A friend asked me to write a short comment for the new scholarly journal Faith & Flourishing on the question, “Why is the flourishing of the world an important subject for scholarly inquiry?” My response:
Christianity’s absorption and reinterpretation of the classical tradition, as described for example in the work of Robert Louis Wilken, included in every age—from Irenaeus to Augustine to Aquinas to the Reformers to the post-WW II resurgence described by Alan Jacobs in his Year of Our Lord: 1943—a strong commitment to flourishing. This was especially the flourishing of humans in all our dimensions (salvation = wholeness). The evergreen Christian humanism forged in that Christian-classical synthesis—which has amounted, as Jens Zimmermann has said, to a coherent Christian “philosophy of culture”—took different forms in every age but was never seriously challenged until the modern era.
By capitulating to the disenchantment of the world—and of humanity—that was insisted upon in the materialist biology of Darwin, the materialist psychology of Freud, and the materialist social teachings of Marx (among others), we have entered an age when a purely naturalistic “exclusive humanism”—one kind of “closed immanent frame”—to use two of Charles Taylor’s labels, has become convincing to many as a way of understanding humanity and human flourishing. And the church of the 20th and 21st century has no coherent answer. Having lost track of that older tradition of Christian humanism despite strong advocacy on its behalf by writers as diverse as C S Lewis, Jacques Maritain, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Pope John Paul II, we have spiritualized faith beyond all recognition, removing it from the ordinary workings of the world and society.
And now we are surprised when ordinary Americans (for instance) see the truth that this denatured faith has nothing to offer to our ordinary life in the world—and they are leaving the church in droves. We must retrieve our heritage: the long and strong tradition of pro-creation, pro-material, pro-embodiment, pro-social Christian humanism grounded in the claim that the incarnation has inaugurated a new humanity. We must again, to adapt Pierre Hadot’s phrase, practice “theology as a way of life”—not as a disembodied and detached technical pursuit.
Greek philosophers enjoying a good dialectical throwdown
In our last post from the “tradition chapter” draft of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis, we saw that Lewis and the medievals shared a deep appreciation for the wisdom of the pagan philosophers. Was this some antiquarian hobby for Lewis, like collecting old stamps? Here we dig deeper: what possible use could the old philosophers still have for us today?
It is hard to overstate how much Lewis valued pagan knowledge. He had been told as a boy that “Christianity was 100% correct and every other religion, including the pagan myths of ancient Greece and Rome, was 100% wrong.” But because he had already encountered the wisdom of the philosophers, he found that this insistence on the opposition of Christianity to paganism drove him away from, rather than toward, the Christian faith. As it turned out, he abandoned his childhood faith “largely under the influence of classical education.”
It was to this experience of valuing philosophy highly and then being told that Christianity must supplant it that Lewis owed his “firm conviction that the only possible basis for Christian apologetics is a proper respect for paganism.” Continue reading →
As promised, here’s the first of a series of clips from my book-in-progress, Getting Medieval with C. S. Lewis. This and all subsequent clips are absolutely DRAFTS of material that will undergo many changes before the book comes out. If you would like to point out errors or push back on arguments, please feel free! Also, if you would like to tell me I’m brilliant and everybody in the world should read my book, feel free to tell me that too!
The following is from the introductory section of the chapter on the medieval passion for applying their reason to understanding the things of God – that is, their passion for doing theology.
C. S. Lewis was not a professional philosopher (though that was his first love and career intention, before he got redirected into literature), but he was well prepared by his early and exceptionally thorough tutelage in the Classics and dialectic under Kirkpatrick to pursue philosophical study with passion – not as the mastering of abstractions, but as the key to the good life. From those early studies through his “Greats” philosophy study at Oxford to his first teaching job there, which was also in philosophy, Lewis chose to “follow the guidance of reason and perform numerous spiritual exercises, such as reading, meditating on literary images, prayer, chapel attendance and so on, in a genuine attempt to live according to what he thought was true; as he said, ‘I [was] trying to find out truth.’” Continue reading →
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