Benedict delivering his rule to the monks of his order
At this point in the draft of Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis, I move from general remarks about monasticism to a reflection on the specifically Benedictine form that has long dominated Western monasticism. This is a distillation of the wonderful work of Benedictine scholar Columba Stewart:
We need something like monasticism because community is necessary for growth
The overwhelmingly dominant form of coenobitic monasticism in the West after the 9th century was the Benedictine form. When we talk about Benedict of Nursia’s (480 – 534/7) Rule, my students are conflicted. He insists on rules and disciplines, actual obedience, humility – all those things we free, democratic, individualistic Americans find so difficult. Benedict structures his monastic rule in a communal way that builds on the relational wisdom of Antony, but feels constricting to us. “For Benedict, as for the whole tradition before him, the key to monastic life was accountability to God and to other people.”
Why is he so insistent on a lifelong community commitment?
First, because we hear God through each other – and this requires not just attentiveness but obedience
Benedictine scholar Columba Stewart identifies two fundamental insights in the Rule: First, “the divine presence is everywhere,” and second, “Christ is to be met in other people.” I’d call these the sacramental and the communal principles. “The best kind of self-awareness,” says Stewart, “the kind leading to deeper and deeper awareness of God, occurs in the company of others. For most people, to become truly individual before God requires immersion in the common life.” Continue reading
Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530
Still hammering away at Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. Turning now to the “creation chapter.” Here are a few halting thoughts toward an introduction. They won’t appear in the final book in this form, but they suggest some linkages between medieval Western faith and modern Catholicism – in an area Protestants could learn from:
Modern Catholic tradition still draws from the Creation emphasis in the medieval church, which has attenuated in Protestantism.
Lewis picked this Creation-positive spirituality up too. Think of his love of storms, rocks, trees; his laughing exuberance in storms, rain, fog, drizzle (making him the perfect Englishman), as he reveled in “the quiddity [“that-ness,” essential nature] of things”; his use of long walks in the country to recharge himself.
We might see in these things the influence of the Victorian romanticism still lingering especially in literary and artistic corners of the British Isles during Lewis’s growing-up years: that sense of the mystic sacredness of nature itself, the sort of lavish and sometimes dark and even pagan pantheism that made Blake such an odd duck, led the brilliant Catholic engraver Eric Gill to create his frank and shockingly explicit public works of art, and brought the late-19th-century Decadents such as Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde (both of whom became Catholic) down into their pit of muck. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged C S Lewis, Catholic Church, Catholicism, community, Creation, death, G K Chesterton, love, marriage, romanticism, sex
Alister McGrath and Timothy George’s book For All the Saints came out a few years ago and didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved. As a historian, I am not deterred from lauding something just because it is a few (or a few hundred) years old, so here we go:
You should read this book if you are concerned with the “sanctification gap” in evangelical culture–that is, if you think evangelical thought and evangelical life have become woefully separated, favoring either thought over life or life over thought, to the detriment of both:
Christian History Corner: For All the Saints
A fascinating book reminds us to get our heads and hearts together, in the company of the cloud of witnesses.
By Chris Armstrong
“Evangelicals,” gather round. Fellow-travelers and outsiders, lend an ear. For we are about to talk about evangelicalism’s “dirty little secret.” It’s what historian Richard Lovelace has called “the Sanctification Gap.” And it was the subject of a conference held in October, 2000 at Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Alabama, which has now resulted in a book worth reading.
The book, like the conference, is titled For All the Saints: Evangelical Theology and Christian Spirituality (Westminster John Knox, 2003). Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Patron Saints for Postmoderns, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Alister McGrath, Bethel Seminary, Christian history, community, evangelicalism, justification by faith, Regent College, Saints, sanctification, seminaries, Spirituality, the sanctification gap, Theology, Timothy George, union with Christ
This summer, Leadership Journal editor Marshall Shelley once again allowed me to share with his readers about one of my favorite leaders from Christian history. This one was an unlikely cat, indeed: a shriveled little man who wanted nothing more than to spend his life alone in a remote cave in the Egyptian desert . . . yet who found himself deluged with attention, and who responded with the most amazing wisdom about community and relationships:
How Solitude Builds Community
An ancient monk’s surprising role in bringing justice and healing to his neighbors.
Monday, August 3, 2009
As a history professor, I have asked my students, “What is monasticism?” and I often get suspicious, negative answers: “Monks withdrawing from the world.” Continue reading
Posted in Patron Saints for Postmoderns
Tagged anger, Antony of Egypt, asceticism, Athanasius, community, desert, Egypt, monasticism, relationship, sex, sexuality, solitude
The contemplative life in some way resembles the life of quasi-monastic scholarship lived by the dons of Oxford University. Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams taught there, and Sayers attended there and returned there repeatedly in her imagination. There is a culture there of, if not strict asceticism, then at least a communal life focused on the contemplation of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, through the study of texts and the mutual admonition and edification of minds and spirits brought together in a sort of quasi-Benedictine life of stability. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged America, asceticism, Benedict of Nursia, C S Lewis, Charles Williams, community, consumerism, contemplation, Dorothy L Sayers, individualism, J R R Tolkien, mobility, monasticism, new monasticism, Oxford University, stability