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Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Rom. 13:13 does not appear in any of the standard lists of evangelistic passages Christians memorize for use in personal witness.  It’s not in The Roman Road, The Four Spiritual Laws, or the diagnostic questions of Evangelism Explosion.  But it was the key to Augustine’s moment of realizing that salvation was by grace, not by his own continually failing efforts.  The key phrase is “put on Christ.”  Don’t just keep trying; put your full trust in Christ, in His merits, in His efforts.  Here in a villanelle is the famous scene where the future saint heard a child’s voice chanting “Take up and read,” and he opened his Bible to that verse.  The rest, as they say, is history.

St. Augustine much later, as a bishop

THE CONVERSION OF AUGUSTINE

Commentary, Rom. 13:13

The Voice cried out in answer to his need

To take the plunge, to be converted now,

Singing, “Tolle, lege, take and read.”

For years he’d stumbled over the hard creed

Of Jesus in the flesh—who could see how?

But nothing less would answer to his need.

His mother’s prayers were destined to succeed

Through Ambrose’ preaching, his own quest, and Thou

Singing, “Tolle, lege, take and read.”

“But can you live without us? They would plead—

His mistresses—as if to disallow

The Voice that cried in answer to his need.

“Yes!  Rather put on Christ who came to bleed

And make no plans the field of flesh to plow.”

Such was the answer he took up to read.

At last the Hound of Heaven had him treed,

Weeping, broken, and prepared to bow.

The Voice cried out in answer to his need,

Singing, “Tolle, lege, take and read.”

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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227

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Here are a couple of limericks inspired by moments in the history of Western Thought.  What do they have in common besides that?  Both were moments of failing to see clearly stemming from a failure to realize that we can not reach ultimate truth from merely unaided human starting points—either epistemologically or morally.  By creating an epistemology that excluded truth from divine revelation and kept itself within the bounds of human reason alone, Kant let reality (the Ding an sich or “thing in itself”) slip through his fingers.  In like manner, Augustine at one point failed to cast himself wholly on the grace of God not only to see but to do what is right.  Unlike Kant, Augustine learned better than his original error.  So should we.

Immanuel Kant

THE SLIDE TOWARD SOLIPSISM BEGINS

Limerick # 32

 

“Our knowledge,” one sage used to rant,

“Is inevitably always aslant.

The true Ding an sich

Is so sly and so slick

That when you try to see it, you Kan’t.”

 

THE CONSISTENT INCONSISTENCY OF THE OLD NATURE

MAKES SELF-REFORMATION FUTILE

Limerick # 33

 

Before he was saved, St. Augustine

Was in love with the pleasures of lustin’.

He prayed, “Make me pure,

But not yet, to be sure!”

While he prayed, his own prayer he was bustin’.

Augustine

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

224

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

A POLEMIC

On the Origins of Post-Modern Criticism

For David Hume

David Hume

(The radical Empiricism of the Endarkenment entails treating the Good as an abstraction, rejecting Truth for fact, and reducing the Beautiful to a subjective response.  Thus it undercuts the docere of Literature, leaving us only with a truncated diligere.  This epistemology applied to Art can only lead to Aestheticism, which inevitably degenerates into Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, and Deconstruction.  Once the actual Values of the Sages have thus been destroyed, they can now be replaced with Marxism, Feminism, Freudianism, or whatever other Ism we wish to impose on Texts left defenseless by the death of Truth.  To get beyond this impasse, we must abandon the skeptical philosophy that produced it as question-begging Nonsense.)

 

That skeptic, David Hume,

Gained philosophic fame

Committing to the fume

Of metaphoric flame

Whole libraries of pages

By metaphysic sages.

 

Unless it could be measured

By his empiric wit,

It never could be treasured,

And so, away with it!

Mere sophistry, illusion,

Divinity ( ! ), confusion.

 

Augustine and Aquinas,

Isaiah, Moses, Paul,

Nothing but a minus;

Better burn them all:

The penalty for treason

Against enlightened “Reason.”

 

Erasmus, Calvin, Luther,

Dante, Milton, Spenser:

What could be uncouther,

More worthy of a censor?

Life seen through the prism

Of rank empiricism.

 

To keep them as purveyors

Of just imagination

Is but to be betrayers

Of all their conversation:

Dead, white, oppressive pigs

For mere aesthetic prigs.

 

Good critics can’t arise

From bad philosophy.

It should be no surprise

That we have come to be

Despisers of the True—

Of Goodness, Beauty, too.

 

If only what the senses

Can see or smell or feel

Is able to convince us

That it is really real,

How’d the sensation grow

That tells us this is so?

 

We’d really like to know.

Dr. Williams being unimpressed by Hume’s arguments.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

LII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 

We are pilgrims and strangers in this world.  Christianity teaches this truth explicitly, but every other mythology, it seems, hints at it implicitly.  It is as inescapable as death; but it is more than just the fact that life here cannot last forever.  Would we be satisfied here if it could?  Or would we just find the need for something indefinably more growing ever more acute?  Either Augustine was right, and “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee,” or we are of all men most miserable.  If he was, then we can find spiritual wholeness only in that place where we neither idolize this world nor despise it.

 

PILGRIM

 

I would not leave the sun-lit stones

That line the streets of Athens town;

But I will search for Hesperus’ Isle

Though in the end I drown.

 

I would not turn from Caerleon

Nor Byzantium forsake;

But I will seek Broceliande

Though on her rocks I break.

 

I lose not lightly Rivendell

Nor Misty Mountains’ chilly breath;

But I will sail for Numinor

E’en though I sail to death.

 

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://www.createspace.com/3562314 and order Stars Through the Clouds!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

PHILOSOPHY AND WISDOM

PHILOSOPHY: THE LOVE OF WISDOM?

If our writings are going to communicate the biblical world view, we have to know what it is.  Therefore, there is a need for Christian writers to be good thinkers, competent in philosophy and theology, as well as good creative writers.  To that end, watch for my forthcoming Lantern Hollow Press book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy.  To whet your appetite, start with the meditation below.

Philosophyphileo plus sophia, the love of wisdom.  Wisdom:  not intelligence (which is just processing speed) or knowledge (which is just information) or even understanding (which is seeing how one’s bits of knowledge relate to one another), but something more.  Wisdom is the knack of using one’s intelligence, knowledge, and understanding in useful and beneficial ways.  For Christians, it means using one’s intelligence, knowledge, and understanding in ways that glorify God, advance His kingdom, and bring blessing to His people.

It may seem hard to find much wisdom in the technical arguments of professional academic philosophers today, but it is there for those who know how to look.  (It may not be in the conclusions to their arguments!)  I hope there is some to be found in the philosophical musings I have indulged in over the years, not wholly unrelated to the conclusions of my arguments.  If I want you to find it, maybe I should be able to find it myself.  What have I learned from thinking philosophically?  More to the point, what have I learned from it that I can properly call wisdom?

Perhaps the first lesson is humility.  It is the glory of man that we cannot rest until we understand the world around us and understand ourselves.  We are the only species that is impelled to ask the Great Questions:  What is real?  Who are we?  Why are we here?  What is the good?  How do we know?  We are ennobled in that we ask, but we are brought low by our failure to find, or, finding, to live by, the answers.

To study the history of philosophy is to learn how our best thinking when unaided by revelation from above always leads to an irresolvable impasse.  It does so because, apart from revelation, we end up looking for the ultimate in a place where it cannot be found: within the circles of the finite world.  Hence we get the infamous false choices for which philosophy is famous:  Heraklitus and flux, or Parmenides and permanence?  Plato’s rationalism and realism, or Aristotle’s empiricism and nominalism? They are both right and both wrong.  Forms neither as immanent in matter nor as existing on their own but as the rationes aeterna in the mind of a personal God capable of grounding them because He is the source of both form and matter—for, that we would need the operation of revelation on a redeemed and receptive mind.  There is no other way to get it.

Without revelation and the receptive mind, we end up with people fighting over what are at best partial glimpses of the truth.  And our best thinkers never quite live up even to their partial glimpses.  Only as God stoops to us in revelation do we find answers that are whole; only as He stoops to us in grace do we accept those answers and find the ability to live them out.  If following in the footsteps of our best unaided thinkers to see the impasses that result from their thinking helps us more clearly to see and appreciate our limitations, then the first lesson of wisdom we learn is humility—and the second is gratitude.  Humility from our inability, gratitude for God’s supply: surely humility and gratitude are essential parts of a life of wisdom!

Sadly, many people who study philosophy do not learn humility or gratitude from it, but rather arrogance in the defense of one of those limited and partial viewpoints.  One even finds those who are arrogant in their defense of the seemingly humbling proposition that we cannot know anything!  But, then, people are fallen, prideful, and stubborn in their pursuit of other fields of study just as well (including theology).  The fault therefore lies not with philosophy but with the philosophers, that is, with us.  Only by God’s grace do we pursue anything wisely, that is, humbly and gratefully.  Those who have been captured by God’s grace in Jesus Christ then should apply themselves to philosophy because, just as bad philosophy has to be answered by good philosophy, so sinful philosophers have to be answered by redeemed ones—by their existence as much as by their arguments.

From the best Christian philosophers, such as Augustine, Anselm, and C. S. Lewis, one can also learn this wisdom:  confidence that Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are real things, objectively rooted in the nature of the God of creation and objectively imprinted by Him onto the world He has made.  They are rightly called “the transcendentals”: they are supremely valuable and are their own justification precisely because Truth is the reflection of God’s mind, Goodness of His character, and Beauty of His glory.  And we, created in His image and redeemed by His blood, may participate in them, yea, bathe in them.  We find our purpose and our fulfillment in doing so, because thus we reflect Him to the world.  If Christians do not gain confidence and boldness and indeed joy in their pursuit of these transcendental values from thinking philosophically, then they are missing the point, profoundly and colossally missing the point, as badly as the most secularized sophist on the planet, and with less excuse. If they do not promote and encourage confidence, boldness, and joy in the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty by the way they do and teach and write philosophy, then they have betrayed their calling.

If I am on track in the last paragraph, then I have also learned that Solomon was right:  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Nothing can claim to be wisdom that does not rest on, flow from, and promote in us the reverent, humble, and grateful acknowledgement of His necessary existence, His Trinitarian personality, His divine majesty, His rightful sovereignty, and His supreme worthiness of all worship and devotion.  It is ultimately He who must teach us this, by revealing Himself to us in His Son, the eternal logos who enlightens every man and who came into the world.  Our philosophical search for truth without that act of grace on His part is but vanity and striving after wind.  Philosophy, in other words, is not the key to understanding Him; it is He who must illumine our philosophy.

(I am not affirming fideism here, by the way.  I have made arguments for God’s existence in this journal.  But I am recognizing that He is more than the conclusion to a logical argument; He is the reason why logical argument is possible in the first place.  I am recognizing that, even so far as they are valid, those arguments will only be accepted and will only have their intended effect in leading to wisdom when they are used by His Spirit as part of His gracious work of conviction and calling, leading to regeneration, conversion, and sanctification—including the sanctification of the mind.  May He graciously grant my prayers by so using them.)

When God does illumine us, philosophy can help us see things about ourselves, our need, and His grace in meeting that need, that we might otherwise have missed.  It is better for redeemed sinners to wonder about who we are, why we are here, what is real and what is good, and how we know, and to find their answers in Him, than it is for them to remain ignorant.  So Augustine and Anselm had it right all along:  Credo ut intelligam, “I believe that I might understand.”  Fides quaerens intellectum, “faith in search of understanding.”

You will know that your faith is producing understanding, you will know that your philosophical thinking has been profitable, when it leads you to the humble and grateful love of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and to their manifestation in your life to the glory of God.  Then perhaps we can redeem the etymological definition of philosophy as the love of wisdom.  May God grant it by His grace, for our good and His glory.

Amen.

For more of the authors own glimpses of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, go to https://www.createspace.com/2563414 and order STARS THROUGH THE CLOUDS: THE COLLECTED POETRY OF DONALD T. WILLIAM (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011).