I know it’s most unusual
To come before you so
But I’ve found an ancient miracle
I thought that you should know
- Rush, 2112
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.
- On Reading Old Books, by C.S. Lewis (Chapter 7 from this collection)
Lewis, although he is a writer, would suggest reading the old if one must choose between old and new. A new book is still on trial, as Lewis puts it, not yet judged by time. The older books have been picked through – yes with errors, but not so dangerous as the errors in the new; regarding the new:
Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill.
In contrast, regarding the old books:
They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us.
Lewis will offer that two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible but because it is unlikely that they will be fallible in the same direction.
He offers a discussion on the divisions within Christianity; oh, we fight like cats and dogs about these. Given that Lewis came to Christianity later in life, he suggests that from the outside, these divisions are not so obvious or important.
I think about this often – and it is true in Christianity just as it is true for any in-group (take libertarians as an example). Relative to the views of those outside, there really is nothing of meaningful disagreement within the in-group.
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.
The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.
There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names – Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper.
I am reminded of the first sermon offered by Peter after the Resurrection and Ascension: Peter preached the Resurrection, and three-thousand were added to their number. The rest, to varying degrees, is detail.
Returning to the current work, this short essay from Lewis is the introduction to a translation of a book by St. Athanasius: De Incarnatione – on the Incarnation of the Eord of God. Athanasius was a fourth century Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism, and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century.
He is venerated by the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Catholic Church, the Lutheran churches, and the Anglican Communion.
Historian Cornelius Clifford said in his account: "Athanasius was the greatest champion of Catholic belief on the subject of the Incarnation that the Church has ever known and in his lifetime earned the characteristic title of "Father of Orthodoxy", by which he has been distinguished ever since."
He was the first to identify the 27 books of the New Testament, still recognized today.
Lewis describes his book on the Incarnation as a masterpiece.
Yes, we know
It’s nothing new
It’s just a waste of time
We have no need for ancient ways
Our world is doing fine
No, our world is not doing fine.
We have a need for ancient ways. More precisely, a return to the center.