Sand in the Gears

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Old, old, old school

January 26th, 2010 Posted in The Artful Life, Theology

“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books . . . This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet.”  (C.S. Lewis, Introduction to St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation.)

I like that the study circles of Lewis’s day read Maritain, Niebuhr, and Sayers, whereas today you’re an intellectual if you read Sproul and a reader of antiquity if you study Spurgeon. I’m going to try to follow Lewis’s advice more rigorously: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”