clerics” and the “ruling elite” all suspect him of Protestant sympathies – partly, no doubt, because he is the epitome of the upwardly-mobile, reform-minded bourgeoisie who were turning most eagerly to the new teachings. Cromwell’s great skill is to navigate the treacherous waters between the old mediaeval elites and the emerging modern world – as seen in his heavily ironical rejection of the suggestion that Tyndale is his “co-religionist”, quoted at the start of this post.

Cromwell’s views on the Eucharist, as perhaps befits such a chameleon, are harder to discern. When accused directly of being a Lutheran, he denies it (“No, sir, I am a banker. Luther condemns to Hell those who lend at interest.”). In conversation with the King, though, he expresses a very Lutheran-sounding position:

Christ taught us how to remember him. He left us bread and wine, body and blood. What more do we need? (Wolf Hall, p.533)

In the end, though, Mantel’s Cromwell is probably closer to Philip of Hesse, as described by Oberman: a sincere Evangelical but a political realist, frustrated by the divisions within the Reformation resulting from Luther and Zwingli’s disagreement. For Luther, however, political unity in the name of a bourgeois reform programme was never the aim.

Christians and politics: “reformation” vs “betterment”

Martin Luther and his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German NationThe House of Bishops’ pastoral letter on the 2015 general election has stirred up a great deal of discussion, both on the merits of the document itself and on the propriety of Church of England bishops “interfering in politics” in the first place.

I should probably admit right from the start that I haven’t read the pastoral letter yet, so I can’t comment on its content. My interest at this stage is on the second question, of whether it’s legitimate for the bishops to issue such a document at all. One comment I saw suggested that the letter “violates Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms”. Others have suggested that the bishops have failed to realise that justice is principally a matter of “eschatology”, not something that can be achieved in the here and now; or that following the example of Christ means refusing to be “derailed or side-tracked” by the “provisionality” of earthly politics.

Now, Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms is a highly contested area of theology. However, Wikipedia summarises the essence of it quite succinctly:

The church should not exercise worldly government, and princes should not rule the church or have anything to do with the salvation of souls.

There’s a difference, though, between rejecting the notion of the church’s “temporal authority,” and saying that church leaders should be silent on political topics. Certainly Luther cannot be invoked as an authority for the latter claim, as Heiko A. Oberman makes clear in his book, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil. In his second chapter, Oberman describes the distinction that Luther made between “reformation” and “betterment”. It’s a distinction that I think may be helpful in understanding how Christians (including pastors) are to engage with politics.

Oberman observes that “reformation” was a familiar word in the early 16th century. “Everyone was for it” (just as everyone today is for “democracy”), but no one was really sure how to implement it. Essentially it meant a return to the ideals of the early Christian church, of a community united again in love (p.50). Successive waves of reform movements from the eleventh century onwards had attempted to realise this vision of a renewed church.

Luther, however, did not think that what he was doing was “reformation”, let alone “the” Reformation. He rejected late medieval millenarian dreams of a “reformed” church. Rather, he saw what he was doing in the light of Jesus’ prophecy:

And the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then the end shall come. (Matthew 24:14, quoted on p.72).

In other words: Luther saw it as his role not to “reform the church”, but to preach the gospel. The preaching of the gospel would provoke a furious reaction from the devil, which in turn would be followed (as he saw it) by the Great Reformation of the Day of Judgement.

However, this didn’t mean that Luther taught a quietism in which Christians just sat around enduring persecution and waiting for the end to come. Nor did he see it as his job solely to preach the gospel while leaving politics to the professionals. On the contrary: a great deal of his efforts were “directed toward order and improvement in the world”. As Oberman says:

It is of lasting significance that Luther’s rejection of historical utopias did not entail abandoning the Church and the world to chaos: Christians are threatened but not helpless, under attack but not defenceless. (p.76)

So Christians can, and should, be hard at work in trying to improve the civic and political order:

But for this dimension he used the sober, secular, practical, temporal and above all relative term betterment rather than the glorious Reformation. In short: Reformation is the work of God, betterment the task of Adam and Eve. (p.76)

An example of the “betterment” advocated by Luther can be found in his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, written in 1520. Oberman summarises Luther’s message of political reform in this treatise as follows:

Ostentatious luxury, “through which so many noblemen and wealthy people are impoverished,” must be curbed; trade must be regulated so that “German money [cannot] leave the land”; usury is “the greatest plague of the German nation … Should it last another one hundred years, it would not be possible for Germany to keep one single penny.” Business monopolies are equally immoral: “The Fuggers and their ilk should be brought under control”; and finally, “Is it not wretched that we Christians continue to allow public whorehouses”! (pp.78f.)

I’d love to know what people’s response would have been had the Church of England bishops released a document as strongly anti-capitalist as that. Not that Luther’s social programme is necessarily a template for them to have followed:

Though often misunderstood, Luther’s suggestions for improvement should not be regarded as Christian ethics in the sense of timeless directives. Luther did not leave governments and societies an unalterable plan for all times and all centuries […]. Faith shatters any claim to eternal validity, opening instead the eyes of the faithful for what is the most needful service to others. […] God entrusted the world to man and woman, and they must discharge their duties to the very last; in this and this alone can they be of help to God. (pp.79f.)

Luther’s eschatology is alien to most of us today, even to most Christians. But his distinction between “reformation” (God’s eschatological work in establishing final justice and restoration) and “betterment” (the “sober, secular, practical, temporal and above all relative” work of making life that bit better now, of identifying and fulfilling “what is the most needful service to others”) is a valuable one. What we can achieve through worldly politics is limited; perfect justice is unattainable. But we can, and should, be using what wisdom we have to try to make things better, and Christian pastors and leaders can play a role in helping encourage this process of “betterment”.

Who’s doing the talking here?

divineserviceDiscussing my previous post on Facebook, a couple of further thoughts came to mind that are worth briefly mentioning here.

First: I think one’s interpretation of the words of institution largely depends on who you think is doing the talking when we celebrate the Mass. If it’s us who are doing the talking, then that will push us towards a metaphorical understanding of them (since we are just remembering / re-enacting what Jesus said and did).

But if it’s Christ who is doing the talking, through his minister, then that’s a different matter. Here is Christ, saying right here and right now, about this bread and this wine: “this is my body, this is the new testament in my blood; take, eat and drink.”

Secondly: one common response to all this is to say that the Supper is a “mystery” – the implication being that we can’t be sure whether Christ is being “literal” or “metaphorical” when he addresses these words to us.

Yes, the Supper is a mystery, but we should not make mysterious what Christ has made clear, any more than we should claim to make clear what Christ has kept mysterious. Christ’s promise – “this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” – is clear. How bread and wine can become the body and blood of Christ is indeed a great mystery – but that mystery shouldn’t make us doubt or deny the clarity of the promise itself.

Talking of Facebook (you see what I did there?), I read something at work saying that Facebook is going to “dominate” social media in 2015. Which is a slightly depressing prospect, but hey, that’s the world we’re living in. So I now have a Facebook page for this blog. If “Liking” pages on Facebook is something you do (I’m being totally hypocritical here, as I try to avoid it), then I’d be very grateful if you would do so with this. If not: that’s fine, too. :-)

Are Lutherans “literalists” about the Supper?

I was reading Rowan Williams’ book Being Christian last night, and at a moment of mild exasperation in his chapter on the Eucharist tweeted the following:

Ron Swanson on Moby DickThis prompted a bigger flurry of responses than I’d been expecting. One person suggested this was a “biblical fundamentalist” hermeneutic (albeit reaching a conclusion rarely reached by “biblical fundamentalists”). Others drew my attention to Jesus’ frequent use of “figurative language” and metaphors. Another simply replied, “parables”.

Now, my aim in this post is not to argue for the Lutheran doctrine of the Supper over that of other Christians, but to address a narrower point from those two responses: does the Lutheran teaching – namely, that the Sacrament of the Altar is “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ himself” – depend on a “literalist” or “fundamentalist” reading of Scripture, one which ends up overlooking the metaphorical and figurative aspects of the text?

The discussion last night was helpful in clarifying my own thoughts on this issue. The question is, what type of statement is Jesus making when he says “this is my body”? Is he being metaphorical, as when he says “I am the door”? Or is he using figurative or parabolic language, as when he says “the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed”?

The answer, I think, is: none of the above. Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus said (as compiled in the Small Catechism):

“Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” … “Take this and drink of it, all of you. This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

The point is that Jesus isn’t just imparting information in these words; he is making a promise, above all a promise of “the remission of sins”.

When Jesus imparted information to people, then yes, he very often used figurative language – though even then, we are told he “explained everything in private to his disciples”. But when he was directly addressing God’s promises to people, especially the promise of the forgiveness of sins, he spoke in clear terms intended to create faith in the listener: “Your sins are forgiven; stand up and take your mat and walk”; “I am willing: be clean”; “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and so on.

The Lutheran belief is that when Jesus says “this is my body, which is given for you,” he is declaring a promise rather than merely imparting information. That is, “this is my body” is in the same category of statements as “your sins are forgiven” rather than statements such as “I am the gate of the sheep”. He wanted his disciples in the upper room, and wants us, to believe those words of promise; to take, eat and drink.

Not all Christians will share that understanding of Jesus’ words, and I don’t expect (though I can always hope!) to have changed many of their minds with this post, But I hope at least to have demonstrated why taking a “literal” view of Jesus’ words of institution (“‘is’ means ‘is’, on this occasion at least”) isn’t a rejection of metaphor generally, and doesn’t commit us to a flat, “literalistic” reading of Scripture as a whole.

English-speaking Lutheranism: lost in translation?

Luther's Bible and the Book of Common PrayerSo, why has “Augsburg Evangelicalism” (see previous post) failed to make much headway in the English-speaking world?

There are many reasons for this. Partly it’s because Lutherans have tended to be diffident about evangelism. Partly it’s because there isn’t that much of a “gap in the market” for a church tradition that is more sacramental than “low-church” Anglicanism, and more evangelical (in the sense of making justification by faith the centre of its teachings and practice) than Anglo- or Roman Catholicism.

To some extent there is a “chicken and egg” problem, which we can deduce from the following observation made by Gene Veith in the introduction to his book The Spirituality of the Cross. While “any Christian could draw on the spiritual insights of the Lutheran tradition that will be described here,” Dr Veith observes that:

The full dose of Lutheran spirituality can only, of course, be found within the day-to-day life of a Lutheran church […] Spirituality, after all, must be lived, not merely intellectualized, and its locus is the mysteries taking place in an ordinary local church.

In other words, no theology or spirituality can be abstracted from the church community in which it is incarnated – which makes it hard for such a theology or spirituality to take root in places where there are few congregations confessing it and living it out.

Wilhelm Stählin, in his book The Mystery of God (see previous post), suggests a deeper reason. He is discussing how the church of Christ is found “in, with and under” human society, so that the Christian faith cannot be abstracted from the human societies within which it is incarnated:

The Church lives within the nations, and the divine mysteries which by it are distributed in the world are united in the Church with the living forces of nationality. He who undertakes to preserve the Church’s purity by the method of only forming a church out of the essence of the Church, without any reference to the laws and ordinances of the nation’s life into which the Church seeks to sink its roots, is likely to fall into a dangerous self-delusion and ignore the way of God. For He wants to embed His mystery in the nation and in history.

While Stählin’s references to “the living forces of nationality” make me a little uncomfortable, I think he is still correct that it is a mistake to seek the pure “essence of church” abstracted from the church’s concrete existence within human society.

Stählin goes on to identify language as the main way in which the church and its social context are bound together:

If the feeling for the depths of language itself had not been concealed from us through the dominance of a purely conceptual way of thinking, then we should have noticed much more clearly how much Christian thought is linked on to the root factors of national culture by the use of the mother-tongue.

Stählin describes this as “self-evident to us of the Evangelical Church” (i.e. the Lutheran church in Germany), given the role of the Reformation in shaping German national identity. However, it is true for other traditions and languages as well:

Christian knowledge expresses itself in different languages, and in every language takes something from the native wisdom that is deposited in every living tongue. Luther’s translation of the Bible is to us all (i.e. in Germany) the classical instance of such a consubstantiatio.

Another classic example of how a Christian tradition is rooted in “the native wisdom” deposited in its “mother tongue” is, of course, Anglicanism, whose very essence was for centuries shaped and expressed in the language of the Authorised Version and the Book of Common Prayer. The most significant example of all, perhaps, is the role played by Latin in the (western) Catholic Church. It remains to be seen what the long term effects will be for these churches of their move away from these traditional languages in recent decades.

Of course, Lutheranism has never been solely a German-language tradition, as my Scandinavian (and Baltic) Lutheran friends will be quick to remind me. But Scandinavian Lutheranism is almost as long-established as the German variety, so that it has long spoken the native tongues of those countries. In any case (and perhaps significantly in this context), Scandinavian Lutheranism can be a very different beast from the German variety, both culturally and theologically.

For Lutheranism in the English-speaking world, the problem becomes that it is always a tradition in translation, losing something of its essence and vitality along the way, never quite finding a fully comfortable way of expressing itself in English. Thus Lutheranism – and, as a consequence, “Augsburg Evangelicalism” – remains something of an “introduced species”, rather than a native plant.

A brief introduction to Augsburg Evangelicalism

Luther's roseCan you be Lutheran without being Lutheran?

In a country whose Lutheran churches are few, small and struggling, that is far from an academic question (though not, mercifully, one which currently faces me personally).

A few years ago, Chris Atwood coined the term “Augsburg Evangelical” to describe the essence of Lutheran faith and practice. He summarised it in the following five principles:

  • Justification by faith alone.
  • Baptismal regeneration.
  • The real and substantial presence of Christ’s body and blood in the elements of the Lord’s Supper.
  • A relative indifference to polity as defining the being of the church.
  • Scripture as the only binding norm of faith and practice.

There is nothing about any of these that should necessarily be restricted to “the Lutheran church”, and indeed most other churches share at least some of these principles. And yet, as Chris went on to observe, we still find in practice that:

every congregation which affirms [all] these five also affirms the whole kit and kaboodle of the Lutheran tradition, from the Book of Concord to Law and Gospel sermons to Waltherian congregationalism to Reformation Sundays to Concordia Press to beer.

Other ways of presenting these “five points of Augsburg Evangelicalism” have been suggested, as set out in this post in 2010. For example, ROSES (as an echo of Calvinism’s TULIP):

  • Regeneration through Grace in Baptism (sola gratia): God initiates faith.
  • Only through faith (sola fide): only faith justifies Man.
  • Scriptural authority (sola scriptura): teaches Gospel and Law.
  • Economic church polities towards needs: polities are chosen according to practical needs.
  • Substantial real presence of Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion: nurtures a believer and deepens the union between Man and God.

Or the following, more lighthearted effort (which, as someone pointed out at the time, manages to capture all six characteristics of the Evangelical Lutheran Church…):

  • Faith alone justifies
  • Unique presence in the supper
  • Baptismal regeneration
  • Authority of scripture
  • Rejection of polity norms

That said, however you define (or mnemonicise) it, this still feels a rather static – and, in some respects, rather negative – definition. In another post, I attempted to define the central dynamic (“engine-room”) of Lutheranism, based on Articles IV, V and VI of the Augsburg Confession:

IV. Concerning Justification

Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. […]

V. Concerning the Office of Preaching

To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe. […]

VI. Concerning the New Obedience

It is also taught that such faith should yield good fruit and good works and that a person must do such good works as God has commanded for God’s sake but not place trust in them as if thereby to earn grace before God. […]

Each of these is critical, but it is Article V that is the linchpin. Justification is not by faith in an abstract gospel, but in the gospel as proclaimed to us in the word and sacraments (see also Romans 10:14-15); and that same faith, given to us by the Holy Spirit through the word and sacraments, produces good works as its fruit.

Again, there is nothing that would seem necessarily “Lutheran” about all that, and yet that specific dynamic – and in particular the way in which the role of preaching and the sacraments is understood – is one I’ve rarely found articulated so clearly outside a Lutheran context. Which is a shame, because I remain convinced it’s an understanding that would be beneficial to Christians from all traditions, without their also having to sign up for potluck lunches, sitting down to sing hymns, etc.

So, the reason for this post is simply to draw together those previous strands from my blogging, and to start 2015 making another small attempt to commend to Christians from other traditions these insights of “Augsburg Evangelicalism”, in the hope that it may be of use to some – even if Augsburg Evangelicalism and Lutheranism are likely to remain inextricably bound together for the foreseeable future.

Further reading

Selected blog posts on this topic from the past few years:

The best books to read on all this (though they are presentations of “Lutheranism” rather than “Augsburg Evangelicalism” as such):

Edit: or you could just spare yourself all of the above, and read, mark, learn and inwardly digest this tweet from Pr Alex Klages. Wisdom! Let us attend!

2014: the year of big books

British Library Big Books bagIt’s the end of the year, so it’s time for my annual summary of the books I’ve read during 2014 (see 2013’s entry).

Here are the books I’ve completed during 2014, broken down into categories (fiction, non-fiction, theology) and listed in order of completion. I’ve also identified my two favourite books from each category. Each title links to my comments about the book on Tumblr. Books marked with a * are books I’d read before.


Favourites: Daniel Deronda, Parade’s End.

Currently reading: Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.

Comments: I’ve not read a huge number of novels this year – though arguably Parade’s End should count as four, and Daniel Deronda is even longer than Ford’s tetralogy. Greatly enjoyed finishing off the Smiley trilogy (especially Smiley’s People). My clear favourite for the year, though, was Daniel Deronda, which is (as I said at the time) probably in the top three novels I’ve ever read.

Looking ahead: Having only just broken into double figures this year, I must try to read more novels next year. My wife has bought me Pat Barker’s Regeneration (having been recommending it to me for ages), so maybe I’ll end up doing the whole trilogy. I also have War and Peace sitting on my Kindle…


Favourites: Capital in the Twenty-First Century, The Shock of the New.

Comments: A very satisfying set of books. Tom Holland’s Rubicon and Persian Fire were both hugely enjoyable works of ancient history. Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace is, to my mind, the definitive book on the underlying causes of the First World War. Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory is a remarkable book, and was only narrowly pipped to the post by Robert Hughes’ The Shock of the New.

Clear winner, though, is Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty’s book has, of course, been widely read and commented on, with people arguing strongly for and against his thesis. As for me, I feel similarly to the FT’s literary editor (£):

No one is going to turn to the literary editor for a decisive ruling on all of this but it seems fair to conclude that, while Piketty may not have settled the inequality debate, he has taken it into new territory: his opponents will be obliged to follow.

But the real impact for me was not Piketty’s analysis of the current position or his predictions for the future, but the insights his book provides into the nature of wealth, and its changing distribution, in the past: especially the dominance of income from capital until the First World War and its (temporary?) eclipse by income from labour during the mid-twentieth century. This has illuminated my reading of books as diverse as Daniel Deronda, Parade’s End and The War That Ended Peace.

Looking ahead: The biggest book currently looming on my to-read shelf is David Hackett Fischer’s “magisterial” (read: enormous) Albion’s Seed. And who knows: maybe 2014 will be the year I finally get round to reading E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art. I’m also hoping to read William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain – described by Tom Holland as the Christian equivalent of Douglas Adams’ Last Chance to See.


Favourites: Lutheran Theology, God’s Philosophers.

Currently reading: Being Christian, by Rowan Williams.

Comments: A tricky one, this. There’s no doubt which was my favourite theology book this year: Steven Paulson’s Lutheran Theology blew my mind and made me fall in love all over again with, well, Lutheran theology – to an extent that rather overshadows the rather different material I’d been reading for the rest of the year. However, James Hannam’s book God’s Philosophers deserves a mention, not least because its thesis – that medieval science was far more sophisticated than is generally assumed, and indeed was foundational to modern science – is one that needs constant repetition in order to counteract the Protestant and Enlightenment propaganda that still governs most people’s assumptions on the subject.

This is also the one category in which my favourite belies the title to this post, with Steven Paulson coming in at a svelte 272 pages (plus notes). James Hannam clocks up a respectable 448 pages, but this still falls short of Thomas Piketty (577 pages plus lots of notes), Parade’s End and Daniel Deronda (each more than 800 pages). The Shock of the New is a mere 412 pages, but they’re big and glossy, so the book ends up weighing an impressive 1.66 kg.

Looking ahead: Oswald Bayer’s Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Reinterpretation is one I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into. I may also give Heiko Oberman’s Luther: Man Between God and the Devil a go. Basically the plan (“if you want to make God laugh…”) is to read more Lutheran theology this year than has been the case until recently.


I could have included graphic novels in the fiction list, but I’m too much of a snob:

It feels insulting to bury “poetry” under “other”, but poetry books are not always the sort that you read from start to finish. Hence a “books completed” list leaves most of the poetry I’ve read (e.g. Geoffrey Hill and Paul Celan) unrecorded. But here goes, anyway: