Summary of chapter 3: Tradition as source of truth


In Discarded Image (a compendium of lectures he gave at Cambridge), C. S. Lewis shows us that medievals trusted implicitly 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.

When Aurelius Augustinus (later Augustine of Hippo) was still a young adherent of the Manichaean heresy, one of the things that put him off catholic Christians was just this reliance on tradition. Yet when he joined the church, he adopted this habit wholeheartedly, making it a linchpin of his ecclesiology. Since Augustine is the fountainhead of (Western) medieval theology, we will spend time with him as a guide to this topic, before turning to the questions later raised by Abelard and other scholastics on how, exactly, to navigate the tradition where it speaks with more than one voice. Though we won’t find a lot of Umberto Eco’s postmodern monks wandering about, medieval theologians were not anti-intellectual yokels. They had sophisticated ways of critiquing, yet affirming, the received tradition: ways we can learn from today.

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