Here is the first bit of the conclusion of the “compassionate ministry” chapter draft from Getting Medieval with C S Lewis (the second part is here). Here Lewis helps us see the breadth and spiritual dimension of the classical medieval virtue of mercy:
How can we benefit today from this consistent though evolving medieval witness to compassionate charity through healthcare? For one thing, I believe we can see in that witness a clear reminder of the supreme role of mercy in living out the gospel. Lewis, who knew the tradition well, insisted that “if one virtue must be cultivated at the expense of all the rest, none has a higher claim than mercy.” He understood, of course, the teaching of the scholastics that mercy both is and is not Christianity’s highest virtue. It is not the highest virtue, as Aquinas taught, because the theological virtue of caritas, love for God, must be counted greater, since its object (God) is greater than that of mercy (humans). But as far as “external works” are concerned, we know that “the sum total of the Christian religion consists in mercy.”
This puts individual acts of mercy in the right context: they are agape, caritas, made concrete through action. “Agape in action,” as Lewis put it in a letter to a Mrs. Ashton, who has taken in a poor illegitimate child to her household. “Charity,” he wrote to her, “means love. It is called Agape in the New Testament,” which is the kind of love that “God has for us,” which is “all giving, not getting.” As the word was used by the medievals: not just throwing a few dollars at a problem—though giving money can be one kind of charity—but actualizing one’s love, which is why “to give time and toil is far better and (for most of us) harder.”
The unfortunate history of the word “charity” actually illustrates the breaking of this holism between acts of mercy (social ethics) and Christian love (personal ethics, character). Continue reading
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I’ve long thought Protestantism has been hasty (as Luther himself was not) to eliminate the practice of confession to a priest–among other Roman Catholic (or the larger category: “catholic”) practices and beliefs. Once one clears away the typical Protestant misunderstandings (that the priest is a mediator who somehow offers absolution by his own authority, that he imposes penances as a way to “earn salvation,” etc.), this seems to me a healthy Christian discipline. Particularly it seems it would be helpful if the person to which one confessed were also one’s spiritual director, in the old tradition.
What follows are some notes taken at the Marion Wade Center, from a couple of sources by Lyle Dorsett. The first is an article peering into C S Lewis’s own practice of confession. The second is a group of excerpts from Dorsett’s book on Lewis’s spiritual development, and talks again about Lewis’s practice of confession, then also about his views on purgatory, Mary, and the Protestant-Roman Catholic divide.
Summarizing: Lewis shared some broadly “catholic” beliefs and practices with both the Roman Catholics and the Anglo-Catholics within his own Church. But he was far from teetering on the edge of conversion to Roman Catholicism, as Joseph Pearce has incorrectly (in my opinion) argued. Nonetheless, Lewis makes a good study in appropriating long-standing catholic practices while remaining Protestant in conviction and worship:
[Note: as you’ll see, my inclusion of Mary in the title of this blog post is a bit of a red herring: Lewis was averse to Marian devotion.]
Dorsett, Lyle W. “C.S. Lewis and the Cowley Fathers.” Cowley 32 n.1 (Winter 2006): cover, 11-12.
In this article Dorsett writes especially about CSL’s Anglo-Catholic confessor and “director,” Father Walter Adams. Lewis began to see Adams in late October 1940, saying after his first confession to Father Adams “that the experience was like a tonic to his soul.” (11) Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Anglicanism, C S Lewis, confession, Eucharist, Joseph Pearce, penance, Protestantism, purgatory, Real Presence, Roman Catholicism, spiritual direction, the Virgin Mary
A few reflections on my experience at Medieval Congress 2010, dictated as I drove from Kalamazoo to Midway Airport (through Michigan Wine Country–and stopping at a few tastings!) to return to the Twin Cities:
Sitting in that last session [where I heard the paper “The Beauty of the Person in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas,” by Margaret I. Hughes of Fordham Univ] reminds me again of the apparent integrity and usefulness of Thomistic moral categories and moral analysis (this first came across me at the conference in Rebecca DeYoung’s session on vainglory).
I’m aware always of David Steinmetz’s off-handed dismissal, in a class one day, of virtue ethics as something, as I understood him, inherently Pelagian. But I think again that there’s a high value in an anatomizing of the heart as an ultimately spiritual as well as intellectual discipline, and I think Aquinas works in that mode do many other ethical thinkers in the medieval period . . . and as do the penitential manuals and so on and so forth.
Do they always do it well or in ways we can appropriate today? I’m sure they don’t. But to examine closely our personalities, who we are as moral beings, how we are tempted, how we sin, and how we recover from sins and become purified through a life-long process of sanctification—there is great value in this; it’s a value that was captured in the Methodist movement, has been captured by the Pietists, the Puritans . . . It seems it’s inherently and faithfully biblical and worthy of further study. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged American Society of Church History, asceticism, Cistercians, confessionalism, evangelicalism, Grant Wacker, historiography, Jean Leclercq, Martin Thornton, Medieval, Middle Ages, moral philosophy, religious studies, Richard Lovelace, sacrament of penance, spiritual direction, Spirituality, Theology, Thomas Aquinas
Interested in spiritual direction? Here’s a piece I put together with editorial right-hand man Steve Gertz back in the Christian History days. Links are old so no doubt some will not work:
Got Your ‘Spiritual Director’ Yet?
The roots of a resurgent practice, plus 14 books for further study
Chris Armstrong and Steven Gertz
Christian counselor and popular author Larry Crabb took the trouble to earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. But now he believes that in today’s church, therapy should be replaced by another, more ancient practice—”spiritual direction.”
This is one of the classical Christian spiritual disciplines Crabb and others from a wide variety of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox backgrounds are examining and recommending anew in a biannual journal, Conversations: A Forum for Authentic Transformation, just launched this Spring.
Crabb is not the only modern Protestant digging into this historical mode of spiritual growth. Jeannette Bakke, author of Holy Invitations: Exploring Spiritual Direction (Baker, 2000) said in a Christianity Today interview, “Evangelicals are listening for God in ways that are different from our usual understanding of discipleship. We are looking at many Christian disciplines, including prayer, silence and solitude, discernment, journaling, and others. … Spiritual direction is one of these disciplines many evangelical Christians are learning about and exploring.” Continue reading