Controversy Poetry Quotations

A Position He Later Rejected

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici

[Of Rome’s claims to final authority in the interpretation of Scripture]

The partial Papists wou’d infer from hence

Their Church, in last resort, shou’d Judge the Sense,

But first they wou’d assume, with wondrous Art,

Themselves to be the whole, who are but part

Of that vast Frame, the Church; yet grant they were

The handers down, can they from thence infer

A right t’ interpret? or wou’d they alone

Who brought the Present, claim it for their own?

In explanation of the title, it should be noted that John Dryden declared that he had converted to Catholicism shortly after the accession of King James. I suppose that Dr. Johnson’s reasons as to the possibility of the sincerity of such a timely conversion should suffice to quiet the impatient. Dryden may, of course have replied to this argument after his conversion, but if so I have not yet come across it.

Controversy Poetry Quotations

We Would Interpret Scripture Infallibly…

…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.

Controversy Piety Quotations

C.S. Lewis vs. Matthew Arnold (Tomorrow)

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.


“I love you. Have we met?”

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.

Controversy Quotations

Strong Metaphors

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.

Controversy Quotations

Holiness and Refined Sensibility

Here are two statements from C.S. Lewis (not a man who is easily accused of lacking in culture) which should certainly prevent all attempts to use him as an advocate of any point of view which would correlate good taste with a state of grace, or seek to establish any necessary connection between the two things.

Letter to “Mrs Arnold”, 7 December 1950

I naturally loathe nearly all hymns: the face and life of the charwoman in the next pew who revels in them teach me that good taste in poetry or music are not necessary to salvation.

Letter to Mrs R.E. Halverson [March 1956]

I think every natural thing which is not in itself sinful can become the servant of the spiritual life, but none is automatically so. When it is not, it becomes either just trivial (as music is to millions of people) or a dangerous idol. The emotional effect of music may be not only a distraction (to some people at some times) but a delusion: i.e. feeling certain emotions when they may be wholly natural. That means that even genuinely religious emotion is only a servant. No soul is saved by having it or damned by lacking it. The love we are commanded to have for God and our neighbour is a state of the will, not of the affections (though if they ever also play their part so much the better). So that the test of music or religion or even visions if one has them is always the same – do they make one more obedient, more God-centred, and neighbour-centred and less self-centred? “Though I speak with the tongues of Bach and Palestrina and have not charity etc.!”


Calling Salt Lake City and Inviting them to Eavesdrop on Personal Correspondence with a Dear Friend

Joseph Smith was insane: that’s forgivable, many people have been and have even done rather charming things as a result. He was self-important: there lies the root of all his problems. He took his nonsense (or his psychoses) seriously. If he had just had the perspective of Laurence Sterne he could have published a funny book: instead he founded a damnable religion.

Controversy Quotations

A Problem with Rahner

Karl Rahner is in many ways an extremely wonderful theologian. As I have been poking around in a compilation book, The Great Church Year, on several occasions I have wondered why it is that no contemporary Protestant theologians seem to be saying things so wonderful, or saying them so well, as this Jesuit. Yet Rahner is vitiated by his communion, as is demonstrated in the following quote:

Teresa has been declared a doctor of the church. This event naturally has some significance for the position and function of women in the church. The charism of teaching—and indeed of teaching directed to the church as such—is not merely a male prerogative. The idea of women being less gifted in an intellectual or religious sense is thus repudiated. It is thus expressly recognized that women may study theology, particularly since charism and the study of theology methodically accomplished cannot be regarded as opposites.

It should not be said that Teresa is an exception. For all doctors of the church, the men too among them, are exceptions. And the proclamation declaring her a doctor of the church makes it clear that women have not previously been given this title not because none of them was worthy of it, but because of reasons rooted in the cultural status of women at the time. This proclamation clearly shows that 1 Corinthians 14:34 is a time-conditioned norm (justified at the time) imposed by the apostle Paul.

pp.360,361 of the above-referenced book: “Teresa of Avila: Doctor of the Church” [From Opportunities for Faith, 123-26]


Rahner has to take the proclamation of the church that Teresa is a Doctor of the Church as a basic and essential datum. He is not free to ignore or contradict it. It must be made a part of his theological system. And the ultimate effect of this, is that Holy Scripture is denied: not in so many words, of course, but 1 Corinthians 14:34 definitely ceases to be a functional part of Rahner’s theological basis. In order to save the appearances and duly respect Paul VI, Paul the Apostle is relegated in that part of his writings to the status of an interesting but ultimately irrelevant dinosaur.

Controversy Quotations

The Subtilty of Heretics Unmasked

Leo the Great, Letter to the Bishop of Aquileia

[Speaking of the confession of faith he wanted to be made at a provincial synod by some who had been re-admitted into fellowship with the Catholics after association with the Pelagians or Celestians, but had not been required to recant] Let nothing obscure, nothing ambiguous be found in their words. For we know that their cunning is such that they reckon that the meaning of any particular clause of their execrable doctrine can be defended if they only keep it distinct from the main body of their damnable views.


Which is a sound piece of advice. Whole systems must be considered, and heretics must not be allowed wiggle room.


Moral High Ground


Has anyone ever noticed that if you take the moral high ground you don’t have to apologize or explain? And if you attack the other person vigorously enough there is always the chance that neither they, nor any onlookers, will perceive that you are just as wrong as anyone else. A useful tool for our controversial toolbox. Of course, there are ways to do it: you can pull age, rank, popularity, credentials, etc. It works because there is a real legitimacy to at least some of those items; but it is a real legitimacy that is prostituted in the service of avoiding the embarrassing conclusion that in spite of all those qualifications, you acted like a jerk or a weasel.