Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Faith... whole and undefiled"

Further words for our time from C.S. Lewis' introduction to a translation of St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation:
St. Athanasius has suffered in popular estimation from a certain sentence in the "Athanasian Creed."  I will not labour the point that that work is not exactly a creed and was not by St. Athanasius, for I think it is a very fine piece of writing.  The words "Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly" are the offence.  They are commonly misunderstood.  The operative word is keep; not acquire, or even believe, but keep.  The author, in fact, is not talking about unbelievers, but about deserters, not about those who have never heard of Christ, nor even those who have misunderstood and refused to accept Him, but of those who having really understood and really believed, then allow themselves, under the sway of sloth or of fashion or any other invited confusion to be drawn away into sub-Christian modes of thought.  They are a warning against the curious modern assumption that all changes of belief, however brought about, are necessarily exempt from blame. [Emphasis added]  But this is not my immediate concern.  I mention "the creed (commonly called) of St. Athanasius" only to get out of the reader's way what may have been a bogey and to put the true Athanasius in its place. His epitaph is Athanasius contra mundum, "Athanasius against the world."  We are proud that our own country has more than once stood against the world.  Athanasius did the same.  He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, "whole and undefiled," when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius — into one of those "sensible" synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended to-day and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen.* [Emphasis added]  It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.

* For an example of what Lewis is talking about, note the Episcopal clergyman who regularly appears on Oprah Winfrey's program dealing with "spirituality."

Anyone who is interested in reading Lewis' introduction in its entirety will find it here, (however, it does not have the italics that are in the original, and it has a few typographical errors).

I began re-reading Athanasius' On the Incarnation on an airplane the other day and was struck, once again, by its impressive clarity and classical simplicity (which caused Lewis to express his admiration for the work and its author) but also for its freshness and relevance to many of the situations in which Christians find themselves today.  Having quoted Lewis' introduction in my last post and this one, I think I will post a few reflections and excerpts from On the Incarnation itself in the next few days, as time permits.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why I am a "mere Christian"

From C.S. Lewis' introduction to a translation of St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation:

Measured against the ages "mere Christianity" turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible.  I know it, indeed, to my cost.  In the days when I still hated Christianity, I learned to recognise, like some all too familiar smell, that almost unvarying something which met me, now in Puritan Bunyan, now in Anglican Hooker, now in Thomist Dante.  It was there (honeyed and floral) in Francois de Sales; it was there (grave and homely) in Spenser and Walton; it was there (grim but manful) in Pascal and Johnson; there again, with a mild, frightening, Paradisial flavour, in Vaughan and Boehme and Traherne.  In the urban sobriety of the eighteenth century one was not safe—Law and Butler were two lions in the path.  The supposed "Paganism" of the Elizabethans could not keep it out; it lay in wait where a man might have supposed himself safest, in the very centre of The Faerie Queene and the Arcadia.  It was, of course, varied; and yet-after all-so unmistakably the same; recognisable, not to be evaded, the odour which is death to us until we allow it to become life:
... an air that kills
From yon far country blows.

We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the divisions of Christendom.  But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them.  They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without.  Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity.  I know, for I saw it; and well our enemies know it.  That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age [by reading the classics of Christian literature].  It is not enough, but it is more than you had thought till then.  Once you are well soaked in it, if you then venture to speak, you will have an amusing experience.  You will be thought a Papist when you are actually reproducing Bunyan, a Pantheist when you are quoting Aquinas, and so forth.  For you have now got on to the great level viaduct which crosses the ages and which looks so high from the valleys, so low from the mountains, so narrow compared with the swamps, and so broad compared with the sheep-tracks.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

An Unworkable Theology

A commenter on Stand Firm called my attention to this excellent article by the Very Rev. Dr. Philip Turner on "the working theology of TEC" that appeared in the journal First Things in 2005. I have to confess I had missed it when it appeared; but it is the best, most concise, and well-written explanation of the problem the Episcopal Church faces that I have seen.

Read it here.