With Exodus: Gods and Kings to be released shortly, we may expect a deluge of Christian commentary on whether the makers of the film were true to the Biblical text. In the last two hundred years, the Enlightenment and German higher critics have been frequently blamed for a loss in Christian confidence that the Scriptures are “without error,” and it is often assumed that before Diderot, everyone knew the events of the Bible “really happened.”
In John 11, Jesus learns that Lazarus is sick, though He does not come to attend to his friend until Lazarus has been dead four days. After witnessing how distraught Lazarus’ sisters were at his death, Jesus is lead to the place where Lazarus is entombed and “Jesus wept,” and after He wept, He raised him from the dead.
My Dear Wormwood,
Our patient has only recently become a Christian, and over the coming weeks, we should expect him to make some genuine progress in overcoming certain sins in which he has dabbled over the course of his life. He may have struggled with theft up until this point, or telling lies, or anger, or drunkenness. If you see him enjoy some victory over these vices, do not be discouraged. Chances are good that, despite his minor successes, one particular sin will continue to trip him up.
In The Abolition of Man, Lewis suggests that virtue is learned that we might control our appetites. We have a desire for food and sex and pleasure, and those desires need limitations or else we find ourselves ever-minded of earthly things and neverminded of heavenly things. Chastity gives shape to a man’s desire for sexual pleasure, courage sets boundaries on a man’s desire for physical safety. Of course, virtue is far more than this, but is it at least this.
Most school buildings are small enough, and most student populations are large enough, that at some point you will hear even your best students complaining about your incompetence. Or else your students will hear you complain to your colleagues of their lousy test work. When we secretly overhear those under us or over us complain about us, the temptation to use that discreetly gained information for our own advantage (or an opportunity for self-justification, or a finger-wagging lesson) is often quite strong.
High school is that time when much of the natural child-like faith of childhood is laid aside, hopefully to be regained later, and a season of doubt and inquisition begins. If we learn nothing else from the rate of attrition in American church attendance over the twentieth century, especially among those in college, we should at least know and confess to have done a poor job responding to this doubt.
It is easy to be cynical about the meteoric rise of Christianity in the fourth century. Great historians of Late Antique Christianity like RA Markus and Peter Brown ballpark the Christian population at ten percent of the total Roman population just before Constantine and close to eighty percent by the time of Theodosius— and less than a century sits between the two emperors.
Special thanks to Grant Horner, whose idea about delaying the syllabus inspired this article.
Any classics teacher who has laid open the typical patristic commentary on the Odyssey, especially the account of Odysseus being tied to the mast of his ship, has likely encountered students who ask, with either chagrin or ennui, “Isn’t he reading a little too deeply into all of this?” Often enough, the mast of Odysseus’ ship is interpreted as the Cross, and the man of tricks is reckoned safe from the song of heretics because he fastens himself to the Wood.
“While there are many theological matters upon which I heartily disagree with Peter Leithart, he is yet one of the finest literary critics writing…” is not the first line of this article. This is the most important thing I have learned from Peter Leithart. The second most important thing I’ve learned from Peter Leithart is not to talk about myself. As you can already tell, I have some work to do.