On the Return of a Book Lent to a Friend

“I give hearty and humble thanks for the safe return of this book, which having endured the perils of my friend’s bookcase and the bookcases of my friend’s friends, now returns to me in reasonably good condition.  I give hearty and humble thanks that my friend did not see fit to give this book to his infant for a plaything, nor use it as an ashtray for his burning cigar, nor as a teething-ring for his mastiff.  When I loaned this book, I deemed it as lost; I was resigned to the business of the long parting; I never thought to look upon its pages again.  But now that my book has come back to me, I rejoice and am exceedingly glad!  Bring hither the fatted morocco and let us rebind the volume and set it on the shelf of honor, for this my book was lent and is returned again.  Presently, therefore, I may return some of the books I myself have borrowed.”

~Christopher Morley

Beauty often resides in the peripheries of our lives.  We walk past such humble miracles, such as the babe in the manger in a little village of Bethlehem, all the time.  In the frantic pace of life, we need to slow down and simply observe natural forces around us and create out of that experience.  What makes us truly human may not be how fast we are able to accomplish a task but what we experience fully, carefully, and quietly in the process.”

Makoto Fujimura
Refractions (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2009), 27

Thanksgiving Special: The Love of Story Class

One year ago, I opened registration for my first online literature class: The Love of Story. In celebration of this one year anniversary, I’m offering this class again at a 40% discount until December 2.

This class studies the role stories play in shaping us, our work, and our vision of the world. We read and discuss works by Salman Rushdie, Oscar Wilde, and Wendell Berry.

I had a great group of students last year and some incredible discussion in this class. The best outcome of the class, however, was the way it changed the students. Here’s what one student wrote about it:

I really learned a lot from this class. A lot of the application hit me hard and that is good. Change is not a fun thing, but change is often a necessary thing. Working through these books has helped to remind me of the kind of person I need to become. I would be motivated to sign up for another class based on that alone.

The full price of the Love of Story class is $99. But until December 2, the tuition for this class is only $59. That’s a 40% discount!

You can learn more about this great course by visiting the course description page on my new website designed specially for my online students.

This course is self-paced, so it doesn’t led to any “purchased stress.” You can work your way through the books and videos in your free time. You’ll have immediate access to the entire course as soon as you register. You’ll also have lifetime access to the entire course, so even if life gets busy (or is busy now!), you’ll still be able to enjoy all the benefits this course offers.

The holiday time gets busy fast, and it’s easy to turn this meditative season into a time of stress and unrest. This class will give you some structured time this holiday season to read, think, mediate, and learn how to live a better story.

I hope you join me in the Love of Story class! Click here to learn more and register!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sam

The beauty of the world is Christ’s tender smile for us coming through matter. He is really present in the universal beauty. The love of this beauty proceeds from God dwelling in our souls and goes out to God present in the universe. It is also like a sacrament.”

Simone Weil
Waiting for God (New York: Harper Perennial, 2009)

How Augustine Finds a (Small) Place for Literature

This is the third post in a series of three. Be sure to check out the first post and second post as well!

In two previous posts, I explained Augustine’s argument against literature. This argument comes from Augustine’s Confessions, which is probably his most widely read book.

In this post—my third (and final) post on Augustine—we will look at Augustine’s small book Teaching Christianity (or De Doctrina Christiana). In this tiny volume Augustine explains how Christians could—and should—study all profitable areas of pagan learning.

As he develops this theology of Christian learning, Augustine also finds a place for literature in the service of the Church. It is a small place, though, and it fails to realize literature’s full power to do good in the hearts of its readers.

Vision of St. Augustine  by Vittorio Carpaccio

Vision of St. Augustine by Vittorio Carpaccio

My Debt to Augustine

Before I begin, I first need to say that I owe an incredible debt of gratitude to this fourth century African bishop.

Revisiting Augustine’s Distrust of Literature

This is the second post in a series of three. Be sure to check out the first post and third post as well!

Last week I posted a brief article on Augustine’s suspicious attitude toward literature. This article is the first in brief series I have planned on how Christians should view literature.

Given the comments I received on my initial post, it became clear to me that I had to make my case more clearly. So in this post I hope to clarify my argument about Augustine’s distrust of literature.

Saint Augustine by Sandro Botticelli

Saint Augustine in His Study by Sandro Botticelli

Definition and Summary

First of all, I use the term “literature” to refer to imaginative, fictional, or mythical narratives. In the fourth century AD, this would be limited mostly to epic poetry and drama. Literature, then, refers to a genre of writing distinct from philosophy and rhetoric. This use of terms is consistent with my translation of Augustine’s Confessions (Maria Boulding’s translation for the Augustinian Heritage Institute). I have too little knowledge of Latin to do anything other than trust the translator.

Second, I summarized Augustine’s charges against literature as follows:

Why Augustine Didn’t Trust Literature

This is the first post in a series of three. Be sure to check out the second post and third post as well!

In the past decade, American Christians have become much more aware of the important role art and literature play in the life of faith. But there are still many, many Christians who are deeply suspicious of literature.

This suspicion is ancient, originating in the fledgling Church of the first century. The Church was birthed into the Augustan Roman culture, with its eloquent and decadent literature, its precise and pontificating philosophy. For the earliest Christians, literature was inextricable from Roman paganism. To read literature was to immerse oneself in a vision of the world clearly opposed to the teachings of Christ.

And so Tertullian, an early Church father, famously exclaimed, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” What place does pagan literature have in the Church? Why should Christians waste their time reading anything other than the Holy Scriptures?

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne

Through the following centuries, other famous Christian thinkers echoed Tertullian’s rhetorical challenge. Abelard asked, “What has Horace to do with the Psalter, Virgil with the Gospel, Cicero with the Apostle?” From Charlemagne’s court, Alcuin challenged the local monks by demanding to know “What has Ingeld to do with Christ?”

But the strongest Christian argument against literature was voiced by none other than St. Augustine. His argument was strengthened by the fact that before being converted, Augustine had been thoroughly trained in classical literature, philosophy, and rhetoric. So Augustine’s condemnation is nothing less than damning.

A cultural life will exist outside of the Church whether it exists inside or not.  To be ignorant and simple now–not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground–would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen.  Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”

C. S. Lewis
"Learning in War Time" in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 58

In this LitBit video, we discuss how C. S. Lewis illustrates true virtue in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Contrary to what many thinkers argue, virtue is not a matter of right feeling or right intention, but of right action.

If you’re interested in the Chronicles of Narnia class I mention in the video, click here for more information.

If this video is helpful to you, be sure to share it with someone.  Or let me know how it helped you by leaving a comment below.