Consider Each Eon
A Remedy for Bias(es)
The Anglican Communion, led by the Church of England, has produced some of the most irreverent and preposterous preachers and liturgical arrangements known to man. Some high ranking members do not profess belief in some of the most mere beliefs of Christianity. And yet, the Anglicans have produced some of the greatest writers who have ever lived. Amongst these are: C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, Richard Pankhurst, and Sebastian Brock. The latter two, have special significance to us Afroasiatic peoples. The former two, have significance for anyone using the current lingua franca of the cosmos.
I can spend many another occasion waxing poetic about all of these figures, and a lifetime bathing in their works, but for now let us hear the sage advice of C.S. Lewis. He wrote The Screwtape Letters, which I should review in due time, as a parable of a senior demon advising a junior demon regarding machinations against humans. Obviously, he’s no demon lover. It is written, on our behalf.
“It may be replied that some meddlesome human writers, notably Boethius, have let this secret out. But in the intellectual climate which we have at last succeeded in producing throughout Western Europe, you needn’t bother about that. Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating the Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the ‘present state of the question’. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behavior— this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot decieve the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.” (pg. 151)
And again, C.S. Lewis advises us against the bias(es) of our age to indulge in reading and hearing the words and voices of yesteryear, in his introduction to On the Incarnation by Pope Athanasius of Alexandria; he who gave Aksum her first and Levantine metropolitan and thus formal structural entrance into the church of God.
“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire. This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.”
Let us attend. Don’t sleep. Stay woke.