touchstone archives


Piquant excerpts lifted from Touchstone editors' own reading & listening.

Topic: Christianity

Men often willfully isolate and emphasize one side of a double truth, because for various reasons they are determined to see one side only; and by so doing they miss the meaning, and fail to realize the full consequences, of the truth with which they are concerned. In these days we do not like to talk about orthodoxy and heresy; or if we do, we are apt to assume that orthodoxy is only another name for the bigotry of ignorance, and that heresy is synonymous with fearless devotion to truth. We ought, however, to look at the right meaning of the words, and behind the words to the things they represent, and to recognize that the things they represent have vital and eternal issues. . . . The heretical temper may show itself in defense of the articles of the Creed; and the spirit of orthodoxy may co-exist with ignorance. All depends on line of development, and not on degree of progress. . . .

The history of the church affords many examples of heretical tendencies in ultra-orthodox circles. Most famous heretics were not assailants of Christian truth as a whole, men who had assumed an utterly un-Christian standpoint, but zealous Christians whose orthodoxy was narrow and one-sided, who out of devotion to one truth, or to one side of truth, resolutely refused to look at any other. . . . The attitude of mind which invariably leads to error and inefficiency pounces on a pet principle, isolates and exaggerates it, and is hysterically blind to every other.

Frederick Joseph Kinsman
Catholic and Protestant (1913)

Christianity Commonplaces #9 May/June 2020

A theological statement—especially when made by a churchman to a mass audience—should be clearly orthodox on a natural reading, not merely arguably orthodox on some creative reading.

Edward Feser
LifeSite News (May 8, 2019)

Christianity Commonplaces #14 March/April 2020

It is the common experience of all, that humanity moves between these two poles of simplicity and complexity. People who have the sort of mind that sees only one side of every question tend toward vigorous action. They succeed in everything they do because they do not stop to split hairs and have abounding confidence in their own abilities. Your successful journalist, for instance, is inclined to simplify every problem and condense it into an arresting phrase. On the other hand, those with subtle and cultivated minds tend to get lost in a maze of fine distinctions. They always see how complicated things really are, so their powers of persuasion are nil. That is why the world is led by those who are least suited to raising its cultural and moral standards. It is only very few who manage to combine both tendencies, and in my view a lively Christian faith is the best precondition for the accomplishment of this miracle, because it gives both profound understanding and simplicity of heart.

Paul Tournier
The Person Reborn (1966)

Christianity Commonplaces #16 March/April 2020

When we [as a church body] "study" a question to which we already know the answer it does not help the church but wounds her. I am not saying we should not restate our position over against new challenges, but a study implies that we just might come to a different conclusion, that the question is a real question without a certain answer, and that there might be hope for those who disagree with tradition. This is not merely foolish but dangerous. It is a threat to the doctrinal unity and integrity of the church and, indeed, of the faith itself, to proceed with study after study as if there were no real answer or no abiding answer to the question. It is a deception designed to placate those who want change, but it will only alienate them and make it harder to convince them of the one and always answer. Sometimes "no" is the kinder word than "let's see"—children already know that, so why don't the adults who are in charge of the structures of the church? Finally, studies hang onto exceptions as evidence against the rule and [as] presumption for changing the rule when everyone already knows that exceptions make terrible rules. Exceptions are not analogies of how we might proceed, but real exceptions. We have had tons of them in Christian history and every time we presume to use those exceptions . . . we have ended up with chaos that had to be cleaned up by the next generation (hopefully it did not last any longer).

Larry A. Peters
Pastoral Meanderings blog post (June 1, 2019)

Christianity Commonplaces #21 Jan/Feb 2020

Post-Christian man is not the same as pre-Christian man. He is as far removed as a virgin from a widow . . . there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse sent away.

C. S. Lewis
in a 1953 letter to Don Giovanni Calabria (as translated from Lewis's original Latin by Martin Moynihan)

Christianity Commonplaces #23 Jan/Feb 2020

Beware lest your religion be one of feeling merely, not of practice. Men may speak in a high imaginative way of the ancient Saints and the Holy Apostolic Church, without making the fervour or refinement of their devotion bear upon their conduct. Many a man likes to be religious in graceful language; he loves religious tales and hymns, yet is never the better Christian for all this . . . and he who does one deed of obedience for Christ's sake, let him have no imagination and no fine feeling, is a better man, and returns to his home justified rather than the most eloquent speaker, and the most sensitive hearer, of the glory of the Gospel, if such men do not practise up their knowledge.

John Henry Newman
from Parochial and Plain Sermons, Sermon XX

Christianity Commonplaces #25 Jan/Feb 2020

Of both God and the world it must be said that they have their being in relation. . . . Redemption thus means the redirection of the particular to its own end and not a re-creation. The distinctive feature of created persons is their mediating function in the achievement of perfection by the rest of creation. They are called to the forms of action, in science, ethics and art—in a word, to culture—which enable to take place the sacrifice of praise, which is the free offering of all things, perfected, to their Creator. . . . The created world becomes truly itself—moves toward its completion—when through Christ and the Spirit, it is presented perfect before the throne of the Father. The sacrifice of praise, which is the due human response to both creation and redemption, takes the form of that culture which enables both personal and non-personal worlds to realize their true being.

Collin E. Gunton
The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity (1993)

Christianity Commonplaces #26 Nov/Dec 2019

My son once wrote to a friend saying something to this effect: that we are God's witnesses necessarily, because the world will not read the Bible, but they will read our lives. Their belief in the divine nature of the faith we possess will be influenced by our lives. We must present to the investigation of the critical minds of our age the realities of lives transformed by the mighty power of God. . . .

The standard of practical, holy living has been so low among Christians that the least degree of real devotedness of the higher Christian walk is looked upon with surprise and often even with disapproval by a large portion of the church. For the most part, the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are satisfied with a life so conformed to the world in almost every respect that, to a casual observer, no difference is discernible.

Hannah Whitall Smith
The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life (1875)

Christianity Commonplaces #28 Nov/Dec 2019

The theological virtue of faith enables one not only to know the truth of what God has revealed but also to savor it, and thus to come to a deeper understanding of the relationship of the mysteries to one another and to their singular origin, the Blessed Trinity. This means, in addition, an ongoing adaptation of the mind to the mysteries as expressed in the traditional dogmatic formulas. Note well: it is not the mysteries that need to be adapted to the human mind (as the Modernists would have it), but rather the human mind that must conform itself to the mysteries, submitting to their demands, humbly bearing their yoke. This is the narrow path trodden by the saints in their pilgrimage to the beatific vision.

Peter Kwasniewski (April 2, 2019)

Christianity Commonplaces #29 Nov/Dec 2019

Therefore your end is on you,
Is on you and your kings,
Not for a fire in Ely fen,
Not that your gods are nine or ten,
But because it is only Christian men
Guard even heathen things.

G. K. Chesterton
The Ballad of the White Horse (1911)

Christianity Commonplaces #30 Nov/Dec 2019

Sometimes the most dangerous thing you can be as a pastor (or priest) is to be a faithful example of what your church believes, teaches, and practices. We live in a world in which it is considered good to press even further the progressive edge of your church body but not so good to hold to what your church body has believed, taught, and confessed. This is true whether you are a Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or Roman Catholic.

Rev. Larry A. Peters (March 25, 2019)

Christianity Commonplaces #32 Nov/Dec 2019

Then shall Religion to America flee:
They have their times of Gospel even as we.
My God, thou dost prepare for them a way
By carrying first their gold from them away:
For gold and grace did never yet agree:
Religion always sides with poverty.

George Herbert
"The Church Militant," from The Temple (c. 1633)

Christianity Commonplaces #34 Sept/Oct 2019

Dostoevsky famously said: "If there's no God, then everything is permitted." It's a view the west might consider more often. Dostoevsky's not saying that if there's no God then no one's watching us and we can do what we like. He's really asking: what's the rationale for living this way and not otherwise? If there's no God, then there's no shape to our lives. Our behaviour needs to be in tune with something. If there's no divine tune, how do you know where to go, what to do? To believe in God is not a business of rewards, but an ability to make sense of things.

Rowan Williams
Prospect Magazine (May 2007)

Christianity Commonplaces #35 Sept/Oct 2019

The expressions commonly used [to describe “religious freedom”], such as “freedom of conscience” or “freedom of profession of faith” should be rejected as inexact; conscience is always free and no one can prevent a martyr from confessing his faith.

Vladimir Solovyev
Russia and the Universal Church (trans. Herbert Rees; 1948), VI, note 2

Christianity Commonplaces #46 July/Aug 2019

Conversions to other religions may also in their own ways be describable as "forgiveness" or "liberation" and so on. To such possibilities the gospel's messengers can only say: "We are not here to entice you into our religion by benefits allegedly found in it. We are here to introduce you to the true God, for whatever he can do with you—which may well be suffering and oppression."

Robert W. Jenson
Systematic Theology, vol. I, part 3 (2001), iv

Christianity Commonplaces #47 May/June 2019

Nowhere else is truth regarded with such horror as in the domain of our Church administration; nowhere else is there greater servility than in our spiritual hierarchy; nowhere is the "salutary falsehood" practiced on a larger scale than in the place where all falsehood should be held in detestation. Nowhere else are there admitted on the grounds of policy so many compromises which lower the dignity of the Church and rob her of her authority. The root cause of it all is the lack of a sufficient faith in the power of truth. And the most serious part of it is that though we are aware of all these evils in our Church we have come to terms with them and are content to live at peace. But such a shameful peace, such dishonorable compromise, can never promote the true peace of the Church; in the cause of truth it signifies defeat if not betrayal.

I. S. Aksakov
Complete Works IV (ca. 1870), 43

Christianity Commonplaces #49 May/June 2019

The greatest obstacle in the way of acceptance [of one's lot in life] is the appearance of acceptance. The greatest obstacle to virtue is the appearance of virtue. The greatest obstacle to humility is the appearance of humility. The greatest obstacle to faith is the appearance of faith. The greatest obstacle to love is the appearance of love. What I say here in regard to celibacy is true of every kind of trial, of infirmity, and of frustration. Whatever our life and its burdens—there is no life that does not have to carry some burden—we never find fulfillment except in living it with conviction. And to live one's life with conviction is to live it in a spirit of adventure, as an adventure.

Paul Tournier
The Adventure of Living (1965)

Christianity Commonplaces #55 Sept/Oct 2020

"You can't just twist Scripture as if it were a rubber nose!"

Carl E. Braaten
(recalled from a conversation with S. M. Hutchens, ca. 1985)

Christianity Commonplaces #56 Sept/Oct 2020

Those who by insincerity and falsehood close their deeper eyes, shall not be capable of using in the matter the more superficial eyes of their understanding. . . .

A man may be haunted with doubts, and only grow thereby in faith. Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to the honest. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood. . . . Doubt must precede every deeper assurance, for uncertainties are what we first see when we look into a region hitherto unknown, unexplored, unannexed.

George MacDonald
from "The Last Farthing" and "The Voice of Job," Unspoken Sermons, second series (1885)

Christianity Commonplaces #57 Sept/Oct 2020

Our intellects stammer and boggle when they try to reach the truth about Divine things, not because the other world is a reflection of ours, but because ours is a reflection, and how pale a reflection, of the other. That was what our Lord wanted us to see when he turned our metaphors, even, inside out for us, as you may read in St. John. The water in Jacob's well isn't real water; the real water is the living fountain of grace which he will unseal for the woman of Samaria, if she will only stop to listen. The vine that grows on yonder wall is not a real vine; the only real Vine is his own mystical body. The things we see and touch are only the shadows cast by eternal truth. What marvel if we, to whom shadow is substance, cannot raise our minds to contemplate the substance by which the shadow is cast?

Ronald A. Knox
The Hidden Stream, chapter 4, "Our Knowledge of God by Analogy" (1953)

Christianity Commonplaces #58 Sept/Oct 2020

With respect to the Church as a whole, all her aspects are centered on the presence of the Lord in her midst. This presence of God is the Church's core and center, the protected concentration of her being. This living center is made up of the Divine Mysteries: the confessed and unaltered Faith once given to the saints, the integrity of her sacraments, the canon of her Scriptures, the inviolable purity of the Tradition by which she is defined. The Church lives from that precious nucleus, which is to be safeguarded at all costs.

If that living and life-giving center does not "hold," we are no longer the people of God. It may appear, for a while, that we are more "successful" in some respects. If we abandon, for instance, certain components of our inherited worship in order to make the worship more accessible to our contemporaries, it is possible that our membership will initially grow, because we make better contact with the religious aspirations of the world around us.

This experience of success, however, is deceptive, and even dangerous. In due course we will learn that we have betrayed our identity in the Lord by permitting the world to change the Church, whereas it is the vocation of the Church to transform the world. It is impossible for the people of God to transform the world by giving up its own form. . . .

Some have remarked that apologetics is the most dangerous part of Christian thought, and the reason for this is simple. Apologetics is the discipline of making the Gospel accessible to the world's understanding. This discipline is a necessary and important aspect of evangelism. There remains the ongoing danger however, that our efforts to make the Gospel more accessible to unbelievers may, if only by inadvertence, alter some important and essential dimension of the Gospel. . . .

Virtually every major heresy condemned by the early Church took its rise in the effort to render the Gospel accessible to unbelievers. To return to the image of our metaphor, this activity directed to the world outside the Church runs the constant danger of putting the core of the Divine Mysteries in peril.

Patrick Henry Reardon
excursus on Numbers 3, from Out of Step with God (2019)

Christianity Commonplaces #60 Sept/Oct 2020

Defy the commandments of the natural law, and the race will perish in a few generations; co-operate with them, and the race will flourish for ages to come. That is the fact; whether we like it or not, the universe is made that way. This commandment is interesting because it specifically puts forward the moral law as the basis of the moral code: because God has made the world like this and will not alter it, therefore you must not worship your own fantasies, but pay allegiance to the truth.

Dorothy L, Sayers
The Mind of the Maker (1941)

Christianity Commonplaces #61 Nov/Dec 2020

Every evening at Vespers in these days Abbess Catherine . . . thought, as the antiphon to the Magnificat was sung, of the Visitation when the Virgin Mary, with the angel's announcement beating in her heart, had gone 'in haste' as St Luke says to visit her far older cousin. Why, wondered Abbess Catherine, did theologians always teach—and we take it for granted—that Mary went simply to succour Elizabeth? Probably she did do that, but could it not also have been that she needed the wisdom and strength of an older woman? How wonderfully reassuring Elizabeth's salutation must have been: 'Whence is this that the mother of my Lord should come to me?' A recognition without being told, and Mary, as if heartened, touched into bloom by the warmth and honour of that recognition, had flowered into the Magnificat.

Rumer Godden
In This House of Brede, ch. 7 (1969)

Christianity Commonplaces #64 Nov/Dec 2020

Being as it were compacted and fitly joined together in one body, we should love one another, with a love like that which one member bears to another in the same body. . . .

But in reality never was there less brotherly activity amongst men than at the present moment. Race hatred has reached its climax; peoples are more divided by jealousies than by frontiers; within one and the same nation, within the same city there rages the burning envy of class against class. . . .

When the twofold principle of cohesion of the whole body of society has been weakened, that is to say, the union of the members with one another by mutual charity and their union with their head by their dutiful recognition of authority, is it to be wondered at, Venerable Brethren, that human society should be seen to be divided as it were into two hostile armies bitterly and ceaselessly at strife? . . . It is not necessary to enumerate the many consequences, not less disastrous for the individual than for the community, which follow from this class hatred. We all see and deplore the frequency of strikes . . . we see hostile gatherings and tumultuous crowds, and it not unfrequently happens that weapons are used and human blood is spilled.

Pope Benedict XV
Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum (1914)

Christianity Commonplaces #65 Nov/Dec 2020

Young men, do not be deceived. Don't think you can, at will, serve lusts and pleasures in your beginning, and then go and serve God with ease at your latter end. Don't think that you can live with Esau, and then die with Jacob. It is a mockery to deal with God and your souls in such a fashion. It is an awful mockery to suppose you can give the flower of your strength to the world and the devil, and then put off the King of kings with the scraps and remains of your hearts, the wreck and remnant of your powers. It is an awful mockery, and you may find to your loss that the thing cannot be done.

J. C. Ryle
Thoughts for Young Men (1865)

Christianity Commonplaces #68 Jan/Feb 2021

The Christian faith holds that the creation has been damaged. Human existence is no longer what was produced at the hands of the Creator. It is burdened with another element that produces, besides the innate tendency toward God, the opposite tendency away from God. . . . This paradox points to a certain inner disturbance in man, so that he can no longer simply be the person he wants to be.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
God and the World (2002)

Christianity Commonplaces #83 May/June 2021

[Some,] deceived by the atheism they bear within them, imagined the universe deprived of a guide and order, at the mercy of chance. . . .

St. Basil the Great

Christianity Commonplaces #84 May/June 2021

Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community—however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things—whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds.

Pope Pius XI
Mit Brennender Sorge (1937)

Christianity Commonplaces #85 May/June 2021

To abandon Christian sexual orthodoxy is not simply to widen the canon of acceptable sexual practices. It is to revise key theological and anthropological elements of the Christian faith.

Carl R. Trueman
in an interview with Rod Dreher published November 15, 2020, in The American Conservative

Christianity Commonplaces #86 May/June 2021

When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three. It begins with toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of others. The Church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions. Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We agree to differ, and favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the Church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers, and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them.

From this point of view error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departures from the Church's faith but in consequence of it. Their recommendation is that they repudiate the faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and making them skillful in combating it.

Charles Porterfield Krauth
The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology (1913)

Christianity Commonplaces #87 May/June 2021

The Ten Commandments . . . are the charter and guide of human liberty, for there can be no liberty without the law.

Cecil B. DeMille
at the New York opening of his film The Ten Commandments (1956)

Christianity Commonplaces #88 May/June 2021

Since Jesus was, and still is, true man as well as true God, discernment of the spiritual sense [of Scripture] requires that we see how earlier [i.e., Old Testament] realities, whatever their natural intelligibilities, gain their full import and significance only from the way they are related to the One whom the Lord has anointed. They are like shadows that gain their true significance only from the object which casts them, no matter what object one might have surmised to be casting them when looking at them alone. Jesus is that solid substance whose mere shadow constitutes all the glories of God's dealings with mankind before Jesus.

Paul M. Quay, S.J.
The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God, Part II, chapter 7 (Peter Lang Publishing, 1995)

Christianity Commonplaces #94 July/August 2021

A man who has never had that experience [of the Prodigal Son], be it only very briefly, who has never felt that he is exiled from God and from real life, will never understand what Christianity is about. And the one who is perfectly "at home" in this world and its life, who has never been wounded by the nostalgic desire for another Reality, will not understand what is repentance.

Alexander Schmemann
"The Sunday of the Prodigal Son," Great Lent (1974)

Christianity Commonplaces #97 Sept/Oct 2021

The importance of the lesson which this [Holy Name] Society was formed to teach would be hard to overestimate. Its main purpose is to impress upon the people the necessity for reverence. This is the beginning of a proper conception of ourselves, of our relationship to each other, and our relationship to our Creator. Human nature cannot develop very far without it. The mind does not unfold, the creative faculty does not mature, the spirit does not expand, save under the influence of reverence. It is the chief motive of an obedience. It is only by a correct attitude of mind begun early in youth and carried through maturity that these desired results are likely to be secured. It is along the path of reverence and obedience that the race has reached the goal of freedom, of self-government, of a higher morality, and a more abundant spiritual life.

Calvin Coolidge
from a speech to members of the Holy Name Society, a Catholic men's group (September 1924)

Christianity Commonplaces #112 Jan/Feb 2022

Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men. As the voice of truth tells us, such leaders are not zealous pastors who protect their flocks; rather, they are like mercenaries who flee by taking refuge in silence when the wolf appears.

Pope St. Gregory the Great

Christianity Commonplaces #113 Jan/Feb 2022

C. S. Lewis points out that the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, and the founder of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ, have in common "something pretty substantial" with regard to their moral teaching. (He lists other figures too.) He then adds a footnote, explaining that he includes "the Incarnate God" alongside human teachers to emphasize that the main difference between Christ and these other figures lies not in ethics but ontology; it is Christ's "Person and Office" that are unique, not his teachings.

In his essay "The Psalms" (1958?), he contends that the Jewish and Christian traditions are not so distinct as they are sometimes held to be. He mentions that he has been reading the Old Testament and has been surprised by a verse from the book of the Proverbs (25:21): "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he be thirsty give him water to drink." He confesses to being taken aback: "One rubs one's eyes. So they were saying that already. They knew that so long before Christ came." Such a concern for one's enemy has no counterpart in Greek teaching nor in Confucian morality, he says. There is a striking continuity between Old and New Testaments in terms of teaching: the wholly new thing about Christ is not the ethic he taught but who he was and what he did.

Michael Ward
After Humanity: A Guide to C. S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man (2021), p. 103

Christianity Commonplaces #114 Jan/Feb 2022

Beware of anger. It is the most difficult to remove of all the hindrances. But it is the alcohol of the body, you know, and the devil of it is that it deadens the perceptions.

Margery Allingham
The Tiger in the Smoke (1952)

Christianity Commonplaces #115 Jan/Feb 2022

Things had come to such a pitch in the churches, by the intensity of the revival system, that the permanent was sacrificed to the casual, the ordinary swallowed up and lost in the extraordinary, and Christian piety itself reduced to a kind of campaigning of stage-effect exercise. The spirit of the pastor was broken and his powers crippled by a lack of expectation: for it was becoming a fixed impression that effect is to be looked for only under instrumentalities that are extraordinary. . . . It was even difficult for the pastor, saying nothing of conversions, to keep alive in Christians themselves any hope or expectations of holy living as an abiding state, in the intervals of public movement and excitement left to his care; because everything was brought to the test of the revival state as a standard, and it could not be conceived how any one might be in the Spirit and maintain a constancy of growth in the calmer and more private methods of duty, patience, and fidelity, on the level of ordinary life.

Horace Bushnell
(recollections of early ministry, ca. 1870)

Christianity Commonplaces #117 Jan/Feb 2022

The church is not a community of sameness but of different peoples and cultures, of multi-giftedness, and of different forms of call and service. These differences result in unity rather than fragmentation, just as different musical instruments combine to form a symphony rather than a cacophony.

James R. Edwards
From Christ to Christianity (2021)

Christianity Commonplaces #118 Jan/Feb 2022

A human who sins is less human after he succumbs than he was before. Still, there is a persistent, though imbecile, way of speaking in which some public figure who has an adulterous affair or a personal foible come to light thereby reveals a "human side" of himself. In fact, it is in keeping his commitments and displaying evidence of virtue that a man is most fully human; in giving in to temptations, even trivial or petty ones, he becomes that much more bestial.

When we fall, we fall from a human dignity, not an angelic one; our skid may well end at a level of animal savagery, but we never "tumble down" into humanity—and not because pigs are of themselves wickeder than men, but because the elevator, so to speak, was already at that floor.

Paul Mankowski, S.J.
"Why the Immaculate Conception" (1990), reprinted in Jesuit at Large (2021)

Christianity Commonplaces #123 May/June 2022

Fight bravely, for habit overcomes habit.

Thomas à Kempis
The Imitation of Christ (1441)

Christianity Commonplaces #125 May/June 2022

No sooner is a temple built to God but the Devil builds a chapel hard by.

George Herbert
Outlandish Proverbs (pub. 1640)

Christianity Commonplaces #126 May/June 2022

Si comprehendis non est Deus. (If you understand, that isn't God.)

Augustine of Hippo

Christianity Commonplaces #127 May/June 2022

cannot myself imagine a more fearful fate for our species than that they should so habituate themselves to their earthly circumstances as to be finally contented with them, or a more sublime one than that they should continue till the end of time to peer into the distance after the land that is very far off. In my early days this sense of being a stranger was closely related to political zealotry; the Left is for strangers, who persuade themselves that the causes they espouse are on behalf of the weak against the strong, of the poor against the rich. In my case, enlightenment came dramatically in the course of a journalistic stint in Moscow. The spectacle of all my heroes abasing themselves before a great tyrant, and purporting to justify all his doings and his works cured me of hero worship forever. . . . It was not just that a particular regime had been discredited in my eyes, and a particular set of hopes and desires shown to heaven fraudulent. The whole notion of progress died on me, and I saw our way of life based on it as crazy and hollow—getting richer and stronger and wiser, moving faster and farther, pursuing happiness ever more avidly, and leading all mankind into the same pursuit, which in the end turns out to be a fantasy, a death wish.

Malcolm Muggeridge
Jesus Rediscovered (1969)

Christianity Commonplaces #137 July/August 2022

The disappearance of Jesus as teacher explains why today in Christian churches—of whatever leaning—little effort is made to teach people to do what he did and taught. . . . Who among us had personal knowledge of a seminar or course of study and practice being offered in a "Christian Education Program" on how to "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for those who spit on you and make your life miserable"? Much less, then, one on how to conduct our business or profession on behalf of Jesus Christ (Col. 3:17,23). The most common response by Christians in the "real" world to Christ's teachings is, precisely, "Business is Business." And we all know what that means.

Sincere teaching on such matters simply does not appear on the Christian's intellectual horizon as something that might be done. We do not seriously consider Jesus our teacher on how to live; hence we cannot think of ourselves, in our moment-to-moment existence, as his students or disciples. So we turn to popular speakers and writers, some Christians and some not—whoever happens to be writing books and running talk shows and seminars on matters that concern us.

Dallas Willard
The Divine Conspiracy (1998)

Christianity Commonplaces #139 July/August 2022

Eloquence and wisdom serve the task of naming the world Christianly.

Robert Littlejohn
Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning (2006)

Christianity Commonplaces #140 Sept/Oct 2022

Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?

Jaroslav Pelikan
quoted in The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

Christianity Commonplaces #141 Sept/Oct 2022

How are we to get out of so dark a night? I know only one way out. That one I have tried, and I can testify from my own experience that it is good. What is that way out of difficulty? It is to bring your doubt to Jesus and tell Him openly how matters stand. Say that you have doubts, and tell Him what you doubt. Then He will remove your doubt. We cannot drive doubt away by thinking or arguing, but Jesus takes it away if He gets the chance. How it is done I do not know: I only know He does it.

Ludvig Hope
Norwegian lay evangelist, Thy Kingdom Come, trans. by Olaf Lysnes (1939)

Christianity Commonplaces #142 Sept/Oct 2022

There is a proverb which says that the wife brings more to the farm or out of it in her apron than the man can cart in or out with a pair of horses. I do not know how far the proverb dates back, but its truth has been admitted from of old. But the Christian housewife had to bear the responsibility for the welfare not only of those nearest to her—or, we may say, those nearest to her were not only her husband, children and kinsfolk; her neighbor meant to the Christian woman of the Middle Ages all with whom she came in personal contact, the neighborhood and above all its sick and poor, the beggar who came to her door or stretched out his hand to her as she passed on the road, the whole congregation belonging to her parish church, the wayfarer who asked shelter of her, the orphans, and childless old people who came within her cognizance.

Sigrid Undset
Stages on the Road (1934)

Christianity Commonplaces #144 Sept/Oct 2022

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and inbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.

John Milton
Areopagitica (1644)

Christianity Commonplaces #146 Sept/Oct 2022

If you bury yourself in Psalms, you emerge knowing God and understanding life. . . . We learn from the psalms how to think and act in reference to God. We drink in God and God’s world from them. They provide a vocabulary for living Godward, one inspired by God himself. They show us who God is, and that expands and lifts and directs our minds and hearts.

Dallas Willard
The Divine Conspiracy (1998)

Christianity Commonplaces #152 Nov/Dec 2022

But this faith of which I am speaking must be a present faith. No faith that is exercised in the future tense amounts to anything. A man may believe forever that his sins will be forgiven at some future time, and he will never find peace. He has to come to the now belief, and say by faith, “My sins are now forgiven,” before he can live the new life. And, similarly, no faith which looks for a future deliverance from the power of sin, will ever lead a soul into the life we are describing. The enemy delights in this future faith, for he knows it is powerless to accomplish any practical results. But he trembles and flees when the soul of the believer dares to claim a present deliverance, and to reckon itself now to be free from his power.

Hannah Whitall Smith
The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (1875)

Christianity Commonplaces #170 July/August 2023

Again about time: the Christian is the one who lives not in the past, not in the future, but only in the present. The past does not weigh on him, and he doesn’t worry about the future.

Archimandrite Nicolae Steinhardt
The Diary of Happiness (2021)

Christianity Commonplaces #171 July/August 2023

The enemy can imitate a humble person but never an obedient one.

St. Faustina Kowalska

Christianity Commonplaces #172 July/August 2023

Let us begin with two grand truisms: In himself, God is the same for all. Secondly, he is beyond all the representations that men have made of him. Having knocked open these doors, let us now move onto serious things.

Rémi Brague
On the God of the Christians (2013)

Christianity Commonplaces #162 May/June 2023

God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.

Justice Antonin Scalia
c. 2004

Christianity Commonplaces #163 May/June 2023

An authentic synodal dynamic arises precisely from the fact that the bishops and all the baptized walk together in the same faith, and converge in seeking together the most suitable forms and practices to bear witness to the same faith in the present time. I imagine that most Catholic bishops also share the desire and willingness to maintain traditional doctrine, even on issues such as marriage.

If the synodal dynamics express the path of the whole Church in the footsteps of the faith of the Apostles, they cannot be used to open divisions among the members of the Church on questions of faith or morals. Rather, the exercise of synodality also serves to maintain unity on the same path of different sensitivities, including those who wish for greater adaptation to the mentality of today’s world.

Mar Awa III
Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, in an interview released to Fides News Agency (December 5, 2022)

Christianity Commonplaces #164 May/June 2023

A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.

Charles Spurgeon

Christianity Commonplaces #165 May/June 2023

God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side.

C. S. Lewis
The Case for Christianity (1943)

Christianity Commonplaces #190 Nov/Dec 2023

If one is too empiricist for any miraculous and metaphysical work of God in nature, too rationalistic for any humanly framed and contingently expressed historical account of God’s words and actions among us, too academic for the hearsay stories of common people about miraculous goings-on, then one is too epistemically proud, too inclined to worship one’s own supposedly autonomous and self-validating mind, to receive the Christian revelation. Knowledge itself, if grasped in pride and in bad faith toward God, is a sin.

Paul Tyson
A Christian Theology of Science: Reimagining a Theological Vision of Natural Knowledge (Baker Academic, 2022)

Christianity Commonplaces #195 Nov/Dec 2023

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