So, Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age, with C. S. Lewis is out, as of May 17th!
Check out www.medieval-wisdom.com (description, blurbs, first-chapter download, links to bookstores carrying it). Here’s the first of five clips from a video interview my publisher produced:
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged asceticism, Benedict of Nursia, C S Lewis, Christian history, Dante Alighieri, emotion, evangelicalism, faith and reason, Francis of Assisi, Gregory the Great, historical theology, Incarnation, Medieval church, Middle Ages, scholasticism, science, Spirituality, Theology, Thomas Aquinas, Tradition
This post from the final “Incarnation chapter” of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis begins to turn the corner from C S Lewis on the Incarnation to medieval treatments of the Incarnation.
Aslan “comes on the Narnian scene already and always a lion; he did not become lion to save Narnia,” therefore he is not precisely a Christ figure. Nonetheless, he is “an Incarnation”: he is earthy, embodied, powerful in his materiality, and also the son of the Great Emperor. It is only a year after his extended reflections on the Incarnation in Miracles: A Preliminary Study that he turns back to continue work on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the chapter in Miracles on “the Grand Miracle” (the Incarnation), Lewis “speculates on a springtime coming to the whole cosmos as the result of Christ’s incarnation on earth.” “Aslan, the incarnation of Christ in Narnian terms, represents in Narnia what Christ represents on earth: the God of the Chosen People, the ‘glad Creator’ of nature and her activities.” He revealed his intention in a letter to a girl who had asked about “Aslan’s other name”: Continue reading
We wonder today why we are spiritually anemic. We (Protestants in particular) acknowledge that the Catholic legacy of spiritual teaching is a strong and useful one (at least, setting aside all that flagellation stuff, anyhow. That’s a joke. See the footnote in this post). In this post from the monasticism chapter of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis, I begin to look at where that strength and usefulness came from:
Spiritual mastery requires passion, tradition, and discipline
It may help us to answer the question “Why monasticism?” if we consider ascetic self-denial as one species of a larger phenomenon: the drive to achieve mastery in any human enterprise. How do you master any skill? First, you need to have passionate commitment to the goal of mastery. Second, you need to study and learn practical knowledge handed down in a tradition. Third, you need to practice discipline—both in the sense of dedicating hours and hours to repetitive practice, and in the sense of implementing an often extended list of discrete “disciplines”—the particular repeated actions required by the craft.
Think of the progress of a young girl toward becoming a skilled violinist. First comes the passion: one day she hears a piece of music, and it pierces her heart with pure joy. At the beginning, she just wants to hear it again and again; then, to know how to make those beautiful sounds herself. And so she begins years of lessons and practice, giving herself to those two complementary means to mastery: studying a tradition (here, of musical knowledge) and practicing an askesis—a training or discipline. Continue reading
Francis in a medieval dollhouse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is the fifth part of the tour of medieval heart religion from the affective devotion chapter of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. It follows the first part here, which looks at Origen and Augustine, the second part here, on Gregory the Great, the third part here, on Anselm of Canterbury, and the fourth part here, on Bernard of Clairvaux.
Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226)
Francis of Assisi, on top of all his other distinctions, gave the affective tradition a great boost in the 13th century. The sheer ubiquity of the evangelizing, teaching movement he started ensured that anything he emphasized would deeply penetrate the Christian culture of that century, and many centuries to come. By the latter part of the thirteenth century almost every town of any size had its community of Friars Minor. Within fifty years of the saint’s death there were over fifty such communities in England alone, and more than five hundred in Italy.
No influence shaped popular devotion in the high and late Middle Ages more than the Franciscans. They reached into the psyche of the people, appealing to them directly through art, literature, and impassioned preaching on the homely details of the Nativity and the stark and gritty narrative of the Passion. Tears, for Francis as for Julian and the English mystics, were a gift from God, cleansing and cathartic – a worthy daily discipline for those who “keep watch over the perfection of their life.” Continue reading
Francis, renouncing everything for the love of God
In preparation for teaching Resources for Radical Living with my partner in crime, Mark Van Steenwyk, I’ve been re-reading Paul Sabatier‘s ground-breaking Vie de S. Francois d’Assise, though in a new, annotated English edition. This is The Road to Assisi: The Essential Biography of St. Francis, ed. with intro and annotations by Jon M. Sweeney (Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 2003)–well done and informative in its many annotations.
Since in Resources for Radical Living we are using Francis as a case study in penitential living, I have been looking for material in Sabatier on the penitential life. Plenty of suggestions show up early in Sabatier’s text about why Francis lived the way he did: he was a party animal early in life with too much money and not enough sense, who eventually had a serious illness and came to see the emptiness of his former hedonism. Then, impetuous in doing good as much as he had been in his frivolities, he turned to Christ for answers, and he took the Gospel message not just seriously, but literally.
Sabatier tells all of this in his chapter six: “First Year of Apostolate (Spring 1209 – Summer 1210)”:
After hearing the gospel passage preached to him about selling all you have, going, and following Christ, “Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff” (44),
The very next morning Francis went up to Assisi and began to preach. Continue reading
The following are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading Mark Galli’s Francis of Assisi and His World (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002). Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today and former managing editor of Christian History, did his homework well, and this little book, like Chesterton’s biography of Francis, is full of insights. Galli does tend to find “legalism” in medieval monasticism, and has cautioned evangelicals about their “romance of the cloister.” But his understanding of the sacrament of penance (see below) is more nuanced than that of most Protestants. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged asceticism, Francis of Assisi, Franciscans, friars, leprosy, Mark Galli, Middle Ages, miracles, poverty, sacrament of penance, the mendicants, the poor
These are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading G. K. Chesterton’s Saint Francis of Assisi (New York: Doubleday, 2001; orig. pub. George H. Doran Company, 1924).
Chesterton’s book is full of quirky and penetrating insights on Francis, the culture of his time, and the movement he started.Though Chesterton was no academic, he saw deeply into his subject, as he did into Thomas Aquinas, the subject of his other famous short biography–which the great student of medieval philosophy Etienne Gilson described as “without possible comparison the best book ever written on St. Thomas.” Continue reading
These are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading William J. Short’s Poverty and Joy: The Franciscan Tradition in the Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series, ed. Philip Sheldrake (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1999).
Short’s book is an illuminating trip inside the mind of Francis and the culture of the early (as well as modern) Franciscans. The whole Orbis Traditions series of which it is a part is outstanding–short, affordable paperbacks that are meaty, wise, and quotable. Continue reading
I am fascinated by Francis.
Francis of Assisi (1181/2 – 1226) was, I think, a man in many ways well ahead of his time. Being human, he was not without his oddities and peccadilloes. But he drank deeply from the sorts of spiritual wells that have more recently animated the charismatic movement.
He took monasticism to its next logical step in living what Weber would later call a “worldly asceticism”: his model of Imitatio Christi understood as a vigorous and peripatetic service to the world transformed medieval religious life. The Franciscans and Dominicans both lived it out for centuries after his death, though often in ways that would have made poor Francis’s hair curl.
He recognized with laser clarity the toxicity of wealth and the heroic measures necessary to save oneself from pride.
What a saint was Francis! Still today I am challenged every time I read of his life.
All of this I was beginning to discover in 1994, at age 31, as I moved on from both my Christian tutelage in the charismatic movement and my secular vocation in corporate communications to the full-time study of church history Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged asceticism, charismatic movement, discipleship, Dominicans, Francis of Assisi, Franciscans, friars, humility, joy, monasticism, poverty, prayer, the mendicants
This is the third in a series of posts on the Resources for Radical Living course(s) and book by Mark Van Steenwyk and me (Chris Armstrong). The first post presented the original version of the course. The second presented the revised structure of the course and book.
This third post presents the revised list of case studies.
Even more important, this post asks you, dear readers, to comment on these case studies and suggest any primary or secondary readings that you think will help Mark and me as we work on these new case studies and our students as they plunge into this challenging area of “radical Christian living.” Continue reading
Posted in Resources for Radical Living
Tagged African-American Christianity, base communities, Benedict of Nursia, Benedictines, Bethel Seminary, black church, Catholic Worker Movement, communal life, compassionate life, Daniel Berrigan, devoted life, Dorothy Day, Ernesto Cardenal, Francis of Assisi, Franciscans, John Chrysostom, John Wesley, liberation theology, Mark Van Steenwyk, Martin Luther King Jr., Methodism, pacifism, penitential life, Philip Berrigan, poverty, prophetic life, slavery, the poor, war, Wendell Berry