Dante and Beatrice speak to the teachers of wisdom Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, Peter Lombard and Sigier of Brabant in the Sphere of the Sun (fresco by Philipp Veit), Canto 10. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It’s all very well to say that C S Lewis and the medievals valued tradition–indeed, that they hung their hopes for understanding the Truth of things on their ability to understand and act on the wisdom passed down to them. But what was the nature of that tradition? Yes, Christian, of course. But also, as we will see, Pagan.
Tradition included Pagan as well as Christian wisdom
In Discarded Image, Lewis shows us that medievals implicitly trusted historical texts as the repositories of God’s truth. He also shows that they saw truth not just in Scripture and explicitly Christian tradition, but also in the words of the Pagan philosophers and the works of Greco-Roman culture. This was true from Clement of Alexandria and Justin Martyr through Boethius, Thomas Aquinas, and Dante. Though the pagan philosophers had not known Christ in his incarnate form, they too, along with all people, had been given access to the logos – the wisdom of the second person of the Trinity.
In other words, medieval poets, jurists, moral teachers, romance writers, and theologians—all creating compendia of knowledge for their readers—were often gleefully syncretistic. Not that they didn’t care whether the deepest truth of things was to be understood in Christian, Platonic, Stoic, or Pagan terms. Christianity always provided the framework, the “norming norm,” for truth. But within that framework one might fit all the best thought of the pagans, as Christian thinkers had been doing ever since Paul spoke to the Greeks at Mars Hill about their “Unknown God,” using the words of their own poets (“In him we live and move and have our being.”)
What else would we expect from the early spread of “the Way” to the Gentiles? Continue reading
From a fascinating book by Darrel W. Amundsen—Medicine, Society, and Faith in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996)—come the following observations on early Christian attitudes toward medicine and physicians. These excerpts come from chapter 5, “Medicine and Faith in Early Christianity” (sentences not in quotation marks are comments from me). See here for further insights from Amundsen, on what medievals thought caused illness. And see here for some of his observations on the spiritual usefulness of illness and the meaning of plague.
“While among pagans  and Christians the same range of attitudes toward medicine and healing existed, there was one essential difference between pagans and at least those Christians who had actively embraced the gospel. . . . This pervasive difference between pagans and Christians resulted from the highly personal relationship existing between the individual Christian and an omnipotent God who was typically viewed as a having a direct concern with and involvement in the life of the believer. Continue reading
Posted in Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Augustine of Hippo, Gregory Nazianzen, healing, health, Jerome, John Chrysostom, medicine, Origen of Alexandria, paganism, stoicism, suffering
Here I am at the Calvin seminar on the seven deadly sins, at Calvin College. What are we talking about? Here’s a sample, on the deadly sins (better: “capital vices,” that is, dispositions from which a bunch of other nasty dispositions and sins flow) in the thought of Evagrius Pontus, whose list included eight of the suckers:
Calvin Seven Deadly Sins seminar Day 2
A survey of the seven deadly sins (capital vices) in Evagrius’s Praktikus, Gregory the Great’s Moralia, and John Cassian’s Conferences, conference 5
Presenters: Rebecca Konyndyk Deyoung (Calvin College) and Robert Kruschwitz (Baylor University):
Evagrius (345 – 399; died as Origenist controversy breaking out) inherited and joined well-established desert tradition. Showed up in late 300s. Not an innovator re inventing the desert experience.
What he did do was try to gather, systematize, innovate a bit, but right down what was going on already. Compiler in a creative way.
Cassian (365 – 435?) joined him out in the desert for around 2 decades. When Evagrius died, he set out for Southern France, set up a monastic version of the desert tradition out in France. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Aristotle, Cappadocian Fathers, desert fathers, Evagrius Pontus, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory the Great, John Cassian, moral philosophy, moral psychology, Origen of Alexandria, Plato, seven deadly sins, sin, stoicism