Tag Archives: G K Chesterton

The roots of heart religion – Francis of Assisi


Gemälde von Bonaventura Berlinghieri: Der hl. ...

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.[1]

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.”[2] Continue reading

C S Lewis on desire as the road to God


Boy-Drinking-WaterThis is the last bit on Lewis and desire in the “affective devotion” chapter of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis:

Lewis was not idiosyncratic among 20th-century Christian imaginative writers on this matter of desire’s role in bringing us to the gospel. Lewis’s close friend Charles Williams was captivated by Dante Alighieri’s belief that he had been led to salvation by a young woman with whom he had become infatuated with when he was a boy. From Dante’s vision of Beatrice, Williams elaborated a “romantic theology.” A key Christian influence on Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, discovered a similar romantic dynamic in the life of “God’s troubadour,” Francis of Assisi. Each of these writers, and Lewis himself, was thus drawing in fact not only from classical eudaemonism, but also from a distinctively medieval tradition of affective theology, exemplified in Boethius, Francis, Dante, and with special intensity in such late-medieval mystics as Julian of Norwich (one of Lewis’s favorite spiritual writers).

Lewis taught that our natural desires—our yearning that is triggered by our experiences of what is good and beautiful in the world—in fact can lead us toward God. Indeed he insisted that he himself had come to God in this way, so that he called himself an “empirical theist.”[1] He refused to believe that “the ‘vague something’ which has been suggested to one’s mind as desirable, all one’s life, in experience of nature and music and poetry” was “any product of our own minds.”[2] Our sensing self, interacting with the world through not only perception but also desire, leads us toward something real and objective beyond our subjectivity: it leads us toward God. Now, he confessed, with the Pseudo-Dionysians, that sometimes this happened by negative example and by suffering—by the sinfulness in ourselves that we stumble across as soon as we engage fully in that natural mode and world—as Gregory the Great had also taught. But this, too, was a mechanism of desire: we desire not to suffer and be sad, so we reach out to the God who forgives sins, heals hearts, dries eyes. Continue reading

C S Lewis, G K Chesterton, romanticism, Creation, community, sex – musings on Catholicism and the quiddity of things


Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530

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

Word and World together – the lost synthesis of the medieval scholastics (from which science, capitalism, and Western culture were born)


Michelangelo-creationMoving to the Creation chapter, I find the themes of the nascent theology chapter “leaking over” into this topic. I am thus moving the “science and religion” and “Word and world” material from the latter to the former. Here is the bucket where I have currently put evidence from Lewis, Dante, Aquinas, Abelard, and others for the ways medieval thinkers brought together Word and World, Faith and Science. It still needs reorganizing and revising, but I like how this is shaping up:

Word and world

Scholasticism also offered a broadening of horizons and a deepening of relationship between man and God, because it not only engaged the inner faculty of reason in the study of God, but also sought to comprehend the whole sweep of human experience in a single system. This was, I believe, what Lewis meant when he observed, “Marcus Aurelius wished that men would love the universe as a man can love his own city. I believe that something like this was really possible in the [Middle Ages].”[1a]

Before Lewis (and influencing him), G. K. Chesterton picked up the scholastic torch as he spent his career insisting that Christianity was, far from an obscurantist opiate of the masses, actually the Most Reasonable Thing (a constant theme in his “Father Brown” stories, for instance). Lewis’s friend Dorothy Sayers carried this onward, explaining the medieval (Thomist) synthesis of knowledge through essays and her brilliant notes on Dante’s Comedy describing the ruling “images” operative in every book and canto of that poem.

As we have seen, scholasticism was clearly a response to a new, naturalistic worldview that was becoming dominant in their culture. “Recognizing as we must the imperfections and the unfinished business of the medieval achievement, we should also acknowledge that it [Scholasticism] was the most daring constructive attempt in the Church’s history to think of grace and nature, faith and reason, Christianity and culture, God and his creation, in terms that would neither separate nor confuse them [note the direct parallel to the language of the Chalcedonian Definition!], neither strip God of his sovereignty nor do violence to the integrity of his creatures. In other words, scholastic theology and philosophy are, at the very least, a noble effort to face the abiding problems raised by the correlation of Christian faith in God, Creator and Redeemer, with man’s knowledge of himself and his world.”[1b] Continue reading

“Saint” Chesterton?


Gilbert Keith Chesterton, (b. 29 May 1874 – d....

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, (b. 29 May 1874 – d. 14 June 1936), English writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Worth noting: Pope Francis appears to be pro- the canonization of G. K. Chesterton, says Stratford Caldecott in this interesting article.

 

Caldecott relates the current pope’s interest in canonizing the great apologist and influencer of C S Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and so many others,

 

According to EWTN News and the Catholic News Agency, a letter to Mr Thompson from the Argentine ambassador who heads a Chesterton group in Argentina noted that the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, “encourages us in our aspiration to see the initiation of the Cause of Chesterton to the altars.” Not only that, but Cardinal Bergoglio, since elected pope, approved the text of a private prayer for the canonization of Chesterton.

 

We’ll just have to wait and see, but there is an English bishop who is doing more than that:

 

Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton is “sympathetic” to those who desire to see Chesterton canonized and is “seeking a suitable cleric to begin an investigation into the potential for opening a cause for Chesterton.”

 

This development is a long way from actual canonization, but  its announcement by Dale Ahlquist at a meeting of the American Chesterton Society was greeted with “huge cheering and applause and great emotion.” Continue reading

Anagrams of the Saints


Wordle: Patron Saints for PostmodernsA couple of years back, when I was in the thick of writing Patron Saints for Postmoderns, I started doodling with anagrams for my “saints’” names. This is what I came up with:

Margery Kempe = “Kerygma per me”

That’s a Greek/Latin hybrid, meaning, “the Gospel proclamation for me.” So much of what Margery did was in response to her deeply personal sense of what the Gospel proclamation meant–for her and for all people.

Continue reading

Would we fail this exam on what the church believes? Dorothy Sayers at her best


Into her famous mid-20th century essay “The Dogma Is the Drama,” mystery writer, religious playwright, and Dante translator Dorothy L. Sayers inserts the following scathing and humorous assessment of what many unchurched people think the church believes. Sadly, this portrait may still not be far off. And as they were then, these sorts of mistakes are still largely the fault of the church itself.

Q.:          What does the Church think of God the Father?
A.:          He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfillment. He is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferers by means of arbitrary judgments and miracles, distributed with a good deal of favoritism. He . . . is always ready to pound on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the Law, or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary. Continue reading

Glimpses of C S Lewis’s The Discarded Image


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

Beyond C S Lewis: Glimpses of 20th-century British literary Christians from biographer Joseph Pearce


Cover of "Literary Converts: Spiritual In...

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

Monastic habits for non-monastics–Glimpses from Dennis Okholm


Cover of "Monk Habits for Everyday People...

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