C. S. Lewis‘s The Discarded Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964) is a key text in my course “Medieval Wisdom for Modern Ministry.” Though it is studded with an erudite array of quotations and references that can prove daunting for the newcomer, this is a tremendous introductory survey on the medieval thought-world. The book’s central argument is that medievals held a certain idea of the cosmos not as a sort of random and trivial scientific fact, but as a living, pulsing image, worthy of allegiance and indeed love. He demonstrates this argument persuasively, and along the way challenges us to compare that image (which has the drawback of not being scientifically true, but a number of advantages too) with our own.
The following are quotations and brief passages I marked while reading the book. Continue reading
A Christian literary feast
One of the more fascinating books I’ve read in the last 10 years is a sort of group biography by the prolific Catholic writer Joseph Pearce. Called Literary Converts (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000), this sprawling account leads us through a surprisingly large and varied network of 20th-century British literary Christians. Here are G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ronald Knox, T. S. Eliot, Dorothy L. Sayers, and many more. They all play their part in the spread of Christianity in English literary culture after the spiritual doldrums of the 1910s and 20s.
Pearce weaves themes and connections that will grip any fan of those writers who shares their faith. His keen eye for the telling detail, the revealing vignette, and the colorful anecdote make this book both a rich resource and a pleasure to read, if you can forgive the Roman Catholic triumphalism that emerges here and there along the way. Continue reading
Posted in Patron Saints for Postmoderns, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Anglicanism, C S Lewis, distributism, Dorothy L Sayers, economics, G K Chesterton, J R R Tolkien, Joseph Pearce, literature, Roman Catholicism, World War II
A fascinating modern exploration of Benedictine ways
The following are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading Dennis Okholm’s Monk Habits for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007). Along with works by Kathleen Norris, Phyllis Tickle, Leighton Ford, Karen E. Sloan, Tony Jones, and a growing group of other Protestant authors, Okholm’s book explores medieval monasticism–especially the Benedictine tradition. The forward is by Kathleen Norris.
As with the David Bell and Jaroslav Pelikan “glimpses” and the glimpses of Benedict and Francis by Columba Stewart, William Short, G. K. Chesterton, and Mark Galli, I thank my t.a., Shane Moe, who transcribed these and inserted brief contextual tags where helpful. Page numbers are at the beginning of each excerpt. The designation “Q” means I wanted to save the text as a quotation, for use in teaching and writing. “D” means the definition of a term. “U” means I want to use an idea or statement in my teaching:
Q, 9 (from Kathleen Norris’s forward to the book, on Ockholm’s discussion of Protestants being attracted to monasteries): “He demonstrates that it is not just another case of Americans shopping around for their spirituality, but a genuine reclaiming of the taproot of Christianity, a reconnecting with a religious tradition and way of life that predates all of the schisms in Christendom.” Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Benedict of Nursia, Benedict's Rule, Benedictinism, G K Chesterton, Jaroslav Pelikan, Kathleen Norris, Medieval, Middle Ages, monasticism, Protestantism
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
One of the modern figures I think I will be using in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants as guides into the Middle Ages for today’s readers is the early 20th century author and apologist G. K. Chesterton. Among Chesterton’s works are biographies on St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi and a work of literary criticism on Chaucer.
I will post, below, the assessments by two of Chesterton’s biographers of his Chaucer work. But first I can’t resist repeating the famous story about how the brilliant academic medievalist Etienne Gilson responded to Chesterton’s biography of Aquinas. Remember that Chesterton himself had no academic degree in medieval philosophy or any other related topic. Here’s how biographer Maisie Ward reports Gilson’s response: Continue reading
G. K. Chesterton, “Christianity and Rationalism” (1904, The Clarion), G. K. Chesterton, Collected Works, vol. 1, pp. 373 – 380.
The following argument for the truth of Christianity comes from the Blatchford controversies, a civil exchange between anti- and pro-Christians in the pages of Robert Blatchford’s Clarion, 1904, from which G. K. Chesterton’s contributions have been culled and published in vol. 1 of his Collected Works:
“The Secularist says that Christianity has  been a gloomy and ascetic thing, and points to the procession of austere or ferocious saints who have given up home and happiness and macerated health and sex. But it never seems to occur to him that the very oddity and completeness of these men’s surrender make it look very much as if there were really something actual and solid in the thing for which they sold themselves. They gave up all pleasures for one pleasure of spiritual ecstasy. They may have been mad; but it looks as if there really were such a pleasure. They gave up all human experiences for the sake of one superhuman experience. They may have been wicked, but it looks as if there were such an experience.” (375 – 6) Continue reading
Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian Roman Catholic philosopher and literary critic who gave us ‘The medium is the message” and “the global village,” had some penetrating things to say about G. K. Chesterton in the introduction to the little book Paradox in Chesterton, by Hugh Kenner (London: Sheed & Ward, 1948). I think he got Chesterton both very right and very wrong. Right in talking about Chesterton’s moral thought. Wrong in trying to separate that thought from various aspects of his literary imagination and literary style.
Basically, McLuhan thought we should all dump Chesterton the Victorian literary medievalist in favor of Chesterton the “master of analogical perception and argument who never failed to focus a high degree of moral wisdom on the most confused issues of our age.”
This does not mean that McLuhan saw Chesterton as a systematic moral philosopher (which he certainly was not). McLuhan enjoined editors to produce, “not an anthology which preserves the Victorian flavor of his journalism by extensive quotation, but one of short excerpts which would permit the reader to feel Chesterton’s powerful intrusion into every kind of confused moral and psychological issue of our time.” Why? Because “he seems never to have reached any position by dialectic or doctrine, but to have enjoyed a kind of connaturality with every kind of reasonableness.”
McLuhan is quite hard on Chesterton’s Victorian literary medievalism, as were many contemporary and later critics. He saw that frame of Chesterton’s work as derivative, low-quality, and not inherent to the great writer’s metaphysical-moral thought (his clear-sightedness into the many moral conundrums of his age, rooted in metaphysical insight):
“So very impressive is this metaphysical side of Chesterton that it is always embarrassing to encounter the Chesterton fan who is keen about The Ballad of the White Horse or the hyperbolic descriptive parts of Chesterton’s prose. In fact, it might be the kindest possible service to the essential Chesterton to decry all that part of him which derives so obviously from his time. Thus it is absurd to value Chesterton for that large and unassimilated heritage he got from [medievalist and all-round wacko] William Morris—the big, epic dramaturgic gestures, riotous colour, medieval trappings, ballad themes and banal rhythms. Morris manages these things better than Chesterton ever did: and nobody wants to preserve William Morris.” Continue reading