…if only we were sure of what Scripture was.

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici

[Of the absurdity of infallible interpretations in the absence of an infallible textual criticism]

Strange Confidence, still to interpret true,

Yet not be sure that all they have explain’d.

Is in the blest Original contain’d.

Arizona Lectionary

July 27th, 2007

Since we’re in the process of leaving Arizona, I post here for the wide world to rebuke me, a list of the books I have read while in Arizona. I would say, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair” but it seems inapt. And no, I did not forget to include Order of the Phoenix –it was not to be had at the library.

Paul Helm, Calvin and the Calvinists

W.M. Thackeray, The Rose and the Ring

Chekhov, Early Stories and Magazine Pieces

Cicero, The Nature of the Gods

Annie Dillard, An American Childhood

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Stephen R. Donaldson, The Real Story

Forbidden Knowledge

A Dark and Hungry God Arises

Chaos and Order

This Day All Gods Die

Ursula K. LeGuin, I forget the title

Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy

William Guthrie, The Christian’s Great Interest

C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns

The Abolition of Man


The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses

Christian Reflections

Pearl, Sir Orfeo, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (translated by J.R.R. Tolkien)

J.R. Beeke and Randall Pedersen, Meet the Puritans

Doreen Moore, Good Christians, Good Husbands

Billy Graham, Just As I Am

Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Protestantism in Guatemala

Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church

The Nine Tailors

The Five Red Herrings

Lord Peter

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harrry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Richard Sibbes, Sermons, Memoir (from v.1 of the Works)

John Dryden, Religio Laici, MacFlecknoe, The Medal, Annus Mirabilis

Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock

Samuel Johnson, Six Principal Lives (Milton, Dryden, Swift, Addison, Pope, Gray with Macaulay’s Life of Johnson)

William Shakespeare, Cymbeline

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The Two Towers

Owen Barfield, Owen Barfield on C.S. Lewis

Umberto Eco, How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays

On Literature

G.K. Chesterton, Fifteen Detectives

H.S. Bennet, Chaucer and the Fifteenth Century (v.3 of OHEL)

Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D’Arthur

Robert Spinney, Are You Legalistic? (bklt)

James E. Adams, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace

Since I will be either in the air or in the airport for most of tomorrow, here is a long something to make everyone glad that I periodically become incommunicado.

Below are a catena of statements where C.S. Lewis addresses issues that impinge on the question of the value of refinement and culture to a Christian, as well as addressing that point explicitly. The title arises since Lewis specifically distinguishes himself from Matthew Arnold –which perhaps those who have more restraint and diligence can tell me if he is always as mind-numbingly pompous and turgid as in his comments on Johnson’s Lives.

“Christianity and Culture”, Lewis’ side of an exchange originally carried on in the pages of Theology is quite a logical place to start (and can be found in the book called Christian Reflections, along with other essays that touch on the topic of the Christian attitude to culture). There we find several pertinent statements:

I felt that some readers might easily get the notion that ‘sensitivity’ or good taste were among the notes of the true Church, or that coarse, unimaginative people were less likely to be saved than refined and poetic people. In the heat of the moment I rushed to the opposite extreme. I felt, with some spiritual pride, that I had been saved in the nick of time from being ‘sensitive’. The ‘sentimentality and cheapness’ of much Christian hymnody had been a strong point in my own resistance to conversion. Now I felt almost thankful for the bad hymns. It was good that we should have to lay down our precious refinement at the very doorstep of the church; good that we should be cured at the outset of our inveterate confusion between psyche and pneuma, nature and supernature.

A man is never so proud as when striking an attitude of humility. Brother Every will not suspect me of being still in the condition I describe, nor of attributing to him the preposterous beliefs I have just suggested. But there remains, none the less, a real problem which his article forced upon me in its most acute form. No one, presumably, is really maintaining that a fine taste in the arts is a condition of salvation.


If, as I now hope, cultural activities are innocent and even useful, then they also (like the sweeping of the room in Herbert’s poem) can be done to the Lord. The work of a charwoman and the work of a poet become spiritual in the same way and on the same condition. There must be no return to the Arnoldian or Ricardian view. Let us stop giving ourselves airs.


Being fallen creatures we tend to resent offences against our taste, at least as much as, or even more than, offences against our conscience or reason; and we would dearly like to be able—if only we can find any plausible argument for doing so—to inflict upon the man whose writing (perhaps for reasons utterly unconnected with good and evil) has afflicted us like a bad smell, the same kind of condemnation which we can inflict on him who has uttered the false and the evil. The tendency is easily observed among children; friendship wavers when you discover that a hitherto trusted playmate actually likes prunes. But even for adults it is ‘sweet, sweet, sweet poison’ to feel able to imply ‘thus saith the Lord’ at the end of every expression of our pet aversion. To avoid this horrible danger we must perpetually try to distinguish, however closely they get entwined both by the subtle nature of the facts and by the secret importunity of our passions, those attitudes in a writer which we can honestly and confidently condemn as real evils, and those qualities in his writing which simply annoy and offend us as men of taste. This is difficult, because the latter are often so much more obvious and provoke such a very violent response. The only safe course seems to me to be this: to reserve our condemnation of attitudes for attitudes universally acknowledged to be bad by the Christian conscience speaking in agreement with Scripture and ecumenical tradition. A bad book is to be deemed a real evil in so far as it can be shown to prompt to sensuality, or pride, or murder, or to conflict with the doctrine of Divine Providence, or the like. The other dyslogistic terms dear to critics (vulgar, derivative, cheap, precious, academic, affected, bourgeois, Victorian, Georgian, ‘literary’, etc.) had better be kept strictly on the taste side of the account. In discovering what attitudes are present you can be as subtle as you like. But in your theological and ethical condemnation (as distinct from your dislike of the taste) you had better be very un-subtle. You had better reserve it for plain mortal sins, and plain atheism and heresy. For our passions are always urging us in the opposite direction, and if we are not careful criticism may become a mere excuse for taking revenge on books whose smell we dislike by erecting our temperamental antipathies into pseudo-moral judgments.


If any real disagreement remains between us, I anticipate that it will be about my third point—about the distinction there drawn between the real spiritual evil carried or betrayed in a book and mere faults of taste. And on this subject I confess that my critics can present me with a very puzzling dilemma. They can ask me whether the statement, ‘This is tawdry writing’, is an objective statement describing something bad in a book and capable of being true or false, or whether it is merely a statement about the speaker’s own feelings—different in form, but fundamentally the same, as the proposition ‘I don’t like oysters.’ If I choose the latter, then most criticism becomes purely subjective—which I don’t want. If I choose the formed then they can ask me, ‘What are these qualities in a book which you admit to be in some sense good and bad but which, you keep on warning us, are not “really” or “spiritually” good and bad? Is there a kind of good which not good? Is there any good that is not pleasing to God or any bad which is not hateful to Him?’ And if you press me along these lines I end in doubts. But I will not get rid of those doubts by falsifying the little light I already have. That little light seems to compel me to say that there are two kinds of good and bad. The first, such as virtue and vice or love and hatred, besides being good or bad themselves make the possessor good or bad. The second do not. They include such things as physical beauty or ugliness, the possession or lack of a sense of humour, strength or weakness, pleasure or pain. But the two most relevant for us are the two I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, conjugal eros (as distinct from agape, which, of course, is a good of the first class) and physical cleanliness. Surely we have all met people who said, indeed, that the latter was next to godliness, but whose unconscious attitude made it a part of godliness, and no small part? And surely we agree that any good of this second class, however good on its own level, becomes an enemy when it thus assumes demonic pretensions and erects itself into a quasi-spiritual value. As M. de Rougemont has recently told us, the conjugal eros ‘ceases to be a devil only when it ceases to be a god’. My whole contention is that in literature, in addition to the spiritual good and evil which it carries, there is also a good and evil of this second class, a properly cultural or literary good and evil, which must not be allowed to masquerade as good and evil of the first class. And I shall feel really happy about all the minor differences between my critics and me when I find in them some recognition of this danger—some admission that they and I, and all of the like education, are daily tempted to a kind of idolatry.

I am not pretending to know how this baffling phenomenon—the two kinds or levels of good and evil—is to be fitted into a consistent philosophy of values. But it is one thing to be unable to explain a phenomenon, another to ignore it. And I admit that all of these lower goods ought to be encouraged, that, as pedagogues, it is our duty to try to make our pupils happy and beautiful, to give them cleanly habits and good taste; and the discharge of that duty is, of course, a good of the first class. I will admit, too, that evils of this second class are often the result and symptom of real spiritual evil; dirty finger-nails, a sluggish liver, boredom, and a bad English style, may often in a given case result from disobedience, laziness, arrogance, or intemperance. But they may also result from poverty or other misfortune. They may even result from virtue. The man’s ears may be unwashed behind or his English style borrowed from the jargon of the daily press, because he has given to good works the time and every which others use to acquire elegant habits or good language. Gregory the Great, I believe vaunted the barbarity of his style. Our Lord ate with unwashed hands.

I am stating, not solving, a problem,. If my critics want to continue the discussion I think they can do so most usefully by taking it right away from literature and the arts to some other of these mysterious ‘lower goods’—where, probably, all our minds will work more coolly. I should welcome an essay from Brother Every or Mr Bethell on conjugal eros or personal cleanliness. My dilemma about literature is that I admit bad taste to be, in some sense, ‘a bad thing’, but do not think it per se ‘evil’. My critics will probably say the same of physical dirt. If we could thrash the problem out on the neutral ground of clean and dirty fingers, we might return to the battlefield of literature with new lights.

I hope it is now unnecessary to point out that in denying ‘taste’ to be a spiritual value, I am not for a moment suggesting, as Mr Bethell thought (May, 1940, p.357), that it comes ‘under God’s arbitrary condemnation’. I enjoyed my breakfast this morning, and I think that was a good thing and do not think it condemned by God. But I do not think myself a good man for enjoying it. The distinction does not seem to me a very fine one.

Or we could take something like this:

“Christianity and Literature” also in Christian Reflections

The Christian will take literature a little less seriously than the cultured Pagan: he will feel less uneasy with a purely hedonistic standard for at least many kinds of work. The unbeliever is always apt to make a kind of religion of his aesthetic experiences; he feels ethically irresponsible, perhaps, but he braces his strength to receive responsibilities of another kind which seem to a Christian quite illusory. He has to be ‘creative’; he has to obey a mystical amoral law called his artistic conscience; and he commonly wishes to maintain his superiority to the great mass of mankind who turn to books for mere recreation. But the Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world: and as for superiority, he knows that the vulgar since they include most of the poor probably include most of his superiors. He has no objection to comedies that merely amuse and tales that merely refresh; for he thinks like Thomas Aquinas ipsa ratio hoc habet ut quandoque rationis usus intercipiatur. We can play, as we can eat, to the glory of God. It thus may come about that Christian views on literature will strike the world as shallow and flippant; but the world must not misunderstand. When Christian work is done on a serious subject there is no gravity and no sublimity it cannot attain. But they will belong to the theme. That is why they will be real and lasting—mighty nouns with which literature, an adjectival thing, is here united, far over-topping the fussy and ridiculous claims of literature that tries to be important simply as literature. And a posteriori it is not hard to argue that all the greatest poems have been made by men who valued something else much more than poetry—even if that something else were only cutting down enemies in a cattle-raid or tumbling a girl in a bed. The real frivolity, the solemn vacuity, is all with those who make a literature a self-existent thing to be valued for its own sake. Pater prepared for pleasure as if it were martyrdom.

There is quite a succinct statement to be found in one of his letters:

Letter to Dom Bede Griffiths, O.S.B., 16 April 1940

I do most thoroughly agree with what you say about Art and Literature. To my mind they are only healthy when they are either (a) Definitely the handmaids of religious, or at least moral, truth – or (b) Admittedly aiming at nothing but innocent recreation or entertainment. Dante’s alright, and Pickwick is alright. But the great serious irreligious art – art for art’s sake – is all balderdash; and, incidentally, never exists when art is really flourishing. In fact one can say of Art as an author I recently read says of Love (sensual love, I mean) “It ceases to be a devil when it ceases to be a god”. Isn’t that well put? So many things – nay every real thing – is good if only it will be humble and ordinate.

Returning to Christian Reflections here is an extract from the essay “On Church Music”:

The first and most solid conclusion which (for me) emerges is that both musical parties, the High Brows and the Low, assume far too easily the spiritual value of the music they want. Neither the greatest excellence of a trained performance from the choir, nor the heartiest and most enthusiastic bellowing from the pews, must be taken to signify that any specifically religious activity is going on. It may be so, or it may not. Yet the main sense of Christendom, reformed and unreformed, would be against us if we tried to banish music from the Church. It remains to suggest, very tentatively, the ways in which it can really be pleasing to God or help to save the souls of men.

There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be [p.97]his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense.


But I must insist that no degree of excellence in the music, simply as music, can assure us that this paradisal state has been achieved. The excellence proves ‘keenness’; but men can be ‘keen’ for natural, or even wicked motives. The absence of keenness would prove that they lacked the right spirit; its presence does not prove that they have it. We must beware of the naïve idea that our music can ‘please’ God as it would please a cultivated human hearer. That is like thinking, under the old Law, that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats. To which an answer came, ‘Mine are the cattle upon a thousand hills’, and ‘if I am hungry, I will not tell thee.’ If God (in that sense) wanted music, He would not tell us. For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.

Or we can take a concise statement that summarizes much of what appears above from “Learning in War-Time” from The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses:

We are now in a position to answer the view that human culture is an inexcusable frivolity on the part of creatures loaded with such awful responsibilities as we. I reject at once an idea which lingers in the mind of some modern people that cultural activities are in their own right spiritual or meritorious—as though scholars and poets were intrinsically more pleasing to God than scavengers and bootblacks. I think it was Matthew Arnold who first used the English word spiritual in the sense of the German geistlich, and so inaugurated this most dangerous and most anti-Christian error. Let us clear it forever from our minds. The work of a Beethoven and the work of a charwoman become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord.”

I think that is a wide enough selection to establish quite thoroughly that for C.S. Lewis, while culture can be innocent and useful, it does not intrinsically possess spiritual value. If we are to spoil the Egyptians, what we must not do is give to their possessions the same value that they did; and, as we see in the case of Achan, or of Demas, sometimes the lure of spoil is one that brings you to destruction.

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici

[Some proofs of the divinity of Scripture –though by no means all Dryden mentions]

Whether from length of Time its worth we draw,

The World is scarce more Antient than the Law:

Heav’ns early Care prescib’d for every Age;

First, in the Soul, and after, in the Page.

Or, whether more abstractedly we look,

Or on the Writers, or the written Book,

Whence, but from Heav’n, cou’d Men unskill’d in arts,

In several Ages born, in several parts,

Weave such agreeing Truths? or how or why

Shou’d all conspire to cheat us with a Lye?

Unask’d their Pains, ungrateful their Advice,

Starving their Gain, and Martyrdom their Price.

And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers (Exodus 6:2-4). This passage has caused some trouble to conservatives, if for no other reason, as a proof-text for the division of the Pentateuch into different sections, some attributable to an Elohist and others to a Yahwist (along the lines of the many variations of the JEDP theory). Robert Candlish has an explanation that is more elegant, more simple, more devout and more contextual. It is as follows:

That statement, I apprehend, can scarcely be taken literally to mean that the name—“Jehovah”—by which the Supreme Being announced himself to Moses and the Israelites in Egypt had never been in use before among the patriarchs.

It rather points, as I think, to the different of signification between the two names;—the one, Eloim, denoting sovereignty and power, the other, Jehovah, suggesting the idea of faithfulness or unchangeableness (Mal. iii. 6); —and to the suitableness of the two names to the two eras in question respectively. In former patriarchal times, God appears chiefly in the character of one choosing or electing those who are to be the objects of his favour, giving them “exceeding great and precious promises,” and ratifying and confirming with them a most gracious covenant. With such a transaction on his part, the assertion of absolute sovereignty and almighty power is in harmony and in keeping. Now, on the other hand, when he is about to come forward and interpose for the purpose of fulfilling those old assurances, and with that view wishes to secure the confidence of the new generation in whose experience and with whose co-operation the work is to be done, —the appeal to the immutability of his nature, as proving or implying “the immutability of his counsel” (Heb. vi. 17), is relevant and appropriate. Formerly he spoke as the omnipotent ruler over all, whose hand none can stay, to whom none can say what does thou! Now he speaks as the I am, “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”

During the times of the patriarchs God had made promises; and they had not seen them fulfilled (cp. Hebrews 11:9,13). Now the time has come for God to fulfill His promises, and so He declares that He will be known to the children of Israel as Jehovah –as the God of promise, as the God who keeps covenant. And so in the same text where he says that he was not known to the patriarchs by the name Jehovah he goes on to say that he will establish his covenant with them. Jehovah is, as Dr. Campbell-Morgan has said, the God who accommodates himself to the needs of His people; He is, as has been often pointed out, the unchangeable and self-existent one; but while I have no doubt that his name, Jehovah, expresses those truths, there can be equally no doubt that it expresses his character as a God who makes and keeps covenants. Indeed, as Candlish observes, His immutability is in close connection with his covenant faithfulness; and as will be argued below, his accommodation to his people is also in connection with his making of covenants.

Now that God is a God who makes and keeps covenants is a fact egregiously patent on the face of Scripture; Noah (Genesis 9:9), Abraham (Genesis 17:4), Moses and the children of Israel (Exodus 19:5) and David (2 Samuel 7) are all examples of this. The night that Christ is betrayed He gives the cup to the disciples “saying , This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). Covenant concepts pervade Scripture: marriage is a covenant bond (Malachi 2:14); the patriarchs enter into covenants with others (Genesis 26:38-31, 31:44); Christ is brought again from the dead “through the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20).

All of what has been said is directly relevant to question as to whether in the Garden of Eden Adam and Even were under a covenant (often called the covenant of works). This is by no means universally received. The late Dr. Ernest Kevan, to take but one example, in his little book on the Lord’s Supper goes out of his way to deny the existence of the covenant of works. At least one objection that is raised to this doctrine is the fact that the early chapters of Genesis do not speak of a covenant. This is not a fatal objection, because there may be covenant arrangements present in passages that do not expressly use the term. Jeremiah 33:20 speaks of God’s covenant with day and with night. The succession of day and night was established at the beginning of creation; but in the creation narrative the word covenant was not used. Therefore it is perfectly possible for a covenant to be present in a passage even if the term is not specifically used.

Now, a further line of evidence is found in Hosea 6:6,7 God is inditing Ephraim and Judah and says this: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.” The marginal rendition of verse 7a is: “But they like Adam have transgressed the covenant”. If that is correct, then it is perfectly obvious that Adam was in some covenant which he transgressed. We read of one transgression of Adam: “and he did eat” (Genesis 3:6g). At that point, then, he violated the covenant of works. Of course, many will prefer the rendering “like men”. This, though, does not help the case against the covenant of works at all. For it would compare the people of Ephraim and Judah to men in general, and the teaching would then be that all men have transgressed a covenant; which would suppose that all men were in a covenant to begin with, and we are back again at the covenant of works. There is an alternative rendering, which takes the phrase in question to indicate the name of a place: this understanding would have God comparing the people of Ephraim and Judah to some unknown breakers of an unknown covenant at a location, which is as far as I know, also unknown. Allusions in Scripture are frequently to some other event contained in Scripture, something well known (see, e.g., 2 Corinthians 11:3, Psalm 106:7, Matthew 11:21-24, 12:3,4). Thus an allusion to an obscure event at a minor location, apart from lacking rhetorical punch, seems unlikely on the face of it. To this we may add the testimony of the following versions, who do not translate “at” but rather “like” or “as”: RV1909, RV1960, RV95, LBLA, ASV, YLT, NIV, NASB, The Message, Amplified, NLT, ESV, NKJV, Darby, Coverdale, Geneva, JPS, NLV, HCSB, NirV, LITV, Louis Segond, Semeur, Nuova Diodati, O Livro, Russian Synodal Version, Vulgate, Luther. It must be a reference to a known covenant and a known transgression of that covenant. Only one would seem to match: Adam’s violation of the covenant of works.

Now in addition to what might be considered as minor supports to this doctrine, there is of course the great passage in Romans 5 where a parallel is drawn between Adam and Christ: a parallel that seems to require that if Christ’s role as the head of a new humanity is a covenant role, then Adam’s role as the original head of humanity would also be covenantal: but a detailed discussion of this chapter is outside of my present scope. And in addition due weight should be given to the remark of T.E. Wilder that we don’t have to labour to find an occasional hint of a covenant concept in Genesis –the covenantal indications there are obvious and overwhelming.

Scripture is pervaded with covenant concepts; God is a God who makes covenants; there may be covenants in texts where the term is not used. Let me add another evidence for the existence of the covenant of works. The Westminster Assembly wrote: “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant” (WCF 7.1). As I have been considering the Creator-creature distinction in recent weeks, the truth of the Assembly’s statement has been borne in upon me. Without some voluntary condescension on God’s part there could be no reward, no fruition of him as blessedness. And yet, Scripture does hold out to us an enjoyment of God and a communion with him. “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:3,4). The culmination of the apocalyptic vision is the fulfillment of the covenant announced to Abraham (Genesis 17:7), and consists in the enjoyment of God. At the same time, Scripture reveals that God is absolute, independent, underived and noncontingent (Romans 11:36). But we are just the opposite. We can never attain to this, except by some voluntary condescension on God’s part. And how will God express that? On the basis of His revelation of Himself as the God of the covenant, no other way is so consistent with all the rest of Scripture, as the way of covenant. The creation narrative is consistent with this point of view. We can trace covenantal elements in the details given to us of Adam’s prelapsarian position. Beyond that, there is still more. As Exodus 6:2-4 shows, Jehovah is the name of God considered as the God of the covenant, the God who enters into and fulfills covenants. And when we come to Genesis 2:4ff, we find that the text does not simply say that it is God who does this or that, as was true in Genesis 1:1-2:3. No, now it is Jehovah God who plants a garden, who places man in it, who provides for him food and occupation and companionship, who stipulates that he shall not eat of one tree. It is the God considered as the covenant-making and keeping God who is brought to our attention.

I believe, then, in the covenant of works. I believe it because the Scripture impels me in that direction. And I believe it because the name of my God is Jehovah.

The Limits of Reason

July 25th, 2007

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici, Preface

So that we have not lifted up our selves to God, by the weak Pinions of our Reason, but he has been pleased to descend to us: and what Socrates said of him, what Plato writ, and the rest of the Heathen Philosophers of several Nations, is all no more than the Twilight of Revelation, after the Sun of it was set in the Race of Noah. That there is some thing above us, some Principle of motion, our Reason can apprehend, though it cannot discover what it is, by its own Vertue. And indeed ’tis very improbable, that we, who by the strength of our faculties cannot enter into the knowledge of any Beeing, not so much as of our own, should be able to find out by them, that Supream Nature, which we cannot otherwise define, than by saying it is Infinite; as if Infinite were definable, or Infinity a Subject for our narrow understanding. They who wou’d prove Religion by Reason, do but weaken the cause which they endeavour to support: ’tis to take away the Pillars from our Faith, and to prop it only with a twig: ’tis to design a Tower like that of Babel, which if it were possible (as it is not) to reach Heaven, would come to nothing by the confusion of the Workmen. For every is Building a several way; impotently conceipted of his own Model, and his own Materials: Reason is always striving, and always at a loss, and of necessity it must so come to pass, while ’tis exercis’d about that which is not its own proper object. Let us be content at last, to know God, by his own Methods; at least so much of him, as he is pleas’d to reveal to us, in the sacred Scriptures; to apprehend them to be the word of God, is all our reason has to do; for all beyond it is the work of Faith, which is the Seal of Heaven impress’d upon our humane understanding.

Some time back my wife was involved in a discussion online which produced some rather startling results. Recently she had occasion to revisit some of the themes in that discussion to see what gains further reading and experience had provided. In helping her to look something up, I came across this rather remarkable paragraph at the website of her former contrincant.

From the beginning and throughout our entire lives, we are what we love far more than we are what we know. Loving the right thing is almost the whole way to knowing the right thing, and love will push the car the rest of the way. I know this to be true.

Now this is problematic conceptually and methodologically. In order to sympathize with the functioning of this epistemology, let us imagine a genial person of great goodwill and perhaps greater ignorance. Without knowledge or discrimination (since loving is the way to knowledge) it seems that he can have no recourse but to love any object presented to his affections: without divine grace making the arrival at the narrow way remarkably smooth, this would almost certainly involve the loving of a great many things that ought not be loved: presumably, when once they are thoroughly known through love, their badness is discerned and they are cast aside. The poor fellow must constantly be in love with some je ne sais qua (by definition this is what it must be) which turns out, on the knowledge brought about by love, to have been totally unworthy of his sincere affection. Of course, this in itself is a problematic construct, because it requires that behind and above all other loves, this person should love a goodness which he somehow recognizes without, ex hypothesi, having yet known it. Otherwise, why should our gentle fool cease loving anything at all, even if that something should be Harlequin romance novels? So Dissidens has a conceptual problem intertwining with his methodological problem. If blind affection (because knowledge is acquired through love and so love must come first) leads a blind soul (because knowledge can’t be born in it prior to love), shall they not both fall into a ditch? In order to avoid this, we have to postulate that one or the other is not really blind. That, of course, is the contention.

And even divine grace will not provide an easy solution for his dilemma. For if divine grace gives us a love of goodness it must give us a knowledge of goodness also. It must, even if subconsciously, teach us the taste of good that we may recognize where it is found. That would already contradict the idea that love precedes knowledge absolutely: but even if that point may be temporarily passed over, it does not solve the problem that according to this theory in order to know whether an object has good in it to be loved, it must be loved first of all. Because this intervention by divine grace still leaves the goodness in the several objects presented to the soul to be discovered only by loving them, and finding often that one has thrown one’s heart away on inadequate, sublunary, perhaps even fundamentalist, things. Had divine grace preserved our exemplary affectionate ignoramus from this awkward method of loving everything in order to discern its good or evil nature, then that grace has functioned by giving them an antecedent knowledge. So that grace clearly will not function as a deus ex machina to remove the self-referential incoherences of Dissidens’ epistemology.

But there is another conceptual obstruction. Love must be love of something, or it is simply geniality or gas. But when there is an object to love, I can see no way to divorce at least a minimum of knowledge from that encounter: when all is said and done, surely the noble lover at least sees that the object of his affection exists? Or must we conclude that poor old Boswell had “always loved strong liquors” before encountering, not merely any particular liquor, but even the idea of it? I am not the only one who senses this difficulty: Jonathan Edwards also addressed himself to this point in his little work on Christian Knowledge, saying:

So there can be no love without knowledge. It is not according to the nature of the human soul, to love an object which is entirely unknown. The heart cannot be set upon an object of which there is no idea in the understanding. The reasons which induce the soul to love, must first be understood, before they can have a reasonable influence on the heart.

There is another point. We ought to cultivate the art, lauded by Barfield, of applying what we are saying to the statement we are currently making and to the fact of our making it. So Dissidens can say in the quotation introduced above that he knows “this to be true”. But according to his own just enunciated epistemology, how does he know it to be true? The answer can only be that he loved it first. But this requires us to conclude that he loved a theory of knowledge without having any distinct conception of what it was. But since a theory is an intellectual construct, it requires formulation in order to exist. Mirabile dictu, in order to put Dissidens’ epistemology into practice, we must through love give existence to an intellectual object of our affection: and then we can rest, knowing that we have discovered the truth.

There is another ground on which to meet this claim. The epistemology which Dissidens claims so firmly to know is not found in Scripture: indeed, it is unscriptural. 1 John 4:9, justly famous for its concluding phrase, speaks to this epistemological concern: He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. A lack of love is a sure sign of a lack of knowledge. If we truly know the God who is love, we will love: because such knowledge will be transformative (on the transforming effects of knowledge notice 1 John 3:2). Knowing God produces love (compare also 1 John 4:7). There is another, negative, confirmation that Dissidens is wrong to be found in 1 John 4, this time at vv.2&3. We do not discern false spirits by loving them, but by checking their confession: by learning what they teach on a certain critical point. One could also raise the rather obvious point of 1 John 4:20. Loving God whom one has not seen is taken to be harder, less likely, than loving one’s brother whom one has seen. More familiar knowledge results in more facility of affection. Love and knowledge, in that order, are clearly not related as cause and effect, in the Scriptural account of the matter.

None of this is to say that love does not enter into the further development of knowledge, but only to set out clearly that there must be (by reason, experience, tradition and Scripture) a logical priority of a certain amount of knowledge to love. Making love antecedent to knowledge is an error of the same kind as making birth precede conception –until something is conceived there is nothing to be born.

Nor is any of this to deny that Dissidens has leveled some just criticisms at the quality of fundamentalist attempts at art, or that he knows what sort of items in the realm of church music and literature have a better claim on our affection than most of what we hear in our churches today. But aesthetic correctness is not the same thing as a coherent epistemology or as the exercise of charity.

Strong Metaphors

July 20th, 2007

I should point out that it is a ridiculous feature of some of the thought of our time, that people are surprised (sometimes horrified, sometimes pleased) to find that people in “olden times” had humour and conversation that partook of an earthy quality. It is certainly due to ignorance, that we should project the conventions of Victorian sensibility onto previous times. I suppose the way it happened is that when Victorian times seemed olden, by an easy transference, all olden times were conceived of as Victorian. But we should have learned otherwise from Chaucer, from Shakespeare, from Tristram Shandy, if so obvious a point needed to be belabored. But let us yet call one more witness, one unexceptionable, I should think, even to those who equate Victorianism with godliness. Here is the reverend Dr. Richard Sibbes, in his fine sermon, The Church’s Visitation:

Now there is a mixture in the church, as in a house, of good and bad vessels; but the godly are especially God’s house. As for hypocrites and false professors, they are no more in the house, than the excrements are in the body; they are in the body, but not of the body; and therefore, as Ishmael, Gen. xxi. 10, they must be cast out at length.

However, this quote also serves another purpose. Not too long ago, Peter Leithart used a marriage metaphor to describe apostates in the church (point 7). David Bayly objected to this, and I must say that Leithart’s metaphor did not satisfy me. I think Richard Sibbes expressed that point much more clearly.

So here is the question: is Sibbes’ metaphor consistent, not with Leithart’s metaphor, but with his intention (that is to say, with his conception of the relation of those who will eventually apostasize to Christ)? Could Leithart, or other FV proponents, accept Dr. Sibbes’ method of expression as an accurate picture (so far as a picture goes, of course) of those who are in the church but will not be forever?

If I had the readership of Doug Wilson, I would imitate him in proposing a contest for vigorous metaphors about the condition and fate of apostates. But that might too easily take us to the opposite extreme from Victorianism.

Whatever other criticisms may be justly directed against psychiatry, there is no doubt that this one, variously expressed by C.S. Lewis in these two excerpts from his letters, is very important: namely, that the idea of “goodness” or “health” held, perhaps unconsciously, by the psychiatrist can make his work quite destructive.

Letter to a Former Pupil, 26 March 1940

Psychoanalysis. In talking to me you must beware, because I am conscious of a partly pathological hostility to what is fashionable. I may therefore have been betrayed into statements on this subject which I am not prepared to defend. No doubt, like every young science, it is full of errors, but so long as it remains a science and doesn’t set up as a philosophy, I have no quarrel with it, i.e. as long as people judge what it reveals by the best human logic and scheme of values they’ve got and do not try to derive logic and values from it. In practice no doubt, as you say, the patient is always influenced by the analyst’s own values. And further, in so far as it attempts to heal, i.e. to make better, every treatment involves a value-judgment. This could be avoided if the analyst said, “Tell me what sort of a chap you want to be and I’ll see how near I can make you”: but of course he really has his own idea of what goodness and happiness consist in and works to that. And his idea is derived, not from his science (it couldn’t) but from his age, sex, class, culture, religion and heredity, and is just as much in need of criticism as the patient’s…

Letter to Mrs Frank L. Jones, 23 February 1947

Keep clear of psychiatrists unless you know that they are also Christians. Otherwise they start with the assumption that your religion is an illusion and try to “cure” it: and this assumption they make not as professional psychologists but as amateur philosophers. Often they have never given the question any serious thought.

A Sandwich of Sentences

July 16th, 2007

A rather ancient statement:

Time washes away the fancies of imagination but confirms the judgments of nature.

Cicero, The Nature of the Gods

One that needs some context:

The lady says to her would-be lover, “Who secheth sorowe, his be the receyt!”

(From La Belle Dame Sans Merci, translated by Sir Richard Ros from Alain Chartier’s original)

A quite pithy comment from an often long-winded fellow:

Every reform, however necessary, will by weak minds be carried to an excess that itself will need reforming.

(Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria)

Two from The Treasury of David:

Common honesty is no longer common, when common irreligion leads to universal godlessness.

…we cannot master our affections by love, but first we must master our understandings by faith. –Richard Capel

One that has been often verified by experience:

And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

One recycled from previous posting:

…ingratitude is like an abyss which absorbs all the fullness of God’s blessings.

John Calvin, Commentary on Lamentations (1:7)

And another slice from ancient Rome to finely close off this miscellany of maxims:

God is not subject to obey the laws of nature. It is nature that is subject to the laws of God.

Cicero, The Nature of the Gods