Introducing Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis – part 10: Dancing the “medieval minuet” of immediate and mediated faith


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So we are in a dilemma: how do we at the same time both foster the immediatism that is part of our heritage and push back against its most arrogant claims? How may we, this side of the Enlightenment, acknowledge the necessity to our human condition of mediating forms at the same time that we recognize the tremendous gift of God which is his direct communication to our individual hearts and minds? How do we admit that we dwell neither in the glow of the seventh heaven nor in the rare flashes of direct illumination, and that we need human, communal mediation, with its firm but fallible checks and balances of liturgy, of church discipline, of doctrine?

Though we cannot ourselves (of course) become medieval in any direct sense, if we read the period honestly we will find something like the ordered minuet of immediate and mediated modes of faith: here a sober celebration of church and sacrament, there a joyful riot of direct communication and personal commerce with God.

The answer to the question is not “either/or,” it is “both/and.” But we have lost the “and” of tradition, and we’ve lost the “and” of mediation. Because we see through a glass darkly, we need to hear the whole community of the church – including the church triumphant that’s gone on before. We need again to submit our worship to forms past and present, our theology to communities past and present, our practice to spiritual disciplines. Inasmuch as we can do so in the current secularist, pluralist space, we need to find ways to mediate our arts and sciences and education through the Christian history of art, the Christian history of science, the Christian history of all human cultural activity that has gone before us (and in doing so we return, really, to our own recent past, since most universities in America were founded out of this Christian cultural impulse).

This is as T.S. Eliot argues in his essay about what is to be a writer[1]: you can’t hope to become a writer worth reading without the tradition. You can start to be Christian by the great direct grace of God, but you cannot hope to be a well-formed one without forms of mediation to go along with the amazing immediate experiences made available to us, quite astoundingly, through the ages. To do otherwise is arrogance.

[1] T. S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1920), http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/essay/237868.

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