The Medieval Mind of CS Lewis

One’s normal reaction to a new book about C.S. Lewis is probably the same as a new book on John Calvin or the Five Points of Calvinism: “Not another one.”  Jason Baxter’s book, however, has new material. Beginning with Michael Ward’s book on the planets and Narnia, theologians have realized that Lewis’s understanding of the heavenly spheres was more than just metaphorical.  He had the exact same outlook as the medieval writers.  We thank Jason Baxter for that insight.

Baxter sees Lewis as “Becoming Boethius.”  Like the early medieval figure, Lewis bridged the gap between the Christian medieval world, especially prior to Aquinas, and our own time. But if Lewis is going to be Boethius, and if we are going to see what such a mind looks like, we have to see how the medieval mind viewed the planets. The planets provided man with a “harmony of the spheres.”  The world and the planets were arranged in a musical interval.  Here Baxter does an extended analysis of scenes in Lewis’s The Discarded Image.[1] It looks like this:


Primum Mobile, which causes the stellatum to move. The stellatum then move Saturn.

Saturn, for Dante at least, is the heaven of contemplatives. More commonly, though, he is Father Time.

Jupiter is the king.

Mars is iron-like.

Sol, or Sun.



In the Christian era, these heavens were associated with angels.  However, Lewis points out that the danger to monotheism “clearly came not from a cult of angels but from the cult of the Saints. Men when they prayed were not usually thinking of hierarchies and intelligences.”[2]

This extended detour serves to illustrate a point Baxter makes later. With the current talk about a disenchanted universe, one might be surprised to hear the disenchantment in the heavens.  No longer could the heavens be seen as a harmonic prove of Platonic solids.  That probably does not bother us like it would earlier ages.

Breathing Narnian Air

This was a fun chapter. Why do people resonate with Lewis’s works so much?  They do because Lewis enables them to experience what “an idea felt like.”  You feel the idea of Goodness. You can probably think back to a book where you had this experience.  For me it would have been Spenser’s Faerie Queene or the scene with Mr. Valiant-for-Truth in Pilgrim’s Progress.  In other words, you can “breathe the atmosphere of a story.”

There is a deeper philosophical issue at play as well.  For it we again turn to Boethius.  Humans normally know something via ratio, or discursive judgment. Every now and then, though, when hit with a powerful idea, we know via intellectus, or through actual intelligence.  This is more intuitive.  This is what Lewis meant in his famous essay about “looking along a beam of light.” When you look alongside a beam of light in a dark shed, your eyes are directed towards the opening and then you see much, much more.


I recommend this work to more advanced students of Lewis.  Baxter also deals with Till We Have Faces and mysticism, both good and bad, so Lewis argues, in Letters to Malcom.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 102ff.

[2] Lewis, Ibid, 120.

Another History of Philosophy (Herder)

Herder, Johann Gottfried.  Another Philosophy of History and Selected Political Writings. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2004.

The English title is misleading.  One expects that this will be another volume along the same lines as Hegel or Augustine.  It is not.  The German title, Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menscheit, clearly teaches us this is about education, not history.  Even more, as the use of his term Bildung makes clear, it is about formative education.

Herder resists the Enlightenment attempt to judge all cultures from the standpoint of French atheism.  Moreover, one should not wish to go back in time and live in x culture, for “God, climate, and [the] stage of world development” made you what you are, where you are.

Every nation and culture has “its center of gravity” (Herder 29).

Key concepts:

Herder operates with a number of German terms that lose some of their nuance in English. The most important is Bildung. It isn’t simply education, but formation.  

Herder begins history with the Oriental patriarchs.  By Orient he probably means Mesopotamia and Abraham, not China or Japan. It’s necessary that history begin with the patriarchs.  Mankind needed to be formed (Bild- words) in a way that would be a scaffold for later epochs. Mankind didn’t need the dry, cold reason of the French Enlightenment, but custom and inclination.  Similarly, children do not need to begin with abstract reasoning but with stories of heroism.

Human history then moves from patriarchal huts to Egypt.  The emphasis is no longer “the paternal oracles of the deity,” but law and security (Herder 12). Man needed stability before he could move to the Greek genius. History then moves to Phoenicia.  Instead of a god-king, there is now an aristocracy of cities and commerce.

Then is Greece.  The Greeks blended Phoenecian and Egyptian ways of thinking. The aristocracy of cities became polises.  Greek art was light compared with Egyptian heaviness.  “The giant temple became a stage” (20).

Rome follows Greece, as manhood does boyhood.  Rome was also necessary in order to bridge Greece and Germany. Greek airiness lacked the manly spirit to tame the barbarians.  Only Rome (and the Gospel) could do that.  This gives rise to another of Herder’s arguments: each culture is an analogy of the one preceding it (39).

It is tempting to read Herder as one who wants to go back to Medieval Germany.  He doesn’t say that.  He is very clear on that point.  Nonetheless, given the current Christian fascination with “classical education” and “classical cultures,” prioritizing Medieval Germany over pagan Greece might have something going for it.

Much of the middle ages was no doubt brutal, but consider what happened: instead of slavery, there were guilds (at least in the later centuries); Europe populated; self-reliance, etc.  

All of this is excellent and good, but Herder is making a dangerous argument.  He comes very close to saying we can’t judge another culture from our standpoint.  What about cultural practices such as widow-burning in India and female circumcision in Africa?  We most certainly can judge (and stop, as the manly British did in India) those cultures.

He then deconstructs terms like “happiness.”  Happiness can’t simply be what French philosophes think it must be (with the conclusion that no nation was ever happy until 1789).

There are a number of modern-day applications we can make from Herder’s argument. Trying to import American (and really, just neo-liberal democracy) to other cultures is always doomed from the start. True, much of Iraqi and Afghani culture is bad, but destroying those mediating institutions, leaving nothing remaining, and then telling them to be good Western citizens is almost always worse.  You get ISIS as a result.

Do We Have a Fatherland?

This text ends with several of Herder’s essays on the topic.  This question would get him brought up on charges by Big Eva today.  That’s because modern Americans, both secularists and Evangelicals, are utterly clueless on what nationalism means.  A Fatherland is a nexus of numerous influences: soil, family, language.  These are manifested in its institutions (which is why the godly must always fight efforts from the UN which threaten our institutions).

Ultimately, though, a Fatherland is revealed by its language.  Note what Herder didn’t say.  He didn’t say race.  And for neo-liberals and neo-conservatives, he didn’t say oil or global markets.

This is a fun, bombastic work.  Herder is certainly wrong in some of the particulars, but it is still a fun read.

Something They Will Not Forget (Gibbs)

Gibbs, Joshua.  Something They Will Not Forget: A Handbook for Classical Teachers.  Concord, NC: CiRCE Institute, 2019.

Main idea: the practices of memorization and recitation turn information into formation.

Resist the urge to ask “practical questions” in literature and social studies. They usually aren’t practical and no one cares.  Moral questions, however, are far more interesting and almost naturally engage the student.

Let’s be honest.  Even if you are the best teacher, students usually don’t care about the content and won’t remember it.    That’s because there are different ways we “memorize facts.”  The most important way to memorize facts is by habitual use.  That puts the literature teacher in a strange position, since most of us (myself excluded) don’t carry around copies of Shakespeare so we can memorize it in our spare time.

Gibbs argues that “knowledge is knowing that certain things are, but wisdom is knowing how the souls of things rhyme with each other” (Gibbs 16).  That’s a very beautiful sentence, but doesn’t it suggest that memorization is not needed? The truth of the matter is that memorization happens best at the intersection of knowledge and wisdom.  In other words, “what is the eighth or ninth impression you have on a topic?”

When are We Going to Use This in the Real World?

No one playing sports ever asks this question.  You learn the plays in sports because you perceive them as good in themselves.  Most of the things we love are quite useless.  Strictly speaking, so is God.  God is the End, not the means to an end.  Therefore, he isn’t a “use.”

And while Gibbs doesn’t make this point explicitly, most of the “practical math” a student learns is quite useless in reality. No, Timmy, you won’t be an astronaut when you grow up.  The most “practical” class I took in high school was “business math.”  I wish I had stayed in Pre-Cal instead.

Catechism as Ritual Performance

Groups remember better than individuals (26). Strangely enough, no one studies for a test this way.  Try it: if you are a literature teacher, connect all of the books you all read this year in the form of a catechism.  

Have you ever wondered why classroom journal entries never worked?  Remember when the teacher (or maybe you did this as a teacher) made you respond to some supposedly “deep” question during the first five minutes of class?  Again, no one cares.  That is the least productive time of class because students are still in transition from the hall.

I’ll be honest.  His use of turning rote knowledge into a catechism is nothing short of amazing. That’s what bumps this book from four stars to five.

This allows students to transition from “cold” to “ready to learn.”  Recitation is the bridge. While I am not a huge fan of classical education, this highlights one of the better aims of it.  If classical education is about self-denial, then beginning with other people’s words, rather than pseudo-pious exercises in “self-actualization,” is the place to start.  To be honest, most students won’t remember those super Socratic discussions you thought you had with them.  Again, no one cares.

This makes a lot of sense.  We want students to be good in discussion, but let’s be honest: few of them know how to have a good conversation.  That’s why your Socratic circles usually aren’t very good.  Even though students talk a lot in class, they don’t know how to speak.

For example, if the question is, “What is human society?” the answer will be about a four sentence response from Edmund Burke.  If the question is “What is virtue?” then you could respond from Thomas Aquinas or Jane Eyre.  This forces the student to give more in depth answers and also integrates classic literature into his daily life.

The book ends with examples of final exams.  Two comments: they make for amazing reading.  There is only one question and it is several pages long. I was drawn into the stories they were telling.  Here’s the problem: given the nature and structure of the exam, if you give a student negative marks and his parents complain to the principal, you will almost certainly lose.  Doubly so if you are a new teacher.


“If Wikipedia could ace your exams, then you are not teaching human beings but machines” (16).

Anything worth memorizing as a class is worth saying out loud every day for two weeks.  If it isn’t worth saying, then it isn’t worth memorizing (27).

“The work performed in a ceremony establishes the identity of the people involved because ceremony is neither for amusement nor edification; ceremony is a way of being, a way of besting the vanity of life under the sun” (28).

“As a teacher, I represent the dead” (41).

“Teachers are complicit in the cult of self-affirmation whenever they read long passages of classic literature aloud in class only to ask a room full of fourteen year olds, “So what do you think?” as though the answer truly mattered” (43).


I get his point that using a rubric does not escape the shadow of “subjectivity” in grading.  That’s true.  It does minimize the subjectivity, though, and the teacher is usually successful in arguing why he gave the grade he did based on the rubric.  Parents know that.  His case is even stronger if he gives out the rubric ahead of time.  I grant his point, however, that subjectivity is not the same as arbitrary.  A subjective judgment considers the worth or value of x, not necessarily its substance. 

Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization

Although I am wary of “the next worldview book,” and while this certainly isn’t intended to be a worldview book, it is probably the best worldview book there is.  And probably for that reason it doesn’t even mention worldview once.  It isn’t so much that politically correct views are logically false.  They are.  What makes this book superior is that it stirs the spirit–what earlier English authors meant by refining our sentiments.


Sophocles: Beware of passing laws that alienate man from his being.

Why did Greece make the jumps it made in logical thought and mathematics?  Esolen argues because Greece’s religious views, while wrong, were an advancement over earlier nature religions.  Nature religion, the old gods, venerated the Earth Mother. This was the tribe.  Blood ruled.  Aeschylus illustrates reason’s victory over nature religion in the Orestia.  

Clytemnestra kills Agammenon.  Orestes face’s the dilemma: as this is a capital offense, he would have to kill his mother.  Yet, killing his mother is one of the supreme crimes.  He does, in fact, kill his mother and is pursued by the Furies.  Athena intervenes and rules in favor of Orestes.  The polis triumphs over the tribe.  Reason, at least in its inchoate form, triumphs over nature religion.

Nine Inconvenient Truths About Greek Homosexuality

Plato and the Philosophers

The explanation of the universe can’t be material, since that, too, must also be explained.

Man has three parts: appetite, spirit, soul/mind.  The worst kind of society is one where the appetite rules.  If we say that we want the mind to rule, we aren’t denigrating the body.  We are putting it in a hierarchy.

Happiness is the enjoyment of the intellect.  Happiness, properly defined, doesn’t exist for the sake of anything else.  A man will say, “If only I had a million dollars, then I would be happy.”  No one says, “If only I were happy, then I could have a million dollars.”


I’m iffy on Esolen’s praising Rome’s patriarchy.  True, it did ensure a stable order but not without costs.  Further, it gave to the father judicial claims God never intended him to have.  Looking past that, though, and understanding that they were pagans, Rome’s senatorial rule was something to behold, and the young scholar could do far worse than learning Latin and musing on Livy.

Middle Ages

This chapter was actually too good.  It’s dangerous to paint glowing pictures on the Middle Ages, since they also conceal some ugly realities.  Our nihilist times, though, focuses only on those realities.  Our souls need to see the beauty again.  While nothing can replace sanitation, modern dentistry, and clean water, the medievals were superior to us on several fronts: they were never lonely, saw far more nature than even the most green hippie today, and lived lives that weren’t alienated from the natural rhythms of the cosmos (which word, incidentally, we can’t claim today since it presupposes an ordered harmony).

With the Renaissance onward Esolen, himself a Roman Catholic, has to wade the turbulent waters of Roman/Protestant polemics.  He is fair.  Aside from some fascinating insights on Renaissance man (who was as much a magician as a scientist), there isn’t much new here.

If every Christian student read this book in high school, or at least before going to college, he or she would be adequately prepared for any intellectual challenges ahead.  

The King’s Two Bodies (Kantorowicz)

Related image

Ernst Kantorowicz analyzes the development in later medieval political thought by isolating one aspect of it:  the King’s Two Bodies.   By this phrase he means the conjunction of the king’s own natural body with that of the “body politic” (9).   It is not entirely clear exactly what “body politic” denotes, and Kantorowicz’s ambiguity is deliberate:  the phrase shifted in meaning throughout the Middle Ages.   It is Kantorowicz’s further claim that this shift in meaning had theological roots.

Kantorowicz argues, somewhat counter-intuitively, that “The King’s Two Bodies” is a monophysite construction—while purporting to be an analogy between the King and the divine, it actually takes the form of a heretical Christology (14-15; see also p.18).   The charge of monophysitism is somewhat difficult to follow, but Kantorowicz claims it resulted from the indifference (and inability) to properly distinguish the body of the mortal king from the body of his realm (p. 18).    As is evident, the medieval jurists were seeking to imitate their constructions of kingship from Christological truths.   That is nothing new, nor is there anything wrong with it.  The Eastern Romans already were doing that for hundreds of years.   The problem arose when other theological currents changed the way the Church in the West did Christology, and thus changed the way it did politics.

In the early middle ages Western Europe was similar to the Eastern Romans in terms of using Christology to shape kingship.  Both civilizations shared a common faith and used that common faith to understand politics.   They saw the King as imitator of Christ (47).  It should be noted, however, that the Eastern Romans did not use the phrase “King’s Two Bodies” as extensively (at all?) as the West did.  While the phrase wasn’t heretical, per se, it was always attended by many possible dangers.  In either case, both sides saw the King as the representative, not of God the Father, but of Christ.  This reflects the ancient reading of the Old Testament as a revelation of God the Son.   A moment’s meditation on this point will make it obvious:  political theologies are almost always based on the Old Testament simply because it deals with politics more than does the New Testament.  Therefore, one’s reading of the Old Testament will shape the way one does political theology.

The West’s grammar changed, though.   Previously, kingship was done in the context of liturgy.  The King represented Christ’s rule in a mystical way.  He was anointed with oil for the sake of the realm.   He was, in short, an ikon of popular piety.

The watershed mark demonstrating the transition best is the reign of Otto II, and the best way to illustrate this difference is in the ikonography surrounding Otto.  Otto is important for he represents the intersection between the Byzantine East and Frankish West, including the best and worst elements of both.   Kantorowicz contrasts two ikonographic paintings which portray rulers:  the Aachen miniature over against the Reichenau painting of Otto.   The former portrays the Charlemagnic king as the representative of God the Father whereas the Reichenau painting places Otto in the foreground of a Byzantine halo, suggesting he represents Christ (77).

The above is an important point and I suspect the larger part of it is lost upon Kantorowicz.  This ikonography reflects a shift in theology, which probably reflects a shift in the way sacred texts are read.  It was mentioned earlier that the Old Testament was now read, no longer as a revelation of God the Son, but of God the Father.   One could probably take it a step further—it was seen as a revelation of God-in-general.

The Corpus Mysticum

In many ways it is the concept of a “Mystical Body” that contributed to the secularization of Western political thought.   One must avoid, however, overly simplistic reductions regarding the phrase.  The phrase “Mystical Body” originally connoted the interplay between the Eucharist, the body born of the Virgin Mary, and the Church itself.   While the phrase is not Pauline, if left at this stage there is no problem.   As Kantorowicz, drawing upon the work of Henri Cardinal de Lubac, notes, the distinctions between the two bodies hardened into oppositions.   Therefore, the body of Christ per the Church was separated from the body of Christ the Son of God.  While small at first, this opened the door for a secularization of concepts.

The King as Corporation

One suspects that the idea of the “corporation” arrived in the West coterminous with the sharpening of the “King’s Two Bodies.”  Indeed, even if not chronologically accurate, it is logically consistent.  Jurists were puzzled over the problem of whether the king’s other body—his realm—died when he died.  The short answer to this problem was that the king’s other body did not die.  The people were in-corporated into this body and outlived the king.  The canon lawyers coined a phrase for this:  dignitas non moritur—the dignity does not die.

One cannot avoid noticing throughout this work, and if the argument holds then throughout Western history, a progression of concepts regarding political theology.    Like its Byzantine cousin, Western political theology began with liturgical roots (59).  After the Ottonian period, these liturgical roots were translated into secular terms (115).  Therefore, when the King is called a “corpus mysticum,” this cannot be interpreted in early liturgical Christian categories.  Rather, it can only reflect the ongoing secularization.   Because of the hardening of “the King’s two bodies,” jurists had to account for the fact that the second body, the realm, did not die[i], and they could only do this by introducing the idea of the corporation.  Therefore, one can trace the movement of Western political theology along the following line:

Liturgical Kingship à Law-based Kingship à Corporate Kingship à Corporation à The State


This book is a genealogy of political theology.  It traces the rhythm of Western politics through the lens of a highly disputed phrase.   Further, it traces the nuances later attributed to that phrase, and the earth-shattering consequences.  Our only regret is that this was the only book of its kind that Kantorowicz had written.

There are some difficulties with the book, though.   Kantorowicz does not always identify his main point in each chapter, or he might wait until some random moment in the middle of the chapter before he informs the reader of his argument.   Further, there are some portions of the book which do not seem relevant at all (e.g., his extended discussion on medieval English fiscal rights).   On top of all of this is the rather dense style in which he wrote, coupled with the numerous (usually un-translated) sentences and paragraphs in Latin.  One suspects that many of these phrases are indeed central to his main argument, but if one’s grasp of Latin is not on a post-graduate level, the argument will be lost on the reader.


The Medieval Nature of the Confederate South

This is an old paper I wrote for college.  I would change only one thing.  Some of Richard Weaver’s conclusions suggest the South was the last bastion of Christendom.  That would be false on several counts.  How widespread Christianity was in the South is debatable, though it was probably more Christian than New England.  Further, the South is better seen as the last bastion of the old classical order.  That actually makes sense from architecture to slavery.

I cut out about half of the paper.  There were certain lines of argument made by Doug Wilson and Rushdoony that are 100% false, so I had to remove those parts.  That’s why it might appear choppy.

Jacob Aitken
Civil War
Dr. William Simpson
19 April 2005

The Medieval Nature of the Confederate South

Certain themes overlap when one considers the historical and sociological nature
of the Confederacy and in the larger context the Old South. Although these themes are
not exhaustive, and certainly not exclusive, one will consider the medieval framework of
a civilization whose inhabitants drew from Europe. A brief introduction will be given
delineating the medieval aspects of a society, as opposed to a society whose foundations
are those of Modernism. 1 The point to be established is that the Confederacy saw them
as the last European civilization of the old order. 2

Instead of asking what modern-day historians think of the South, although they
will be quoted when appropriate and not overly relying on primary sources, valuable as
they may be; one will ask the question what those who have strong ties to the South but
are separated from the conflict by a few generations, thought of the Confederacy.
Attention will be given to the work of the Southern Agrarians 3 and those who studied
under them. This is important because it was the Agrarians who helped establish the
academic link between Europe and the Confederacy. Richard Weaver writes, “What they
[the Agrarians] saw—what they had to see—was that the South, with its inherited
institutions and its system of values, was a continuation of Western European culture and

that the North was a deviation.” 4 It is interesting to see how Europe saw the South
during the Civil War. Hugh Dubrulle, after tracing a generation of British scholarship
concerning the Civil War, makes a few observations. He notes, the slavery question
aside, that the British had a tendency to see the Southerners as fighting for hearth and

“In fact, British observers of the American Civil War…claimed that Federal forces had waged a new type of war unprecedented in its destructiveness and scope. The limitations of a volunteer army produced by a democratic army…prevented the North from waging a limited war of skill…Indeed, they presented Confederate forces as a model for emulation, highlighting the social inequality that had produced traditional military virtues in the South. Theses notions associated with a skillful Confederate way of war exerted much influence on British military thought in the period leading up to World War I.” 5

John Crowe Ransom looks back on the South and explains its defiant individualism in terms of its unique heritage from Europe. “The South is unique on this continent for having founded and defended a culture was according to the European principles of culture.” 6 Ransom outlines this culture as the adaptation of the English model based on the soil, and a loyalty to the Establishment to the degree that the Establishment was necessary for civilization. Ransom writes, “The Establishment…was meant to be stable rather than provisional.” 7 On agrarianism as the backbone of the Confederate society Ransom writes, “It is the European intention to live materially along the inherited line of least resistance…I have in mind here the core of unadulterated


Europeanism, with its self-sufficient, backward-looking, intensely provincial
communities.” 8 W.J. Cash, while critiquing the outlook on the Southern Agrarians in
his essay, “The Mind of the South,” makes some fascinating insights as to what drove
their historiography, among other things. Using phrases such as “neo-Medievalism” to
describe their literary forbears (and the Agrarians’ possible attempts in the future), Cash
suggests “nearly all of them had decisively escaped from the old Southern urge to turn
the country into Never-Never Land, that nearly all of them stood, intellectually at least,
pretty decisively outside the legend; and so were able to contribute to the region its first
literature of any bulk and importance.” 9 Another critique of the Agrarian movement
came from C. Vann Woodward. The critiques suggest that the “Lost Cause” mentality
never died among certain ivory-tower types. He notes, “The twelve Southerners who
took their stand in 1930 on the proposition that the Southern way stands or falls with the
agrarian way would seem to have been championing a second lost cause.” 10

not be far-fetched to suggest that what passed for States’ Rights rhetoric was merely neo-
feudalism applied to modern issues.
In his “Thanksgiving Sermon” of 29 November 1860, in New Orleans, Benjamin
M. Palmer warned if the South did not unite religiously and morally for the coming
struggle, more than the armies of Federal troops would ravage her. He saw embodied in
the North all the horrors of the French Revolution and exhorted his flock to be united. He
saw in the abolitionist reforms the abolishment of Christianity. He notes, “Last of all, in
this great struggle, we defend the cause of God and religion…To the South the high
position is assigned to defending, before all nations, the cause of religion and truth. In

this trust, we are resisting the power which wars against constitutions and laws and
compacts, against Sabbaths and sanctuaries…Is it possible to decline the onset?” 30

Medieval Tensions in the Confederacy

Although attempting a civilization built on a Medieval European mindset and
hoping for the advantages that such a society would have, certain aspects became lodged
in Southern society that were no longer Medieval. For instance, Medieval society, while
not condemning slavery, did encourage the freeing of slaves. Quoting Thomas Roderick
Dew Eugene Genovese notes, “[W]hile the medieval Church did encourage emancipation, it made little effort to emancipate its own slaves.” 31 Historically then, the Confederacy made no effort to follow their alleged Medieval forbears on this note. In his forceful defense of the South, Robert L. Dabney, who had served briefly as Thomas
(Stonewall) Jackson’s chief of staff, defends Virginia’s actions with respect to slavery.
Hypothetically stated, the North had repudiated a federal compact with the South and lost the governing ability to force the South to free the slaves. 32 Therefore, even if slavery was morally questionable, it was politically legal. Dabney writes, “Now, had slavery been intrinsically a moral and social evil, yet its protection was in the compact between the States; and to the honest mind, there was but one course for the North to adopt when she concluded that she could no longer endure her connection with slavery. This was, to restore to the South the pledges…and to dissolve the Union.” 33


Even though he probably would not call himself a Medievalist, Dabney is aware
of the tradition from which he is drawing, even if he does not say so explicitly—the
Protestant background of the American colonies and the feudal/Medieval implications
thereof. 34 Discussing those who would call themselves “States’ Rights Democrats”
Dabney notes that they advocated limited construction of the powers conferred by them
on the Federal Government. “Their view of those powers was founded on the following
historical facts…[T]he former colonies of Great Britain emerged from the Revolutionary
War distinct and sovereign political communities or commonwealths…allied together,
and as such were recognized by all European powers.” 35

Assuming that they sought to be faithful to their Medieval heritage, they were
faced with Medieval tensions. Genovese writes, “For one thing, educated slaveholders
were taught medieval history and read a good deal of it thereafter. And in the late Middle Ages…a serf could run to town not merely to escape his master’s clutches but to secure legal protection against him.” 36 However, “The great difficulty in the way of transition to a system of unfree labor other than slavery was that virtually all its features threatened the economic or political security of the slaveholders in a transatlantic world that was rising on commodity production for a burgeoning world market.” 37 The Confederate economist could argue that abolishing slavery would effect more than the South: the North and Europe would suffer as well, theoretically. Southerner’s sought to get around

the horns of this dilemma by appealing to a pre-Medieval, Roman tradition: “A
contradiction between intent and reality bedeviled Southerners who attempted to defendand reform slavery. Roman law established the concept of absolute property, which rationalized a commercial slave system based on commodity exchange. Roman law thereby provided an ideal starting point for the modern bourgeoisie as it fought loosefrom medieval notions of multiple claims of property.” 38

While a perfect picture of the South as a Medieval society is not possible, it is not
far-fetched to see Medieval themes in the Old South from Colonial times until 1865, with
a brief resurgence by the Southern Agrarians. Furthermore, it is difficult to say how
Medieval the Southerners at the time saw themselves. Surely they hoped for European
support, finding aristocratic traditions in which their friends overseas could relate.
Nevertheless, segments of the Medieval world appear in the Old Confederacy: a feudal-
like social order that entails a fierce loyalty to one’s home, a religious and cultural
movement that sought, if unsuccessfully, to have the Confederacy theocratic, and a
tentative ruling class, one which never worked out its problems with slavery.

1 This will not include restating European intellectual history, rather it will highlight several themes prominent in the Medieval mindset.
2 The time-period of Medievalism will be broader than what some would define it, although I think it is faithful nonetheless. Secondly, the terms European and Medieval will be used interchangeably because I will be referring to a Medieval European society throughout the course of the essay.
3 That is, the historians and literary critics connected with Vanderbilt University in the 1920’s and ‘30’s.

4 Richard Weaver, “The Tennessee Agrarians,” in The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver, eds.George M. Curtis III & James J. Johnson, Jr. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Press, 1987), p. 7.
5 Hugh Dubrulle, “A Military Legacy of the Civil War,” Civil War History vol. 49 no. 2, June 2003, p.153f.
6 John Crowe Ransom, “Reconstructed but Unregenerate,” I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the AgrarianTradition; By Twelve Southerners. (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, [1930] 1977), p.3.
7 Ibid., p. 13. The implication for a limited central government should not be missed in his comment.

8 Ibid., p. 5.
9 W.J. Cash, The Modern Southern Reader, eds. Forkner & Samway (Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers,[1986] 2000), p. 477.
10 C. Vann Woodward, The Modern Southern Reader, p. 552.

30 Thomas Cary Johnston, The Life and Letters of Benjamin Morgan Palmer (Richmond, VA: PresbyterianCommittee on Publication, 1906), p. 212f.
31 Eugene Genovese, A Consuming Fire: The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White ChristianSouth (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 1998), p. 78.
32 Whether or not the North actually repudiated such a compact is beside the point at the moment.
33 R.L. Dabney, A Defense of Virginia and the South (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, [1867]
1991), p. 350. It must be pointed out that Dabney is concerned over the rightness of Virginia’s cause ratherthan the European foundation of the Confederacy.

34 There is still much debate over the extent of Christianity in the Colonies. For the moment the discussion is limited to the vestiges of Puritanism remaining in the colonies. Granting rising secularism in Colonial America (from a post-Puritan perspective), remnants of Puritan thought, such as natural law, were still prevalent.
35 Robert Lewis Dabney, The Life and Campaigns of Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson(Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, [1865] 1983), p. 125.
36 Genevose, A Consuming Fire, p. 112. It is often pointed out that some slaveowners wanted their slavesto be exposed to the Bible; one wonders the reaction had they also been exposed to Medieval history.
37 Ibid, 112.

Puritan Economic Experiments (Gary North)

This is a summary of North’s PhD dissertation, though it reads better than most dissertations. North outlines three major economic experiments in Puritan New England: 1) govt control of land; 2) govt control of prices; 3) govt control of fashion.

Common Ownership

The problem, as William Bradford noted, if there is common ownership of land, what is to guarantee that men will work for other men’s wives in the field, and that women will sew and weave for other women’s husbands?

Problem 1: “Free” land meant strong demand for its productivity,and town leaders never were able to find a rational, efficient means of restricting uneconomic uses of the town property (North 12).

The problems became so bad that the only way to fix them was to slowly (if reluctantly) introduce free-market solutions.  The idea of common ownership was eventually replaced by Jefferson’s yeoman farmer. North writes:

“The idea that individual men are more responsible for the administration of property than boards of political appointees or even elected officials became a fundamental principle of eighteenth and nineteenth century American life. The concepts of personal responsibility and personal authority became interlocked, and the great symbol of this fusion was the family farm” (20).

Price Controls

The Puritans inherited the economics of the medieval schoolmen (23).

What is a Just Price?

Problem 2: The effect of these wage ceilings must have presented itself almost immediately: an excess of demand for the services of artisans over the available supply (25).

Max Weber argued that the essence of theocratic and/or socialist regimes was the reliance upon substantive theories of justice (27).  But the problem here, as in just prices, is that man can never be sure of what the magistrate would do. This made rational acting and planning by entrepreneurs impossible.

Sumptuary Legislation

The Puritans misinterpreted the 5th commandment on this one.  While it is true there are distinctions between superiors, inferiors, and equals, that doesn’t mean the state has to legislate clothing.

As to time-wasting, magistrates employed “licensing.”  The licensed taverns.

Problem 3 :So when men began to follow the tenets of the Puritan faith, they found themselves steadily increasing in wealth, both personally and culturally. This was to raise an absolutely baffling dilemma: how was the fact of social mobility to be reconciled with medieval categories of fixed status, implying defined place and function (51)?

Conclusion: The hierarchy of medieval life – a hierarchy reflecting a great chain of being from God to Satan – was being shattered by the winds of change. Men and women were increasingly unwilling in the late seventeenth century. to accept the limitations of such arbitrary status concepts of the exercise of their property rights (56).

Schaff: Church History, Volume 5 (review)

This is his second volume on the Middle Ages.

Image result for philip schaff

It is tempting to color the Middle Ages either as a period of gross or superstition or incredible beauty.  This answer is neither.  Or both. Much as we may be disgusted, and rightly so, at the abuses of the medieval papacy, some popes were truly talented individuals. Further, papal supremacy, while built on a foundation of sand, did nonetheless rein in lawless barons. For example, the most competent, if not the most scriptural, of medieval popes, Gregory VII, kept warring Europe in line.  Schaff writes, “it was a spiritual despotism, but it checked a political despotism” (Schaff 34).

The section on the Crusades read like a novel at times.  Schaff rightly deplores the indulgences and the erring piety behind the Crusades, but he notes, as we must all admit, that the military actions of the Western Europeans destroyed enough Muslim personnel to prevent a Muslim conquest of Europe (at least until the 21st century).

4th Crusade

Surprisingly, Schaff gives a relatively positive account of the 4th Crusade.  This one is tricky and requires some background. The rightful emperor was Isaac Angelus.  He was deposed and blinded by his brother Alexius III.  Long story short, the Latins intervened and deposed Alexius III and restored Isaac (for a time).  As unfortunate as later events were, this action “prolonged the successful resistance to the Turks” (273 n1). Yes, they turned Constantinople into a brothel, but one can’t help but wonder if Byzantine schemes didn’t set the stage.

Inquisition and Sacraments

Most people will find the section on the Inquisition fascinating, if only for morbid reasons.  It contains enough lurid details.

Theologically, Schaff’s section on the sacraments is of the most value to the theology student.   All medievals follow the Augustinian definition as “a visible sign of invisible grace.”  There is a virtue inherent in the sacraments.  They confer and confirm grace (continere et conferre gratiam).  God is the original cause of grace.  The sacraments, per Thomas, are the instrumental cause (705).

The body of Christ is in the sacrament not quantitatively, but in substance.  Not in dimensions but by a power peculiar to the sacrament.  This is the doctrine of concomitance (717). They argued that the whole Christ is in each of the elements, which justifies withdrawing the cup from the laity.

Penance and Indulgences

Penance deletes mortal sins committed after baptism (729).  It has four elements (contrititon, sorrow of the soul, which negative part is attrition), confession, satisfaction, and absolution. An indulgence simply mitigates the works of satisfaction needed for an absolution (737).

Sin and Grace

The flesh is tainted, being conceived in concupiscence. It is both taint and guilt (749). Grace: man needs prevenient grace “to beget in him the disposition to holiness” (753). Justification has four elements: 1) infusion of grace; 2) movement of the free will towards God; 3) the act of the free will against sin; 4) remission of sins.

This book is magnificent.  The prose reads like a novel.

Review: What Sort of Human Nature?

Medieval analytic philosophy gets to the heart of the problem:  If Christ has two natures, one of which he assumed as a human nature, and if he is consubstantial with us in our humanity, yet our nature is sinful, how is Christ not sinful?  Saying he chose not to sin doesn’t answer the question, as merely possessing a human nature tainted by sin makes one guilty. human nature

The short answer to the question is that we only need to show that Christ is fully human, and a tainted human nature is not necessary to the definition of what it means to be human.  Yet this reveals the deep octopus of questions that occurs at the intersection of anthropology and Christology.  Marilyn McCord Adams sets forth several questions on this topic and shows how (and why) the medievals answered the way they did.


(1) Metaphysical size-gap between God and man.
(2) There is a top-down pressure to regard Christ’s human nature with maximal perfection.
(3) Christ assumes something from each of man’s fourfold states. He has to have something to guide human beings into Beatific glory.

Adams interprets Chalcedon as defining person: Per 451, Person = supposit = individual substance (Adams 8). Other questions that arise: how much did the human soul of Jesus know?  Did it experience defects? If so, what kind?  Was it impeccable?

Anselm denies Christ is born in original sin. If he were, then he would be personally liable.  Anselm says Christ’s human soul was omniscient, yet he doesn’t explain how a finite human mind could have infinite cognitive capacity (17).

Lombard on Christ’s human knowledge: “Once again, Lombard charts a via media: the scope of Christ’s human knowledge matches the Divine, but the created act by which it knows will not be so metaphysically worthy or furnish the maximal clarity of knowledge found in the Divine essence. Even so, it will enable the soul of Christ to contemplate each creature clearly and as present and will include a contemplation of God as well” (21).


The book admirably serves as a fine example of analytic theology. Adams plumbs the issues and shows the tensions and advantages in each theologian’s position.  I do feel the book’s conclusions were rushed at times, but given that it is actually a lecture and an essay, I suppose that can’t be helped.


Inventing the Middle Ages (Review)

By Norman Cantor.

Norman Cantor (1991) takes the various approaches to medieval historiography and uses them to illustrate scholarship in general, and from there draws a number of interesting conclusions about modern politics, religion, and social life (Cantor, 410-414). Cantor got in trouble for writing this work. While 80% of this work is brilliant scholarship, the other 20% make the tabloids look like peer-reviewed journals. The subtitle of the book should read “Professor Guilty of Sex Scandal: Cantor Tells All!” Then again, that is also why the book is so highly entertaining. After reading this book one may legitimately talk trash about various historians. Just kidding…sort of.

The study of the middle ages in the twentieth century was a microcosm of the larger battle for Western civilization. We see the Hegelian dialectic at work in which the culturally conservative U.S. Government (just go with it for the moment) was funding radical left-wing schools in France whose only merit was they were not politically active Communists. We see conservative reactions in the Formalist school, yet even this school merely asserted cultural conservatism–it never defined it at its roots.

The Functionalists

The functionalist school of the Middle Ages represented the apex of modernity’s scholarship: it’s objective was to (rightly) note that people in the Middle Ages (or whenever) did something for a reason. Actions presupposed a function (53). Representative of this approach was Maitland. The problem with this approach represents the problem with modernity in general (and the University in particular): it isolated one aspect of reality and unwittingly identified that aspect with the whole of reality. Further, it is unable to write about larger strands throughout a period of history (Versluis 2000).

The Nazi Twins

Jewish historian Ernst Kantorowicz must be an embarrassment to international Jewry: he is a Nazi Jew! Against the Formalist school (see below), Kantorowicz read the Middle Ages not as a unified consensus, but as a dialectical development waiting for a charismatic invididual to exploit it (Cantor 1991: 203). Cantor’s original project was a revisionist biography on Frederick II. It was criticized by scholars as “unscholarly” and “pop history,” but who cared? Kantorowicz simultaneously captured the spirit of great men while communicating history in a clear and engaging manner. Unfortunately, one can easily see the connection to Hitler, whose rise eventually forced Kantorowicz to leave Europe. On the other hand, his masterpiece was The King’s Two Bodies, which traced the dialectical impact of “the twinned-person” idea on Medieval politics and is arguably the finest genealogical critique of late Western medieval theology.

The French Jewish School

One could probably summarize its approach, not surprisingly, as left-wing and nigh close to Marxism. It was not officially Marxist, though. This distinction is important because it is this distinction which allowed the CIA to fund radical left-wing institutions in Paris as a left-wing alternative to Marxism, presumably with American tax dollars (149). The ideology behind this school was heavily endorsed in the American universities.

Cantor’s discussion of the French Mandarin system is worth the price of the book (124-135). In this system one worked his way up through the respected eschelons of the university hierarchy. If one had the ability to write well, local salons would publish his work, making him a celebrity. American universities, always wanting to be fashionable, would discuss (and informally endorse) this philosophe’s work and invite him on a lecture circuit in the U.S. As Cantor notes (and as only he could), “He will be idolized by the university president’s wife at the reception afterwards, and female graduate students will offer him both their minds and their bodies” (126).

The limitation of this school of thought is in the limitations of Marxism itself. When Marxism ceased to go out of style in the Academy, and other historical models were suggested, the Annales approach found itself marginalized.

The Formalists

The Formalists were the cultural neoconservatives of medieval studies. Their focus was primarily on art and iconography, and they advanced the sensible thesis that artistic works (and probably culture at large) could not be separated from the texts that inspired them (161). For the functionalists, this presupposes a continuity between religious and cultural texts. For anyone familiar with Patristic and Medieval Theology, this is exactly the case (more so with Patristic theology in the East). This is in contradistinction to the Functionalist school and in radical contradiction to the French Jewish school.

The truth (and problem) of the formalist school is with their argument: it is true that texts cannot be divorced from the life around them—and the best way to communicate this life is in art (and poetry). If one is positing a unified continuity from the Patristics to the 15th century, then one is sadly mistaken as it ignores the huge differences between the Franks and Eastern Romans on one hand, and the Celts and Western Romans on the other.

The Oxford Fantasists

This is probably the most famous part of the book. Cantor discusses the two most beloved writers of the English language in the twentieth century: Clive Staples Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Their project is simple: draw upon the glories of medieval culture to rebuilt the shattered England from the ashes of WWII. While they accomplished no such goal, few can deny the staggering impact they have had on readers across the world.

It is at this point in the narrative that scholarly conservatives (and evangelicals in particular) will cry “shenanigans!” Cantor suggests Lewis was sexually repressed and was unable to consummate his marriage for several months, only to have his wife forcibly seduce him (211). The first problem with this statement is the obvious one: evidence? None. The culprit is nearby, however. One suspects Cantor is relying upon the speculations of Ian Wilson, who bore no love for Lewis. Yet, does not Cantor admit that Wilson failed in the basics of scholarly research and the demonstration of evidence (430)? Why should we take Wilson seriously?

The American School

The American school is the ideological brainchild of Woodrow Wilson. It’s particular historical methods are not that important. On the other hand, Woodrow Wilson’s worldview has dominated American politics (and by extension, literally the rest of the world) for 90 years. Not surprisingly, we see the American medieval history school as a justification for post-Christian Western politics.

The actual historical arguments by representatives Strayer and others are not that interesting, except for this: it is a specific justification of the Norman invasion of England, and the replacing of Saxon culture with a specifically Norman and Papal culture (269). Such a task also involves a rewriting of the “other” culture’s history. Interestingly, Strayer was also a CIA asset (262). One cannot help but speculate on the connections between Wilsonian progressivism, Norman and Frankish historiography, and the CIA: all of which contribute to the relativising of traditional communities around the world (at least today).


Cantor has a sexually charged chapter dealing with the neo-Thomists David Knowles and Etienne Gilson. It makes for interesting reading, but if the reader is either ignorant of Freud, or rejects Freud, or simply doesn’t care, then much of this chapter can be skipped. In all seriousness, Cantor does highlight the inability of Thomist Catholicism to offer a coherent account of the Middle Ages from Augustine to Ockham. Gilson tries, but Cantor dissects him quite well. (Personally, I think Cantor is wrong, but his analysis of Gilson is correct. Here is the problem: Cantor says Gilson cannot offer a unified reading because the discontinuity between Augustine and Aquinas is too great. However, granting the discontinuity, one can also say that Aquinas is the dialectical synthesis of Augustine. Or rather, he is the antithesis and Ockam is the synthesis. Obviously, Gilson will not take that interpretation).


In a daring stroke of genius, Cantor illustrates the truth of his project by devoting a chapter on feminist writers who either reject medievalism or reconstruct its accepted tenets. These feminist critiques illustrate the limitations of the above historical models, but also the real gains and the directions in which future medieval history will take.


The book is outrageous because of its daring. Part of it is brilliant historiography, the rest of it is scandalous tabloid. Let’s be honest: few can deny the book’s entertaining value. Fewer still can deny its scholarly arguments. Indeed, we followed his arguments because he tied them in with the moral peccadilloes of most of his comrades. Granted, I think he overdid it, nor do I ascribe the same normative and omnipotent value to psychoanalysis, especially the sexual aspects.

On the other hand, this book is a must read in terms of historiography. It should be mandated in all freshman history and liberal arts classes. It is interdisciplinary in character and demonstrates the best ways to integrate various fields.

Cantor, Norma. Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1991.

Versluis, Arthur. “Western Esotericism and Consciousness.” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7 (no.6) 2000: pp. 20-33.