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?

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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 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?

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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 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).

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?

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

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).

John Locke: Part Two Enlightenment (1632–1704)



Chapter II

Of the State of Nature

§. 4.
To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.
A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.

The Founders of the United States relied heavily on the work of John Locke, including his critical assumption of the existence and preeminence of God. In a recent article (read the entire piece HERE) for Literary Life, Melissa Cain Travis said the following:

In other words, nothing can’t produce anything–from nothing, nothing comes. All things that have come into being must be traced back to a source that has existed from eternity (if the dreaded infinite regress is to be avoided). If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is roughly the second premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which states: Anything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence.

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

The Second Treatise of Government implies to the not-even-careful reader that there must be a First Treatise. That earlier work by Locke was a devastating critique of the argument for an absolute monarch, based mostly on biblical history. Locke was careful to show that nothing in the Bible, or of Christianity, denies humans the right to revolt against a bad government; nothing gives the king absolute power.

Locke finished off serious defense of “divine right” in the English-speaking world, showing not only that philosophy can make progress but also that average citizens can notice that progress.

All the same, that he meant to build a Christian political philosophy does not mean he succeeded. Read Locke and ask yourself if he did. Or did he inadvertently help to bring on the toxic secularism of our own time?

Is America untethered from its founding religious principles or does its structure accommodate atheism?

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

Notions of the Public Good

Jamie Campbell

In modern American politics, everything is open for debate. The efficacy of a candidate, the impact of a tax measure, even the legitimacy of government itself is up for discussion. While valued, political debate often is taken for granted, an assumed privilege born out from the fundamental characteristics of a democratic republican government. Americans talk about government because they believe citizens play a fundamental role in making sure that the government fulfills its function.

The notion that humanity is capable of forming, reforming, and critiquing political society is an idea that gained remarkable momentum in Western political thought during the Enlightenment. In particular, the works of John Locke, influential in the shaping of American political thought, sought to demonstrate that legitimate government comes from the people and operates for the public good.

Locke’s political works begin, not with the rights man has, but with the fact that he was created. Thus, in the Second Treatise, he makes various assertions about man’s political nature and the impact this nature has on the formation of government. Man’s common creation informs man’s essential and political nature. Locke’s writings demonstrate that, at its best, political theorizing is an engagement with man as he is and not as he ought to be; a task of construction, not merely critique.
Published anonymously during his life, Locke’s political writings largely grew out of his own observations of the unrest that plagued England during his lifetime.

[H]is life spanned one of the most tumultuous periods of English history. He was ten years old when England became divided by civil war and still at Westminster School when Charles I was executed nearby in 1649. He lived through the subsequent interregnum when various governments of the Commonwealth and Cromwell’s Protectorate were in power, the subsequent Restoration of Charles II in 1660, and the radicalization of English politics in which he was sufficiently implicated so that he was forced into exile for most of the 1680s—returning only after the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

(Introduction to Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration: John Locke, ed. Ian Shapiro [New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2003], x.)


As an empiricist, Locke valued the role of observation in the development of any fundamental idea. What he observed was that existing notions of government were insufficient to maintain peace and prosperity.


The volatility and instability of government during Locke’s age led him, and many others, to generate commentary not only on how government should run but also on the essential elements of the beginning of political society in general. Many of these theorists turned to the Bible in support of their conclusions.

Locke respected the Scriptures, but he soundly rejected the arguments of political absolutism and divine right that many contemporaries argued were found there.

In his First Treatise, Locke discussed the significance of God having created Adam, and the type of political power and responsibilities this creation incurred. For Locke, man necessarily exists in a state of self and other—that is, all men are created by God, and no man exists without other men.

This common creation, then, results in equality of freedom. No man can claim any higher source for his existence than God; no man can claim any legitimate authority over any other man because all men are created. Similarly, common creation creates the “obligation to mutual love amongst men” (Second Treatise, §5). The rights or powers man has are an outgrowth of this reality.

According to Locke, man in the state of nature, prior to the formation of political society, has two basic powers (or rights): the power to preserve his own life and the life of others, and the power to punish someone who has caused harm. Within political society, man yields these powers, in varying extents, to the political community. Through express consent, man yields the power that is necessary for the formation of government.

Locke claimed that the purpose of all this power yielding is the public good, or “the good of every particular member of that society, as far as by common rules it can be provided for” (First Treatise, § 92). The concept of public good woven throughout most of the Second Treatise must be read in light of Locke’s primary notions of man, of reason, and of freedom; all the foundational elements that contribute to his political theory are interconnected.

By establishing “public good” as the object of political society, Locke also placed it as a limit:

[T]he power of society . . . can never be supposed to extend farther than the common good . . . to be directed to no other end but the peace, safety and public good of the people. (Second Treatise, §131)


Even Locke’s axiom of majority rule in a political society stems from a desire to properly utilize the power that’s been transferred from the individual to the society. It’s not that the majority gets to decide what’s best, based on their own interests against any minority political interests; rather, the majority is bound by the very responsibility of the public good.

In so far as self and other are interdependent for Locke, even in a state of nature, it’s a rational conclusion that government’s primary responsibilities, once formed, are aimed at maintaining and providing for the preservation and flourishing of the whole, not just the individual. For John Locke, the public good is the point of political society.


Jamie Y. Whitaker Campbell, JD, is an assistant professor of Humanities and Law in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University; she also teaches American Constitutional Law, focusing on the development of individual liberties within the American justice system.

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 Locke: Part One Enlightenment (1632–1704)



Book I

An Inquiry into the understanding, pleasant and useful. Since it is the understanding that sets man above the rest of sensible beings, and gives him all the advantage and dominion which he has over them; it is certainly a subject, even for its nobleness, worth our labour to inquire into. The understanding, like the eye, whilst it makes us see and perceive all other things, takes no notice of itself; and it requires art and pains to set it at a distance and make it its own object. But whatever be the difficulties that lie in the way of this inquiry; whatever it be that keeps us so much in the dark to ourselves; sure I am that all the light we can let in upon our minds, all the acquaintance we can make with our own understandings, will not only be very pleasant, but bring us great advantage, in directing our thoughts in the search of other things.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review examined the importance of metacognition, or “thinking about thinking.”  Broadly speaking, metacognition is about being more inspective about how you know what you know. It’s a matter of asking ourselves questions like: ‘Do I really get this idea?’

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

Many Americans fear that philosophy will make them useless. They will start thinking about ideas, and soon that will lead to thinking about thinking.

They’re right that the topic will quickly arise, but they shouldn’t fear it. John Locke, the intellectual founder of most of the world’s democracies, thought it necessary that free men and women should think about thinking. In fact, he believed bad thinking about thinking would undermine society.

John Locke lived in an age when every educated person was expected to have a coherent philosophy. This sensible expectation included having a view about what was “knowable” and how it could be “known.” Questions about knowledge were part of the philosophical discipline called epistemology, and Locke’s generation believed any person worthy of voting should have thought out how to make good decisions about that vote.

Can you examine your thoughts objectively?

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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 Certainty

Janelle Klapausak

John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding begins with the stated project to “search out the bounds between opinion and knowledge.” Like most early modern philosophers (writing from c. 1600–1800), Locke was fascinated by the question of certainty. He wanted to know what, of all we take for granted, is truly certain (knowledge) and what is merely opinion. This question was a natural one for Locke and his contemporaries to be asking after decades of profound change for Western Europe.

During the sixteenth century, two overhauls of thought had permeated the Continent. The first was the Protestant Reformation, which “began” with Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, and the second was the Scientific Revolution, which most scholars date to the publication of Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in 1543.

These two intellectual movements, different as they might have been in other ways, shared one crucial characteristic: both cast doubt on propositions that had been accepted for centuries. The Reformation called into question Roman ecclesial authority; the Revolution cast doubt on the authority of Aristotle’s method of scientific inquiry.

The philosophers reacting to these revolutions in the early seventeenth century felt the foundations of knowledge shifting under their feet. Their understandable response was to try to find a way to sort through the list of things we all think we know and figure out which are true and which are false. They wanted to reestablish a solid foundation for knowledge by developing a method to discern that which is certainly true.


John Locke’s first move in addressing this question was to reject the theory of innate ideas. In the preceding centuries, most philosophers had believed there are certain propositions with which we’re “preprogrammed.” These might include logical and mathematical concepts (like the idea that a proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time) but might also include ethical propositions (e.g., that murder is always wrong). Locke rejects this doctrine that certain beliefs come “preprogrammed” in all people. Instead, he argues that the mind is a blank slate, or tabula rasa, at birth, and that every belief we have we get from observing the world around us.

This point is especially interesting because in René Descartes’s Meditations, published forty years before Locke’s Essay, he’d argued that our idea of God is one of these innate ideas, and that it is through this notion that we can be certain that God exists. Descartes believed that only God could cause this idea of God to exist in our minds; Locke maintained that we can get our concept of God from observing the world around us, whether or not God exists.

In a second important shift, Locke insisted that all knowledge comes from observing the world, but it’s not the case that all the things we observe are actually in the world. Locke said the qualities we observe in the world can be split into two categories. Some qualities—like an object’s solidity or its shape—are qualities in the object itself, what Locke calls primary qualities. However, in Locke’s argument, sometimes when we’re observing a quality of an object, what’s actually happening is that the object is affecting us in some way. This is why, he said, the same water can feel hot on cold hands and cold on hot hands: the hotness or coldness isn’t a quality the water itself has, but, instead, it’s a power that the water has to affect us. It’s not that an object is yellow, but, rather, that an object produces a yellow effect on us when we observe it.


The practical effect of these two propositions, taken together, is to create a gap between how we experience the world and how the world really is. The rejection of innate ideas means that our observations are the only way we can get knowledge about the world, and the distinction between primary and secondary qualities means our senses don’t give us information about the world as it is. Instead, objects in the world cause us to have impressions, which may or may not be related to how those things actually are.

Locke deduced that the list of “things we can be sure about” is much shorter than we may have thought. The world presents us with impressions, and we have no way of getting at the world itself to discover whether or not the impressions are true.

This itself was a common story among early modern philosophers. The search for certainty did not lead to sure knowledge, as thinkers like Descartes hoped it would. Instead, it led to increasing skepticism about our ability to know anything for certain.

This may seem like a depressing conclusion, but it isn’t one at which Christians should be too surprised. The “early modern project” was to ground certainty in human reason. If this project fails, it may be simply because human knowledge depends on something else for its certainty.
Discovering that we cannot trust in our reason alone, but, crucially, must trust that God has made our reason and our perceptions accurate, may be a substantial and necessary correction in our view both of ourselves and of our relationship to God—a correction we can thank Locke for revealing.

Janelle Klapausak is an assistant professor at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute and is currently a doctoral candidate at Baylor 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).

Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)



(1) Outline
First part: Misery of man without God.
Second part: Happiness of man with God.
First part: That nature is corrupt. Proved by nature itself.
Second part: That there is a Redeemer. Proved by Scripture. (60)

(2) Strategy

(Order:) Men despise religion; they hate it and fear it is true. To remedy this, we must begin by showing that religion is not contrary to reason; that it is venerable, to inspire respect for it; then we must make it lovable, to make good men hope it is true; finally, we must prove it is true.
Venerable, because it has perfect knowledge of man; lovable because it promises the true good. (187)


(Inconstancy:) We think we are playing on ordinary organs when playing upon man. Men are organs, it is true, but, odd, changeable, variable with pipes not arranged in proper order. Those who only know how to play on ordinary organs will not produce harmonies on these. We must know where the keys are. (111)


If he exalt himself, I humble him; if he humble himself, I exalt him; and I always contradict him, till he understands that he is an incomprehensible monster. (420)

Rick WilcoxWhen Blaise Pascal said “The heart has its reasons which reason knows not”, he spoke for us all. We read that and nod quietly, agreeing that our perspective is firmly rooted within us, even when it makes no sense. Argument won’t drive it out. In fact, the harder we try to deny it, the deeper its talons go.  Pascal is our wise friend who helps us to, as Emerson said “stand next to our beliefs and examine them.”

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

Pascal is easy to read and, in any given saying, easy to understand. As with Proverbs, reading his words will pay off quickly. Like that Bible book, catching the deep coherence behind all the sayings is worth years of effort. Pascal is easy in the particulars and difficult in the generalities but rewarding in both.

Read Pascal with your understanding, but with a mind stirred up by your heart. Some of his argument is in the poetry of his words and in the emotions they arouse. Like Plato, Pascal knew that following the way of the dialectic was intellectual activity, but this mental movement was driven by a heart motivated by love.

If you think nobody gets it and that God and Christianity are stupid and ugly, Pascal is the response.


How do you handle it when your mind and heart disagree?

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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

Pascal’s Arrows

Peter Kreeft

Unlike Augustine, who lived a long life and wrote hundreds of treatises, Blaise Pascal died young and wrote only one great book, the Pensées. Yet even that is not a book; it is almost a thousand scattered notes for a book he never finished. (Pensées means, simply, “thoughts.”) Only nine or ten are finished chapters, two- to six-pages long; the rest are a few paragraphs or a few sentences or even a few words. One editor called them “a workshop in ruins.”

I have organized the “big ideas” in a logical and psychological sequence, like events in a conversion story, and added headings or titles for each step. I think this is the sequence he had in mind, but he did not have time to arrange and classify most of them. They are just “thoughts”: not a book but the unfinished raw material for a book.

However, they are more powerful in this unfinished condition than they would have been had Pascal lived to integrate them into a finished work. They’re like raw pearls without a string. Pascal mercifully was struck dead before he could spoil his masterpiece.

I teach “great books,” many of them Christian masterpieces—by St. John, St. Paul, St. Augustine, Boethius, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, Newman, Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkien. All are geniuses. But no Christian writer who ever lived speaks to my very modern and secular students more powerfully than Pascal. His “thoughts” are arrows shot straight into their hearts. He makes them get suddenly very quiet, even stop breathing for ten seconds. He knows them. He knows God. And he is a matchmaker.

He wrote as he was dying. It was to have been an argument for the truth of the Christian faith, one that appealed to the heart as much as the head. He wrote most of it after he had given away his entire large library except for two books, which he reread continually, and these two explain its power: the Bible and Augustine’s Confessions. The first two you’d want to take to your desert island for the rest of your life.


The salient biographical facts can be summarized very briefly. Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth-century contemporary and acquaintance of Descartes, “the father of modern philosophy.” But he was the only modern philosopher for two hundred years, until the existentialists, who didn’t get on Descartes’s rationalist, Enlightenment bandwagon of making science an idol.

Even so, he was a very great scientist himself. He did major work in physics (he was the first to prove the atmosphere has weight) and mathematics (he founded much of probability theory). A computer language is named after him because he invented the first working computer (calculator); he also invented the vacuum cleaner and the first public transportation system.

Pascal knew the power of science to make us clever and powerful, and he was also aware of its impotence to make us wise or good. Pascal knew sin.

Peter Kreeft, PhD, is a professor of Philosophy at Boston College and The King’s College, New York. He is an acclaimed author and speaker on many philosophical and theological topics.

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 Milton: Early Modern (1608–1674)


Book I

Is this the Region, this the Soil, the Clime,
Said then the lost Arch-Angel, this the seat
That we must change for Heav’n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he [245]
Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: fardest from him is best
Whom reason hath equald, force hath made supream
Above his equals. Farewel happy Fields
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail [250]
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n. [255]
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: [260]
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.
But wherefore let we then our faithful friends,
Th’ associates and copartners of our loss [265]
Lye thus astonisht on th’ oblivious Pool,
And call them not to share with us their part
In this unhappy Mansion, or once more
With rallied Arms to try what may be yet
Regaind in Heav’n, or what more lost in Hell? [270]

It’s hard to imagine deaf Beethoven, producing symphonic masterpieces composed in the chambers of his mind, but equally staggering is John Milton, completely blind by his fifties, yet dictating his epic poem Paradise Lost with its ten thousand verses. The work is so ubiquitous to the canon of literature its lines are often confused with scripture.

He was deeply bitter when he wrote a poem which has come to be called “On His Blindness.” He could not understand why God would give him both talent and desire, yet rob him of the sight needed to see the written page.  He wrote

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.

In the poem above, he works through the anger and ultimately acknowledges that no, it’s not about him.

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

John Milton showed admirable personal courage in several ways.

First, he stuck to his republican beliefs even when most opted for a return to monarchy. Whatever the merits of his convictions, he held them even when it was dangerous to do so.

Second, he composed some of his greatest works after going blind.

Finally, he was willing to offend even his Puritan patrons by taking more liberal positions on divorce, religious freedom, and doctrine than most would contemplate.

Read his poetry looking for creative genius freely dealing with biblical history. Milton was willing to take creative liberties that other writers such as Shakespeare had avoided by ducking most direct allusions to scriptural stories. Compare his scope and style to that of Homer, and watch Milton do in English what Homer had done in Greek.

Milton said “The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n
.” Do you agree?  Is it all relative to one’s mind?

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 Evil and Heroism

Frederica Mathewes-Green

The magnificent opening lines of Paradise Lost, with their echoes of Homer, Virgil, and Ariosto, announce Milton’s aim not only to equal but to soar above all previous epics. His hopes rest not only on his poetic powers, supported by his heavenly muse, but on the height of his chief argument. Whereas Virgil chose for his subject matter the foundation of the Roman Empire, and Homer told of the battle between East and West, Milton selected the creation of mankind and the opening battle of the war with their greatest enemy. Given his sublime subject matter—and, given that his story transcends all national limitations—Milton’s challenge will be to find and maintain an “answerable style” (IX, 20) across the grand canvas of his twelve books.

After the trumpet fanfare of the prologue, Paradise Lost plunges directly into the middle of its story. Although beginning the narration in medias res may be conventional, Milton still delivers a shock by his choice of where in the tale to start; or, more precisely, with whom. Epics customarily begin at a critical point in the story of their heroes. Paradise Lost opens with the fall of the rebellious angels, the critical point in the account of Satan.

As the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that Milton has chosen Satan as the central protagonist. Not only does Satan have more stage time and more lines than any other character, he also is the subject of the most conventions associated with epic heroes. It is Satan who goes on an epic journey, fights a momentous battle, faces off with monsters, rallies his troops with inspiring speeches, visits noble courts, employs cunning stratagems, and of course, descends to the underworld.

Another way to measure the centrality of Satan’s role is to observe that Paradise Lost takes six (out of twelve) books to reach the point where the Genesis account of man’s disobedience begins. The half of Paradise Lost Milton supplements to the biblical story is not about man but Satan, and the effect of adding prequels that portray the origins of the villain is to transform the entire saga into the story of the villain.

Giving the role of epic hero to Satan commits Milton to investing his character with the heroic qualities of strength, eloquence, resolution, and grandeur. These attributes are all on full display in the opening scenes of Satan lifting himself up from the fiery flood and rousing his fallen troops to action. However, if it’s evident that Milton has found in Satan the virtues that will make him a compelling epic hero, it is less evident that his decision will allow him to craft a virtuous epic. A work of art can hardly be called virtuous if its effect is to create sympathy for the devil.

One way of discovering an acceptable moral is to disassociate Milton’s Satan from the Satan of Christian tradition and belief. Perhaps his character doesn’t represent enmity with the Creator, malice toward humanity, pernicious deception. Perhaps in Paradise Lost he stands for freedom from social conformity, fidelity to personal vision, opposition to entrenched power.


This understanding seems to lie behind William Blake’s positive assessment of Milton as “of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” Blake, and other Romantic poets after him, saw in Milton’s Satan a defender of liberty, parallel to Milton himself, a vigorous champion of freedom of speech and religion and a steadfast opponent of the tyranny of Charles I.

This Romantic reading is only possible if one radically underestimates how deeply ingrained the biblical drama was in the imaginations of Milton and his audience . . . and if one ignores sizable portions of the text. C. S. Lewis (in his Preface to Paradise Lost, 99) handily dispels the notion that Milton’s Satan is intended to be admired or emulated. He observes that in the course of the poem, Satan undergoes a “progressive degradation”: “From hero, to general . . . to politician . . . to secret service agent, [to peeping Tom], and thence to a toad, and finally to a snake.”

However, it is unnecessary to read to the end of the epic to ascertain Milton’s judgment. Even in Book I, where Satan is most impressive, he is introduced as an “infernal serpent” (I, 34) filled with the ugly vices of envy, hatred, and guile, and the narrator interrupts the account several times to remind the reader that Satan’s plans are futile, serving only to bring on himself “treble confusion, wrath, and vengeance” (I, 220). From the outset, Milton’s Satan is a fiend and fool.

Milton’s design, which caused him to cast a fiend as his hero, becomes clearer when one recognizes that the association between Satan and epic heroes cuts both ways. It not only—dangerously—points out the possibility of heroic virtues in Satan, it also—discerningly—points out the possibility of satanic vices in the epic heroes. With his moral senses trained by Christian truth, Milton can detect more than a whiff of brimstone in Achilles’ “sense of injur’d merit” (I, 98), in the guile of Odysseus, in Aeneas’s lust for “Honour, Dominion, glorie, and renoune” (VI, 442). Although Milton can be said to be following the tradition of epic one-upmanship, he achieves it not by creating a more impressive hero (as Virgil does) but by creating a despicable and damnable hero who throws into doubt the whole concept of heroism.

Although Milton’s approach to heroism in Paradise Lost is primarily critical, he does go on to offer glimpses of a greater heroism in God’s Son, in Abdiel, and particularly in Adam, who demonstrates “the better fortitude of patience and heroic Martyrdom” (IX, 31–32). Adam’s surprising heroism consists of patiently enduring his fallen state and accepting that his roles as husband and father will be his part in God’s design to bruise the serpent’s head. Paradise Lost also sets the stage for the Son of God’s “deeds Above Heroic” in Paradise Regained (I, 14–15).
In the final account, Milton’s epic transcends previous works not by its eloquent style or by its sublime imaginative creations but by its simple moral: trust and obey.

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a noted Christian author and speaker. She has written several books, including The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God and The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation. She is a frequent contributor to Christian and religious publications such as Christianity Today and Beliefnet.

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

René Descartes: Early Modern (1596–1650)



Meditation One

Of the Things of Which We May Doubt

1. Several years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation, if I desired to establish a firm and abiding superstructure in the sciences. But as this enterprise appeared to me to be one of great magnitude, I waited until I had attained an age so mature as to leave me no hope that at any stage of life more advanced I should be better able to execute my design. On this account, I have delayed so long that I should henceforth consider I was doing wrong were I still to consume in deliberation any of the time that now remains for action. To-day, then, since I have opportunely freed my mind from all cares [and am happily disturbed by no passions], and since I am in the secure possession of leisure in a peaceable retirement, I will at length apply myself earnestly and freely to the general overthrow of all my former opinions.

2. But, to this end, it will not be necessary for me to show that the whole of these are false—a point, perhaps, which I shall never reach; but as even now my reason convinces me that I ought not the less carefully to withhold belief from what is not entirely certain and indubitable, than from what is manifestly false, it will be sufficient to justify the rejection of the whole if I shall find in each some ground for doubt. Nor for this purpose will it be necessary even to deal with each belief individually, which would be truly an endless labor; but, as the removal from below of the foundation necessarily involves the downfall of the whole edifice, I will at once approach the criticism of the principles on which all my former beliefs rested.

3. All that I have, up to this moment, accepted as possessed of the highest truth and certainty, I received either from or through the senses. I observed, however, that these sometimes misled us; and it is the part of prudence not to place absolute confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived.

A hundred years ago G.K. Chesterton wrote that man’s reliance on human reason alone had wrongly created an inverse juxtaposition of cognitive humility and individual dogmatism. In plain talk, this means truth must be held with loose hands because it can never fully be known, but people should boldly stand firm as their own moral authority. Nonsense.

As Chesterton rightly said

Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.

Rather than relaying on that which is reasonable to a limited human mind, Chesterton says “The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason.”

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

Modernity gone wrong has isolated humanity and made human reason autonomous of (and dismissive toward) revelation. Descartes may not have made these errors himself, but the tendencies are there in his writings. The world he helped create also developed disrespect for human experience: if an idea could not be “proven,” then it was disreputable. The more chaotic elements of postmodern thought have been a natural counter-reaction.

Read his work critically, but not overly critically. If one wishes to abandon the modern, one cannot take for granted that one will continue to enjoy all of the good it has produced. One thing is certain: René Descartes is admirably clear, persuasive, and faithful in suggesting the direction he believes we should take.

Is Christianity reasonable?

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

The Beauty of This Immense Light


Thomas Ward

The Meditations of René Descartes is probably the most widely read philosophical text in the Western world. Not only is it rich and challenging, but it’s also a work of literary brilliance. Not since Augustine’s Confessions had there been a philosophical work so personal.

Written in the first-person singular, in a nontechnical idiom (for the most part), any reader can approach the work and begin immediately to grapple with weighty problems. But its brilliance as a piece of literature is most clearly evident in the way its ideas are reinforced through its literary form. In a first-person meditation, Descartes is articulating a philosophical position that places the individual thinker—the meditator—at the logical foundations of philosophical inquiry.

Descartes reserves a prominent role for God in his philosophy, but it might seem that the pride of place is actually reserved for the individual thinker attempting to reason his way out of his solitude, with God introduced merely to ensure that the reconstruction of knowledge can proceed. Indeed, the subsequent philosophical tradition has tended to characterize Descartes’s philosophy in just this way, with him as a reluctant theist. Many echo the sentiments of his contemporary Blaise Pascal, who said, “I cannot forgive Descartes; in all his philosophy he did his best to dispense with God.”

Like the Confessions, however, Meditations is a God-infused book. Most readers these days overlook this fact, tending to write off the more theological aspects and to focus on the meditator’s skeptical arguments and subjective outlook. This is unfair. A proper appreciation of Descartes demands we take his theological thought seriously.


So, how does God enter the philosophical picture? Descartes’s fundamental philosophical goal was to discover an absolutely certain foundation of knowledge, and he thought he’d made this discovery in one three-word Latin sentence:

Cogito, ergo sum; I think, therefore I am.

(Roughly the same thought is expressed in different terms in the Meditations; this version is found in Principles of Philosophy.) The idea is that you cannot doubt your own existence, because the act of doubting presupposes that there’s something doing the doubting—the doubter.

Dissatisfied with what he’d been taught at school, Descartes set out to question everything, rejecting each belief that wasn’t certain. In the First Meditation, he walks us through a gauntlet of skeptical arguments, offering reasons for doubting our beliefs in even the most ordinary and obvious things: that there’s a physical world, that you have a body, that other people exist, that God exists, and that 2 + 2 = 4. By the close, it seems skepticism has swept everything aside, that there is nothing but “inextricable darkness.”

However, in the Second Meditation, Descartes realizes there is one thing that simply cannot be doubted: that he exists.

From this single foundation of certainty, Descartes attempts a reconstruction of all our knowledge of the world and of God. Certain at least that he is, he wonders how, if he were the only existing thing, he should have an idea of a supremely perfect, infinite Being.

He first reasons that there is no way he himself could be the source of his idea of God, that God Himself must be and must have given Descartes the idea of Himself; in his beautiful portrayal, the idea of God is “the mark of the craftsman stamped on his work.”

So, Descartes’s world has gone from one to two; first him alone in the darkness, and now him together with God. From here he reflects on God’s nature, in particular His goodness. He reasons it would be inconsistent with God’s goodness that nearly all his beliefs should be utterly false; God, he says, is not a deceiver.

If we’re sufficiently careful in our pursuit of knowledge, then, we can be assured we will reach it. With this argument, Descartes reopens the door to the external world. If we restrict ourselves to believing only those things that we can “clearly and distinctly” perceive, we will not err in our judgment.


Perhaps now we can see, minimally, why Pascal’s critique may not be sufficiently charitable. There definitely is a sense in which the self comes before God in Descartes’s system, but there is equally, and arguably more importantly, a sense in which God is before everything else. Let me explain.

For Descartes, the knowledge of oneself comes before the knowledge of God. I don’t mean “before” in a temporal sense, the way we might think of a child gaining self-awareness before she becomes aware of God. I do mean that in an explanation of the justification of our beliefs, knowledge of God (and of the world God has created) follows knowledge of oneself.

In the course of writing Descartes not only uses the Cogito, ergo sum argument to support his other beliefs, he also discovers some of the external conditions that make possible the activity of meditating in the first place. Most significantly, he discovers that his existence and activity must be sustained from moment to moment by God’s continual conservation. Thus, for Descartes, the existence of oneself comes after the existence of God.

We might say that Descartes set out alone to discover God but learned that God was with him in the search.

Thomas Ward is currently a doctoral candidate in UCLA’s Department of Philosophy and holds an MPhil from the University of Oxford.

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

William Shakespeare: Early Modern (1564–1616)


Act II, Scene I
A hall in Leonato’s house


LEONATO: Was not Count John here at supper?
ANTONIO: I saw him not.
BEATRICE: How tartly that gentleman looks! I never can see him but I am heart-burned an hour after.
HERO: He is of a very melancholy disposition.
BEATRICE: He were an excellent man that were made just in the midway between him and Benedick: the one is too like an image and says nothing, and the other too like my lady’s eldest son, evermore tattling.
LEONATO: Then half Signior Benedick’s tongue in Count John’s mouth, and half Count John’s melancholy in Signior Benedick’s face,—
BEATRICE: With a good leg and a good foot, uncle, and money enough in his purse, such a man would win any woman in the world, if a’ could get her good-will.
LEONATO: By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband, if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue.
ANTONIO: In faith, she’s too curst.
BEATRICE: Too curst is more than curst: I shall lessen God’s sending that way; for it is said, “God sends a curst cow short horns;” but to a cow too curst he sends none.
LEONATO: So, by being too curst, God will send you no horns.
BEATRICE: Just, if he send me no husband; for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening. Lord, I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face: I had rather lie in the woollen.
LEONATO: You may light on a husband that hath no beard.
BEATRICE: What should I do with him? dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting-gentlewoman? He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man: and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him: therefore, I will even take sixpence in earnest of the bear-ward, and lead his apes into hell.
LEONATO: Well, then, go you into hell?
BEATRICE: No, but to the gate; and there will the devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say “Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven; here’s no place for you maids:” so deliver I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter for the heavens; he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long.
ANTONIO: [To HERO] Well, niece, I trust you will be ruled by your father.
BEATRICE: Yes, faith; it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say “Father, as it please you.” But yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and say “Father, as it please me.”
LEONATO: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.
BEATRICE: Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a pierce of valiant dust? to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none: Adam’s sons are my brethren; and, truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.
LEONATO: Daughter, remember what I told you: if the prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer.
BEATRICE: The fault will be in the music, cousin, if you be not wooed in good time: if the prince be too important, tell him there is measure in every thing and so dance out the answer. For, hear me, Hero: wooing, wedding, and repenting, is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque pace: the first suit is hot and hasty, like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical; the wedding, mannerly-modest, as a measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes repentance and, with his bad legs, falls into the cinque pace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.
LEONATO: Cousin, you apprehend passing shrewdly.
BEATRICE: I have a good eye, uncle; I can see a church by daylight.
LEONATO: The revellers are entering, brother: make good room.

Like many, I was raised on the King James Bible.  I memorized verses written in 1611, and thought prayers must include “thee and thou” to make it to God’s ear.  Reading the Bible in a modern translation was transformative to me, but I always return to the KJV for poetic beauty.

Reading Shakespeare is no different.  It’s helpful to invest a little time in studying the mechanics and grammar to fully appreciate the work, but ultimately, the beauty of the language should flow to your ears like fluid music.

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

One advantage most of us have is that we know Shakespeare is good. We know that most films or plays we actually like have stolen a line or an idea from Shakespeare. There’s no pop cultural facet in which the Bard cannot make an appearance.

My own passion for Shakespeare came after I worked on the language. I had to stop being embarrassed for not knowing older English and simply work to learn the vocabulary and speech patterns as if it were a foreign tongue. Looked at this way, Shakespearean English is the easiest “second language” most of us will ever learn!

Is it possible to fully enjoy literature without understanding its grammar?

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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 Much Ado About Nothing

Melissa Schubert

Some of us can be tempted to dismiss comedy as taking reality too lightly. But here’s why I take comedies seriously: they present and celebrate the world in which we survive our own and others’ mistakes, follies, transgressions, and deep sins. However lightly, dimly, or bleakly, comedies revel in our survival—in the delaying of death and the staying of the curse. Comedies tell the story of ruined folk somehow avoiding ruin.

The world turns out to be sufficiently ample, elastic, wide, and often bountiful, even for we who’ve been exiled from paradise. Sometimes the happy vision is as meager an offering as the survival of the thwarted villain still mired in all his disdain for the universe. But its happiest pictures include long-awaited reunions, the practice of forgiveness, and weddings—festive unions between undeserving lovers that promise even more life for the community and love for the world.

And so we have Shakespeare’s delightful play, Much Ado About Nothing. One primary subject (and a subject of all of his comedies) is love struggling toward marriage. Marriage is the goal of the lover’s quartet (Beatrice and Benedick, Hero and Claudio) as well as the goal of the community in Messina. Marriage is proposed, by the play, as a happy situation, not only for the characters of the play but also for the city. Benedick has it right when he proclaims, “The world must be peopled.”

But the road to union is thick with obstacles, those present in the self and those presented by others. The self-identified “plain-dealing villain,” Don John, sets himself against the formation of community both by refusing peace with his brother and by making himself an enemy to marriage. He takes his only pleasure in spoiling others’ happiness.

Claudio, whose naiveté leaves him vulnerable to Don John’s villainy, falls for the ruse that suggests Hero’s infidelity because his knowledge of and faith in her is insubstantial. Hero is much more a victim of her own lover’s mistake than of her own fault. She must—and what a profound task—forgive him his wrongs.

Beatrice, reluctant to submit to another in love, not wishing to be mastered, must learn to see Benedick as something besides a threat to her freedom. Benedick fears marriage, too, expressing anxiety about cuckoldry, so he postures himself as above it all.

The path for none of the four is smooth since, even in small and familiar ways, they stumble as they approach love and happiness. Thus they arrive at their happy ending not by the natural trajectory of character but by a series of delicate interventions.

Beatrice and Benedick’s friends employ their very faults to steer them toward loving each other. Human creatures need one another’s generous help. Often we’re most helped when our community can witness our faults and offer gentle correctives.

The other chief trick of the play is Hero’s feigned death for Claudio’s real sins. Here is where we see most deeply the insistence that it’s possible that, in the end, we will not get what we deserve, we will not suffer the full consequence of our sins, but we will be saved.
Notably, the redemption hinges on the luxury of time, a resource notably absent in Shakespeare’s tragedies. In Hamlet, the time is out of joint. Macbeth’s destruction seems wildly rapid. Bad timing governs both Romeo’s and Juliet’s deaths. But in Much Ado, there’s enough time—time for mistakes, for discovery, for repentance, for repair, for forgiveness.

With the provision of time comes also a call to patience, the sort most admirably displayed in Hero’s suffering. Here is a faithful image of life on earth: where we must sit and talk to clarify misunderstandings, where we abide winter’s waiting for the spring, where it takes time for criminals to come to justice, where love buds long before it blossoms. Here is a summons to Christian hope in light of the world’s story, this divine comedy, where, even in the face of the direst realities, we look for the resurrection of the dead and the blessed life of the glory to come.

Melissa Schubert is an assistant professor of English Literature at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute. She is currently a doctoral candidate at Claremont Graduate 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).


Miguel de Cervantes: Early Modern (1547–1616)


Part I, Chapter I:
Which Treats of the Character and Pursuits of the Famous Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha

In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack, and a greyhound for coursing. An olla of rather more beef than mutton, a salad on most nights, scraps on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a pigeon or so extra on Sundays, made away with three-quarters of his income. The rest of it went in a doublet of fine cloth and velvet breeches and shoes to match for holidays, while on week-days he made a brave figure in his best homespun.

He had in his house a housekeeper past forty, a niece under twenty, and a lad for the field and market-place, who used to saddle the hack as well as handle the bill-hook. The age of this gentleman of ours was bordering on fifty; he was of a hardy habit, spare, gaunt-featured, a very early riser and a great sportsman. They will have it his surname was Quixada or Quesada (for here there is some difference of opinion among the authors who write on the subject), although from reasonable conjectures it seems plain that he was called Quexana. This, however, is of but little importance to our tale; it will be enough not to stray a hair’s breadth from the truth in the telling of it.

You must know, then, that the above-named gentleman whenever he was at leisure (which was mostly all the year round) gave himself up to reading books of chivalry with such ardour and avidity that he almost entirely neglected the pursuit of his field-sports, and even the management of his property; and to such a pitch did his eagerness and infatuation go that he sold many an acre of tillageland to buy books of chivalry to read, and brought home as many of them as he could get.

But of all there were none he liked so well as those of the famous Feliciano de Silva’s composition, for their lucidity of style and complicated conceits were as pearls in his sight, particularly when in his reading he came upon courtships and cartels, where he often found passages like “the reason of the unreason with which my reason is afflicted so weakens my reason that with reason I murmur at your beauty;” or again, “the high heavens, that of your divinity divinely fortify you with the stars, render you deserving of the desert your greatness deserves.”

Over conceits of this sort the poor gentleman lost his wits, and used to lie awake striving to understand them and worm the meaning out of them; what Aristotle himself could not have made out or extracted had he come to life again for that special purpose. He was not at all easy about the wounds which Don Belianis gave and took, because it seemed to him that, great as were the surgeons who had cured him, he must have had his face and body covered all over with seams and scars. He commended, however, the author’s way of ending his book with the promise of that interminable adventure, and many a time was he tempted to take up his pen and finish it properly as is there proposed, which no doubt he would have done, and made a successful piece of work of it too, had not greater and more absorbing thoughts prevented him.

Don Quixote is frequently described as “the first modern novel” and that is true in many ways.  Here we find both the structural bones of contemporary fiction and the gateway to modernity. It is certainly much more than that. Author Glynn Young wrote a terrific feature piece about Don Quixote some time ago for Literary Life (see it HERE) in which he said the following:

He didn’t see a fallen world; he saw the world as God created it and as he, Don Quixote, was called to redeem it. And no matter what happens or what impossible situations he finds himself in, he remains true to his mission and calling. It is only when he is tricked into seeing reality by his family that he “regains his sanity.”

Had the novel ended like that, it would have been a funny book but also disappointing. But it didn’t end like that.

Don Quixote isn’t only the first “modern” novel and one of the world’s great works of literature. It is also a great work about a fallen world and the crazy people who are called to redeem it, who are ridiculed, often physically attacked, bullied, and persecuted, but who nonetheless joyfully persevere in what they’ve been called to do.

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

Perhaps the alternative to modernity is not postmodernity but an Age of Cervantes.

Cervantes fought and bled in one of history’s great conflicts, the Battle of Lepanto, to defend Christendom against conquest by Islam. He justly was proud of his wounds and of the victory he and many like him had secured for his faith. As he mocks his culture and his church, it’s important to remember that this is the mockery of a man who loved the Catholic faith enough to bleed for it. He lived in a world less parochial and more international than our own, one where the Pope could lead a multinational coalition whose relative power the U.N. could never muster.

Cervantes is witty, first of all. Laugh with him before becoming too serious about his knight. After all, it is absurd to tilt at windmills, and his knight does just that. And yet Don Quixote is more likable than the sane people around him.

Does embracing a Christian worldview require a measure of madness?

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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 Madness and Reality

RT Llizo

Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra’s “Sorrowful Knight” strikes us, at the outset, as a buffoon, a loveable fool who’s easy to scorn.

He’s a hidalgo, the equivalent of what might be known in England as a country squire, which means, as the second or third son of nobility, he cannot inherit his father’s title, but he can’t engage in business either, so he runs his estate (at least, what’s left of it) while selling several of its parcels in order to buy books on knight-errantry.

Then he leaves the care of his estate in order to pursue foolish fantasies, all culled from silly books. After reading Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and other tales, he’s convinced that the world of knight-errantry is the best way to lead one’s life, and he decides to do something about it. He sallies forth in search of “adventures,” seeing giants and castles that turn out to be merely windmills and taverns.

As his sidekick, or, shall we say, his squire, we have Sancho Panza, who believes promises of a governorship of distant islands and castles. The plain facts of the matter, however, are plain to Sancho as he constantly tries to remind Don Quixote that the objects he’s charging toward are actually common structures.

Don Quixote, undaunted, continues in his insistence that these are indeed giants and that they must be slain. When the matter is made clear to the Sorrowful Knight after a round with the windmills—which ends with him on his back—he blames his delusion on “enchantment” and continues his noble quest.


It’s easy to write off Don Quixote as a deranged nutcase, but as we read through the novel, something begins to evolve. We laugh in the beginning, but then we gradually become caught up in his world; we begin to see it from his eyes, and we end up enjoying it.

We grieve with Sancho for his death, for the vision of a world where he is more than a worthless ne’er-do-well—an important governor and lord—will die with him. The barmaid weeps, and we weep with her, for in Don Quixote’s eyes, she’s more than a mere barmaid; she’s a noble lady named Dulcinea.

What’s happened? How is it that we chuckle at him at the onset but now are caught up in his “madness”?

But this is where Cervantes has caught us in our own folly. Is it madness?

In the course of the tale, we begin with a self-assured notion that the world Don Quixote imagines makes him unable to live in the true milieu of “reality,” yet increasingly our own assumptions about the nature of that reality come under question.

In Part II we’re moved by statements like these:

All I aim at is, to convince the world of its error in not reviving those happy times [of chivalry], in which the order of the knight-errant flourished. . . . But nowadays, sloth triumphs over diligence, idleness over labour, vice over virtue, arrogance over bravery, the theory over the practice of arms, which only lived and flourished in those golden ages, and in those knights-errant. (From the Oxford World’s Classics, 528.)

One can hear the quintessential Christ-like question coming through in the following passage:

In the meantime, tell me, friend Sancho, what do folks say of me about this town? What opinion has the common people of me? What think the gentlemen, and what the cavaliers? What is said of my prowess, what of my exploits, and what of my courtesy? What discourse is there of the design I have engaged in, to revive and restore to the world the long-forgotten order of chivalry? (ibid., 535)

Sancho’s answer is quite expected: “The common people take your worship for a downright madman” (ibid.). But what can be said of Don Quixote’s stated desire to “revive and restore” the chivalric order?


Reality is a complex phenomenon, filled with dimensions, not the least of which are two that Christians affirm and understand: the physical and the spiritual. We are invited by Cervantes to enter into Don Quixote’s imaginary world and reflect on these layers.

We’re to ignore no points of view: neither the idealism of Don Quixote nor the realism/literalism of Sancho Panza. The point that comes across is this: We must not have a reductionist attitude toward reality.
While we must not fall into the gnosticizing trap of seeing the world as only ideal, without any reference to the physical and tangible universe we inhabit, neither should we commit to a crass literalism devoid of imagination and poetry.

Poetry in the soul ennobles the insignificant. Something in us does yearn for the ideal Don Quixote envisions, and yet his failed efforts to actualize it should give us pause, for however noble his vision, it cannot be established here and now without any reference to the needs of the here and now.

Cervantes’ masterpiece, then, cautions the literalist/materialist against a world (and a future) devoid of enchantment, just as it challenges the idealist who gazes toward heaven to remember that the coming reality is “not yet.”

Laugh at the beginning, if you will. In the end, the Sorrowful Knight has the last laugh.

Robert Llizo, PhD, is a lecturer in Medieval History 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).

Edmund Spenser: Early Modern (1552–1599)

Canto I

A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Y cladd in mightie armes and silver shielde,
Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,
The cruell markes of many a bloudy fielde;
Yet armes till that time did he never wield:
His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,
As much disdayning to the curbe to yield:
Full jolly knight he seemd, and faire did sitt,
As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt.

Many people were raised by guilt and shame. As spanking decreased from generation to generation, the weapon of choice became disappointment.  In many ways, this has shaped both our worldview and, more importantly our theology.  Our religion is defined by the list of things we don’t do.

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

For most contemporary people, holiness is a negation. Holy people don’t. The “holy” student will not go to the bacchanalia of Spring Break; the secular kid will have all the fun. Being virtuous has become all about “not sinning.”

Reading Spenser should remind Christians that virtue is empowering. Holy people can.


Were you raised by adults who used guilt as a technique?  How has that shaped your worldview?


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 Faith and Romanticism

John Mark Reynolds

I first read Edmund Spenser because I loved C. S. Lewis, and C. S. Lewis loved The Faerie Queene. Sadly, I never really recovered from the first line of the book. A knight “pricking on the plaine” didn’t communicate to my junior high mind as Spenser intended.

The poetry required learning many new words and spellings, plus a boatload of history. The language made seventh-grade favorite The Lord of the Rings seem as simple as Nancy Drew by comparison.
I had to come to accept that The Faerie Queene was hard work without granting easy access to the beauty that seemed to drip from the Narnia books or was the heart of Phantastes. The plot was simple; the characters, contrived. The book did not seem worth the effort, and I quit.

Years of teaching The Faerie Queene suggests my first reaction is a common one. The plot and the good bits likely don’t seem worth the labor it takes to reach them, while the constant sucking up to Queen Elizabeth is annoying when not risible. Rare is the student, and fortunate, who loves this book immediately. For the rest of us, there is only the promise that Lewis saw something in it.

That alone might not have been enough to get me to try again, but any reader of romantic literature, and every lover of Faerie, finds Spenser turning up as an inspiration for favorite writers. I was missing something, and I knew it.

It turned out for me, as it has for so many of my students, that we’d never been taught to read a poem like The Faerie Queene.
The story is about the Knights of the Round Table and King Arthur; so many of us expect Malory or Tennyson plotting. It is set in Faerie, so we hope for Narnia. Instead, we get simple tales “disguising” an allegory about topics like “holiness.” Spenser strained my piety to the breaking point as I longed for swords and sorcery over sermons.
At least the allegory seems easy. Anyone named Sans Foy (“faithless”) will not be a good guy, though on one occasion someone with a good name is a baddie in disguise.

Lest we be confused for a moment, Spenser clues the reader into the “secret” right away. Saint George seems likely to kill the dragon, since that is what Saint George famously does. Saint George is indeed (at least) a stand-in for England, and he does indeed learn the ways of holiness.


I had an epiphany at Disneyland. I was walking through Sleeping Beauty Castle, looking at dioramas, and I thought, Still-life scenes like this are becoming rare in our CG special-effects world. For some reason this “clicked,” and I suddenly saw how to appreciate Spenser’s effects. He presents me, the reader, with a series of images, set pieces, that as a whole (and in detail) are meant to convey an overriding effect. Lewis, of course, had made this point better in his scholarly work on Spenser, but somehow I’d missed it.

Spenser is like an old-fashioned parade, and his scenes are like floats. One enjoys the float as a discrete whole and then moves to the next one. The connection between any two floats may be slight, but both are connected to the theme of the parade.

So the connection between the parts is there, but Spenser’s design is not like with a modern novel. Each “shot” or image in the text must first be enjoyed for itself and only then picked apart or joined to the whole.
Nevertheless, doing this also requires learning Spenser’s iconic vocabulary. As Lewis and other commentators have pointed out, his images drew on the familiar church and classical literature of the educated class of his time. When Una, a woman symbolizing the unified truth of the orthodox Christian faith, is first seen with her lamb and a dwarf, the informed reader understands that “the image” is part of “the Image.” We do not expect to keep hearing about the lamb or the dwarf, and if they simply “vanish” in the next few scenes, well, this is to be anticipated in a parade.

The plot gives the reader the bigger meaning of each scene, and the details unlock the inner teaching. Once I found this way of seeing Spenser—and educated myself in the language of stained glass and coats of arms—I fell in love with The Faerie Queene and never looked back.


The obvious allegory is still there: Spenser loves Elizabeth, Anglican Protestantism, and romantic life. However, those are the shallow concerns of the poem, which is connected with deeper and older streams of catholic (general) Christianity. He rebuilds the unified cathedral of Christian thought, Dante’s vision, as a Saint Paul’s in London and not as Saint Peter’s in Rome.

Spenser’s “effects” are more suited to Handel and Tudor science than to chant and scholasticism. There also is less mystery in Spenser than in Dante, but likewise there is a greater attempt to let in light at every turn. In his vision, the clutter of the medieval cathedral is cleared away. That images and relics are exposed as tricks (of Archimago) allows the Christian to see true faerie in nature and in orthodoxy without being deceived and distracted by false loves.

Further, Spenser sanctifies the English story. He places the classical tradition within the deep myths of England using the tale of Arthur and so allows the romantic heart to be as enchanted by the English countryside as by the Greek or Italian landscapes. Spenser claims, and uses, the vocabulary of fifteen hundred years of Christendom, proving poetically that this is just as much the heritage of the Church of England as the Church of Rome.

What is more, Spenser is very Protestant, and the Catholic Church comes in for all sorts of attacks, most of which are uncharitable or unfair. In his defense, we should remember Spenser was living in a world where a Catholic queen of England had recently roasted Protestant heroes at the behest of Rome. He lived in the era of religious wars, and his pope was not, for instance, the blessed John Paul II.


Does this work?

It did work for romantics like George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis, enabling them to remain content Protestants and still find themselves part of the greater catholic faith.

It did not work for G. K. Chesterton, who made his way back to Rome by way of Faerie.

So, Spenser makes it possible to be a romantically fulfilled orthodox and Protestant Christian . . . perhaps.

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 Calvin: Renaissance/Reformation (1509–1564)

Chapter 1:
The Knowledge of God and of Ourselves Mutually Connected—Nature of This Connection

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us from heaven, are like streams conducting us to the fountain. Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. In particular, the miserable ruin into which the revolt of the first man has plunged us, compels us to turn our eyes upwards; not only that while hungry and famishing we may thence ask what we want, but being aroused by fear may learn humility. For as there exists in man something like a world of misery, and ever since we were stript of the divine attire our naked shame discloses an immense series of disgraceful properties every man, being stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness, in this way necessarily obtains at least some knowledge of God. Thus, our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us . . . that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him.

John Calvin generally gets a bad rap for the brand of Calvinism that basically says that God predestined some people for heaven and others for hell.  While many people do believe that, it’s a bad reading of Calvin and a worse reading of the Bible.

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin wrote:

We are not to reflect on the wickedness of men but to look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, an image which, by its beauty and dignity, should allure us to love and embrace them.

John Calvin was a humble man, though Voltaire went on to call him the “Pope of the Protestants.” He saw every man as an image bearer of God and therefore immeasurably valuable.

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

Oddly, despite his influence, few who aren’t theologians read Calvin. He doesn’t appear on the curriculum of many “great books” programs. If my students are not Calvinists, the few things they think they know about Calvin are often false and almost always negative. Simultaneously, Calvin is being revived in conservative evangelical circles hoping to deepen their intellectual and theological rigor. Too frequently these students know Calvin but have never thought critically about his ideas.

Both Calvinist and non-Calvinist students are often shocked when they read Calvin, because as with any seminal thinker, he often is more flexible than later creedal formulations in the Reformed communities. Calvin may be a Calvinist, but he’s not a narrow one!

 Do you align completely with a creed?  Why or why not?

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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

 John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion

Russell D. Moore

If today John Calvin were discovered alive and in suspended animation, frozen in a block of ice somewhere in the French Alps, most people probably wouldn’t consider this good news. After all, the unfrozen Calvinist lawgiver rarely is thought of as the kind of figure modern audiences would want to drag back up.

His writings don’t have the wink-of-the-eye, puckish grin that even his contemporary Martin Luther seems to sometimes convey in his many writings. Moreover, Calvin, although associated with some bland but commendable features such as hard work and thrift, is mostly known for awful things, such as burnings at the stake and the predestination of people to hell.

Calvin is too important, though, to leave him frozen in caricature, and he’s too significant to leave him simply to his tribe of theological partisans. John Calvin—most significantly in his Institutes of the Christian Religion—offers insight to all in the Christian tradition, including those who consider themselves the furthest away from “Calvinism.”

The Institutes was written first in 1536, with the final version completed in Latin in 1559. Calvin, a French convert from Catholicism to the ideas of the Protestant Reformation, quickly established himself as the early protest movement’s most influential theologian. While those who have never read Calvin firsthand often assume the volume is obsessed with speculative notions about divine sovereignty and the order of God’s decrees of election and reprobation, the excerpt here better represents something of the broader tone and substance of the Reformer’s thought.

The tome’s initial sentence establishes a core theme in Calvin’s work: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” At first glance, this statement might seem to be exactly what we might expect from one so often associated with coldly cerebral Christian rationalism and abstract speculation. But the discussion Calvin begins on “knowledge” is far more complex, and far more engaging, than that.

First of all, Calvin here is setting the context for a vision of all of life as theological. By this, I don’t mean merely that Calvin believes there is what some would call a Christian “worldview,” a theologically informed way of thinking about all aspects of existence. Calvin means more than this. He means that every human being is, by definition, a theologian.

Every “word”—that is, every means a person has for making sense of his reality—is inescapably a “word about God,” a theology.

In addition, this truth is grounded above all in the creaturely nature of humanity. Referencing the apostle Paul’s speech to the Athenians at Mars Hill, Calvin notes that it is in Creator God, by necessity, that every human person “lives and moves” (Acts 17:28). For Calvin, the universal impulse of humanity to worship gods or ideologies or themselves is hardly a coincidence of evolution. The sense of the divine is embedded in all human persons, as part of God’s image itself. This awareness is activated by the icon of God’s glory present in the created cosmos all around us. If we do not acknowledge this primal reality, we simply cannot apprehend ourselves as we really are, or the universe as it really is.

Further, it is not simply that all persons ought to be able to realize there is a God, if only they were to pay careful enough attention to the evidences for His existence. It is instead that all persons do, immediately, recognize this. Moreover, they recognize not only God’s existence, but they also recognize, personally, the God who is. So why is there not a universal worship of the God in whom Calvin believes, the God of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, the God of Jesus of Nazareth?


This is where John Calvin’s view of sin emerges. Again, he’s oft-misrepresented as having a gloomy, world-denying pessimism about humanity. Some of his followers throughout the centuries have yielded to this caricature. But Calvin’s view of sin isn’t censorious or cranky. Instead, this doctrine explains why worship is so difficult for humanity as it is. It is not, in Calvin’s view, that we sin because we believe the wrong things; it is, rather, that we believe the wrong things because we sin.

In other words, human persons, in our fallenness, crave our own autonomy—the illusion that we are gods to ourselves. In order to protect this delusion and remain “free” from our Creator, we convince ourselves of what deep in our consciences we cannot deny—the reality of God, His moral law, the coming judgment.

Calvin here, echoing Paul, anticipates some of the psychological theories of later centuries in presenting a picture of the role the affections play in shaping the way we think. Sigmund Freud may have been quite wrong about many things, yet who can deny that human persons are motivated by more than merely rational impulses but additionally by an often dark and nearly incomprehensible psychic undertow? Calvin would root this in the fallen nature of the human condition. In order to know God and to know ourselves, Calvin insists, we must face this truth.

This is hardly a “pessimistic” picture, though, in the larger mosaic of Calvin’s thought. Human persons can rightly read the cosmos, and ourselves, through the revelation God has disclosed in the person of Jesus Christ and in the “spectacles” of the Scriptures.

Calvin’s view of revelation, and of knowledge as fundamentally a question of worship, grounds the importance in Protestant Christianity of preaching and widespread reading and study of the Bible in the languages of the people. This tradition, as it expanded in missionary movements and revivalist awakenings, shaped much of the trajectory of modern European and American thought.

Reading John Calvin’s Institutes, you’ll likely find points of disagreement, perhaps even major disagreements. But also you’ll probably—whatever your religious communion—find the insights of a mind shaped by immersion in the Scriptures, in the church fathers, in Western classical thought. And, behind this, you’ll discover a man who recognized something of what it meant (1) to be a creature, and (2) to look in worship and humility for the Creator in whom he lived and moved.

Russell Moore, PhD, is the dean of the School of Theology and senior vice-president for Academic Administration at Southern Baptist Theology Seminary. He is also a senior editor at Touchstone magazine and author of several books, including Adopted for Life and A Theology for the Church.

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

Desiderius Erasmus: Renaissance/Reformation (1466–1536)

An Oration…Spoken by Folly

At what rate soever the world talks of me (for I am not ignorant what an ill report Folly has got, even among the most foolish), yet that I am that she, that only she, whose deity recreates both gods and men, even this is a sufficient argument, that I no sooner stepped up to speak to this full assembly than all your faces put on a kind of new and unwonted pleasantness. So suddenly have you cleared your brows, and with so frolic and hearty a laughter given me your applause, that in truth as many of you as I behold on every side of me seem to me no less than Homer’s gods drunk with nectar and nepenthe; whereas before, you sat as lumpish and pensive as if you had come from consulting an oracle. And as it usually happens when the sun begins to show his beams, or when after a sharp winter the spring breathes afresh on the earth, all things immediately get a new face, new color, and recover as it were a certain kind of youth again: in like manner by but beholding me you have in an instant gotten another kind of countenance; and so what the otherwise great rhetoricians with their tedious and long-studied orations can hardly effect, to wit, to remove the trouble of the mind, I have done it at once with my single look. . . .

My dinner party of timeless wits would include Voltaire,  Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and Desiderius Erasmus.  I would also throw in Dorothy Parker as a ringer. Each explored folly from a different (and occasionally profane) angle, yet their common target was the smug, self-appointed illuminati.

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

In Praise of Folly must be understood as the product of Erasmus’s Bible-saturated mind. His was a mind too broad for fundamentalism, which rejects reason, and too honest for intellectualism, which rejects revelation.

The fundamentalist burns with anti-intellectual zeal, and in reaction sophists are often swollen up with intellectualism. The fundamentalist and the sophist justify their excesses by the sin of their opposite. Fundamentalism and sophistry give piety and philosophy bad reputations with society.


Desiderius Erasmus said ” In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”  What did he mean?

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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

Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly

Greg Peters

Desiderius Erasmus was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands. As a well-educated man (he studied in Belgium, France, Italy, and England), Erasmus became one of the leading lights of the European Renaissance and was a frequent critic of the late medieval Catholic Church, though, once more, he remained in the Church until his death and did not become a Protestant. He is often thought of as the intellectual father of the Protestant Reformation.

Beginning in 1505, Erasmus set out to translate the New Testament into Latin. This endeavor helped him realize the unreliability of the existing edition of the Greek New Testament, so he set out to edit a new Greek edition. This was published in 1516 and has come to be known as the Textus Receptus (“Received Text”); it was the edition used by the translators of the King James Version. His best-known literary work, though, is In Praise of Folly, a critique of Church abuses and the world, published in 1511.

This is an oration in which Folly, personified as a woman, claims that what appears to be Folly outwardly, actually, is wise inwardly. Folly rails against that which she judges to be foolish in the areas of politics and society.

Erasmus’s biting satire is also used to level criticisms against the Church, including theologians, monks, and clergymen. He makes vitriolic comments about contemporary political leaders and members of the learned professions. The work is highly rhetorical as well, so that Erasmus may express his opinions (through Folly) on a wide range of topics without having to offer grounded support.

For the Christian, it’s the latter sections of this work that are most interesting. Here Erasmus turns his attention to a simpler biblical Christianity, over against the highly philosophical and scholastic theology of the later Middle Ages. For Erasmus, Jesus Christ was foolish for taking on human nature and dying on the cross; as well, he commended the foolish lifestyle to his disciples. That is, rejecting all worldly notions of the “good life” in order to chase after holiness and that which is spiritual: “this happiness of Christians, which they pursue with so much toil, is nothing else but a kind of madness and folly.”

In fact, for Erasmus, “all Christian religion seems to have a kind of alliance with folly and in no respect to have any accord with wisdom.” This being the case, the folly must be praised and must be sought after, since it is the very essence of the Christian religion. In Erasmus’s estimation, “folly is more excellent than wisdom.”

In Praise of Folly is a brilliant play on the Pauline interplay of wisdom and foolishness:

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. . . . But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:20, 25, 27)


Erasmus’s work elaborates on this theme by showing that the truly wise are utterly foolish; those who think they are wise are the true fools.

Given that we continue to live in a post-Christian culture that highly prizes so-called “learning” and the primacy of reason, Erasmus’s text is a reminder that there is more to the life of the mind than simply learning for learning’s sake. Though Christians must always be diligent to pursue truth and receive the wisdom offered by God, we must bear in mind that our knowledge is a kind of folly. That is to say, not only is it considered folly by the “world’s” standards but, further, in the Erasmian and Pauline sense, we are fools, by extension, for Jesus: “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:10). Reading the entire In Praise of Folly drives this point home—persuasively.


Desiderius Erasmus was a prolific author, so much so that his collected works, translated into English, fill approximately ninety volumes (published by the University of Toronto Press). Though a humanist in his learning and a Roman Catholic in ecclesial confession, Erasmus’s work also contains spiritual and pastoral treatises, including On Praying to God, An Explanation of the Apostles Creed, and Preparing for Death.

Though In Praise of Folly is an excellent introduction to Erasmus and his central concerns, the reader who delves further into his literary corpus will not be disappointed. Erasmus is not only a voice of his time or a representative of the Roman Catholic Church; he also is a believer whose works deserve more attention from Christians of all churches and denominations.

Greg Peters, PhD, is an associate professor of Medieval Theology 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).

Geoffrey Chaucer: Middle Ages (1343–1400)

The Franklin’s Tale
The Prologue

“In faith, Squier, thou hast thee well acquit,
And gentilly; I praise well thy wit,”
Quoth the Franklin; “considering thy youthe
So feelingly thou speak’st, Sir, I aloue thee,
As to my doom, there is none that is here
Of eloquence that shall be thy peer,
If that thou live; God give thee goode chance,
And in virtue send thee continuance,
For of thy speaking I have great dainty.
I have a son, and, by the Trinity;
It were me lever than twenty pound worth land,
Though it right now were fallen in my hand,
He were a man of such discretion
As that ye be: fy on possession,
But if a man be virtuous withal.
I have my sone snibbed and yet shall,
For he to virtue listeth not t’intend,
But for to play at dice, and to dispend,
And lose all that he hath, is his usage;
And he had lever talke with a page,
Than to commune with any gentle wight,
There he might learen gentilless aright.”

“Straw for your gentillesse!” quoth our Host.
“What? Frankelin, pardie, Sir, well thou wost
That each of you must tellen at the least
A tale or two, or breake his behest.”
“That know I well, Sir,” quoth the Frankelin;
“I pray you have me not in disdain,
Though I to this man speak a word or two.”
“Tell on thy tale, withoute wordes mo’.”
“Gladly, Sir Host,” quoth he, “I will obey
Unto your will; now hearken what I say;
I will you not contrary in no wise,
As far as that my wittes may suffice.
I pray to God that it may please you,
Then wot I well that it is good enow.

“These olde gentle Bretons, in their days,
Of divers aventures made lays,
Rhymeden in their firste Breton tongue;
Which layes with their instruments they sung,
Or elles reade them for their pleasance;
And one of them have I in remembrance,
Which I shall say with good will as I can.
But, Sirs, because I am a borel man,
At my beginning first I you beseech
Have me excused of my rude speech.
I learned never rhetoric, certain;
Thing that I speak, it must be bare and plain.
I slept never on the mount of Parnasso,
Nor learned Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Coloures know I none, withoute dread,
But such colours as growen in the mead,
Or elles such as men dye with or paint;
Colours of rhetoric be to me quaint;
My spirit feeleth not of such mattere.
But, if you list, my tale shall ye hear.”

We know little of the personal life of Geoffrey Chaucer.  The extant records show him to be both skilled and versatile, but we can only divine his character from his work.  He translated Boethius’  In Consolation of Philosophy into English, which apparently shaped his worldview, but his Canterbury Tales reveal a man more interested in savoring the journey of daily life than the arrival into perfect heaven.

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

Chaucer, like Homer, writes about a journey, but as a Christian he has a different goal. Homer wanted to go home, but Chaucer’s pilgrims want a piece of man’s true home: paradise. The pilgrim is heading for a piece of heaven on earth, the shrine with its relics, but he must pass through the cities of man and through the wilderness.

Homer’s hero, Odysseus, is a storyteller, and so are Chaucer’s pilgrims. Homer’s stories bring him glory, but the stories of the pilgrims entertain and educate men on the Way. Chaucer is a pioneer of edutainment, and no story in Canterbury Tales is so bawdy as to lack a moral—even if a mistaken one.


Is your focus more on your present journey, your past or your destination?

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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 Idealism and Limitations

Diane Vincent

Happily-ever-after is where “The Franklin’s Tale” begins. Hardly thirty lines are devoted to Arveragus and Dorigen’s embodiment of late-medieval romantic ideals: the lady’s beauty and nobility, the knight’s many quests and feats, his long suffering of love-pangs and devoted service to her, and finally her realization of his worth and pity for him.

Once married, Dorigen and Arveragus attempt to keep some of the core romantic ideals of the medieval code of courtly love in conjugal love. Arveragus, freely and unprompted, promises to remain her lover insofar as he rejects the “mastery” often thought the husband’s due and promises instead to continue his service of his beloved by following Dorigen’s will in all things. She, in response to his generosity, pledges to be his true wife, who will never willfully grieve him. Their marriage is established not by a contract or exchange of services—though we do see such a contract define the relationship between Aurelius and the magician—but by the utterly gratuitous gift of the lover and the free response of his beloved.

Thus, as the Franklin comments, Arveragus succeeds in having both his lady and his love. By contrast, that famous medieval lover Lancelot could only ever have his love, since Guenevere was Arthur’s lady, and while he may be praised for his devotion to her, his passion could only ever attain to the temporary fulfillment of sex, rather than the lasting union of a happy marriage.

Elsewhere in The Canterbury Tales, too, romantic idealism does not fare well. We laugh or cry over the pilgrims’ cynical views of marriage, in which any mutual love has disappeared and one spouse dominates or deceives the other. But the Franklin emphasizes repeatedly that Dorigen and Arveragus are faithful spouses and passionately devoted lovers. Their ability to remain lovers and spouses is, in part, what the tale puts to the test. And as much as the plot of “The Franklin’s Tale” relies on exaggeration and elements of fantasy, the lovers’ endeavor to translate their romance into their married life had real-life implications, because the behavior of English lovers was actually influenced by the ideals of the courtly lover’s humble service and courtesy as well as of the ennobling power of love.

Of course, the best way to test the romance of a marriage is to send one spouse away for a long time (and include the risk of death for good measure) and to present the other with a seemingly perfect substitute lover. In Aurelius, we have all the outward trappings of the ideal courtly lover. He sings and dances better than any man alive (ever). He is also the handsomest man alive, young, rich, strong, popular, a prolific poet, and, conveniently, a near neighbor. Like Lancelot, he goes mad when rejected and is willing to sacrifice everything to attain his lady. “A servant in the game of Venus,” he is love-sick, without question, but it’s also clear that love is a game—however deadly—that he’s playing.

His rhetoric is almost perfect, but beneath the veneer of courtesy he reveals the churlish heart he only owns up to later. Chaucer is careful to make it clear that Aurelius only achieves the illusion of satisfying Dorigen’s condition, just as he only achieves a barely coherent illusion of humble service when he confronts Dorigen with his claim on her. “You know what you promised. Not that I challenge anything of you by right, sovereign lady, but by your grace” is a far cry from Arveragus’s gift of freedom to her. Aurelius’s shallow commitment to courtly love only becomes ennobling when he gives up the vulgar passion that had lain hidden beneath the elegant flourishes of love’s game. What’s more, in renouncing his ill-gotten power to constrain Dorigen’s affection, he gives himself the gift of freedom from Venus’s rule, from the passion that has been dominating his life for years to his detriment, to the sorrow of his brother, and to the deep distress of Dorigen and Arveragus.

Though a far nobler lover than Aurelius, Dorigen also suffers from play of courtly love. It is when the scene is set for love—after a jolly dance in a garden in the springtime of Love—that she playfully adds the impossible task to her refusal of Aurelius’s advances. She intends her words to reinforce her emphatic rejection of his plea, since she knows her condition “will never happen.” But by rhetorically playing Venus’s game and giving the lover an impossible quest to achieve, she has implicitly agreed to abide by Venus’s rules.

As much as her marriage to Arveragus successfully realizes the ideals of courtly love—service, humility, faithfulness in spite of suffering, and generosity—their marriage is no game. Dorigen understands and embraces the exclusive claims of conjugal love, but her careless play puts her in the impossible bind of having to choose between honor of word and honor of body. Her dilemma is impossible not only because failing in “truth” attends either choice, but also because it is precisely in conjugal love that honor of word and body are inextricably linked; to lose either is to lose both, and thereby to lose herself.

No wonder death is such an attractive option. Though we might protest that such an empty vow couldn’t be binding, no one in the tale rejects its force. That ultimately her truth can be preserved only in the context of forgiveness shows the limits of our ability to speak and fulfill the truth of our words. Our promises, even when freely and consciously made, are subject to our limitations as much as to our wills.


What makes Geoffrey Chaucer such compelling reading is his creation of a riveting conversation between the ideal and the everyday: can Dorigen and Arveragus remain lovers and spouses when confronted with not just their temptations but also with their limitations? Such tensions are the root of much of Chaucer’s well-known, and often biting, satire, but it’s likewise the root of his insight into human relationships.

Here, in “The Franklin’s Tale,” we see the ennobling pursuit of an ideal lived out in the strains and trials that the world can place on even the most ideal of relationships. While it may be hard to be faithfully married to an ideal, it’s impossible to stay passionately married without one. Arveragus’s generosity to Dorigen and to Aurelius, though shocking, is as he says, “well-paid,” and not only by the faithful love of his wife and by Aurelius’s sacrifice. More than that, he is well-paid insofar as his and Dorigen’s pursuit of a passionate conjugal love offers a chance for a boorish faker to abandon Venus’s empty game and finally begin to become a noble man.

Diane Vincent, PhD, is an assistant professor of Medieval Literature 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).


Dante Alighieri: Medieval (1265–1321)

Canto I

While I was rushing downward to the lowland,
Before mine eyes did one present himself,
Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.

When I beheld him in the desert vast,
“Have pity on me,” unto him I cried,
“Whiche’er thou art, or shade or real man!”

He answered me: “Not man; man once I was,
And both my parents were of Lombardy,
And Mantuans by country both of them.

‘Sub Julio’ was I born, though it was late,
And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
During the time of false and lying gods.

A poet was I, and I sang that just
Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
After that Ilion the superb was burned.

But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
Why climb’st thou not the Mount Delectable,
Which is the source and cause of every joy?”

“Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?”
I made response to him with bashful forehead.

“O, of the other poets honour and light,
Avail me the long study and great love
That have impelled me to explore thy volume!

Thou art my master, and my author thou,
Thou art alone the one from whom I took
The beautiful style that has done honour to me.

Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,
For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble.”

“Thee it behoves to take another road,”
Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,
“If from this savage place thou wouldst escape;

Because this beast, at which thou criest out,
Suffers not any one to pass her way,
But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;

And has a nature so malign and ruthless,
That never doth she glut her greedy will,
And after food is hungrier than before.

Many the animals with whom she weds,
And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound
Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.

He shall not feed on either earth or pelf,
But upon wisdom, and on love and virtue;
’Twixt Feltro and Feltro shall his nation be;

Of that low Italy shall he be the saviour,
On whose account the maid Camilla died,
Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, of their wounds;

Through every city shall he hunt her down,
Until he shall have driven her back to Hell,
There from whence envy first did let her loose.

Therefore I think and judge it for thy best
Thou follow me, and I will be thy guide,
And lead thee hence through the eternal place,

Where thou shalt hear the desperate lamentations,
Shalt see the ancient spirits disconsolate,
Who cry out each one for the second death;

And thou shalt see those who contented are
Within the fire, because they hope to come,
Whene’er it may be, to the blessed people;

To whom, then, if thou wishest to ascend,
A soul shall be for that than I more worthy;
With her at my departure I will leave thee;

Because that Emperor, who reigns above,
In that I was rebellious to his law,
Wills that through me none come into his city.

He governs everywhere, and there he reigns;
There is his city and his lofty throne;
O happy he whom thereto he elects!”

And I to him: “Poet, I thee entreat,
By that same God whom thou didst never know,
So that I may escape this woe and worse,

Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,
That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
And those thou makest so disconsolate.”

Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.

Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy has so permeated literature and theology that much of what he wrote about the afterlife is though by many to come from the Bible.  T.S. Eliot said “Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them. There is no third.”

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

The best advice I can give is to read quickly the first time. You will know you’re missing more than you’re gaining, but get what you can and then read the selection again. This time, look up some of the unfamiliar people and works. Third time, try reading the lines aloud and let the sound move you. Focus on a single line you want to understand the fourth time through, and read until you understand.

The Comedy is an entire Christian worldview. It isn’t the only possible Christian worldview, because no human book could contain that whole, but it’s a very good one. It combines the best science, theology, poetry, politics, and psychology from the age in which it was written. That means parts of it are wrong, but even where wrong, it stimulated in others the thinking that produced modernity.

The Divine Comedy portrays Dante’s vision of heaven and hell.  What is yours?

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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 Anguish and Beauty

Anthony Esolen

How does one begin to praise the greatness of Dante’s Divine Comedy?
It is as wildly various as the flora and fauna that sport across the capitals of an illuminated manuscript.

It is as theologically ordered and precise, in its own way, as the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dante’s leading light in matters of the intellect, the virtues, the church, and the nature of God.

It is as delightful as a romance with Lancelot and Guenevere, as terrifying as the apocalypse of John, and as wondrous as the seraphic vision that came to Saint Francis and marked him with the marks of Christ.

What moment in all of literature can surpass the profound anguish of an Ugolino who looks into the faces of his children, all prisoners on his account, and all, with him, about to starve to death, and who says, in a few stunning words, “I did not weep, I had so turned to stone”?

But then, what moment can surpass the wonder of Piccarda, who has become more human precisely because she has immersed herself in the divine Love? “In His will is our peace,” says she.

If we say it’s hard to find a single human moment, or a single one of the wonders of God as made manifest to man, that does not find its place in Dante’s poem, we say no more than the truth, and yet we still fail to grasp the excellence here. For it’s one thing to find these moments—to find, in the excerpt above, the grim blasphemy of sinners who wish, far more than that they had never been born, that their parents and the whole human race and the time and place of their begetting had never existed; a universal curse. Or to find the paradox that love, that sweetest of desires, had brought disaster and condemnation—as Francesca the gentle-spoken adulteress says, “Love led us to one death.”

What astonishes more than all is to find all these things ordered in an artistic, philosophical, and theological whole, so that Virgil’s encounter with Beatrice is meant to anticipate Dante’s encounter with Francesca, and then with other lovers and indeed other writers of love poetry in the Purgatory, before the pilgrim poet finally meets Beatrice herself; she in turn leads him to Paradise, where he will enjoy at the last a vision of “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”

Such an achievement in poetry had no precedent.

Dante could have done as Milton would do, centuries later, and adapt the meter, narrative techniques, and epic apparatus of Virgil’s Aeneid to his own language. He did not.

He could have written in the style of the romancers of his own day, like the prodigious and remarkably original Chrétien de Troyes. He did not.
The Divine Comedy is of its own kind, even as it gathers to itself all the Christian and classical learning Dante had inherited. It’s as if a man should study all the paintings of the dramatic Caravaggio and the brooding Rembrandt, and then, inspired by them, compose the Saint Matthew Passion—when, to boot, nothing of that sort had ever been composed before, and nothing quite of that sort would ever be composed again.


All of this is to insist that when we read Dante, even in the few cantos above, we bring to our reading more than the habits we have acquired in reading other poets. We must read as composers, as sculptors, as architects, as theologians.

Take, for example, the appearance of Beatrice to Virgil. We understand the necessity of the conversation. Dante the pilgrim is having second thoughts about entering hell—naturally. But instead of giving him an eminently practical reason for trusting him, as, for instance, that if Dante remains in the dark wilderness he will be lost for certain, but if he accompanies Virgil he at least has a chance, the Roman poet becomes for him and for us a courtly lover, swept into obedient service by a vision of a beautiful woman such as had no counterpart in anything he had ever written.

Now, if we conclude that this is just a fine quirk of poetic adaptation, we miss the deep humanity and theology both. Dante expects us to think—that is the object of reason—and to begin to see—that is the object of the intellect. This is, after all, the same Virgil who has just revealed to Dante that he will never enjoy the sight of God, and who has burst into an exclamation of longing and hopelessness: “Happy the man He chooses for His house!” That is the man who now tells Dante he has seen Beatrice, and, even before she gives her name, indeed before she speaks a word, “begged her for the grace of a command.” The ancient pagan is a man like all men, made to be fulfilled only by the vision of holiness itself, the vision of God.

I hope, then, dear reader, that you will not approach this poem as if it were a mere artistic artifact. Such would be to sin against any work of truly great art, but it would be all the more disordered in the case of Dante. That is because Dante himself summons us to a deeper engagement with the world of man and the being and goodness of God.

If we were present on that dread day, under the blank staring of the Mediterranean sun, when, amid those who loved Him and those who plotted His destruction, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, would we confine our thoughts to the picturesque scene, or to the eloquence of the Master? No, we would long to look upon the reality itself. The only human thing to do, the only rational thing, would be to press beyond the human, in love. We would—or at least we should—take upon ourselves the ultimate task of our poet: to seek the face of God.

Anthony Esolen, PhD, is a professor of Literature at Providence College and a senior editor of Touchstone magazine. In addition to authoring several books, he is well-known for his translations of classical works of literature, including Dante’s Divine Comedy.

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

Thomas Aquinas: High Middle Ages (1225–1274)

Whether God Exists? (I.2.3)

Objection 1. It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.

Objection 2. Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God’s existence.

On the contrary, It is said in the person of God: “I am Who I am” (Ex. 3:14).

I answer that, The existence of God can be proved in five ways.

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act.

For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another.

If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand.

Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one.

Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence—which is absurd.

Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being. . . . Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

Reply to Objection 1. As Augustine says (Enchir. xi): “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.

Reply to Objection 2. Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily must also be traced back to some higher cause other than human reason or will, since these can change or fail; for all things that are changeable and capable of defect must be traced back to an immovable and self-necessary first principle, as was shown in the body of the Article.

According to Augustine in On Christian Doctrine , one skilled in speech should “so speak as to teach, to delight, and to change; that is, to teach the ignorant, to delight the bored and to change the lazy.” To that hopeful end, the first words that Thomas Aquinas spoke in his inaugural sermon as a newly minted Master of Theology were from Augustine’s work. In the days and years to come however, where Augustine synthesized rhetorical and theological styles, Aquinas separated them.

In his book European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, Ernst Robert Curtius writes “This rhetorical-theological divide was implicit in the Aristotelian distinction between rhetoric (the art of persuasion) and dialectic (the art of reasoning) that became explicit when theology was declared a “science” and elevated beyond the liberal arts.” Aquinas is not casual reading.

John Mark Reynolds, writing in his book The Great Books Reader adds:

Thomas, of all men, knew that sacred and secular must come together in the beating heart of man as created in the image of God. He lived as he thought, and his hymns are as beautiful as his philosophy is profound.

Argue with Thomas, because that is what he wants you to do, but follow his argument carefully, for it is very subtle. Few readers, perhaps, will agree with everything he says—even the Church of Rome does not—but it’s always worth considering.

Once you get the trick of reading Thomas, he is easy to “get” but also hard to exhaust. His argument is clear, but it’s also subtle, and what seems like an obvious problem will be filled in later or is anticipated in his careful wording.

How do you force yourself to read slowly and deliberately when the text requires it?  Is this difficult 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.



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 Truth of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Peter Kreeft

I am totally convinced that Saint Thomas Aquinas was the greatest, wisest, most intelligent merely human theologian who ever lived.

Why? Let the first reason be that he told the truth. Nothing trumps that.

Second, he’s the master of common sense. What he says is always what sound reason says, even though he says it in his difficult, technical, medieval-Aristotelian vocabulary. G. K. Chesterton’s Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox proves this brilliantly.

Third, he was not just a head but a heart: a saint and a practical man. Kings, peasants, and popes wrote to him for advice and always got back sound wisdom. (Example: his cure for depression—a hot bath, a glass of wine, and a good night’s sleep.)

Fourth, he combined the two essential goals of thinking better than anyone else: profundity and clarity. He wrote about the most difficult and profound questions a man can ask: God and man, good and evil, life and death, virtue and vice, soul and body, intellect and will, predestination and free will, nature and grace—and he did it clearly and simply. Though at first he seems difficult, he becomes amazingly straightforward and simple on subsequent readings, once the vocabulary obstacle is overcome. He is a transparent window; there are no impositions of his personality, no rhetorical tricks, no extra words, no digressions, all bottom-line, right-to-the-point answers, and always with compelling logical reasons.

Fifth, he fulfilled more than anyone else the essential medieval program of a marriage of faith and reason, revelation and philosophy, the biblical and the classical inheritances. He “baptized” philosophy, especially Aristotle. He did not turn the Christian faith into a purely rational philosophy; he turned Aristotle’s purely rational philosophy into a servant of Christian faith.

Sixth, he also combined elaborate, careful detail with “the big picture,” his cosmic perspective, which is breathtakingly big.


Thomas Aquinas wrote many thousands of pages in addition to his unfinished four-thousand-page masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae, which he dictated to four secretaries at once, sentence by sentence, never changing a word. Then he stopped writing and called everything he had ever written “straw” compared with “what has been revealed to me” (or, in another account, “what I have seen”). His fellow monks heard a heavenly voice ask him, “You have written well of Me, Thomas, what will you have as your reward,” and heard his absolutely perfect, absolutely simple answer: “Only Thyself, Lord.” Never was more said in fewer words.

By the way, Protestants and Anglicans and even agnostics often love and respect Thomas as much as Catholics do. Certainly, there was no greater thinker for two thousand years between the death of Aristotle and the publication of Descartes’ Discourse on Method (except perhaps Augustine). Whoever you are, your mind will get a wonderful workout in clarity and logic, as well as orthodox theology, by reading him.

Reading Thomas Aquinas is like eating spinach. It tastes strange at first, but it makes you stronger. His habits of clarity and order rub off on you, even when you disagree with him.

Nevertheless, read him slowly. The Summa is not a novel but a reference book.

Furthermore, Summa is an ordered summary, not a closed system. Its structural outline is a mirror of reality. It begins in God, “in the beginning,” then proceeds to the act of Creation and God’s continuing providence in dealing with creatures, centering on man, who alone is created in God’s image; it ends with man’s return to God, his end, through his moral and religious life, and finally man’s means to this end of salvation, namely Christ, who saves man through His body and His church (which is His body). It’s the universal drama of God as Alpha and Omega of all time and change. God pumps the blood of being through the arteries of creation into the body of the universe, which wears a human face, and receives it back through the veins of man’s life of free choice of faith, hope, and love. This is a cosmic circulatory system.


It’s good to be aware that, though logically outlined into many sub, sub-sub, and sub-sub-subdivisions, the basic unit of the Summa is the “article,” typically a page or two long, which has five structural parts:

1. The question is formulated in a yes or no format, beginning with “Whether . . .”

2. Objections to his answer are given, fairly and clearly and completely, beginning with “It seems that . . .”

3. An argument from a past authority is given, with the formula “On the contrary . . .”

4. The body of the article, beginning with “I answer that . . .” is his main proof for his position, with explanations along the way.

5. Finally, each objection is answered, usually by distinguishing what is true and what is false in it.

This is no merely local and quaint medieval format. Not one of these steps can ever be omitted if we want to have good grounds for settling any controversial question.


Thomas Aquinas is scrupulously fair. Though his prosaic, literal, bottom-line logical style is an extreme contrast to Augustine’s charming, rambling, and singing poetry, his single-minded, pure passion for truth is strikingly similar. Neither of them seems even capable of dishonesty.

If you were a CIA agent recruiting among philosophers for spies, no two would be more hopelessly inept than these.

Peter Kreeft, PhD, is a professor of Philosophy at Boston College and The King’s College, New York. He is an acclaimed author and speaker on many philosophical and theological topics.

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

Boethius: Late Roman/Early Medieval (c. 480–524/525)


Book I

While I was pondering thus in silence, and using my pen to set down so tearful a complaint, there appeared standing over my head a woman’s form, whose countenance was full of majesty, whose eyes shone as with fire and in power of insight surpassed the eyes of men, whose colour was full of life, whose strength was yet intact though she was so full of years that none would ever think that she was subject to such age as ours. One could but doubt her varying stature, for at one moment she repressed it to the common measure of a man, at another she seemed to touch with her crown the very heavens: and when she had raised higher her head, it pierced even the sky and baffled the sight of those who would look upon it. Her clothing was wrought of the finest thread by subtle workmanship brought to an indivisible piece. This had she woven with her own hands, as I afterwards did learn by her own shewing. Their beauty was somewhat dimmed by the dullness of long neglect, as is seen in the smoke-grimed masks of our ancestors. On the border below was inwoven the symbol π, on that above was to be read a θ. And between the two letters there could be marked degrees, by which, as by the rungs of a ladder, ascent might be made from the lower principle to the higher. Yet the hands of rough men had torn this garment and snatched such morsels as they could therefrom. In her right hand she carried books, in her left was a sceptre brandished.

Wisdom has always been sought, but it is slippery. The sin nature of man drives him to capture and possess, but wisdom is more of a journey’s companion whose voice grows more evident in time. Just as Boethius learns, the dress of his Muse has been torn by those who have run off with remnants of her wisdom and claim for themselves great understanding, but what indeed remains is tattered patchwork.

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

Boethius’s little book Consolation of Philosophy has never stopped selling since he wrote it, even in ages when books were rare and each copy cost a fortune. Men paid the price for his book because it gives a real answer to human suffering. Boethius faced his own death but, more important, the death of everything he loved. He was miserable, and only “Lady Philosophy” offered him any consolation. Tough love, but it helped him.

In Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius moved from considering history from an actor’s point of view to a “timeless” eternal view. From that divine perspective, nothing is ever utterly lost, because all of life is possessed by God in an eternal now.

Though time was gnawing away at Boethius and stealing all he valued, God was beyond time and loss.


 How does knowledge become 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.



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

Lady Philosophy

Michael Fatigati

If, when you hear the word philosophy, you do not jump to the edge of your seat, eagerly expecting your life to be changed in one sonorous, rhetorical sweep, then you’re not alone. Much of the philosophical tradition is marked by careful, nuanced distinctions, more often soporific than salvific.

So we might be surprised when Boethius, in his hour of need—tired, distressed, chained—is greeted by Lady Philosophy. What is more, though Boethius is a Christian, with all the host of heaven supposedly by his side, he is provided with an earthly guide in a tattered robe.

Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy is not what we would expect, but it is what humans, Christians included, oftentimes need. When we are grieving, depressed, or anxious, our culture either tells us to placate our wounds by escaping into entertainment or deceives us into thinking there is an easy solution. Lady Philosophy does not discount his pains, but she, the “physician,” asks him to “lay bare [his] wound” so that she can clear his tear-shrouded eyes and get to the bottom of things. The Consolation is indeed a self-help book, but one without compromise.

In terms of literary merit, it’s Boethius’s masterpiece, weaving together poetry and prose, Christian and non-Christian allusions, into a graciously didactic narrative. Historically, it has been read by scholars, clergy, and laymen alike. In terms of morality, it is realistic but staunch. Lady Philosophy believes that the truest goods are internal (not found in the accoutrements of this world), so she will not let Boethius think he has lost the ability to be happy merely by being enslaved.

And this is the central question of the Consolation: How can we obtain happiness?

One easy way not to obtain happiness is by following Boethius’s example at the outset. We come upon him reciting a poem that may appear artful to modern ears, but his call for the “maimed Muses to guide [his] pen” is the ancient equivalent of an emo-pop angst-ridden melody.

Boethius attributes the pride of his earlier days to these Muses, and now he sees them as his only comfort. The Muses can be taken to represent any kind of overbearing sentimental force, and it’s clear what Lady Philosophy thinks of them: “Sirens, seductive unto destruction!”
He has sunk so low that he not only looks to the Muses for comfort in distress, but he sees his journey from bliss to exile as due to nothing more than the Muses and “Fortune’s fickle bounty.”


If Boethius is going to obtain happiness, he needs to break free from the influence of the Muses and find a way to guard himself from the shrapnel of fortune’s whims. Lady Philosophy eventually probes him with two further questions: “What is the object to which all nature tends?” and “What is a man?” His failure to answer these interrelated queries properly shows Lady Philosophy the “chief cause” of his sickness.

Boethius remembers that all things were created by God, but he cannot name God as the end to which all things tend. Without an overarching sense of providence guiding the world, all we’re left with is fickle fortune at the reins, and there’s no telling whether good will lead to good, or vice versa. As an aside, this is the same predicament in which today’s popular naturalistic, materialistic worldview seems often to land.

But even if Boethius could name God as the cause and end of all things, he could not obtain true happiness while still holding that man is merely an “animal, reasoning and mortal.” This was the standard ancient definition of humanness, but the only powers of the soul it delineates are the passions (which we share with animals) and rationality.

Now, someone who has reason guiding his passions is better off than someone whose passions run wild, but logic cannot give access to true happiness. Boethius, even in his prison cell, has not forgotten the arguments of his predecessors for why the universe had a Creator. This logical truth is the “tiny spark” from which Lady Philosophy will fan the flames of his soul’s health. But he needs to go beyond logic if he is to be happy—he needs to possess the divine.

As Lady Philosophy catalogues the variety of things humans pursue in order to be happy, she notes that they all dissipate, run out, and require other goods to be sustained. This constant quest for new goods to fill in the gaps leads her to conclude that what all humans really want is “an abundant possession of good things . . . in all ways sufficing for itself.” We pursue happiness in various and misguided ways, but the intended end is always the same: a condition of self-sufficiency.

Truly, the only good thing that’s entirely self-sufficient is the divine itself, so the divine is the only thing that truly is happiness. In the Consolation, as is shown in later sections, the divine, goodness, and happiness are all different ways of referring to the same thing.
This means that if we’re to obtain happiness, we must possess the divine. We must have some way of literally having supreme goodness inside us and of transforming into little gods ourselves.


Many scholars conclude that Lady Philosophy never completely answers the questions of how we can possess the divine. She does offer some thoughts, and they are robust enough to be well worth reading, but in the end, Boethius (the author, not the character) seems to suggest that while philosophy can set us on the right track—performing the invaluable task of reigning in our passions and pointing us in the direction of the divine—more, ultimately, will be necessary.

Even so, since most of us, on introspection, are likely still shrouded by our own particular clouds of grief, we would do well to sit at the feet of Lady Philosophy, whatever her shortcomings.

Michael Fatigati is the assistant to the director and adjunct professor 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).

Augustine: Late Roman/Early Medieval (354–430)

(The beginning)

“Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised . . . And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation . . . Still he desires to praise thee . . . Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.

Augustine was a seeker.  He invested countless hours mining the great questions of mankind in his voluminous writing, but his greatest quest was one of the heart.  He is usually depicted in art accompanied by a flaming heart representing his deep love for God. Rather than shying away from his uncertainties and doubts, he worked them out in print for us.

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

Some Christians believe that the harder one thinks, the colder faith will grow. Augustine grew more brilliant as he grew more pious, more creative as he became more orthodox. His period of heresy was imitative, but his traditional Christianity took mental risks.

Augustine wrote so much, so well, for so long that he always is capable of surprising us. Moderns, and even some Christians who should know better, like to blame anything they don’t like in Western culture on Augustine, but most of their accusations are oversimplifications of his complicated thought.

Augustine stood at the moment when all of civilization in the West might have vanished. He placed the weight of his mind, his heart, and his actions into creating a new Christendom on the wreckage.


Have you ever kept a journal of your most intimate thoughts and confessions?

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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 Influence of Saint Augustine

Peter Kreeft

Every person now living would be very different, or would not be at all, if Augustine had been different, or had not been. No Christian in history since the apostle Paul has had more influence. Almost singlehandedly, Augustine forged the medieval Christian mind. Since the Reformation, he is the only extra-biblical writer whom both Roman Catholics and Protestant Reformers have loved, appealed to, and claimed as their own.

Augustine lived during the troubled times at the end of one age (the ancient Roman) and the beginning of another (the medieval Christian). He lived through the fall of Rome in AD 410, and he died as the smoke and fires of the barbarians were burning his native North African city. Rome was not just a city but “the eternal city”; not just an empire but civilization itself. The equivalent of a nuclear winter was descending.

To such a powerful crisis, Augustine did one of the most powerful things a man can do: he wrote books, very many of them, but especially two of the greatest, most popular, and most influential ever written.

One, the 1,500-page The City of God, is the world’s first philosophy of history. It interprets all of the human story, from Creation to the Last Judgment, as the drama of divine providence and human free choice (both of which Augustine strongly defended), especially the choice between the two most fundamental options of membership in one or the other of the “two cities.” The City of God is the invisible community of all who love God as God; the City of the World is all those who love the world and themselves as their God.

“Two loves have made two cities.” This produces history’s central plotline and drama, culminating in heaven and hell. (Nothing is more dramatic than that.)


The other book, the Confessions, is the very same dramatic story in Augustine’s own soul and life. It is the most beloved and influential book ever written by a Christian, next to the Bible, and it begins with the most frequently quoted Christian sentence outside the Bible, which summarizes both this book and the fundamental meaning of every human life: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and [therefore] our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” It’s the gospel of the restless heart.

Augustine wrote Confessions in the form of a prayer. Like Job’s speeches, it is addressed to God; we human readers are only eavesdroppers. This accounts for its ruthless, searing, Job-like honesty: it’s written face-to-face with the One who knows all. That’s also why it contains more questions, more interrogative sentences, than any other great book that isn’t in literal dialogue format. Augustine simply could not stop asking searching questions, with both his mind and his heart.

Confessions is laced with scriptural quotations, literally hundreds of them. Scripture was more than an object of Augustine’s gaze; it was in the heart of the gazer; it was not merely a book but the eyes through which all books, and life, were read. And this was done as naturally and spontaneously as breathing.

No author who ever lived has had both a more brilliant and searching mind and a more burning, passionate heart. These two qualities, which can tear other souls in two, united Augustine’s. Medieval statuary almost always has him holding an open Bible in one hand and a burning heart in the other.

Yet, paradoxically, it is this very uniqueness and distinctiveness of Augustine, the combination of great mind/great heart, that makes him Everyman writ large. These are the two deepest facets in each of us, the two powers that flow from the fact that we are made in the finite image of infinite intelligence and infinite love.

Intelligence, reason, truth—this is of absolute value for Augustine. But it is the heart that is the deepest. Heart, in Augustine, as in Scripture, does not essentially mean sentiment or emotion; it means love. Amor meus, pondus meum, he says: My love is my weight, my gravity, my destiny. I go where my love draws me. To love is to will, to choose, to take one fork in life’s road rather than another.

The Confessions is the story, both inner and outer, of the twofold journey of Augustine’s mind and heart. Again, like Job, it is apparently the story of man’s search for God, but it’s really the story of God’s search for man. And in the case of Augustine, God’s finding him was momentous. This is the story of the making of that man.

The Confessions must be read thoughtfully, not swallowed quickly like a pill but slowly chewed like gum. It is not water; it is rich, fine wine.
It’s full of poetic beauties. It sings. It cries. It shouts. It bleeds. So does your soul, if you dare to set it down here in the lines of this book.
These excerpts are just short samples, snippets, “highlights.” Please find and read the whole work, and be sure to get Frank Sheed’s translation; no other comes close to doing justice to Confessions’ beauty.

Peter Kreeft, PhD, is a professor of Philosophy at Boston College and The King’s College, New York. He is an acclaimed author and speaker on many philosophical and theological topics.

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

Virgil: Classical Roman (70–19 BC)

Book One

Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc’d by fate,
And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate,
Expell’d and exil’d, left the Trojan shore.
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin’d town;
His banish’d gods restor’d to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line,
From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
And the long glories of majestic Rome.

The Roman poet Virgil died fifteen years before Jesus was born, and for many he seemed to be a pagan John the Baptist whose poetry bordered on prophecy. Even centuries after his death, as Dante set his pen to compose his masterpiece, he called on Virgil to be his (and our) guide through the afterlife. In the Divine Comedy, Dante gushed upon meeting him saying “You are my teacher. You, my lord and law, from you alone I took the fine-tuned style that has, already, brought me so much honour.”  Ever the sage, Virgil’s message to him was corrective, not affirming: He was on the wrong road.

It’s tempting to assimilate masterful literature into a Christian context.  In his book The Great Books Reader, John Mark Reynolds writes:

This triumph shaped a pattern for Christian intellectuals. They too could take the best of a great culture (in this case Greece and Rome) and appropriate them for Christendom. The Romans might feed Christians to lions, but if Christians emulated Virgil, they might turn defeat into victory. The blood of the martyrs might become the faith’s foundation.

Christians also considered evidence that Virgil may have been a prophet. Why? For one thing, Virgil wrote with divine-like command of his language and with wisdom regarding the human condition; his paganism is a step closer to the truth than Homer’s. His description of the afterlife was helpful to Christian apologists, and his defense of many traditional Roman virtues compared favorably with the more decadent members of his culture. Augustus looked good to believers living under Nero, and the Pax Romana made the spread of the Gospel easier.

Does approximation of pagan wisdom dilute the gospel or does it enhance the effectiveness of communicating Truth?

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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

 Virgil’s Aeneid

Jeff Lehman

If through the Iliad and Odyssey Homer is teacher of the Greeks, through the Aeneid Virgil is teacher not only of the Romans but of the Western world. No epic poet could replace Homer, founder of the Western epic tradition; every later epic is, in one way or another, an acknowledgement of and response to him. Yet Virgil transcends Homer; the Aeneid is an epic not simply of city and home but of a world-embracing civilization that establishes universal peace under the rule of law. Many of our ideas about statesmanship and civic duty, our understanding of the relationship between public and private good, and our concern for the rule of law find expression in Virgil’s tale of the wanderings and wars leading up to Rome’s founding.

Two basic themes are identified in the opening line, which can be rendered:

I sing of arms and the man . . .

In the Aeneid Virgil reworks the epic themes of Homer’s poems in reverse order: the wanderings of Aeneas and his small band of exiles from Troy—taken up in the first six books—remind us of the wanderings of Odysseus, “the man of many ways”; the battles of the remaining six books call to mind the war outside the walls of Troy, the context for Homer’s tale of the wrath of Achilles.

What Homer sings in two poems Virgil sings in one; from the first book we get a clear sense that the scope of the Aeneid is all-encompassing.

Jupiter prophesies of the Romans,
I’ve fixed no limits or duration to their possessions:
I’ve given them empire without end.

This prophecy of Rome’s future greatness sets the stage for Virgil’s epic; every Aeneid reader lives in a world in which this divine promise has come to fruition.

In the above excerpt from Book I, we are introduced to the story of Aeneas. Essentially, the poem relates the journey of Aeneas and his fellow Trojans as they endeavor to found a new city. Aeneas is a man of many sorrows, duty-bound to lead the remnant of his people to a new fatherland

hurled about endlessly by land and sea,
by the will of the gods, by cruel Juno’s remorseless anger,
long suffering also in war, until he founded a city
and brought his gods to Latium.

The poem’s action begins with a furious storm at sea brought on by Juno, queen of the gods, enemy of the Trojans. The ships of Aeneas are devastated, but thanks to the aid of other deities, he and most of his men make it to shore, seeking refuge in Carthage.

The significance of the encounter with Dido and the Carthaginians would be lost on no Roman reader: Carthage was the greatest of Rome’s adversaries in her competition for dominance of the Mediterranean; in Aeneas’s narrow escape (Book IV), we see a mythical prefiguring of Rome’s narrow escape from Hannibal’s invasion during the Second Punic War. Book I ends with Dido’s request that Aeneas tell her of the fall of Troy and of his subsequent wanderings.

From the beginning, Virgil refers to “pious” Aeneas, who repeatedly faces suffering and sacrifice for the sake of his people and by the will of the gods. His piety is not perfect, we might argue, but it becomes more so as the epic unfolds. In his journey through the Underworld (Book VI), Aeneas gets a glimpse of Rome’s future glory and receives what has come to be known as the Roman Mandate:

Roman, remember by your strength to rule
Earth’s peoples—for your arts are to be these:
To pacify, to impose the rule of law,
To spare the conquered, battle down the proud. (Fitzgerald translation.)

Here the duty of Aeneas is linked to the duty of the Roman people. One way to read the Aeneid’s last six books is as a progressive realization of this mandate in preparation for Rome’s founding.

For the sake of universal peace under the rule of law, Aeneas and his men must engage in war to “battle down the proud.” This brings us to the epic’s final scene, where Aeneas is in single combat with Turnus, the fierce leader of the native Italians resisting the Trojan newcomers.

Although Turnus is overcome by Aeneas and makes a plea for mercy, Aeneas becomes enraged and “founds” [condit] his blade in Turnus’s chest. This “founding” reminds us of the poem’s opening lines, where we’re told that Aeneas will at last “found” [conderet] a city. Is the killing of Turnus necessary for the founding of Rome? Is it in accord with the Roman Mandate?


Throughout history, Virgil’s Aeneid has been viewed as a bridge between the classical and Christian traditions. During the Middle Ages, Christian authors saw the conquests of Rome as part of God’s plan to establish a universal peace in preparation for Messiah’s coming. This peace under the rule of law secured the possibility of pursuing one’s own salvation freely.

Furthermore, the Aeneid was vital to the development of the Christian epic tradition. Dante speaks of Virgil as il nostro maggior poeta, “our greatest poet,” and, again, has him serve as the pilgrim’s guide through the underworld in his Commedia. Dante presents Virgil as one who held a light behind himself for others to see the way to salvation.

Jeffrey S. Lehman is a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. He is also a fellow of the Center for Thomas More Studies and holds a PhD in philosophy from the Institute of Philosophic Studies at the University of Dallas.

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

Aristotle: Classical Greek (384–322 BC)

Books I & II


Let us again return to the good we are seeking, and ask what it can be. It seems different in different actions and arts; it is different in medicine, in strategy, and in the other arts likewise. What then is the good of each? Surely that for whose sake everything else is done. In medicine this is health, in strategy victory, in architecture a house, in any other sphere something else, and in every action and pursuit the end; for it is for the sake of this that all men do whatever else they do. Therefore, if there is an end for all that we do, this will be the good achievable by action, and if there are more than one, these will be the goods achievable by action.

. . . Since there are evidently more than one end, and we choose some of these (e.g. wealth, flutes, and in general instruments) for the sake of something else, clearly not all ends are final ends; but the chief good is evidently something final. Therefore, if there is only one final end, this will be what we are seeking, and if there are more than one, the most final of these will be what we are seeking. Now we call that which is in itself worthy of pursuit more final than that which is worthy of pursuit for the sake of something else, and that which is never desirable for the sake of something else more final than the things that are desirable both in themselves and for the sake of that other thing, and therefore we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else.

Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves . . . but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.

In less than thirteen years, a young man named Alexander conquered every kingdom between Greece and Egypt, defeated the Persian army and created an empire that stretched all the way to India.  In his masterful book The Written World, Martin Puchner argues that his success was due in part to a book he kept under his pillow – a copy of Homer’s Iliad annotated by hand by Aristotle, his teacher.  He was said to have been buried with this treasure.  Perhaps the annotations were too subtle for Alexander to see what Dante realized: He was, quite simply, “il maestro di color che sanno— master of those who know” (Dante’s encomium to Aristotle in Inferno IV: 131).

Aristotle would have lamented his student’s eventual end.  In his book The Great Books Reader, John Mark Reynolds said:

Aristotle’s student, Alexander, became “the Great” in the eyes of history but not by the standards of Aristotle. Alexander was good at everything he tried except flourishing as a man. Conquering the world turned out to be easier for the godlike Alexander than vanquishing his inner demons and learning to control his excesses and passions.

The Ethics would have prevented Alexander’s failure as a man, if he had been willing to listen to his teacher’s ethics. Aristotle would have pointed his brilliant student to mastery of the soul instead of mastery of nations. The teacher assumed the superiority of the small community for human happiness, but Alexander preferred grandiose palaces and great empires. Aristotle urged men to be moderate; Alexander lived large.

Is moderation always superior?

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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.


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Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

Jeff Lehman

One of the founders of Western philosophy, Aristotle wrote many treatises on a wide variety of topics, including natural science, poetics, rhetoric, logic, and philosophy. Among these works, his Nicomachean Ethics has had a profound and enduring influence upon ethical reasoning in the Western tradition, as well as an incalculable influence on Christian moral thought in particular.

Like Socrates and Plato before him, Aristotle understood the moral life to consist in caring for one’s soul. He sought to answer fundamental moral questions: What is the purpose of life? How do we become good? How do we determine what is right in any given situation? Aristotle’s account is no ivory-tower philosophy, removed from common experience; rather, he engages our moral common sense from the beginning and uses it to come to solid, real-world conclusions about how we ought to live.

Aristotle begins the Ethics by determining the highest human good. In other words, what do we desire always for its own sake and never as a means to something else? He contends that man’s highest good is eudaimonia, a Greek word typically translated “happiness.” While this rendering is adequate, however, we should bear in mind that Aristotle’s essential meaning is “complete well-being” or “human flourishing.”

Now, while all people tend to agree that happiness is the highest good, there is certainly disagreement over that in which happiness consists. Is it pleasure? Honor? Wealth? Something else? In order to answer, Aristotle identifies man’s “function”—i.e., the activity that is proper to his nature. The specific difference of human nature, or what distinguishes him from other species, is his rationality. Thus, happiness must consist in rational activity, which involves both knowing and choosing.

Aristotle defines happiness as “the activity of the soul in accordance with [complete] virtue.” By “virtue” he means human excellence; since rational activity, again, involves both knowing and choosing, there are both intellectual and moral virtues.

After establishing the general context in Book I, Aristotle gives a more detailed account of moral virtue in Book II. A moral virtue is a deliberately chosen habit that’s typically a “mean” between “extremes” of excess and deficiency; for example, the virtue of courage is the mean between the vices of rashness and cowardice. So, for Aristotle, it’s not enough simply to act in accordance with reason once in a while. We must cultivate habits of virtue that develop into a firmly established moral character over a lifetime.

Furthermore, Aristotle is convinced that perfect moral virtue is difficult to acquire, at least in part because many particulars must be considered. As he puts it, “Anyone can get angry; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy.”

After spending the first half of Book III arguing that we’re responsible for those actions we voluntarily choose, Aristotle begins an account of specific moral virtues (starting with courage and temperance) that continues through Books IV and V; he takes up intellectual virtues, such as wisdom, art, and prudence, in Book VI.

In Book VII, Aristotle addresses the reality of moral weakness in the struggle to do what is right. Unlike the Socrates of Plato’s dialogues, Aristotle does not view moral failure as simply an intellectual mistake; even if we know what’s right, we may still fail to do it. He concludes Book VII with a discussion of pleasure.

Books VIII and IX concern friendship, which Aristotle considers necessary for happiness. He identifies two imperfect kinds of friendship—those of pleasure and of utility—and a perfect kind, a friendship of virtue. In Book X he returns to a treatment of pleasure and then concludes by making a new claim regarding happiness, namely that the happiness involved in the life of contemplation is superior to the happiness of an active life. This is not to say, however, that the active life is unnecessary. We must live with others, and the life of moral virtue is an indispensable part of happiness.


Nicomachean Ethics is one of the few “great books” that’s always near the top of anyone’s list. Given its influence on the Western tradition, reading the Ethics is essential to understanding the Great Conversation that continues to unfold through the centuries. And as for Christian moral reasoning, there is certainly no other work by a non-Christian author that has had so profound an impact on the way we think about morality.

The Ethics is filled with pearls of ethical wisdom and provides a detailed, orderly account of what happiness is and how to pursue it. It’s also invaluable for the questions it provokes: Is Aristotle’s account of moral failure adequate? How does the difficulty of attaining virtue, of which he speaks, point to original sin (a primeval wounding of human nature) and to our need for grace to help us become good? Is his general account of human happiness true, as far as it goes? Is the contemplative life superior to the active life? How does the happiness of which Aristotle speaks relate to the happiness the Christian desires to enjoy in heaven?

Jeffrey S. Lehman is a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. He is also a fellow of the Center for Thomas More Studies and holds a PhD in philosophy from the Institute of Philosophic Studies at the University of Dallas.

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

Plato: Classical Greek (428/427–348/347 BC)



With these words I was thinking that I had made an end of the discussion; but the end, in truth, proved to be only a beginning. For Glaucon, who is always the most pugnacious of men, was dissatisfied at Thrasymachus’ retirement; he wanted to have the battle out. So he said to me: Socrates, do you wish really to persuade us, or only to seem to have persuaded us, that to be just is always better than to be unjust?
I should wish really to persuade you, I replied, if I could.
Then you certainly have not succeeded.

When Saint Augustine said “All truth is God’s truth” he surely must have had Plato in mind.  Plato was not a Christian, but that does not make his teaching untrue.  This can be threatening for those who believe in sola scriptura (Latin: by scripture alone), that the Christian scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice.  Augustine is considered a Neoplatonist who interpreted Plato as a thinker who “understood the eternal truth” consistent with later Christian ideology.

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

Three things must be kept in mind when reading Plato.

First, he wrote in dialogue form. He believed certain things, but those beliefs were less important to him than the process of reaching those beliefs. He wrote in a way that would provoke argument. Don’t be afraid to be bored . . . and then ask why Plato is going on and on. Ask, and you find an answer.

This is because Plato wrote with great care. He was interested in numbers and grew up on the measured poetry of Homer. Perhaps the highest difficulty in reading Plato is knowing when to stop examining a page, a paragraph, a sentence, a word. The first word of Republic says Socrates is “going down,” and the rest of the book contains a series of upward and downward motions.

Second, Plato does not speak in his own dialogues. Socrates is the main character in most (and certainly in Republic), but that does not mean Socrates is always speaking for Plato. The historic Socrates, like Jesus, wrote nothing, and like Jesus, he died for his virtues. Unlike Jesus, though, Socrates was not the perfect son of God. Be willing to argue with Socrates or question the persuasiveness of his arguments. Note that his best students do so at the start of Republic’s Book II.

Third, many Christians, from Justin Martyr through Augustine to C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, have found useful philosophy in Plato. His works contain ideas that are not only compatible with Christianity but can also be used to understand the faith. He anticipated many Jewish and Christian ideas.

Do you believe that “all truth is God’s truth?”  How does your belief inform your Bible study?

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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.


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 On Justice in the Republic

Gary Hardenberg

The Republic, Plato’s masterpiece of philosophical writing, challenges readers by asking us to examine both our notions of justice and our motivations for just living. The dialogue—while treating subjects that range from ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology to politics, psychology, education, music, theology, art, and mathematics—is centrally a discussion of the nature of justice. In particular, Plato, through the literary lens of Socrates’ first-person point of view, poses three questions about justice:

1. What is justice?
2. Is justice a virtue?
3. Is justice better than injustice?

To unify and oversimplify his answers, we can say that justice is the virtue that organizes the capacities of the soul into a stable, harmonious whole and that, since stability and harmony are objectively better than instability and discord, justice is preferable to injustice.

Plato investigates the nature of justice through an analogy between the soul and the polis. Although the discussion of politics is at the forefront of the Republic, the true purpose of that discussion is not political: Its point is to get a better view of the human soul (see 368e–369a), which in itself is very difficult to apprehend. Hence, when Plato argues (in a section not included here) that rulers must expunge immoral poetry from their communities, the reader must remember that Plato’s concern is not so much with cities or nations but with individuals. His lesson is that it would be better for us if we did not allow ourselves to accept immoral art as a teacher and an authority. Whether such censorship becomes public law is another, secondary, matter.

The concept of the tripartite soul, which has fairly distinct rational, spirited, and desirous elements, is one of Plato’s legacies to Western thought. In the Republic, the account of the tripartite soul is essentially connected to the account of justice: justice is present in the soul when each part of the soul is doing the work it is best suited to do.

Reason should be in charge of the soul, because it is the only aspect with both the foresight needed for long-term planning and the insight needed for knowing what is good. Desire does not know what is best because it “knows” only what it wants, which is whatever will satisfy it in the moment. Because desire is by nature insatiable, reason’s capitulation of its ruling office to desire is the primary way through which most people’s souls become disordered.

According to Plato, there is nothing wrong with desire itself. Desire, though, causes problems when it is put in charge of choosing. All the same, reason is too weak to maintain order by itself. It needs the assistance of the spirited element, which, as the seat of anger and courage, rouses individuals to action. Because this element of the soul can be aligned with either reason or desire, it must work with the rational part to maintain the soul’s order—otherwise, disorder ensues.

A number of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians throughout history have adopted this notion of the soul’s harmony because it makes sense of the Christian doctrines of sin and sanctification, and it provides a model of Christian education. According to C. S. Lewis, for example, sanctification is a matter of integrating the dimensions of the human person by repairing the disintegrating effects of sin and advancing the soul’s capacities into greater harmony with itself and unity with God.

Of course, Lewis does not think such sanctification can be accomplished without divine grace. Lewis also argues that, because a person’s character is set largely by whether the spirited element sides with reason or desire, a central goal of education is to instruct students’ sentiments in ways that align them with reason. According to the Christian Platonism of Lewis, education that does not train the sentiments, which are seated in the spirited element, creates students “without chests” who are unable to do what is good even if they have true opinions about it.

It is noteworthy that Plato, living before the time of Christ and probably without any exposure to Jewish Scriptures or teachings, was able to apprehend so clearly the nature of justice. That he was able to maintain his commitment to justice in the face of significant pressure to lend approval to the less scrupulous cultural and political élite of Athens is even more impressive.

Furthermore, Plato defends the goodness of justice without recourse to any utilitarian motivation, including the motivation of rewards in either this life or in the afterlife. A gripping picture of the perfectly just person given in the Republic is of a man who, while being completely just, is thought by everyone to be unjust and is persecuted and killed because of it. Plato argues that if this man is just, it is better for him to suffer these things than to be unjust, and not because he will be rewarded in the afterlife.

From what we can tell from his writings, Plato did not believe in a final end to history. The cosmos simply continues forever, and within the cosmos our souls pass from our bodies at our deaths until they take on temporary homes in other bodies and begin embodied life again. This means that although Plato tells a story at the very end of the Republic about individuals who face postmortem judgment, he does not think such judgment is either irremediable if one has lived unjustly or irrevocable if one has lived justly. Thus, it is remarkable that Plato does not think a person should be just simply because the just person will fare well in the afterlife.

As contemporary readers of the Republic, then, we are left to ponder on a personal level whether we love justice and goodness for their own sakes or only for the benefit of just living promises for the afterlife.

Plato seems to have thought that being just so things turn out well after death is pitiful utilitarianism. In his view, we only love goodness when we love it for its own sake. In pressing for this conclusion, Plato did not know the true nature of what he was arguing for, though surely we can marvel at the fact that he bent all his powers to plead for as much as he did.

Gary Hartenburg is assistant professor of philosophy and director of the Honors College at Houston Baptist University. He earned his PhD in ancient philosophy from the University of California, Irvine.

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

Homer: Ancient Greek (c. 850 BC)

Book IX

“The cruel wretch vouchsafed me not one word of answer, but with a sudden clutch he gripped up two of my men at once and dashed them down upon the ground as though they had been puppies. Their brains were shed upon the ground, and the earth was wet with their blood. Then he tore them limb from limb and supped upon them. He gobbled them up like a lion in the wilderness, flesh, bones, marrow, and entrails, without leaving anything uneaten. As for us, we wept and lifted up our hands to heaven on seeing such a horrid sight, for we did not know what else to do; but when the Cyclops had filled his huge paunch, and had washed down his meal of human flesh with a drink of neat milk, he stretched himself full length upon the ground among his sheep, and went to sleep. I was at first inclined to seize my sword, draw it, and drive it into his vitals, but I reflected that if I did we should all certainly be lost, for we should never be able to shift the stone which the monster had put in front of the door. So we stayed sobbing and sighing where we were till morning came.

Long before there was a Fee, Fi, Fo or Fum, there was a man eating giant who terrorized young and old alike.  The Cyclops of Homer, however, was at first not a terror of the page but rather the oral story.  Epics, morality tales and historical fact and fiction each trace their western roots to a genius called Homer.  His work stood on its own merit, but its true grandeur was in its effect on philosophy and religion.

As John Mark Reynolds wrote in The Great Books Reader:

Homer was so great that Greek culture became imaginatively captive to him. This was a good thing up to a point, because his works were spectacularly wise. They had limits, however, and when those were reached, the Greek religious establishment refused to change. Homer made powerful men slavish devotees of idols unfit for a free man’s worship.

Socrates died for his failure to defeat the Homeric idols, and even Plato could not remove Homer’s evils from the Western imagination. It fell to a Jewish rabbi named Paul to begin the process, on the Areopagus in Athens, centuries after Socrates died.


Was Homer’s work ultimately a positive or negative cultural influence?

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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.


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 Odysseus a Christian?

Al Geier

When Cyclops devours two of his men, Odysseus, their warrior leader, immediately is inclined to take revenge, draw his sword, and slay—or try to slay—the monster. But just at that moment, it is said, a different kind of spiritedness (heteros thymos) prevails. Odysseus realizes that if he kills Cyclops, he and his men will be unable to move the boulder that guards the entrance to the cave they’re in; they’ll be trapped forever. Odysseus’s restraint here is not an act of virtue but rather, under the circumstances, a completely pragmatic act.

A little later, Odysseus suffers a relapse. When he and his men are departing, he cannot keep himself from boasting to the now blinded Cyclops that it was he, Odysseus from Ithaca, who took his sight. Cyclops, provoked, hurls a boulder and almost destroys the ship. This boast is neither virtuous nor pragmatic, but foolish.

We are reminded of a similar foolishness in The Iliad by Achilles, the supposed best of the Achaians. As he is drawing his sword to slay Agamemnon, Athena comes down from Olympus and checks Achilles; she tells him to not draw his sword and to put aside his anger. Achilles does cease from drawing his sword but, in flagrant disregard of the command and the authority of the wise goddess, he does not put aside his anger, with terrible consequences developing.

Odysseus, on the other hand, eventually recovers from his failure and, by the end, has become transformed. When Athena commands Odysseus to cease from anger toward the kin of the slain suitors, “he yielded to her, and his heart was glad.” Thus, unlike Achilles, Odysseus shows a proper regard for wisdom. Furthermore, his gladness suggests that here his restraint is not only pragmatic but that of a virtuous man.

The first word of The Odyssey is “man” (andra). After all is said and done, it is Odysseus who’s the real man, and the best of the Achaians.
“I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). The response of he who is smitten is not at all pragmatic, but neither is mere self-restraint virtuous. Nor is it “goodness” simply not to seek revenge.

The only way the evil of smiting can be acknowledged is if it is not denied. And the only way it cannot be denied is if it is affirmed. Offering the other cheek, therefore, is a denial of the goodness of retaliation, of “getting even.” Getting even is not just; it is the repetition and increase of evil.

On the other hand, offering the other cheek is the ending of any further evil. It too is a “different kind of spiritedness,” where the virtue of not getting even prevails over evening the score.

What Odysseus refrained from doing was the manly thing to do. But it was also the Christian thing.

Al Geier, PhD, is an associate professor of Classics at the University of Rochester and is the author of Plato’s Erotic Thought: The Tree of the Unknown.

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 Great Books Reader by John Mark Reynolds

Traveling and talking about the revolution that is coming in college education leaves many grownups wishing they had the chance to read the texts they did not have time to read when they were in college. Some of us did not have a chance to go to college at all! As an angel would say, “Fear not.” While the tidings are only pretty good and not of great joy (as compared to Christmas), there is a solution to this worry.

We can start reading now, together. The Great Books Reader is designed to help you start by picking some authors that everyone should read. I have written a warm up essay for why I think the writer matters. You can Google the biography if you wish, but my job is to help you see why a particular writer mattered and still matters to us. Following a short selection by the writer, there is an essay by scholars of the writer who will take us just a bit deeper and pose some good questions for us.

Great books are a revelation of God to humankind, sometimes very dimly, sometimes perfectly as in the case of Sacred Scriptures. Reading old books is the only moral way to break the chronological loneliness that death brings each of us. We are cut off from our intellectual ancestors and great books help us stay in touch until that better day when the dead will leave again.

Let’s read, question, and understand.

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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



Here are five tips on how to use GBR in starting or going further along on the Way.

First, after the brief introduction, read the text—the excerpt—quickly; then, read it carefully a second time. Consider taking a moment to write about three hundred words on what you think the author is saying. (If writing is hard for you, record your ideas.) Only then turn to the essay by one of your fellow students and discover what he or she has to say.

Second, read charitably. Don’t look for problems in the ideas on the first read. Great men and women have patterned their lives on the books you are reading. Why? What’s good about it? What’s true? What’s beautiful? Try to get inside the world of Homer and see what it would be like to think with his view of reality. Only then can you begin to judge it, because only then do you really understand it.

Third, read argumentatively. Charity does not preclude being opinionated! After your second reading, compare, and bring into line, every thought with God’s Word. Then realize that you have only brought those thoughts into line with your thoughts about God’s Word! Ask yourself: are you right in your comprehension of that Word? Have you rightly understood the author, and the Author?

Embrace a point of view, and argue for it forcefully, but be meek enough to realize you might need to change your ideas. Commit yourself, and then see what you find. Don’t make the mistake of hiding any idea from the Way. Every thought must be examined by God—the Word, the Logos—including our beliefs about Him.

Also, don’t make the secondary mistake of starting over all the time in the vain belief that this shows humility. Ask the questions you really have, not ones you think you should have.

If you come to wonder about God’s existence while reading this book, enjoy the wonder. But don’t try to force yourself to doubt His existence if you truly do not. A double-minded and unstable man uses “reason” to undermine things he really knows to be true in order to justify his folly or sin. The single-minded man pursues the Logos knowing it’s the only choice he actually has.

Fourth, don’t try to get a “last word” on any of the authors. There is no harm—and much value—in ending with tentative conclusions. It’s highly unlikely any of us will ever fathom all the depths of any of these writers before we get to continue the Discussion in the real City of God. Spend some time with each, wrestle honestly, and then move on to the next. Come back another time and try again.  As with physical fitness, mental fitness is a lifetime project.

Fifth, pick at least one author and go read the entire work found in partial form here. I would recommend starting with Homer, because he is accessible and there are many good translations of his great works. If America does become a post-Christian society, then something like his view of reality may prevail.

One more thing: Avoid secondary sources, and don’t try to master all the details about an author. Most of us have loved something or other to death—like the Star Trek fan who watches all the episodes and movies too many times and eventually ruins the fun. Being an “expert” on Shakespeare is not the same thing as enjoying and learning from his plays. There’s a place for the expert, but most of us will remain happy amateurs. Embrace that status.

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