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Tag: why read the fathers

Why Read: Aaron Hayes

Blogger Aaron Hayes has enthusiastically recommended the Read the Fathers project. In one of his blog posts, which he has asked that we include as part of our series on why readers are reading, he lists five reasons  to read the Fathers. Here are his reasons:

1. You Will Know Your Family History.  Many Christians from a variety of traditions often refer to “our church family” and point out the frequent family language used throughout the Scriptures.  There is of course nothing wrong with this, but the view of family here is often limited to one’s local congregation.  Our family is MUCH bigger than this, and includes those who have gone before us (and are still alive in Christ).   In an age when orthodoxy is mocked and every opinion considered equally valid, reading and studying the fathers will show how temporal much of what passes for modern trendy theology and church is.

Michelangelo - Torment of St. Anthony

Michelangelo’s Torment of St. Anthony

2. You Will Be Inspired.  If as a Christian you do not weep at some point while reading the Martyrdom of Polycarp, you are doing it wrong.  And this is only one writing.  When you see these ancient Christians stand up to emperors, conquer the flesh, encourage the struggling, persevere through suffering, and do their best to live authentic Christian lives, it will make you want to “go and do likewise.”  This will also help you put our current situation in the West into perspective.  Speaking of the West…

3.  Restoring the West.  It is almost cliché to mention the decadence of the West, but the fact of moral, spiritual, and cultural decline is ever-present. One great way to help reclaim the culture is to rediscover our roots.  What is great about western civilization is founded on the Judeo-Christian and Classical traditions, and the church fathers were steeped in both.  Our own heritage is counter-cultural today, and one must be familiar with it in order to take action and educate others to “stem the tide.”  This is one way in which we can truly create culture, rather than just whine and complain about it.  Read Gregory the Theologian’s Poetry and set it to music if you must!

4.  It Will Help You Read the Scriptures.  As theologian Thomas C. Oden puts it, “The history of the church is a history of exegesis.”  The fathers knew the Scriptures extremely well (many had huge portions memorized), and many were active pastors teaching the Scriptures to their flock.  Reading how John Chrysostom teaches on Matthew, or how Gregory the Great deals with Job, will force you to dig into the text, and better understand the Scriptures yourself.  Even if you disagree with a conclusion, you will have to know why you disagree, meaning you are contending with Holy Scripture the entire time. The Holy Spirit has been with the church since Pentecost, so why not read how the Spirit guided what became some of the most foundational received doctrine in Christendom?

5.  It Will Help You Be Disciplined.  Self-denial and discipline, especially of the mind, are not popular in today’s entertainment and consumer driven culture.  We may admire those who are able to exhibit such behavior, but we rarely do anything ourselves.  By committing to do this in community, with a schedule and seeing how others respond, you will be amazed at how little time you will have for frivolous things.  In fact, if reading the fathers caused more Christians to get rid of most Christian self-help books based in individualist pop-psychology, many pastors would be in trouble (in a good way).  In a very real sense, reclaiming our classic Christian heritage could go a long way in regards to renewal in the church.

Why Read: The Pocket Scroll

For about six months now I’ve been reading The Pocket Scroll, a blog that is “a home for GK Chesterton’s ‘Democracy of the Dead’ and “a place for musings about the Great Tradition of Christianity.” The author—Scholiast—has just written a post about why he is going to join in reading the fathers. Here is one paragraph—you can read the rest at the blog.

I cannot recommend this idea enough. The challenges and wonders and mind-stretching ideas that come from reading the Fathers are exactly what the pocket scroll is about. I started this blog not only to have a place to work through some ideas but as a place to encourage others to meet with the texts that have formed the Christian faith and made it what it is today to help bring them to a place of deeper faith in God, greater awe before Him, fuller strength in the face of trouble, truer holiness in a licentious society.

I hope you’ll read some of the other posts at the Pocket Scroll, especially the series about “classic Christianity.” As the paragraph quoted above states, the whole blog is an argument for reading the fathers to learn a deeper faith and practice, and it contains a lot of helpful information about the Christian tradition along the way. That’s why I’ve taken the liberty including these excerpts as part of our series of posts on why readers are reading.

In the Pocket Scroll’s sidebar you’ll see the list of posts that make up the “classic Christianity” series. After reading the introduction, you might pay special attention to the post “What is Classic Christianity?” Here is a taste:

Paleo-orthodoxy seeks to learn theology from dead guys, to encounter the truths of orthodoxy in the Scriptures and the Church Fathers, drawing from the rich well of the first 1000 years of consensual Christian witness to the Truth. Classic Christianity reads these ancient Classics, seeking always the Truth, always Christ, always a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and God’s revelation to us. Classic Christianity seeks to be in communion with all that is good in the Christian tradition, drawing from the wells not only of the first 1000 years, but of the great Tradition as it gallops across the world and through time.

Be sure to also look at the second post, “Why Classic Christianity?” which is followed up by an excerpt from G. K. Chesterton on reading.

Why Read: Amy Cavender

[This is the second post in our series on why readers are reading. The author, Amy Cavender, is a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross and an assistant professor of political science at Saint Mary’s College. If you are interested in contributing a similar post (details here), please send us a note. —LAM]

An icon of Constantine, Helena, and the True Cross

Constantine, Helena, and the discovery of the true cross

When I first learned about the “Read the Fathers” project, I was immediately intrigued, and it didn’t take me very long to get signed up and to add the first year’s reading schedule to my calendar.

Why? What on earth would interest me in reading the works of the early Church Fathers?

Partly, it’s curiosity. I enjoy learning about matters religious, and I’ve not read the Fathers—so signing on for the project means I get to read something new, in an area that interests me.

But there’s more to it than that. The Church Fathers are part of the heritage that belongs to us as Christians, just as, for instance, the American Founders are an important part of the heritage that belongs to citizens of the United States. It certainly isn’t necessary to be familiar with the Founders’ works to be a good American citizen. Still, it’s worth knowing something of the history of the Founding if one wishes to understand what the United States is all about. Familiarity with the Founders’ written works provides an even deeper understanding of the American project.

I see the project of reading the Fathers similarly. Of course one can be a good Christian without knowing much about Church history or being familiar with the writings of the earlierst generations of Church leaders to follow the Apostles. But one’s understanding of and appreciation for Christianity in all its richness can be enhanced by both. That, far more than mere curiousity, is what’s prompted me to sign up.

Why Read: Megan V.

[This post is the first in what we hope will be a series of posts by readers explaining why they want to take on reading the church fathers. Megan V. draws from Mark Noll, Augustine, and T. S. Eliot to explain what has brought her to patristics. If you are interested in contributing a similar post (details here), please send us a note. —LAM]

A tree through a dirty window

 And He spoke a parable unto them. (Luke 18:1)

In an old country house, there was a window that looked out on a tall tree. The house’s owner would come and look through the window at the tree.  He could see the tree clearly, from its roots to its crown, because the window was kept clean and clear. Then the owner died, and no one came to the house for seventy years. No one cleaned the window, and it grew very dusty. Spiderwebs crisscrossed its surface. At last, a young woman came to the house. She reached the window and looked out, but the grime that covered the window after seventy years so obscured the tree that she could see only its shadow.

Just so, I have come to realize that the two thousand years between the early church and the contemporary one obscure (and sometimes even distort) my sight of the Christian faith. As seventy years covered the window with dust and cobwebs, so twenty centuries have covered the faith with so many political maneuvers, crusades, national re-awakenings and reformations, and even benign changes in the church service or Bible reading that sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between biblical doctrine and recent historical tradition. Ultimately, this is the reason why I am planning to read the Fathers: to see more clearly how Christianity was meant to be experienced, which is not necessarily how we experience it today.

Last spring, I read Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. It was Noll who pointed out to me most clearly that what some people would consider ‘simple biblical truth’ (120) is in fact a recent invention, made popular by its historical and cultural contexts.

For example, I was raised premillenialist, and so as a child I assumed that believers way back to Paul accepted this position because it was ‘simple biblical truth.’ Not so. Premillenialism is popular in part because evangelials leaned heavily on its doctrines in order to cope with the massive social changes in 1800s America, such as increasing secularization and the Industrial Revolution. Timothy Weber suggests that “the premillenialist view of the future provided both a blessed hope and a way of understanding why things were going so badly. There [was] an ironic comfort in knowing that centuries ago, the Bible predicted this mess.” (qtd Noll 120). Its theological truth aside, there is no doubt that premillenialism was emphasized as important Christian doctrine partly because it spoke to an important emotional need two hundred years ago.

To take a less-doctrinal example, consider the chapters and verses added to Scripture. Noll points out that readers who rely on these for Bible study risk confusing actual biblical truth with human interpretation, necessarily added along with chapters and verses in the 1500s (134). To stop reading and start reading at what are sometimes arbitrary and always human divisions of God’s word is about as useful to good interpretation as chopping Michaelangelo’s David into twenty pieces for art appreciation. What was meant to be appreciated and understood as a whole is subdivided into so many little pieces that the original meaning is sometimes lost altogether. I re-read Galatians several years ago, and, finishing the book in a single sitting, I saw more clearly than ever before the stress Paul lays on Christian liberty. Yes, reading Galatians a few verses or chapters at a time is often more practical, and the verses were added for a legitimate need: the need to locate passages of Scripture easily and quickly. But their legitimate purpose does not change the fact that the chapter-and-verse divisions are a historical tradition, one which not only helps but also hinders believers’ ability to understand their faith.

In giving these examples, I am not trying to convince you to give up a belief in premillenialism or to seek out a Bible in which the chapter and verse divisions have been erased. To argue theological truth or hermeneutical practice is far beyond the scope of my post! No, my hope is point out that history does not wash over us, like waves over a rock, and leave us unchanged. Christian practice has been adapted and re-adapted to meet the particular needs of the moment, again and again within the last two thousand years. Yes, much crucial doctrine has been left intact, but there are also areas in which our understanding has been, like the tree through the dirty window, obscured and distorted by the grime of history.

So, I am back to my original point: In an attempt to ‘clean the window’ and see Christian practice without its historical detritus, I plan to read the early church fathers. Like the house owner who saw the tree through the clean, clear window, the church fathers saw the church grow up in its original cnotext, free of endless historical permutations. No, they were not necessarily closer to God or better able to interpret Scripture than we by virtue of the century in which they lived; we too are ‘guided into all truth’ by God Himself. Yes, the Church Fathers also experienced their faith through culture, but this is a problem that cannot be escaped until Heaven; this side of Paradise, all experience is through culture and time. The Church Father’s culture, not ours, was the original one to Christianity and so the one in which the events and practices and messages of the early church should be understood.

But these limitations should come as no surprise and do not undermine the importance of reading the Fathers: We have been warned that we will understand our faith only ‘through a glass darkly’, and in light of such a warning, it should be our goal to see as clearly as possible. It was the Church Fathers, not us, who stood at the window before it was made dirty by time and saw through it as clearly as human eyes can see. It is the Church Fathers, therefore ,who can help us clear our own vision of the contaminations of historical shifts and see our faith clearly. To read the Fathers is to ‘unweave, unwind, unravel’ the accumulated cultural shifts and confusion of the last two thousand years and see our faith in its appropriate setting, and our God in the culture to which He originally revealed Himself.


* Image courtesy of Flick user thisreidwrites // Creative Commons licensed

Fr. Georges Florovsky on “The Lost Scriptural Mind”

Georges Florovsky

Fr. Georges Florovsky

Father Georges Florovsky (1893–1979) was an Eastern Orthodox priest, theologian, and historian. Expelled from Russia in 1920, he became a professor at Orthodox seminaries in Paris and New York, then a professor at Harvard University and Princeton University. In this excerpt from a 1951 essay titled “The Lost Scriptural Mind,” Florovsky argues that the fathers of the Christian church are more relevant than modern theologians. You can read the full essay here.

Christian ministers are not supposed to preach their private opinions, at least from the pulpit. Ministers are commissioned and ordained in the church precisely to preach the Word of God. They are given some fixed terms of reference — namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ — and they are committed to this sole and perennial message. They are expected to propagate and to sustain “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Of course, the Word of God must be preached “efficiently.” That is, it should always be so presented as to carry conviction and command the allegiance of every new generation and every particular group. It may be restated in new categories, if the circumstances require. But, above all, the identity of the message must be preserved.

One has to be sure that one is preaching the same gospel that was delivered and that one is not introducing instead any “strange gospel” of his own. The Word of God cannot be easily adjusted or accommodated to the fleeting customs and attitudes of any particular age, including our own time. Unfortunately, we are often inclined to measure the Word of God by our own stature, instead of checking our mind by the stature of Christ. The “modern mind” also stands under the judgment of the Word of God.

Modern Man and Scripture

But it is precisely at this point that our major difficulty begins. Most of us have lost the integrity of the scriptural mind, even if some bits of biblical phraseology are retained. The modern man often complains that the truth of God is offered to him in an “archaic idiom” — i.e., in the language of the Bible — which is no more his own and cannot be used spontaneously. It has recently been suggested that we should radically “demythologize” Scripture, meaning to replace the antiquated categories of the Holy Writ by something more modern. Yet the question cannot be evaded: Is the language of Scripture really nothing else than an accidental and external wrapping out of which some “eternal idea” is to be extricated and disentangled, or is it rather a perennial vehicle of the divine message, which was once delivered for all time?

We are in danger of losing the uniqueness of the Word of God in the process of continuous “reinterpretation.” But how can we interpret at all if we have forgotten the original language? Would it not be safer to bend our thought to the mental habits of the biblical language and to relearn the idiom of the Bible? No man can receive the gospel unless he repents — “changes his mind.” For in the language of the gospel “repentance” (metanoeite) does not mean merely acknowledgment of and contrition for sins, but precisely a “change of mind” — a profound change of man’s mental and emotional attitude, an integral renewal of man’s self, which begins in his self-renunciation and is accomplished and sealed by the Spirit.

We are living now in an age of intellectual chaos and disintegration. Possibly modern man has not yet made up his mind, and the variety of opinions is beyond any hope of reconciliation. Probably the only luminous signpost we have to guide us through the mental fog of our desperate age is just the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” obsolete or archaic as the idiom of the Early Church may seem to be, judged by our fleeting standards.

Preach the Creeds!

What, then, are we going to preach? What would I preach to my contemporaries “in a time such as this?” There is no room for hesitation: I am going to preach Jesus, and him crucified and risen. I am going to preach and to commend to all whom I may be called to address the message of salvation, as it has been handed down to me by an uninterrupted tradition of the Church Universal. I would not isolate myself in my own age. In other words, I am going to preach the “doctrines of the creed.”

I am fully aware that creeds are a stumbling block for many in our own generation. “The creeds are venerable symbols, like the tattered flags upon the walls of national churches; but for the present warfare of the church in Asia, in Africa, in Europe and America the creeds, when they are understood, are about as serviceable as a battle-ax or an arquebus in the hands of a modern soldier.” This was written some years ago by a prominent British scholar who is a devout minister too. Possibly he would not write them today. But there are still many who would wholeheartedly make this vigorous statement their own. Let us remember, however, that the early creeds were deliberately scriptural, and it is precisely their scriptural phraseology that makes them difficult for the modern man.

Thus we face the same problem again: What can we offer instead of Holy Scripture? I would prefer the language of the Tradition, not because of a lazy and credulous “conservatism” or a blind “obedience” to some external “authorities,” but simply because I cannot find any better phraseology. I am prepared to expose myself to the inevitable charge of being “antiquarian” and “fundamentalist.” And I would protest that such a charge is gratuitous and wrong. I do keep and hold the “doctrines of the creed,” conscientiously and wholeheartedly, because I apprehend by faith their perennial adequacy and relevance to all ages and to all situations, including “a time such as this.” And I believe it is precisely the “doctrines of the creed” that can enable a desperate generation like ours to regain Christian courage and vision.

The Tradition Lives

“The church is neither a museum of dead deposits nor a society of research.” The deposits are alive—depositum juvenescens, to use the phrase of St. Irenaeus. The creed is not a relic of the past, but rather the “sword of the Spirit.” The reconversion of the world to Christianity is what we have to preach in our day. This is the only way out of that impasse into which the world has been driven by the failure of Christians to be truly Christian. Obviously, Christian doctrine does not answer directly any practical question in the field of politics or economics. Neither does the gospel of Christ. Yet its impact on the whole course of human history has been enormous. The recognition of human dignity, mercy and justice roots in the gospel. The new world can be built only by a new man.

The Modern Crisis

The first task of the contemporary preacher is the “reconstruction of belief.” It is by no means an intellectual endeavor. Belief is just the map of the true world, and should not be mistaken for reality. Modern man has been too much concerned with his own ideas and convictions, his own attitudes and reactions. The modern crisis precipitated by humanism (an undeniable fact) has been brought about by the rediscovery of the real world, in which we do believe. The rediscovery of the church is the most decisive aspect of this new spiritual realism. Reality is no more screened from us by the wall of our own ideas. It is again accessible. It is again realized that the church is not just a company of believers, but the “Body of Christ.” This is a rediscovery of a new dimension, a rediscovery of the continuing presence of the divine Redeemer in the midst of his faithful flock. This discovery throws a new flood of light on the misery of our disintegrated existence in a world thoroughly secularized. It is already recognized by many that the true solution of all social problems lies somehow in the reconstruction of the church. “In a time such as this” one has to preach the “whole Christ,” Christ and the church—totus Christus, caput et corpus, to use the famous phrase of St. Augustine. Possibly this preaching is still unusual, but it seems to be the only way to preach the Word of God efficiently in a period of doom and despair like ours.

The Relevance of the Fathers

I have often a strange feeling. When I read the ancient classics of Christian theology, the fathers of the church, I find them more relevant to the troubles and problems of my own time than the production of modern theologians. The fathers were wrestling with existential problems, with those revelations of the eternal issues which were described and recorded in Holy Scripture. I would risk a suggestion that St. Athanasius and St. Augustine are much more up to date than many of our theological contemporaries. The reason is very simple: they were dealing with things and not with the maps, they were concerned not so much with what man can believe as with what God had done for man. We have, “in a time such as this,” to enlarge our perspective, to acknowledge the masters of old, and to attempt for our own age an existential synthesis of Christian experience.1

C.S. Lewis on Reading the Christian Classics

Athanasius, On the Incarnation

In the coming days we’ll be posting excerpts by writers from various traditions about why you should read the church fathers. Today’s excerpt comes from the Anglican C. S. Lewis (the nearest authority to a church father for many American evangelicals). In 1944 Lewis wrote the preface to an edition of Athanasius’s On the Incarnation. (An edition with Lewis’s preface is in print from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, an Orthodox press, as part of their Popular Patristics Series. There is also an online version.) Translated by the Anglican Sister Penelope Lawson, the book was “something of an experiment,” as Lewis notes, because it was “intended for the world at large, not only for theological students.” In the preface Lewis addresses the question of what kinds of books to read, arguing that—contrary to the popular wisdom—amateurs should read the “old” books rather than the modern.

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. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

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. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. 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. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

I myself was first led into reading the Christian classics, almost accidentally, as a result of my English studies. Some, such as Hooker, Herbert, Traherne, Taylor and Bunyan, I read because they are themselves great English writers; others, such as Boethius, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Dante, because they were “influences.” George Macdonald I had found for myself at the age of sixteen and never wavered in my allegiance, though I tried for a long time to ignore his Christianity. They are, you will note, a mixed bag, representative of many Churches, climates and ages. And that brings me to yet another reason for reading them. The divisions of Christendom are undeniable and are by some of these writers most fiercely expressed. But if any man is tempted to think—as one might be tempted who read only con- temporaries—that “Christianity” is a word of so many meanings that it means nothing at all, he can learn beyond all doubt, by stepping out of his own century, that this is not so. Measured against the ages “mere Christianity” turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible. I know it, indeed, to my cost. In the days when I still hated Christianity, I learned to recognise, like some all too familiar smell, that almost unvarying something which met me, now in Puritan Bunyan, now in Anglican Hooker, now in Thomist Dante. It was there (honeyed and floral) in Francois de Sales; it was there (grave and homely) in Spenser and Walton; it was there (grim but manful) in Pascal and Johnson; there again, with a mild, frightening, Paradisial flavour, in Vaughan and Boehme and Traherne. In the urban sobriety of the eighteenth century one was not safe—Law and Butler were two lions in the path. The supposed “Paganism” of the Elizabethans could not keep it out; it lay in wait where a man might have supposed himself safest, in the very centre of The Faerie Queene and the Arcadia. It was, of course, varied; and yet—after all—so unmistakably the same; recognisable, not to be evaded, the odour which is death to us until we allow it to become life:

an air that kills
From yon far country blows.

We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the divisions of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity. I know, for I saw it; and well our enemies know it. That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age. It is not enough, but it is more than you had thought till then. Once you are well soaked in it, if you then venture to speak, you will have an amusing experience. You will be thought a Papist when you are actually reproducing Bunyan, a Pantheist when you are quoting Aquinas, and so forth. For you have now got on to the great level viaduct which crosses the ages and which looks so high from the valleys, so low from the mountains, so narrow compared with the swamps, and so broad compared with the sheep-tracks.

You can finish Lewis’s preface here.

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