Welcome to Mariner, from Malcolm Guite


I am greatly honoured that the Literary Life Book Club have chosen my book Mariner for their summer read.  This is to wish you all ‘Bon voyage’ on your journey with STC. I will be on board too and look forward to seeing and responding to your comments on our Facebook group.

You can join by clicking here.

This book was really a labour of love, but also, for me, a voyage of discovery. I had known and loved Coleridge’s poetry since my mother used to recite it to me when I was a child, and I renewed my passion for it when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, but it was only many years later, as I began to work on my book ‘Faith Hope and Poetry’, that I realised that Coleridge had done so much to defend the imagination as a truth-bearing faculty, and more than that, that he had grounded his understanding of the imagination deep in the Love of God, and specifically in the understanding of Christ as the Logos, the Word in whole, through whom, by whom, we have all been spoken into being and by whom we are all redeemed. I determined that one day I would write a whole book on Coleridge and when I did I discovered that he was a great Christian thinker, and yet in almost every secular account of him his Christianity had simply been airbrushed out of the picture. I was determined to restore what was missing and help us see him again, as he would have wished, as a fellow Christian, a redeemed sinner like the rest of us, whose courage and thoughtfulness has left us with a treasure trove of wisdom.

We will be voyaging together into some deep and dark waters but also into places of transcendent beauty and we will return home, I hope, as Coleridge did, transfigured and renewed.   Bon Voyage!


Reading Schedule

Now reading Chapter Six, The Ship Was Cheered

The dates below are Mondays.  We read and discuss one chapter per week, Monday thru Friday.


09 The Ship Was Cheered
16 Instead of the Cross, the Albatross
23 The Night-mare Life-in-Death
30 The Moving Moon


06 Nine Fathom Deep
13 The Two Voices
20 He Prayeth Best Who Loveth Best
27 Epilogue: The Morrow Morn


Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page. You can read more about him on this Interviews Page

Photo courtesy of Lancia Smith

The Deadly Bolt

Sad and Tragic Letters
Sara Coleridge

24 March 1799

My darling infant left his wretched Mother on the tenth of February, and tho’ the leisure that followed was intolerable to me, yet I could not employ myself in reading or writing, or in any way that prevented my thoughts from resting on him—this parting was the severest trial that I have ever yet undergone and I pray to God that I may never live to behold the death of another child for O my dear Samuel! it is a suffering beyond your conception! You will feel, and lament, the death of your child, but you will only recollect him a baby of fourteen weeks, but I am his Mother, and have carried him in my arms and have fed him at my bosom, and have watched over him by day and night for nine months; I have seen him twice on the brink of the grave but he has returned, and recovered and smiled upon me like an angel—and now I am lamenting that he is gone!

. . . and now my dear Samuel I hope you will be perfectly satisfied that every thing was done for the dear babe that was likely to restore him and endeavour to forget your own loss in contemplating mine. I cannot express how ardently I long for your return, or how much I shall be disappointed if I do not see you in May; I expect a letter from you daily, and am much surprised that you have not written from Gottingen; your last is dated Jan. the 5th and in it you say you will write again immediately—now this is Easter Sunday March the 24th. You will write once probably after you receive this, from Germany—and I wish you would be so good as to write me a few lines from London that I may know the very day when I may see you; . . .

I am much pleased to see you wrote that you “languish to be at home.” O God! I hope you never more will quit it! . . .

God almighty bless you my dearest Love!

Sara C—

Continue reading “The Deadly Bolt”

Another Kind Of Opium

A German Lake In Winter
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

from The Friend, 28 December 1809

 Yester-morning I saw the lesser Lake completely hidden by Mist; but the moment the Sun peeped over the Hill, the mist broke in the middle, and in a few seconds stood divided, leaving a broad road all across the Lake; and be- tween these two Walls of mist the sunlight burnt upon the ice, forming a road of golden fire, intolerably bright! and the mist-walls themselves partook of the blaze in a multitude of shining colours. This is our second Frost. About a month ago, before the Thaw came on, there was a storm of wind; during the whole night, such were the thunders and howlings of the breaking ice, that they have left a conviction on my mind, that there are Sounds more sublime than any Sight can be, more absolutely suspending the power of comparison, and more utterly absorbing the mind’s self-consciousness in its total attention to the object working upon it. Part of the ice which the vehemence of the wind had shattered, was driven shore-ward and froze anew. On the evening of the next day, at sun-set, the shattered ice thus frozen, appeared of a deep blue, and in shape like an agitated sea; beyond this, the water, that ran up between the great  Islands of ice which had preserved their masses entire and smooth, shone of a yellow green; but all these scattered Ice-islands, themselves, were of an in- tensely bright blood colour—they seemed blood and light in union!

Continue reading “Another Kind Of Opium”

The Albatross

The Albatross
Martin Gardner

from The Annotated Ancient Mariner

It was Wordsworth who proposed to Coleridge that an albatross be brought into his ballad and that the shooting of the bird provide the Mariner’s “crime.” The idea had been suggested to Wordsworth by his reading of A Voyage Round the World by the Way of the Great South Sea, by Captain George Shelvocke, London, 1726. Shelvocke speaks of a “disconsolate black albatross” . . . that followed the ship for several days “hovering about us as if he had lost himself, till Hatley, (my second captain) observing, in one of his melancholy fits, that this bird was always hovering near us, imagined, from his color, that it might be some ill omen. That which, I suppose, induced him the more to encourage his superstition, was the continued series of contrary tempestuous winds, which had oppressed us ever since we had got into the sea. But be that as it would, he, after some fruitless attempts, at length, shot the albatross, not doubting (perhaps) that we should have a fair wind after it.”

Continue reading “The Albatross”

The Ship Was Cheered


Part 1

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’

He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon—’
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

And now the STORM-BLAST came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o’ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.

With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled.

And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken—
The ice was all between.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.

It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner’s hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white Moon-shine.’

‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.

Continue reading “The Ship Was Cheered”

Birth Of The Rime

William Wordsworth


For example, some crime was to be committed which would bring upon the Old Navigator, as Coleridge afterwards delighted to call him, the spectral persecution . . . and his own wanderings. I had been reading in Shelvocke’s Voyages, a day or two before, that, while doubling Cape Horn, they frequently saw albatrosses in that latitude, the largest sort of sea-fowl . . . “Suppose,” said I, “you represent him as having killed one of these birds on entering the South Sea, and that the tutelary spirits of these regions take upon them to avenge the crime.” The incident was thought fit for the purpose and adopted accordingly.

Continue reading “Birth Of The Rime”

Frost At Midnight

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,

Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Continue reading “Frost At Midnight”

Kubla Khan

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment. 

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Continue reading “Kubla Khan”

This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Addressed to Charles Lamb, of the India House, London

Well, they are gone, and here must I remain,
This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost
Beauties and feelings, such as would have been
Most sweet to my remembrance even when age
Had dimm’d mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile,
Friends, whom I never more may meet again,
On springy heath, along the hill-top edge,
Wander in gladness, and wind down, perchance,
To that still roaring dell, of which I told;
The roaring dell, o’erwooded, narrow, deep,
And only speckled by the mid-day sun;
Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock
Flings arching like a bridge;—that branchless ash,
Unsunn’d and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves
Ne’er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still,
Fann’d by the water-fall! and there my friends
Behold the dark green file of long lank weeds,
That all at once (a most fantastic sight!)
Still nod and drip beneath the dripping edge
Of the blue clay-stone.

Now, my friends emerge
Beneath the wide wide Heaven—and view again
The many-steepled tract magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,
With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles
Of purple shadow! Yes! they wander on
In gladness all; but thou, methinks, most glad,
My gentle-hearted Charles! for thou hast pined
And hunger’d after Nature, many a year,
In the great City pent, winning thy way
With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain
And strange calamity! Ah! slowly sink
Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun!
Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb,
Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds!
Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves!
And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend
Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,
Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and of such hues
As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes
Spirits perceive his presence.

A delight
Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad
As I myself were there! Nor in this bower,
This little lime-tree bower, have I not mark’d
Much that has sooth’d me. Pale beneath the blaze
Hung the transparent foliage; and I watch’d
Some broad and sunny leaf, and lov’d to see
The shadow of the leaf and stem above
Dappling its sunshine! And that walnut-tree
Was richly ting’d, and a deep radiance lay
Full on the ancient ivy, which usurps
Those fronting elms, and now, with blackest mass
Makes their dark branches gleam a lighter hue
Through the late twilight: and though now the bat
Wheels silent by, and not a swallow twitters,
Yet still the solitary humble-bee
Sings in the bean-flower! Henceforth I shall know
That Nature ne’er deserts the wise and pure;
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there,
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty! and sometimes
‘Tis well to be bereft of promis’d good,
That we may lift the soul, and contemplate
With lively joy the joys we cannot share.
My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook
Beat its straight path along the dusky air
Homewards, I blest it! deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross’d the mighty Orb’s dilated glory,
While thou stood’st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creeking o’er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.

Continue reading “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison”

A Visionary Landscape

Malcolm Guite

From Chapter Five

Though we generally read the great works of the past somewhere comfortably indoors, in a library or a living room, we must not imagine the conversations which inspired Lyrical Ballads, and the whole Romantic Movement in literature which took root from that book, as having taken place in such quiet and studious surroundings. Wordsworth and Coleridge were inveterate walkers, indeed Coleridge has been credited with inventing the pastime of fell walking. We must imagine them not as two poetical theorists concocting a new school in some entirely intellectual way but as men of both heart and head, newly awakened by the revolutionary hopes that stirred the age they lived in, and turning to one another and to the world around them in a three-way conversation through which new meanings were constantly being uncovered.

Continue reading “A Visionary Landscape”

Reading For An Epic

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

April 1797

Observe the march of Milton—his severe application, his laborious polish, his deep metaphysical researches, his prayers to God before he began his great poem, all that could lift and swell his intellect, became his daily food. I should not think of devoting less than 20 years to an Epic Poem. Ten to collect materials and warm my mind with universal science. I would be a tolerable Mathematician, I would thoroughly know Mechanics, Hydrostatics, Optics, and Astronomy, Botany, Metallurgy, Fossilism, Chemistry, Geology, Anatomy, Medicine—then the mind of man—then the minds of men—in all Travels, Voyages and Histories. So I would spend ten years—the next five to the com- position of the poem—and the five last to the correction of it.

So I would write haply not unhearing of that divine and rightly whispering Voice, which speaks to mighty minds of predestinated Garlands, starry and unwithering.

God love you,
S. T. Coleridge

Continue reading “Reading For An Epic”

Open Hearts

C.S. Lewis

from Chapter Four, “Friendship”

It could be argued that friendships are of practical value to the Community. Every civilised religion began in a small group of friends. Mathematics effectively began when a few Greek friends got together to talk about numbers and lines and angles. What is now the Royal Society was originally a few gentlemen meeting in their spare time to discuss things which they (and not many others) had a fancy for. What we now call the “Romantic Movement” was once Mr Wordsworth and Mr Coleridge talking incessantly (at least Mr Coleridge was) about a secret vision of their own.

Continue reading “Open Hearts”

The Poet’s Inspiration

William Shakespeare

Act 5, Scene 1

The poet’s eye in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

Continue reading “The Poet’s Inspiration”

The Great Conversation

Dorothy Wordsworth

From A Letter

You had a great loss in not seeing Coleridge. He is a wonderful man. His conversation teems with soul, mind and spirit. Then he is so benevolent, so good tempered and cheerful, and, like William, interests himself so much about every little trifle.

At first I thought him very plain, that is, for about three minutes; he is pale and thin, has a wide mouth, thick lips, and not very good teeth, longish loose-growing half-curling rough black hair. But if you hear him speak for five minutes you think no more of them.

His eye is large and full, not dark but grey; such an eye as would receive from a heavy soul the dullest expression; but it speaks every emotion of his animated mind; it has more of the “poet’s eye in a fine frenzy rolling” than ever I witnessed. He has fine dark eye-brows and an overhanging forehead.

Continue reading “The Great Conversation”

A Network Of Friendships

Malcolm Guite

From Chapter Four

…our chief concern will be with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner itself, but before we look at the poem in detail in Part II of this book, we shall look at the factors that attended and enabled its birth. This includes the network of friendships that inspired and sustained the writing, the deep reading and confident poetic preparation in which Coleridge was engaging, and the renewal of the springs of his own imagination which was provided by his many walks following springs and rivers, both alone and with William and Dorothy Wordsworth, through the landscape around the Quantocks. Coleridge’s sense of renewal is expressed in the three great visionary poems which, as it were, framed and nurtured the composition of The Mariner: This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison written in July 1797, Kubla Khan in October 1797, and Frost at Midnight, written in the February of 1798.

Continue reading “A Network Of Friendships”


Malcolm Guite

from Chapter Three

He was no longer an irresponsible college student off on one jaunt or adventure after another, confident that his family would always bail him out. He would soon be a father, with mouths to feed and a family to care for, and yet, more than ever, he felt the profound and powerful calling of his muse, knowing full well that he could scarcely rely on poetry for a living. He considered the possibility of starting a school or taking in lodgers or boarders as a tutor. He also considered taking a post as a Unitarian minister, since he had been so welcomed by the Unitarian community when he joined them in campaigning against the slave trade. Even this early, though, his theology was moving back more fully in a Trinitarian direction. Deep in his heart, he knew that neither of these alternatives was his true calling, but that he must necessarily provide for his family.

Continue reading “Convergence”

Sara Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Composed at Clevedon, Somersetshire

My pensive Sara! thy soft cheek reclined
Thus on mine arm, most soothing sweet it is
To sit beside our Cot, our Cot o’ergrown
With white-flowered Jasmin, and the broad-leaved Myrtle,
(Meet emblems they of Innocence and Love!)
And watch the clouds, that late were rich with light,
Slow saddening round, and mark the star of eve
Serenely brilliant (such would Wisdom be)
Shine opposite! How exquisite the scents
Snatched from yon bean-field! and the world so hushed!
The stilly murmur of the distant Sea
Tells us of silence.

And that simplest Lute,
Placed length-ways in the clasping casement, hark!
How by the desultory breeze caressed,
Like some coy maid half yielding to her lover,
It pours such sweet upbraiding, as must needs
Tempt to repeat the wrong! And now, its strings
Boldlier swept, the long sequacious notes
Over delicious surges sink and rise,
Such a soft floating witchery of sound
As twilight Elfins make, when they at eve
Voyage on gentle gales from Fairy-Land,
Where Melodies round honey-dropping flowers,
Footless and wild, like birds of Paradise,
Nor pause, nor perch, hovering on untamed wing!
O! the one Life within us and abroad,
Which meets all motion and becomes its soul,
A light in sound, a sound-like power in light,
Rhythm in all thought, and joyance everywhere—
Methinks, it should have been impossible
Not to love all things in a world so filled;
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air
Is Music slumbering on her instrument.

And thus, my Love! as on the midway slope
Of yonder hill I stretch my limbs at noon,
Whilst through my half-closed eyelids I behold
The sunbeams dance, like diamonds, on the main,
And tranquil muse upon tranquility:
Full many a thought uncalled and undetained,
And many idle flitting phantasies,
Traverse my indolent and passive brain,
As wild and various as the random gales
That swell and flutter on this subject Lute!

And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic Harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought, as o’er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of all?

But thy more serious eye a mild reproof
Darts, O beloved Woman! nor such thoughts
Dim and unhallowed dost thou not reject,
And biddest me walk humbly with my God.
Meek Daughter in the family of Christ!
Well hast thou said and holily dispraised
These shapings of the unregenerate mind;
Bubbles that glitter as they rise and break
On vain Philosophy’s aye-babbling spring.
For never guiltless may I speak of him,
The Incomprehensible! save when with awe
I praise him, and with Faith that inly feels;
Who with his saving mercies healèd me,
A sinful and most miserable man,
Wildered and dark, and gave me to possess
Peace, and this Cot, and thee, heart-honored Maid!

Continue reading “Sara Coleridge”

Science, Freedom, and the Truth in Christ

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Watchman, 25 March 1796

Whence arise our Miseries? Whence arise our Vices? From imaginary Wants. No man is wicked without temptation, no man is wretched without a cause. But if each among us confined his wishes to the actual necessaries and real comforts of Life, we should preclude all the causes of Complaint and all the motives to Iniquity . . .
And indeed the evils arising from the formation of imaginary Wants, have in no instance been so dreadfully exemplified, as in this inhuman Traffic. We receive from the West-India Islands Sugars, Rum, Cotton, Logwood, Cocoa, Coffee, Pimento, Ginger, Indigo, Mahogany, and Conserves. Not one of these articles are necessary; indeed with the exception of Cotton and Mahogany we cannot truly call them even useful: and not one of them is at present attainable by the poor and labouring part of Society. In return we export vast quantities of necessary Tools, Raiment, and defensive Weapons, with great stores of Pro- vision. So that in this Trade as in most others the Poor are employed with unceasing toil first to raise, and then to send away the Comforts, which they them- selves absolutely want, in order to procure idle superfluities for their Masters. If this Trade had never existed, no one human being would have been less comfortably cloathed, housed, or nourished.

Rick WilcoxSamuel’s marriage to Sara improved in the sequestered honeymoon cottage, but his drive to social activism compelled him back to the fray.  He moved to Bristol, the heart of the slave trade, and found again his revolutionary voice.  Emboldened by his like-minded colleagues, he established a journal as the forum for evangelizing his message.

Malcolm Guite writes:

It was also in Bristol that he found the friend and publisher Joseph Cottle, who would eventually publish not only the first volume of Coleridge’s own poetry but also The Lyrical Ballads, the book Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote together and published anonymously, and which is now seen as the real beginning and founding of the Romantic Movement in English poetry.

And also

“Science, Freedom & The Truth in Christ” was in fact the motto for Coleridge’s new journal, The Watchman, a heroic but ultimately unsuccessful venture, in which he first showed the astonishing bursts of energy and hard work of which his supposedly indolent nature was always capable. The journal may well have done a great deal of good in raising consciousness, in urging boycotts of those imports such as sugar and rum, tainted and stained with the blood of slaves. It was also very important that in The Watchman Coleridge showed time and again that slavery was entirely contrary to the spirit and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. This needed to be said very clearly because at this time almost all the bishops of the Established Church were voting against Wilberforce’s attempts to abolish slavery.

Have you ever written as a social activist?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

Ebullient Schematism

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

6 November 1794

You ask me what the friend of universal equality should do. I answer—“Talk not politics—Preach the Gospel!”
Yea, my brother! I have at all times in all places exerted my power in defense of the Holy One of Nazareth against the learning of the historian, the libertinism of the wit, and (his worst enemy) the mystery of the bigot.

Rick Wilcox

In Chapter Three of Malcolm Guite’s Mariner, Coleridge and Robert Southey sought to create a “Pantisocratic scheme for a new life.”  In many ways, this was a grassroots answer to the failure of the French Revolution to achieve higher living conditions for the common man.  In Coleridge’s mind, these aspiration could still be achieved in a small, fraternal society.  They searched for twelve men and twelve women to form the community and realized some success.  Ultimately this society was impossible to operationalize.

As Malcolm Guite wrote:

We will shortly relate how the bubble of “ebullient schematism” burst and with what consequences, but it is worth reflecting with Coleridge himself at this point, not so much on the youthful naivety of the Pantisocratic scheme as on the deeper motivations and nobler moments of vision which were bound up with it, for those deeper motivations remained throughout Coleridge’s life, and the nobler vision eventually clarified into great poetry and visionary prose.

…In the end it was a combination of things which deflated the Pantisocratic balloon: primarily it was deep disagreement between Southey and Coleridge about how to put their principles into practice, and then massive pressure from both their families, but particularly Southey’s, which finally undid things.

Are isolated, idealistic communities possible?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

To Nether Stowey Via Utopia

Malcolm Guite

From Mariner, Chapter Three

…when the holidays began and he set off from Cambridge in mid-June, not for home, but on a walking tour of England and Wales with a fellow undergraduate, there was a sense of the bird flying free from the cage and new adventures beginning. He would not return to Cambridge and would never complete his degree.

As he strides out from Cambridge that June day, at a great pace that would take him to Oxford in just two days, on the first of the many walking tours which became so significant for his life and poetry, we have a sense of the real Coleridge coming into focus, of his becoming before our very eyes the man who has equally enthralled, intrigued, and infuriated his many biographers. At the start of this tour he bought the first of his famous notebooks with a portable ink-horn and so began the lifetime habit of brilliant and acute observation, both of nature and of himself, and ultimately of the connection between the two, which was to form the center of his mature work.

Rick Wilcox

A crisis is that decisive moment when, due to circumstances and the diminished ability to cope, the status quo is no longer sustainable, and something must change. Out of crisis, something new must and will emerge—hence the frequent association of crisis with an emergency. The trajectory of an entire life is often determined by how crisis moments are navigated; such intense junctures (also known as “tipping points”) are pregnant with promise and peril.

In Chapter Three of Malcolm Guite’s Mariner, we journey with Coleridge as he quits school and with it, all hope for a predictable life. Unable to align his direction with a previously cleared road, he joined ranks with Robert Southey to create a “Pantisocratic scheme for a new life.”

Malcolm Guite explains:

The word Pantisocracy was invented by Coleridge, as combining the Greek pan for “all” and isocratia for “government.” So this was to be not an aristocracy, but a pantisocracy: all members of a community were to govern their society equally. One might object that the word democracy would have done equally well, but Coleridge, in inventing this word, had something more in mind. Con- temporary democracies, in so far as they existed at all, delegated power from the people to elected representatives, so in some sense the “demos”—the people—were still not directly in power. In the small community that Coleridge and Southey were imagining, it would be possible for everybody to debate and take part directly in all decisions.

What is your Utopia?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

A Charge of Idleness

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

23 February 1794

I became a proverb to the University for Idleness—the time, which I should have bestowed on the academic studies, I employed in dreaming out wild schemes of impossible extrication. It had been better for me, if my Imagination had been less vivid—I could not with such facility have shoved aside Reflection! How many and how many hours have I stolen from the bitterness of Truth in these soul-enervating Reveries—in building magnificent edifices of Happiness on some fleeting shadow of Reality!

Rick WilcoxThis week we read Chapter Two of Malcolm Guite’s Mariner. The chapter chronicles Coleridge’s life through difficult and bitter stages which were usually the consequence of his own poor choices. Of the criticism that followed, the harshest came from Coleridge himself as he believed the root to be idleness.

Malcolm Guite wrote:

So this so-called “idleness” was not blank enervation, and Coleridge was certainly no couch potato. Note how active this idleness is: dreaming wild schemes, pursuing a vivid imagination, and building magnificent edifices. Although these, as Coleridge called them, “soul-enervating Reveries” were unproductive at the time in academic terms, they were also an exercise of just those faculties of his shaping spirit of imagination, from which the immortal poems of his annus mirabilis would arise. It is also interesting to note that he is indulging these long reveries well before the time of his serious indulgence in, or addiction to, opium. Opium may have exaggerated these and made them genuinely more enervating, but at this stage they were a playful and fruitful preparation of the rich soil of Coleridge’s imagination. Indeed, in the combination here of the fleeting shadow and the magnificent edifice built through the imagination, we have already a faint foreshadowing of Kubla Khan.

Were you ever accused of being lazy?

Does society encourage the dreamer?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

A Very Indocile Equestrian

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

23 February 1794

Sweet in the sight of God and celestial Spirits are the tears of Penitence—the pearls of heaven—the Wine of Angels! Such has been the language of Divines— but Divines have exaggerated.—Repentance may bestow that tranquillity, which will enable man to pursue a course of undeviating harmlessness, but it cannot restore to the mind that inward sense of Dignity, which is the Parent of every kindling Energy! I am not what I was:—Disgust—I feel, as if I had jaundiced all my Faculties.

Rick WilcoxGrace isn’t understood until forgiveness seems impossible. In today’s section of Mariner’s second chapter, Coleridge spirals circumstantially to a last resort of escape by anonymity. He goes home from college, significantly in debt, receives money from his family and then spends it before returning to school. He despaired of life to consideration of ending it and finally joins the army using an alias. Absent the grace of God; he could have been killed or lost to disease.

Malcolm Guite writes:

The feeling of disgust and self-loathing was one with which Coleridge would have to wrestle during key periods throughout his life. And even as he tells us here that disgust extinguishes the “kindling energies,” he was nevertheless able to give permanent and powerful expression to that disgust not only for himself but also for posterity in the telling lines in The Ancient Mariner: “And a thousand thousand slimy things / Lived on; and so did I.”

Interestingly, he goes on to say that the inward sense of dignity is “the Parent of every kindling energy.” In that phrase “every kindling energy” we see the first sparks of Coleridge in his mature brilliance, in his account of the mind as a meeting of reciprocal and circling energies, his sense of the intellect as itself an active and kindling light, not merely a blank and passive receptor to the outside senses. Perhaps the greatest characteristic of his mature poetry, particularly The Rime of the Ancient Mariner itself, is its “kindling energy”— kindling in the sense that it not only expresses the lights and energies that were already in Coleridge’s imagination, but also kindles to new flame and form the imaginations of each new generation of readers.

When did you first understand grace?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Radicalism and Religion

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

30 March 1794

I long ago theoretically and in a less degree experimentally knew the necessity of Faith in order to regulate Virtues—nor did I ever seriously disbelieve the existence of a future State—In short, my religious Creed bore and perhaps bears a correspondence with my mind and heart—I had too much Vanity to be altogether a Christian—too much tenderness of Nature to be utterly an Infidel, fond of the dazzle of Wit, fond of subtlety of Argument, I could not read without some degree of pleasure the levities of Voltaire, or the reasonings of Helvetius— but tremblingly alive to the feelings of humanity, and susceptible of the charms of Truth my Heart forced me to admire the beauty of Holiness in the Gospel, forced me to love the Jesus, whom my Reason (or perhaps my reasonings) would not permit me to worship—My Faith therefore was made up of the Evangelists and the Deistic Philosophy—a kind of religious Twilight—I said—perhaps bears—Yes! my Brother—for who can say—Now I’ll be a Christian—Faith is neither altogether voluntary or involuntary—We cannot believe what we choose—but we certainly can cultivate such habits of thinking and acting, as will give force and effective Energy to the arguments on either side.

Rick Wilcox

College students are encouraged to challenge the unexamined ideas of their youth.  The desired outcome is mature, well-balanced thought but the process is typically angst-ridden for young adults.  Coleridge’s brilliance quickened at Cambridge, but his heightened social consciousness and inquisitive mind caused him to doubt both Church and State.  Perspective was gained in time (as the letter written later to his brother George at the beginning of this piece shows), but the stage was set for more profound problems.

As Malcolm Guite wrote:

In the midst of all these alternations of excitement, doubt, and some rabble-rousing rhetoric, Coleridge had also been trying again to obtain the scholarships that might have led to an academic career, in this case the Craven Scholarship. He became one of the four finalists in an intense and all-consuming competition, a rigorous series of examinations, but in the end, in this second year at Cambridge, he failed to win either the Craven or any of the other awards, such as the Browne medal. After the immense effort of the Craven, he seems to have had a physical and emotional collapse and was confined to his room with abscesses, especially an abscessed tooth, which in the end had to be removed. Opium was administered to make the pain bearable and it was recommended he continue to use it during the convalescence. Opium, of course, was completely legal, widely available, and used for a variety of complaints. We will look at it later when we consider the beginning and subsequent aspects of Coleridge’s addiction. But for now, and in what follows, we get a sense of his earliest experiences using it for psychological or physical relief or release. He is just beginning to draw back the dreadful crossbow which will in the end shoot a fatal bolt into his own consciousness, the vast winged spirit of his creative imagination. But he doesn’t know that yet.

Did you struggle with the teachings of your youth?

What consequences resulted?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The Ode on the Slave Trade

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

From the translation by J.C.C. May in Poetical Works

O ye who revel in the ills of Slavery, O feeders on the groans of the wretched, insolent sons of Excess, shedders of own brothers’ blood, does not the inescapable Eye see these things? Does not Nemesis threaten fire-breathing reprisal? Do you hear? Or do you not hear? How winds shake the ground at its roots, and the recesses of earth groan beneath, and the depths roar terribly, pledging those below to wrath against the killers!

Rick Wilcox

This week in Chapter Two of Mariner, we see Coleridge’s developing social consciousness as he uses an academic assignment to challenge slavery.  The university offered a prize for a Greek ode in imitation of Sappho, and for Coleridge, the forum was compelling.  He joined his voice with Wilberforce and others for a cause still many years from legal resolution while it was still unpopular (if not dangerous) to do so.

As Malcolm Guite wrote:

Wilberforce introduced the bill a third time in the spring of 1792, right in the midst of the period in which Coleridge was preparing his poem. This may have influenced the Latin title he gave his Greek ode, Sors misera servorum in insulis indiae occidentalis—“The unhappy fate of the slaves in the West Indian islands.” In spite of support from Burke, Fox, Pitt, and Sheridan, in a debate which Burke described as containing “the greatest eloquence ever displayed in the House”—in spite of all that, the anti-slavery bill was again defeated. Le Grice’s account of those evenings in which Coleridge recited Burke refer in fact to 1792, while Coleridge was composing the ode, so it is clear that he was still following the debates in Parliament. Al- though Coleridge was thinking about the topic as early as 1791, and intending to write for the competition, the competition was officially announced in January 1792. Coleridge composed the poem that spring, was awarded the prize, and recited his poem on commencement day, 3 July 1792.

Did you take a public political stand as a youth? 

What were the circumstances?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

Jesus and the Dragoons

Charles Valentine Le Grice

Of Christ’s Hospital and Trinity College, Cambridge

What evenings I have spent in those rooms! . . . when Aeschylus, and Plato, and Thucydides were pushed aside, with a pile of lexicons etc, to discuss the pamphlets of the day. Ever and anon, a pamphlet issued from the pen of Burke. There was no need of having the book before us. Coleridge had read it in the morning, and in the evening he would repeat whole pages verbatim.

Rick WilcoxCollege was, as a rule, a place of drunkenness, violence, and whoredom. While this might sound like a commentary on contemporary culture, Samuel Coleridge Taylor complained to his brother in a letter that “There is no such thing as discipline at our college. There once was they say, but so long ago that no one remembers it.” The more things change, the more they stay in the same.

Amid this cacophony, Coleridge found his voice. His advanced literacy fed a propensity for linguistics, and he mastered Greek. Also, his focus evolved from an academic appreciation of classical truth to its application to contemporary social issues – namely, the slave trade market.

In the second chapter of Mariner, Malcolm Guite wrote:

We can learn a great deal from this little glimpse, about Coleridge and Cambridge, in the juxtaposition between Greek classics on the one hand, and “the pamphlets of the day” on the other. For Val Le Grice it may well have been a case of pushing the one aside to make room for the other, and like many mediocre students before and after him, he may have kept his academic learning in a sealed compartment which neither admitted light from his contemporary life nor shed any upon it, but not so Coleridge. As he was to demonstrate brilliantly in his Greek ode on the slave trade, for Coleridge the luminous and mystical insights of Plato on the one hand, and the sharp analysis of realpolitik in Thucydides on the other, were always relevant to the way we live now. Throughout his life, Coleridge would react to the great works of the past not as dead monuments of scholarship but (as he would say of the Bible) as “the living educts of the imagination,”constantly bringing new insights to bear on contemporary life.

What was college life like for you?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

Cheshire Cats and the Holy Spirit by Donna Fowler

Twenty-nine years ago, on a bright May morning, I graduated from Meredith College, a four-year women’s college in Raleigh steeped in Baptist heritage. Founded in 1891, Meredith has long been known for a high quality of education and certain unique traditions. These inherited and shared experiences are an essential part of what identifies a woman as a Meredith alumna, and we cling to them tenaciously. Continue reading “Cheshire Cats and the Holy Spirit by Donna Fowler”

Holden Caulfield, Teacher

J.D. Salinger

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.

1 CORINTHIANS 13:11–12

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

The Catcher in the Rye has consistently sold tens of millions of copies every year since it was published over 60 years ago. In Holden Caulfield, Salinger channeled the melancholy of Hamlet and invented a genre of angst exploited and expanded by Sarte, Camus and others.  It resonates because we can all relate to teenage angst.

I think God let us be parents so we can understand Him better. He lets us experience childhood so we can understand innocence, adolescence so we can understand folly and adulthood so we can understand responsibility. He also teaches us context.

As we get older and hopefully wiser, we look back and smile at the problems that seemed so big when we were seven and seventeen. Among other things, growing-up is about perspective which is the gateway to wisdom.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

D I G  D E E P E R

The Catcher in The Rye

What makes a book great? Some books regularly show up on “the greatest list” of literature and many are almost entirely unread or unreadable by contemporary audiences. Authors like Faulkner and Joyce are known for their difficult prose and it’s hard to imagine books like Light in August or Ulysses selling a single copy today.

The Catcher in the Rye has consistently sold tens of millions of copies every year since it was published over 60 years ago. Granted, banal books like Fifty Shades of Grey have also sold in the tens of millions, but most tend to be pan flash amusements that grow cold in time.

Catcher resonates.

Something between the simple words of its first person narration catches in the gullet and has sparked both reflection and action – occasionally with horrific consequences – in generations of readers.

In Holden Caulfield, Salinger channeled the melancholy of Hamlet and invented a genre of angst exploited and expanded by Sarte, Camus and others. When Sylvia Plath says in “The Bell Jar “I felt wise and cynical as all hell” you can almost see a copy of Catcher sticking out of her purse. Yes, the existential roots were already in place, but the rebellion and sociological seismic shifts of the late 50’s and 60’s were still ahead. Salinger might not have invented them, but his influence is undeniable.

So does that make the book great?

It does.

I can’t say it was enjoyable to read, nor do I recommend it as beach reading for a breezy summer day. It is dark and frustrating and most of the time I wanted to skim to the end to get past the droning whine of Holden Caulfield.

That said, my contextual understanding of its resultant ends made the means worth the trip.

Crying For Barabbas


George Orwell

“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”

George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, and yes – he merely flipped the last two years as a nod to “where things are headed.” It has been in the news recently due to the election of Donald J Trump to the presidency of the United States, as many see similarities in his policies and Orwell’s view of a government controlled by ‘Big Brother.”

There is, of course, a lot of fodder for similarities, but the situation isn’t unique to the United States or to the present time. It also ignores the spiritual dimension driving the macro-sociological undercurrents.

It comes as no surprise that politics are a circus of carnival barkers. We yearn for greatness with sentimentality, but long ago surrendered meaningful, complex dialog for media sound-bites and tweets. This postmodern condition was described by sociologist Stjepan Mestrovic as “post-emotional” which feeds on routine banalities and cliché. It’s what Emile Durkheim called “collective effervescence” (think Jerry Springer).

This is nothing new.

When citizens are untethered from spiritual moorings, they eventually cry out for a king to stop their drift. As Mestrovic observed, this opens the way to manipulation by the unscrupulous on a vast scale to totalitarianism that promises restored greatness. Once people have lost their connection to God, they are sure to be enslaved by a Caesar. In that condition, there is little patience for a King who is not of this world.  They will cry out for Barabbas every time.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.


D I G  D E E P E R

George Orwell

(1903–50). As a journalist and writer of autobiographical narratives, George Orwell was outstanding. But he will be remembered primarily for two works of fiction that have become 20th-century classics: Animal Farm, published in 1944, and Nineteen Eighty-four (1949).

George Orwell is a pen name. His real name was Eric Arthur Blair, and he was born in 1903 at Montihari in Bengal, India, where his father was a minor British official. His family had social status but little money, a fact that influenced Orwell’s later attitude toward the English class system and the empire’s treatment of its subject peoples. In about 1911 the family returned to England. Blair was sent to school in Sussex, where he was distinguished both by his poverty and his intelligence. He later wrote of his miserable school years in Such, Such Were the Joys (1953).

He attended Eton in the years 1917 to 1921 but decided against going on to a university. Instead he went to Burma (now Myanmar) as a member of the British imperial police.

His own poverty, plus his growing aversion to Britain’s imperial policies, led him to resign from the government in 1928. He then spent several years among the poor and outcast of Europe and among the unemployed miners in the north of England. These experiences were recounted in Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) and The Road to Wigan Pier (1937). Then Orwell went to Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War. His experiences in Spain were described in Homage to Catalonia (1938), one of his best books.

During World War II Orwell wrote for the British Broadcasting Company and worked as a literary editor for the London Tribune. The success of Animal Farm in 1944 allowed him to devote himself to writing. He bought a house on the island of Jura, where he wrote Nineteen Eighty-four. By the time it was published, Orwell was already ill from the tuberculosis from which he died on Jan. 21, 1950, in London.

“Orwell, George,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

The End Of The Beginning

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

Lines 21–24

Rick WilcoxThis week we read Chapter One and began to see remarkable parallels in the Ancient Mariner’s journey with Coleridge’s own.  In the poem, as the chew embarks, they sail beyond the view of the kirk, the hill, and the lighthouse top.

Coleridge’s childhood was like all others in one respect; it informed and shaped the man he was to become.  Growing older is inevitable but growing up is not.  The phenomenon of delayed adolescence is perhaps a modern one, but even in Coleridge’s day, the end of sequestered childhood at nine years of age would have been difficult for even the hardiest souls.  Trial was Samuel’s tutor.

Malcolm Guite wrote:

We have a rich source for understanding Coleridge’s childhood experience in the poet’s own writings. In his notebooks and letters and in his poetry itself he reached back to understand the forces that had shaped him for good and ill, and wrote about them with extraordinary intensity. Indeed, he would later define a poet as a person who retained a child’s capacity for intense vision and wonder: “In the Poet was comprehended the man who carries the feelings of Childhood onto the powers of Manhood, who with a soul unsubdued, unshackled by custom, can contemplate all things with the freshness, with the wonder of a child.”

What stood out most for you in Chapter One?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The Lighthouse Top

Charles Lamb

Come back into memory, like as thou wert in the dayspring of thy fancies, with hope like a fiery column before thee—the dark pillar not yet turned—Samuel Taylor Coleridge—Logician, Metaphysician, Bard—How have I seen the casual passer through the cloisters stand still, intranced with admiration (while he the young Mirandula), to hear thee unfold, in thy deep and sweet intonations, the mysteries of Jamblichus, or Plotinus (for even in those years thou waxedst not pale at such philosophic draughts), or reciting Homer in his Greek, or Pindar—while the walls of the old Grey Friars re-echoed to the accents of the inspired charity-boy!

Rick WilcoxAs the struggling vine often produces the sweetest fruit, so likewise does hardship spur creativity in heart of genius.

Today we continue Chapter One of Malcolm Guite’s book Mariner  about the life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

When Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s father died, he was placed in a charity home with all of its Dickensian attributes.  Lesser souls might have withered in the harsh, radical change from pastoral to austere environments, but Coleridge thrived.

Malcolm Guite wrote:

But if the physical life at school was dark and shadowed, the great lighthouse of intellectual and imaginative life burnt all the more brightly, and Coleridge first showed here those extraordinary powers of resilience and recovery that were to serve him well through the coming traumas of his life. For what the school did provide him with was access to books, and the learning and skill with which to enjoy them: “My whole Being was, with eyes closed to every object of present sense, to crumple myself up in a sunny Corner, and read, read, read.”

Have you ever thrived in the face of difficult circumstances?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

The Hill

William Wordsworth

I speak to thee, my Friend! to thee,
Who, yet a liveried schoolboy, in the depths
Of the huge city, on the leaded roof
Of that wide edifice, thy school and home,
Wert used to lie and gaze upon the clouds
Moving in heaven; or, of that pleasure tired,
To shut thine eyes, and by internal light
See trees, and meadows, and thy native stream,
Far distant, thus beheld from year to year
Of a long exile

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

What happy and what mournful hours, since last
I skimmed the smooth thin stone along thy breast,
Numbering its light leaps! Yet so deep imprest
Sink the sweet scenes of childhood that mine eyes
I never shut amid the sunny ray, but straight
With all their tints thy waters rise,
Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey,
And bedded sand that veined with various dyes
Gleamed through thy bright transparence!


Rick WilcoxIt is difficult to lose one’s parent at any age, but it is especially so as a child.  When John Coleridge died, his son Samuel was only nine years old.

Today we continue Chapter One of Malcolm Guite’s book Mariner  about the life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

John Coleridge was an intelligent and sensitive vicar who nurtured his son in an extraordinarily rich environment which was no doubt taken for granted until it was lost.   In the years following John’s death, Samuel’s quest for context, perspective, and ultimately renewal required a lifetime.  The immediate future was to be dark and hard.

Malcolm Guite explains:

This visionary remembrance of the river of his childhood, written long after, is made particularly poignant and intense by the sudden and complete catastrophe, from the child’s point of view, which brought his childhood to an end. When Coleridge was nine, his father went off to Plymouth to see Frank, Coleridge’s only slightly older brother, settled and apprenticed as a midshipman. He returned home in apparent good health and high spirits, but that very night he died suddenly, probably of a heart attack.

John Coleridge’s death changed everything. The vicarage went with his job. Coleridge’s mother found herself at once bereaved, homeless, deprived of income, and having to provide as best she could for such a large family. This may account in some degree for what follows, and for the tragic break in real trust and affection between Coleridge and his mother. Friends of the family, rallying round, and trying to find places and support for the numerous children with whom Anne Coleridge could not cope on her own, told her they could get young Sam presented at Christ’s Hospital, a charity school in London, whose board, lodging, and education was sometimes provided free to the sons of the clergy, particularly those in material distress. We can see why she took up the offer, but we can equally see how traumatic it was for Coleridge to lose a beloved father, to be wrenched away from his home and family and sent off to the sparse diet, grim regime, savage beatings, and, above all, exile and loneliness which was the experience of most boys in a London charity school.

Was your childhood marked by the loss of a parent?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

The Kirk

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,

Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Rick WilcoxWhen William Faulkner said “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” he might have been thinking of Coleridge.  As a precocious child, he read the Bible at three years of age and possessed an enormous capacity for memorization.

Further, his voracious appetite for books was fed by his aunt’s little business.  In a letter he wrote:

My Father’s Sister kept an every-thing Shop at Crediton—and there I read thro’ all the gilt-cover little books that could be had at that time, & likewise all the uncovered tales of Tom Hickathrift, Jack the Giant-killer, &c & &c &c &c—/——and I used to lie by the wall, and mope—and my spirits used to come upon me suddenly, & in a flood—& then I was accustomed to run up and down the church-yard, and act over all I had been reading on the docks, the nettles, and the rank-grass.—At six years old I remember to have read Belisarius, Robinson Crusoe, & Philip Quarle [Quarll]—and then I found the Arabian Nights’ entertainments—one tale of which (the tale of a man who was com- pelled to seek for a pure virgin) made so deep an impression on me (I had read it in the evening while my mother was mending stockings) that I was haunted by spectres, whenever I was in the dark—and I distinctly remember the anxious & fearful eagerness, with which I used to watch the window, in which the books lay—& whenever the Sun lay upon them, I would seize it, carry it by the wall, & bask, & read—

All of this was planted into the soul of a child already in love with God through his upbringing as a vicar’s son.  As Malcolm Guite wrote:

If the mariner was to see the kirk itself drop away below the horizon as he set off on his voyage, he would still find that the deep structure of Christian thought, its heights and depths, its loss and redemption, would always be with him…

The Christianity into which Coleridge was born, to which he would eventually return, and which he himself would profoundly renew and re-envisage, was not some narrow bigotry or closed-down, text-bound literalism. Coleridge’s local vicar was not a flat-earther. John Coleridge was familiar with the great developments in astronomy that had taken place during his lifetime. He did not see the working of reason or the enlargement of the mind through the discoveries of science as in any sense a threat to his faith.

Were you raised in a religious home?

How does your answer now inform your life?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

The Growth of a Poet’s Mind

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

Lines 21–24

Rick WilcoxToday we begin the first of two parts into which Malcolm Guite’s book Mariner is divided.  The Prelude examines the foreground of  Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s  life which both informed and set the context for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

This week we will read Chapter 1 and begin to see remarkable parallels in the Ancient Mariner’s journey with Coleridge’s own.  In the poem, as the ship embarks, she sails beyond the view of the kirk, the hill and the lighthouse top.

Malcolm Guite explains:

“The kirk” may stand not only for the church itself, but also for the formative influence of its vicar, Coleridge’s father, and for Coleridge’s own first reading of the Bible and the Prayer Book, reading which never deserted him, and in the end deeply renewed him. “The hill” may stand for his rich early experiences of nature, not only in climbing the hills of his Devon childhood but, more importantly, following the streams he loved uphill toward their source. Finally, “the lighthouse top” may stand for the light of reason, the beginnings of his education, and his early and lifelong delight in philosophy.

Has your life’s journey been marked by departures from significant shaping aspects of your youth?  How so?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God,and the Word was God.

Reading Chesterton by Rebekah Valerius

“I’m beginning to suspect that nobody understands G.K. Chesterton,” a friend recently remarked. “They just like quoting him when convenient.” I had to laugh at this for I am guilty as charged. Chesterton both confounds and delights me, and I am confident that I have quoted him on numerous occasions without really understanding his meaning. He had a way with words that makes the temptation to repeat him too hard to resist! It is when he confounds me that I enjoy his writing the most. He challenges me to slow down and think. Most of all, he teaches me about the joy of existence; that existence itself is good, something so quickly forgotten in the toils of daily life. Continue reading “Reading Chesterton by Rebekah Valerius”

Under The Aspect Of Eternity

Lightness of Being, by Chris Levine, 2004

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From all this it now follows that the content of ethical problems can never be discussed in a Christian light; the possibility of erecting generally valid principles simply does not exist, because each moment, lived in God’s sight, can bring an unexpected decision. Thus only one thing can be repeated again and again, also in our time: in ethical decisions a man must consider his action sub specie aeternitatis and then, no matter how it proceeds, it will proceed rightly.”

1 Corinthians 1:26–31

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.

Rick WilcoxEngland’s Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning monarch in British history. By all accounts she has held her role with deep regard for its responsibility to history and the British people.  She is famously private and guarded of her personal beliefs and emotions.

In 2004, artist Chris Levine, while commissioned to take her official portrait, caught the image shown here in between takes as she rested her eyes.  The meditative state of repose is engaging because it makes her somehow more accessible, more human.  We can almost sense her thoughts.  If you know a little about her, you might know of her beloved Corgis. The dogs have been associated with the Royal Family for years. Queen Elizabeth says she enjoys her Corgis because they don’t know she is Queen.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” wrote Shakespeare in King Henry the Fourth, and we get it.  It’s the feeling of modern adulthood. We are jugglers, plate spinners and multi-taskers in the kingdom of our own making.  No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with props and material possessions to make us feel successful and accomplished, we all know that, as Montaigne said, “on the loftiest throne in the world we are still only sitting on our own rump.”

The Germans have a word for this condition: Zerrissenheit (loosely, “falling-to-pieces-ness”).  This is the loss of internal coherence that can come from living a multitasking, pulled-in-a-hundred-directions existence. This is what Kierkegaard called “the dizziness of freedom.”  When external constraints are loosened, when a person can do what he wants, when there are a thousand choices and distractions, then life can lose coherence and direction if there isn’t a strong internal structure.

It’s what happens when we make ourselves our own God.

The folly of this lifestyle can only be remedied by seeing the world through God’s eyes – sub specie aeternitatis – under the aspect of eternity.

In plain talk, what that means is that only God’s perspective matters. Regardless of what other people think of us (good or bad) or what society says is right or wrong, the only measure of our life is how obedient we are to God.

All of the importance and significance we seek in pleasures and material possessions is completely misplaced.  We are the pinnacle of God’s creation and our self worth is realized through the reconciliation of grace back into His fellowship.


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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.


D I G  D E E P E R

Sub specie aeternitatis

Latin for “under the aspect of eternity”, is, from Baruch Spinoza onwards, an honorific expression describing what is universally and eternally true, without any reference to or dependence upon the temporal portions of reality.

In clearer English, sub specie aeternitatis roughly means “from the perspective of the eternal”. Even more loosely, the phrase is used to describe an alternative or objective point of view.

Spinoza’s “eternal” perspective is reflected in his Ethics (Part V, Prop. XXIII, Scholium), where he treats ethics through a geometric investigation that begins with God and nature and then analyzes human emotions and the human intellect. By proceeding sub specie aeternitatis, Spinoza seeks to arrive at an ethical theory that is as precise as Euclid’s Elements. In the history of philosophy, this way of proceeding may be most clearly contrasted with Aristotle’s manner of proceeding. Aristotle’s methodological differences in his “philosophy of human affairs” and his natural philosophy are grounded in the distinction between what is “better known to us” and things “better known in themselves,” or what is “first for us” and what is “first by nature” (discussed, among other places, at Metaphysics Z.3, 1029b3–12), a distinction that is deliberately discarded by Spinoza and other modern philosophers.



Fighting God

Shipwreck Off Nantucket by William Bradford 1861

Herman Melville

But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous—why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind. Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a colour as the visible absence of colour; and at the same time the concrete of all colours; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colourless, all-colour of atheism from which we shrink?

JOB 38

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,
2  “Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
3  “Now gird up your loins like a man,
And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!
4  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding,
5  Who set its measurements? Since you know.
Or who stretched the line on it?
6  “On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
7  When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

8  “Or who enclosed the sea with doors
When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb;
9  When I made a cloud its garment
And thick darkness its swaddling band,
10  And I placed boundaries on it
And set a bolt and doors,
11  And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther;
And here shall your proud waves stop’?

12  “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
13  That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?
14  “It is changed like clay under the seal;
And they stand forth like a garment.
15  “From the wicked their light is withheld,
And the uplifted arm is broken.

16  “Have you entered into the springs of the sea
Or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17  “Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18  “Have you understood the expanse of the earth?
Tell Me, if you know all this.

19  “Where is the way to the dwelling of light?
And darkness, where is its place,
20  That you may take it to its territory
And that you may discern the paths to its home?
21  “You know, for you were born then,
And the number of your days is great!
22  “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
23  Which I have reserved for the time of distress,
For the day of war and battle?
24  “Where is the way that the light is divided,
Or the east wind scattered on the earth?

25  “Who has cleft a channel for the flood,
Or a way for the thunderbolt,
26  To bring rain on a land without people,
On a desert without a man in it,
27  To satisfy the waste and desolate land
And to make the seeds of grass to sprout?
28  “Has the rain a father?
Or who has begotten the drops of dew?
29  “From whose womb has come the ice?
And the frost of heaven, who has given it birth?
30  “Water becomes hard like stone,
And the surface of the deep is imprisoned.

31  “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades,
Or loose the cords of Orion?
32  “Can you lead forth a constellation in its season,
And guide the Bear with her satellites?
33  “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens,
Or fix their rule over the earth?

34  “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
So that an abundance of water will cover you?
35  “Can you send forth lightnings that they may go
And say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36  “Who has put wisdom in the innermost being
Or given understanding to the mind?
37  “Who can count the clouds by wisdom,
Or tip the water jars of the heavens,
38  When the dust hardens into a mass
And the clods stick together?

39  “Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
Or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40  When they crouch in their dens
And lie in wait in their lair?
41  “Who prepares for the raven its nourishment
When its young cry to God
And wander about without food?

In a personal letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne upon completing Moby Dick, Melville said, “I have written an evil book.” What is it about the book that he considered evil? The answer has been debated by literary scholars since the book was published, and I agree with the view that sees the whale as God, with vengeance fueled Ahab in pursuit.

Given that so few people have actually read Moby Dick, it seems necessary to give a spoiler alert here: It doesn’t end well for Captain Ahab.

It’s hard to fight God.

C.S. Lewis, once an atheist himself, said he knew very few true atheists. He said it’s not that most people don’t believe in God but rather they are angry with God for not existing.  Now there’s a starting point. Accepting the sovereignty of God does not require understanding Him.  Really now, how small would God be if we could wrap our minds around Him?  God wants us to bring Him our pain and questions, but not in the grip of a rebellious fist.

The beginning of understanding is worship.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



D I G  D E E P E R

Art: Shipwreck Off Nantucket by William Bradford 1861

On August 8, 1859, the whaling ship Nantucket ran aground during the night at Nashawena Island, Massachusetts, part of the Elizabeth Islands at the entrance to Vineyard Sound. The next day, Bradford left his studio in New Bedford to observe the scene in preparation for painting this large, epic depiction of the shipwreck. He had recently worked alongside Albert Van Beest, who had been trained in the tradition of Dutch marine painting, and the dramatic effect of heavy seas and tilting ship show the other artist’s influence. Bradford’s impressive knowledge of seagoing vessels, however, is seen in the careful delineation of the deck of the whaler and the small craft that surround it.

Literature: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Moby Dick has often been called The Great American Novel and that’s true for every wrong reason. On the eve of its debut, Melville’s heart soared with confidence that the public would embrace his masterpiece. Of course, this was not to be.  The version released in England had a botched ending and the reviewing critics were merciless. Though the book had been corrected before it’s US release, the reviews preceded it, and the die was cast.

The reception was horrific and Melville never recovered.

Today, decades later Moby Dick is recognized as an epic masterwork, but still, very few people have actually read it.  Truthfully, that’s partly Melville’s fault.  The book is a mule choker, both long and descriptively detailed in the technicalities of nineteenth century whaling. Yes, the story is textured and timeless but the reader is often burdened with unnecessary commentary. Sure, it proves he knew what he was talking about, but it takes a real toll on the story’s momentum.  It’s a little like trying to read the Bible and getting bogged down in the Book of Numbers.

If America wasn’t ready for Moby Dick when it came out, America is less so now. Our attention spans are short and we want fast action in big screen high def color. Moby Dick exceeds all of that in the theater of the mind, but only yields its treasure to patient lovers of lore and language.

All that said, I’m glad I read every word.

Rick Wilcox

Spiritual Navigation


I readily believe that there are more invisible beings in the universe than visible. But who will declare to us the nature of all these, the rank, relationships, distinguishing characteristics and qualities of each? What is it they do? Where is it they dwell? Always the human intellect circles around the knowledge of these mysteries, never touching the centre. Meanwhile it is, I deny not, oft-times well pleasing to behold sketched upon the mind, as upon a tablet, a picture of the greater and better world; so shall not the spirit, wonted to the petty concerns of daily life, narrow itself over much, nor sink utterly into trivialities. But mean- while we must diligently seek after truth, and maintain a temperate judgement, if we would distinguish certainty from uncertainty, day from night.

Rick WilcoxToday we conclude our introduction to Malcolm Guite’s Mariner by examining two more key features of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

As you will remember, yesterday we considered Prophetic Framing and The Sacred Power of Self-Intuition.  Today we add Spiritual Force and Prophetic Moment: A Poem on the Threshold.

Spiritual Force

Though many books have been written about Coleridge, few until now have adequately addressed the rich spirituality woven through his writing, and specifically, the driving and essential power of his Christian faith.

As Malcolm explains:

…prayer, both achieved and despaired of, both abandoned and recovered, weaves constantly in and out of Coleridge’s letters, notebooks, conversation, and actual practice. For Coleridge, as for the mariner, prayer and vision went hand in hand, and the recovery of prayer in his life was not a matter of conventional piety but of spiritual survival. His experience of what he called “the Night-mare Life-in-Death” made prayer, itself, a matter of life and death.


Prophetic Moment: A Poem on the Threshold

Just as we stand now on the cusp of post-modernity with its spiritual ambivalence,  Coleridge likewise lived in an age of transition.  He rebelled against the Enlightenment’s separation of reason from imagination and was a pioneer in the Romantic Movement.  As Malcolm powerfully says:

In this reflection Coleridge found himself compelled to reject the mechanistic, clockwork cosmos of Newton, to reject the distant and detached clock-maker that passed for God with many of his contemporaries. Instead he rediscovered for himself the mysterious and suddenly present God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush and called himself “I AM,” the mysterious and all-sustaining Word made flesh at Bethlehem, and the life-giving Holy Spirit through whom the imaginations of poets are kindled. After all his peregrinations, Coleridge, like his mariner, found haven and firm footing at last in the land of the Trinity.

Can ordinary daily life cause our perspective to shrink? If so, what can be done to prevent it?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

An Astonishingly Prescient Poem

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

They and only they can acquire the philosophic imagination, the sacred power of self-intuition, who within themselves can interpret and understand the symbol, that the wings of the air-sylph are forming within the skin of the caterpillar; those only, who feel in their own spirits the same instinct, which impels the chrysalis of the horned fly to leave room in its involucrum for antennae yet to come. They know and feel, that the potential works in them, even as the actual works on them.

Rick WilcoxToday we continue our introduction to Malcolm Guite’s Mariner by examining key features of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

We’ll look at two today and two tomorrow.

Prophetic Framing

Though Coleridge wrote the Ancient Mariner when he was only 25 years old, an astonishing amount of its content became the story of his life.  As Malcolm explains:

This prescient nature of the poem, the sense that new depths open out when we read it with both the early and the later Coleridge in mind, is further intensified by two of the poem’s “framing” devices. The first is the fact, embedded in the narrative of the poem itself, that an old man tells the story to a younger man, and that the encounter between them is predestined, and is for the younger man’s benefit…In retrospect, it is possible to imagine the wedding guest as the youthful Coleridge and the mariner as the older and wiser Coleridge returning to teach and guide his younger self.

The other “framing device” unique to this poem is the famous “gloss” which was added by Coleridge, nearly twenty years later, to the version published in 1817. Here indeed Coleridge created a beautiful counterpoint to his youthful voice and a more profound interpretation of the poem than he himself could have written when he composed it.

The Sacred Power of Self-Intuition

In the years following the publication of Ancient Mariner, Coleridge recognized the powerful shaping forces that guided his work.  He published a work titled Biographia Literaria or Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions in 1817.  Here he discussed, as he said ‘the sacred power of self-intuition’ which guided his hand, and indeed the hand of every creator.  As Malcolm wrote:

Here Coleridge advances the beautiful suggestive idea that the poetic imagination can hold open for us a shape or a space we have yet to grow into. The great works of art and literature are, as it were, making room for our future insights, giving us the shapes, the stories, the images into which the undeveloped antennae of our inner life can grow.

If this is true of the narrative shape and the imagery of The Ancient Mariner, it follows that the poem is more than just an individual’s story. It is also a profound exploration of the human condition, of our fallenness and, as Coleridge says in the gloss, our “loneliness and fixedness.” Yet the poem also offers hope, release, and recovery.

Do you recognize these forces in your life?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

G.K. Chesterton: Modern (1874–1936)



When the business man rebukes the idealism of his office-boy, it is commonly in some such speech as this: “Ah, yes, when one is young, one has these ideals in the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like clouds, and one comes down to a belief in practical politics, to using the machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is.” Thus, at least, venerable and philanthropic old men now in their honoured graves used to talk to me when I was a boy. But since then I have grown up and have discovered that these philanthropic old men were telling lies. What has really happened is exactly the opposite of what they said would happen. They said that I should lose my ideals and begin to believe in the methods of practical politicians. Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was. What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics. I am still as much concerned as ever about the Battle of Armageddon; but I am not so much concerned about the General Election. As a babe I leapt up on my mother’s knee at the mere mention of it. No; the vision is always solid and reliable. The vision is always a fact. It is the reality that is often a fraud. As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.

Rick WilcoxThe term “bigger than life” is now cliché but it is in no way ironic when applied to G.K. Chesterton.  It begins with his stature (6’4” and over 300 pounds), but even that great frame is dwarfed by his intellect and imagination.  His writings seem endless, and every sentence is packed with wit and nuance with a saturation that makes skimming impossible.  His masterpiece was simply titled Orthodoxy.

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

Chesterton was not a great philosopher like Aquinas or a sublime poet like Dante. His fiction lacks the polish of Austen or the passion of either of the Brontë sisters. He’s decidedly second-rate compared to Plato or Shakespeare, but that’s an amazing thing to be.

Chesterton is here as our ambassador to the Great Conversation. He’s bright enough to sit at the High Table with the Masters and witty enough to explain them to us who sit below.

In the meantime, his work is a delight.

Rare is the man or woman who reads Homer for fun, but once you start reading Chesterton it’s hard to stop. He could explain Shakespeare or Aquinas in new ways so interesting that scholars would pause to consider and amateurs would learn. Chesterton sometimes got details wrong, yet he often captured the essential nature of a writer or problem.

Chesterton does not argue so much as live on a page . . . and he is always jolly. Reading Chesterton is simply jollification, and nobody in this book does “jolly” better. As a result, G. K. Chesterton is a genius we can enjoy and an eccentric who can see what less wild men might miss.

Does study bring you joy?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.


D I G  D E E P E R

On Orthodoxy

Dale Ahlquist

When people read Orthodoxy for the first time, they generally discover that their pens run out of ink from underlining almost every sentence in the book. The relentless and irresistible quotable quotes also make for a rather disjointed reading experience. So they finish the book and, in spite of it being almost entirely underlined, they wonder, What was that about, anyway? Then they reread the book and are quite bewildered to discover it is an entirely different work, giving them the odd sensation of reading it for the first time, in spite of the obvious evidence of their very own underlinings from the previous read. The third time is generally the charm, as Chesterton’s thesis suddenly bursts through his dazzling rhetoric and imaginative arguments.

Fresh is a fitting word. Orthodoxy is a lively, creative, and unique approach to defending the Christian faith. Yet Chesterton insists that it is not a book of apologetics; he claims it’s simply his account of how he came to embrace Christianity for himself. His journey, however, is not typical, for he did not study the arguments in favor of but rather the arguments against Christianity. He did not study classic Christian philosophy but rather a variety of modern anti-Christian philosophies. He thought he was forming a new heresy, but when he put on the finishing touches, he found it was orthodoxy. He thought he’d come up with a new religion and was embarrassed to discover that someone else had come up with it almost two thousand years earlier.

The heart of the book is found, first, in the coherent morality of fairy tales, or the “Ethics of Elfland,” where logic is still logical and still capable of teaching science a few lessons. Then he hands us the surprising and seemingly contradictory truths of the faith, the “Paradoxes of Christianity,” where logic gets put to the test.

It is a theme throughout Chesterton’s writings that faith does not contradict reason, but reason often appears to contradict itself. Reason requires faith as a starting point. As he says elsewhere, “You cannot prove your first statement. Otherwise it would not be your first statement.”

And, a lush portrait of the faith, which always has attracted both the strongest of devotion and the fiercest of opposition wherever it appears, is known as the “Romance of Orthodoxy.”


In preceding chapters, Chesterton has examined the narrowness of modern philosophies, each “sharpened to a narrow point,” ending in madness, or what he calls “the clean well-lit prison of one idea.” In chapters following he will show how in art, literature, politics, and worship, Christianity not only provides satisfaction but sanity.

Chesterton is defending not only the Christian church but also the essence of Western society, a product of Hebrew monotheism, Greek philosophy, and Roman civilization, all brought together when Christ steps onto history’s stage. Chesterton draws a striking contrast between East and West, summed up in differences between the circle and the cross, the symbols representing Buddhism and Christianity.

The circle is centripetal, spinning inward toward madness and self-destruction, like a snake eating its own tail; the cross is centrifugal, spreading its arms to the four winds, “a signpost for free travelers.”
The other principle Chesterton defends in Orthodoxy is the value of solid tradition against the flakiness of fads and fashions. The modern world is obsessed with being modern. Therefore, old things that were carefully created for a purpose are suddenly discarded thoughtlessly with no sense of their importance. Then, of course, the new things that replace them are quickly discarded as well.

Thus, the modern world is a mess. Chesterton saw it coming. He also saw the solution. As with any prophet, his warnings are timely, but so are his exhortations. He is encouraging, not discouraging. We know he’s right when he tells us we must hate the world enough to change it, yet love it enough to think it worth changing.

Dale Ahlquist is the president and co-founder of the American Chesterton Society and one of the world’s leading experts on G. K. Chesterton. He created and hosts the EWTN television series G. K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, publishes Gilbert Magazine, and is a frequent guest lecturer at various universities.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)



Is there anyone who would like to take a little look down on and under that secret how man fabricates an ideal on earth? Who has the courage for that? Come on, now! Here is an open glimpse into this dark workshop. Just wait a moment, my dear Mr. Presumptuous and Nosy: your eye must first get used to this artificial flickering light. . . . So, enough! Now speak! What’s going on down there? Speak up. Say what you see, man of the most dangerous curiosity—now I’m the one who’s listening.—
“I see nothing, but I hear all the more. It is a careful and crafty light rumour-mongering and whispering from every nook and cranny. It seems to me that people are lying; a sugary mildness clings to every sound. Weakness is going to be falsified into something of merit. There’s no doubt about it—things are just as you said they were.”
—Keep talking!
“And powerlessness which does not retaliate is being falsified into ‘goodness,’ anxious baseness into ‘humility,’ submission before those one hates to ‘obedience’ (of course, obedience to the one who, they say, commands this submission—they call him God). The inoffensiveness of the weak man, even cowardice, in which he is rich, his standing at the door, his inevitable need to wait around—here these acquire good names, like ‘patience’ and are called virtue. That incapacity for revenge is called the lack of desire for revenge, perhaps even forgiveness (‘for they know not what they do—only we know what they do!’). And people are talking about ‘love for one’s enemy’—and sweating as they say it.”
—Keep talking!
“They are miserable—there’s no doubt about that—all these rumour mongers and counterfeiters in the corners, although crouched down beside each other in the warmth—but they are telling me that their misery is God’s choice, His sign. One beats the dog one loves the most. Perhaps this misery may be a preparation, a test, an education, perhaps it is even more—something that will one day be rewarded and paid out with huge interest in gold, no, in happiness. They call that ‘blessedness.’ ”
—Go on!
“Now they are telling me that they are not only better than the powerful, the masters of the earth, whose spit they have to lick (not out of fear, certainly not out of fear, but because God commands that they honour those in authority)—they are not only better than these but they also are ‘better off,’ or at any rate will one day have it better. But enough! Enough! I can’t endure it any more. Bad air! Bad air! This workshop where man fabricates ideals—it seems to me it stinks from nothing but lies.”
—No! Just wait a minute more! So far you haven’t said anything about the masterpiece of these black magicians who know how to make whiteness, milk, and innocence out of every blackness. Have you not noticed the perfection of their sophistication, their most daring, refined, most spiritual, most fallacious artistic attempt. Pay attention! These cellar animals full of vengeance and hatred—what are they making right now out of that vengeance and hatred? Have you ever heard these words? If you heard only their words, would you suspect that you were completely among men of resentment?
“I understand. Once again I’ll open my ears (oh! oh! oh! and hold my nose). Now I’m hearing for the first time what they’ve been saying so often: ‘We good men—we are the righteous’—what they demand they don’t call repayment but ‘the triumph of righteousness.’ What they hate is not their enemy. No! They hate ‘injustice,’ ‘godlessness.’ What they believe and hope is not a hope for revenge, the intoxication of sweet vengeance (something Homer called ‘sweeter than honey’) but the victory of God, the righteous God, over the godless. What remains for them to love on earth are not their brothers in hatred but their ‘brothers in love,’ as they say, all the good and righteous people on the earth.”
—And what do they call what serves them as a consolation for all the suffering of life—their phantasmagoria of future blessedness which they are expecting?
“What that? Am I hearing correctly? They call that ‘the last judgment,’ the coming to their kingdom, the coming of ‘God’s kingdom’—but in the meanwhile they live ‘in faith,’ ‘in love,’ ‘in hope.’ ”
—Enough! Enough!

JAMES 1:13–15

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

Rick WilcoxHere is sin’s dirty little secret – seduction requires collusion.  From Goethe’s Faust to Kierkegaard’s Repetition literature is filled with dealing with the Devil. The heart of every sin is idolatry because it all comes back to us trying to be our own god. Sadly, the real desires we are working to fulfill are God-given and come with a perfect path of fulfillment, but we usually aren’t willing to either wait or follow direction. Augustine said temptation has three stages – suggestion, imagined pleasure and consent. We get into trouble with step two.

If you earnestly want to be in a loving relationship with God, He’s ready and able to help. If you would rather shut God out and serve yourself, there’s a darker voice who will encourage you to open the cracked door. Just remember, it’s your choice. As Nietzsche said, “when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

At his best, which by any measure is most of the time and in his opinion all the time, Nietzsche provokes dialogue. Does anybody agree with all his conclusions? Can anyone forget the experience of reading him? Nietzsche insists that we follow any argument all the way to its logical end, even if the end is awful. He is right to demand this consistency of us.

A delightful thing about Nietzsche: He has no time for poseurs of any sort. He loathes Christians, but he is equally mocking of the effete atheists of Parisian cafe culture. It has been stimulating to think of the scorn he would’ve had for a middle-brow “great books” reader such as this one. If one thinks reading “greats” will magically produce wisdom, Nietzsche is a needed slap in the face. He doesn’t suffer people who study philosophy to fake their way through happy-hour chatter or a Katie Couric interview.

What do you really want?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.





John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.


D I G  D E E P E R

On Genealogy of Morals

Fred Sanders

God was dead, to begin with. If you want to understand the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, you have to start where he started, with the premise that there is no God and that Christian monotheism had all been a big mistake. As far as Nietzsche was concerned, the best thinkers of the mid-nineteenth century had altogether undermined Christian truth claims: Strauss’s Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1846) and Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity (1855) were among the important books that had settled things (two books, by the way, that novelist George Eliot made sure to translate so they could have their effect for English readers). By the 1880s, anybody who still clung to Christianity was either not paying attention or was fooling themselves. The master of melodrama and bombast in the intellectual life, Nietzsche looked back on recent Western thought and said, “We have become God’s murderers.”

So God was dead as a coffin-nail, and Nietzsche knew it. He also knew that the educated people of his day knew it. But what bothered him was that they didn’t act like it. Though sound scholarship had demolished Christian theology, Christian morality was still alive and well. So Nietzsche appointed himself the official whistle-blower on the death of God, and like many of the radicals of the late nineteenth century, he insisted that we should follow out the logic of godlessness to its conclusions.

The very people who had spent the nineteenth century driving God out of their worldviews were failing to draw the necessary conclusions about their morality. Even without God, they held on to absolute truth, to reason, to the binding claims of right and wrong. Worst of all, the godless moderns still had a conscience, and it continued to condemn them when they violated its dictates. Nietzsche spent half his time reminding them that they had no right to hold on to the benefits of monotheism after murdering God, and the other half of his time rejoicing that there was no longer any ground on which conscience could stand.


“If God is dead, anything is possible,” mused Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, and it was Friedrich Nietzsche who set himself to the task of showing what that meant for ethics. Since morals didn’t come from a God, where did they come from? He answered that question in 1887 with his Genealogy of Morals, which is the best, and by far clearest, introduction to his overall project.

In short, the first essay in the three-part Genealogy argues that morality itself, the whole idea of good versus evil, came about when weak people figured out a way to make strong people feel bad about being strong. The reason we feel we should take pity on the weak, or feel bad for imposing our wills on others, is that long ago, in some dark, underground workshop of the spirit, the weak had invented “morals” to compensate for their weakness. Instead of just straightforwardly hating their enemies, they declared that their superiors stood under the judgment of a higher authority—God—whose law condemned them. And then, amazingly, they had convinced the strong to accept these twisted ideals as “the way things ought to be.” This was the slave-revolt at the beginning of the epoch of morality, and the slaves have been in charge ever since.

Until Nietzsche, that is, who claimed to be writing with a prophetic voice that announced a new, natural way of valuing things: Whatever affirms and perpetuates life is good, and whatever denies or suppresses life is bad. All of this has to be read in Nietzsche’s own words, though, because they are so powerful (“I can write in letters which make even the blind see,” he said).

Christian readers have trouble engaging Nietzsche because, to state the obvious, they don’t share his presupposition that the arguments of Victorian atheism were in fact conclusive. They would like to reserve the right to go back and have those debates about truth. But as hard as he is to engage, Nietzsche is well worth coming to terms with for several reasons. He pioneered the strategy of discrediting Christianity by ignoring the question of its truth, in order to cut straight to his major complaint: Christianity is bad for human beings and other living things like the mind, the arts, and freedom. That attitude is probably the dominant tone of popular atheism in our time.

Nietzsche is also the one whose systematic, genealogical suspicion toward the whole vocabulary of Christian virtue (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) has burned away so much of the faith’s credibility. Christianity has always been called into question by the bad conduct of its adherents. But Nietzsche (who grew up in a pastor’s home and maintained a commitment to Christ well into his teens) transformed that anecdotal criticism into a wholesale deconstruction. Genealogy of Morals is the book where he did so, and if this book is right, then every word of the New Testament is a mendacious lie. At least, all the significant nouns.

Fred Sanders, PhD, is an associate professor of Systematic Theology at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute. He lectures frequently on the Trinity and Christian art, and is the author of several books, including The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

The Devil in Literature

The English word devil derives through OE deofol and Lat. diabolus from Gk. diabolos, meaning “slanderer” or “false accuser.” The Greek term is the LXX translation of Heb. śatan, “adversary” or “obstructer.” The devil is to be distinguished from the demons, identified in Christian tradition with the angels who followed Lucifer in his fall, and from other lesser evil spirits. The devil has been given a number of names by tradition. Most commonly he is called Satan or Lucifer, but he sometimes takes the name Beelzeboul or Beelzebub, Belial, Azazel, Mastema, Satanail, Sammael, or Semyaza, all of which names derive from the OT and Intertestamental literature. In modern times he also bears the name Mephistopheles. Legend and literature sometimes assign these names to different characters, usually for dramatic purposes; thus frequently in medieval and modern literature, Satan, Lucifer, Belial, and others play different parts.

In the OT, śatan was originally a common noun (e.g., 2 Sam. 19:22), but gradually it became the title of a particular being. Early biblical references picture a creature of God who prompts evil (1 Chron. 21:1), accuses the righteous (Job 1–2), or even opposes God’s will (Zech. 3:1–2). From these passages there developed the more fully defined rebellious angel of later tradition. Two key OT passages which were not originally intended to apply to the Evil One came to be associated with Satan. The serpent of Eden was not identified with the devil until the Intertestamental period (see Rom. 16:20). Isa. 14:12–15, which relates the fall of “Lucifer, son of the morning,” refers explicitly to the king of Babylon, but this passage also (and the name Lucifer) became associated with the devil during the Intertestamental period. The Isaiah passage is attached to the devil in 2 Enoch 29:4-5 in the apocalyptic Life of Adam 14.16 and apparently in Luke 10:18, but the identification was not clear and definite before the writings of Origen (A.D.185-251). On the whole, the OT devil is still a shadowy and inchoate figure.

In the postexilic period, the suffering of the Jews under Greek and Roman rule prompted an intense concern with the problem of evil and the powers of evil. In 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, Jubilees, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a portrait of the devil began to emerge in which he is the head of a band of evil angels in rebellion against God and enmity against humanity. The Qumran community, with its intense dualism, envisioned scenarios in which Satan led an army of evil angels and evil humans against the divine host, and the NT reflects similar Jewish traditions.

The temptation of Christ in the desert by Satan (Matt. 4 and Luke 4:1–13) is the most dramatic NT episode involving the devil, but his sinister power is referred to frequently (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:5; Eph. 5:10–16; 1 Pet. 5:8). The essential function of the NT Satan is to obstruct the kingdom of God; one of his strategies is possession. Christ’s exorcisms and cures are blows struck against the devil’s power and signs of the imminent victory of God’s kingdom over Satan (Matt. 12:22–32). The devil is “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) but his lordship is being broken by Christ (1 Cor. 15:20–28), a process culminating in the eschatological triumph of Christ and his elect (Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:7–12).

Patristic diabology can be best understood in the context of the struggle against Gnosticism and, later, Manicheism. The Gnostic-Manichean view combined apocalyptic diabology, Iranian dualism, and Greek Orphism to produce a mythology which posited a cosmic struggle between a good God of spirit and an evil god of matter, the latter being equated with Satan. In its strongest and most coherent forms, this dualism denied monotheism and was therefore unacceptable to Judaism and the Christian community. Early patristic writings such as The Epistle of Barnabas, and works by Didymus, Hermas, and St. Ignatius of Antioch, show both a reaction against gnostic dualism and some influence from it, the influence manifesting itself in a doctrine of a strong dichotomy between the followers of good (often identified with the Christian community) and the followers of the devil (often identified with pagans and heretics). The power of gnostic dualism was evident still in the writings of Lactantius (ca. 245-325). The classic elements of Christian diabology, however, were established by Origen and St. Augustine (354-430) and were popularized in the West by St. Gregory the Great, especially in his Moralia in Iob.

In Gregory’s account, God created the angels good and gave them free will. Lucifer, one of the highest angels, sinned through pride and envy, choosing his own will over God’s, and he led many of the other angels after him (these became the demons). Envious of God’s love for humanity, Satan used the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve to transgress his divine ordinance. God punished fallen humanity by leaving it in the devil’s power, though this power was ultimately limited by God’s sovereignty. In his mercy, however, God the Father sent God the Son to liberate humanity from this slavery to Satan. The Incarnation and especially the Passion of Christ restored human freedom. Those who accept Christ form the community of the saved, “the city of God.” Those who do not accept Christ are cut off from salvation and form “the city of this world.” From the Incarnation until the end of the world, some will be continually added to the kingdom of God through faith in Christ; Satan continues to attempt, however vainly, to block that saving work. In the last days, Satan and the Antichrist will make a last pitched battle against the Christian community but will be foiled by the Second Coming of Christ, who will bring his kingdom to fulfillment and utterly destroy the power of Satan (cf. St. Ephraim Syrus, Nisibene Hymns; Hymns of the Nativity).

Through the influence of Gregory the Great and the other Fathers, such views were firmly imprinted on OE literature, most clearly in the homilies of Aelfric and the poems Genesis B, Christ and Satan, and in the “harrowing of hell” narrative. These works offer a powerful extrabiblical rendering of the history of the struggle between Christ and the devil, to which further details were gradually added by folklore. Medieval theology reduced the patristic emphasis on the devil by tending to replace the ransom theory (which saw the act of salvation as God’s payment of a ransom for mankind to Satan) with Anselm’s satisfaction theory in Cur Deus Homo? (which made it a sacrifice offered by the incarnate Son to the Father and put Satan in the background), but literature on the whole preferred the more dramatic ransom theory.

The devil is a powerful figure in Langland’s Piers Plowman, usually behind the scenes but sometimes overtly, as in his attack on the Tree of Charity in C.16 and in the harrowing of hell (B.18; C.20). Chaucer, for the most part, prefers to present the devil satirically (Monk’s Tale; Friar’s Tale and Prologue), an approach taken also frequently in the morality plays. His most dramatic appearances in ME literature are in the York, N-Town, Towneley, and Chester mystery plays, especially in the plays centered on his fall, the temptation of Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, and the harrowing of hell. Sometimes frightening in these plays, he is more often a fool, as the playwrights exploit the audience’s knowledge that all of his posturings against the kingdom of God will be foiled. By the 14th cent., then, the devil had, in literary treatments at least, become more often comic than fearsome. This trend was reversed, however, during the 15th through 17th cents., the period during which Satan’s power was perceived to be at its height.

The leading Protestant Reformers, especially Luther (who came to the subject with strong Germanic convictions about the existence and power of demons), returning to what they saw as a biblical emphasis upon the power of Satan, added to the new fear of the devil. The legend of Faust, homocentric, pessimistic, and individualistic, reflected this view; it also produced, in the German Faustbook of 1587, the first use of the name Mephistopheles. Marlowe’s adaptation of the legend in Doctor Faustus (1588 or 1589) produced the first major diabolical portrait in modern English literature in the character of Mephistopheles, here Satan’s agent, rather than the devil himself. Spenser shows the devil in human guise (e.g., Archimago, Orgoglio) and in the form of a dragon. Shakespeare presents humans demonized by their sin (Aaron in Titus Andronicus, Richard in 3 Henry 6 and Richard 3, Angelo in Measure for Measure, Edmund in King Lear, and Iago in Othello), though in both Hamlet and Macbeth the devil’s evil, destructive power can also be felt more directly.

Although belief in the devil’s power was almost universal among both the elite and the uneducated during the early 17th cent., English philosophers such as Francis Bacon (1561-1628) and John Locke (1632-1704) laid the basis for skepticism regarding both witchcraft and the devil. English writers, as a result, were divided over whether to treat the devil seriously (as in Barnabe Barnes, The Devil’s Charter [1607]), or satirically. The comic Satan of Ben Jonson’s The Devil Is an Ass (1616) clearly indicates Jonson’s skepticism; John Webster’s The White Devil (1608) and Thomas Middleton’s The Changeling (1623) emphasize the evil in humanity. Sir Thomas Browne argues in Religio Medici (1.30, 31, 37; cf. Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1.10, 11) that the denial of supernatural evil is tantamount to atheism, that the devil, being the father of lies, often seduces people into a skepticism concerning his own existence in order to pursue his diabolical ends.

John Bunyan, in his characterization of Apollyon in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and Diabolus in The Holy War, presents a potent Satanic presence. But the most vivid (and influential) portrait of the devil in English literature is unquestionably that of Milton in Paradise Lost (1667; rev. 1674) and Paradise Regained (1671). Milton added a wealth of detail, color, and texture to the traditional story, but the two most important effects of his poems on diabology were first to set the story in language so powerful and memorable that it was henceforth fixed in the literary imagination in Milton’s terms even more than in the Bible’s, and second to portray the devil’s character in a “heroic” vein. Critics still argue whether Milton made Satan more heroic than he intended; whatever one’s critical position, it is undeniable that Satan, “High on a Throne of Royal State, which far / Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,” can be seen as a figure of immense majesty (PL 2.1-2).

The deism and skepticism of the 18th cent. undermined belief in the existence of the devil, the key philosophical text being David Hume’s “Essay on Miracles,” the tenth chapter of An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748). Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil (1726) affirms orthodox belief in the devil’s existence, but his interest in the subject is not apologetic but “aesthetic”: stories about diabolical encounters are intrinsically fascinating. By the end of the century, traditional beliefs had eroded to the point that Satan could scarcely be taken even as a credible metaphor. “Gothic” writings degraded the “sublime” to produce horrors and thrills by portraying the grotesque, the decadent, the wild, and the monstrous. Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), Robert Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), and Walter Scott’s Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830; 1884) exemplified this attitude, using demons alongside ghosts, corpses, and witches for the purpose of inducing horror.

The French Revolution acted as a catalyst for a radical revision of the concept of the devil. English writers perceiving the Revolution as a just rebellion against a tyrant king recharacterized Satan as heroic rebel against the tradition and authority of the evil tyrant, God. Thus William Blake (1757-1827) reinterprets Milton’s devil as a hero in the struggle against tyranny, church, and convention. Satan is good, and Jesus is Satanic because he acts from feelings rather than rules and breaks the commandments out of mercy. But Blake’s Satan is also evil, representing hardness of heart, insensitivity, lack of love, and obstruction of the creative processes of art. The evil of both God and Satan are underscored in The Book of Urizen (1794), where Urizen represents Jehovah, the blind tyrant of rules and laws; Orc struggles for liberation from Urizen’s tyranny, but Orc’s violence and hostility make him evil as well. On the whole Blake tends to perceive God and devil, heaven and hell, good and evil as elements of a shattered whole which seeks reunion, centering, and integration. Real evil lies in anything which obstructs that process of integration.

The Romantics perpetuate Blake’s ambivalence toward the devil. Lord Byron’s Cain (1821) asks who is the more evil, Lucifer, who gave Adam and Eve knowledge, or Jehovah, who drove them out of the Garden to exile and death? But Lucifer also is blind and selfabsorbed, rejecting the only possible creative road, his integration with Jehovah. In his treatise On the Devil and Devils (1821), Shelley argues that Manichean dualism affords a valid insight into the divided state of the human soul. For Shelley, Milton’s great insight lay in his making his God no better than his devil. In Prometheus Unbound (1820) Shelley recognizes the difficulty in making Satan a hero and so shifts the qualities of heroic rebellion to Prometheus, who is free of the aggressive, stingy, unloving elements which make Satan an inappropriate hero for the Romantic ethos. Meanwhile Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) took a great step in shifting the focus of terror from the demon to the monster and from the supernatural to science fiction, presenting a character who was made a monster by a humanity which first created and then abused him. The early Romantic experiment with making the devil a symbol of good was gradually replaced with the tendency to divorce the devil from serious discussions of good and evil. He is frequently made the subject of light or humorous stories such as Thackeray’s “The Devil’s Wager” (1833) and “The Painter’s Bargain” (1834), reviving an earlier folklore motif concerning battles of wits between the devil and humans over a bargain which had been struck between them (cf. Max Beerbohm’s “Enoch Soames” [1917], Stephen V. Benét’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster” [1937], and more recent stories, some collected in Basil Davenport’s Deals with the Devil [1958]).

In 19th-cent. America the tendency to center evil in humanity rather than in the supernatural was even more pronounced than in England. For example, in stories of real horror Poe always eschewed Satan; his devil stories, such as “The Devil in the Belfry” (1839) and “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” (1841), are humorous. The devil appears incidentally, however, in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” (1835) and his presence is evident in Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) and The Confidence-Man (1857), the latter of which presents a demonic trickster who makes fools of the passengers on the riverboat Fidèle.
The revival of the occult at the end of the 19th cent. produced some late Romantic sympathy for the devil (Marie Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan [1895]) and the explicit Satanism of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), but ironic treatment remained the norm, as in the “Don Juan in Hell” section of Shaw’s Man and Superman (1903). The attack on traditional views by Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud had demolished the old concept and opened the door to a nihilism seen at its bleakest in Mark Twain’s work on “The Mysterious Stranger,” which appeared in three main versions, the latest of which was No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger (1982). At its conclusion the devil announces that there “is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a Dream, a grotesque and foolish dream.”

The horrors of the mid and late 20th cent., which have contradicted liberal optimism about the essential goodness of human nature, have prompted the revival of serious treatments of the traditional devil, as in C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters (1942) and Perelandra (1944), Dorothy Sayers’s The Devil to Pay (1939), and Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away (1960). John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick affords a recent noteworthy devil-portrait, one which has also found its way into film, alongside The Omen, The Exorcist, and other “popular” tales of diabolical horror.


Baine, M. R. “Satan and the Satan Figure in the Poetry of William Blake.” DAI 35 (1974), 5335A-36A; Bercovitch, S. “Diabolus in Salem: Bunyan and Hawthorne,” ELN 6 (1969), 280-85; de Bruyn, L. Woman and the Devil in Sixteenth Century Literature (1979); Cuddon, J. A. B. “The Transition from the Late Medieval to the Renaissance Conceptions of Satan in English Literature with Especial Reference to the Drama.” Unpubl. B. Litt., Oxford, 1958; Cushman, L. W. “The Devil and the Vice in the English Dramatic Literature Before Shakespeare.” SzEP 6 (1900), 1-148; Dunaway, R. K. “The Formative Impact of the Devil Upon Selected Renaissance Dramas,” DAI 36 (1975), 1480A; Dustoor, P. E. “Legends of Lucifer in Early English and in Milton.” Anglia 54 (1930), 213-68; Gardner, H. Milton’s Satan and the Theme of Damnation in Elizabethan Tragedy (1948); Gokey, F. X. The Terminology for the Devil and Evil Spirits in the Apostolic Fathers (1961); Kubis, P. L. “The Archetype of the Devil in Twentieth Century Literature.” DAI (1976), 3604A; Levenson, G. B. “That Reverend Vice: A Study of the Comic-Demonic Figure in English Drama and Fiction.” DAI 38 (1977), 283A; Lynch, J. J. “The Devil in the Writings of Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe.” New York Folklore Quarterly 9 (1952), 111-31; Marx, C. W. D. “The Devil’s Rights and the Deception of the Devil: Theological Background and Presentations in Middle English Literature.” DAI European Abstracts 44 (1983), 22C; Mallory, T. O. “The Devil and Thomas Hardy: A Study of the Manifestation of Supernatural Evil in Hardy’s Fiction.” DA 27 (1966), 2012-13; Rudwin, M. The Devil in Legend and Literature (1931); Russell, J. B. The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Early Christianity (1977); Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (1981); Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (1984); Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World (1986); Steadman, J. M. “Archangel to Devil: The Background of Satan’s Metamorphosis.” MLQ 21 (1960), 321-35; Stein, W. B. Hawthorne’s Faust, A Study of the Devil Archetype (1953); Stock, R. D. The Holy and the Daemonic from Sir Thomas Browne to William Blake (1982); Trefz, E. K. “Satan as the Prince of Evil: The Preaching of New England Puritans.” Boston Public Library Quarterly 7 (1955), 3-22; “Satan in Puritan Preaching.” Boston Public Library Quarterly 8 (1956), 71-84, 148-57; Williams, P. N. “Satan and His Corpus: Cultural Symbolism in the English Mystery Plays.” DAI 37 (1977), 5813A; Woolf, R. “The Devil in Old English Poetry.” RES 4 (1953), 1-12.

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

Fyodor Dostoevsky: Modern (1821–1881)


The Grand Inquisitor

Ivan turned suddenly and went his way without looking back. It was just as Dmitri had left Alyosha the day before, though the parting had been very different. The strange resemblance flashed like an arrow through Alyosha’s mind in the distress and dejection of that moment. He waited a little, looking after his brother. He suddenly noticed that Ivan swayed as he walked and that his right shoulder looked lower than his left. He had never noticed it before. But all at once he turned too, and almost ran to the monastery. It was nearly dark, and he felt almost frightened; something new was growing up in him for which he could not account.

The wind had risen again as on the previous evening, and the ancient pines murmured gloomily about him when he entered the hermitage copse. He almost ran. “Pater Seraphicus—he got that name from somewhere—where from?” Alyosha wondered. “Ivan, poor Ivan, and when shall I see you again? . . . Here is the hermitage. Yes, yes, that he is, Pater Seraphicus, he will save me—from him and for ever!”

Several times afterwards he wondered how he could, on leaving Ivan, so completely forget his brother Dmitri, though he had that morning, only a few hours before, so firmly resolved to find him and not to give up doing so, even should he be unable to return to the monastery that night.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s final novel is considered his masterpiece.  The Brothers Karamazov is the story of Fyodor Karamazov and his sons Alyosha, Dmitry, and Ivan. It is also a story of its author for it draws on many biographical similarities.  Dostoyevsky introduces a love-hate struggle with profound psychological and spiritual implications and a search for faith and more specifically, for God persists throughout the novel.

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

Younger readers of The Brothers Karamazov would have the chance to die in World War I, the influenza plague, the Russian Civil War, or Lenin’s police state.

Unlike Tolstoy, though, Dostoevsky avoided the more fatuous schemes for improving Russia. He understood the depths of the real problem, and he was more willing to consider radical, even revolutionary, ideas. The difference between the two great authors was that Dostoevsky knew the darkness at the heart of humanity; The Brothers Karamazov is an accurate picture of flawed but still hopeful human souls. He also knew that even a man as horrid as the Karamazov father was a soul created in God’s image.

Dostoevsky knew how to write a saintly character. He did so in his appropriately titled novel The Idiot, but none of the Karamazov characters are Christian enough for the rest to think them idiots. Even Alyosha, the most spiritual of the four brothers, is flawed and is as likely to end a demonic revolutionary as a great saint, if he does not grow.


Have you read The Brothers Karamazov?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.


D I G  D E E P E R

The Story Within the Story

John Granger

There is a select set of novels that marks anyone seen carrying them around as “serious” readers and thinkers. Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, and anything by James Joyce, but especially Finnegan’s Wake, are all the kind of books that young people on better college campuses carry “cover up and out” so everyone can see the title and understand that “here we have a student wrestling with real ideas and profound artistry.” Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, often cited as one of, even just the best novel ever written, is certainly in this elite group as well.

Which I think is unfortunate. This is a shame right off the top because folks who don’t self-identify as nerds or geeks are unlikely to pick up Brothers and give it a shot. It’s one of those books that if you do open it up and start, alas, much of the time you spend reading it you’re thinking to yourself self-consciously, “Gosh, I’m reading War and Peace” rather than really entering into the story.

The funny thing about this is that Brothers, compared to, say, Joyce’s Ulysses or Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, is not only readable, it’s downright engaging and entertaining. It’s a murder mystery, after all, and, if it isn’t quite as accessible or racy as a Mickey Spillane piece, it’s a lot closer to that standard than any of its peers on the “Greatest Ever” short shelf.


The reason that Brothers is at or very near the top of literary taxonomy’s hierarchy, then, isn’t difficult or magisterial language. A Russian friend told me once, when I volunteered the only reason I would learn his language would be to read Brothers, that I wouldn’t need to study very long: “Dostoevsky writes like a newspaper reporter.” What makes The Brothers Karamazov a book for everyone’s bucket list is that reading it is quite literally a transformative experience and we are better people, more human really, after the change.

I think about this masterwork the same way I look at other books I love and reread for greater appreciation. I look at the story’s obvious structure, reflect on the predominant symbolism, and hunt for some kind of “key” or “lens” the author imbedded into the book for a serious reader to use for opening up or looking within the surface narrative.

My assumption when reading a classic that resonates powerfully with readers across generations and gender, culture, creedal divides is that it is a Ring Composition. From the book of Genesis to The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, the works that capture readers’ hearts have been written in a circle, that at the very least have a beginning, middle, and end that are joined. (See Mary Douglas, Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition [Yale University Press, 2007], for the ubiquity and qualities of this traditional and pervasive story structure.)

Sure enough, the epigraph, heart, and final scene of The Brothers Karamazov—John 12:24, the Life of Father Zossima, and Alyosha’s speech at the Stone—are all about the death of self and ego for the greater life in the inner heart, our shared life in Christ.

The predominant symbolism of Brothers is, as you’d guess, in the brothers: passionate Dmitri, coldly rational Ivan, and spiritual Alyosha. Like the three lead characters in the old Star Wars and older Star Trek; the three hobbits on Mount Doom; and Harry, Ron, and Hermione (the authors of which stories understand Dostoevsky’s genius), the trio in his spectacular murder mystery are a “soul triptych.”

They act, in effect, as allegorical transparencies for the three faculties or powers of the human soul as represented by Plato in his “Allegory of the Charioteer” in the Phaedrus: the desires, the will or reason, and the discerning spirit or heart. In the vernacular we’d say “body, mind, and spirit.”(See C. S. Lewis’s essay “Men Without Chests” [in Abolition of Man] for a longer discussion of this traditional faculty-psychology and triptych.) Dostoevsky gives us pictures of these soul-aspects in the Karamazov brothers as they act out their relationship to one another as well as to right and wrong.


The parable quality of the novel is easily overlooked because of the narrative’s realism, even grittiness. Brothers has the power it has, however, like its three-lead shadows in more recent books, films, and television, because the realism draws us into the story and, as we enter, we suspend our disbelief or critical skepticism. Our souls’ faculties then recognize, identify with, and experience the trials of their reflections in the Karamazov family drama. It’s an alchemical, transformative experience via imagination.

And the key or story lens through which the anagogical meaning is revealed is in the chapter excerpted above, “The Grand Inquisitor.” In it, Ivan tells Alyosha a parable of Christ and a Catholic cardinal—the Inquisitor of the title—in fifteenth-century Spain.

Their conversation in “Inquisitor” and Ivan’s story are not a stand-alone piece but the beginning of their relationship and a snapshot of their understanding of themselves, each other, and the world. Coming as it does before Alyosha’s crisis of faith and his temporary descents to passion and skepticism (of a sort) consequent to his elder’s demise and seeming disgrace, the chapter holds an important place in revealing Alyosha’s temptations and decisions in the next books of the novel, as well as Ivan’s eventual phrenesis and collapse. It’s not the whole play; it’s more of a prologue.

Sophisticated Ivan tells Alyosha a fable of his own invention about Christ having returned to earth in Spain at the height of the Catholic Inquisition’s executions of unrepentant heretics and infidels, which he dates in the fifteenth century. The people who meet the Son of God in the streets thrill to the miracles He performs—curing the blind, raising a child from the dead on the steps of the cathedral—but, before things get out of hand, the Grand Inquisitor arrests the Messiah and has Him jailed. He speaks that night to the silent Jesus, who never says a word, about how His return cannot be allowed because the people want mystery, miracle, and authority and will gladly exchange their free will, freedom, and conscience in exchange for the peace and happiness to be found in them. The Inquisitor promises to burn Christ at the stake the next day and pledges that those who cried “hosannah” will throw wood on the fire at his instruction.

After the Inquisitor reveals he lost his faith after years in the desert winning his spiritual freedom and realizing men were not equal to this challenge, the Christ responds with a silent kiss. The cardinal releases Him with the instruction never to come again. Ivan tells Alyosha that the “kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea.” The younger brother, convinced Ivan is telling him a parable of his own beliefs in the person of the Spanish cleric, confronts him with his atheism, and, to show his love for the lost soul, kisses him. Ivan accuses him of “plagiarism” which, no doubt, is true.

What’s going on here, and why should we care?

The Inquisitor’s parable is a key to the novel; as “story within a story,” the author is giving us a picture of novelist and reader, i.e., his idea of what he wants us to take away from The Brothers Karamazov. Alyosha, the inner heart of the Karamazov triptych and a stand-in for the book’s readers, naturally identifies with Christ, the Light of the World, in Ivan’s story. Ivan, the worldly rationalist and skeptic, is a story transparency for “reason”; if not Dostoevsky, he’s the sophisticated reader who identifies with his thoughts rather than heart.

In “Inquisitor,” then, we see the same message of death to self for the life in Christ that is in the book’s Ring signatures and the parabolic soul-faculty symbolism that is the work’s major allegorical structure. I hope on reading or rereading this signature chapter from Dostoevsky’s masterpiece that you feel as I always do, namely, invited to reenter this Christian literary crucible and experience again the agony of a dismembered soul and the joy of its final reorientation in Christ.

John Granger is a Christian literary critic most famous for his writing regarding the artistry and meaning of the Harry Potter novels. Dubbed “The Dean of Harry Potter Scholars” by Time magazine, Granger is a frequent guest speaker at academic and Harry Potter fan conferences, talk shows, and universities.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

Leo Tolstoy: Modern (1828–1910)


Chapter 17

“Alexey Alexandrovitch,” said Vronsky, feeling that a statement of the position was coming, “I can’t speak, I can’t understand. Spare me! However hard it is for you, believe me, it is more terrible for me.”
He would have risen; but Alexey Alexandrovitch took him by the hand and said:
“I beg you to hear me out; it is necessary. I must explain my feelings, the feelings that have guided me and will guide me, so that you may not be in error regarding me. You know I had resolved on a divorce, and had even begun to take proceedings. I won’t conceal from you that in beginning this I was in uncertainty, I was in misery; I will confess that I was pursued by a desire to revenge myself on you and on her. When I got the telegram, I came here with the same feelings; I will say more, I longed for her death. But . . .” He paused, pondering whether to disclose or not to disclose his feeling to him. “But I saw her and forgave her. And the happiness of forgiveness has revealed to me my duty. I forgive completely. I would offer the other cheek, I would give my cloak if my coat be taken. I pray to God only not to take from me the bliss of forgiveness!”
Tears stood in his eyes, and the luminous, serene look in them impressed Vronsky.
“This is my position: you can trample me in the mud, make me the laughing-stock of the world, I will not abandon her, and I will never utter a word of reproach to you,” Alexey Alexandrovitch went on. “My duty is clearly marked for me; I ought to be with her, and I will be. If she wishes to see you, I will let you know, but now I suppose it would be better for you to go away.”
He got up, and sobs cut short his words. Vronsky too was getting up, and in a stooping, not yet erect posture, looked up at him from under his brows. He did not understand Alexey Alexandrovitch’s feeling, but he felt that it was something higher and even unattainable for him with his view of life.

In his essay “What is Art?” Leo Tolstoy tells the story of the Russian painter Karl Bryullov correcting a student’s sketch. “Why, you only changed it a tiny bit,” the student marveled, “but it is quite a different thing.” Bryullov replied: “Art begins where that ‘tiny bit’ begins.” Tolstoy comments: “That saying is strikingly true not only of art but of all life. One may say that true life begins where the ‘tiny bit’ begins, where the infinitesimally small alterations of consciousness take place.”

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

Can we really fix ourselves? Can we really see what needs to be seen and do what needs to be done? Tolstoy suggests we can, even though the road will be long and arduous. He is Orthodox enough to see that humans are sinners in need of mercy, but not Orthodox enough to get to the root of the problem.

The prophet does not plunge deeply enough into the human heart.

Tolstoy was Christian enough to see that evil exists but not holy or self-aware enough to know the depths to which a nation or a man could go. His romance is, therefore, more true to life than most of Hollywood’s chick flicks, but just as dangerous. Tolstoy can imagine an Anna, but not a Lenin. Many millions of Russians would die after the prophet’s failure to see how bad things could really get.


How can the small details of one’s life tip the balance between good and evil?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 


John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.


D I G  D E E P E R

On Unfaithfulness

Amy Obrist

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is commonly understood as an adultery novel. Dolly Oblonsky suffers tremendously throughout on account of her husband Stiva’s affair. Kitty and Levin alternately experience deep jealousy and fear of betrayal, each when the other interacts with flirtatious members of Russia’s high society. Anna herself is one of the most notorious fallen women in literature, seduced by Alexei Vronsky but herself becoming the primary target of society’s wrath.

Unfaithfulness is all around; it is only a serious transgression when social conventions governing it are not observed.

Yet while marital infidelity—or the fear of it—is intricately woven into each thread of the plot, it is first and foremost a symbol of other kinds of unfaithfulness. Falseness, deception, and lies are endemic to Russian high society. Worse than being an unfaithful husband, Stiva deceives himself by justifying his unfaithfulness. Similarly, he justifies the graft by which he obtains his government position and his spendthrift squandering of his wife’s fortune. He maintains the external image of the perfect society man and follows all the rules of liberal society perfectly—but has no inner life or true self.

If this is the case for Stiva, it also is true for a character the reader may not be ready to judge so hastily, Alexei Karenin. Laying aside Anna’s unfaithfulness, it is essential to examine Karenin as Tolstoy presents him. As Dolly welcomes her sister-in-law, perfect society woman and wife of the statesman, a hint is given that something is amiss in Dolly’s recollection that “as far as she could remember her impression of the Karenins’ house in Petersburg, she had not liked it; there was something false in the whole shape of their family life.” She smoothes over this memory as Anna ironically persuades Dolly to stay in her marriage.

Karenin is a politician at the height of his career, living an ordered, proper life in which each minute of his day is accounted for. For him, life is about duty. He moves in a social circle known widely as “the conscience of St. Petersburg.” Anna tells herself “he is a good man, truthful, kind and remarkable in his sphere.”

Yet here Anna is trying to convince herself. Karenin meets her with a “mocking smile”; she feels a vague dissatisfaction, an “old, familiar feeling, similar to that state of pretence she experienced in her relations with her husband; but previously she had not noticed it.”

Moreover, his associations with his religious friend, Lydia Ivanovna, now bother Anna for their hypocrisy. “All this was there before, but why didn’t I notice it before? . . . In fact it’s ridiculous: her goal is virtue, she is a Christian, yet she’s angry all the time, and they’re all her enemies, and they’re all enemies on account of Christianity and virtue.”

The hypocrisy and self-deceit endemic to society life drive the plot about Kitty Oblonsky and Konstantin Levin too. Kitty refuses Levin’s proposal—although she is certain of his love—because she expects Count Vronsky, an elite society man, to propose to her after the upcoming ball; the narrator hints that this preference is problematic: “It was as if there was some falseness—not in him, he was very simple and nice—but in herself, while with Levin she felt completely simple and clear.” Although her father would prefer the simple, serious Levin as a son-in-law, Kitty’s mother, Princess Oblonsky, seeks a “brilliant match” for her daughter. Her mother deceives Kitty into preferring Vronsky despite feeling awkwardness about him, a sure sign of self-betrayal in Tolstoy’s code.

Anna is different from others in her milieu. Kitty observes of Anna “that there was in her some other, higher world of interests, inaccessible to her, complex and poetic.” Kitty later goes further, finding something “alien, demonic, and enchanting” in Anna. Yet Kitty does not yet understand herself or that she has been deceived by the hypocrisy and false values around her. For Kitty to find something otherworldly or alien in Anna and to first call it good and then evil suggests she does not yet understand her own relation to society. However, she points out that Anna is different.

Of what does Anna’s difference consist? It takes her a long time to understand this herself. Already a fallen women—but still able to maintain appearances in society—she compares herself with her friend Betsy, exclaiming, “How I wish I knew others as I know myself,” and asking herself, “Am I worse than others or better? Worse, I think.” Later, when she’s cast out from this society irrevocably and barred from seeing her son, Anna articulates her disgust with the pervasive hypocrisy around her, saying of Lydia, “She’s worse than I am. At least I don’t lie.” Anna’s special quality is her willingness to look into herself and not deceive about what she finds there.

Anna Karenina is no worse than others. True, she never seems fully to comprehend herself in relation to society. Her misfortune is that she understands the falsehood of high society but is bound tragically to this world by circumstance.

Amy Obrist, PhD, is an assistant professor of Russian and German Language and chair of the Modern Languages Department at Biola University.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).


Charles Darwin: Modern (1809–1882)


Chapter 14

As this whole volume is one long argument, it may be convenient to the reader to have the leading facts and inferences briefly recapitulated.

That many and grave objections may be advanced against the theory of descent with modification through natural selection, I do not deny. I have endeavoured to give to them their full force. Nothing at first can appear more difficult to believe than that the more complex organs and instincts should have been perfected not by means superior to, though analogous with, human reason, but by the accumulation of innumerable slight variations, each good for the individual possessor.

Nevertheless, this difficulty, though appearing to our imagination insuperably great, cannot be considered real if we admit the following propositions, namely,—that gradations in the perfection of any organ or instinct, which we may consider, either do now exist or could have existed, each good of its kind,—that all organs and instincts are, in ever so slight a degree, variable,—and, lastly, that there is a struggle for existence leading to the preservation of each profitable deviation of structure or instinct. The truth of these propositions cannot, I think, be disputed.

Charles Darwin has become the personified line-in-the-sand that divides the religious from the atheist. He would have been disappointed.  He was first and foremost a scientist and began his life in training for the clergy.  His later years found him wrestling with the concept of God and in the end he was an ambivalent agnostic.  God simply didn’t make sense to him.

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

Reading Darwin only to attack him continuously is foolhardy.

First, it prevents following the argument where it leads. Not listening prevents learning.

Second, it avoids seeing where he is most persuasive. If Darwin is wrong, some of his ideas still have motivated much scientific and biological progress over the last century. Darwin is a man, not a devil, and he deserves his due.

So read this selection with an open mind; follow the presentation, and then analyze it. Charles Darwin cannot be read to get the best modern take on evolutionary mechanisms or the data now used to support biological evolution. Still, one can examine Darwin to see if one is persuaded that the type of answer he proposes is likely to succeed. Is he proposing a strong general strategy to the biological problems he faces? Is he ignoring important philosophical problems? Is he making tacit theological assumptions? Does he assume he knows what a Creator would and would not create?

Ask Darwin hard questions with an open mind. To his credit, that is the purpose for which he wrote his books.

How much of Darwin’s work have you actually read?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 


John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.


D I G  D E E P E R

On Nature and Survival

Phil Johnson

The concluding chapter of Darwin’s masterpiece is exceptionally important because it provides an overview of the logic of the entire book, which Darwin frankly describes as “one long argument” in support of his theory. In brief, the gist is that the theory must be true because it could be true; it explains an immense number of facts; the objections to it either can be shown or will eventually be shown to be inconclusive or even groundless.

At the start, Darwin concedes that it may at first appear difficult to believe that the “complex organs and instincts of animals have been perfected” not by some intelligent oversight, “but by the accumulation of innumerable slight variations, each good for the possessor.” The last phrase is important. Natural selection is a blind, purposeless process with no ability to preserve a presently useless innovation that might become useful for a descendant organism at a future time. Unless the innovation is immediately useful in empowering the organism possessing it to leave more offspring than another organism not possessing it, the innovation will not be passed on to the next generation.

Darwin continues, saying that the apparent difficulty in believing that an unintelligent process can perfect complex organs and instincts cannot be considered real, if we consider that there are many variations in these organs and instincts and there is a struggle for existence, leading to the preservation of profitable variations, and that gradations in the state of perfection of each organ may once have existed, each good of its kind. It may be difficult even to conjecture all the details of the process, and there are cases of particular difficulty, but Darwin has shown in other chapters how some of the difficulties can be overcome.

This brings us to a point of particular interest. It may be conceded that where there are heritable variations in any population, the variant forms best fitted to survive and reproduce will succeed in leaving descendents, and these descendents will resemble their successful parents. The difficulty is not in establishing that such a process occurs, but in testing whether it truly accounts for the transformation of a species into a basically different and more complex organism. On the contrary, it may be that natural selection so described is a conservative force, accounting for how a species can continue to thrive under different environmental conditions without undergoing any radical transformation. Critics have summarized the point by saying that, despite its title, Darwin’s “Origin” describes the “survival of the species, but not the arrival of the species.”

The creative natural selection required by Darwin’s theory has never been observed in nature or in laboratory experiments. Supporters say this is because creative evolution occurred so long ago and over so long a time period. This is a reasonable explanation, if we presume the theory to be true, but maybe creative natural selection has not been observed because it has not occurred.


Three passages from this chapter are particularly thought-provoking:

(1) Darwin’s struggle against entrenched orthodoxy.

Darwin wrote that: “Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume . . . I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during the long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. . . .” Against such narrow partisans of the old school, Darwin could only appeal to a hoped-for new generation of scientists “who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.” This appeal from an old guard’s orthodoxy to a new generation’s more flexible mentality is ironic for later readers, because Darwinism is now itself the entrenched orthodoxy, and those who would present an alternative have to appeal to a later generation of scientists whom they hope will be more willing to consider their ideas.

(2) Darwin’s theory versus the fossil record.

Darwin recognized that his doctrine of evolution by the accumulation of an immense number of small variations via natural selection implied that there must have been an infinitude of connecting links between the living and extinct inhabitants of the world. It puzzled him that the fossil record did not show the existence of the many fine gradations required by the theory. This absence of links, he thought, was the most obvious of the many objections that may be urged against the theory.

Darwin admitted that he could answer this objection only by supposing that the fossil record must be far more imperfect than most geologists believed at the time. He thought the imperfection stemmed from the fact that only a very small percentage of the fossil beds that must exist on the earth had been explored as of 1859.

Darwin’s argument implied that future fossil discoveries would tend to confirm the presence of innumerable intermediate forms in the fossil record. Now that 150 years have passed since he published On the Origin of Species, the question is whether the enormous efforts that have been made to discover evidence that would validate his prediction have resolved the difficulty. On the contrary, fossil experts have observed that, especially where the fossils are most abundant, there is a consistent pattern of sudden emergence of new forms of life, followed by long periods of stasis, meaning the absence of significant change. The fossils show that, over time, there has been change in the kind of organisms living on the earth, but not that the change has occurred by the Darwinian method.

(3) Is there a place for God in Darwin’s theory?

Darwin said: “I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of anyone. A celebrated author and divine has written to me that he has ‘gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.’ ”

There has been much speculation as to whether this reassurance was meant sincerely or whether Darwin merely hoped it would mollify some religious objectors, including his own wife. Some of his supporters objected to the reassurance as a failure of nerve, and Darwin dropped it from later editions of The Origin.

It may be that it’s a noble conception of God to suppose He supplied the first organisms and equipped them with everything they would need to evolve into more complex forms. Darwin’s objective, however, was not to support a noble view of God but rather to provide a scientific explanation of the history of life from which God was rigorously excluded. Subsequent Darwinists have made it a priority to extend this naturalistic explanation to the ultimate origin of life from non-living components. Any suggestion that God needed to intervene at any point in the process is derided as an attack on science itself.

The answer to the question, then, is no. There is no place for God in Darwin’s theory, although many suppose they can reconcile belief in his theory with belief in the existence of God. If God does exist, it seems that, from a Darwinian standpoint, He is unnecessary, because the origin of all the many forms of life proceeds very well without the need for His participation.

Philip Johnson, JD, is a professor emeritus of Law at Berkeley Law School and is considered one of the founders of the modern Intelligent Design movement. He is the author of many books, including Darwin on Trial, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, and The Wedge of Truth.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

Karl Marx: Modern (1818–1883)


A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism. All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as Communistic by its opponents in power? Where the Opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of Communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?
Two things result from this fact.
I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European Powers to be itself a Power.
II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a Manifesto of the party itself.
To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London, and sketched the following Manifesto, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages.

William Shakespeare

ALON. Now all the blessings
Of a glad father compass thee about!
Arise, and say how thou cam’st here.
MIR. O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!
PROS. ’Tis new to thee.

PSALM 37:4–6

Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heartCommit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your judgment as the noonday.

When Thomas More wrote Utopia in 1516, he couldn’t have known he was coining a term that would be used for centuries to describe a perfect world. He wasn’t the first of course. Brilliant thinkers like Plato tried, alas in vain, to describe it. We are no different. We think our imaginations would suffice if we could only have this or that or some other thing, but it’s simply impossible because we can’t see the whole picture, nor can we eliminate man’s sinful nature. Just when we think we’ve envisioned our brave new world, we discover that we, like Shakespeare’s Miranda in The Tempest are only marveling at what actually is common and flawed.

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

Karl Marx wanted the world to be better than it was. He wanted an end to poverty, hunger, and ignorance. He revered science and was well read. He looked at the modern West and rejected both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian foundations of that culture. He believed history was inevitably moving past both and that secularism and Communism were the future.

Marx, at least philosophically, must be credited with good intentions, but his ideas have been applied badly. Any great idea can be perverted—Christians know this from experience—but Marxism has never been applied to a society without being perverted.

To many, this suggests that there’s something deeply wrong at the heart of the project. The likely root of the problem was that an honest desire to make things better was pushed in Marx, as for many other men, to utopian extremes. Attempting to make a fallen world better than it can be will break things better left unbroken. It will empower men to do great deeds, but great men fit for such deeds may be too rare for the challenge.

Which is more Christian; Capitalism, Socialism or Communism? Why?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.


D I G  D E E P E R

Reflections on the Communist Manifesto

Hunter Baker

We sometimes have trouble convincing people that they should care about what luminaries like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas wrote. Part of the trouble with being modern is that we have a prejudice against the old. I can recall listening to an atheist at a public meeting argue vociferously that today we’re much more intelligent than men like the American Founders and, therefore, should not defer to them. With suitable rhetorical flourish, I would say it is “self-evident” that such a statement is untrue!

However, I write this short response to the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (and Friedrich Engels), not because of the profound insights that should be learned and made part of our own intellectual armamentarium, but instead because the work in question exerted a massive influence on recent history and arguably led to a half century of intense (yet “cold”) conflict in which two huge portions of the globe glared at each other across a chasm of spiritual/ideological division and simmering nuclear conflagration.

The United States is a nation founded on the basis of certain strong political principles having to do with social contract, freedom, limited government, and exceptions to power brought together by the providential fusion of both Christian and classical sentiments.

Approximately 130 years later, the Soviet Union was similarly founded on political ideals (though much different ones) as it rocketed along into a supposedly “inevitable” future on the vehicle of Marx’s historical analysis of class struggle. For a long time, many—even those who loved America—feared that the Soviets would indeed triumph.

Whittaker Chambers, who successfully exposed Alger Hiss (his former colleague in Soviet espionage), sadly wrote that he felt he had left the winning side for the losing one when he decided to turn his back on the Marxist cause.


What to say about this incredibly consequential document? In truth, Marx’s analysis was reductive in the extreme as he boiled down the entirety of human history to the class struggle. Because the entire narrative is founded on this idea, it is vulnerable to questions about the premise. Is class really the most important aspect? What about race, ethnicity, family/clan, village, the nation-state? The Marxist revolution covered over these factors and held them in check through extraordinary coercion, only to see them spontaneously surge back into prominence when the Berlin Wall came down.

And what of his view of religion? His assumption that it’s merely an “opiate of the people” was all too easy and dismissive. He completely disregarded the possibility that religious truth could arise from events in time, space, and history, such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which served as Paul’s “proof” to the men of Athens that his assertions about God’s character were grounded in reality.

Marx’s greatest error of all may have had to do with his view of human sin. Ranging over the history of class struggle, this revolutionary thinker dwelt upon the injustice of the propertied group oppressing their dispossessed brethren. The inequities that developed so dramatically with the rapid progress of the Industrial Revolution inspired his rage. He saw man treating his fellowmen as though they were mere commodities, cogs in a machine to perform deadening, unskilled work in never-ending repetition. Yet, somehow, he was able to easily believe that human beings—those same creatures who’d created the systems he found so evil—would then turn around and employ state power magnitudes above what previously had been known to bring about a socialist paradise. The assumption that an enlightened vanguard would prove much more trustworthy with power than those who held it before now seems quite naïve.

The authors of the Manifesto declared that the transition to its society of the future would require a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” But they imagined the period of dictatorship would come to an end as a new stage, the “withering away of the state,” took hold. At that point, there would no longer be a need for much coercion, as men would no longer struggle against each other but would live in harmony while experiencing the necessary leisure to fully develop their interests.

The Soviet Union, the world state that served as the pioneering Marxist experiment and the most powerful exemplar of the species, featured increasingly onerous dictatorship without much withering. Looking back, disappointed Marxist/socialists lament that Russia was the wrong country, or that the methods were wrong, or that Stalin was wrong. But the insight such persons have missed, as Martin Malia pointed out in The Soviet Tragedy, is that “the Soviet experiment turned totalitarian not despite its being socialist, but because it was socialist.” The domination of private property by the state radically undermines civil society and places individuals into such dependence that they’re unable to stand up for the preservation of their freedoms.

It has been on this point that many leftists have been blind. They protest that Castro’s Cubans may not have “civil rights,” but “economic rights” instead. Do they, indeed, have those rights? Or are these rights merely the reward of subsistence in exchange for obedience?

So read this most potent Manifesto and gain insight into the struggle for the world that dominated the twentieth century.

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science and university fellow for religious liberty at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He is the author of three books on politics and religion and has published in a wide variety of other outlets. He is also a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and an affiliate scholar of the Acton Institute.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

Jane Austen: Modern (1775–1817)


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
“But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”
Mr. Bennet made no answer.
“Do not you want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently.
“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
This was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
“What is his name?”
“Is he married or single?”
“Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
“How so? how can it affect them?”
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”

Today she is one of the most towering figures in literature, but she passed through life almost anonymously. Fittingly, the only authenticated portrait of her is a partially complete watercolor by her sister.  She could not have dreamt that Pride and Prejudice would sell tens of millions of copies and that she would achieve such fame and lofty status.

John Mark Reynolds wrote this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

It was a lightly regarded novelist of manners who has endured best to our day. A few people noticed her genius, Sir Walter Scott in particular. Scott was the great writer of his day—now too little read—and he defended “light” novels as worthwhile. The spare prose of Austen found fewer readers then, but Scott was right that the realistic and plain portrayal of one portion of English life was an important trend in literature.

Jane Austen is abused by some English departments eager for a “great woman writer” and obsessed with making the same ideological points in every book read. Austen refuses to fit neat categories. She obviously opposed the reduction of women to mindless objects for male entertainment, but in a revolutionary age, one thoroughly roiled by notions of radical emancipation, Austen was no revolutionary. She was a progressive conservative . . . a Christian in the tradition of Saint Paul.


Why has Jane Austen’s writing remained so popular?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.


D I G  D E E P E R

Truths Universally to Be Acknowledged

John Mark Reynolds


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

A book full of universal truths begins with a claim about truth that isn’t. As the novel will show, not all single rich men have thoughts of, or even are in very great need of, a wife. Is the long-suffering Mr. Bennet really better off married? Perhaps, but it is not obviously so, and certainly his is not a situation most men would envy.

In fact, Austen has written a book in which many such truths are exposed as the result of pride and/or more prejudice. Both pride and prejudice get in the way of love, and the universal truth she reveals is that both men and women of any fortune are in desperate need of love from someone other than themselves.

Austen argues by demonstration and by showing the folly of alternatives. If you have not read the whole book, please stop reading this essay, go get a copy, and finish Pride and Prejudice. It’s a truth universally to be acknowledged that people who do not actually read all of a great book before discussing it spoil the power of the book when they return to it later.

My assumption is that these chapters have reminded you of the Bennet family—especially the nature of the daughters and of the tension that exists between Darcy and Elizabeth. They eventually marry (I warned you to stop reading if you didn’t know the outcome), but only when both have been purged of a great deal of pride and prejudice.

All the Bennet daughters lack something, and that something is not a man. In Austen, marriage is not the coming together of two equals but the coming together of two human beings who are very different yet compatible. Men are not women; women are not men. It is the fusing of the two “others” that makes marriage explosively fruitful.

Two become one, and civilization gets three!


Austen knew nothing of our modern quest for equality. People are not numbers, and so they are never “equal.” Some folk are higher placed than others, have more money, were more fortunate in their parents, or are brighter. These gifts do not come to us by merit but by the unfathomable providence of God.

At the same time, foolish people might confuse graces bestowed by God with actual merit. Mr. Collins, as odious and pitiable a man as one can imagine, makes this error. Wealthy patrons are better in their potency, but they may not have done anything with their graces. Abilities or gifts without works are worse than useless, and one who has been given much should be expected to do much. Mr. Darcy lives up to the expectations of his gifts; Mr. Collins’s patron does not.

Austen didn’t make the French Revolutionaries’ mistake of assuming that the plumber could become a professor by legal declaration and wishing it to be so. On the other hand, she also does not make the pitiable error of the Old Regime and assume that all lords are lordly.
Instead she is deeply conservative, because she is an advocate of love. Love knows nothing of equality, because the lover always elevates the Beloved above all others. Nobody makes a lover cling only to his beloved and forsake all others. Passion demands it, at least at first. It is an essential feature of Christian civilization to insist that this love vow be cherished and honored.

Men and women aren’t allowed to swear eternal fidelity and then forget. They must renew their vows and grow in love to each other. The trouble is that love, while necessary, isn’t enough this side of paradise. Ideally, all Beloveds should be worthy of our love, but not all are fit objects of our passion.

Lydia, the passionate sister, makes the mistake of believing that love always reports truly on the character of the Beloved. Sadly, she has fixed her attentions on someone unworthy of her love. Her prejudice that a man who is lovely and should be good is worthy of love and good, will ruin her by the end of the book.

God bestows great gifts on human beings with perfect justice, but not all gifts we are given come from God. Some gifts come from society or culture, and it is here that problems develop. Civilization will stunt the progress of women so that marriage to Mr. Collins is more desirable than marriage to a fit man. Mr. Collins will be given social position he misuses and does not deserve while more fit men are passed over.

Austen didn’t pretend this system is just; while it needed to be changed, it could only be changed slowly, or the revolution would cause more pain than it brought pleasure. She saw things as they were—didn’t always like them but accepted what must be accepted. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is too demanding of life.

Elizabeth demands perfect justice and knowledge that justice has been done. This is ideal, but unrealistic. Charity, absolute romance, demands that in a fallen world we judge by the standard by which we wish to be judged. She misjudges Darcy, but that’s not her only problem. She requires too much of the world, and she lacks mercy. Even with her friends she’s too quick to assume she knows what’s best.

It’s a truth universally to be acknowledged that love between beings as different as men and women can only work when the men and women are fully human. It is their common humanity, the virtue of exhibiting God’s image, that makes the dangerous fusion of two “others” fecund and not just explosive. Austen demonstrated a temporary truth, an ideal so valuable in our age, one that before Christ returns will never quite be realized. We will have to be charitable even to Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins, understanding that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

John Wesley: Modern (1703–1791)


By grace are ye saved through faith. (Ephesians 2:8)

1. All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,” and stamped on that soul the image of God, and “put all things under his feet.” The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand. “All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us.” These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

2. Wherewithal then shall a sinful man atone for any the least of his sins? With his own works? No. Were they ever so many or holy, they are not his own, but God’s. But indeed they are all unholy and sinful themselves, so that every one of them needs a fresh atonement. Only corrupt fruit grows on a corrupt tree. And his heart is altogether corrupt and abominable; being “come short of the glory of God,” the glorious righteousness at first impressed on his soul, after the image of his great Creator. Therefore, having nothing, neither righteousness nor works, to plead, his mouth is utterly stopped before God.

3. If then sinful men find favour with God, it is “grace upon grace!” If God vouchsafe still to pour fresh blessings upon us, yea, the greatest of all blessings, salvation; what can we say to these things, but, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!” And thus it is. Herein “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died” to save us. “By grace” then “are ye saved through faith.” Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation.

I was raised Baptist but my Dad started his Christian walk as a Methodist.  He always said a Methodist was just a Baptist who could read (that’s still funny.)  No, he was a Methodist because of a Methodist Circuit Rider who traveled to his rural community to bring the gospel.

These were tough, hearty men who preferred mules due to their durability and ability to endure harsh weather and terrain. Dad said it wasn’t unusual for the preacher to hitch his mule to the plow for extra help on Monday after a Sunday meeting.  I can’t imagine anyone who could bring a more credible Gospel message than a man like this.

In his book The Great Books Reader, John Mark Reynolds wrote the following:

John Wesley, Oxford man, theologian, and preacher, was an evangelical with balance. He preached with evangelical zeal and with classical training. He wanted souls to be saved from hell forever but for men to become better subjects of Christendom today.

He was a social reformer who never preached merely a social gospel. He burned to know God, but his passionate arguments likewise showed logical rigor. Though Wesley didn’t despise education, he didn’t worship it. He lived the Great Conversation in his deeds and writings, not just in a classroom.

It was an example that compelled evangelical ministers for centuries.

My own great-grandfather rode circuit, spreading the gospel, emulating the example of generations of preachers in America inspired by the Wesleyans. This country preacher worked with multiple Bible translations and tried to emulate the scriptural and thoughtful style that was at the heart of the best of American revivalism. The Wesleyan tradition demanded Great-Grandfather’s best efforts: body, mind, and emotion.


How does hard work on another’s behalf promote the gospel?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.


D I G  D E E P E R

On Salvation

Joe Henderson

John Wesley’s sermon “Salvation by Faith” stands at the head of his collection. Along with the Bible and the Methodist hymnbook (hymns mostly composed by his younger brother, Charles), the Standard Sermons were the basic equipment of the evangelists and circuit riders who proclaimed the message of salvation throughout England and America.

Wesley preached this sermon at St. Mary’s, Oxford, on June 11, 1738. That year, when Wesley—the Oxford don and Anglican priest—turned thirty-five, was a turning point in his own life and in the life of the church. It was the year of Wesley’s true personal conversion, which he described in his journal entry for May 24, 1738:

“In the evening I went very unwilling to a meeting of a society in Aldersgate street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”


That year also saw the beginning of the evangelical awakening that has come to be called the Wesleyan Revival. John Wesley later reported that although his preaching in the thirteen years before 1738 had produced little fruit, after that year, “the word of God ran as fire among the stubble . . . multitudes crying out, ‘What must we do to be saved?’ and afterwards witnessing, ‘By grace we are saved by faith.’”

“Salvation by Faith” thus can be seen both as Wesley’s personal testimony of how salvation came to him and as the testimony of thousands who found salvation though his message. Of course, Wesley would insist that the message did not come from him but from the Bible. His work in the sermon is simply to explicate the statement, “By grace are ye saved by faith” (from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians), by clarifying what Paul meant by “faith” and what he meant by “salvation.”

Faith, explains Wesley, is “not barely a speculative, rational thing, a cold, lifeless assent.” Instead it is a “disposition of the heart” in the context of a personal relationship, a “cleaving to [Christ]” best expressed in words like “trust,” “confidence,” “reliance,” and even “recumbency.” This understanding assumes but goes beyond the definition offered by Augustine and Aquinas: “thinking with assent.” Although faith certainly includes mental assent to the propositional truths of the Gospel, Wesley maintains that it also includes a believer’s trust in his or her personal significance.

Wesley defines faith by personalizing the words of an Anglican homily:
It is a sure confidence which a man hath in God, that through the merits of Christ, his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favour of God.

The repeated personal pronouns echo his account of his conversion: “He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me.” They also echo Luther’s message of trust in Christ’s work, “pro me, pro nobis,” and of course Paul’s profession of “faith in the one that loved me and gave himself for me.”


Salvation, in Wesley’s understanding, includes more than justification. Pardon from sin and deliverance from the fear of death and damnation are only the beginning. Salvation also entails transformation, or regeneration, that enables happy and holy living in the present. Wesley’s striking affirmations of God’s power to save the believer from the power of sin caused controversy in his own time and continue to be controversial today. However, Wesley could point to the teaching of the apostles, particularly (as he does in this sermon) the statement in 1John that “those who are born of God do not sin.”

Although Wesley’s later sermons offer a more nuanced interpretation of this truth (arguing against the quietist claim that conversion frees Christians from sinful desires), he never wavered in his proclamation that Christ could save believers not only from the guilt of sin but also from its power. Wesley’s message of salvation can be distinguished from his Protestant forebears chiefly in this: his presentation of the broad scope of salvation available in this life, that it makes possible victory over sin, conformity to the character of Christ, and perfection in holy love.


If John Wesley’s preaching of salvation allowed multitudes to witness, “By grace we are saved through faith,” Charles Wesley’s hymns allowed them to sing their testimony. He wrote two of his best-known hymns, “And Can It Be” and “O for a Thousand Tongues,” to help believers celebrate the day of their conversion, when God’s grace and salvation reached them. (The latter was originally titled “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion.”)

Charles, who experienced conversion a few days before his brother, sounds the same note of the Gospel brought home to the individual believer: Christ’s atoning blood was “to my soul applied”; His infinite grace “found out me”; Christ is “my own.” As in John’s sermons, Charles’s hymns celebrate freedom from both the guilt and the power of bondage: “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, he sets the prisoner free.”

The hymn “O for a Heart to Praise my God” is a prayer for the holiness, or perfection in love, that John preached. Whereas John’s affirmations about the kind or degree of holiness possible to attain in this life may excite debate, Charles’s earnest supplications for a more Christ-like heart express the longings of believers across many different traditions. His words appear in the hymnbooks of many denominations so that the church can sing with one united voice, asking for renewed hearts “full of love divine.”

Joe Henderson, PhD, is an assistant professor of Old Testament and Hermeneutics at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

Tea-maker by Andrea Skevington

Andrea Skevington

A while ago, I found myself in Ipswich hospital.  Once things had calmed down a bit, I was moved to Brantham Assessment Unit, where the lady described in the poem brought me tea.  As well as the NHS doctors who diagnosed, and prescribed medicine that made me better, there were people whose presence, kindness, and generosity of spirit was remarkably healing.  She was one of them.  It was so precious at the time, and still now the memory helps.  A simple cup of tea – it meant so much. Continue reading “Tea-maker by Andrea Skevington”

Isaac Newton: Enlightenment (1642–1727)



The Principa

Author’s Preface

Since the ancients (as we are told by Pappus), made great account of the science of mechanics in the investigation of natural things; and the moderns, laying aside substantial forms and occult qualities, have endeavoured to subject the phænomena of nature to the laws of mathematics, I have in this treatise cultivated mathematics so far as it regards philosophy. The ancients considered mechanics in a twofold respect; as rational, which proceeds accurately by demonstration: and practical. To practical mechanics all the manual arts belong, from which mechanics took its name. But as artificers do not work with perfect accuracy, it comes to pass that mechanics is so distinguished from geometry, that what is perfectly accurate is called geometrical, what is less so, is called mechanical. But the errors are not in the art, but in the artificers. He that works with less accuracy is an imperfect mechanic; and if any could work with perfect accuracy, he would be the most perfect mechanic of all; for the description of right lines and circles, upon which geometry is founded, belongs to mechanics. Geometry does not teach us to draw these lines, but requires them to be drawn; for it requires that the learner should first be taught to describe these accurately, before he enters upon geometry; then it shows how by these operations problems may be solved. To describe right lines and circles are problems, but not geometrical problems. The solution of these problems is required from mechanics; and by geometry the use of them, when so solved, is shown; and it is the glory of geometry that from those few principles, brought from without, it is able to produce so many things.

Therefore geometry is founded in mechanical practice, and is nothing but that part of universal mechanics which accurately proposes and demonstrates the art of measuring. But since the manual arts are chiefly conversant in the moving of bodies, it comes to pass that geometry is commonly referred to their magnitudes, and mechanics to their motion. In this sense rational mechanics will be the science of motions resulting from any forces whatsoever, and of the forces required to produce any motions, accurately proposed and demonstrated. This part of mechanics was cultivated by the ancients in the five powers which relate to manual arts, who considered gravity (it not being a manual power), no otherwise than as it moved weights by those powers. Our design not respecting arts, but philosophy, and our subject not manual but natural powers, we consider chiefly those things which relate to gravity, levity, elastic force, the resistance of fluids, and the like forces, whether attractive or impulsive; and therefore we offer this work as the mathematical principles of philosophy; for all the difficulty of philosophy seems to consist in this—from the phænomena of motions to investigate the forces of nature, and then from these forces to demonstrate the other phænomena; and to this end the general propositions in the first and second book are directed.

In the third book we give an example of this in the explication of the System of the World; for by the propositions mathematically demonstrated in the former books, we in the third derive from the celestial phenomena the forces of gravity with which bodies tend to the sun and the several planets. Then from these forces, by other propositions which are also mathematical, we deduce the motions of the planets, the comets, the moon, and the sea. I wish we could derive the rest of the phænomena of nature by the same kind of reasoning from mechanical principles; for I am induced by many reasons to suspect that they may all depend upon certain forces by which the particles of bodies, by some causes hitherto unknown, are either mutually impelled towards each other, and cohere in regular figures, or are repelled and recede from each other; which forces being unknown, philosophers have hitherto attempted the search of nature in vain; but I hope the principles here laid down will afford some light either to this or some truer method of philosophy.

In the publication of this work the most acute and universally learned Mr. Edmund Halley not only assisted me with his pains in correcting the press and taking care of the schemes, but it was to his solicitations that its becoming public is owing; for when he had obtained of me my demonstrations of the figure of the celestial orbits, he continually pressed me to communicate the same to the Royal Society, who afterwards, by their kind encouragement and entreaties, engaged me to think of publishing them. But after I had begun to consider the inequalities of the lunar motions, and had entered upon some other things relating to the laws and measures of gravity, and other forces: and the figures that would be described by bodies attracted according to given laws; and the motion of several bodies moving among themselves; the motion of bodies in resisting mediums; the forces, densities, and motions, of mediums; the orbits of the comets, and such like; deferred that publication till I had made a search into those matters, and could put forth the whole together.

What relates to the lunar motions (being imperfect), I have put all together in the corollaries of Prop. 66, to avoid being obliged to propose and distinctly demonstrate the several things there contained in a method more prolix than the subject deserved, and interrupt the series of the several propositions. Some things, found out after the rest, I chose to insert in places less suitable, rather than change the number of the propositions and the citations. I heartily beg that what I have here done may be read with candour; and that the defects in a subject so difficult be not so much reprehended as kindly supplied, and investigated by new endeavours of my readers.

Cambridge, Trinity College, May 8, 1686

The Age of Enlightenment reached its apex in 1686 when Isaac Newton penned his Principia Mathematica.  The obvious and immediate effect was on science, but the waters of theology were rippled with implication.  Suddenly it seemed clear that Galileo was right when he said “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.”  How could the hard science of physics ever be reconciled with metaphysics?

As author Malcolm Guite wrote in his book Mariner:

One aspect of the Enlightenment which had huge implications for modernism was the divorce between reason and imagination and the consequent reduction of knowledge itself to a so-called “objective” realm of quantifiable fact from which all value or meaning had been drained, which in turn led to a reductive, mechanistic, and purely material account of the cosmos.

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book The Great Books Reader:

Science, especially physics, made slow progress up to Newton, but he seemed to equal all of those centuries of gains by himself. For some time, there appeared little left to do scientifically but examine the implications of his ideas and work out the details. Newton confirmed that we live in a cosmos, an ordered structure. If anything, the structure seemed too airtight for free will or chance.

Poets like William Blake feared Newton had discovered a clockwork universe with no place for God or romance, though Newton himself remained a theist. Reformed Christians in particular had viewed science and the Scientific Revolution as an ally, but beginning with Newtonian physics the doubts began to grow.

Is science the enemy of theology?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.


D I G  D E E P E R

Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy

William A. Dembski

Isaac Newton is widely regarded as the greatest scientist of all time. His claim to fame rests chiefly on this work. In it—or, the Principia Mathematica, as it is also called—Newton invents the infinitesimal calculus and with it delineates the fundamental laws governing the structure and dynamics of physical reality. From the motion of billiard balls to the motion of planets and everything in between, Newton’s Principia was thought to give the final word.

Sometimes genius is underappreciated during the life of the genius. Not so with Newton. His genius was evident and reverenced from the start. Isaac Barrow, Newton’s predecessor in the prestigious Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge, was so impressed with Newton that he resigned and had Newton assume the chair (a professorship subsequently held by such luminaries as Charles Babbage, Paul Dirac, and, presently, Stephen Hawking).

Newton’s contemporary Edmund Halley, the famed astronomer remembered for the comet named for him, even wrote an ode to Newton. It closes with the effusive praise,

Come celebrate with me in song the name
Of Newton, to the Muses dear; for he
Unlocked the hidden treasuries of Truth:
So richly through his mind had Phoebus cast
The radiance of his own divinity.
Nearer the gods no mortal may approach.

In the same spirit, Alexander Pope, a younger contemporary, wrote this epitaph:

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night:
God said, “Let Newton be!” and all was light.

Even the twentieth-century economist John Maynard Keynes recognized how profoundly Newton’s genius had impacted seventeenth-century intellectual life, referring to him as “the last wonder-child to whom the Magi could do sincere and appropriate homage.”


Although Principia Mathematica is highly technical, it contains several extended passages of interest to the general reader. Thus, for instance, we find bold statements about God’s role as a designing intelligence behind the world. Contemporary scientists who feel passionately about the religious significance of their scientific work may still offer up such statements, but usually they will keep them off to one side. Newton, by contrast, saw no contradiction in doing his best science and then immediately, in the same written work, giving it a theological interpretation.

Although we think of Newton as the preeminent scientist of his (and, indeed, any) age, it is remarkable that science was only one of the many professional hats he wore. His higher passion seems to have been theology, and he spent much time studying and writing about the Bible.

He was also an avid alchemist. Moreover, in the 1690s, he abruptly left his ivory-tower professorship at Cambridge to assume duties heading the government mint in London. (Imagine string-theorist Ed Witten leaving Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study to move to D.C. and head the U.S. Treasury.)

Yet for all the other hats Newton wore, he accomplished nothing like the distinction he achieved in science. There he was a soaring figure. In theology, by contrast, he was a well-read but self-schooled amateur. Also, his theological views were heterodox: Though accepting the Bible as largely factual (including the miracles ascribed to Jesus), Newton sided with Arius against Athanasius, rejecting the divinity of Christ.


In ancient Athens, Socrates would go about asking recognized experts in a given area broader philosophical questions: What is justice? What is truth? (etc.) He found that expertise in one area tends not to transfer to others, especially when these require wisdom. Newton seems to fit this mold. In the science of physics, he was preeminent. And yet when he delved into other areas, he was undistinguished and, at times, even a duffer.

What is Newton’s legacy? He properly belongs to science, where he still ranks in the number one spot, though he has some close seconds and thirds (such as Albert Einstein and James Clerk Maxwell). In Newton’s day, it was thought that he had once and for all nailed down the deep structure of the physical universe. With the revolutions in electromagnetism, general relativity, and quantum mechanics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, it’s now obvious his physics was only part of the picture.

Newtonian physics captures the motion of medium-sized objects at medium speeds. That’s why it’s still the first thing beginning physics students learn. But it’s clear that the scope of Newton’s physics is strictly limited. The odes by Halley and Pope celebrating him and his achievements could no longer be written with a straight face.
In his day, he was, as John Locke said, “the incomparable Mr. Newton.” Nowadays, he is a primus inter pares: He remains the greatest of scientists, but one who rubs shoulders with other great scientists and not as one who towers above the rest.

William Dembski, PhD, is a professor of Philosophy and the director of the Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is an advocate for Intelligent Design and the author of numerous books on the topic including Intelligent Design Uncensored and The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).