Tag Archives: Dante

New from Christian History magazine: The history of hell


The editorial team at Christian History magazine is working away on our Issue #101 on Healthcare and Hospitals in the Mission of the Church, which will release this fall.

Meanwhile, project editor Jennifer Trafton and a writing team including myself, Jennifer and Edwin Woodruff Tait, and Jennifer Trafton have finished work on “The history of hell: A brief history and resource guide.” You can check it out here.

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Dorothy L. Sayers: Reclaiming the “integrated medieval worldview” for today


I’ve been at the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College, IL for a couple of days now, looking through a slew of sources on C S Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, and G. K. Chesterton, who will be the key modern “guides” in my forthcoming book Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants. Below are notes from one fruitful source I ran into today, on Sayers.

The words in block capitals at the beginnings of some paragraphs relate to my chapter topics (search on the book’s title on this blog, or look back to early posts via the calendar, and you’ll find summary descriptions of each chapter). I’ve short-handed the thematic chapters Creation, Tradition, Theology, Ethics, Monks, Emotions, Incarnation, and Death. Here are the notes from my new-found source:

Lee W. Gibbs, The Middle Way: Voices of Anglicanism
(Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1991)

[The “voices” are Richard Hooker, John Donne, Jeremy Taylor, Joseph Butler, F. D. Maurice, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, and William Temple]

From the Sayers chapter:

THEOLOGY          “Dorothy learned to play the piano and the violin, and even as a child she liked to sing hymns—especially those that were about ‘Prowl and prowl around, good swinging thick stuff, with a grand line or two about heresies and schisms, with all the sinners deeply wailing, the Father on His sapphire throne and the lowly pomp, and all the Good Friday hymns, wallowing in a voluptuous gloom.’” (95)

THEOLOGY          “It was also very early on that she was exposed to modest catechetical training. She found the doctrine of the Trinity intriguing and the language of the creeds overwhelming: ‘I know I should never have dared to confess to any of my grown-ups the over-mastering fascination exercised on me by the Athanasian Creed . . . So I hugged it as a secret delight.’” (95) Continue reading

Norman Cantor on C S Lewis on the Middle Ages


In my forthcoming book Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, a number of British writers will serve as guides into the period: C S Lewis, J R R Tolkien, G K Chesterton, Dorothy L Sayers and others. The medievalist Norman Cantor, in his 1991 book Inventing the Middle Ages, spends a chapter talking about how Lewis, Tolkien, and their Oxford colleague Frederick Maurice Powicke shaped modern views of the Middle Ages. Together he labels these men “The Oxford Fantasists.”

There is good stuff in this chapter of Cantor’s on the sort of medievalism (that is, “modern uses or construals of the Middle Ages”) that Lewis and friends (including Barfield and Williams) fashioned.

Tolkien, as medievalist, though he didn’t do much in his field apart from the fantasy writing that absorbed so much of his time, was for example “the leading scholar on the subjects of two precious fourteenth-century poems written anonymously in the Midlands, about seventy miles from Oxford, in the dialect of that region. These poems, Sir [206] Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl, are now regarded, along with Beowulf (c. 800) and the works of Chaucer (late fourteenth century), as the greatest medieval poetry in the English language. There is no more beautiful poem in any medieval language than Pearl, an allegorical elegy for a dead child. Tolkien was responsible for the definitive text of Sir Gawain, published in 1925. . . .” (205-6)

“Lewis in the war years was by far the best known of the Inklings group, both within the academic world and even more among the general public. He had established his reputation as a leading medieval literary historian with The Allegory of Love (1936), a pioneering and influential study of medieval romantic literature. . . .” (206)

“Of all the medievalists of the twentieth century, Lewis and Tolkien have gained incomparably the greatest audience, although 99.9 percent of their readers have never looked at their scholarly work. They are among the best-selling authors of modern times for their works of fantasy, adult and children’s. . . . In 1949 Jack Lewis’s smiling face graced the cover of Time magazine, and he gained a huge audience in the United States.” (207) Continue reading

Taking Dante to the streets


A scholar and popularizer of Dante, Dr. Ronald B. Herzman, has given this wonderful account of some experiences he’s had with what happens when regular, non-academic folks–including the inmates of Attica Prison–grab hold of Dante. If you enjoy Herzman’s short article, run, don’t walk to the website of The Teaching Company and get their Dante course, co-taught by Herzman and Dr. William R. Cook.

Summary of chapter 7: Heart religion as a medieval tradition


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.” Chesterton discovered a similar romantic dynamic in the life of “God’s troubadour,” Francis of Assisi. Lewis described his conversion as the surprising discovery of joy. Each of these writers was drawing on a distinctively medieval tradition of affective theology, exemplified especially in such late-medieval mystics as Julian of Norwich. Continue reading

Summary of chapter 4: An all-embracing passion for theological knowledge


In one sense, all of medieval theology was a series of footnotes on Augustine, who had insisted that knowledge begins with faith and faith provides a foundation for knowledge. During the high and late medieval periods, Augustine’s impulse blossomed, through thinkers such as Anselm of Canterbury and Abelard, into a full-blown scholastic theology. Scholasticism gets a bad rap (“Angels on the head of a pin” and such like), but the scholastic doctors were trying to make more intelligent and effective the loyalty to the Christian faith which had become nominal through the mass conversions of the earlier centuries. Indeed, they were actually beginning a democratization of the faith that bore fruit in the Reformation. Their use of reason in theology made knowledge of God accessible, not merely to the cloistered monk with his intense and constant mystical exercises, but to anyone able and willing to think. Continue reading

Webcam on Dante’s bridge, Florence


Here is a webcam aimed at the Ponte Santa Trinita, the Holy Trinity Bridge, which spans the river Arno in Florence. So what? Well, that bridge is the place where, “in the year 1284, the eighteen-year-old Dante Alighieri is traditionally said to have been standing when he caught sight of Beatrice and her two friends.” I’m quoting James Burge in Dante & Beatrice. This is a popular book about Dante’s love-from-afar for Beatrice–the young girl who would become his lifelong muse and the principal inspiration for his epic poem, the Comedia.