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The Trouble with Religion (p. 17) • That Hideous Food (p. 24) • The Problem of Pity (p.


www.touchstonemag.com $7.95

A Journal of Mere Christianity March / April 2019

The Spiritual & Sacramental
Choir of the Body of Christ
by Christopher Hoyt

Songs of by Anthony Esolen

by Ken Myers

Why Tolkien’s Middle-earth Table Manners

Matter Today by Arthur W. Hunt III
Reality Shows, Even in a Popular TV Series
by C. E. Smith

PLUS: Nathanael Devlin, Gary A. Fritz, David Hein,

Joshua Hren, S. M. Hutchens, Peter J. Leithart,
Louis Markos, Mary Elizabeth Podles,
Patrick Henry Reardon, Jeffrey Wald

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Di s co v e r i n g
Mary, the Church, & the Papacy


Our Journey to the Catholic Church NEW TESTAMENT What the Pope Does and
Ulf and Birgitta Ekman Edward Sri Why It Matters

T he Ekmans were founders of a large

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the New Testament can tell us about
the Mother of Jesus. In this compre-
Steve Ray and Dennis Walters

T his book explains that without the

Pope’s divinely guided leadership,
“mega-church” in Sweden, and Ulf was
the country’s most prominent Christian hensive work, Dr. Sri shows how the the Church would suffer the contradic-
leader. With such prominence they were Bible reveals much more about Mary tions and divisions that many Christian
no strangers to controversy, but news of than is commonly appreciated. He ex- groups know firsthand. The teaching
their leaving Word of Life Church to amines every New Testament reference passed down from the apostles would
become Catholics was a bombshell in to Mary, offering a fresh, in- depth look be subject to arbitrary, numerous
Sweden. This inspiring testimony tells at her that helps us know Mary better and interpretations. In describing the Pope’s
why they made that difficult journey. her role in God’s plan. important role as leader, it also ad-
GRDP . . . Sewn Softcover, $17.95 RDMP . . . Sewn Softcover, $17.95 dresses common misconceptions and
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evangelists.  Ulf  was known as ‘Sweden’s
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story. You don’t have to be Catholic to love it. for anyone interested in what the Bible really
all things papal. From Peter to Francis, and
If you’re human, it will move you.” teaches about the Mother of Jesus.”
from Matthew’s Gospel to Revelation, it
— Dr. Scott Hahn, —Dr. Brant Pitre shows why the papacy has an indispensable
Author, Rome Sweet Home Co-author, A Catholic Introduction to role in salvation history.”
the Bible: The Old Testament
—Karl Keating Founder, Catholic Answers;
“Reading this book is akin to listening to Author, Catholicism and Fundamentalism
“This could only be authored by someone
husband and wife at a kitchen table, who
with a mastery of contemporary biblical
are truly humbling and charming company. “The authors deftly untangle knotty miscon-
scholarship who is also a lifelong scholar of
Their resolve to convert to Catholicism is ceptions and make the case that Christian-
Mariology – like Edward Sri.  Easy to read,
a staggering testimony to quiet courage in ity will thrive in the present age only if we
serious, and scholarly, here we meet the
Christ.” recover the unity that Christ intended the
Mary whom the evangelists aimed to reveal
— Sally Read, Author, Night’s
Night’s Bright Dark- Petrine ministry to protect and cultivate.”
to us.”
ness: A Modern Conversion Story Kresta, Catholic Radio Host, Kresta in
—Al Kresta
—Dr. Matthew Levering, Chair of Theology,
the Afternoon
Mundelein Seminary

P.O. Box 1339, Ft. Collins, CO 80522 1-800- 651-1531

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A Journal of Mere Christianity

Volume 32, Number 2 — March / April 2019

Columns & Views

17 Mortal Remains
The Trouble with Religion
by S. M. Hutchens
18 From Heavenly Harmony
The Depths of
Solemn Grandeur
by Ken Myers
20 What Gives?
34 Peter J. Leithart on Properly Rendering
Things to Caesar & to God
Editorial 21 Let It Snow!
Gary A. Fritz on the Pragmatism That
3 Axios! Inhibits Our Spiritual Life
The Good Pastor Finishes His Course
by S. M. Hutchens 24 That Hideous Food
Nathanael Devlin on Preserving Physical
& Spiritual Nourishment
27 Better Than Eulogy
34 Voices Uplifted David Hein on VIP Funerals & George C.
The Spiritual & Sacramental Choir of the Marshall’s Humble Witness
Body of Christ
by Christopher Hoyt 60 Illuminations
38 The Problem of Pity Hymns Ascending
by Anthony Esolen
Misguided Mercy & Dante’s Infernal
Purgation 62 A Thousand Words
by Joshua Hren The Throne of
43 Room for Dining Maximianus
Why Tolkien’s Middle-earth Table Manners by Mary Elizabeth Podles
Matter Today
by Arthur W. Hunt III
64 As It Is Written . . .
Ashes & Idolatry
48 The Mimetic Bachelor by Patrick Henry Reardon
Reality Shows, Even in a Popular TV Series
by C. E. Smith
Cover: Lithograph of the Ascension from a 19th century printing of the Missale Ramanum; Getty Images

02-ToC-MarchApril2019.indd 1 2/4/19 12:29 PM

Volume 32, Number 2
March / April 2019

Departments Senior Editors

Thomas S. Buchanan James Hitchcock
Allan Carlson S. M. Hutchens
Anthony Esolen Russell D. Moore
4 Quodlibet Robert P. George Leon J. Podles
Patrick Henry Reardon
5 Letters Executive Editor
8 Commonplaces James M. Kushiner

10 Friends of the Fellowship Associate Editor

Anita Kuhn

16 The Suffering Church Contributing Editors

Hunter Baker Frederica Mathewes-Green
J. Daryl Charles Ken Myers
Rod Dreher Kevin Offner
Robert Hart Folke T. Olofsson
Graeme Hunter William Saunders
Phillip E. Johnson William J. Tighe
Peter J. Leithart Mark Tooley
R. V. Young
Layout & Design
Jerry Janquart
Office Manager
Carolyn Frève
29 Marketing & Development
Patricia Kushiner

Conference Talk Touchstone is a Christian journal, conservative in doctrine and

eclectic in content, with editors and readers from each of the three
great divisions of Christendom—Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox.
29 The Boy Genius It provides a place where Christians of various backgrounds can
Finding Him Again Through the speak on the basis of shared belief in the fundamental doctrines
of the faith as revealed in Holy Scripture and summarized in the
Patriarchal Group ancient creeds of the Church. To the confusion of voices in the world
by Anthony Esolen on matters of order in religious, social, and cultural life, it speaks
with a unified voice of that which, manifest in creation and divine
revelation, flows from the life of God himself.
For new or gift subscriptions, renewals, changes of address,
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The Good Pastor Finishes
His Course
Getty Images

umerous times in the history of this journal
we have made a point of praising good pastors
(and this, of course, includes good bishops in the
churches that designate their chief elders thus),
holding them up to be admired, supported, and emulated.
In these days of the office’s great tribulation, experienced
in withering attacks on the pastor’s office from forces
within and outside the churches that seek to discourage,
weaken, discredit, adulterate, confuse, pollute, madden, The Pastoral Epistles make the requirements for
and depress good servants of the Lord, we wish once again the office not impossible but very high—the incumbent
to give them honor, noting that by the grace and power must be a man of good reputation both in the church and
of God they still exist in large numbers (and are found outside of it, morally upright, intelligent, disciplined, and
“where one finds them”), refusing to bow the knee to Baal, accomplished, an apt teacher who governs his own chil-
embrace the goddess, or offer sacrifices in the Lord’s name dren well—and like his Lord, the best of the flock, and not
in the high places of the world. figuratively a “third son.” These qualities should not be
We would add that it is the responsibility of God’s peo- thought of so much in terms of “zero tolerance” policies,
ple to recognize the faithful among the formally ordained, but of talents that must mark his character, so they are not
to distinguish men of faith and merit from the poseurs, the something from which he can fall and maintain office.
hirelings, the wolves—the teachers of false doctrine—and
to follow and obey the faithful pastors rather than the
others. Plenty of Good Examples
Churches are sure to find that if they do not retain their
pastors in accordance with the apostolic instructions—
Still Possible that if their practices, structures, and policies or just
I have been moved to revisit this subject on the retire- plain foolishness make it difficult to choose and keep men
ment of two pastors who are close to me, both of whom whose lives model that of Christ, and to rid themselves of
have served in a single place of ministry, preaching the those whose do not—then the inevitable result will be the
gospel and serving the people for thirty or more years. extinction of Christianity in the places where that hap-
I will name them here: my brother David, at Walnut Hill pens, for God is patient, but he will not be mocked. In the
Bible Church in Baraboo, Wisconsin, and my friend Nathan meanwhile, we have, if we look for them, plenty of good
Joy James of Calvary Memorial Church in Racine. While examples:
they occasion this writing, what I wish principally to note
by their lives is that what they have done is possible, and There be of them, that have left a name behind
to bear witness that, despite the heavy publicity unwor- them, that their praises might be reported. And
thy pastors receive—so that it seems all the churches are some there be, which have no memorial; who are
creeping with clerical arthropods of various kinds—there perished, as though they had never been. . . . But
are many men like Nathan and David, who, against much these were merciful men, whose righteousness
temptation and spiritual opposition, remain faithful and hath not been forgotten. With their seed shall
uncompromised. continually remain a good inheritance, and their
What makes their longevity particularly important children are within the covenant. Their seed
for those of us who do not bear their office is that if there standeth fast, and their children for their sakes.
is no greater object of Satan’s destructive ire than the good Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory
shepherd who for a lifetime leads his people out of their shall not be blotted out. (Ecclus. 44:8–13)
sins and points them to Christ, then how great our hope
becomes that God’s grace is sufficient for the rest of us. —S. M. Hutchens, for the editors

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 3

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Raised as Promised
“Et resurrexit tertia die secundum
Scripturam”; “And he was raised
the third day according to the
­Scriptures.” —The Nicene Creed

W hen we say that Christ was

raised “according to the Scrip-
tures,” of course we think that they
Protestant Unwillingness unless, that is, they really do not wish accurately record the event, and first

A number of Catholics who are

speaking against the develop-
ments in Germany toward admit-
to make the distinction, it being, like
“mere Christianity,” a merely Protes-
tant folly.
accurately predicted it. We may think
of the doctrine of inspiration and be
glad for it, and rightly so. But there is
ting non-Catholics to Communion as —S. M. Hutchens more to it than that. It also speaks of
“Protestantization” need to brush up the kind of God we have and the kind
on Protestantism a bit. Generaliza- of relationship we have with him. He
tions about what Protestants believe Moderate Disguises speaks to us, and this speaking estab-
or do are such parlous things that
“Protestant” in the Catholic dialect is
often not much more than an empty
W hen progressivism and con-
servatism are treated as habits
of mind or purely philosophical view-
lishes a relationship with us. And that
speaking involves conveying informa-
tion (accurate and trustworthy infor-
epithet. The Protestant use of “Catho- points, they (not unlike Stoicism and mation, too), but there is yet more to
lic,” on the other hand, is a bit more Epicureanism) may be freely abstract- it than that.
likely to refer to the actual doctrine ed from life and in an abstract state This is a God who makes promises
and practice of the Catholic Church treated dialectically as complemen- and keeps them. He promised that the
because these things, until the coup tary modalities. But as soon as a his- Seed of the Woman would crush the
ratified in the election of Pope Fran- torical-existential (i.e., non-abstract) Serpent’s head. He promised that of
cis, have been closely defined for the component is introduced, those who Abraham he would make a nation that
whole Church, as Cardinal Chaput ob- use the terms become responsible for would bless every family on earth. He
serves in “A Polite Form of Hiding the defining them in accordance with the promised that a Messiah would come
Truth.” reality of things. from David in that nation and be born
“Liberalization” is a better term I have noticed that people who in Bethlehem. He promised that the
than “Protestantization” for what is call themselves moderates typically Messiah would be a Suffering Servant
happening here, since in fact the only wish to level a skewed moral playing who would bear his people’s sins. He
thing necessary to make a Western field (one in which, for example, pro- promised that he would be handed
Christian a Protestant—because of gressives privilege sodomy and want over to the Gentiles and killed and rise
the monolithic unity the Catholic the Ten Commandments removed again on the third day. He made these
Church perceives in itself—is unwill- from public view) by equalizing con- promises to us, and he kept them. That
ingness to confess the truth of any part servatism and progressivism, treating introduces a personal level to his relat-
of that Whole. This unwillingness ac- the latter in accordance with its more ing to us and a level of trust we can
curately identifies every Protestant, abstract form as forward-­looking have in him that no other people has
from the strictest fundamentalist open-mindedness, but burdening with its god. For he was raised the
to the most debauched Unitarian, conservatism with its more vicious, third day according to the Scriptures.
so it is limited in its application and unjustly repressive historical expres- —Donald T. Williams
should be very judiciously used. I sions, in line with the polemics neces-
don’t see the Catholic Church getting sary to establish and defend modern
closer to the Wisconsin Synod Lu- liberalism. (I won’t blame Norman The Weight of Silence
therans under “good Pope Francis”—
it looks more like Episcopalianism,
and lots of Catholics obviously like it
Podhoretz for this observation, but
derived it from pondering his Why Are
Jews Liberals?) This kind of “moderate”
L ately a surprising letter has
appeared from the estate of Nancy
Reagan. It was written by her husband
that way. is in fact, in accord with the reality of Ronald to his dying father-in-law, ex-
I would ask orthodox Catholics his associations, a partisan—thinly pressing deep concern for the man’s
under the Bergoglian regime not to in- but ostentatiously clad in the mantle soul, telling him of his own instan-
sult their Protestant sympathizers by of objectivity. taneous healing from painful stom-
confusing “liberal” with “Protestant,” —S. M. Hutchens ach ulcers, for which he gives glory

4 March / April 2019

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to Christ as his Lord and healer, and an encounter with Aslan, and instead bad, but the higher calling, the “better
urging the atheist physician to put his of talking endlessly about his glories part” is sitting quietly and meditating
trust in the One that he himself had and doing the equivalent of build- on the words of the Lord, the implica-
come to know and serve. ing a tabernacle to him on the spot, tion being that from the silences of the
The surprise is not that the presi- were quiet and reflective. Many of us reticent issue greater deeds, as from a
dent was saying something compli- were raised in traditions where it is plow deeper-set.
mentary about God, which he and expected that we do the opposite— —S. M. Hutchens
other politicians are, or at least were, after an encounter with God to yack
expected to do, and which when spo- endlessly about it for his greater glory,
ken in the public arena are rightly sub- to “testify” or bear witness or perform When Begging Is Off
ject to a discount measurable by the
rule of their deeds. It was that here
is a letter written privately to a dy-
other religious acts in his honor and, of
course, for the good of others. That one
should keep silence, or be very selec-
T he misuse of “begs the question”
to mean “prompts or elicits the
question” instead of “restates the ques-
ing friend for whose soul he is deeply tive about whom one speaks to about tion” is becoming so widespread and
concerned, which might very well it afterwards, is not encouraged, since common—used by those who should
earn him no more than scorn from its no good promotional material should know better and passed by their edi-
receiver, and for which he could cer- be wasted. It is not acknowledged tors—that the most advanced lan-
tainly expect no accolades from those that meditative silence is a perfectly guage doyens will soon agree that the
who value religion in political leaders. proper response, or that there are meaning of the phrase has changed.
It turns out that Ronald Reagan was a any swine before whom pearls should There is some truth in the observa-
serious Christian who did not wear his not be cast when one does decide to tion that if you abuse something long
heart upon his sleeve. He is not alone speak. enough, it no longer looks like it did.
in this. Many quiet Christians are judged Perhaps the next thing to go, since it is
For me, the most significant lines defective by the noisier, busier, the most common public grammatical
from the Chronicles of Narnia are ­higher-achieving sorts. The story of mistake, I guess, is the idea that apos-
something I have never heard anyone Mary and Martha of Bethany contin- trophe’s are just as valid on plural’s as
comment upon. The children (I forget ues into our day. One is busy with they are on possessive’s.
which ones) had just come away from much serving, which is not necessarily —S. M. Hutchens


problems for Christians navigating

the intersection of science and faith.

Scripture does not talk about truth
as corresponding to reality. It says that
truth creates reality. This radical dis-
tinction is largely ignored, to our peril.
The Scriptures say the Father is true
(John 3:33), the Son is truth (John 14:6),
Truthful Correspondence and the Spirit is truth (1 John 5:6). The
I suspect that Donald Williams is truth came through Jesus (John 1:17),
correct when he says in “Meaningful and Jesus came to testify to the truth
Truth” (November/December 2018) (John 18:37). The Word of God is truth
that C. S. Lewis is in the mainstream (John 17:17).
of Christian thinking about truth Some seek to draw a hard line
when he defines truth as “a property between spiritual truths and truths
of propositions such that they corre- of this world, such as math and sci-
spond with the state of affairs in the ence. Since everything that exists
objective world that they purport to was created by the Word of God, we
describe.” The mainstream can be must conclude that the rules of math
wrong. An uncritical adoption of the and science are subject to the truth of
correspondence theory of truth is at God’s Word. The correspondence the-
odds with the biblical presentation. ory of truth ignores three truths: All
Such a position creates numerous creation has been tainted by sin (Rom.

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 5

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8:20–21); our ability to observe “the

state of affairs in the objective world” Reply:
is tainted by sin; and our ability to I formally resist the temptation to ask
reason, based on our observations, is Rev. Forke whether he thinks his de-
tainted by sin. nial of the correspondence theory of
The correspondence theory trains truth corresponds to reality. Instead,
us to believe that we are able to de- I will acknowledge that he has a point,
termine the state of affairs and then and a good one: There is indeed more
match truthful propositions to that to the biblical concept of truth than
state. Such confidence in our ability to correspondence. Truth is ultimately a
observe and then reason our way to Person, the eternal Logos who identi-
truth sets up a head-on collision with fied himself as the Way, the Truth, and
scientific conclusions. I dare say most the Life. It is because Christ is true,
Christians think of science as the final and because he is the Creator of real-
arbiter of truth and are stymied when ity, and because coming into the world
its conclusions are at variance with a he enlightens every man, that we can
biblical text. know propositional truth about any-
A healthier position is to receive thing—including about him. He is the
all truth through Jesus. The transcen- One who grounds all truth claims. Repentance &
dent truths of Scripture are given by a But what this means, I would Reconsideration
loving Father who wants us to have all add, is that truth as the potential
we need to know for life and salvation. correspondence of our propositions In his “Once Removed” View (January/
The transient truths that we are able to to reality becomes possible for us. February 2019), S. M. Hutchens com-
develop through observation and the So biblical truth is more than corre- ments on a book of essays (of which I
reasoning process are also his gift. The spondence, but it is not less. If it were am the author) on the GAFCON move-
two cannot contradict each other, and anything less than correspondence to ment, named for a series of “Global An-
only one of them is subject to change. reality, none of Rev. Forke’s proposi- glican Future Conferences” of conser-
—Terry Forke tions, including the ones I just agreed vative Anglicans who have opposed
President, Montana District LCMS with, would or could be true in any the liberalizing direction of the Angli-
Pastor, Trinity, Harlowton & meaningful sense. can Communion, including the Episco-
St. Paul, Roundup —Donald T. Williams pal Church USA and the Church of Eng-
land. He notes that GAFCON has not
taken a firm stance against women’s
ordination in its member churches and
suggests that “assemblies where this
has happened enjoy the sufferance
and blessing of the Lord,” who may
yet give them time to repent.
Touchstone is a journal of mere
Christians—Protestant, Catholic,
and Orthodox—who affirm the faith
revealed in Holy Scripture and sum-
marized in the ancient Creeds, and I
would argue that GAFCON represents
just such a body (see its Jerusalem
Letters Welcome Declaration regarding Scripture,
Creeds, and the historic episcopate).

O ne of the reasons Touchstone exists is to encourage conversa-

tion among Christians, so we welcome letters responding to ar-
ticles or raising matters of interest to our readers. However, because
GAFCON also is seeking to repre-
sent and unite a communion of church-
es that have inherited a variety of
the space is limited, please keep your letters under 400 words. All practices of ordained ministry. Some
letters may be edited for space and clarity when necessary. churches, e.g., Nigeria, do not permit
ordination of women to any order;
others, e.g., the Anglican Church in
letters@touchstonemag.com North America, do not permit women’s

6 March / April 2019

03-Front-Matter-MarchApril2019.indd 6 2/4/19 12:30 PM


ordination to the episcopate but allow situations (such as one finds in the much less by voluntary moratoria
women to be ordained priests (or not) Anglican Church in North America), subscribed to by flaccid bishops—but
by diocese; still others, e.g., Uganda, it has never been clear to me how the only by the action of a whole church
do permit women’s ordination to all resolution of a Christian body not to cordially convinced, with its appoint-
orders but in fact have not ordained a have women bishops can effectually ed teachers, that the ordination of
woman bishop. dispose of women priests (if that is women is a violation of Christian faith
Having established its fundamen- an object in view), much less serve as and order.
tal declarations, the GAFCON Primates any part of a reasonable strategy to I have noticed that within an es-
in 2015 authorized a Task Force on accomplish that end. tablished sectarian context exercises
Women in the Episcopate and asked To my knowledge, the practice of such as “prayer, consultation, and con-
member churches to defer any pro- women’s ordination has never, once tinued study of Scripture” can be ex-
posals for women bishops until this adopted, been overturned, but has pected to do little more than confirm
task force reported back. In 2018, the the fixed and durable character of a what has already been determined
Primates received and approved the sectarian movement. (The Presbyte- by the spirit of the sect as expressed
Report, which stated: rian Church of Australia was relieved through its leadership. What is needed
in 1977 by a realignment that removed is not more pious calisthenics, but the
It is our prime recommen- most of its advocates to a new church willingness and courage to do what is
dation that the provinces union, and the Lutheran Church in already known to be the right thing.
of GAFCON should retain Latvia by the singular rule of a strong (Now, of course, I am considering
the historic practice of the archbishop, Janis Vanags. Neither case phenomena that extend much further
consecration only of men as represents a church-wide change of than women’s ordination, which is
bishops until and unless a mind.) just one departure among the many
strong consensus to change Such ordinations have created a in which all of Christendom has in-
emerges after prayer, consul- super-confessional sect that should volved itself.) This deformed will, al-
tation and continued study of receive no countenance at all among ways at war with the catholic mind,
Scripture among the GAFCON those who claim allegiance to ortho- has not yet been extinguished by God,
fellowship. dox Christianity. They produce pro- who allows it to persist. As with evil
found divisions, first from the historic itself, his method of destroying it is
The decision to focus on episco- belief and practice of the churches, and thoroughly efficacious, and may cer-
pacy, recommended by Bishop Mi- then from those that remain faithful to tainly be prayed for as the doing of his
chael Nazir-Ali, had a pragmatic ba- it. One of the attributes of the sect, as will on earth, but it rarely involves an
sis—GAFCON churches had no women J. W. Nevin observed, is that once the immediate granting of the petitions
bishops de facto—and also a theologi- sectiferous alteration is in place, it is of the afflicted, and it includes his
cal basis: the emergence of episcopal constitutional and permanent. That terrible willingness to let free intel-
headship in the subapostolic period this is the case with women’s ordina- ligence and its works be what they are
and the ecumenical significance of tion is supported by existing evidence and do what they do in anticipation of
bishops as representatives in the of its irreversibility, an irreversibility judgment.
wider church. founded upon the weak and disor- Departure from the malconsti-
So I would like to argue that GAF- dered theology to which a church must tuted fellowship—that invariably
CON is “repenting,” i.e., reconsider- first descend before that action can be now considers itself the Catholic Cen-
ing, this matter of church order, and taken. It is not from the swift inspira- ter (another valuable insight from
we would appreciate your prayers tion of an awakened generation, but Nevin)—becomes schismatic, that is,
for guidance from the Spirit and the is the cumulative entropic result of a sin, and a psychological impossibility
Word. many years’ decline, and should, I be- within the group, which derives justi-
—The Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll lieve, be studied as such. Things “lead fication for its existence from the un-
Convener, GAFCON Task Force on to it.” catholic peculiarities it celebrates as
Women in the Episcopate What GAFCON has is no more than its distinctive traits and insights. This
a voluntary moratorium on the con- accompanies the inability to think of
secration of women bishops that has its original departures as schism,
Reply: already been abrogated in fact in the but rather as correction of, good ex-
Dr. Noll’s earnest and gentlemanly South Sudan by Elizabeth Awut Ngor’s amples to, and inevitabilities for all
letter represents a nettlesome dis- recent appearance in its episcopal who will not take the same turn. This
agreement that remains very much college. Ultimately the situation can- is not the stuff of which reformations
in play after generations of dispute. not be effectively addressed by task are made.
Considering GAFCON and similar forces or even restrictive canons— —S. M. Hutchens

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 7

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[H]e who by nature

and not by mere
accident is without
a state, is either a
bad man or above
Commonplaces —Aristotle, Politics, 1253a
Piquant excerpts lifted from Touchstone editors’ own readings

Each new generation born is in effect an

invasion of civilization by little barbarians,
who must be civilized before it is too late.
—Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins
of Political Struggles (1987) I t is pride which exercises an in-
comparably greater sway [than cu-
riosity] over the soul to blind it and
plunge it into error, and pride sits in
Modernism as in its own house, find-
ing sustenance everywhere in its doc-

Getty Images

Getty Images
trines and an occasion to flaunt itself
in all its aspects. It is pride which fills
Modernists with that confidence in
themselves and leads them to hold
themselves up as the rule for all, pride
which puffs them up with that vain-
glory which allows them to regard
themselves as the sole possessors of
knowledge, and makes them say, in-
flated with presumption, We are not
as the rest of men, and which, to make
them really not as other men, leads
them to embrace all kinds of the most
absurd novelties; it is pride which
rouses in them the spirit of disobe-

I t is necessary for the Church, and for her members, to understand correctly
what Islam is and what the Qur’an teaches. Islam is not just another reli-
gious practice that can co-exist in harmony with other religions. Islam is a
dience and causes them to demand
a compromise between authority
and liberty; it is pride that makes of
religion that, according to its own interpretation, must also become the State. them the reformers of others, while
The Qur’an, and the authentic interpretations of it given by various experts they forget to reform themselves, and
in quranic law, is destined to govern the world. In reality, there is no place for which begets their absolute want of
other religions, even though they may be tolerated as long as Islam has not suc- respect for authority, not excepting
ceeded in establishing its sovereignty over the nations and over the world. It is the Supreme Authority. No, truly,
important for Christians to realize the radical differences between Islam and there is no road which leads so di-
Christianity in matters concerning their teaching about God, about conscience, rectly and so quickly to Modernism
etc. If you really understand Islam you will understand that the Church really as pride.
should be afraid of it. —Pope Pius X, Pascendi Dominici
—Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Hope for the World (2016), 54. Gregis (1907)

8 March / April 2019

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I   date my break [with Communism] from a very casual happen-

ing. I was sitting in our apartment on St. Paul Street in Baltimore.
It was shortly before we moved to Alger Hiss’s apartment in Wash-
ington. My daughter was in her high chair. I was watching her eat.
She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my
life. I liked to watch her even when she smeared porridge on her
face or dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rest
on the delicate convolutions of her ear—those intricate, perfect
ears. The thought passed through my mind: “No, those ears were
not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the
Communist view). They could have been created only by immense
design.” The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it
out. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presup-
poses God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of
God was first laid on my forehead. . . .
Communism is what happens when, in the name of Mind, men
free themselves from God. But its view of God, its knowledge of
God, its experience of God, is what alone gives character to a society or a nation,
and meaning to its destiny. Its culture, the voice of this character, is merely
that view, knowledge, experience, of God, fixed by its most intense spirits in
W hen a religion is once so orga-
nized that critical knowledge
of ancient languages and erudition
terms intelligible to the mass of men. There has never been a society or a nation in philology and ancient documents
without God. But history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that became constitute the foundation upon
indifferent to God, and died. which it must be erected in all ages
—Whittaker Chambers, Witness, “Letter to my Children” (1952) and among all peoples, then he who is
most skilled in Greek, Hebrew, Syriac,
Arabic, and the like, and thus in the
archives of antiquity, will drag the
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Getty Images

orthodox about anywhere as if they

were children; they may not put up
the slightest resistance, for by their
own protestation they cannot match
themselves against one who pos-
sesses such authority, so they timidly
look on and see how a Michael melts
down their ancient treasure and gives
it an entirely different stamp. If theo-
logical faculties were gradually to de-
emphasize the requirement of having
seminary students persevere at this
kind of (historical) literature, as at
least appears to be the case among us,
and if freethinking philosophers alone

J esus doesn’t urge Peter to “go ahead, betray me, I understand.” Jesus doesn’t
tell the woman taken in adultery, “go back to your lover, because your situa-
tion is complex.” Jesus doesn’t tell Zacchaeus the tax collector, “actually, keep
were to make themselves the masters
of these formidable weapons, then the
reputation of the orthodox leaders of
the money you may have unjustly taken, because you need it to support your the people would be entirely at an end.
family.” Jesus dines with sinners, hangs out with prostitutes and publicans, he For whatever they teach they would
evangelizes the much-married Samaritan woman, he welcomes thieves into have to obtain the instruction of the
eternity. But he never confirms them in their sins, or makes nuanced allowances literati . . . and these in turn would not
for their state of life; that sort of rhetoric is alien to the gospels. . . . easily allow the unconsecrated to car-
This is not some complicated esoteric reading of the New Testament; it is ry this prize away from their territory.
the boringly literal and obvious one, which is why it takes a professional theo- —Immanuel Kant, letter to J. G.
logian to dispute it. Hamann, cited in Ernst Troeltsch,
—Ross Douthat, To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Absoluteness of Christianity (SCM,
Catholicism (2018), 178. 1972), 39

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 9

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Salvatore Luiso • Mark Maggio • Eric Metaxas • D. Channel Islands
Brendan Nagle • Miklos and Anne Nagy • Donald John Langlois
Newlin • Ruth Niemaseck • Thomas M. Oates • Dr. Bob
and Jane Plapp • Stanley W. Prochaska • Jay and
Ginny Richards • Douglas Ritter • Jim Robinette • Eric France
Rodenhauser • Martin and Shari Schaffer • Leonard George and Victoria Hobson
and Leanne Shank • Burman and Paula Skrable • Beth
Stenberg • Lawrence and Lynn Uzzell • Elizabeth
Vontersch • Jerald and Anita Walz • H. George White, Jr. • Ireland
John and Mary White • Dr. Clayton and Sue Williams • Catherine Bennett
Piers Woodriff

Washington Sherri Brainard
Michael and Patricia Boomhower • Bruce and Sarah
Chapman • Mark and Pamela Davis • Dennis and
Yvonne DePaul • Richard Derham • Stephen and Pamela Saudi Arabia
Hunter • Kirk and Lori Jameson • David and Julie Joe Keysor
Lambertson • LCDR RET Paul and Judy Meyers • Richard
and Ranee Mueller • Kenneth and Nadine Peirce •
Emerson E. Rutherford • Gerald Schwanki • Margaret United Kingdom
Sundberg • John and Sonja West • Paul and Janette Martin Adams • William Low • Andrew Mason
Yadon • Anonymous: 4

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 15

05-friends-of-fsj-MarApr2019.indd 15 2/4/19 12:31 PM


Wanyenze and her children but also

The Suffering Church

for that of his church.
(Source: MorningStarNews.org,
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison
with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also
are in the body.” (Hebrews 13:3) Vietnam
Christian leaders in Vietnam largely
tougher penalties for ‘unauthorized agree that little has changed since the
China religious gatherings.’” new Law on Belief and Religion came
The pastor of a prominent, unofficial Early Rain Church members have into effect January 1, 2018. Its poten-
church in southwest China was ar- practiced their faith openly, posting tially positive provisions are unevenly
rested in December and accused of sermons online and evangelizing applied, and completely ignored in re-
“inciting subversion of state power,” on the streets, the paper reported. mote areas where ethnic minorities
an offense that can carry a prison sen- Weekly gatherings draw more than continue under heavy persecution.
tence of 5 to 15 years. Pastor Wang 800 regular attendees, and the church On the one hand, about 100 con-
Yi, his wife, Jiang Rong, and 100 other also has about 100 seminary students gregations of the largest registered
members of the Early Rain Covenant and an elementary school with about church in Vietnam, the Evangelical
Church in Chengdu, Sichuan prov- 40 children. Church of Vietnam (South), were al-
ince, were picked up from the church, (Sources: MorningStarNews.org, lowed for the first time in eight years
from their homes, and even from the 12/13/18; WorldWatchMonitor.org, to hold a large, outdoor, public Christ-
streets during a police raid on Sunday 12/14/18) mas event. The Emmanuel Christmas
evening, December 9. Music event, held on December 8,
While Wang was criminally de- 2018, in Ho Chi Minh City, attract-
tained, his wife was placed under Uganda ed about 20,000 people to Phu Tho
“residential surveillance at a desig- Shakira Wanyenze, a 31-year-old Mus- Sports Field.
nated location,” which, sources say, lim woman, had no idea on June 17, On the other hand, a new Chris-
is a form of secret detention. Wang’s 2018, that missing a ride back to her tian congregation of 33 people at Pha
73-year-old mother has been taking town in eastern Uganda from Kam- Lom Village in Nghe An Province has
care of the couple’s 11-year-old son, pala would change her life. Wanyenze been harassed since April 2018 by au-
while security personnel maintain 24- decided to stay that night at the home thorities demanding they recant and
hour surveillance outside her home. of a relative who she thought was a return to traditional animistic reli-
Two days after Wang’s arrest, Muslim. The relative told her she had gion. For four consecutive Sundays in
church members published a letter put her trust in Christ for her salva- late November and early December
the pastor had written in September tion, and after a discussion that lasted 2018, local authorities, including at
and instructed them to publish if he late into the night, Wanyenze decided least 20 officers in full riot gear, in-
went missing for more than 48 hours. to do the same. vaded and shut down the Christians’
In it, he wrote that he respected “the Upon returning home, the mother worship service at a believer’s modest
authorities God had established in of four young children managed to home. They also beat up some leaders.
China“ but that the government’s per- keep her faith a secret from her hus- Incidents like the latter lead
secution of the Church was “greatly band, Ismail Kawanguzi, for several many of Vietnam’s Christian leaders
wicked” and an “unlawful action.” months, but he became suspicious to conclude that the new religion law
“The calling that I have received re- one night in November when he came provides more tools for government
quires me to use non-violent methods home to find her praying with her management of religion, but not more
to disobey those human laws that dis- children. The following morning, he freedom for believers and religious
obey the Bible and God,” he wrote. asked his wife why she had prayed organizations. Both Catholic and
“The round-up in Chengdu is part in the name of Jesus, and when she Evangelical leaders are saying these
of a broader crack-down on unofficial didn’t respond, he began beating her. are “anxious times” in Vietnam. “We
or underground churches that Beijing Neighbors heard her screams and have no high hopes for improvement,”
has escalated this year,” the South Chi- rescued her, first taking her to a hos- said one prominent house church
na Morning Post reported. “The moves pital for medical treatment, and then leader. “So, we will just hunker down
were bolstered by amendments to taking both her and her children to a and do our business as we have, come
the Religious Affairs Regulation that church pastor for safety. Kawanguzi what may.”
gave grass-roots officials more power has since threatened the pastor, rais- (Source: WorldWatchMonitor.org,
to act against churches and impose ing concerns not only for the safety of 12/18/18)  

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Mortal Remains
by S. M. Hutchens

they are written for our admonition, upon whom

The Trouble with the ends of the world are come, so let whoever
thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor.


So, rejection of “religion” operates equally in differ-

  was sent an article in which the Evangelical au- ent spheres, one of which (the one this article’s author
thor pointed out a number of warning signs she had no- speaks of) tends toward, let us call it dysincarnation, an
ticed in the discourse of Evangelicals that point toward aversion to true manifestations of the living hand of God
their departure from biblical faith to religious liberalism. active in the material world, including manifestations of
It was well-observed, well-written, and on point. true religion found in the worship of the faithful. In this
sphere, suspicion of any religion rejected by God, even if
it was once acceptable to and ordained by him, is entirely
Right in One Sense, Wrong in Another justified, and that rejection is an exercise in holiness.
The one place I would quibble a bit with her is in the blame Rejection of religion in the opposing sphere assigns
she places on the common tendency one finds in this de- all corporate exercises of faith to ambiguity, justifying a
generating group to separate faith in Jesus—i.e., true departure from the worship of God’s people which, in the
faith—from “religion,” for which they hold no brief at all. end, is damnation. We are not free to reject the Church in
There is a sense in which this outlook, though I doubt they Jesus’ name—something the original Evangelicals knew
understand it very well, is defensible. Kierkegaard, in his very well.
continual struggle with the Danish state church, treated
the problem of debased religion better, I suppose, than any
other writer aside from Isaiah, St. John, and St. Paul. There No True Believer Thinks
is indeed a point, impossible to detect with precision (for Himself “Religious”
a point has no dimensions) at which faith dies and passes
over into its antithesis—in which its form is maintained, One should add here that no convinced believer, of what-
but it has lost its essence; the Spirit has departed, but the ever faith, regards his persuasion as “religion,” as though it
Temple remains. were a quantitively greater one-among-others. “Religion,”
Biblical examples of this descensus are provided in the while a handy term to avoid insult, or to identify some
first few chapters of Revelation and in many other places piety, is fundamentally the belief of the errorist and the
where a corporate departure from the Lord and his pre- deluded, all religions being equally false simulations of the
cepts are spoken of. St. Paul asks, in 1 Corinthians 10, why, Way, substitutes for true submission to the true God. The
if it could happen among so great and elect a people as perverse illusions of the merely religious cannot be com-
the Jews, Christians should view themselves as immune. pared to this submission, being, as they are, of a wholly
I would not be surprised if this were the most resisted different genus.
passage in Scripture: When the committed believer refers objectively to
his own faith as “religion,” his subjective understanding
I would not have you be ignorant, dear brethren, of it as the unique and divinely ordained Way of Life sur-
that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all rounds and underlies it, and this is how he speaks of it
passed through the sea, and all were baptized among his fellows. When a Muslim or a Christian identi-
into Moses in the cloud and the sea, and all ate fies a religious non-believer as an infidel, this is at base a
the same spiritual food and drank the same spiri- mere statement of fact, as though it were being noted that
tual drink, for they drank of that spiritual Rock he was a bricklayer or an accountant. It becomes an insult
that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But only at a subsequent level of meaning.  
with many of them God was not well-pleased, for
they were overthrown in the wilderness. . . . All S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor and the book review editor of
these things happened to them as examples, and Touchstone.

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 17

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From Heavenly Harmony

by Ken Myers

Lamentations of Jeremiah (detail) by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Getty Images

The Depths of
Solemn Grandeur
any years ago, my undisguised disapproval of
worship music that is inspired by contemporary
pop music was (somewhat glibly) diagnosed by
an acquaintance as an expression of a severely rational-
ist temperament. “You don’t like these new praise songs
because you don’t want worship to be too emotional,” ex-
plained my interlocutor. “Actually,” I responded, “the prob-
lem with this music is that it isn’t emotional enough. It typi-
cally lacks the aesthetic resources to express the depth of
joy, sorrow, gratitude, and awe that worship demands.”
Well, those weren’t exactly my words at the time, but it’s
what I was trying to convey. And my concern about the
adequacy of musical language in worship has increased
in the intervening years.
In The School of the Church: Worship and Christian barbarous, pretentious, or complacently drab
Formation, Philip H. Pfatteicher writes that “worship is tones of the others are enough to make poetry
a demanding discipline that has to do with the most pro- despair. Poetry’s language should be a heighten-
found experiences a human being can undergo: the fear, ing of the common language, but when so much
love, and trust that commingle when mortals confront the of that language is either vile or without flavor,
Holy One of Israel.” That discipline requires more than the poet has no sound basis from which to work.
correct attitudes and intentions. It requires access to a
form of expression capable of capturing (if incompletely) One can only wonder what Thomas would have made of
those deep convictions. the rise of the telegraphic style common in texting, not to
Earlier in his book, Pfatteicher quotes the English mention the crude crutch of emoticons. When such habits
priest and poet R. S. Thomas, who lamented the lack of of communication become the “common language,” how
sensitivity to poetic expression increasingly common might its “heightening” be achieved? And can an age suspi-
among allegedly well-educated people. The modern tone- cious of hierarchy (and hence of the very possibility of a
deafness to poetry within a segment of the population fruitful heightening) leave room for poetry’s fulfillment
once capable of receiving poetic meaning intelligently has of the potentials of language?
made the work of poets increasingly difficult. “We are the
prisoners of an age which is at best unimaginative,” wrote
Thomas in a 1966 essay in the Times Literary Supplement. Dumbed-Down Musical Ethos
More than a decade before Thomas’s lament, philosopher
The task may well seem hopeless when the poet Josef Pieper offered a similar warning with regard to com-
is confronted by this Augean stable: the gobble- mon practices of music, describing the dangers of seeing
dygook of technologists and critics; the pompous, “the entire realm of music as ‘mere amusement.’” Pieper
yet repellently servile idiom of business corre- concurred with Plato and most of the Western tradition
spondence; the reach-me-down, utility style of that habitual experience of disordered music results in
most newspapers; the weird jargon concocted by disordered souls:
civil servants; and worst of all, the hectic flush
imparted to language by publicists and advertis- [T]hat intimate relationship between music, of-
ers. The bogus floweriness of the latter and the fered or received, and inner existential ethos all

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From Heavenly Harmony by Ken Myers

the more ominously degenerates the less a proper

order is attempted. The situation commonly en-
countered shows that not even the awareness of Online Subscription Services
the possibility of such an order is present, much w w w. t o u c h s t o n e m a g . c o m
less a concrete notion of such an order as the ideal.

Even in the early 1950s, Pieper was concerned with the ¤ Change your address.
effects of the “dumbing down” and deadening of musical
Lamentations of Jeremiah (detail) by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Getty Images

expressiveness. Today, the notion that musical activity de- ¤ Check your subscription account: How many
mands the recognition of certain proprieties is preposter- issues do you have left on your subscription?
ous to most people; nothing in their experience suggests Where are we sending your Touchstone? How
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A predominant amount of music produced and typi- ¤ Make a payment on the renewal notice or
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[T]he most trivial and “light” music, the “happy are now available!
sound,” has become the most common and per-
vasive phenomenon. By its sheer banality, this
music expresses quite accurately the cheap self-
deception that on the inner existential level all In his commentary on Lamentations, R. K. Harrison
is fine, there is “nothing to worry about,” every- noted that “divine sovereignty, justice, morality, judgment,
thing is in good order, really. and the hope of blessing in the distant future, are themes
which emerge in solemn grandeur from the cadences of
In addition to the trivial and banal repertoire, Pieper Lamentations.” It was reading that phrase, “solemn gran-
also observed “crude and orgiastic music” with a “numbing deur,” and listening to a number of sixteenth-century mu-
beat” that he identified as a means “of satisfying, without sical settings of texts from Lamentations that prompted
success, the boredom and existential void that are caused the above thoughts. The composers whose works I heard
and increased by each other and that equally have become (especially Victoria, Palestrina, Lassus, and the little-
a common and pervasive phenomenon.” And, further, he known Robert White) had access to a shared musical lan-
perceived the growing presence of “nihilistic music, a de- guage capable of solemn grandeur. Attentive listening to
spairing parody of creation.” their music makes that capacity obvious and welcome, if
we still have ears to hear.
Even in the midst of the cataclysmic destruction of
A Lamentable Loss Jerusalem, the prophet recognized that a refined mode
At no time in the Church year is a capable emotional vo- of poetic expression was the best way to confirm and
cabulary in music more needed than during Holy Week. convey his (representative) raw experience of loss—and
Especially on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, congre- finally of hope. The scribe whose manuscript preserved
gations need the benefit of empathetically engaging the the setting of Lamentations composed by Robert White
meaning of Christ’s suffering in a mode that only music (c. 1538–1574) wrote at the end of his transcription: “Not
can provide; sighs too deep for words are not necessarily even the words of the gloomy prophet sound so sad as the
too deep for musical expression. sad music of my composer.” We should not be surprised
As the Church developed her liturgical rhythms, she that the musical vernacular of our age has dispensed with
recognized the benefits of reflecting during Holy Week such resources for our imaginations. It is our culture’s loss,
on the book of Lamentations. The prophet’s contrition in a loss the Church should lament, not imitate or embrace. 
the face of the destruction of Jerusalem is an analogue of
the recognition on the part of every believer that (in the Contributing editor Ken Myers is the host and producer of the
words of Johann Heermann), “Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National
undone thee. ’Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee: I Public Radio, he also serves as music director at All Saints Angli-
crucified thee.” can Church in Ivy, Virginia.

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 19

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What Gives?
Peter J. Leithart on Properly Rendering
Things to Caesar & to God

hese days, Jesus’ aphorism, “Render to Cae-

Getty Images
sar the things that are Caesar’s, and render to
God the things that are God’s,” is taken as an en-
dorsement of secular politics.
Jesus, it is thought, sets up two spheres of life, sealed
off from one another, with no overlap. There’s the realm of
Caesar, which is the realm of submission to brute earthly
power; and there’s the realm of worship, the spiritual
realm, the realm of the things of God, in which we give
God his due.
Jesus and Thomas Jefferson, two peas in a pod, both
building up a wall to separate church and state.
What Jesus actually says is far more complicated, but get him into trouble with the Romans, or he will endorse
to see how, we need to look at Matthew’s account of the compliance with Rome, which will get him into trouble
incident that produced this aphorism. with other Jews (22:16–17). He will have to offend some-
During the final week of his earthly life, Jesus spent one, and the Pharisees will exploit his answer to under-
the bulk of his time in the temple, disputing with different mine his popularity.
Jewish opponents. The chief priests and scribes tried to As always, however, Jesus eludes his enemies. His
trap Jesus with questions about his authority, and found cryptic words leave his hearers mystified about his poli-
themselves trapped (21:23–32). tics. “Render to Caesar” could mean “Give Caesar what he
Next, the Pharisees and Sadducees step into the ring. deserves,” or it could mean “Pay your taxes.” Jesus seems
They fare no better (22:15–40). The Pharisees first at- to sidestep the trap by saying something that both sides,
tempt to trap Jesus politically by asking a question about and neither, will be happy with.
taxation. But in avoiding the trap, Jesus is not avoiding the ques-
tion. He answers the question, but in a way that splits the

Getty Images
difference between competing Jewish parties. He is not
The Trap & Its Evasion a tax rebel; he is not a Zealot, and in fact Zealotry is one
Taxation had been a huge concern in Israel for a genera- of the things he most opposes. But neither does he urge
tion. Judas the Galilean, whom Gamaliel mentions in Acts political compromise.
5:37, was a tax rebel who convinced many Jews to resist
the tax by refusing to pay, and eventually he started a re-
volt. The Romans put it down bloodily. The Call to Give Back
Taxation had both political and religious dimensions. But there’s more going on in Jesus’ words. Jesus doesn’t
It was political because the tribute tax imposed by the use the verb “give,” but a word that means “give back.”
Romans was an assertion of their authority and of Israel’s (Here I am following Frederick Dale Bruner’s Matthew, A
subordination. It was a religious issue because many Jews Commentary, Volume 2: The Churchbook, Matthew 13–28
regarded the Romans as intruders on the holy land. Taxa- [Eerdmans, 2007], 396–402.) It refers to a return gift of
tion was a constant reminder of their polluting presence. something already given. “Give back to Caesar” assumes
Paying taxes implied support for their occupation. that Caesar has already given something to the Jews.
Coins themselves had religious significance. The coin Clearly, Caesar has given the Jews the coin, which they
that Jesus handled may have been the denarius issued by produce. Caesar has also, more generally, provided the or-
Tiberius, which on one side asserted that Tiberius himself der within which the Jews operate. The Roman Empire
was a son of God, and on the reverse side depicted his makes trade across the Mediterranean safe; the Romans
mother as the goddess Victory. Even handling the denarius protect Judea from its traditional enemies to the East; the
was an offense to some Jews. Romans provide a form of stability and safety.
The Pharisees therefore think they have Jesus in a That logic holds for the second statement, too: “Render
corner. Either Jesus will endorse a tax revolt, which will to God what is God’s.” Again, the verb is “give back.” Jesus

20 March / April 2019

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What Gives? by Peter J. Leithart

doesn’t merely tell them to “give” what belongs to God, but With regard to taxes, Jesus says that giving to God
to “give back” what the Lord had first given. what is God’s means giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But
Again, the basis for this claim has to do with an “im- Caesar’s demands are not always compatible with God’s,
age.” Because we bear the divine image, we are to give and there are times when giving back to God what is God’s
back to God what he has given us, which is ourselves. “Give means we cannot give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
back” is used in the Septuagint in liturgical contexts. Yah- Jesus is not being apolitical. He leaves his disciples a
weh gave Israel the land, and they were to “give back” from complex politics to follow, a politics that combines submis-
what he gave them in worship. sion and resistance, a politics that recognizes that Caesar
has given, and that it is right to give back to Caesar, but
Getty Images

only what God allows. It is a politics of revolutionary sub-

A Complex Politics ordination, submission to the powers that be as a means
If Jesus tells his disciples to give back to Caesar what of overturning the powers that be.
Caesar gives, then he’s setting limits to our submission to It is the politics of Jesus himself, who submits himself to
Caesar. Since we use Caesar’s money to buy our cars, pay a Roman cross in order to remake Rome, and all kingdoms
our mortgages, give out loans, and so forth, and since we of this world, into the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ. 
receive Caesar’s money in our paychecks, we should gladly
pay taxes, giving back what is his due. Contributing editor Peter J. Leithart is an ordained minister
God, though, has given us everything. Even what in the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches and the
Caesar gives—those roads and trade routes and the Pax president of the Theopolis Institute in Birmingham, Alabama.
­Romana—comes from God. God’s realm is not separate Among his books are The End of Protestantism (Baker) and a
from Caesar’s, is not set off in a neatly bounded spiritual two-volume commentary on Revelation (T&T Clark). He and his
realm. God’s realm encompasses Caesar’s, envelops it com- wife Noel have ten children and eleven grandchildren. This es-
pletely. We are called to give back to God in Caesar’s realm say is adapted from the second volume of his recently published
as well as everywhere else. commentary on Matthew (Athanasius Press).

Let It Snow!
Gary A. Fritz on the Pragmatism That
Inhibits Our Spiritual Life
Getty Images

pril 3, 2018. It’s two days after Easter. Major
League Baseball opened its season a full five
days ago. My beloved Minnesota Twins’ home
opener is only two days away. And I, fresh off
Easter break, am looking out the window at a delightful
blanket of snow covering my neighborhood, with more
slowly drifting down.
I say “delightful” at a time of year when most people
would perhaps say “repulsive” because, for me, this is a
snow day. What failed to happen in the heart of winter
has seen fit to surprise us all here in the Twin Cities in
the early days of spring. When the grass should be green-
ing up, it is shrouded in snow. And instead of being in a pristine grace. And it’s quiet. Unless a blizzard is raging, a
classroom, I am blessed, instead, to sit in my chair, drink snowfall muffles all sound. In the country, it’s downright
coffee, read a book, and gaze at the beauty of it all. primeval. In the city, the intrusions of noise are minimized,
There is something magical about a snow day, regard- turned back, and replaced with a tranquility all too often
less of its timing. First of all, of course, is the sheer beauty lost in the cacophony of urban life.
of the pure luster of the snow. Everything is so, well, white. But beyond the quiet beauty, a snow day is an unex-
All dirt, litter, and grunge are covered up and expelled pected gift. It is almost as if the world of nature crept up to
from sight. Everywhere one looks there is nothing but soft, the front door, placed an unsought but desirable package

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 21

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on the stoop, knocked softly, and then slipped off into the flare. No one is in a good mood, and the workday is marred
darkness, leaving the recipients to the wonder and joy of by irritation and ill will. All this to put in the time, fill the
opening the surprise. quota, and convince ourselves that what happens on this
I have always loved snow days, and quite frankly, I day is of paramount importance to our collective and in-
have pity for those who have neither experienced nor ap- dividual sense of purpose. Because, as we all know, what
preciated them. As a child, happens today affects rev-
I remember listening with enue, the bottom line, and
bated breath to WCCO- The snow day lets us reinvest in the success of the company,
830  AM, desperately long- and probably ripples down
ing to hear announcer Roger our own humanity. It’s what Jesus through eternity.
Erikson utter those delicious That is, sadly, what
words, “Waconia, public did every time he went off by our world has become. Be-
and parochial, now closed.” fore the fall of European
As a child, that phrase was himself to pray. It’s what he was Communism, it was easy
sacred to me, a reason to doing sleeping in the boat during to wrap ourselves up in the
celebrate, for it meant that, comfort of the democratic-
instead of the drudgery of a storm. The snow day forces us to capitalist blanket and look
the classroom, there were with pity on the “workers”
sweet, endless possibilities slow down and simply be. who rose up, united, and
for the day, all of which were simply became conformed
marinated in freedom. Even cogs in the Soviet machine.
if part of the day had to be spent shoveling the driveway, It was they who led a drab existence of working for the
that was not work, it was sheer joy. state, of existing for the betterment of the cause. But re-
Although I am now grown up, all the emotions, pos- ally, are we Westerners any different? As I walked back
sibilities, and pleasures of a snow day remain with me. home this morning, with a sense of renewed vigor, I found
I always tell my students, particularly on days when a myself facing the attempted rush to work by those not as
hoped-for snow day did not materialize, that there is no fortunate as I, people slogging their way through clogged
one in the classroom who desires that day off more than streets trying to make it in to work on time. And I couldn’t
me. help but think that we are somehow diminished.
And so, this morning, I followed my normal routine
and trudged into school, only to find out that our principal
(may his name be praised forever!) had pulled the trigger From Pleasure to Drudgery
and canceled all classes. I did a few odds and ends, gath- Absolutely, work is important. It is vital to the health and
ered some work, and happily sauntered back out into the well-being of any society, and good, solid work is neces-
snow and made my way home to my slippers, my coffee, sary for healthy individuals. We minimize the value and
and my couch. But along the way, I considered the value importance of work to our collective and personal detri-
of these days, these gifts of time given as reprieves from ment. Moreover, it’s biblical to work hard and well. Down
the routine. through the millennia we have heard the Lord speak those
words: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work . . .”
(Ex. 20:9). The Creation account is woven through with
Anathema to the Working World references to work: it was work for God to create (Gen.
Sadly, it seems that the joy of snow days is a rapture sel- 2:2); Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to “work it
dom shared by anyone besides students and their teachers. and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15); and Eve was created within
For most others, they are an anathema that goes beyond the context of work, as she would be “a helper suitable”
inconvenience. School officials feel pressured to hold class- for Adam.
es except during the greatest of storms because snow days Interestingly enough, when reading the early portions
affect working parents, who must scramble to find day of Genesis, one notably gets the sense that work is good
care for their kids or else burn a sick day staying home and pleasing, something we are designed to do. It isn’t until
themselves. Businesses are loath to shorten the workday sin infects humanity that work becomes associated with
or to give entire days off for snow, so “Don’t worry about hardship and drudgery. After the Fall, the first couple is
it; just stay home” are words employees seldom hear. “banished” from the Garden to work (Gen. 3:23), and later,
So they get up early to clear the driveway and scrape after Cain has murdered his brother, the Lord informs him
off the windshield, and then climb into a cold car to navi- that his work will “no longer yield its crops” for him (Gen.
gate through the extended parking lot the streets have 4:12). Centuries later, as the Exodus narrative begins, the
become in order to get to work. Stress builds and tempers Israelites’ lives are “bitter with harsh labor in brick and

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Let It Snow! by Gary A. Fritz

mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their who apparently thought the beatitudes should include,
harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.” “Blessed are they that labor many and long hours, for
Work went from being a pleasure balanced with rest theirs is the Kingdom of God,” would bluster something
and leisure to being relentless drudgery under harsh con- about us always taking time off and not working enough.
ditions. Isn’t the latter often the case in our world today? A professor I once had recognized this pervasive at-
Somewhere along the line, the unbalanced notion that titude in the Church when he sardonically quipped that
more work is always better was embraced as the ideal along with the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship,
for society. Technology was supposed to make our lives silence, fasting, and so on, many Christians today add the
easier and allow for more leisure time, but instead, while goal of “doing more.” It is in recognition of that, I imagine,
it has perhaps made our lives less sweaty and dirty, it has that another pastorally trained professor of mine once ex-
not made them less demanding. We still fall into bed ex- pressed the value of taking his three weeks of vacation
hausted, but it is no longer the exhaustion that follows all at once, without apology, saying, “When I return from
a good day’s testing of our muscle and mettle. Rather, it vacation, my parish gets a new pastor.”
is the exhaustion brought on by technology-enabled de-
mands for increased productivity and more work than
ever; we close our eyes, wearied with dulled minds from A Gift & an Opportunity
putting in the time, punching the keyboard, and running In the effort to render the weather an impotent factor in
in the wheel of endless committee meetings. the productivity of the rat race, people keep developing
better chemicals and procedures to make getting to work
easier on snowy days. Weather forecasting has improved
More to Life than Pragmatism to help us plan for the arduous commute. Vehicles are bet-
In academia, the purpose of education has largely become ter at navigating snowy, slippery streets. But every once
utilitarian and pragmatic. Children are sent to school in a while, the weather still wins. The snow comes and
with the goal of achieving access to the next level, the brings us to a sliding halt.
next grade, until they qualify for . . . what? Getting a job. On such days, the powers that be, the captains of in-
Earning a paycheck. The notion that education is meant to dustry, the new Egyptians, may decry the lost hours and
create well-rounded, aware, informed, and intellectually decreased revenue. But I think they look at it all wrong. I
stimulated people, that it is meant to foster creativity and truly believe that the world would be a better place if there
vibrant imagination has fallen by the wayside. All of that were more snow days—and not just because I’m angling
is considered wishy-washy romanticism. for more time off.
It is in this spirit, then, that Mr. John Keating, in the The snow day is an opportunity, one that should be
now classic 1989 film Dead Poet’s Society, addresses his embraced by more than just schools. It allows us not mere-
English class at Welton Academy. His students, all boys, ly to work from home, but to decompress. Rather than an
had unawares swallowed the notion that education was inconvenience, these rare occurrences should be seen as
about preparing for a sensible future, leaving little room a gift to be opened and savored. Instead of rushing off to
for poetic whimsy. Fighting that, Keating implores the work or to school, a family can play games, play in the
boys to consider: snow, read, relax, watch a movie, get caught up on that
list of things that need doing around the house. The snow
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. day lets us reinvest in our own humanity. It’s what Jesus
We read and write poetry because we are mem- did every time he went off by himself to pray. It’s what he
bers of the human race. And the human race is was doing sleeping in the boat during a storm. The snow
filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, en- day forces us to slow down and simply be.
gineering, these are all noble pursuits, and neces- Mr. Keating would have loved snow days. They are po-
sary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, etry falling from the sky, refreshing the spirit, stimulating
love, these are what we stay alive for. the soul. They allow us to peel off the grime of the daily
routine, take a deep breath, and quite possibly embrace
This pragmatism in life that Keating fought against the beauty, romance, and love that we “stay alive for.” As
even infiltrates the Church. When my wife and I first began for me, I’m going to curl up on the couch and take a good,
our ministries, we worked at the same Lutheran parish, cozy, wintry nap and then, perhaps, shovel my driveway.
she as the music director and I, along with teaching duties, Let it snow! 
as the youth director. As such, we were considered full-
time staff members and attended weekly staff meetings. I Gary A. Fritz teaches theology at Concordia Academy, a Chris-
remember quite well the annual shaming we faced, seem- tian high school affiliated with the Lutheran Church–Missouri
ingly under the guise of good humor, when we announced Synod, in Roseville, Minnesota. He and his wife, Rebecca, have
our chosen vacation dates for the year. Our head pastor, three children, all of whom love to play in the snow.

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The War on Food

That Hideous When I was growing up, our family’s daily lunch regimen
consisted of one of two sandwiches, the tuna-fish sand-

wich or the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I grew up
on PB&J and have literally eaten hundreds and hundreds
of those sandwiches. But today I am absolutely prohibited
from sending my daughter to preschool with a peanut but-
Nathanael Devlin on Preserving ter and jelly sandwich. The PB&J has become for many a
sign of sickness, disease, or even death. Bread is increas-
Physical & Spiritual Nourishment ingly inaccessible to those with wheat allergies or gluten

intolerances; jelly is made with high-fructose corn syrup,
oday there is a voice within the agricultural an ingredient many believe is contributing to our nation’s
world whose insights about farming and food obesity crisis; and peanut butter is known to cause life-
may be instructive to those who are seeking to threatening anaphylactic reactions in a growing number of
live with integrity as the church in the world. Joel our children. The prohibition against PB&J is not unique to

Getty Images
Salatin is a self-described our little preschool but is an
Christian, libertarian, envi- issue in many public schools
ronmentalist, capitalist, and It is not hard to imagine a future as well: if the sandwich is not
lunatic farmer in Virginia’s prohibited, its eaters are rel-
Shenandoah Valley. He has
where the TV dinner—which egated to a special “peanut
written numerous books, subverted the home-cooked meal table,” essentially quaran-
but his tenth, The Marvelous tined from the rest of the
Pigness of Pigs, is, according and was itself subverted by the cafeteria.
to Salatin, his coming-out How did the beloved
book. Here he addresses meal-replacement drink and PB&J sandwich go from a
Christians, saying, staple in American kitchens
energy bar—will be replaced by and schools to public enemy
The bottom line for me, a nutrient-rich capsule that you No. 1 in just one generation?
and the theme of this This phenomenon is not
book, is that creation ingest once a day in the morning true of PB&J alone. There is
is an object lesson of a growing list of foods that
spiritual truth. Just so that your mealtimes will be are becoming inaccessible
like object lessons for or even dangerous to the
children point them to
freed up for more meaningful eater, requiring greater and
biblical principles, so activities. And when food greater regulation, legisla-
the physical universe is tion, and litigation. Where
supposed to point us to becomes unnecessary in a culture, did this war on food come
God. “The heavens de- from?
clare the glory of God,” Christ will surely be deemed Salatin points to the
the psalmist writes in modern food economy, and
Psalm 19 (NIV). Indeed.
unnecessary as well. he may be correct. All of us
If that is the case, then would do well to think criti-
what does a forgiving farm look like, a beautiful cally about our food habits, where our food comes from,
farm, an ordered farm, a neighbor-friendly farm? and how our food choices support or enervate certain farm
And not just a farm, but an entire foodscape? and food production practices. But could there be more?
Could the war on food be an object lesson for spiritual
Salatin is a complex and occasionally controversial truth as well?
fellow. He is one of those persons who have the ability to In the time leading up to and following the infamous
both encourage and offend all sides. But with respect to Obergefell decision on “same-sex marriage” by the Su-
the church, he may be an unwitting ally whose commit- preme Court, many people in the church and on the con-
ment to a healthy farm can serve as a model for the church, servative side of the political spectrum talked about a
and whose concerns about food may alert us to lurking war on the family and a war on marriage. And indeed,
spiritual dangers. there has been a war on marriage and the family, but this

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That Hideous Food by Nathanael Devlin

war long precedes developments in American politics and

After Adam and Eve fell, God spoke a word of good
news to all humanity by telling the serpent, “I will put
enmity between you and the woman, and between your
offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Since that day,
the family has been targeted by the evil one. The fam-
ily was under threat from the increasing wickedness on
the earth, but salvation came through Noah’s family on
the ark. The family was under threat by the evil edict of
Pharaoh in Egypt, but salvation came through a family
who defied Pharaoh and placed Moses in a basket among
the bulrushes. Even the Holy Family was under threat by
the evil machinations of King Herod, but the Lord saved
Mary and Joseph so that Jesus could be the salvation of the
world. The family has been under threat since the begin-
Getty Images

ning because of the close connection God made between

the family and his salvation.

Food & Salvation

In a similar way, Jesus made a close connection between
food and salvation. The Apostle John reminds us that Je-
sus said,

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall

not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall
never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen
me and yet do not believe. . . .
I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the
manna in the wilderness, and they died. This
is the bread that comes down from heaven, so
that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living
bread that came down from heaven. If anyone
eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the
bread that I will give for the life of the world is my
flesh. . . .
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the
flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you
have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of
and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured
raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matt. 26:26–
food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds 28). Food is a sign that points to Jesus, a symbol that re-
on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, veals Jesus and a sacrament that mediates the grace of
and I in him. . . . This is the bread that came down Jesus.
from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, It is possible that industrial agricultural practices
and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live are among the factors contributing to the growing and
forever.” (John 6:35–36; 48–51; 53–56; 58) proliferating food disorders in our modern culture, but
it is also possible that another factor is at work: a spiri-
Jesus identifies himself and his work of salvation tual malevolence that seeks to threaten food because of
with food. Jesus is the bread of life. This is not only true its close association with Jesus and his salvation. If food
symbolically; it is true sacramentally. On the night that is a part of creation, then, according to Salatin’s logic, it
Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread and said, “‘Take, is an object lesson of spiritual truth, even Christological
eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had truth. A threat to food, then, is a threat to the intelligibility

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That Hideous Food by Nathanael Devlin

of Christ to the world. If food is meaningful, life-giving, becomes a matter of choice. Not only can we choose what
satisfying, and healing, then Christ is revealed as such, foods to grow and how, but soon we will question whether
but if food is understood as diseased, pathogenic, un- we need to eat at all. Growing and harvesting, shopping
healthy, or even life-threatening, then Jesus is something and cooking, serving and eating and then cleaning up—it
to avoid. all seems such an unnecessary hassle. There must be a
more efficient way to deliver the essential nutrients to
our bodies. It is not hard to imagine a future where the TV
Unnecessary Food dinner—which subverted the home-cooked meal and was
Food can be dangerous, but what may be worse would itself subverted by the meal-replacement drink and energy
be for food, along with eating, to be rendered unneces- bar—will be replaced by a nutrient-rich capsule that you
sary, an outmoded convention of a bygone era. C. S. Lewis ingest once a day in the morning so that your mealtimes
imagined such a disposition in the third installment of his will be freed up for more meaningful activities. And when
space trilogy, That Hideous Strength. Late in the book, the food becomes unnecessary in a culture, Christ will surely
protagonist, Mark Studdock, is eating dinner with a N.I.C.E be deemed unnecessary as well.
scientist, an Italian named Dr. Filostrato. The Italian is in
good spirits because he has just given orders to have some
beech trees cut down. Mark is puzzled by this decision Christological Implications
and mentions that he is rather fond of the trees. Filostrato Joel Salatin has issued a clarion call for Christians to par-
tells Mark that he much prefers artificial, aluminum trees. ticipate in a foodscape that is integrated with our Chris-
They are light, easy to move, and have “no leaves to fall, tian beliefs. There is a physical, moral, and confessional
no twigs, no birds building nests, no muck and mess.” For dimension to this call, and there is a spiritual dimension,
Filostrato, the aluminum tree is a great improvement on too, because food is an object lesson of spiritual truth. We
the old, real trees; in fact, he would be happy to see all as Christians must heed this call. We should not concede
organic life abolished. this war on food, perhaps for the reasons that Salatin

Wikimedia Commons
It is here that Filostrato brings Mark into one of the raises, but certainly because of the deeply Christological
secrets of the N.I.C.E. He directs Mark’s attention to the dimensions of food.
moon and informs him of a superior race that lives on the The Apostle Paul reminds us that Christ is
lunar surface. This race has nearly abolished its material
life and ascended to pure mind. These moon beings in- the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of
spire Filostrato because, unlike us, they are purified. He all creation. For by him all things were created,
explains to Mark that they are in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or au-
[a] great race, further advanced than we. An in- thorities—all things were created through him
spiration. A pure race. They have cleaned their and for him. And he is before all things, and in him
world, broken free (almost) from the organic. . . . all things hold together. (Col. 1:15–17)
They do not need to be born and breed and die;
only their common people, their canaglia do that. For Christians the world is creation, ordered toward
The Masters live on. They retain their intelli- and held together in Christ, and this includes food. Even
gence: they can keep it artificially alive after the something as ordinary, everyday, and mundane as eating
organic body has been dispensed with—a miracle has profound spiritual, even Christological implications.
of applied biochemistry. They do not need organic Food has something to teach us about Christ, about our
food. You understand? They are almost free of discipleship, and about our being in the world. As such,
Nature, attached to her only by the thinnest, fin- it deserves our attention. Our health and our integrity as
est cord. witnesses to Christ might even depend on it.  

We may not yet be at the place of material emancipa- Nathanael Devlin is the Senior Pastor at Beverly Heights Presby-
tion that Lewis imagined, but there is evidence from our terian Church (EPC) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate
culture’s seemingly unquestioning trust in the power of of Trinity School for Ministry in nearby Ambridge. He and his
science and technology to suggest that the spirit of Filos- wife have three children and live in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
trato is alive and well. Science has taught us that food is
really just nutrients; raw material made up of amino acids,
proteins, and other organic atoms and molecules. It has no
integrity of its own and should be manipulated according
to our designs.
If this is true, then what we grow and how we grow it

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when, as secretary of state, Marshall spoke at Harvard

Better Than
University and announced the European Recovery Pro-
gram, which others came to designate the Marshall Plan,
his honorary degree citation referred to him as “a soldier

and statesman whose ability and character brook only
one comparison in the history of the nation”—that is, to
General Marshall’s own leading exemplar, George Wash-
ington. And on the day of Marshall’s funeral, October 20,
David Hein on VIP Funerals & George C. 1959, former President Truman referred to this soldier-
statesman as “the greatest general since Robert E. Lee”
Marshall’s Humble Witness and “the greatest administrator since Thomas Jefferson.”

labor ate VIP funer als are often in the news.
Certainly they serve important purposes, as well Marshall’s Funeral
as expressing the intentions of the deceased, In recognition and gratitude, the American people were
who may have wished to convey a final message fully prepared to give this selfless leader a state funeral
through his or her memorial service. No one should dis- as resplendent as the one provided for another Army
parage these rituals. They provide occasions for remem- great, General John J. Pershing, in 1948. Indeed, Marshall
brance, for the channeling of grief, and was thoroughly familiar with these rites
for collecting the essential elements of a because he had drawn up the outline
notable person’s manifold contributions. for them. Pershing’s body lay in state in
Anything less would seem careless and the U.S. Capitol; mourners and marching
disrespectful, ungrateful and incomplete. troops processed behind the caisson in
Or would it? sweltering heat from the Capitol to Arling-
Wikimedia Commons

ton Cemetery; airplanes flew overhead;

and so forth.
Marshall’s Accomplishments But as Marshall biographer Forrest C.
Consider the life and death of George C. Pogue has commented: “Nothing about a
Marshall, whose many years of service to state funeral was to Marshall’s taste.” In
his country included the posts of chief of instructions written out in 1956, the gen-
staff of the U.S. Army (1939–1945), secre- eral made his wishes clear: He forbade a
tary of state (1947–1949), and secretary of funeral in the Washington National Ca-
defense (1950–1951). During the Second thedral. He rejected lying in state in the
World War, he was the key military strat- Capitol rotunda. He ruled out invitation
egist and manager among the American service chiefs, lists for special dignitaries and long lists of honorary pall-
deploying more than eight million men in nine theaters bearers. He asked that no eulogy be included in his burial
around the world. No wonder that Winston Churchill, at service.
war’s end, named him the “organizer of victory.” After his death, his widow, Katherine, altered his plan
As secretary of state, Marshall initiated the massive in only one particular: her husband’s closed coffin rested
economic intervention in western Europe whose combi- overnight in the National Cathedral’s Bethlehem Chapel.
nation of liberal internationalism and defensive realism Visitors filed by, paying their respects, as representatives
paved the way—alongside a strategic military alliance from the armed forces joined cadets from Marshall’s alma
under the North Atlantic Treaty—for a secure, just peace mater, the Virginia Military Institute, to compose the
and a new democratic order: more than seven decades of guard of honor.
the Pax Americana. On a beautiful fall day, Marshall’s funeral rites took
As secretary of defense, facing conflict on the Korean place at the Fort Myer Chapel, in Arlington, Virginia, and
peninsula, he once again built up the U.S. armed forces— then graveside, just down the hill from the Tomb of the
and participated in the removal of a general with a decid- Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery. The
edly different temperament, Douglas MacArthur, whom form used was the Order for the Burial of the Dead, from
President Harry  S. Truman replaced with a Marshall the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (1928), a text largely
protégé, the less flamboyant but more effective Matthew unchanged from its 1789 American version.
Bunker Ridgway. A sincere Christian, Marshall wanted the same burial
Marshall’s contemporaries incorporated their esti- service that would be held for prince or pauper. No eulogy
mates of his value into their comparisons of him to other meant two things: First, the focus would be on the mean-
statesmen and warlords. For instance, on June 5, 1947, ing of the service itself. Second, according to this service,

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Better than Eulogy by David Hein

ranks and titles and résumés do not matter: if an anony- tive to Marshall’s whole life and career. He lived the para-
mous street person died, he or she would receive exactly dox that in self-sacrificial service of a good cause, he found
the same rite as that used for a head of state. himself. Then, having risen to the highest ranks of his pro-
The burial order began: fession, he, like George Washington, practiced the patience
of power. He did not cash in by writing his memoirs or
I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: by serving on corporate boards. The old-fashioned moral
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, strength known as self-mastery meant both striving and
yet shall he live. . . . We brought nothing into this self-restraint. General Marshall exemplified the virtues of
world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. temperance, prudence, hope, faith, gratitude, and humility.
The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; Imagine what a message an austere, downright coun-
blessed be the name of the Lord. tercultural ceremony like George C. Marshall’s would send
today! And yet Marshall had no intention of sending a mes-
In fact, the only mention of Marshall’s name occurred sage. In the instructions he provided, he was simply being
toward the end of the service, when Canon Luther Martin, himself.
who had been chief of chaplains at the close of the Second
World War, included it in a place where the first name of Almighty and ever-living God, we yield unto thee
the deceased was typically inserted: most high praise and hearty thanks, for the won-
derful grace and virtue declared in all thy saints,
Most merciful Father, who hast been pleased who have been the choice vessels of thy grace,
to take unto thyself the soul of this thy servant and the lights of the world in their several gen-
George; Grant to us who are still in our pilgrim- erations. . . .
age, and who walk as yet by faith, that having —The Order for the Burial of the Dead, The
served thee with constancy on earth, we may be Book of Common Prayer (1928) 
joined hereafter with thy blessed saints in glory
everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. David Hein, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the George C. Marshall
Foundation in Lexington, Virginia, and coauthor of Archbishop
Fisher, 1945–1961: Church, State and World (Routledge, 2016).
An Apt Correlative His article “In War for Peace: General George C. Marshall’s Core
This service nobly fulfilled its purpose and also achieved Convictions and Ethical Leadership” appeared in the March/April
what was not its main purpose: providing an apt correla- 2013 issue of Touchstone.

Compiled and written quarterly by

Patrick Henry Reardon Your Daily Bread
• A program of daily chapter ­readings
covering the entire Bible in two years.
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• Morning and evening Psalms, with
general and intercessory prayers, plus
informative notes, instructions, and
commentary on the church’s lectionary
and liturgical life.
Subscribe at WWW.FSJ.ORG

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28 March / April 2019

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2018 Conference Talk

The Boy Genius

Finding Him Again Through the Patriarchal Group
by Anthony Esolen

ately I have made a hobby of going to a certain very fine and utterly unpolitical
website, to see how great chess games were once played, and to learn about the lives
and the habits of the game’s most illustrious masters. That means I have come into
contact with quite a few boy
geniuses, as they used to be
called. You may recognize their names:
Bobby Fischer, Jose Raul Capablanca,
Mikhail Tal, and my favorite among
them, the nineteenth-century American
lad, Paul Morphy.

One of the best players of his day said that

Getty Images

losing to Paul Morphy for the first time was like

your first experience of an electric shock. It has
no relation to anything you have ever felt before,
and it is not so much painful as utterly astonish-
ing. That is because Morphy played the game as it
had never been played. Nobody knew what he was
doing. He sacrificed pieces with brave abandon.
He placed them where you never expected them
to be. He would allow you to put him within one
move of checkmate as if it were ten. He beat his fa-
ther once by driving Dad’s king all the way across
the board, and then delivering the checkmate by
castling. He seemed to think that the main use of
his pawns was to get them out of the way.
Bobby Fischer, a century later, would say that in the feel every stroke of the chisel as he turned a great amor-
open game, there was still nobody who had anything that phous block of marble into the Pieta. The website catego-
would improve upon Paul Morphy. For me, to replay his rizes hundreds of his games as “Chess Variants,” meaning
games move-by-move is to feel an intense artistic delight, that Morphy has spotted his opponent one of his rooks, or
as if you could hold the wrist of a young Michelangelo and a knight, or a knight and a pawn, or whatever; and he still
carves the man up into slices. I imagine that plenty of men
Senior editor Anthony Esolen teaches English at Thomas More thought it was a privilege to be so dismembered.
College in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and is the author of many Nowadays, if you have talent in chess, you will hire a
books, including Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for coach and he will bear down upon you day after day, hav-
Sanity (St. Benedict Press), Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books), ing you commit to memory all of the two or three hundred
Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, standard openings and their variations, and instructing
with a CD), and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture you in the counting strategies of the pawns in the end-
(Regnery). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Ran- game, but at that time there were no such coaches, and
dom House). Morphy, like the similar genius Capablanca, learned chess

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2018 Conference Talk

from watching his father play, but was otherwise self- and his name was announced, but Poincaré didn’t seem
taught. He was something of a lusus naturae: an odd move to hear. When the poor man finally cleared his throat and
that Nature makes on the chessboard, dangerous and bold, attempted to say something, the great man turned on him
with a potential for magnificent success or magnificent in complete surprise and bellowed out, “What are you do-
failure. ing here?” At which his visitor rushed out of the room and
went straight back across the North Sea.
We recognize, I hope, that this sort of thing is pecu-
Peculiarly Masculine liarly masculine. In some of its manifestations it resembles
There are several points I wish to make about the boy what we now call autism, a malady that afflicts many more
genius, but the first one is this: the boy genius is almost boys than girls, and more severely.
always a boy. I am persuaded that we are not just talking One of my philosophy professors at Princeton, Saul

Getty Images
about a high level of intelligence. We are not talking about Kripke, wrote a dissertation so subtle and penetrating—I
some quality that allows you believe on the question of how
to succeed in school. We are we can say that a thing that
talking about something that has changed is still the same
is, like an electric shock, for- Most of the people I knew who thing it was before—that only
eign, strange, unsettling, four or five people in the world
unpredictable. Blaise Pas- hated school with a passion, were considered qualified to
cal’s sister said that Blaise, grade it, or even to read it and
as a small boy, played with as I did, were boys, nor did understand it. So they award-
conic sections the way other ed him his doctorate on those
children played with toys.
I know a single boy who grounds. When he lectured, he
Einstein lay on his belly on really liked it. This should not showed why certain rumors
the brow of a hill in Tuscany regarding his table habits at
and asked himself what the surprise us. The boy’s body home—that his wife had to
world would look like if he feed him sometimes—were
saw it while he was riding on a is like that of a big and active probably true. He prowled
beam of light. Alexander Pope about the front of the room,
said of his boyhood, “I lisped
dog. It needs acreage. The making goose-like honking
in numbers, for the numbers people who run the schools noises that were his form of a
came.” Tom Edison at four stutter, smiling and quite in-
years old sat on a hen’s egg to are women, and they run it nocent of any care about how
see if he could hatch it. he looked. “Honk–honk–honk–
We fool ourselves if we to their tastes, not his. Their Berkeley,” he would spurt out,
say that we would enjoy be- “Berkeley–Berkeley,” and then
ing around such people. “En- tastes run to the safe space, he would go on a spritz of bril-
joy” is the wrong word. That is
like saying that you enjoy the
the walled garden. liance and coherence for a
couple of minutes. Then the
electric shock. It is like saying machine had to be wound up
that you hope someday to ex- again, and the honks would re-
perience a sudden tectonic shift, otherwise known as an sume, occasionally punctuated by a drink of water one of
earthquake. The basketball player Jerry Lucas once set his graduate students would hand him, some of the water
himself to memorize the Manhattan telephone directory. I dribbling down his beard, which he wiped grandly with
don’t know whether he did it, but I do know that he kept in the back of his sleeve. I have never in my life seen a woman
his mind a running tally of the statistics for every player in behave so. I have known many men who, to a lesser degree,
every single NBA game he played, going so far as to pester are like Professor Kripke.
the scorers to make sure to whom they had awarded an Thomas Aquinas must have been so. Picture him at
assist. Lucas was a great player whom nobody seems to the court table of the saintly King Louis IX, with all the
have liked. lords and ladies roundabout, chatting about the things
The mathematician Henri Poincaré would lose himself that lords and ladies chat about while partaking of their
utterly in mathematical calculation, and pace back and venison and soup and bread, when suddenly, lost in con-
forth in his room, completely oblivious to his surround- centration, Thomas bangs his fist on the board and cries
ings. The story goes that a young mathematician traveled out, “And thus are the Manicheans refuted!” The king calls
all the way from Sweden to Paris to speak to Poincaré. a pageboy over. “Go get Brother Thomas paper and pen,”
Upon his arrival, he was ushered into Poincaré’s room says he.

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The Boy Genius by Anthony Esolen

Appropriately Male
So grant me my point about probability. My second point is
that it makes good sense that it should be so. Stark varia-
tions from the norm or the median come at considerable
expense. It is not just a stereotype, the business about the
extremely intelligent boy who is physically frail. If you are
a member of Mensa, it is more likely than not that your
constitution is compromised by some oddity: you are left-
handed, your eyesight is bad, you suffer severe allergies,
and so forth.
Getty Images

The genius is far more likely to be dead by age forty

than is his merely smart and well-built cousin. He may
well be dead by his own lapses in noticing things around
him: a philosopher, I have told my students, is a man who,
if he is walking in an open field with a flagpole in it, will
find a way to walk into that flagpole. He may be dead by
his bizarre experiments: Benjamin Franklin should not
have lived to tell about his adventure with lightning and
the kite.
It stands to reason, then, that if you want your clan to
survive, you had damned well better not have such people
among the females. Your children will die. They will be
in the jaws of the tiger before their theoretical mothers
would ever notice. The adrenal systems of women have
two settings for threats: danger, and no danger. You do not School of Athens, in the foreground, lost in concentration,
want people who take care of small children to be calcu- alone. Sometimes you get the jolly semi-autistic fellow, like
lating odds and weighing risks. You certainly do not want Chesterton, who once sent a telegram to his wife, saying,
them to be lost in the haze of a couple of thousand lines of “In Piccadilly now—where should I be?” More often you
poetry composed in their minds. don’t.
Homer would have been blind even if he had not been If that is the case, then an institution is the last place
blind. Mozart, said his father, was blind in that way. He where you may expect the boy genius to thrive, unless that
could see, in the sense that the light struck his eyes, but institution possesses certain features, which I will come
he did not see: a murder might be committed ten feet away to later. For now, I am asserting that the boy genius suf-
from him, and if he was in the middle of composition, he fers in two or three ways at once in the institution called
might not notice. He could compose in between billiard “school.” The unruliness of genius suffers. The unruliness
shots, because in some way the activities are similar: the of the boy suffers. And the whole aim of the school weighs
arrangement of a multitude of musical angles and concus- upon him like a fog.
sions and ricochets. The purpose of our large social stewing pots, our
Nature is conservative with females, because to them schools, is to sink the genius to equality, that is, to the
is given the whole biological future of the race. She is devil- mediocre, and to raise the half-wit to the same. In this en-
may-care with males, because they are demographically terprise I say that they win one and lose one: they cannot
expendable. If Johnny blows himself up while trying to succeed with the half-wit, but they do succeed with the
invent nitroglycerine, he as a father to children may easily genius. They muffle, stifle, dishearten, and bore. When
be replaced, and some other Johnny will invent the stuff equality is the aim, and an enforced conformity the means,
instead. genius retires, sullen and idle.
Most of the girls I knew liked school well enough; I
knew only one of them who hated it with a passion. Most
Stifling Institutions of the people I knew who hated school with a passion, as I
My third point is built upon the second. Edison was a com- did, were boys, nor did I know a single boy who really liked
pulsive worker and about as antisocial a man as you can it. This should not surprise us. The boy’s body is like that of
be. He taught himself to sleep an hour or two at night on his a big and active dog. It needs acreage. The people who run
laboratory table. Nobody ever called upon Michelangelo the schools are women, and they run it to their tastes, not
for the charm of his wit. He was always a fiery and brood- his. Their tastes run to the safe space, the walled garden.
ing man, as we see him portrayed in Raphael’s painting The “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall / That wants

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2018 Conference Talk

it down,” said Robert Frost, who also disliked school, and S­ uppose you have the run of a library filled with the great-
spent most of his time as a child whittling and otherwise est works of the human mind: works by Plato, Shake-
not paying attention to the goings on, so that he hardly speare, Dostoyevsky, Gibbon, Dr. Johnson, Goethe, Homer,
knew how to read before he was thirteen years old. Petrarch, Cervantes, and Dante. Suppose you are invited,
Our schools are places of routine and sociability, every week, to lectures by the world’s most perspicacious
which means, practically, that they are snake-pits of gossip critics of these works, and suppose that they engage the
and sinkholes of drudgery. Yet the cheerfulness of young most difficult questions that have perplexed us. Difficult
people somewhat lightens the mood, and also the genuine and momentous questions: Do we possess free will? Are
goodwill and kindness of the women teachers. There is the good and the true convertible? What is the nature of
the occasional charm in the fog. But genius is what it is in matter? Is evil an existent thing, or a mere negation? Is the
part because it cannot be taught in any easily predictable common good identifiable with the good of individuals?
or convenient way. It resists all standardization. If you are What is the whole duty of man?
in most social environments—with one exception that I Now suppose that instead of reading those books and
will get to, I promise—you must abide by a kind of compli- attending those lectures, you demand that a new wing of
cated etiquette that is remarkably effective and that does the library be built, where you and members of your sex,
redound to human happiness. But not to the happiness of at the expense of men as well, retire to read Charlotte
the poor befuddled boy, to whatever extent he is afflicted Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Andrea Dworkin, Rosemary
by the malady I am calling genius. ­Ruether, and Margaret Atwood, and that the questions you
The institution by its nature exists to continue its ex- engage all have to do with the status of women in your
istence. It is like a granite cliff. It is there. But something own time. You make it clear, in addition, that only certain
in the boy wants to act upon that cliff. His mind drives a opinions will be entertained: Mariana Griswold van Rens-
wedge into its heart. Quarry it for granite. Blow a hole selaer, one of the leaders of the opposition to women’s suf-
through it so that a train can rumble through. Set charges frage in the United States, and the most prominent critic
of dynamite in it to carve a massive sculpture. of architecture, of either sex, in her time, need not apply
“Young men’s thoughts are bold,” says the poet Spens- for admission. It is an institutional safe space, a feminist
er. The boldness fits with their bodies and with their felt quilting bee, except that nothing so attractive and useful
need to show themselves as strong and desirable for wom- as a quilt is ever made.
en: they are the bright cardinal singing loudly upon an It should go without saying that most men and boys
open branch. Give a boy an ax and he will chop down trees would find such a place intolerable. That is part of the
with it. If we had not become used to such phenomena, so point. But the men and boys would also not enjoy other
used to them that we no longer notice them, there is no classes taught by women who would establish such things.
way that most of us could imagine something as bizarre as The women do not speak their language. I do not need to
digging a canal through the mountains that separate the show here that no woman can inspire boys intellectually.
Delaware River from the Hudson, as did the first settlers In general, they do not do it, and I am not blaming them for
of the towns where I grew up in Pennsylvania, so that they that, no more than I would blame them for not inventing
could float barges of coal to New York City without having new sports—which boys and men invent all the time. I
to go through Philadelphia. assume that the interests of the sexes are not identical,
A fine madness grips the man. The Wright brothers at because the sexes are not identical.
Kitty Hawk were like the first man who strapped an ox to If someone should object and say that I am wrong, and
his own shoulders with a blade to scrape up the earth—or that boys are surely inspired to greatness by their women
like the first man who culled a young wild ox from the teachers, I must shrug and ask why those same boys then
herd. No institution, as an institution, would invent a plow. lag so badly behind their sisters, who come from exactly
By the time the first semi-savage boy with an idea and the same families as they do, with the same social status
an ox had gotten through the layers upon layers of ap- and income, who go to the same schools, and in the ag-
proval, the ox would be dead and the boy would be off in gregate are possessed of no greater natural intelligence.
the woods on his own, half-starved and sullen and of no Whether it could theoretically happen that we would get
use to anyone. a Bach or a Michelangelo from a system dominated by
women, I don’t know, but then I also don’t know whether
it is theoretically possible for man to live on Mars. I know
Different Interests, that it does not happen; it is not happening.
Different Languages We do not speak the same language. I will give you the
most obvious example. When we are dealing with any as-
My fourth point hinges upon the difference between the sertion beyond the merely technical or logical, the woman
space that women enjoy and the space that men enjoy. will think of a dozen ways in which it is consequential for
Of the former, I call to witness the feminists themselves. the welfare of human beings, including herself. The first

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The Boy Genius by Anthony Esolen

question that the man will think of is simply this: “Is it

Again I call to witness the feminists themselves. They
Watch online!
are the ones who first showed me that it was masculine,
all too masculine, to insist upon truth before all other This talk was
originally given at
considerations. They call it being “logocentric,” or “phal- Touchstone’s 2018
locentric,” or some other such nonsense, while they calmly annual conference:
type away in their offices, inside buildings constructed by “Patriarchy:
men who never inquired about the feelings of brick or the Fatherhood & the
Restoration of
social implications of angular momentum, but made their Culture.”
angles right and their walls plumb and their levels true.
Feelings are neither here nor there. If English litera-
ture, taken all in all, is superior to Welsh literature, then—
as much as I like the Welsh—it is, and that is that. Calling
the attitude “fascist” or “imperialist” may mask your fear
to acknowledge the truth, but the truth remains.

Intellectual Boxing Rings

And now my final point. I have said that boys may flour-
ish in an institution if the institution has a certain char-
acteristic. It is simply that the institution should be a Watch this and other talks from the conference at
patriarchy. I do not know whether every mother wants www.touchstonemag.com/patriarchy
her daughter to be greater than she is. I do not know
whether women think in such comparative terms. I do
know that every good father wants his son to be a better This was not just a concluding ceremony. It was only
man than he has been. This is a fact attested to in every the most public manifestation of what had been going on
culture. It is what Hector says in the Iliad, as he dandles in the university all the time. St. Thomas Aquinas, given
his infant son in his arms; he hopes that the men of Troy the unflattering nickname “the Dumb Ox” by his fellow
will someday say of Astyanax that his father Hector students, threw a mean uppercut and a crushing right
was a good man but that he is better. My father said it cross—with blows of the mind. It was what enabled the
of me. Archie Manning says it proudly of his boys Peyton monk Gaunilo to attempt a rebuttal of St. Anselm, on behalf
and Eli. of the fool who says in his heart, “There is no God,” and
This attitude is not sentimental and it does not nec- Anselm did not either take the rebuttal personally, nor did
essarily imply softness. Men are the sex that builds the he cast doubt upon Gaunilo’s faith. Under the protection of
military space, the palestra, the arena for fighting, and you the fathers, and of the Father himself, the sons could fight
can fight with your mind as well as with your fists. G. K. and grow strong, and thresh out the truth from error and
Chesterton, a bluff admirer of women, said that there are falsehood.
only three things that women do not understand, and they
are Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. All three things come
together in the club, the beer hall, the boxing ring, and the Time to Rebuild
school for boys that is run by men. In that place, no ques- I believe that nature provides us with as many boy ge-
tion is out of bounds. Social rank does not matter. Feelings niuses now as she ever did. If we do not see them, it is
do not weigh in the balance with truth. The boys and men because we have stifled them. Where would they flourish?
fight it out with ideas, as with fists, and oftentimes they Where would they go to be free? Where can they build
are all the more firmly bound to one another for the gift their catapults to hurl half a mountain against the mas-
of a bloody nose. sive complacency that surrounds them? Where will they
Notice the kind of thing that men in the Middle Ages, learn to see their gifts as an expression of their masculine
who invented the university, invented for the proving of nature, ordained to serve the common good? Name the
bachelors: an intellectual boxing ring, in public, with the place. There is none.
masters and doctors asking questions, and the object of So they must be built again. It is hardly necessary for
their scrutiny answering them as best he could, while ev- me to argue that men alone must do this. Only men have
eryone interested looked on and judged the performance, done it, and the women of our time show not the slightest
just as fans at Madison Square Garden might nowadays interest in it; rather the reverse. But the work is now three
score a fight on their cards. generations overdue. Time to get to it. 

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Voices Uplifted
The Spiritual & Sacramental Choir
of the Body of Christ
by Christopher Hoyt

or the modern English speaker, the words “wind,” “breath,” and “spirit” each con-
jure a different sort of mental image. “Wind” may summon up the picture of tree limbs
swaying in the breeze. For “breath,” one might imagine a windowpane fogged by exha-
lation or a diagram of human lungs. “Spirit” conveys still another sort of idea: Scrooge’s
visitors or a genie
from a lamp. In our
minds, these three—
wind, breath, and
spirit—are sharply
differentiated ideas
that do not overlap
much with one an-

Getty Images
other, and our evolv-
ing English language
has assigned a sepa-
rate term to each.

But in the biblical

languages of Hebrew
and Greek it was not so.
The single Greek word
pneuma or Hebrew word
ruach embraced all three
of these concepts: the cur-
rents of air that travel to and fro across the earth, the has divided into three. One can see this in our English
respirations of the body, and the life that transcends the translations of John 3:8, which often supply two differ-
flesh. The vocabulary of the biblical authors thus fur- ent renderings of the Greek word pneuma: “The wind
nished a single, composite word-idea that our language [pneuma] blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound
of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it
Christopher Hoyt is a composer and the editor of the hymnal goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit [pneuma]”
The Book of Common Praise (2017). He is Adjunct Professor of (NKJV).
Sacred Music at Cranmer Theological House (Reformed Episco- As in language, so in thought: the clean separation
pal) and currently works as a church organist at Good Shepherd between the ideas of wind and breath and spirit that our
Church (Reformed Episcopal) in Tyler, Texas. language imposes upon us did not exist for thinkers in

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Voices Uplifted by Christopher Hoyt

the biblical era. To them, clouds drifting on a breeze, a an instrument, such as well-tuned cymbals, citha-
man puffing from exercise, and the “light of the eyes” ra, or ten-stringed psaltery is, as we know, an out-
were all manifestations of the same thing, the ruach or ward token that the members of the body and the
the pneuma. Each of those particular instances participat- thoughts of the heart are, like the instruments
ed in a larger, composite idea or themselves, in proper
“ancient unity,” as Owen Barfield order and control, all
named it. of them together liv-
It is perhaps not surprising, ing and moving by the

Tuning Man’s Whole then, that the physical Spirit’s cry and breath.
(The Life of Antony and
Being to God nature of singing should the ­Letter to Marcellinus,
translated by Robert C.
Singing, then, must have seemed mirror certain spiritual Gregg, Paulist Press,
a different sort of activity to an- 1980)
cient thinkers than it does to us realities. The unity of
now. Singing presumes breathing,
so any singer in the ancient world
the Church, for example, One can hear in Athanasius
an echo of Paul’s exhortation,
would have been—to their way finds its counterpart in “present your bodies a living
of thinking—literally “full of the sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God,
spirit.” This elucidates a parallel- congregational song. What which is your reasonable service.
ism in the Apostle Paul’s words: And do not be conformed to this
“be filled with the Spirit, speak- could be a more apt figure world, but be transformed by the
ing to one another in psalms renewing of your mind” (Rom.
and hymns and spiritual songs,
of “many members in one 12:1–2). Worshiping in song is
singing and making melody in body” than when unique a way of transforming oneself
your heart to the Lord” (Eph. into that living sacrifice; the
5:18b–19). and disparate voices aptly named “offertory” sung in
When one sings, one is reso- church services today is an offer-
nated by the pneuma, the wind- become one in song? ing of the worshipers’ own selves.
breath-spirit. One becomes an Such a parallel between sacrifice
instrument very much like a flute and music appears in the temple
Getty Images

or an oboe. The vibrations produced by the pneuma do worship of the Old Testament. Second Chronicles 23:18,
not merely involve lungs and larynx. The entire human for example, mentions that King David specifically paired
body serves as a resonance chamber for the voice, in much music with the burnt offerings of the tabernacle; strains
the same way as the body and bell of a clarinet enable its of melody rose heavenward along with the smoke of the
speech. And when one is singing in worship, this reso- burning animal.
nance extends beyond mere physical vibrations and into
the metaphysical world as well. I hope that every reader
has experienced the reverberations of heart and mind that Doubly Sacramental
accompany fervent congregational singing. For any who The reader will now have some sense of what I mean
have had such an experience, it is not hard to perceive a when I say that music is sacramental. It is sacramental
hymn as an act of obedience to Jesus’ command, “You shall in a double sense. The first and more obvious sense is the
love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your classic definition of a sacrament: “an outward, visible sign
soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Pi- of an inward, spiritual grace,” which in this case might be
ous singing unites all the human faculties in a single act, paraphrased to “an embodied, audible sign of an inward,
tuning man’s whole being to God. spiritual grace.” One catches that sense in Athanasius’s
This insight did not escape the ancients. Athanasius quote above. But there are also intimations in the Scrip-
mentions it in his letter to Marcellinus: tures that music is sacramental in a second sense: in addi-
tion to signifying spiritual realities, it actually intermingles
When, therefore, the Psalms are chanted, it is and interacts with them.
not from any mere desire for sweet music, but as Consider one of the most touted examples, David play-
the outward expression of the inward harmony ing his harp to calm King Saul. First Samuel 16 records that
obtaining in the soul, because such harmonious when David played, the distressing spirit from the Lord left
recitation is in itself the index of a peaceful and Saul. Jeremy Begbie has noted that the reformers ­Martin
well-ordered heart. To praise God tunefully upon Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli all ­commented on

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this biblical passage. Each reformer’s perspective on the shimmery pitches sounding above the singers’ voices.
passage parallels his Eucharistic theology; how efficacious Many readers will already be familiar with these “over-
was David’s harp playing, really? Did the music actually tones” or “harmonics,” which are the result of sympathetic
cause the distressing spirit to leave Saul, or was it merely resonance between sound waves. I find it especially de-
an accompanying incident? lightful that God has woven such a potent analogue into
Other Bible stories provoke similar questions. In the very properties of sound. What better image of the
2 Kings 3, the monarchs Jehoshaphat and Jehoram ap- body of Christ, in which the whole is somehow greater
proach the prophet Elisha, seeking a prophecy from the than the sum of its parts? What could be more reminis-
Lord. Elisha calls for a musician. “Then it happened,” the cent of the invisible, heavenly choir than unseen voices
text says, “when the musician played, that the hand of the that join with ours in our moment of perfect concord?
Lord came upon [Elisha].” In the account of the dedication (Note that at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, it
of Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 5), divine action is also was when the singers and instrumentalists were “as
associated with music: one” that the glory cloud of the Lord appeared in the
[I]ndeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters
and singers were as one, to make one sound to
be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and Unity & Memory Across Generations
when they lifted up their voice with the trum- And it is not only our pew-mates to whom we are united
pets and cymbals and instruments of music, and through our singing. When we share the song of a previous
praised the Lord, saying: “For he is good, / For his generation, we invoke their witness. Old songs are a mani-
mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house festation of cultural memory, the heirloom of a common
of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the heritage; through them our forefathers speak to us, and
priests could not continue ministering because through them we testify to our yet-unborn descendants.
of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the Past, present, and future converse through singing. As
house of God. Thomas Gill put it in his hymn:

I do not mean to suggest that holy music is a tool for We come unto our fathers’ God;
manipulating God into action, which would be an idola- Their Rock is our salvation;
trous notion. To say that music is sacramental is not to say Th’eternal arms, their dear abode,
that it is magic, a spell that irresistibly conjures God or the We make our habitation;
spirits on our behalf. But passages such as these suggest We bring thee, Lord, the praise they brought;
that music is not easily disentangled from the world of We seek thee as thy saints have sought
the transcendent. Metaphysical realities have their coun- In ev’ry generation. . . .
terpart in physical vibrations. Breath and breeze are not
easily divorced from spirit. Their joy unto their Lord we bring;
Their song to us descendeth;
The Spirit who in them did sing
An Image of the Body of Christ To us his music lendeth.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the physical nature His song in them, in us, is one;
of singing should mirror certain spiritual realities. The We raise it high, we send it on,
unity of the Church, for example, finds its counterpart The song that never endeth.
in congregational song. What could be a more apt figure
of “many members in one body” than when unique and God himself speaks explicitly about this role of music
disparate voices become one in song? A group of people in the book of Deuteronomy, as the children of Israel are
that is singing well shares a common pace of declama- about to enter the Promised Land:
tion, a common set of notes, and a common vocal timbre;
through these they unite. Yet this unity does not eradicate Now therefore, write down this song for your-
the individual; each voice retains its own distinctive qual- selves, and teach it to the children of Israel; put it
ity as it contributes to the whole. Indeed, far from being in their mouths, that this song may be a witness
obliterated by the ensemble, each voice becomes acousti- for me against the children of Israel. When I have
cally greater than it would have been alone; sympathetic brought them to the land flowing with milk and
resonance between sound waves causes individual voices honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they
to augment and enhance one another. have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat,
On a few occasions, when I have been in a choir that then they will turn to other gods and serve them;
was singing a chord perfectly in tune, I have heard high, and they will provoke me and break my covenant.

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Voices Uplifted by Christopher Hoyt

Then it shall be, when many evils and troubles also essential to the imitation of Trinitarian love. Oneness
have come upon them, that this song will testify and caritas mingle in the sacrament of music as they do in
against them as a witness; for it will not be for- Jesus’ high priestly prayer:
gotten in the mouths of their descendants, for I
know the inclination of their behavior today, even I do not pray for these alone, but also for those
before I have brought them to the land of which who will believe in me through their word; that
I swore to give them. (Deut. they all may be one, as
31:19–21) you, Father, are in me,
and I in you; that they
If anyone desires evidence Whether it is Roman also may be one in us,
of the indelible stamp that music that the world may be-
leaves upon memory, I recom- Catholics singing Luther’s lieve that you sent me.
mend singing Christmas carols
at a nursing home. When I was
Ein’ feste Burg (“A Mighty And the glory which you
gave me I have given
an elementary school student, Fortress Is Our God”) or them, that they may be
our class would sing every year one just as we are one: I
for the old folks at the nearby Reformed churches singing in them, and you in me;
rest home. When we filed into the that they may be made
nursing home cafeteria, many of Aquinas’s Adoro te devote perfect in one, and that
the residents seemed unaware
of us; their eyes glazed and their
(“Humbly I Adore Thee”), the world may know
that you have sent me,
chins drooped onto their chests certain hymns have become and have loved them
as they sat. Some could no longer as you have loved me.
recognize their own children or a token of ecclesiastical (John 17:20–23)
remember their own spouses’
names. But as soon as we would unity, testifying that these Even Paul’s scant instruc-
strike up with “Joy to the World!”
or “Silent Night,” they were trans-
many members are still one in Colossians tions about church music, both
and in Ephesians,
formed. Heads lifted, spark came body in Christ. cast singing in the mold of love.
back into eyes, eager smiles blos- Paul prescribes music as a duty
somed, and the old folks would that has both a God-ward and a
chant the words along with us. The old songs are the last neighbor-ward direction, and thus alludes to Jesus’ sum-
thing to go. mary of the law: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly
in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in
psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace
Singing in the Mold of Love in your hearts to the Lord.” (Col. 3:16)
In addition to bridging temporal gaps, hymns have also
(happily) begun to bridge the gaps between denomina-
tions, forging links between parts of the Church that Toward a Renaissance of Holy Song
are institutionally estranged. Whether it is Roman Few human pursuits are so steeped in sacramentality as
Catholics singing Luther’s Ein’ feste Burg (“A Mighty For- singing. It comes as no surprise, then, that God has so fre-
tress Is Our God”) or Reformed churches singing Aqui- quently commanded it in his Word. Even the proportions
nas’s Adoro te devote (“Humbly I Adore Thee”), certain of Holy Writ suggest its importance; the longest book in
hymns have become a token of ecclesiastical unity, tes- the Bible is the Book of Psalms.
tifying that these many members are still one body in It is encouraging that so many Christian scholars and
Christ. thinkers are once again turning their minds and pens to
This sacramental manifestation of the one-and-many this disregarded sacrament. One can hope that the re-
is reminiscent not only of the Church’s unity, but also of newed interest will not stop at mere abstract thinking
the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It is striking that God, and theorizing, but that Christians everywhere will make
being both singular and several, should have mandated music to the Lord with heart, soul, mind, and strength.
congregational singing, an action that combines plurality Let us pray that we may see a renaissance of holy song as
and singularity. Corporate singing mimics the love that Christians aspire to music which is theologically rich, full
flows between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The duties of of piety, and superb in its execution. After all, the adage is
a good chorister—listening to others, seeking to enhance not merely, “He who sings, prays twice,” but “He who sings
their sound, responding to the needs of the group—are well, prays twice.”  

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 37

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The Problem of Pity

Misguided Mercy & Dante’s Infernal Purgation
by Joshua Hren
I, one man alone,
Prepared myself to face the double war
Of the journey and the pity.

—Dante, Inferno, Canto II

t is a pity that compassion has conquered our public conversations, our churches,
and our hearts. (In this paper, I will at times use the words “compassion,” “pity,” and
“mercy” as synonyms, even as I make necessary distinctions along the way.) Occasions for
pity proliferate to the point that many
of us experience what the protagonist
of David Lodge’s novel Therapy calls “compas-
sion fatigue,” which is “the idea that we get so
much human suffering thrust in our faces ev-
eryday from the media that we’ve become sort
of numbed, we’ve used up all our reserves of
pity, anger, outrage, and can only think of the

Getty Images
pain in our own knee.” Alongside “compassion
fatigue,” others are plagued by misconstrued
mercy, misplaced pity, and an abundance of at-
tendant errors that are typically dignified by
the claim that they are “pastoral.”

The problem of pity brings to the fore our need to

discriminate between poisonous pity and virtuous pity.
Poisonous pity strives to persuade us that the emotional
response that others elicit ought to be the lodestar of our
ethical lives. Virtuous pity, or what Thomas Aquinas calls
misericordia, is married to justice, regulated by reason, our pitiful plague of compassion, we must pass through
and structured by doctrine. Dante teaches us this neces- The Inferno, putting ourselves under the tutelage of Virgil
sary discrimination dramatically. In order to be cured of and Dante, and, more to the point, we must learn to mea-
sure our mercy against the just mercy of God.
Joshua Hren is an Assistant Professor at Belmont Abbey College, In Canto V of The Inferno, in the circle of the carnal,
editor of Dappled Things, and editor-in-chief of Wiseblood Books. Dante meets the famed Paolo and Francesca; in conse-
He has published articles and poetry in Logos, First Things, New quence of their illicit affair, these lovers glide through
Blackfriars, and Touchstone. He is the author of Middle-earth Hell’s whirl like grotesque mating doves. Seeing Dante,
and the Return of the Common Good: Tolkien and Political Phi- Francesca immediately recognizes his pity—and she
losophy (Cascade Books, 2018) and This Our Exile (Angelico pounces on it, telling her own “piteous tale.” Anticipating
Press, 2017), a collection of short stories. his question as to how they ended up in the Inferno, she

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The Problem of Pity by Joshua Hren

three times proclaims that love led them there. Having For ­Rousseau, the capacity for pity is universal because all
read the rhyme of Lancelot, she and Paolo, “alone with human beings have a body that is subject to the strong pos-
innocence and dim time,” lost custody of their eyes un- sibility of suffering; human beings are inevitably objects of
til they could hardly read further, and “one soft passage suffering. Further, because of the universality of suffering,
overthrew” their caution and their hearts. As she tells this human beings will undoubtedly be subjects of suffering.
tale, “out of pity,” she says, even though it will make her “Physical suffering is immediately grasped or imagined,”
weep, Paolo stands by her side, himself crying “so pite- Manent writes. “One sympathizes with a toothache, a ner-
ously,” Dante writes, that “I felt my senses reel / and faint vous colic, and two days without eating or drinking more
away with anguish.” He swoons, easily than with a moral humili-
falling as a corpse might to Hell’s ation, an intellectual preoccupa-
floor. tion, or a spiritual anguish” (189).
As he begins his descent into As he moves from the In sum, the physicality of pity,
the Inferno, Dante prepares him- rooted as it is in the senses, al-
self “to face the double war / of
Inferno to the Paradiso, lows us to “communicate immedi-
the journey and pity.” In other Dante comes to see various ately with the other, without the
words, taking up the metaphor of mediation of complex ideas. Pity
war Dante himself gives us, pity punishments as merited; can be relied on to bind people
is, in a certain sense, the enemy. because it is a sentiment, an af-
As such, it would seem that our he sees that although the fect, or a disposition that does
aim must be to conquer or banish not demand any moral transfor-
it. However, as we will see, it is
effects of sin may cause us mation or transcendence of self”
possible to win this war by press- sorrow, we ought not to (189).
ing pity into the service of the The visible suffering of an-
highest faculties God has given pity the sinner to the point other says to me, “You, too, could
us. But before we take a look at undergo this,” and therefore I
the way pity plays out in The In- that we try to rearrange the make an effort to assuage his
ferno, it will be necessary to parse suffering. But, Manent notes, I
out several of its types, its perils, architecture of hell—or, I do not in truth experience this
and its conditional goodness. might add, to abolish hell suffering that I perceive so viv-
idly: “I know well that I do not

Manent’s Distinctions
entirely, putting in its place effectively experience it and so
Getty Images

I rejoice that I am exempt from

In A World Beyond Politics? Cath- a pitiful cosmos of our it. I experience the pleasure of
olic political philosopher Pierre not suffering. Therefore, there is
Manent takes up the task of dis- own making. nothing idealistic or utopian in
tinguishing between the differ- pity as the foundation of social
ent versions of humanism and morality.” As Manent maintains,
humanitarianism, in large part to demonstrate their in- altruistic pity is morally economical, demanding very little
debtedness to—and incompatibility with—Christian love from mankind: “there is nothing in pity that is heroic, since
of neighbor. ­Manent’s aim is to unveil the paucity and fra- its wellspring is the selfishness of each person. Rousseau
gility of modern humanism’s moral foundations. For Jean- was giving us the blueprint that has effectively prevailed
Jacques Rousseau, one of the fathers of this humanism, pity in liberal democratic society” (190).
is a moral sentiment that is able to unify human beings in a
world witnessing the death of the common good. Christian
love, however, is never aimed at the neighbor in and of The Catch
himself, but at the imago Dei that is found in every human There is a catch, though, that casts us back to the nature
being. Even ­Nietzsche, writes Manent, “though furiously of pity, and which prevents us from dismissing all forms
anti-­Christian, nonetheless says that to love the neighbor of it as disordered. Jesus himself is regularly “filled with
for the love of God is the most refined moral sentiment pity.” We read that, as he walked through cities and vil-
attained by human beings” (p. 188). lages, casting out demons and healing the sick, “seeing the
Manent helps us distinguish humanitarianism from people, he felt pity for them, because they were distressed
Christian love in part through a linguistic analysis, for and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).
the foundation of humanitarianism is not agape (sacri- Later in Matthew’s Gospel we read of two blind men who
ficial love) or caritas (charity) as much as it is compas- cry out to Jesus for mercy and that, “moved with com-
sion, or pity, in the sense that Rousseau uses the word. passion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they

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r­ egained their sight and followed him” (20:34). Or consider the distress of one who suffers undeservedly.” Pity rightly
the following moving passage from the Gospel of Luke: practiced hinges on this word undeservedly. Aquinas ex-
plains that it is of the nature of a fault to be voluntary, and
As he approached the gate of the city, a dead man insofar as it is voluntary, it “deserves punishment rather
was being carried out, the only son of his mother, than mercy.” However, because a fault “may be, in a way, a
and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from punishment, through having something connected with it
the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, he that is against the sinner’s will,” it may call for misericor-
felt pity for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” dia, for pity.
And he came up and touched the coffin; and the Although pity can be felt or demonstrated wrongly,
bearers came to a halt. And he said, “Young man, I then, it would be wrong and deeply damaging for us to
say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began banish it from our hearts and minds. Both Aquinas and
to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. Aristotle note that a virtuous person looks upon his friend
(7:12–15) as another self, and so he counts his friend’s grief as his
own. But Aquinas also notes, as Rousseau did later, that
Pity precedes each of the aforementioned healings, a person can feel pity for those who are not his friends,
which demonstrates that there are certain good acts that especially when he realizes that what has happened to
cannot come to be without pity. them may happen to himself. The
In The Inferno itself, Dante’s first old and the wise, he says, know
word is “miserere”: “Have pity well that they may fall upon evil
on me, whatever thing you are,
Pitiful arrogance has times, and so they, “as also feeble
whether shade or living man,” moved many to make claims and timorous persons, are more
Dante cries out at the sight of inclined to pity.”
Virgil (I.65–66). Explaining “why that would rearrange the Others are naturally unlikely
I came to you and what I heard to know pity, especially “those
when first I pitied you,” the au- architecture of the afterlife. who deem themselves happy,
thor of the Aeneid recounts that
Mary herself instructed him to
For this, too, Dante provides and so far powerful as to think
themselves in no danger of suf-
work toward Dante’s salvation a corrective. fering any hurt.” The proud are
with “high counsel, pity, and with inclined to think that those who
whatever need be for his good” suffer have merited it; thinking
(II.50–67). “Blessed be that Lady of infinite pity,” Dante the suffering wicked, they refrain from pity. The angry
exclaims as Canto II comes to a close; he recognizes that also are bereft of pity, for, as we read in Proverbs 27:4:
without her pity he would yet be lost in the wood. “Anger hath no mercy, nor fury when it breaketh forth.”
In his Summa Theologiae (II-II, q.30), Thomas Aquinas
asks how taking pity could be a defect in the person who
pities, given that God himself pities. We cannot recognize Just versus Misguided Pity
dependence and respond rightly to disfigurement without How, then, can we learn to pity rightly? First, we must
pity—at the bare minimum—or something that is both learn the parameters of pity rightly understood. In the
similar to it and yet surpasses it. It would seem, though, Summa, Aquinas considers the objection that pity cannot
that this something is misericordia. Aquinas probes the be a virtue. As Aristotle teaches, he notes, virtue is above
problem of misericordia, which can be translated as “pity,” all else a choice, “the desire of what has been already coun-
but which we ought to leave in Latin to avoid the conno- seled.” But pity seems to hinder counsel. In addition, mercy
tative meaning of pity as pure sentiment, unguided by seems to belong to the appetitive power; as a feeling, it
reason—as sentimentality, a sign of moral failure. Most cannot be an intellectual virtue, and because God is not its
literally, misericordia means miserum cor, or pitying heart. object, it cannot be a theological virtue. Finally, because it
Misericordia, Aquinas teaches (citing St. Augustine), is a does not belong to justice, and is not about passions, pity
heartfelt grief or sorrow over another’s distress, “impel- cannot be a moral virtue.
ling us to succor him if we can.” Aquinas admits that distress over another’s distress
In order to establish the motives of pity, Aquinas turns may be a mere movement of the sensitive appetite. But we
to Aristotle, who in his Rhetoric defines pity as “sorrow must not on these grounds discard it, as “in another way,
for a visible evil, whether corruptive or distressing.” it may denote a movement of the intellective appetite, in-
Such evils, he writes, provoke pity even more if they are asmuch as one person’s evil is displeasing to another. This
contrary to deliberate choice, “when it is the result of an movement may be ruled in accordance with reason, and
accident, as when something turns out ill, whereas we in accordance with this movement regulated by reason,
hoped well of it.” Finally, Aquinas argues, “we pity most the movement of the lower appetite may be regulated.”

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The Problem of Pity by Joshua Hren

Augustine, too, knew that this was true, for in The City Like Dante, many practice pity as they do precisely
of God he argues that “this movement of the mind obeys because it “does not demand any moral transformation
the reason, when mercy is vouchsafed in such a way that or transcendence of self.” (I should note that some who
justice is safeguarded”—for instance, when we give to the are inclined to anger and pride may find themselves nod-
needy or forgive the repentant. Pity, then, misericordia, is ding, but only because they have made their deficit of pity
a virtue, insofar as it is practiced justly, which is to say something to extol.) Dante’s transformation comes first
according to reason. through the instruction that Virgil provides, which tem-
Crucially, Augustine notes that we can show pity pers the poet’s pain and helps him to see the parts within
through an act of forgiveness, but such could only meet the whole. When the “sighs and cries and wails coiled and
the demands of justice if the object of our pity were repen- recoiled” overwhelmed Dante, and he was tempted to feel
tant. It is here that we encounter one of the major flaws bad, Virgil “put forth his hand . . . with a gentle and encour-
in Dante’s misguided pity for Paolo and Francesca. As I aging smile.”
demonstrated earlier, Francesca exploits Dante’s error. Dante’s pity is also purified through his encounters
Seeing that, though Italian, he has an Irishman’s bleeding with the souls in Purgatory, who, though in a state of pun-
heart, that he assumes that these two lovers have been ishment, are entirely at peace with it. They have come to
“brought to this sorry pass” through “sweetest thoughts” recognize that pity must not contradict the dictates of
and “green and young desire,” none of which he condemns, justice. As he moves from the Inferno to Paradise, Dante
she thrusts upon him what we have come, in common comes to see various punishments as merited; he sees that
parlance, to call a “sob story.” Francesca’s tone is self- although the effects of sin may cause us sorrow, we ought
pitying, and like Dante, Paolo is melted “to tears of pity not to pity the sinner to the point that we try to rearrange
and of pain.” Crucially, whereas at the start of his journey the architecture of hell—or, I might add, to abolish hell
Dante called out for miserere, here the Italian reads “lag- entirely, putting in its place a pitiful cosmos of our own
rimar mi fanno tristo e pio.” Thus does Dante the author of making.
The Divine Comedy distinguish between right and wrong
understandings of pity by employing different words to
signify each. When Pity Is & Isn’t Supreme
Francesca places a large portion of the blame for her In mentioning justice, I cannot help but anticipate the ob-
current state on the author of the Arthurian legend. jection that God’s highest attribute is misericordia, “just
mercy,” or “just pity,” and not justice per se. This would
For when we read be welcome news to those who mistake a morally impov-
how her fond smile was kissed by such a lover, erished, misdirected pity for the misericordia of God. But,
he who is one with me alive and dead with Aquinas, we should take seriously the objection that
breathed on my lips the tremor of his kiss. can be formulated as follows: Since, in God, mercy takes
That book, and he who wrote it, was a pander. precedence over all other virtues, so, in our practice, pity
That day we read no further. (V.130–135) must take precedence in our own moral economies; while
sin x might “in justice” merit punishment y, we ought “in
The author of Lancelot and Guinevere’s affair, in this case mercy” to respond in a forgiving manner.
Gallehault, was, as the very spelling of his name suggests, Aquinas would respond to this by acknowledging that
a galeotto, the Italian word for pimp. Francesca’s allegation one virtue can take precedence over another: first, in it-
betrays her unrepentance, and Dante’s dizzied response self, and second, in comparison to its subject. He grants
to her demonstrates his incapacity to discern the proper that, considered in itself, misericordia does take prece-
object and parameters of pity. dence over other virtues, as “it belongs to mercy to be
Is this not the case in so many of the contemporary bountiful to others, and, what is more, to succor others
conversations of our time? For many, pity is and should in their wants, which pertains chiefly to one who stands
be indiscriminately expressed toward the other, whether above. Hence mercy is accounted as being proper to God:
that person has cancer or is a slothful student, whether he and therein his omnipotence is declared to be chiefly
inhabits a district with heavy lead levels in the water or is manifested.”
actively engaged in a homosexual relationship that is pur- However, with regard to its subject, misericordia is
portedly unjustly condemned by the dominant culture. In not the crowning virtue, unless its subject is greater than
an age of diminishing demands and disappearing duties, it all others. For as man has God above him, charity, which
makes sense that pity would ascend to the throne of liberal unites him to God, is superior to misericordia, by which
individualist morality. As Manent observes, pity is effica- he “supplies the defects of his neighbor.” With regard to
cious and relatively easy; as a sentiment it binds people his neighbor, though, mercy is the greatest, “even as it is
easily and “does not demand any moral transformation or higher and better to supply the defect of another, insofar
transcendence of self.” as the latter is deficient.”

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The Problem of Pity by Joshua Hren

He who promulgates the supremacy of compassion the author’s outlook, which is, for the time and place, re-
is right, then, in the sense that pity is the greatest vir- markably benevolent.” Hollander concurs, arguing that
tue we can exercise toward our neighbors. He regularly “the fact that here, as in Purgatorio 26, he chooses to put
errs, however, in his practice of this compassion. When a homosexuals in a good light when there was no apparent
prominent church cleric, for instance, claims that the Cat- compelling reason for him to do so surely should cause us
echism of the Catholic Church’s description of homosexual to ask further questions about Dante’s views concerning
acts as “intrinsically disordered” is “needlessly hurtful,” homosexuality.”
he is implicitly appealing to the supremacy of pity, which We are right to read in these passages Dante’s immor-
is the sentiment so often affiliated with appeals that we be talization of pity for the sodomites. That being said, both
“pastoral.” Indeed, the priest who suggested that “differ- Hollander and Pequigney fail to acknowledge a trinity of
ently ordered” was preferable to “objectively disordered” truths hidden in plain sight. Indeed, both their readings
did so because, he argued, the teaching would thereby be are forced to mute several elements of the text.
expressed “more pastorally.” This example is paradigmatic First, although Dante experiences a pronounced af-
of so many others in our time. It illustrates how appeals fective pity for them, this pity comes in the context of the
to pity that enunciate the affective elements often aim not canto’s overwhelmingly political preoccupation. These
merely to change feelings, but to alter truth. Florentines are not merely sodomites, but members of the
“good Guelphs,” the lost cause, who could have saved Flor-
ence from the awful aftermath of the battle of Montaperti
Dante & the Sodomites (1260).
In the seventh circle of Hell, which is inhabited by the Second, although Dante’s disposition toward the sod-
violent against nature, Dante must again reckon with the omites may be strikingly compassionate given the norms
problem of pity, must discriminate between pity as mere of medieval culture regarding homosexuality—in Dante’s
affect and pity as directed, in justice, by the intellect. For day, penalties for sodomy could include confiscation of
here Dante meets a band of famous Florentine sodomites. property and even capital punishment—we know clearly
His affectivity is not yet fully educated, even if he has made that Dante’s own education into virtue, Dante’s pilgrim
some gains since Paolo and Francesca. Still, the poet’s in- conversion, is far from complete. Given this, we cannot re-
teractions with the homosexuals are remarkable in that, as gard his pity as evidence of the poet’s “progressive views”
Robert Hollander notes, “Virgil, who so often warns Dante concerning homosexuality.
when the latter begins to admire or become sympathetic Finally, and perhaps the most poignant point for our
(or overly concerned with the damned), here is urgent in purposes, the sodomites are yet—for all the sentiment that
his approbation of these three sinners.” “These are souls Dante might feel toward them—in Hell. As I noted earlier,
to whom respect is due,” Virgil says. “Do as they ask.” for Aristotle, those who are beset with anger and pride
Subsequently, we receive an extended description of are often unable to pity. I should also note that those who
the third round of the seventh circle. Darting flames hem detach pity from justice and make it their lodestar are
the narrow passage through which Dante and Virgil walk. particularly liable to pride, even as, because pity comes
Forming themselves into a wheel, the sodomites begin with such tenderness, it can be difficult to diagnose the
“their ancient wail / over again.” Iacopo speaks on behalf arrogance with which it is often affiliated.
of all, perhaps courting Dante’s pity by openly hoping that
their scorched appearance and the misery of their place
will not bring them into contempt. In response to Iacopo, Unblurred Vision
Dante desires to embrace them: Pitiful arrogance has moved many to make claims that
would rearrange the architecture of the afterlife. For this,
I would have thrown myself to the plain below too, Dante provides a corrective. For whatever the poet’s
Had I been sheltered from the falling fire; feelings toward the damned may have been, he knew that
And I think my Teacher would have let me go. misericordia is married to justice, regulated by reason, and
structured by doctrine, a truth that plays out in that his
But seeing I should be burned and cooked, own pilgrimage takes place within the norms that take
my fear form through the Word of God. Pity souls he might, but
Overcame the first impulse of my heart this does not blur his vision: although he deems its inscrip-
To leap down and embrace them then and there. tion “harsh,” Dante can still read—and teach us to read
(XVI.45–51) rightly—the sign affixed to the Gate of Hell:

Dante scholar Joseph Pequigney says, “Dante the pil- SACRED JUSTICE MOVED MY ARCHITECT
grim’s reaction is rather one of sympathy than the usual I WAS RAISED HERE BY DIVINE OMNIPOTENCE
and anticipated antipathy, and one that dramatizes Dante PRIMORDIAL LOVE AND ULTIMATE INTELLECT  

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Room for Dining

Why Tolkien’s Middle-earth Table Manners Matter Today
by Arthur W. Hunt III

o you are watching television and Will Ferrell appears in a commercial scrolling
his smartphone and says, “This filter makes me look like a cat. It’s so funny it’s making
me cry.” His family stares at him pathetically because he is doing this in the middle
of dinner. The public
service announcement
you have just seen is sponsored
by Common Sense Media and is
part of its #DeviceFreeDinner

Common Sense Media is not the only

voice on television promoting proper ta-
ble manners. Every week on the hit show
Getty Images

Blue Bloods the Reagan family sits down

to a device-free Sunday dinner. The show
stars Tom Selleck as New York City’s Po-
lice Commissioner and is reminiscent of
the old western series Bonanza, where the
central character is a strong father figure
who maintains law and order with the
help of his offspring. If any member of the
Reagan family were to pull out a smart-
phone at the table, he might find himself
washing the dishes at the Reagan kitchen
These glimpses of proper behavior at
the table come to us in what sociologists
and psychologists call an age of distrac-
tion. The average American adult checks his phone every or seven simultaneous streams of information during the
six-and-a-half minutes, says Sherry Turkle, author of Re- dinner hour.
claiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. Before Common Sense Media’s ad campaign, before
Turkle, who has written extensively on human–technol- Blue Bloods, and before social scientists started writing
ogy interaction, adds that with 44 percent of teens not about our national attention deficit disorder, the English
unplugging themselves from their devices ever, it is easy weaver of Middle-earth magic, J. R. R. Tolkien, was show-
to understand how the typical family now manages six ing his readers what a proper table should look like. Read-
ers around the globe have come to appreciate Tolkien for
Arthur W. Hunt III is Professor of Communications at the Uni- creating a fantasy world into which they can retreat, but
versity of Tennessee at Martin. This essay is based in part on a the creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was
paper presented at the 2018 annual convention of the Media actually shooting for something more ambitious than
Ecology Association under the title, “The Dinner Table as a providing reading pleasure. He was also concerned with
Counter-Environment.” cultural renewal.

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Tolkien’s Subversive Purpose The Table in The Hobbit

To Tolkien’s mind, there were few better media for convey- The table motif appears early in The Hobbit, when Bilbo’s
ing moral teaching than a good fairy-story, by which he teatime is interrupted by a throng of travel-worn dwarves
meant a deep-rooted tale, told as such and not as a thinly arriving at his door. The fur-
disguised moral allegory. Middle-earth is earth, through ry-footed Halfling becomes
which the Oxford mythmaker summons an array of com- flustered, not because he is a
pelling Christian motifs set against the growing darkness rude host—“for he knew his
coming out of Mordor. duty”—but because he fears
In Defending Middle-Earth (Mariner Books, 2004), Pat- he’ll run out of cakes. Bilbo
rick Curry claims that Tolkien’s work remains popular be- sets to work and scrounges
cause it resonates with the often-unarticulated view “that up ale, porter, coffee, buttered
we are now living in a time when the project of modernity scones, raspberry jam, apple-
is approaching exhaustion.” The villains in Tolkien’s story tarts, mince-pies, pork-pies,
worship power and are its slaves, says Curry. The techno- cold chicken, pickles, cheese,
logical and instrumental power commanded by Sauron eggs, and salad for his unex-
reveal “the epitome of modernism gone mad.” In the end, pected guests. Once the meal
Tolkien whispers in our ear that life does not have to be is over and the dishes are put
this way; the Shire can be taken back. away—before any talk of drag-
The table motif is one important element of Tolkien’s ons and loot begins—pipes are
mythology that expresses hospitality after the Judeo- taken out and smoke rings and fiddle music waft through
Christian tradition. Extending hospitality to strangers the hill-dug hall.
and sojourners was enjoined on the people of ancient Is- In chapter three of The Hobbit, “A Short Rest,” Bilbo
rael because they were strangers and sojourners them- and his companions stop at Rivendell, where Elrond lives
selves. Such hospitality usually involved sharing a meal, in the Last Homely House west of the Misty Mountains. The
as when Abraham entertained the three strangers who company has just escaped the trolls, and they find Elrond’s
announced that Sarah would conceive and bear a son in house to be a “perfect [place], whether you liked food, or
her old age. Early Christians saw hospitality as a way of sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting
imitating Christ, who instructed his followers to invite and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.”
the poor and handicapped to their banquets. Hospital- Later on in the journey, after the travelers have
ity was especially required of leaders of the church. Ul- been plucked from the burning wolf-glade by the Eagles,
timately, the Christian meal points to our future fellow- they come upon the rustic dwelling of Beorn, the skin-
ship with Christ in heaven, a foretaste of which is given in shifting bear-man. Beorn’s butlers are house pets—dex-
the Eucharist. terous white ponies and sheep, long-bodied grey dogs,
When reading Tolkien’s Middle-earth myth, one is and a coal-black ram—that set a low-lying supper table
struck by the frequency of scenes centered on meals. before a blazing hearth-fire. The next morning Bilbo
The action is zipping along, and then we find ourselves readies himself for a big breakfast, sitting down with
in the middle of an amazing table spread. All of Tolkien’s Gandalf, who has just finished off two whole loaves of
motifs are rich in symbolic meaning. For example, we get bread, masses of butter and honey, clotted cream, and a
glimpses of Christ’s personality and mission from Frodo’s quart of mead. Up until this point Beorn has been mys-
bearing of the ring, from Gandalf’s resurrection after de- terious and moody, spending much time banging around
feating the Balrog, and from Aragorn’s actions as healer outside. But on the second day he is in a jolly mood at
and king-in-waiting. Tolkien’s table motif has its own sym- breakfast, setting “them all laughing with his funny sto-
bolic meaning and furthers his subversive goal of cultural ries.” When it is time to go, Beorn tells the company what
restoration. to avoid on the road and then loads down their horses
The pattern that Tolkien sets up in both The Hobbit with food.
and The Lord of the Rings is an alternating pattern of travel
and rest, travel and rest. This pattern is especially evident
in the early stages of both works, when the travelers are The Table in The Lord of the Rings
invited to lodge with various hosts. The table motif serves As the Lord of the Rings trilogy opens, Bilbo is celebrating
as a purposeful lull, punctuating the escalating action as his eleventy-first birthday. Most of Hobbiton turns out for
the journey progresses. The respites echo times of fast- the party because he is known in the community for his
ing and feasting found in the Christian calendar. They are generosity. Apparently, the trait ran in the Baggins family:
episodes of wonder, fellowship, and replenishment, con- we are told that Frodo’s grandfather also kept a “mighty
trasting with the travail and despair of the road. generous table.” The celebration at Bag End is held in a

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Room for Dining by Arthur W. Hunt III

large pavilion, with Bilbo’s table situated beneath a large bounding explosion of color, clad in shiny yellow boots and
tree strung with lanterns. The party is an all-day affair a bright blue coat with a matching feathered cap sitting
with three official meals: lunch, tea, and dinner (supper). atop a head with a long brown beard encircling his apple-
Between meals, the guests mill red face. Goldberry is a shim-
around, play games, and enjoy mering river reed whose elegant
music and dancing. beauty transfixes her visitors as
A special dinner party— In the Middle-earth myth, she flits around a dark polished
a table within a table—is held table studded with bright yel-
under the great tree for twelve the table serves much more low candles, cream, honeycomb,
dozen guests, many of whom had
traveled some distance to attend.
than the utilitarian function bread, butter, milk, cheese, green
herbs, and ripe berries.
Most of these guests are relatives; of filling the belly. Rather, The hobbits’ stay at the house
a few are special friends. Some of of Tom Bombadil is extended a
the relatives “disliked Bilbo and the table is sacramental day due to rain. Although their
detested Frodo,” but they could journey to Bree is stalled, the ad-
hardly refuse the magnificent in- in character and points to ditional time allows them to learn
vitation with its card written in more about their surroundings,
gold ink. “Besides, their cousin,
heavenly realities. swap stories, and rest. Tom calls
Bilbo, had been specializing in it a good day for “long tales and
food for many years and his table answering questions” and then
had a high reputation.” Bilbo’s table does not disappoint proceeds to share stories of “bees and flowers, the ways
and is noted as being a “very pleasant feast . . . rich, abun- of trees, and the strange creatures of the Forest, about
dant, varied, and prolonged.” The atmospherics and the evil things and good things, things friendly and things un-
lavishness of the food spread put the listeners to Bilbo’s friendly, cruel things and kind things, and secrets hidden
birthday speech in a charitable mood right up until the under brambles.” The ancient Bombadil equips the hobbits
moment when he suddenly vanishes. for the next leg of their journey and teaches them a rhyme
Though Bilbo never returns, Frodo continues the an- to sing if they should fall into trouble.
nual celebration of his birthday, telling guests he thinks After more adventures—being rescued by Bombadil
his uncle is not dead and shrugging his shoulders when from the Barrow-wights, eluding the Ringwraiths with
anyone asks where he disappeared to. So, seventeen years the aid of the Ranger Aragorn,
later, we find Frodo and his friends Sam, Pippin, and Merry being pierced by a Nazgûl knife
celebrating Bilbo’s birthday with a feast—and finishing off and dragged across the River
the last bottle of Bilbo’s wine—before making their depar- Bruinen—Frodo awakens in
ture from Bag End. The hobbits sing supper songs as they Elrond’s House at Rivendell and
cross the countryside. When they come upon the Elves finds himself agreeing with
of Woodhall, they are replenished with a warm fire, fra- Bilbo’s earlier assessment, that
grant draught, heaping plates of food, and merriment. The it is indeed a “perfect house,
table motif appears again in the home of Farmer Maggot, whether you like food or sleep
who serves Frodo, Sam, and Pippin “beer in plenty, and a or story-telling or singing, or
mighty dish of mushrooms and bacon, besides much other just sitting and thinking best,
solid farmhouse fare.” Finally, Merry prepares baths and a or a pleasant mixture of them
meal of more mushrooms prior to their exit from the Shire. all.” Gandalf throws a feast on
As with the early plot action in The Hobbit, these table Frodo’s behalf—the sixth great
times in the first book of the Ring trilogy provide a travail/ hobbit-attended feast since the
restoration rhythm. The table is a means of refreshment. beginning of the book if you are
Perhaps the most poignant hosts in Tolkien’s Middle- counting—before the Council decides that the Ring must
earth myth are Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry. The be carried southward to be cast into the fires of Mount
hobbits have just been rescued from the clutches of Old Doom.
Man Willow when the River’s daughter greets them and Later, Gandalf is lost in the dark caverns beneath the
says, “Laugh and be merry! . . . Let us shut out the night! . . . Misty Mountains, but the members of the Fellowship, de-
For you are still afraid, perhaps, of mist and tree-shadows spite their sorrow, find replenishment at the Elf-haven of
and deep water, and untame things.” In turn, Tom cries, Lothlórien. “You are worn with sorrow and much toil,”
referring to himself in the third person, “Tom, Tom! Your says the Elf-ruler Celeborn. “Even if your Quest did not
guests are tired, and you had near forgotten! Come now, concern us closely, you should have refuge in this City, until
my merry friends, and Tom will refresh you!” Tom is a you were healed and refreshed.” The Fellowship remains

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at Lothlórien for some days, where “they did little but eat we provide a dinner reception after a wedding, celebrate
and drink and rest, and walked among the trees” before holidays, or commemorate other special occasions. Many
setting off again. churches still hold potlucks, and the art of food craft con-
The table motif occurs several more times in the other tinues to be highlighted in popular culture. Nevertheless,
books of the trilogy. For instance, after Isengard is over- the table must be diligently protected, not only because it
come by a flood, Treebeard opens up the storehouses for fosters communication among family members, but also
Pippin and Merry, where they find first-rate salted pork, because it is a powerful cultural liturgy.
wine, beer, and excellent tobacco. Faramir treats Frodo
and Sam to “what seemed like a feast to the hobbits” at
his hideaway cave in Ithilien. Later, Pippin enjoys a meal Cultural Liturgies
of bread, butter, cheese, and apples with Beregond, Guard Christian philosopher James K. A. Smith understands the
of the Citadel at Minas Tirith. Near the end of the trilogy, power of our daily routines. In You Are What You Love:
after Gollum plummets with the Ring into the bowels of The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos Press, 2016), he gives
Mount Doom, a great feast is held under prepared pavil- us the useful concept of cultural liturgies. Every day we
ions on the Field of Cormallen. choose between many rituals
Finally, there is a feast held in embedded in the culture, which
the Golden Hall after the burial
of King Théoden.
A cultural liturgy’s power serve to form our loves. Taking
his cue from Augustine’s words,
lies in the fact that forms are “You have made us for yourself,
and our heart is restless until it
The Sacred Table not neutral. The liturgical rests in you,” Smith notes three
These table times reveal what implications of this prayer.
Tolkien thought about food, fel- patterns of worship we use First, human beings are
lowship, hospitality, manners,
feasting, ceremony, and ritual. In
on Sunday are not neutral— made by and for the Creator.
Second, to be human is to be for
the Middle-earth myth, the table they do something to us. something—for some vision of a
serves much more than the utili- perceived good. This good is actu-
tarian function of filling the belly. The way we take our meals ally God’s kingdom, although we
Rather, the table is sacramental in might not call it that, or even real-
character and points to heavenly is not neutral—it does ize we have a vacuum in our souls
realities. As Gandalf attests, the
journey of life does not end here:
something to us. that needs to be filled. Third, the
heart is just as important as the
“The grey rain-curtain of this head. That is to say, the pull of a
world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then vision toward a perceived good is not primarily a pull of
you see it. White shores, and beyond, a far green country the intellect but of the heart—the seat of our affections.
under a swift sunrise.” Until that curtain is pulled back, Smith’s logic goes something like this: It is impossible
Christians enjoy a small taste of heaven when they gather for us not to love something. (Bob Dylan put it this way:
around the table in purposeful ways. “You’re gonna serve somebody.”) Furthermore, our loves
Fast food is a fairly recent phenomenon in human af- are formed through habits. Good moral habits constitute
fairs, brought about by electricity, industrialism, mass virtues; bad ones constitute vices. Thoughtful people from
marketing, and both parents leaving the home to earn a Aristotle to Augustine to Aquinas and beyond have known
wage at a workplace. As Daniel Walker Howe writes in this. Habits developed over time become second nature to
Victorian America, over two hundred years ago there was us and are acquired in two ways: through imitation and
a purposeful attempt on both sides of the Atlantic to cre- through practice.
ate an intentional sanctuary of domesticity, as the outside Young children naturally imitate their parents, and
world was increasingly perceived to be competitive, harsh, so pick up their habits, both good and bad. As children
and brutal. grow, they also pick up habits from their friends or from
The Victorians were largely successful in their efforts. the culture at large. This makes it important for parents
Up until the latter half of the twentieth century the ideal to present good examples to their children, both in them-
of the table as a sacred space endured. Today, however, selves and in others. That virtuous habits are acquired
family mealtimes are threatened by conflicting schedules, through imitation is borne out in Scripture, for Jesus said,
the convenience of grabbing grub at a drive-up window, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just
and the distractions created when electronic devices are as I have done to you” (John 13:15). And Paul admonished
brought to the table by plugged-in parents and children. the Christians at Corinth, “Be imitators of me, as I am of
Fortunately, most of us still honor the table when Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

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Room for Dining by Arthur W. Hunt III

Habits are also acquired through practice. By constant Smith devotes much of his argument to positive cul-
repetition day in and day out, certain actions become hab- tural liturgies. Sunday worship, of course, is a primary
its, instilled in our bones. They comprise the rhythms and medium of Christian formation. Worship counterbalances
rituals of our lives, whether for good or for ill. We would rival liturgies that seek to capture our hearts. Smith is
thus be wrong to think that acquiring virtue is solely a from the Dutch Reformed tradition, and he embraces his-
matter of exercising willpower or of telling our children torical liturgical worship. The weekly practice of praying,
to be strong when everything around them contradicts singing, listening to Scripture being read and expounded,
what they have been taught. External environments are and partaking of the Lord’s Table reorients our affections.
often more powerful than internal states. So we must Church is where we hear about the true Kingdom and how
seek to lessen the threat of a negative external environ- all rivals will have their end. The point of apocalyptic lit-
ment, and the best way to do that is to create a positive erature is not just prediction, says Smith, but also the
counter-environment. unveiling of realities as God sees them: “Fallen, fallen is
In 2011, John Bakan, a law professor at the University Babylon the great! . . . For all the nations have drunk the
of British Columbia, published an op-ed in the New York wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings
Times titled “The Kids Are Not All Right.” In it, he wrote, of the earth have committed immorality with her . . .” (Rev.
When I sit with my two teenagers, and they are Smith says we need to become expert readers of cul-
a million miles away, absorbed by the titillating tural liturgies, asking ourselves these kinds of questions:
roil of online social life, the addictive pull of vid- What are the secular liturgies in our lives? What vision
eo games and virtual worlds, as they stare end- of the good life is carried in those liturgies? What story is
lessly at video clips and digital pictures of them- embedded in those cultural practices? What kind of person
selves and their friends, it feels like something is do they want us to become? Toward what kingdom are
wrong. those rituals aimed?

He then added, “There is reason to believe that childhood

itself is now in crisis.” What Matters Now
Bakan was referring to the daunting task of raising a A cultural liturgy’s power lies in the fact that forms are
family in an aggressive culture that pulls children’s hearts not neutral. The liturgical patterns of worship we use on
away from their parents. Smith points to the power of Sunday are not neutral—they do something to us. The way
cultural liturgies to counter this pull, saying, “All kinds we take our meals is not neutral—it does something to us.
of cultural rhythms and routines are, in fact, rituals that Since everything we do out of habit contributes in some
function as pedagogies of desire precisely because they way to our formation, we would do well to pay attention
tacitly and covertly train us to . . . long for some rendition to the patterns of behavior we give ourselves to. In short,
of the good life.” behavior forms belief as much as belief forms behavior.
Smith offers several examples of cultural liturgies, This is why electronic devices should be put away at the
some of which are vice-forming, others virtue-forming. dinner table.
The habit of perpetual shopping, for instance, is a liturgy A Christian school in my neighborhood incorporates
that holds out the good of consumership. Smith says the the works of Tolkien into its curriculum and into some of
American shopping mall is a kind of temple that we fre- its student activities. Fifth-graders read The Hobbit, and
quent on a regular basis and that shapes our hearts toward other selections from Tolkien are studied in high school.
consumption. We could also say that time spent watching Each year the school holds a fundraising event based on
professional sports on TV is a kind of cultural liturgy that Middle-earth themes. When these students become par-
holds out the good of spectatorship. And if 44 percent of ents, they will no doubt introduce their own children to
teenagers are plugged into their electronic devices at any Tolkien. Tom Bombadil’s hospitality will become a touch-
given moment of the day, then this, too, is a significant stone for them, a counter-environment to fall back on in
cultural liturgy. the face of secular cultural liturgies.
These cultural liturgies are not necessarily bad in Alasdair MacIntyre claims at the end of his book Af-
themselves, but because we give them so much time and ter Virtue that virtue can only be fully comprehended in
attention, they shape our loves in ways we don’t realize. community. He writes, “What matters at this stage is the
Again, Smith wants us to understand that this kind of construction of local forms of community within which
formation is not primarily intellectual. People who build civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained
malls or produce football programming don’t really care through the new dark ages which are already upon us.”
about what we think, but they care very much about what If MacIntyre is right, then we will need models to emu-
we love. The people at Apple don’t just want you to use the late and motifs to inspire us. Tolkien’s table motif is one
latest iPhone; they want you to love it. such source of inspiration. 

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The Mimetic Bachelor

Reality Shows, Even in a Popular TV Series
by C. E. Smith

n TV’s wildly popular reality show The Bachelor, twenty-five women compete for
the title character’s hand in marriage while each week he pares down the number of
potential wives in a ceremonial distribution of roses. Its sister program, The Bach-
elorette, replicates the narrative format and dating rituals but with the sex dynamic
reversed, a difference that,
if nothing else, increases the likelihood of
fistfights. The confined process of elimina-
tion resembles a locked-room mystery but
with polyamory rather than homicide as
the focus. It is a crass spectacle worthy of
­K ierkegaard’s observation that “what the

Getty Images
world honors and loves under the name of
love is group-selfishness.”
I’m sufficiently inured to primetime vulgarity
that I can neither recommend The Bachelor nor con-
tinue to blame my wife for making me watch it. But
my initial disgust with the show has given way to
amused tolerance and even curiosity, not least be-
cause of its remarkable compatibility with the bibli-
cal anthropology of French theorist René Girard.
Girard’s central idea is that all human desire is imi- Mimetic desire leads to conflict when two or more in-
tative, or mimetic. Mimetic desire is responsible for the dividuals lay claim to the same object and, through imita-
inflation of any object’s value beyond its intrinsic worth, tion, reinforce one another’s desire for it in a cycle of esca-
as we might see in fashion trends, exorbitant art sales, or lating intensity. Among the earliest human communities,
obsessions with brand names or celebrities. Mimetic de- which lacked any kind of legal or institutional restraints,
sire explains the problem of “keeping up with the Joneses” an inevitable crisis such as a food shortage or plague had
and the tendency of small children to break into sudden the potential for a catastrophic “war of all against all.”
fights over previously neglected toys. It can also be said to No such community could have survived its own violence
account for The Bachelor, not just its enormous popularity without channeling that violence onto a single victim in
but also its very premise—the irrational desire of twenty- a spontaneous process Girard calls the scapegoat mecha-
five women for the same man. nism. The war of all against all had to become a war of all
against one.
C. E. Smith lives with his wife and children in Nashville, Tennes- For the scapegoat mechanism to occur, mimetic rivals
see, where he works as a radiologist and is a member of Christ must become so consumed by hatred for each other as to
Presbyterian Church (PCA). He has published both nonfiction and lose sight of their original object of desire. Acquisitive mi-
fiction, including the novel Brother’s Keeper (Atlantic Books, mesis, which is focused on the desired object, devolves into
UK) and the forthcoming (June 2019) novella Rex (Texas Review conflictual mimesis, or mimetic hatred. As hatred grows,
Press). it suppresses any differences in status or personality that

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The Mimetic Bachelor by C. E. Smith

might have existed between the antagonists. They become collective murders. In the aftermath of a scapegoating
interchangeable doubles, each resembling not just the oth- event, the primitive community responsible for it expe-
er but also the participants of neighboring rivalries. This rienced profound tranquility as former rivals reconciled
allows for the substitution of enemies and formation of under a common cause. The radical transformation from
alliances. chaos to peace struck the people as so abrupt and so pow-
As conflictual mimesis spreads like a contagion, in- erful that only a supernatural explanation would suffice.
dividuals attempt to differentiate themselves by means The supposed malefactor whose putative crimes were
of increasingly flamboyant accusations. A particularly the source of all the community’s ills now, in immediate
egregious crime, whether true hindsight, became the opposite, a
or not, has the potential to at- deity responsible for the commu-
tract the condemnation of others, All paths in mimetic theory nity’s unity and peace. Humans
so participants in unrelated con- didn’t invent their gods, Girard
flicts might find common cause lead back to the question says in I See Satan Fall Like Light-
in shared disdain. A coalition ning: they deified their victims.
gains mimetic force with each of religion. Contestants on Here we see the basis of all
new member—its appeal being polytheistic religion. The tran-
based on the number of partici-
The Bachelor might be quility brought about by sponta-
pants and the moral offense of its surprised to recognize neous acts of collective murder
target—and rivalries coalesce in compelled prehistoric communi-
self-perpetuating fashion until in the pages of the Bible ties to enshrine their victims as
the community is united or near- gods. This is why all of the world’s
ly united against a single enemy. distant analogues of their myths, regardless of geographical
The hapless figure who emerges origin, contain veiled references
as the scapegoat does so either at
televised shenanigans. to the scapegoat mechanism. An
random or as the result of some example is Oedipus, whose expul-
distinguishing trait, such as a limp, left-handedness, for- sion from Thebes resolves the plague brought about by
Getty Images

eign origin, or a lack of any close relative to defend him his incest and parricide. The story refers to actual events:
against outrageous accusations. some primitive community lynched one of its members
In every season of The Bachelor, a group of contestants after blaming him for a plague. In a myth from the Pacific
forms a coalition against a single rival, a woman who ini- Tikopia, the god Tikaru, depicted as a trickster and a for-
tially sets herself apart by monopolizing the bachelor’s eigner, fakes a limp in order to steal from his fellow deities,
time in private conversation and depriving others of and then flies to safety when they pursue him into the
opportunities to prove themselves worthy of roses. Her hills. The real victim here was probably a foreigner with
audacity arouses suspicions of guile and the inevitable a distinguishing limp, forced by the community over an
accusation of being on the show “for the wrong reasons,” escarpment or some rocky height.
perhaps for the advancement of her acting career rather Prehistoric groups that failed to resolve their mimetic
than love and marriage. crises by means of the scapegoat mechanism extinguished
The other contestants hesitate at first to revile her themselves in mêlées of reciprocal homicide. Communities
in the presence of the bachelor, but it isn’t long before one that survived did so first by spontaneously murdering a
of them decides to throw the first stone by divulging the randomly chosen individual, and later by periodically re-
reasons for their collective rancor. Never does the bachelor enacting that murder in the form of ritual sacrifice. Sacred
reward outright slander, even if he’s proven his gullibility bloodshed neutralized violent impulses while approximat-
and poor judgment by giving roses to someone so objec- ing the transcendent reconciliation of that first murder.
tionable, but in the mind of the slanderer, hatred of the Another way early communities protected themselves
rival outweighs her desire for the bachelor. Conflictual mi- against the destructive power of acquisitive mimesis was
mesis has replaced acquisitive mimesis. She is now likely to institute prohibitions. Girard speaks of the anti-mimetic
to be eliminated even sooner than the scapegoat, but she character of all archaic prohibitions. Mimetic theory sheds
has no excuse after having seen the same mistake played light on those laws which might otherwise seem nonsensi-
out in every previous iteration of the show. cal or arbitrary, such as the prohibition of identical twins
and the sacrifice of one or both in infancy. Twins would
have suggested the leveling effects of mimetic rivalry, the
The Basis of Polytheistic Religion loss of differentiation. The fear of interchangeability also
The Bachelor sustains conflict by means of an artificial explains the frequent prohibition of images and reflec-
shortage of sexual partners. Similar shortages in the pre- tions, and in later traditional societies the mistrust of the
historic world catalyzed innumerable mimetic crises and theater and actors.

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Sacrificial rituals and their associated prohibitions out of his work in literature and primitive mythology. He
represented the earliest forms of social organization. Out found the same mythic elements in the Judeo-Christian
of sacrifice grew a need for stewards of the ritual and the Scriptures, but there were subtle yet striking differences,
implements necessary for its performance. Sacred rites unique narrative features distinguishing the Bible from
were connected to rites of passage and rites of education. all the rest of the world’s ancient literature. The implica-
A social network was necessary to enforce prohibitions. tions of those differences compelled Girard to embrace
If there were a period of delay between the designation the Christian faith.
of a sacrificial victim and the actual sacrifice, the intend- Starting in Genesis we encounter the recurrent
ed victim became a figure of veneration, thus laying the themes of mimetic rivalry and the scapegoat mechanism.
groundwork for future structures of sacred kingship. So- Adam’s desire for the apple is modeled on the same desire
cial hierarchies and caste systems evolved as barriers to in Eve, who models her desire on the serpent. Satan, the
prevent mimetic models from becoming rivals. Spontane- arch model, is the great imitator who wants to be imi-
ous collective murder gave birth to religion and religion tated. He personifies mimetic desire, presenting himself
gave birth to civilization. Girard borrows from Freud to as a model to be imitated before becoming a stumbling
describe the original scapegoating event as a founding block for the imitator. Cain produces the first civilization
murder. through a founding murder; Jacob overcomes his mimetic
Rituals are an essential feature of The Bachelor. The rival by donning sacrificial animal skins; and Joseph be-
most obvious example is the so-called rose ceremony, in comes the scapegoat of his brothers. “In every one of the
which the contestants gather by candlelight before the great scenes of Genesis and Exodus there exists a theme or
bachelor, all waiting to be either banished or given a rose. quasi-theme of the founding murder or expulsion,” writes
The expulsions are suggestive of ritual sacrifice, with red Girard in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World.
roses to stand for blood and the priestly Chris Harrison, A feature of the Old Testament that sets it apart from
the show’s host, to oversee the procedure and utter the all of the mythologies of the ancient world is its consistent
incantation: “Ladies, Hercules, it’s the final rose tonight.” refusal to cast the victim as guilty or his persecutors as
After tawdry Jacuzzis and mud wrestling, the decorous innocent. The Mosaic law makes special accommodations
formality of the rose ceremony suggests a belief that in the for foreigners and widows and orphans, the members of
absence of religion a caricature of it might at least serve the community most susceptible to becoming scapegoats,
as a reminder of transcendence. and the Psalms repeatedly give voice to victims of unjust
oppression: “Those who hate me without reason outnum-
ber the hairs on my head” (69:4). The Decalogue condemns
Repudiation of Mimetic Desire mimetic rivalry and its violent potential. “Thou shalt not
All paths in mimetic theory lead back to the question of covet . . . anything that belongs to another” (Ex. 20:17). The
religion. Contestants on The Bachelor might be surprised final commandment restricts acquisitive mimesis, the root
to recognize in the pages of the Bible distant analogues cause of the crimes forbidden in the preceding command-
of their televised shenanigans. Girard’s theories grew ments: murder, theft, adultery, and bearing false witness.
The Hebrew word for “covet” is the same word used in
Genesis to describe Eve’s desire for the apple. The prohibi-
tion of covetousness might be said also to encompass the
first section of the Decalogue, since all pagan deities have
their origin in mimetic rivalry.
The New Testament also privileges the tenth com-
mandment. When the rich young ruler asks how to inherit
eternal life, Jesus says: “No one is good except God alone.
You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do
Getty Images

not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor

your father and mother.’” Here we see first an encapsula-
tion of the religious portion of the Decalogue—“No one is
good except God alone”—followed by an enumeration of
the moral commandments, but with the conspicuous omis-
sion of covetousness. The rich man claims to have obeyed
the law, but Jesus says: “You still lack one thing. Sell every-
thing you have and give to the poor, and you will have trea-
sure in heaven” (Luke 18:18–22). What Jesus commands
here is radical obedience to the tenth ­commandment, a
complete repudiation of mimetic desire.

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The Mimetic Bachelor by C. E. Smith

In Romans, Paul writes, “For I would not have known friends—before this they had been enemies” (23:12).
what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall Jesus’ “They know not what they do” is a literal defini-
not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by tion of the persecutory unconscious behind the scapegoat
the commandment, produced in me every kind of covet- mechanism (Luke 23:34). Girard calls it a mechanism be-
ing” (7:7–8). This passage illustrates the twofold purpose cause of its automatic nature, and because of the requisite
of the law—to define sin, and to reveal the sinner’s sin- ignorance at the heart of it: the crowd must be convinced
fulness—but it goes on to describe its paradoxical effect of its victim’s guilt in order for the mechanism to serve
of inflaming the very behavior its cathartic purpose. In myth,
it forbids. This can be seen as a the mob is always innocent, the
mimetic phenomenon: the prohi-
bition induces a mimetic urge by
The Decalogue condemns victim always guilty, but in the
Bible, the victim is never as guilty
creating an imaginary model of mimetic rivalry and its as his persecutors believe.
transgression. Paul’s designation The Gospels disclose the
of covetousness as a metonym for violent potential. “Thou scapegoat mechanism in a way
the entire law aligns with Girard’s
view of it as the ultimate sin, the shalt not covet . . . anything no myth ever could. What makes
such a disclosure possible is the
sin behind all other sins. that belongs to another.” existence of a dissenting minor-
ity that arises within days of the

Inversion of the The Hebrew word for Crucifixion. It is an argument

for the truth of the Resurrection
Scapegoat Mechanism “covet” is the same word that Peter and the disciples would

Jesus’ very first words in the book used in Genesis to describe reverse course so soon after
yielding to the mob, for only by
of John reflect the central impor-
tance of desire: “What do you
Eve’s desire for the apple. supernatural means could they
withstand the power that up to
want?” (1:38). The Sermon on the that moment had both poisoned
Mount intensifies the anti-mimetic features of Mosaic law, and sustained every civilization since the foundation
commanding radical generosity on top of the prohibition of the world. If the scapegoat mechanism only works to
of covetousness, and non-retaliation on top of the prohi- avert violence when its participants genuinely believe in
bition against murder. Jesus’ multiplication of loaves and the guilt of their victim, the dissemination of the Gospels
fishes suggests an inversion of the scapegoat mechanism. enfeebled it by exposing the truth at the heart of it.
He faces a crowd in the midst of a food shortage, but mi- In Acts 14, the people of Lystra mistake Paul and Barn-
raculously averts the crisis. The Gospels repeatedly locate abas for gods—Paul for Hermes, and Barnabas for Zeus.
Jesus in opposition to crowds. We see him confront the The apostles, of course, recoil at the prospect of ceremo-
mob determined to stone an adulteress: “Let him who is nial adulation, which prompts their would-be worshipers
without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7). Early in Luke, to stone Paul and leave him for dead outside the city. It is
the people of Nazareth “got up and drove him out of town, a reversal of the usual mimetic sequence: the deification
and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was in this case precedes the act of collective violence, and the
built, in order to throw him down the cliff” (Luke 4:28–29). episode culminates with Paul’s bold reentry into the city,
It is the same type of murder implied by the myth of Ti- no doubt limping from his wounds. This narrative reversal
karu, the forcing of a victim off a cliff or high place. The illustrates the power of the gospel to dismantle mythic
offhand geographical detail, “the hill on which the town forms and reveal their underlying cruelty and injustice.
was built,” suggests a connection between mob violence
and the founding of civilization.
The Secular Compassion for Victims
Getty Images

Of course the Passion is the ultimate example of the

scapegoat mechanism. The trial, crowd, mock honors, and An argument for fair treatment based on innate human
killing outside the city—these are all features that can dignity would have seemed absurd to the average denizen
be found in mythology. The innocence of Jesus is the key of the Roman Empire before the Christian era. In I See Satan
difference. “They hated me without cause,” he says, echo- Fall Like Lightning, Girard writes, “No one and no tradition
ing Psalm 35 (John 15:25). Those who welcomed him into before the Bible were capable of calling into question the
Jerusalem a week earlier now demand his execution. As we guilt of victims whom their communities unanimously con-
see in Peter’s threefold denial, even Jesus’ allies and disci- demned.” But with the spread of Christianity came a new
ples succumb to the mimetic power of the mob. Luke’s Gos- awareness of victimization, oppression, and persecution.
pel even includes a reference to the reconciliatory ­effect The ongoing Christian revelation over the last two thou-
of collective violence: “That day Pilate and Herod became sand years has gradually produced an era of compassion,

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an era in which sympathy for victims has become the su- of those burdened with unwanted pregnancy. People need
preme virtue. their scapegoats, and if kindness reigns supreme without
A recurring motif on The Bachelor is the desire of con- a moral framework to support it, anyone deemed unkind
testants to enhance their status by presenting themselves is susceptible to scapegoating even when he speaks the
as victims. As soon as one of them sprains an ankle, the truth.
bachelor’s compassion accelerates a secondary mimetic The secular compassion for victims cannot be relied
contagion, prompting contestants to jockey for victimhood upon to protect us from our own violence. Modern cul-
by confessing personal hardships ture offers no cathartic outlet for
such as divorces, cancer, fam- the resolution of mimetic crises.
ily dysfunction, or the deaths of
friends or loved ones. Any hint of
Along these lines, the Humans possess increasingly so-
phisticated weapons, ever more
insincerity in such a complaint judgment of Solomon can be powerful capabilities of murder,
marks the contestant as a poten- but at the same time Christianity
tial scapegoat. seen as a history of religion has incapacitated history’s most
The liberal democracies of effective safeguard against mass
the West have assimilated Chris- in microcosm. When two violence. In this way, Girard’s an-
tian morality without crediting thropological recapitulation of
the source. And the secular com-
mothers fall into mimetic the doctrines of original sin and
passion that privileges and pro- rivalry over the surviving atonement also allows for an elu-
tects victims has given rise to a cidation of the apocalypse. The
new sort of persecution: the vic- infant, Solomon proposes Gospel of Matthew anticipates
timization of anyone perceived as the problem faced by a Christian
a victimizer. It is a pattern analo- lopping it in half with a culture not Christian enough: “I
gous to Paul’s experience with did not come to bring peace, but
covetousness, whereby moral
sword. The true mother a sword” (10:34).
education inflames immoral be- saves the child’s life by For Girard, the law, proph-
havior. Eminent biologist Rich- ets, and Gospels chronicle a grad-
ard Dawkins, in The God Delu- relinquishing her maternal ual rejection of violent sacrifice.
sion, writes: “The God of the Old “You do not delight in sacrifice,
Testament is arguably the most claim. Here we see the or I would bring it; you do not
unpleasant character in all of take pleasure in burnt offerings”
fiction: jealous and proud of it; a
two possible resolutions (Psalm 51:16). Along these lines,
petty, unjust, unforgiving control of mimetic crisis—either the judgment of Solomon can be
freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty seen as a history of religion in
ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, the bloodshed behind all microcosm. When two mothers,
homophobic, racist, infanticidal, one of whose babies dies, fall into
genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, primitive religion or the mimetic rivalry over the surviv-
megalomaniacal, sadomasoch- ing infant, Solomon proposes lop-
istic, capriciously malevolent
selfless nonviolence of ping it in half with a sword. The
bully.” Each item in this string of Christianity. true mother saves the child’s life
epithets appeals to the concern by relinquishing her maternal
for victims, a moral absolute pa- claim. Here we see the two pos-
ganized to suit a relativist mindset. Before the dissemina- sible resolutions of mimetic crisis—either the bloodshed
tion of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, the immorality of behind all primitive religion or the selfless nonviolence
bullying, racism, or even genocide was hardly self-evident. of Christianity. Girard’s biblical anthropology describes
Dawkins’s moral condemnation of the Bible relies entirely a transition from blood sacrifice to self-sacrifice.
on biblical morality.
Without a biblical foundation, compassion for victims
becomes susceptible to arbitrary and politically motivat- “Outsider” Contestants
ed definitions of victimhood. Flannery O’Connor warned Most seasons of The Bachelor have included a single moth-
that “in the absence of faith, we govern by tenderness. And er sacrificing time with her child in order to participate.
tenderness leads to the gas chambers.” If she were alive The show always finds drama in the mother’s task of re-
today, O’Connor might have said it leads to the abortion vealing this information to the bachelor, who must then
clinics as well. There is no victim more innocent than a decide if he’s ready to play the role of stepfather as well
fetus, but political forces have prioritized the victimhood as husband. If the single mother survives enough rose

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The Mimetic Bachelor by C. E. Smith

ceremonies, the child might be featured in a staged intro- out of twenty-two seasons of The Bachelor, his is the only
duction to the bachelor, followed by shots of the three of one to have produced an actual marriage. The 2009 and
them awkwardly frolicking on a playground or beach. The 2018 stars might claim a sort of qualified success, each
other contestants, like those of us watching at home, tend having broken off his engagement in the post-season only
to vacillate between sympathy for the mother’s separation to marry the runner-up.
from her child and repugnance that she would have agreed The Bachelorette can boast slightly better odds,
to such a separation in the first place. three marriages in fourteen seasons, but in either case
Another type of visitor from the outside world is the the numbers would seem to belie the matrimonial agenda.
contestant from a prior season of The Bachelor who for The prospect of marriage lends a veneer of respectability
one reason or another wants to marry the current star or to what otherwise might be described as an elaborately
at least use the opportunity to advance her own celebrity ritualized bacchanalia. The same might be said of our dis-
status. This always creates conflict, because it entails a sipated culture, which obsesses over the right to marriage
malignant degeneration of mimesis. while at the same time stripping it of any connection to
When mimesis is externally mediated, the imitator ex- religion or childbirth.
ists at such a remove from her model as to preclude the No doubt there is more than marriage at stake for
possibility of rivalry. To make the shortage of potential Bachelor contestants: roses have the added benefit of
husbands convincing enough to generate mimetic rivalry, conferring screen time. The longer a contestant remains
The Bachelor has to construct an artificial yet rigidly de- in play, the closer she comes to becoming something of a
fined zone of internal mediation. The interloper represents celebrity, or at least a quasi-celebrity eligible for Danc-
for the native contestants not just a reversal of gains from ing with the Stars. But the ultimate achievement for a
the last rose ceremony, but also a disorienting violation Bachelor contestant, even more than marriage to the
of an established social order. Her “foreignness” is the bachelor, is to be anointed star of The Bachelorette. The
distinguishing feature that renders her most vulner- way each of these nearly identical shows supplies human
able to scapegoating, not least because it could make her capital for the other is reminiscent of biological self-rep-
more interesting in the eyes of the bachelor. She inevi- lication, a virus perfectly suited to its cultural environ-
tably provokes from the other contestants such hostility ment even as it generates less adaptable mutants like
as to permit their reconciliation with any pre-existing The Bachelor Pad, Bachelor in Paradise, and The Bachelor
scapegoat. Winter Games.
Each episode of The Bachelor concludes with a vic-
tim, the latest rejected candidate, whose tears of an-
Immanent Marriage, guish, televised in detail, serve through mimetic effects
Transcendent Fame to enhance the bachelor’s desirability and consolidate the
sympathies of fellow contestants and “Bachelor-nation”
It might be worth asking why anyone would aspire to star viewers. Romantic bonds grow stronger over the course
in The Bachelor or Bachelorette. The dubious prospect of of a season, so with each passing episode the break-ups
fame and fortune comes with a cost of profound emotional become increasingly difficult for all involved. The typi-
turmoil. One can only imagine the stress of having to ter- cal victim, filmed in the backseat of a departing SUV, of-
minate multiple relationships while under the scrutiny of fers a harrowing lamentation punctuated by censorious
TV cameras. Each season portrays in its central character bleeps. Much of the behavior on The Bachelor has the air
an ever-intensifying problem of indecision, a problem that of contrivance—the contestants are often aspiring ac-
can be attributed, at least in part, to the absence of rivals. tors—but in these backseat moments at the end of each ep-
Without other men against whom to compete, there is little isode, there is never any question of the rejected woman’s
beyond social affinity, alcohol, and simple lust to inform sincerity.
the bachelor’s desire for one woman over another. The A reason for the show’s enormous success is the guar-
absence of rivalry has the inevitable effect of devaluing antee of genuine suffering. Viewers experience the double
an object of desire. This might be one of the reasons the pleasure of sympathizing with a victim while indirectly
marital plans of so many Bachelor contestants fall apart participating in her victimization. There might even be
“after the final rose.” something of the transcendent in the contestant’s agony
A notable exception is 2013 star Sean Lowe, a Chris- and in the compassion she accrues because of it. It is here
tian who withstood an avalanche of ridicule for his com- that The Bachelor comes closest to that prehistoric mo-
mitment to sexual abstinence before marriage. His status ment of religious epiphany, the apotheosis or naming of a
as “the virgin Bachelor” seemed to remain intact after he god that always followed a communal act of murder. If it’s
spent the night with each of his four top choices in the better to have loved and lost, even better still is to have
so-called Fantasy Suite. The media portrayed him as a cul- loved and lost and entered the secular pantheon of quasi-
tural oddity despite the orthodoxy of his position. And yet, celebrities.  

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Book Reviews

f­ unction as both an “ideologico-reli-

The Aura of Science gious system” (118) and a “total and

integrated scientific answer  .  .  . for
all aspects of reality” (217). By mar-
Flight from the Absolute: shalling a vast yet carefully selected
Cynical Observations on the array of quotes from key writers on
all sides of the evolution debate, Gos-
Postmodern West, Volume II selin makes it clear that “the Darwin-
by Paul Gosselin ian revolution was more cultural and
Samizdat, 2013 ideological than scientific” (84).
(566 pages, $40.00, paperback)
reviewed by Louis Markos Darwin’s Sacred Aura

“[B]efore the Enlightenment,” Gosse-
ver two and a half decades lin reminds us, “the idea of a Creator
have passed since Phil- The Religion of Darwin responsible for the existence of all the
lip E. Johnson kick-started Though Gosselin’s English transla- cosmos around us was accepted not
the intelligent design (ID) tions of both volumes have been only by the illiterate masses, but also
movement in America with the pub- available for five years, they remain by the greatest scientific minds of the
lication of his path-breaking book, relatively unknown in America. Given time” (81). As the Age of Reason slow-
Darwin on Trial (1991). In this book, the subtle, often invisible power that ly shifted the center of authority from
he exposed the numerous flaws in Darwinism and postmodernism con- Christianity to science, however, the
Darwinian evolution and the near tinue to exert on the modern mind and active, involved God of the Bible was
irrationality of those who continued imagination, I believe it is essential replaced by a deistic God who had lit-
to defend it in the face of mounting for American Christians to acquaint tle to do but start the universe in mo-
evidence against it. In the interven- themselves with as many books as tion. Why not abandon God altogeth-
ing years, two seemingly contra- possible that rip away the veil, reveal- er? “Until a satisfying materialistic
dictory things have happened: the ing the often insidious worldviews explanation of origins was to be had,
evidence against macro-evolution that lurk beneath the theoretical and the First Cause still had his uses” (82).
has continued to mount up; and the ideological systems of Darwin and Not so after Darwin. Once On the
defenders of macro-evolution have Derrida. Gosselin’s Flight from the Origin of Species established itself as
gotten increasingly shrill and censo- Absolute is a good place to start. a scientific “fact,” God was demoted
rious, asserting more and more loudly In Volume I, as Gosselin explains from an eternal watchmaker to an
the false claim that the evidence for in his preface to Volume II, he “exam- unnecessary hypothesis, allowing
Darwinism is overwhelming and ined the assertion that postmodern- science to seize for itself the “epis-
indisputable. ism is actually an invisible religion, a temological authority” of the Bible,
Thankfully, the Darwinian back- religion in fundamental denial of its to equate itself with truth, and to
lash has been skillfully countered, not own religious nature”  (iv). Several “achieve the status of absolute knowl-
only by such Christian ID theorists times in his first volume, Gosselin edge” (201–202). And it obtained
as Michael Behe, William Dembski, notes in passing that postmodern- something more, something that Gos-
Jonathan Wells, and Stephen Meyer, ism, despite its deconstruction of selin calls a “sacred aura” (190).
but also by popular apologists like modernism’s materialistic creeds and Central to that sacred aura is the
Lee Strobel and Nancy Pearcey, and dogmas, left untouched one of its cen- myth of the objective scientist, the
by passionate secular critics like Ben tral, non-negotiable tenets: Darwinian superstition-free priest who dispens-
Stein and David Berlinski. As an avid evolution. Even when postmoderns es the truth about ourselves and our
reader of all things ID, I thought I critique the monolithic hegemony world and who protects us from all
had educated myself in all the basic of Western science, they avoid ques- those heretics and ignoramuses who
arguments, examples, and perspec- tioning the “fact” of natural selection would doubt the all-sufficiency of mac-
tives—that is, until I read Paul Gos- ­acting on genetic modification. ro-evolution to explain the origin and
selin’s Flight from the Absolute: Cyni- In Volume II, a stand-alone book multifariousness of life on earth. Like
cal Observations on the Postmodern that can be profitably read on its own, the priest of the Middle Ages, Gosselin
West, Volume II (fluidly translated by Gosselin zeroes in on the subject of explains, the Darwinian scientist sub-
the author from his Fuite de l’Absolu: evolution, presenting it as the origin scribes to dogmas from which he will
Observations cyniques sur l’Occident myth of both modern and postmod- not budge (genetic mutation + natu-
postmoderne, Volume II [2006]). ern man and tracing its history and ral selection + time can account for all

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Book Reviews

that we see) and invites his initiates issue of the French magazine Science
to visit his cathedral (natural science Censorship French Style & Avenir:
museum) and view his holy relics (fos- Gosselin does a masterly job of amass-
sils of dinosaurs and so-called missing ing evidence of the tactics used by Many mysteries in our un-
links between apes and man). Indeed, Darwinians to intimidate, marginal- derstanding of life still re-
the goal of the “multimedia presenta- ize, ridicule, or crush all opposition. main. For example, it is not
tions” offered at such museums is not These include: using the power of clear yet how species are
so much to substantiate Darwinism peer review to ensure that no pa- formed. The functions of cer-
with hard facts as to immerse “visi- pers critical of Darwin will appear tain components of the living
tors in mythical time, allowing them in their flagship journals; using the cell still remain unknown. In
to participate in a persuasive cosmo- power of publishing to keep critical short, there’s still much to
logical experience” (177). views of Darwin out of textbooks; us- learn! But one thing is ruled
But what about those cynical ing the power of the judicial system out, that Darwinian theory
postmoderns and their exalted claim to keep evidence against Darwinism should be abandoned. (51)
of being able to see through all the il- from being taught in public schools;
lusions and elisions of medieval and and using the power of undergradu- Gosselin offers quote after quote
modern systems of thought? Are they, ate and graduate admissions and and example after example of this
too, fooled by the ideologico-religious hiring offices to prevent students or kind of selective, willful blindness to
claims of Darwinism? Yes and no. scholars who question Darwin from the actual evidence regarding macro-
entering the ranks of “legitimate” evolution. The difference between
Postmoderns for their part, science. American and French evolutionists is
consider science’s sacred To these tactics, Gosselin adds that the latter won’t engage or even
aura as much less essential, a subtler one. Although intense peer acknowledge those who dispute their
but the individual’s moral (and tenure) pressure prevents most position. Their dogma must not and
autonomy that Darwinism scientists from publicly highlighting cannot be questioned. Indeed, as Gos-
provides (by eliminating the weaknesses in Darwinian evolution, selin shows, the French view American
divine Lawmaker) is highly some scientists occasionally slip up resistance to Darwin as inexplicable.
prized by postmoderns. . . . and air their doubts—especially,
The critical issue for post- Gosselin documents, after they have In French media, one encoun-
moderns is eliminating any retired and need not fear academic ters increasing shock and
moral absolute along with censure. When they do so, they are disbelief regarding the chal-
the constraints that such a quoted by creationists and intelli- lenges to the theory of evolu-
principle poses for the behav- gent design theorists as proof that tion in the public arena that
ior of individuals (and par- evolution is far from a proven theory. occur in the United States.
ticularly that of elites). (251) When this happens, the gatekeepers Here we have a nation at the
pull out one of their best tricks: rather forefront of technological
It is in the interest of postmod- than engage the critic in debate, they development and whose sci-
erns, for whom absolute moral stan- accuse him of quoting the retired sci- entific elites often win Nobel
dards issuing from a creator God entist out of context. prizes. This raises a question
represents an obstacle to their own Many readers will be aware of for the French: How is it then
absolute self-expression (particularly these tactics; far fewer will be aware that Americans could even
in the realm of sexuality), to uphold that such tactics are stronger and imagine challenging a basic
the sacred aura that surrounds the more pervasive in the French-speak- achievement of science, that
Darwinian origins myth. That is why ing world than in America and the UK. is to say, the theory of evolu-
postmodern critics will question sci- As a French Canadian (Protestant) tion? From the French per-
ence’s role as ultimate arbiter of truth critic and philosopher, Gosselin brings spective, in fact, there is no
while leaving evolution itself unques- to the table direct experience of the point in wasting time analyz-
tioned. Moderns and postmoderns are far more intense resistance among the ing the arguments of the de-
equally aware that “serious question- French to anyone who would be fool- bate. The unpleasant effort
ing of this sort could lead to a wide- ish and backward enough to question of grasping the debate can
ranging social and ideological crisis. the truth of evolution. easily be avoided because the
The stakes are too high, as jeopardiz- Among the many passages Gos- explanation for Americans’
ing adherence to Darwinism would selin quotes to substantiate this re- skepticism regarding evolu-
require a fundamental reappraisal of sistance, one of the most memorable tion is quite obvious: Ameri-
the Enlightenment legacy” (51). is taken from an editorial in a 2003 cans are “religious.” (75)

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 55

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Book Reviews

Why is it that the French are Though one might be tempted Let us hope and pray that we
even more hostile toward, and dis- to write off Gosselin’s critique as who live south of Canada and west of
missive of, critics of Darwin than stemming from Protestant bias, he France do not succumb to the same in-
Americans? Gosselin theorizes that does back up his thesis by pointing sidious groupthink that would replace
the greater “penchant for centraliza- to an important fact of history: the both biblical morality and true science
tion and doctrinaire ‘groupthink’/ Enlightenment in France, while it at- with ideological conformity and cen-
pensée unique among the French is tacked the Catholic system as a whole, sorship. 
a cultural legacy of the Catholic sys- was more than happy to maintain “a
tem, which was dominant for centu- highly centralized society” (76). That Louis Markos, Professor in English and
ries in France and left a deep mark commitment to a centralized control Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist
in the French subconscious, molding of ideology in the otherwise “liberal” University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair
the State-Ideology relationship in an France continues today and is strong- in Humanities. His 18 books include Athe-
integrated and strongly hierarchical ly evident in both French and British ism on Trial (Harvest) and Apologetics
fashion” (76). Canada. for the 21st Century (Crossway).

Lewis went beyond Scrip-
ture. . . . (252)

One wonders, however, if “insufficient

Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind
serious attention” is the most satisfac-
the Writings of C. S. Lewis tory (albeit gently stated) critique of
by Donald T. Williams the views of a man with Lewis’s depth
Square Halo Books, 2016 of knowledge and sophistication in
(287 pages, $16.99, paperback) matters concerning the Christian
faith and its theology.
reviewed by S. M. Hutchens

ewis is here brought before nition of inspiration to the Two Reasons
the bar of Evangelical sys- graphe, the actual writings of Lewis was a magisterial textual critic
tematic theology by an au- Scripture, and so missed the with a strong knowledge of Greek and
thor eminently qualified to doctrine of plenary verbal in- of Scripture, and he was aware of the
do it, being a professor of the same spiration. . . . Though Lewis principal doctrinal disputes, including
with a knowledge of Lewis’s writ- had a high view of Scripture, those over the character of scriptural
ings, including his published corre- especially the New Testa- authority (he gave detailed reasons
spondence, so accurate and compre- ment, it fell short of the bib- for rejecting the doctrine of biblical
hensive that he is able to summon lical and historical position inerrancy in the form held by Evangel-
the best examples from Lewis of the of the church on the Bible’s icals—see his letter to Clyde S. Kilby
subject at hand. The final judgment inerrancy. . . . In soteriology, of May 7, 1959: “The very kind of truth
of this court is that Lewis doesn’t Lewis failed to give adequate we [i.e., Evangelical inerrantists] are
cover all the bases, for which he, not attention to Paul’s teaching often demanding was, in my opinion,
being a professional theologian, is ex- on justification by faith and not even envisaged by the ancients”).
cused. He is a bad theologian where vicarious substitution. As a Lewis purposely avoided concentra-
he doesn’t agree with Evangelicalism result, while Lewis did not tion on such disputes for at least two
(representing as it does the historical deny those doctrines, and reasons.
teachings of the Church), and a good while he portrayed them well First, as he said many times, he
one where he does, or suggests forti- in the Stone Table of Narnia, was not equipped to enter the con-
fying improvements. his treatments of salvation versations of professional theolo-
did not give them the same gians, a field that has its own history,
Lewis’s doctrinal errors central place of importance techniques, and method of discourse.
came ultimately then from or the clear exposition that That was not his way of approaching
insufficient serious attention the New Testament does. Fi- texts, which he did as a literary schol-
to what the Bible actually nally, with the character of ar and mere Christian who attempt-
says. He missed Paul’s defi- Emeth from The Last Battle, ed to read them “in the right spirit,”

56 March / April 2019

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Book Reviews

with a “sound critical approach,” “But there is a real choice af- in gaining this insight, one surely
which included a finely tuned sense ter death? My Roman Catho- would expect him to have shown
of genre distinction and intended lic friends would be sur- strong evidence of it in his writings.
meaning. prised, for to them souls in But one does not find it, as Williams
The second reason (I speculate on Purgatory are already saved. correctly notes.
the basis of my readings in Lewis) is And my Protestant friends It may be fairly asked, however,
that he believed “mere Christianity” would like it no better, for whether Lewis’s understanding of
to be, in the age of church disunity, the they’d say that the tree lies how someone is justified before God
only reasonable medium of intelligent as it falls.” is due to inability or unwillingness to
discourse in the universal Church, and “They’re both right, exegete the biblical data adequately or
saw the science of exegetical theology, maybe [says MacDonald]. Do to the theologically unsophisticated
which principally serves polemics— not fash yourself with such belief that “a man is justified by works
as it does here in Dr. Williams’s analy- questions. Ye cannot fully and not by faith alone.” This reviewer
sis—as the business of the individual understand the relations of is prone to see Lewis’s refusal to join
“rooms” of the mere Christian House. choice and Time till you are the theologians more as a comment
This business he held to be of sec- beyond both.” on their customary operations than
ondary importance in respect of the a declaration of incompetence.
apologetic work he had been called to Not exactly a theologian’s answer Williams has here written an
do in the central hallway of interpre- to the question (think here of St. honest and well-researched book. He
tational agreement. Thomas’s paradigmatic anatomizing is to be commended for taking Lewis
He did not reject the work of the of theological questions, and reason- to task for what he actually said or
theologians, or declare it to be ground- ing toward theological answers)—but didn’t say, rather than trying to enlist
less or misconceived. Nor, however, “you don’t know enough yet to under- him posthumously by making him
did he confess not to understand the stand” is a strong, theological answer into something he wasn’t—like an
questions that concerned them, or nonetheless. Evangelical. As the Evangelical world
to have no considered opinions on gradually egalitarianizes, it necessar-
them himself. But he always resisted ily moves even farther in spirit from
the temptation to treat that kind of An Honest Book the C. S. Lewis it once thought to li-
work as though it should be a first- Lewis is accused of failure to give ad- onize. One of the virtues of this book
order concern of his own, or of those equate attention to St. Paul’s doctrine is that Dr. Williams has avoided the
who were listening to the same tune of justification by faith. Clearly the mistake of making it appear that the
that continually played in his mind. A author believes deeper study would movement and the Christian scholar
good example of this resistance may have brought him to the conclusion were ever very close to begin with. 
be found in the Lewis-character’s that the Bible teaches as cardinal the
dialogue with George MacDonald on Evangelical doctrine of justification S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor and the
Purgatory in The Great Divorce: by faith alone. Had Lewis succeeded book review editor of Touchstone.

series. In The Apocalypse, he takes a

Wake-Up Call break from fiction to respond to the
question, “Are we living in apocalyptic
times?” His short answer is yes, but
The Apocalypse: Warning, Hope & Consolation we “have been living in this hour from
by Michael D. O’Brien the moment Our Lord ascended into
Wiseblood Books, 2018 heaven.” And although the Christian
(161 pages, $10.00, paperback) faithful may get impatient, and the
time of Christ’s Ascension may seem
reviewed by Jeffrey Wald to be in the distant past, “one day is

as a thousand years and a thousand
ichael D. O’Brien’s Catholic author O’Brien is perhaps years are as a day” in the eyes of the
latest nonfiction book, best known for his many novels ex- Lord (2 Peter 3:8).
The Apocalypse: Warn- ploring Christian themes, including While O’Brien cautions against
ing, Hope & Consolation, Theophilos, Strangers and Sojourn- fear-mongering and attempting to
is both prescient and pressing. The ers, and the apocalyptic Father Elijah predict the dates of apocalyptic

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 57

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Book Reviews

events—since only the Father knows If this all sounds a bit too much
the exact day and hour (Matt. 24:36)— like a Teutonic saga, perhaps we have Somber but Hopeful
he does remind us of the admonitions stopped reading, or heeding, Scrip- The temptation of the Church and
of Christ, the New Testament writers, her faithful is to play by the world’s
and the early Church fathers that we established rules of progress, en-
remain sober and awake, and he also lightenment, and moral agnosticism.
indicates how certain features of the Those who call themselves Christian
modern world are uniquely apocalyp- O’Brien identifies will increasingly have “itching ears”
tic. For example, he asks: and “will not endure sound teach-
an error at the very ing” but will rather “accumulate for
How many people in our heart of modernity: themselves teachers to suit their own
times now believe that the likings” (2 Tim. 4:3–4). As enlight-
triumph of good over evil in the belief that man ened modern men, they will hold a
the world will be achieved no longer needs “form of religion but deny the power
through social revolution or of it” (2  Tim. 3:5), instead placing
social evolution? How many God because men their trust in the power of technol-
have succumbed to the belief are progressively ogy, science, reason, and progres-
that man will save himself sive politics. But as O’Brien reminds
when sufficient knowledge becoming gods. us, the Kingdom will not be fulfilled
and energy are applied to the “by a historic triumph of the Church
human condition? I would through a progressive ascendancy,
suggest that this intrinsic but only by God’s victory over the
perversity now dominates ture. Perhaps, as O’Brien writes, “we final unleashing of evil, which will
the entire Western world. live as if we are under no threat, con- cause his Bride to come down from
vinced on some level that no beast heaven.”
is going to stare us in the face and He concludes his book with re-
The Antichrist’s devour us.” But that is not what the flections concerning how a faithful
Deception prophets and the New Testament Christian should live in these times.
writers foretold. They prophesied Certainly, his diagnosis is somber, but
O’Brien aptly identifies one of the persecution, a fight not against mere shall we thus despair? Of course not,
most fundamental errors of the mod- flesh and bones but against spiritual for we know the outcome. We know
ern world, an error at the very heart powers of darkness, and a final trial that Christ has already won victory on
of modernity: the belief that man that will shake the faith of many be- the cross, and when he comes again,
no longer needs God because men lievers. As the Apostle Paul writes, he will once and for all slay the drag-
are progressively becoming gods. “[Christ] will not come unless the on that holds humanity in bondage.
In this schema, history is viewed as rebellion comes first, and the man Ultimately, O’Brien’s message is one
a forward march toward prosper- of lawlessness is revealed, the son of hope: although things look bleak
ity, justice, peace, universal kind- of perdition, who opposes and exalts now, Christ and those who serve him
ness, worldwide pluralism, technical himself against every so-called god or are on the right side of history. In the
perfection, untroubled consciences, object of worship, so that he takes his meantime, O’Brien admonishes us to
unlimited knowledge, and enlighten- seat in the temple of God, proclaiming “be zealous to be found by him with-
ment. O’Brien considers this postmil- himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:3–4). out spot or blemish” (2 Peter 3:14), to
lennial vision to be completely at odds O’Brien rightly notes that while “proclaim the word, [and] be persis-
with Christianity’s teaching about we do not know when the Antichrist tent whether it is convenient or incon-
the apocalypse. Christ foretells not a will come, “the Antichrist’s deception venient” (2 Tim. 4:2), and not to “sleep,
heaven on earth, but a new heaven and already begins to take shape in the as others do, but keep awake and be
a new earth after the former ones have world every time the claim is made sober” (1 Thess. 5:6).  
violently passed away. People will not to realize within history that messi-
grow more virtuous, loving, faithful, anic hope which can only be realized Jeffrey Wald is an attorney, husband, and
and truth-filled, but rather more de- beyond history through the eschato- father of three boys. His creative writing
ceitful, ignorant, sinful, and corrupt. logical judgment.” At the root of the and essays have appeared in a variety of
And, as fantastic and mythical as it Antichrist’s deception will be a false print and online periodicals, including
may sound, a great beast, the Anti- messianism, a replacing of the saving Stinkwaves Magazine, Summit Ave Re-
christ, will arise and swallow most of power of the Cross with a futile belief view, Philosophy Now, Light, Whistling
the earth. in the saving power of man. Shade, and Plainsongs.

58 March / April 2019

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Anthony Esolen on Christian Hymns

Hymns Ascending

ho in our time writes hymns? If I may judge

Getty Images
from my church, the Roman Catholic, it’s a small
cadre of usually liberal priests, former priests,
nuns, and former nuns. Only one or two of these are both
orthodox and any good at writing poetry. I’m not asking
for greatness, but solid competence; not filet mignon, but
Irish stew. Then there are all the meals that are both taste-
less and laced with arsenic—but that is another article.
So it seems as if I enter a different world when I read a
hymn-poem by a bishop, of all strange creatures, who was of the whole of the history of salvation, and the beginning
also an author of a variety of books, a biblical archaeolo- of something new. Here is the third stanza:
gist, the brother of a bishop, the son of a master of Trinity
College, and the nephew of one of the greatest poets who While he raised his hands in blessing,
ever lived. His name is Christopher Wordsworth, and the He was parted from his friends;
hymn I have before me is “See, the Lord Ascends in Tri- While their eager eyes behold him,
umph,” written for the feast of the Ascension, and pub- He upon the clouds ascends;
lished in The Holy Year, or, Hymns for Sundays, Holidays, He who walked with God and pleased him,
and Other Occasions Throughout the Year (1865), for the Preaching truth and doom to come,
Anglican Church. He, our Enoch, is translated
Bishop Wordsworth and his collaborator, William To his everlasting home.
Henry Monk, give us hymns for each Sunday in succes-
sion, and for special days within the week, according to the The old Enoch mysteriously walked with God, says
readings set down for the divine service. It is the reverse the sacred author, “and he was not, for God took him” (Gen.
of our current practice: a hymn-writer bubbles up with 5:24). Our Enoch departs from us to be the more present to
some pious emotion or some political desideratum, drapes us and for us. The old Enoch, as traditional interpretation
it in gauze and bad grammar, and then a choir director had it (Wordsworth could have read it in Milton’s Paradise
figures out when it might be good to sing it, or just sings Lost), preached righteousness and the need for repentance
it ad libitum, because our sense of the liturgical year is to a people stiff of neck and hard of hearing. That was why
pretty vague. the Lord took him from their midst. But Jesus has been
But to do well what Bishop Wordsworth did, you have marked by the Father in a public way: “This is my beloved
to bring together the whole of Scripture as it applies to the Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). His ascen-
feast and its readings. In the case of this Ascension hymn, sion is witnessed by many of his disciples. Enoch disap-
the result is impressive and illuminating. pears, and is not going to return, but Jesus will return,
say the young men who appear to the disciples, “the same
way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11), “with the
The Beginning of Something New archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God”
In the first two stanzas, Wordsworth alludes to Psalm 110, (1 Thess. 4:16).
as the King of Glory, who has vanquished death by death,
enters in triumph through the eternal gates of heaven. So
far, no surprises. Those come with the third stanza. For The Wisdom of Hebrews
we are apt to think of the Ascension as the end of some- But between the Ascension and the Second Coming, we
thing; deeply confused Christians may think of it as the have the birth of the Church, the full reality whereof the
end of Jesus’ life in the flesh. It is instead a consummation events and persons and rituals of the Old Covenant were

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Illuminations by Anthony Esolen

types and shadows. Here, steeped in the wisdom of the There are five more stanzas to the poem, omitted from
Letter to the Hebrews, Wordsworth presents the work of modern hymnals. That is unfortunate. They are integral
Christ as transcending the old, and filling the present with to the poem. In the sixth, we call upon the Holy Spirit to
vigorous action: fill our eyes with light, so that we may look up to heaven
with Stephen (cf. Acts 7:56) and see
Now our heavenly Aaron enters
With his blood within the veil; Where the Son of man in glory
Joshua now is come to Canaan, Standing is at God’s right hand.
And the kings before him quail.
Now he plants the tribes of Israel In the seventh, we see him who goes before us to
In their promised resting-place; prepare a place (cf. John 14:3), to intercede for us al-
Now our great Elijah offers ways (Heb. 9:24), “summoning the world to judgment.”
Double portion of his grace. In the eighth, we beg the Spirit to grant us wings of
Getty Images

faith and love, “gales of holy aspirations,” lifting up our

No longer do we need the high priest, son of Aaron, minds and hearts that we may be fit for Christ’s citadel
to make fearful supplication for us within the veil that above.
separates us from the Holy of Holies; for Christ, not with
the blood of goats and rams but with his own most pre-
cious blood, has “offered for all time a single sacrifice for The Oneness of Christ & the Father
sins” (Heb. 10:12), so that we, too, may enter the sanctuary. That brings us to the climactic ninth, with its echoes of
Moses could not bring Israel in his person to the Promised Isaiah 40:31 and 1 Thess. 4:17:
Land. That task was left to Joshua, the shadow of the Ye-
shua to come, just as the Canaan of old was a shadow of the So, at last, when he appeareth,
new Canaan, the true promised land of rest, the eternal We from out our graves may spring,
rest of God. Elijah, “The Lord is God,” was swept up into With our youth renewed like eagles,
the heavens by the chariots of flame, but before he was Flocking round our heavenly King,
taken away, he bequeathed to his disciple Elisha a double Caught up on the clouds of heaven,
portion of his power (2 Kings 2:9). So Jesus promised to And may meet him in the air,
his disciples that they would perform greater signs than Rise to realms where he is reigning,
those they had seen, and indeed people “carried out the And may reign forever there.
sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets,
that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on The tenth is a fine doxology of praise to the Holy Trin-
some of them” (Acts 5:15). ity, as is fitting, since otherwise we cannot understand the
oneness of Christ and the Father:

The Greatest Wonder Glory be to God the Father,

In the fifth stanza Wordsworth comes to the greatest won- Glory be to God the Son,
der of the Ascension of Christ, which soars beyond the old Dying, risen, ascending for us,
hope of the psalmist, to dwell within the house of God, Who the heavenly realm has won;
and to behold the beauty of his face. It soars also beyond Glory to the Holy Spirit;
the vision of man’s created dignity, to have been made a To one God in Persons three,
little less than the angels (cf. Ps. 8:5). For everything has Glory both in earth and heaven,
been placed under the feet of man—everything, even sin Glory, endless glory, be!
and Satan and death. That is because Christ sits at the
right hand of the Father, in the flesh, son both of God and Poets, I call upon you. Will you learn the art? Will you
of man: deign to try to do what the good bishop has done?  

He has raised our human nature Senior editor Anthony Esolen teaches English at Thomas More
On the clouds to God’s right hand; College in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and is the author of many
There we sit in heavenly places, books, including Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for
There with him in glory stand. Sanity (St. Benedict Press), Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books),
Jesus reigns, adored by angels; Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan,
Man with God is on the throne; with a CD), and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture
Mighty Lord, in thine ascension (Regnery). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Ran-
We by faith behold our own. dom House).

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 61

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A Thousand Words
Mary Elizabeth Podles on Christian Art

The Throne of

he sixth-century Throne of Maximianus stands
close to five feet tall; its wooden armature is com-
pletely paneled in ivory, front, back, and sides. Since
antiquity, ivory has been a luxury due to its rarity, dif-
ficulty of acquisition, and cost of transport, as well as its
inherent qualities of fine grain, creamy color, and silky
luster, all of which catch and hold the light. The panels
of the throne are narrow, obviously limited by the width
of the tusks; eight of them have vanished over the course of

Wikimedia Commons
the centuries. Still, it remains the most impressive monu-
ment of Early Byzantine sculpture in the world.
We know or can deduce some of the throne’s histo-

Wikimedia Commons
ry. It was most probably commissioned by the Emperor
Justinian as a gift to
Bishop Maximianus of
Ravenna for the dedi-
cation of the Church
of San Vitale in a.d.
547. During the dis-
integration and fall of
the Western Roman
Empire, Ravenna was
made the capital city,
first of the waning a massive and generous building campaign, culminating
empire, and then of in the dedication of San Vitale in 547, at which time the
the subsequent Ostro- Throne of Maximianus would have been unveiled.
gothic Kingdom. The
Byzantine emperor,
Justinian, formulated a bold plan to reintegrate the empire The Carvings
through a diplomatic and (mostly) military campaign to As a rule, thrones were restricted to emperors, kings,
reconquer Italy, North Africa, and the shores of Mediter- popes, and bishops. This, a bishop’s throne, bears imagery
ranean Spain. suited to the bishop’s proclamation of the gospel. The front
Ravenna was successfully recaptured in 540. Its site panels portray the four Evangelists, together with John the
on the Adriatic and its history as the capital made the city Baptist, the first herald of the Word. The five figures are
the logical choice for Justinian’s Italian seat of government. carved in low relief, and squeezed into an arcade of narrow
Justinian appointed Maximianus archbishop and, because niches, each topped with a halo-like conch. Sculpture in
of the close connection of church and state, de facto regent the round was frowned upon in the Byzantine East, as it
of the emperor. Maximianus, originally from the Dalma- was equated with the pagan idols of Antiquity. Similarly,
tian city of Pula, had risen through the clerical ranks as a the figures’ proportions are unclassically elongated and
protégé of Justinian, and found himself to be an extremely abstract. A lively abstract rhythm of shifting weights, tilt-
unpopular choice for Ravenna. As an antidote, he launched ed heads and hands, and swirling drapery links the figures

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A Thousand Words by Mary Elizabeth Podles

across the arcade into a coherent whole, even though they

seem to have been carved by two different artists.
Around the figures, still another artist has carved
decorative bands of vine leaves, symbolic of Christ, the
true vine. Here and there the vines are punctuated with
grapes, and peopled with heraldic animals: the peacocks
of the Resurrection, the lions of Solomon’s throne. The
­lions are just below the Baptist’s feet, while Maximianus’
insignia is just above his head, and if to suggest a parallel
between the bishop’s judicial role and Solomon’s.
Scenes from the life of the Virgin and of Christ cov-
er both sides of the chair back. Many of the scenes from
Mary’s story come from the apocryphal Protoevangelion
of James, a precedent that will recur in Byzantine art up to
the present day. These panels seem to have been carved by
a number of different hands, though they share a consis-
tent horror vacui: every available millimeter is filled with
decorative details (see the detail in the Nativity panel). of the panels are a bit sketchy in execution, as if finished
The fact that both the front and the back surfaces are in a hurry by less-skilled artisans.
elaborately paneled suggests that the chair was meant Others argue, however, that the story of Joseph might
to be free-standing, not set against the wall in the usual have been included for purely symbolic reasons. Joseph,
fashion, or even that it was carried in procession like a a foreigner, served as an important minister to Pharaoh,
sumptuous icon of the bishop’s authority, and, in absentia, just as Maximianus, in his role as bishop, served the em-
Wikimedia Commons

the emperor’s. peror and had a major hand in the civic government of
Ravenna. Justinian did not attend the dedication of San
Vitale in person, but among the mosaics of the chancel is
Wikimedia Commons

Why Joseph? a portrait of Justinian and his retinue that stood in for his
On the outer sides and arms of the throne, ten panels tell real presence. Maximianus, prominently labeled, stands
the Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers, an at the emperor’s elbow; around him are clerics with a
unusual subject at this time. Some scholars propose that jeweled Gospel book and censer (and at the far left, his
the story of the Egyptian Joseph points to an Egyptian bodyguards). The prominent placement of the mosaics in
origin for the carvings on the chair. A famous school of the chancel close to the apse establishes Justinian, and
ivory carving existed in Alexandria. The project might Maximianus with him, as Christ’s own regents on earth,
have been begun there, but then cut short by the Plague of in eternal attendance at the Eucharist as long as San Vitale
Justinian in 540, which came out of Africa and followed the stands.
ivory route around the ports of the Mediterranean. Some

The Inner Sanctum

The octagonal interior of San Vitale is airy and full of light,
but the apse and chancel, which house the gold mosaics,
form a separate, enclosed space, a glowing inner sanctum
set apart. Here the ivory throne would have sat or been
carried; it was probably partially gilded and touched with
color (gone now), and would have shone like a jewel in the
sanctuary space. In fact, the throne is an uncomfortable
height for sitting and might never have been occupied at
all. Instead, it probably held a jeweled Gospel book like
the one in the mosaic, or a gem-studded cross, and thus
stood as a reminder of the heavenly throne, to which all
emperors and bishops pay homage. 

Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and

Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six
children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 63

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As It Is Written . . .
by Patrick Henry Reardon
the ashes from the furnace and cast them into the atmo-
Ashes & Idolatry sphere. That is to say, the severe skin rash on the flesh of
the Egyptians came from industrial waste, specifically air

verybody, I suppose, has his own favorite among pollution. The story sounds terribly “modern.”
the plagues inflicted on Egypt. Mine is number six. I don’t believe such a reading is far-fetched, however,
On the outside chance, however, that its finer details inasmuch as part of the message in the early chapters of
may have slipped the reader’s mind, let us quickly rehearse Exodus is the oppressive nature of Egypt’s economic and
the account: technical culture. Already in Genesis, indeed, the same
idolatrous impulse had been present in the brick-and-­
So the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take for bitumen works of ancient Babel, and we find the same
yourselves handfuls of ashes from a kiln, and let theme later in the social concerns of the prophets. William
Moses scatter them toward heaven in the sight of Blake was on solid biblical ground when he spoke of “the
Pharaoh. And it will become fine dust in all the dark satanic mills” to describe the Industrial Revolution.
land of Egypt, and it will cause boils that break The wound inflicted by the dust of this plague is
out in sores on man and beast throughout all the called a shechin, apparently an inflammation (from the
land of Egypt. (Ex. 9:8–9) root shachan, meaning “to be hot”). The Septuagint ver-
sion translates this term as elkos, meaning an abscess or
Several features of this plague seem to stand out. It ulceration. This is exactly the term that appears in the
involves, for instance, a sort of ritual. Whereas the previ- Bible’s final set of plagues, those in the Book of Revelation.
ous plagues appeared without much ceremony—at most, Of the first of those plagues we read, “So the first [angel]
the extension of Aaron’s rod—in this case Moses must go went and poured out his bowl upon the earth, and a foul
and gather some ashes that he flings heavenward. There and loathsome abscess (elkos) came upon the men who
is a more obvious cause-and-effect here. These ashes “be- had the mark of the Beast and those who worshiped his
come” (wehaya) the afflicting dust. image” (Rev. 16:2).
The ashes, moreover, are taken from a “kiln” (kibshan),
an industrial furnace, used either to smelt metallic ore or
to bake bricks. The important thing to consider is that this Idolatry & Oppression
kibshan represented the economic and cultural life of Egypt. Once again, this plague is a punishment for the sin of idola-
The detail is significant. When the Book of Exodus try; it afflicts “the men who had the mark of the Beast and
earlier spoke of the hardships the Egyptians imposed those who worshiped his image.”
on the Israelites, it spoke in particular of the baking of When the Beast and his mark were first mentioned
bricks for the Pharaoh’s building projects (1:14; 5:7–19). three chapters earlier in Revelation, the context was a
The Egyptian construction technology resembled, in this form of idolatry expressed in social and economic oppres-
respect, that of ancient Babel (Gen. 11:3). Indeed, there sion. Of this Beast we are told, he “causes all, both small
was an even deeper, more spiritual affinity in the two and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark
cases: the ambitions of Babel and of Egypt displayed the on their right hand or on their brow, and that no one may
same political idolatry, the identical rebellion against the buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of
true God. the beast, or the number of his name” (13:16–17).
Thus, when Moses throws the ashes from this kiln The mark of the Beast, inscribed on the forehead or
“heavenward,” the action symbolized Egypt’s pride and the right hand of the idolaters, is a parody of the seal that
rebellion against God. The text says that Moses did this “at marks the brow of those who worship the Lamb (Rev. 7).
the eyes of Pharaoh.” That is to say, the ashes are thrown This very seal was foreshadowed in the paschal blood,
toward heaven, but they are also thrown at Pharaoh’s eyes; which, on Passover night, marked the doorframes of the
flung in the latter direction, they symbolize the spiritual Israelites in Egypt. In the end-time, then, humanity is di-
blindness the king displays through the entire course of vided by these two marks.
the plagues. Inasmuch as the service of a false god invariably fos-
A modern reader of Exodus can hardly fail to suspect ters some form of servile domination, idolatry is never a
in this story an ecological dimension: the sixth plague in- “victimless crime.” Pharaoh, because his heart is hard, will
volved a measure of “air pollution” when Moses removed always be an oppressor.  

64 March / April 2019

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*Closeout price: $7.95 each
**U.S. Shipping: Add $3.65 for 1 calendar | $5.15 for 2 | $6.65 for 3–5
$10 for 6–9 | $13.60 for 10–19 | 20 or more is free.
Canadian shipping: Add $9.50 for 1–2 calendars | $15.50 for 3–6 | $24.50
for 7–10. Please call 1-877-375-7373 for 11 or more.
Overseas shipping: Please call 1-877-375-7373.
***Sales Tax: Illinois residents add 9.25% sales tax.
Closeout Price!
Only $7.95 each.
Payment information

My check, payable to The Fellowship of St. James, is enclosed. The St. James Calendar is:
Please charge my: Visa MasterCard AmEx Discover a An 11 x 17 wall
calendar with notes,
quotations from the
Church Fathers, and
13 classic biblical
Street Address engravings by artists
such as Doré, Dürer,
City State Zip and Raphael
a Newly expanded, it
Credit Card Number Exp. Date includes hundreds of
saints from antiquity
Signature commemorated on the
same dates in Eastern
Phone Number Email and Western churches
Be sure to list name and address above as they appear on credit card. a A daily reminder of
Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery. the communion of the
saints for your home or

Send form & payment to: The Fellowship of St. James, P. O. Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641
Or: order online at www.fsj.org,or call 877-375-7373

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