C.S. Lewis on Education

“For every pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity.  The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.  The right defence [sic] against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.  By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes.  For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.” C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, 2007), p. 699.

Luther on the Crusades

“The popes have never seriously intended to wage war against the Turk; instead they used the Turkish war as a cover for their game and robbed Germany of money by means of indulgences whenever they took the notion….If they had seriously wished to fight the Turk, the pope and the cardinals would have had enough from the pallia, annates, and other unmentionable sources of income so that they would not have needed to practice such extortion and robbery in Germany.” Martin Luther, On War Against the Turk, in Luther’s Works vol. 46, p. 164.

Dr. Luther published this treatise in 1529 to explain his understanding of warfare against the Ottoman Turks.  In 1518 Luther had rejected the promotion of a war against the Turks.  The popes still granted indulgences for wars against the Turks in the sixteenth century.  According to most scholars today, this would make these crusades.  Throughout the 1520s the Ottoman army had advanced steadily north to the outskirts of Vienna.  Luther wrote this work in order to explain how a soldier could justly defend Germany without participating in a crusade.  Luther explains:

“But what motivated me most of all was this: They undertook to fight against the Turk in the name of Christ, and taught and incited men to do this, as though our people were an army of Christians against the Turks, who were enemies of Christ.  This is absolutely contrary to Christ’s doctrine and name….This is the greatest of all sins and is one that no Turk commits, for Christ’s name is used for sin and shame and thus dishonored. This would be especially so if the pope and the bishops were involved in the war, for they would bring the greatest shame and dishonor to Christ’s name because they are called to fight against the devil with the word of God and with prayer, and they would be deserting their calling and office to fight with the sword against flesh and blood.  They are not commanded to do this; it is forbidden.” Ibid., p. 165.

According to Luther, the Christian’s vocation determined how he or she reacted to the Turks.  Popes and priests were to serve in the spiritual office, not the office of military defense.  Luther explained how God had established different offices to fulfill various vocations.  Additionally, popes and priests did not have the right to call for a war.  Luther concluded:

“…if I were a soldier and saw a priest’s banner in the field, or a banner of the cross, even though it was a crucifix, I should run as though the devil were chasing me; even if they won a victory, by God’s decree, I should not take any part in the booty or rejoicing.” Ibid., p. 168.

God’s Little Puppet Show

“Now the blind world, because it does not know God and his work, concludes that it is owing to its own cleverness, reason, and strength that a community or dominion endures and thrives.  Accordingly, they gather together great treasures, stuff their coffers, construct mighty towers and walls, provide suits of armor and vast supplies of provisions, enact wise laws, and conduct their affairs with courage and prudence.  They just go ahead in their arrogance without even consulting God about any of it, like those who built the Tower of Babel [Gen. 11:1-9].” Martin Luther, “Exposition of Psalm 127, for the Christians at Riga in Livonia,” in Luther’s Works, vol. 45, p. 328.

Luther’s exposition of Psalm 127:1b (Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain) allowed him to discuss the nature of human society and government.  In this case, he explains how the sinful world ignores God and trusts in its own efforts and greatness.

“Meanwhile, God sits above and watches how cleverly and boldly the children of men proceed, and he causes the psalmist to sing in his praise, ‘God brings the counsel of the nations to naught’ [Ps. 33:10].  Again, ‘God knows the thoughts of man, that they are vain’ [Ps. 94:11].  And yet again, ‘He takes away the spirit of princes, and deals strongly with the kings of the earth.’ [Ps. 76:12].  He allows such cities and dominions to arise and to gain the ascendancy for a little while.  But before they can look around he strikes them down; and in general the greater the kingdom, the sooner.  Even though they flourish for a short time, that is in the sight of God little more than a beginning. Never does one of them arrive at the point it strives to reach.” Ibid., pp. 328-329.    

Despite worldly arrogance and the cleverness of rulers God brings down great kingdoms and replaces them with ease.  Luther then presented a number of examples of God’s actions.

“If you look at the history of the kingdoms of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and all the rest, you will find there exactly what this verse says.  All their splendor is nothing more than God’s little puppet show.  He has allowed them to rise for a time, but he has invariably overthrown them, one after the other.  As they gained a brief ascendancy, through human wit and arrogance, so much the more quickly did they fall again; not because they lacked manpower, money, goods, and all manner of resources, but because the watchman had ceased to uphold them, and cause them to see what human wit and power could accomplish without his watchful care and protection.  So it turned out that their cause was nothing but vain counsel and a futile undertaking which they could neither uphold nor carry out.” Ibid., p. 329. [Emphasis added]


The Foundations of Understanding

“Tender years should first be instructed in rules of the art or grammar, in analogies, in barbarisms, in solecisms, in tropes and schemata.  These are the studies on which Donatus, Servius, Priscian, Isidore, Bede, and Cassiodorus expounded with much diligence, which rest assured they would not have done if the foundation of science could be laid without these.  For Quintilian, too, who transmits this discipline and asserts it should be transmitted, extols it with such praises that he openly protests that without it the name of science cannot exist.  Caius Caesar published books on analogy, knowing that without this science neither prudence, in which he was most perfect, nor eloquence, in which he was most potent, could easily be obtained by anyone.  Marcus Tullius, as is plain from his frequent letters, diligently invites his son to study grammar which he cherished most tenderly.  And what use is it to evolve schedules, to found verbose Summae and invert cunning sophismata, to damn the writings of the ancients, and to reprove everything not found in the syllabi of their masters. It is written, that science is in the ancients….For one does not ascend from ignorance to the light of science, unless the writings of the ancients are pored over zealously.” Peter of Blois, “A Letter Written About 1160 by Peter of Blois, ‘Concerning Two Boys Whom He is Tutoring,’ ” in University Records and Life in the Middle Ages, ed. and trans. Lynn Thorndike (New York: Columbia University, 1944), pp. 16-17.

In this text Peter of Blois described the foundations of understanding in the 12th century: grammar.  ‘Science’ in this reading should be translated as ‘knowledge’ because it does not mean ‘science’ in the current 21st-century meaning.



Luther on Rulers and History

“A prince must also be very wise and not always try to impose his will, even if he has the right and the best of all reasons to do so.  For it is a far nobler virtue to put up with a slight to one’s own rights than [it is to risk damage] to life and property, where this is to the advantage of the subjects.  As we know, worldly rights are valid only with respect to the things of this world.” Martin Luther, Treatise on Good Works, in Luther’s Works, vol. 44, p. 94.

Dr. Luther wrote these words in his discussion of the Fourth Commandment (Thou shalt honor thy father and mother) in this famous treatise from 1520.  In this section Luther examines obedience to governmental officials and the proper behavior of temporal rulers.

“Therefore, it is absolutely foolish to say, I have a right to it and will therefore take it by force and hold on to it, although all sorts of misfortune may come to others in doing so.  In this connection we read of Caesar Augustus that he did not want to wage war, however right he was, unless there were sure indications of greater benefit than harm, or at least of a bearable harm.  He said that war can be likened to to fishing with a golden net–you never catch as much as you risk losing.” Ibid.

Luther referred to Caesar Augustus as a positive example for rulers.  In this case, he uses Caesar Augustus’ worldly wisdom regarding the risks of war.  The ruler must always know that his actions (even when justified) may lead to his own ruin and the ruin of his people.  Luther concludes that a good ruler must be willing to sacrifice his own will for the needs for his subjects.

“He who drives a cart must act differently than if he were walking alone.  When he is on his own he can walk, jump, and do what he likes, but when he is driving he must control and guide so that the horse and cart can follow.  He has to pay greater regard to the horse and cart than to himself.  A prince is in the same position.  He stands at the head and leads the multitude, and must not go or do as he wants but as the multitude are able.  He has to pay more regard to their needs and necessities than to his own will and pleasure. When a prince rules according to his own mad will and follows his own opinion he is like a mad driver who rushes straight ahead with his horse and cart through bushes, hedges, ditches, streams, uphill and downdale [sic], regardless of roads and bridges.  He will not drive for very long.  He is bound to smash up.” Ibid., pp. 94-95.

An evil prince neglects his people or exploits them for selfish gain.  If he is not educated properly his actions will lead to destruction.  What is the solution?  Study history!

“Therefore,” Luther writes, “it would be of the greatest value to the ruling class if from their youth up they were to read, or have read to them, history books, both sacred and secular.  They would find in these books more by way of example about the art of ruling than in all the law books…Historical examples give and teach much more than laws and statutes.  In the former a particular historical experience teaches, in the latter, untried and uncertain words.” Ibid., p. 95

Cicero’s on Wisdom and Action

“The foremost of all the virtues is the wisdom that the Greeks call sophia.  (Good sense, which they call phronensis, we realize is something distinct, that is the knowledge of things that one should pursue and avoid.) But the wisdom that I declared to be the foremost is the knowledge of all things human and divine; and it includes the sociability and fellowship of the gods and men with each other.” Cicero, On Duties I. 153. eds. and trans. M.T. Griffin and E.M. Atkins (Cambridge 1991), p.59.  [Italics in original]

While Cicero praised the search for wisdom, he emphasized the social nature of human existence expressed in marriage, the family, and then the larger community. As he wrote: “Moreover, learning about and reflecting upon nature is somewhat truncated and incomplete if it results in no action.  Such action is seen most clearly in the protection of men’s interests and therefore is concerned with the fellowship of the human race.  For that reason this should be ranked above mere learning.” Ibid., pp. 59-60.

Cicero on Reason’s Guidance

“To sum up: when undertaking any action, we must hold fast to three things. First, impulse must obey reason; nothing is more suited to ensuring the observance of one’s duties than that. Secondly, we must keep in mind the importance of the thing we wish to achieve, so that we employ neither more nor less care and effort than the case requires. The third thing is that we should be careful to moderate all things that may affect our appearance and standing as a gentleman.  The best limit, moreover, is to maintain seemliness itself, which we have discussed already, and not to step beyond it. However, of these three things, the most important is for impulse to obey reason.” Cicero, On Duties I. 141. eds. and trans. M.T. Griffin and E.M. Atkins (Cambridge 1991), pp. 54-55.


A Medieval Good Friday

“Faithful cross, true sign of triumph, Be for all the noblest tree; None in foliage, None in blossom, None in fruit thine equal be; Symbol of the world’s redemption, For the weight that hung on thee!” 4th verse in Sing, My Tongue the Glorious Battle in Lutheran Service Book, 454.

Here’s the original Latin:                                                                                                     Crux fidelis, inter omnes arbor una nobilis                                                                         Nulla talem silva profert flore, fronde, germine                                                                   Dulce lignum dulce clavo dulce pondus sustinens                                                             Source: Joseph Sövérffy, Hymns of the Holy Cross: An Annotated Edition with Introduction, (Leiden, 1976), p. 15.

Notice that the modern English version (at least in LSB) did not translate “sweet wood with the sweet nail.”  To hear the chant of this text go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww-aOIQKMIc 

This verse is from Venantius Fortunatus’s sixth-century hymn, Pange, lingua, gloriosi. Fortunatus’s hymn (and particularly this verse) became a standard part of most Western medieval liturgies associated with devotion of the cross.  Often choirs repeated this verse during the adoration of the cross on Good Friday which began with the antiphon:

Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world. O, Come let us adore! (Ecce lignum crucis in quo salus mundi pependit venite adoremus.) The Sarum Missal, Ed. J. Wickham Legg (Oxford, 1916), 113. [My translation]

Medieval preachers focused on Christ’s passion, devotion to the cross, prefigurations of the Christ’s cross in the Old Testament, and the imitation of Christ in their Good Friday sermons.  The great twelfth-century theologian, Peter Lombard, included all these elements in long sermon appointed for Good Friday.  I will conclude with some of his sermon:

“The serpent suspended on the tree, this is Christ. [He is] a serpent because [he is] mortal.  [He is] bronze because [he is] immortal.  But [he is] mortal according to the human nature and immortal according to his divine nature.  Indeed, humanity fell by the persuasion of the serpent into the condemnation of death. Therefore, it is suitable that the serpent was lifted up on the tree in order to point toward this death. Therefore, what hangs there, unless the death of the Lord?” Patrologia Latina 171:686 {Falsely attributed to Hildebert.} [My translation] Here Lombard referred to Numbers 21:9 and John 12:32.

In another place Lombard emphasized the Christian’s imitation of Christ in the following manner: “Always in this life the Christian ought to hang on the cross, not in the body, but in spirit, not in the flesh, but in the mind so that we may have our bodily members nailed down by the spiritual nails of God’s precepts.” PL 171:691 [My translation] In this way Christ’s crucifixion becomes the pattern for the Christian’s life.   For example, Peter stated: “The eyes of Christ were darkened on the cross, so that our eyes may turn away from looking at vain things.” Ibid. [My translation]

Lombard concluded with a proclamation of the praise of the cross similar to Good Friday liturgy: “This is the tree of life, sweet wood, which dried up the tree of death. Therefore, on this tree the God-man was lifted up, so that he who was above all things may draw all to himself.” PL 171:695. [My translation]


Erasmus on the Folly of Political Leaders

“Show me a man such as princes commonly are: a man ignorant of the laws: an enemy of the public: intent upon private gain; taken to pleasure; against knowledge, liberty, and truth; never occupied with the safety of the state; and finally measuring all things in terms of his own desire and profit.  Now first seat him on a golden chair, the chair symbolizing the union of all the virtues; next give him a crown adorned with precious gems, this symbolizing that he ought to surpass all others in every heroic quality.  In addition to these hand him a scepter, en emblem of justice and of a devoted heart and soul; and last of all place on him a scarlet robe, symbolizing the love and fervent respect that he ought to have for the realm.  If any prince would try to uphold these symbols, even if it meant giving up his life, then I am sure that he would have the honor to be ashamed of his depravity.  He would fear that some satirist might turn this whole solemn affair into ridicule and sarcasm.” Desiderius Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, in The Essential Erasmus, trans. John P. Dolan (New York, 1964), 155.

In this famous work Erasmus satirized European society in the early sixteenth century. This quote demonstrates that he did not spare kings and the nobility from his acerbic literary attacks.  This portrayal is the opposite of Erasmus’ description of the Christian prince  http://wp.cune.edu/matthewphillips/2013/11/03/erasmus-on-teachings-of-christ-plato-and-the-prince/

Also he did not spare the courtiers.  The modern courtiers are staffers, diplomats, and lobbyists.  “Now what shall I say about the noble courtiers? These men desire to be likened as God’s foremost creatures, yet the fact is that no group of men is more sordid, more obsequious, more idiotic, or more contemptible than this set of men…They are contented with being able to speak of the king as ‘our master'; in knowing how to return a compliment in three word; in knowing on which occasion to use the titles of ‘Your Grace’ ‘Your Lordship,’ and ‘Your Majesty'; in not knowing shame; and in having mastered the art of flattery with exceptional success.” Ibid.

Augustine on the Use of Symbols

“But, all those truths which are presented to us in figures tend, in some manner, to nourish and arouse that flame of love by the impulse of which we are carried upward and inward toward rest, and they stir and enkindle love better than if they were set before us unadorned, without any symbolism of mystery.  It is hard to explain the reason for this; nevertheless, it is true that any doctrine suggested under an allegorical form affects and pleases us more, and is more esteemed, than one set forth explicitly in plain words.  I believe that the soul makes its response slothfully as long as it is involved in earthly things, but, if it is borne along to corporeal representations and from them to spiritual ones, which are symbolized by those figures, it gains strength by that transition, it is enkindled like fire shaken in a torch, and by that more ardent love it is carried on to rest.” Augustine of Hippo, Letter 55: Book II of the Inquiries of Januarius, Saint Augustine: Letters, vol. 1, trans. Sister Wilfrid Parsons, Fathers of the Church, vol. 12  (Washington, D.C.  1951), p. 277.  [Find older translation in Letter LV, ed. Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 1 (1886), p. 309-310.]