My friend Greg Forster has written a thought-provoking article on the humane roots and recent corruption of capitalism. I recommend this as well worth reading. Here’s the first bit, to whet your appetite:
Last week John Starke wrote for TGC about “The Myth of the Protestant Work Ethic.” I’m grateful to Starke for exposing the egregious theological errors in Max Weber‘s theory of capitalism’s origins. But Weber’s theory of what happened next, the “cultural contradictions of capitalism” thesis, has done just as much damage. Christians ought to understand how Weber’s view of capitalism undermines the moral foundations of a humane and genuinely productive economy, promoting materialism, greed, faith/work dualism, debt, and crony capitalism. Continue reading
I’ve posted several times on the new resource from the publishers Christian History, a compact little survey and resource guide on the history of Christian thought about hell. The project was ably managed by Jennifer Trafton and written by Jennifer, myself, and that redoubtable pair Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff Tait. Jennifer Trafton wrote a splendid annotated bibliography containing brief summaries of over 50 books contributing to the modern debates on hell. For the main, “timeline” section of the publication, the four of us divvied things up chronologically.
Hortus Deliciarum - Hell (Hölle) Herrad von Landsberg (about 1180)
My section was the medieval one, the substance of this post (previously posted in draft form, here). If you would like to read the whole guide in all its fully designed glory, simply go here and you can flip through it, starting with the harrowing Gustav Dore illustration for Milton’s Paradise Lost that appears on the cover (folks with old eyes, like mine, can click to zoom in):
The medieval period saw a shift in emphasis from the early church’s focus on the biblical “Last Things”—the Second Coming of Christ, general resurrection, and final judgment—to a new concentration on the afterlives of individuals. Until the 400s and even beyond, Jesus’ return was still expected imminently; thus those who died in the intervening generations could be thought of as simply sleeping or awaiting the resurrection. There was not much written during this early period about the immediate fate of those who died before Jesus returned.
As the Second Coming came to seem more remote, however, Christians increasingly focused on the doctrine of the immediate judgment of each soul at death. The Book of Revelation in particular began to guide Christian imagination on people’s fate after death. This emphasis on the afterlife resulted in a lavishly visual and grotesque new genre of literature: the vision of the otherworldly journey, of which Dante’s Divine Comedy represented the pinnacle. Continue reading
Coppo di Marcovaldo, Hell (ca 1225 - 1274, Mosaic, Baptistry, Florence)
Folks, here’s a sneak preview of some work I did for the forthcoming Christian History magazine Handbook to Christian Thought on Hell. It’s not edited yet, but the guide, which will survey Christian thought on hell from the earliest church to the 21st century, will include something like what follows. If you are interested in getting the entire guide, which will be in a half-size (roughly 5 x 8.5) magazine format complete with timeline and illustrations, go to www.christianhistorymagazine.org and get on the mailing list.
The Middle Ages
The medieval period (roughly 500 – 1500 AD) saw a shift in emphasis from the early church’s focus on the biblical “Last Things”—the Second Coming of Christ, general resurrection, and final judgment—to a new concentration on the afterlives of individuals. Until the 400s AD and even beyond (as in the thought of Gregory the Great (540 – 604)), the “Parousia” (second coming and all its associated events) was still expected imminently, and so those who died in the intervening generations could be thought of as simply sleeping or awaiting the resurrection. There simply wasn’t much written during this early period about the immediate fate of those who died before Jesus returned.
However as the Second Coming came to seem, potentially, more remote, the question of the reward of the saved and the punishment of the damned heated up, and the doctrine of the immediate judgment of each soul at death came into more prominence. The Book of Revelation in particular, which tremendously influenced medieval culture, began to be pressed into service to imagine the shape of people’s fate after death. As we will see, this emphasis on the afterlife and its support from the Book of Revelation resulted in a lavishly visual and grotesque new genre of imaginative literature: the vision of the otherworldly journey, of which Dante’s Divine Comedy was the pinnacle. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Patron Saints for Postmoderns
Tagged Bede, Book of Revelation, Christian History magazine, Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, hell, Middle Ages, Rob Bell, Second Coming of Christ, Thomas Aquinas
C S Lewis was, I believe, “medieval” in the very warp and woof of his thought. To borrow from Wikipedia, b/c this morning I am lazy, and in this case Wikipedia is accurate:
Lewis then taught as a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, for nearly thirty years, from 1925 to 1954, and later was the first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Using this position, he argued that there was no such thing as an English Renaissance. Much of his scholarly work concentrated on the later Middle Ages, especially its use of allegory. His The Allegory of Love (1936) helped reinvigorate the serious study of late medieval narratives like the Roman de la Rose. Lewis wrote several prefaces to old works of literature and poetry, like Layamon’s Brut. His book “A Preface to Paradise Lost” is still one of the most valuable criticisms of that work. His last academic work, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964), is a summary of the medieval world view, the “discarded image” of the cosmos in his title.
As I have explored in another post, Lewis was in tune with medieval thought as much in his philosophical and ethical thought as in his literary scholarship, his imaginative writings, or his Christian apologetics. Continue reading
All of the following come from David N. Bell, Many Mansions: An Introduction to the Development and Diversity of Medieval Theology (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1996). This is a splendid book–a sort of sequel to Bell’s Cloud of Witnesses, on early Christian thought.
Many thanks to my t.a., Shane Moe, for transcribing these. In each case, the page number of the quotation appears at the beginning of the line. The quirk of lowercasing adjectival forms of proper nouns is Bell’s or his editors–not mine:
[For more "glimpses," from Jaroslav Pelikan, see here.]
(20): [re: Major developments in European intellectual history from 6th century onwards] There are five mile-stones to mark our way: (i) the pontificate of Gregory the Great from 590 to 604; (ii) the Carolingian Renaissance of the late eighth and ninth centuries; (iii) the papal reform movements of the eleventh century; (iv) the renaissance of the twelfth century; and (v) the rise of scholasticism and the universities in the thirteenth century. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged Abelard, apophaticism, Aristotle, denominations, Eastern Christianity, Franciscans, Jesus Christ, Mary, negative theology, philosophy, Plato, Pseudo-Dionysius, realism, Sabellianism, scholasticism, the Affirmative Way, Theology, Thomas Aquinas, Trinity, universities
For a while this summer, I dug deep in the sources to try to discover whether C. S. Lewis’s strong taste for virtue ethics, manifested both in his Abolition of Man and in his Mere Christianity (among other places) reflected an equally strong appreciation for Thomas Aquinas. At the Marion Wade Center, I pored over the massive four-volume set of Aquinas’s Summa that once resided in Lewis’s library. There were almost no annotations in that set by Lewis, but then again, many of the books he loved most were likewise unmarked.
I read through certain letters of Lewis in which he cautions his correspondent to stay away from the neo-scholasticism of Jacques Maritain and others (he identified T. S. Eliot with this movement). To Dom Bede Griffiths he wrote, “There is no section of religious opinion with which I feel less sympathy.” Lewis seems to have objected to the neo-Thomists’ insistence on certain philosophical formulations and understandings as essential to the faith: “there are some of this set who seem to me to be anxious to make of the Christian faith itself one more of their high brow fads.” This would seem to rub against Lewis’s commitment to “mere Christianity.”
Also, Chris Mitchell of the Wade Center warned me that Lewis got most of his understanding and appreciation of virtue ethics directly from Aristotle, rather than via Aquinas. So I began to worry that Lewis was in fact anti-scholastic, and that I would have a hard time using him in my Medieval Wisdom book as an guide into the passion for precise theological understanding that characterized the great scholastics. Continue reading
Here are my notes from the Calvin Seven Deadly Sins seminar, day 10, containing thoughts from Rebecca De Young of Calvin College, Robert Kruschwitz of Baylor, and the participants. The topic is gluttony, Rebecca got us going with a slideshow and commentary. This is an opportune time to say: buy Rebecca’s book Glittering Vices, on the traditional seven capital vices (“deadly sins”). It is wonderful and edifying. It will help you in your Christian walk:
Bob: book on Fasting. He’ll use it in a moment in talking about Aquinas.
Rebecca: slideshow: “Death by Chocolate? Aquinas on the Vice of Gluttony” (talk given at Calvin, Feb 2009)
We have reduced our notion of gluttony to being overweight, eating in excess. Some basis for this. Gluttony the word has this broader connotation of excess, surplus. “Greedy for knowledge” is to want too much of it—we use it in this extended sense. Lust, luxuria, can also be used this way. Too much of anything. Not just sex.
So in this talk, wanted to convince people that for Aquinas, wanted to broaden the notion, but also to show food and the body as basic goods of nature. 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
What follows are excerpts from a letter from C S Lewis to a friend of his, in which he explains (in answer to his friend’s query) how he himself learned about the Middle Ages–and how his friend might wish to pursue that study. Because these are notes for my own use, I have at a couple of points simply inserted into the running text, in square brackets, footnotes I found useful:
The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, vol. II
This is the letter to his nun friend, Sister Madeleva: Magdalen College, Oxford, June 7th 1934, which contains his suggested program of study of the Middle Ages. p. 140ff:
[n. 14, 140: “Sister M. Madeleva CSC (1887 – 1964), a member of the Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Cross, was a teacher of English at St Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana. While staying in Oxford during Trinity Term 1934, she attended Lewis’s lectures on medieval poetry, and had a particular interest in the lecture devoted to Boethius. Besides lending Sister Madeleva his notebooks giving details of the works mentioned in his lectures, L invited her to visit him in Magdalen. On her return to Notre Dame in 1934, Sister Madeleva was made President of St Mary’s College, a post she held until her retirement in 1961. Here numerous books include [a list follows including studies on Chaucer and the Pearl poem, indicating a continued interest in medieval studies]. . . .”]
“The  history of my lecture is this. After having worked for some years on my own subject (which is the medieval allegory), I found that I had accumulated a certain amount of general information which, tho far from being very recondite, was more than the ordinary student in the school could gather for himself. Continue reading
It occurs to me as I look over the previous post of notes from Lee W. Gibbs, The Middle Way: Voices of Anglicanism (Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1991) that Sayers sounds like a precursor of today’s “radical orthodoxy” movement. This is so both in her insistence that theology be resurrected as “queen of the sciences” and in her ressourcement from the Middle Ages. Here’s the bit that triggered the thought:
“Sayers is not so much anti-science or anti-technology as she is a Christian integralist who perceives that science and technology have become over-emphasized and predominant in the modern world, too often at the expense of theology and philosophy as equally valid and necessary paths to truth and knowledge. What she calls  for is a return to the more proper balance achieved during the Christian Middle Ages, where philosophy was seen to be a subdivision of theology, and science a subdivision of philosophy.” (108 – 9)
And here’s the wikipedia bit on radical orthodoxy. Note especially the “Main Ideas” and “Influences” listed here: Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged Augustine of Hippo, Dorothy L Sayers, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, John Milbank, Karl Barth, Medieval, Meister Eckhart, Middle Ages, neoplatonism, nicholas of Cusa, radical orthodoxy, secularism, the Cambridge Platonists, the Oxford Movement, Theology, Thomas Aquinas