Christian Apologetics and the Imagination

The part of the mind known as the imagination—the ability to form mental images—is important in the life of the Christian. Though a realm in need of discipline and sanctification, the imagination is a God-given super-power, making possible some of the greatest achievements of human beings. It makes possible empathy and compassion, shapes our worldviews, and is the way into our hearts.

The imagination can also be the way into the hearts of unbelievers. Many people in today’s culture, trapped in their narrow materialistic worldviews, “cannot imagine” any kind of spiritual reality. They perceive only dimly
the difference between good and evil, and while they can respond to extreme cases of the two (they are human, after all), they have difficulty imagining themselves as sinners. And God, Christ, Hell, Heaven, Redemption are outside of their imaginative frames of reference.

But it isn’t just that they have trouble imagining spiritual reality, they have trouble imagining physical reality. Their world consists of material objects, which they are glad to use for their pleasure; but the objective universe has no meaning for them. They think science has not only explained the natural order but has explained it away. There is no mystery or wonder in the external world, only dead matter. It can be manipulated in various ways, but any kind of meaning must come from within the self. While there might be objective facts, there is no objective truth. They cannot imagine a creation, much less a Creator.

One symptom of this tragic blindness is that people today are strangely impervious to reason. Rational arguments were important in the modernist era, which claimed the Enlightenment mantle of being the “Age of Reason.” But postmodernists often seem little affected by logic, chains of reasoning, or objective evidence.

Convincing people of the  thus poses new challenges today. Evangelists must try to reach people who have little conception of what the evangelists are talking about. Apologists can make superb arguments for the truth of Christianity that nevertheless fail to penetrate the mindset of their audiences. To be sure, many people are still coming to faith, proving that the Holy Spirit and not our merely human efforts is the One who brings people to Christ. And yet Christians must continue to speak about the objective truth of what we believe, objectivity being an important part of our worldview, both to emphasize to non-believers that the message of Christ is not just another construction of the self and to teach new believers how to think in objective terms. But one way to connect with postmodernists, to open their minds to a much larger worldview, is to reach their imaginations.

What C. S. Lewis did

C. S. Lewis is surely the best known and most successful Christian apologist of the 20th century. He showed that there is a rational case for Christianity. As such, he was addressing the modernist mind. And yet that was not all he was doing. Consider the climax of his argument about Christ in Mere Christianity:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.1

Here is a logical argument, establishing three possibilities and asserting which one is more plausible. But it is also addressing the imagination. When we read this argument, we are also picturing a lunatic, a devil, and even a poached egg. We also picture in our minds the responses to Him: shut Him up, spit at Him, kill Him, fall at His feet, call Him Lord and God.

Lewis wrote many books that make the rational case for Christianity: Mere Christianity, Miracles, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, God in the Dock, Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer. His apologetic works are not abstract tomes, full of intellectual content but tedious to read. They are absorbing and hard to put down. His reasoning, full of vivid illustrations and analogies, is compelling, even exciting. This is because Lewis is stimulating not only his readers’ intellects but also their imaginations. Lewis was also the author of fantasy novels: The Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, Till We Have Faces. At a time when literary modernism favored works of grim realism, Lewis was writing in the genre of untrammeled imagination. But these works of the creative imagination, written to send their readers’ imagination soaring, also were works of Christian apologetics, playing a role, just like his rational arguments, in bringing countless readers to faith.

An important clue to Lewis’s life work can be found in the subtitle of the first book that he wrote after he became a Christian: The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism. His is an apologetic not only for Christianity but also for reason and romanticism. But aren’t reason and romanticism opposed to each other? How can he defend both logic and emotion, realism and fantasy? And in what sense are both opposites under attack?

This may be one of Lewis’s greatest insights. The modernists, in the name of reason, rejected romanticism. Today’s postmodernists, in their subjectivity, reject reason. But even as early as 1933 when Lewis published Pilgrim’s Regress, both worldviews were taking shape and starting to contend with each other. The narrow road that the Pilgrim must follow runs between two extremes. On one side are barren, icy cliffs, symbolizing the cold, hard facts of rationalism. On the other side are hot, muddy swamps, symbolizing the sensuality and inwardness of romanticism. But when the Pilgrim finds Christianity, a true reason and a true romanticism are restored to him.

Today, both objectivity and subjectivity are impoverished. Both are lifeless. Having no room for each other, they leave human beings trapped in a partial, incomplete state, with the different facets of their minds and personalities in conflict with each other. In the words of Lewis’s rival and fellow convert T. S. Eliot, who put forward a similar diagnosis, human beings today are plagued with a “dissociation of sensibility,” in which thinking and feeling go in different directions.2 Eliot found the unified sensibility he craved in 17th century Christian poets such as John Donne and George Herbert, and then he himself embraced the Christian faith and experienced the wholeness that it brings.

Lewis’s own coming to Christ had its start in his imagination. What he presents in an allegorical fantasy in Pilgrim’s Regress and more straightforwardly in his autobiographical memoir Surprised by Joy is his account of various experiences of ineffable longing. These were moments of transcendence, glimpses of something beyond this life, which he felt as a mingling of joy and an almost painful yearning. As he recounts in Surprised by Joy, different things would bring on these feelings, but they were almost always works of the imagination: Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin; a recording of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries; the mere title of William Morris’s The Well at the World’s End. A milestone in his spiritual pilgrimage was his discovery of Phantases by the Scottish clergyman George McDonald, one of the great masters of Christian fantasy. When he read it, Lewis said, “My imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized.”3 Later, in a conversation about myth with his friend J. R. R. Tolkien, he realized that what he loved in myth—its aching beauties, its slain gods, its deaths and resurrections–pointed to Christ, in whom myth became fact.4

Imagination led C. S. Lewis to Christ, and he led others to Christ by awakening their imaginations.5

Freeing Prisoners

Lewis’s good friend and the man who brought him to Christ was J. R. R. Tolkien, an even greater writer of fantasies. In replying to the charge that fantasy is mere “escapism,” Tolkien asked, “Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?”6

This is exactly the plight of the lost. They are prisoners of the sin that enslaves them, to be sure (John 8:34). They are also imprisoned in their narrow, confining, claustrophobic worldviews. That prison may be the materialism that insists that the physical world is all there is. Or it may be the even smaller and darker enclosure that is the self.

Tolkien wants to help the captive “get out” of his prison so that he can “go home.” Imagining something bigger and better than the constricting confines of the prison blows out its walls. Imagination can also awaken a yearning for one’s true home.7

To be sure, imagination can send an escaped prisoner in all kinds of directions, including to new imagination-created prisons. Christians must continue to insist on reason, evidence, and objective truth. What must be done is to re-associate truth and the imagination.

“Part of our problem in presenting the Faith,” observes Alison Milbank, “is that our world deadens desire, and many people do not know that they are missing anything.”8 “For me,” she says, “the whole enterprise of presenting the faith convincingly is aimed at opening this desire in others.”9 Helping people realize that they are missing something and awakening the desire for eternal life, for God, are critical for both apologetics and evangelism.

This is a task for the imagination, but not at the expense of reason. But reason itself needs to be imaginatively rehabilitated. Again, Dr. Milbank suggests how: Reason does need rescuing and we can do so by recasting the limit to understanding from a negation to an opening out to mystery. As Fr. Giussani argues, reason discovers mystery: ‘the summit of reason’s conquest may reveal itself as a foothill’ but this perception is itself a positive discovery that there is more: ‘the existence of something incommensurable in relation to [Reason] itself. And it is imagination that helps reason to recognize the mystery as mystery. So let us use every imaginative tool at our disposal to awaken the religious sense, and then use reason to explain the difference this viewpoint makes to our experience of the whole of reality, which is restored to us, in all its fullness.10

A good example of how this apologetics of the imagination has worked in practice can be seen in this account from British journalist Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, who describes how, as an atheist, she was converted to Christianity through the poetry of George Herbert. (I have never understood why Herbert is so little known by evangelicals today. The Word of God is part of the texture of his verse, his major theme is the Gospel, and few have written so profoundly of their “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Also, even secular scholars agree on his stature as one of the greatest lyric poets of the English language in his formal and aesthetic mastery.)11

Ms. Threlfall-Holmes recalls first coming upon Herbert as a teen-ager in school. “By the end of the weekend, I realised that this poetry was the most dangerous challenge to my atheism that I had yet come across.”12 She says that she had assumed religion was for the weak-minded. “But here was some of the most fiercely intelligent poetry I had ever read, grappling with Christian doctrines and with a relationship with God. If this brilliant mind believed all this, and devoted a life to it, then clearly I needed to look at it again.”13 Notice that she is responding not simply to Herbert’s imagination but also to his intelligence. And yet, her own intelligence needed something more.

She responds to the honest struggles that Herbert records. She says of his poems that “many of them clearly describe his intensely personal struggles with faith and calling. Even those that are more formal explorations of particular religious doctrines or concepts have a similar air of spiritual authenticity. There are no mere statements of dogma. The poems record the poet’s own doubts and faith in a way that still rings true with many readers, even those with no explicit faith of their own.”14 She begins to see that there is more to Christianity than she realized.

For Herbert, religion is never simply a set of dogmatic assertions, or a collection of cultural practices, as historical religion is sometimes caricatured. . . .It was easy to dismiss the truth of the 20 impossible things that religion seemed to expect me to believe before breakfast. It was much harder to dismiss my own emotional reaction to these poems: the beauty, the yearning, the enticing danger. They left me with the sense that I was standing on a cliff, staring out to sea, hearing marvellous tales of lands beyond the horizon and wondering if they were, after all, just fairy tales or whether the intensity with which the tales were told was evidence that the teller had indeed seen a barely imagined kingdom.15

Our churches are full of young people like teenage Miranda—smart, sophisticated in their own way, and eager to leave their parents’ households–and we agonize how to reach and keep them. They need teaching, but simply throwing abstract doctrinal ideas at them may not be enough. The teaching needs to appeal to their intelligence. But Christianity is not merely about ideas.
It is about mighty realities, as concrete as rough-hewn wood stained by blood. And Christianity is not about bourgeois complacency, but it addresses failures, suffering, and personal struggles. Teaching the faith to young people—or, for that matter, to the unchurched or to anyone today—should involve awakening them to “the beauty, the yearning, the enticing danger.”

The point is not just that we need more poets and other artists like George Herbert, though we do. We do need more apologists like C. S. Lewis who can reach both the intellect and the imaginations of people today, who are, in many ways, different than those Lewis addressed in his day. And we do need more writers like J. R. R. Tolkien who, even though they do not directly address religious issues, can expand the imaginations of their readers and fill them with desire for realities beyond the world.

But we also need preachers who can move their hearers to a deeper response. We need people who can witness to their friends so that the message of the Gospel is not easily dismissed but sinks in deeply. To be sure, the Word of God creates faith through the work of the Holy Spirit, but God’s Word itself is much more than abstract ideas. It certainly teaches inerrant propositional truths, and it does so by means of historical narratives, parables, poetry, and figurative language—all of which address the imagination in the course of reaching the heart. Meanwhile, all Christians—especially as they face the dehumanizing, reductionistic, and materialistic mentality of our current times—need to love God with all of their minds, which would include their imaginations.

Following the White Stag

At the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the four children, now mature rulers in Narnia, are hunting a White Stag which leads them to the lamp post where all their adventures in Narnia began. In spite of their foreboding that “strange adventures or some great change” in their fortunes will come if they pass the lamp post, they decide to continue following the White Stag. Peter makes the case for this course of action: “…never since we four were Kings and Queens in Narnia have we set our hands to any high matter, as battles, quests, feats of arms, acts of justice, and the like, and then given over.” This argument convinces even fearful Susan who says, “Let us go on and take the adventure that shall fall to us.”

It’s no accident that the word adventure is repeated twice more in the closing paragraphs of the book. C. S. Lewis the philologist is fully aware that the word adventure, from the Latin ad venire, means literally “that which comes to us.” And what is it that comes when the children pass the lamp post? What comes is the children’s return to their own world and the adventure of living in that world with a new vision given to them by their time in Narnia.

What has Lewis done here? He has given us a picture of what good stories can do. In his essay “Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings” Lewis writes:

The value of myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the ‘veil of familiarity’; by putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves. This book applies the treatment not only to bread or apple but to good and evil, to our endless perils, our anguish, and our joys. By dipping them in myth we see them more clearly.

Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, as stand-ins for all children coming to the end of the final chapter of a good story, return to World War II England more able to see the challenges, difficulties, and choices before them as “high matters – battles, quests, feats of arms, and acts of justice” that require of them the same fortitude, magnanimity, and sense of justice they have learned to exercise in Narnia.

Children (and adults) need stories to show them how to fulfill their part in the Story. Each of us is a character in this real Story. What being in Narnia did for the Pevensie children can be done for anyone by the reading of a good book. Children can learn what virtue and vice look like through stories. Exhortation to act virtuously is important and good as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough; it does not touch the heart and fire the imagination in the way that Peter’s slaying of the wolf Maugrim in order to rescue his sister does. Sir Philip Sydney makes this point in his Apology for Poetry. In an article on Tolkien’s moral vision Donald T. Williams paraphrases and quotes Sydney:

So the philosopher has the precept, and the historian has the example—but ‘both, not having both, do both halt.’ They stumble and fall short
of the ultimate goal of education: inspiring and enabling virtuous action on the part of the reader himself. But look, says Sydney, at what the poet can do: ‘Now doth the peerless Poet perform both. For whatsoever the Philosopher saith should be done, [the Poet] giveth a perfect picture of it in someone by whom he presupposeth it was done…a perfect picture, I say, for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind an image of that whereof the Philosopher bestoweth but a wordish description, which doth neither strike, pierce, nor possess the sight of the soul so much as the other doth.’ Literature, then, has the serious moral purpose of providing role models that help us form the ideals and aspirations we live by; it achieves this purpose through concrete images of virtue and vice.

Virtue and vice are best understood in the context of a narrative. Characters in good stories who act with courage or perseverance provide children with a vision of goodness. They help counter what Peter Kreeft calls one of the chief heresies of our age: “the dullness of goodness and the beauty of badness.” Exposure to good stories also helps children understand that they inhabit a story and that their individual choices and actions are part of a narrative which gives those actions meaning and their lives a sense of purpose.

In After Virtue Alasdair MacIntyre makes the point that our lives are “enacted narratives.”

…man is in his actions and practice, as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal…But the key question for men is not about their own authorship; I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’ We enter human society, that is, with one or more imputed characters—roles into which we have been drafted—and we have to learn what they are in order to be able to understand how others respond to us and how our responses to them are apt to be construed. It is through hearing stories of wicked stepmothers, lost children, good but misguided kings, wolves that suckle twin boys, youngest sons who receive no inheritance but must make their own way in the world and eldest sons who waste their inheritance on riotous living and go into exile to live with the swine, that children learn or mislearn both what a child and what a parent is, what the cast of characters may be in the drama into which they have been born and what the ways of the world are. Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words.

As Christian teachers we must help our students see and understand the Story of which they are a part. The modern world tells us that we are self-created, autonomous beings who write our own stories and who can be whatever we want to be. There are no “roles into which we have been drafted.” This is meant to be a message of freedom, but it is actually a source of alienation and a route to meaninglessness; nonetheless, this message permeates our culture and works against the culture of virtue we are trying to provide in our schools.

As belief in moral absolutes disappeared at the end of the 19th century, what some have called a culture of character was replaced by a culture of personality and a new view of what it means to be a person came into being. In the culture of character people understood themselves as essentially moral beings and, as David Wells explains in Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision, the growth of the person was understood in terms of “virtue to be learned and practiced and private desires to be denied.” Character formation through training in virtues was a central goal of education. Virtues were seen as moral absolutes to which people were meant to conform. The culture of personality has overturned this understanding of who we are. No longer is the focus on moral virtues to be cultivated; the focus is now on
one’s image which can be fashioned. Life becomes a performance, a self-created narrative, in which people seek to look good and make themselves appealing to others. In the culture of personality there is no fixed or objective view of what a person is meant to be beyond what one makes of himself. We write our own stories and model ourselves after celebrities who have successfully created appealing images. Ken Myers in analyzing this phenomenon says: “The culture of celebrity and personal performance which permeates our society is profoundly destructive. It’s not just that being well-known for simply being well-known (in Daniel Boorstin’s classic formulation) is a thin and vapid achievement. More fundamentally disordering is the way in which the deeply sensed notion of ‘identity as performance’ promoted in the culture of celebrity undercuts the very idea of reality or real life; more than the work of nihilistic philosophers, the prominence of performers in our society nudges us toward referring to ‘reality’…rather than to Reality…In a culture of celebrity and performance the existence of reality becomes dubious and persons aspire to be desirable commodities.”

This, of course, is not surprising when people insist on creating their own reality. What has been lost is the Reality that we are all players in a narrative which we did not write for ourselves. We are created beings and the Creator is the Author of our story, a story which began with the Creation of the world, a story in which we each have a unique part to play. This understanding gives meaning and purpose to our choices and individual actions. It can motivate us and our children to persevere through hardship for the sake of a higher good. And best of all, the Author has already told us how the story ends; we know it has a wildly happy ending.

Children need stories; stories are not frills to be fit in somewhere after the grammar, math, history, and science are attended to. Good stories are food for their souls. Be careful not to kill and dissect the stories; C. S. Lewis warns us against efforts to teach children to appreciate good literature. That’s not our job; they need to discover a love for stories on their own. Create an environment that encourages reading stories; read to them; show them how much you love to read and help them become lovers of stories. And most important, be sure they know the Great Story of which they are a part. Help them come to understand that they have an important role, just as David, Esther, and Daniel did, in an adventure story in which virtuous actions matter.

As Bilbo says to Frodo near the beginning of The Lord of the Rings: “Do adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry the story.”

Preparing for Multiversity

What should Christian Classical schools do in order to prepare students most effectively for higher education? At one level, the answers are obvious and have already been given many times. Classical schools often, for example, have staff dedicated to helping students negotiate the college application process. Similarly, there are many resources available for those hoping to do well on standardized tests. As necessary as these kinds of practical considerations can be, however, Classical educators are not satisfied with such answers because we are concerned to help students flourish as whole persons. In order to answer this question in a fuller way, we first need to consider the character of what is commonly referred to as “higher education.” We can then begin to understand how a Classical education, based on the liberal arts, provides arguably the best preparation for the challenges that follow high school. Ultimately, if Classical schools aim to form students who cooperate with God’s redemptive purposes in the world, teachers need to ensure that the practices that constitute the liberal arts are transformed in the light of Christ.

What do people typically mean by “higher education”? Depending on the speaker and the context, the phrase can have at least four distinct meanings. Sometimes, “higher education” refers specifically to undergraduate training in research at a research university. In other contexts, however, the term may refer to undergraduate technical or professional training. Such education may involve a four-year degree, or a shorter program, but the assumed purpose is to train professionals for a specific set of tasks, based on a shared body of knowledge, whether medical care, pastoral care, civil engineering, or social work. Beyond an emphasis on either research or professional training, there is also a third possible meaning for “higher education”: it can refer to a four-year liberal arts degree, whether in the context of a faith-based university or a secular institution. Even when this third sense of higher education is invoked, however, there is also often a further goal in view, a goal which indicates an additional meaning for “higher education”: that is, post-graduate professional training. This fourth sense includes graduate research degrees, but also training in the applications of research, whether at medical schools, law schools, or seminaries. Despite the variety of curricula, institutions, and purposes named by “higher education,” I suggest that all four senses of the term involve a deeper set of assumptions: 1) that education consists of learning how to discover “knowledge” about the world or to apply such knowledge to the world— regardless of whether that knowledge takes human or non-human nature as its object of inquiry; 2) that such “knowledge” consists of information about neutral objects that make up the world, the value of which depends on human purposes; 3) that the ultimate purpose of education is reducible to job training—regardless of whether that job is oriented toward research or the professional application of others’ discoveries.1 As we shall see, these shared assumptions suggest that the term, “multiversity,” rather than “university” or “college,” more accurately names the educational context of most students who study beyond high school.

The political philosopher, George Grant, uses the term, “multiversity,” to name the institutions embodying the belief that knowledge consists of discrete facts about objects that make up the world.2 We shall consider below exactly what such a view of knowledge involves, but we should note here that the attempt to construe the world as a set of neutral objects whose value depends on human purposes is uniquely modern. The evident success and power of that vision appears in the technological triumphs that surround us daily. We need to appreciate, however, that the common complaint about how specialization has fragmented the academic disciplines (because no one can master the volume of information) is a sign of the success of that vision, not its failure. The lack of integration in modern education more generally, of which the multiversity is the highest expression, reveals the “success” of this modern treatment of the world as neutral objects. Why is the character of higher education as a “multiversity” important to understand? It implies that a student who attends a small liberal arts college, or a Bible college, or a local community college, or a vocational institute, even if that student never attends a so-called “research university,” may still be participating in the larger institutional reality of the multiversity.

The multiversity embodies, in institutional form, three widely shared educational assumptions: 1) that education is reducible to the acquisition of information and analytic skills; 2) that the purpose of education is to learn things that are “useful”—that is, to master neutral objects in the world; 3) that such knowledge (“information”) can be had without personal participation—that is, without engaging the affections or relying on an assumed good. In regard to this last point, obviously many teachers, over several decades, have explicitly addressed the problem of student engagement. These attempts to improve student engagement are, however, a response to an underlying assumption that remains in effect today: the belief that “real learning” is reducible to information that does not necessarily include either “values” (any particular notion of an assumed good) or any beauty that would evoke desire. When we construe the world—whether plants or other people—as “objects” that are “held away from us for our questioning,” we participate in a version of truth that is disconnected from goodness and beauty.3

How then can students be formed so that they go on to participate in the practices of the multiversity in a manner that reorients those practices toward a union of truth, goodness, and beauty? The difficulty is that modern Classical educators sometimes reduce “grammar” to “information.” In doing so, we risk reinforcing the assumption that the world consists of neutral objects
for human disposing. I suggest that teachers can best help students prepare for multiversity by giving them a thorough formation in grammar, understood as a liberal art and in the light of Christ.

As many teachers in classical schools can testify, an education based on the verbal arts of the trivium and the mathematical arts of the quadrivium is simply the most complete preparation for any version of higher education.4 We can appreciate the benefits of these arts more fully, however, if we consider one of them in more detail. What does it mean to understand “grammar” as a liberal art? An “art” consists of knowledge regarding how to make something.5 An art is “liberal” if it is concerned with intellectual things (such as words or numbers) rather than tangible things (such as wood, metal, or paint). Grammar, in this strict sense, as a liberal art, consists of knowledge regarding how to arrange words in order to make appropriate statements and how those statements refer to reality. The term “appropriate” includes appropriate to the topic, the occasion, the audience, and the purpose of any given utterance. By “statements” I mean not only propositions, but all manner of language use, from single- word imperatives to questions. In the same way, the term “refer” includes not only indicative gestures but all the indirect ways that reality is susceptible to being construed by words. The crucial feature of mature grammatical formation is careful attention to the explicit and implicit ways in which words relate to reality.

The root issue in teaching the grammar of any discipline is for both the teacher and student to recognize that grammar is ultimately about faithfulness to reality— specifically, whether our words are faithful to reality (created and uncreated). Students formed in this way, will have little difficulty handling any new subjects or modes of inquiry that they face in the multiversity—they will be in the habit of asking questions such as, “What are the assumed definitions in this text (or speech, or lab report)?” or, “What ethical purposes are implied by this word?” More accomplished students of grammar will also ask about the purposes of a given discourse or a mode of inquiry—whether those purposes are explicit or implicit. Such questions also obviously involve logic and rhetoric; however, the grammatical training is never left behind— in effect, every decision regarding a particular word also involves a range of logical definitions and connotations that shape persuasive effect. The key point for teachers at all levels to appreciate is that students form the ability for such advanced understanding when they form the habit of considering the manner in which words refer to reality.

Such grammatical formation may, by itself, enable a student to be an effective participant in the multiversity, but it may still limit that participation to the cycle of information production and consumption. Such grammatical skills need to be formed also in the light of Christ. I suggest that, apart from the Gospel, grammar tends in one of two directions: either presumption or despair—specifically regarding the capacity for words to get at reality. Some people tend toward unwarranted optimism about what language can do—presuming a direct connection or a necessary relation between words and reality. In practice, this typically involves reducing reality to our words, rather than using them to reveal some aspect of a reality greater than our words. By contrast, other people may be inclined to see language as only equivocal or ambiguous. In effect, they are tempted to despair of any meaning for language that would be greater than ourselves. For Christians, the Incarnation of God’s living Word in the person of Christ means that human language does have some capacity to get at reality (created and uncreated). At the same time, however, the Christian insistence upon the ongoing effects of creaturely finitude and fallenness means that our verbal accounts of reality will always be partial and incomplete. Thus, Christian revelation transforms grammar—that is, our assumptions regarding how words relate to and participate in reality—by providing warrant for both humility and hope.

What difference do those virtues make to the way in which grammar shapes the intellectual life of students? If students are formed by grammar in the light of Christ, rather than by a grammar reduced to information, they will have the following distinctive qualities: 1) they will be in the habit of using words to think well about reality— neither forgetting the distinction between words and reality (presumption) nor dismissing the connection (despair); 2) they will have a clear sense of how to discern the implicit purposes for any given discipline—that is, the good implied by the persuasive ethos in its use of language; 3) the will understand each academic discipline as a tradition of inquiry, including specific practices and language use.
By contrast, if students are in the habit of reducing their studies to information they will tend: to mistake the words of human inquiry for the reality being studied, to ignore questions regarding the non-instrumental purpose for
their studies, and to forget the inherited character of the languages and academic disciplines that they use. In other words, teaching the grammar of any discipline in the light of Christ will lead students out of themselves, whereas reducing studies to information simply reinforces the tendency to ethical egoism that dominates our culture. In his conclusion to The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis proposes what he calls a “regenerate science”—that is, a manner of knowing that “would not even do to minerals and vegetables” what the construal of the world as objects does to human beings.6 Lewis proposes, in effect, that, if the realities in the world were construed as having worth and beauty in themselves, rather than as neutral objects for human disposing, we would change the investigative means by which we seek to understand the world. Students who are grammatically prepared to discern the unity of truth, goodness, and beauty in the person of Christ and to bring that discernment to the practices of any given intellectual inquiry will be uniquely prepared to undertake such a challenge in the disciplinary contexts of the multiversity.

CS Lewis and Latin

C.S. Lewis had a classical education and read the Greek and Latin classics throughout his life as sources of pleasure and truth, what he called ‘joy’. This session will confront his discussion of the Seven Liberal Arts, his Latin Letters to don Giovanni Calabria, and his recently published translation of Virgil’s Aeneid.

Christian Kopff

E. Christian Kopff was educated at St. Paul’s School (Garden City NY), Haverford College and UNC, Chapel Hill (Ph. D., Classics). He has taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder, since 1973, and most currently as Associate Director of the Honors Program. He has edited a critical edition of the Greek text of Euripides’ Bacchae (Teubner, 1982) and published over 100 articles and reviews on scholarly, pedagogical and popular topics. A Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, he has received research grants from the NEH and CU’s Committee on Research. The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition (ISIBooks, 1999) is widely cited by Classical Christian educators. He translated Josef Pieper, Tradition: Concept and Claim (ISIBooks, 2008; St. Augustine’s, 2010) and contributed the Introduction to Herbert Jordan’s translation of Homer’s Iliad (Oklahoma UP, 2008).