On the Historical-Critical Method

My dear Wormwood,
. . . Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating the Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the ‘present state of the question’. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important that to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. But thanks be to Our Father and the Historical Point of View, great scholars are now as little nourished by the past as the most ignoble mechanic who holds that ‘history is bunk’,

Your affectionate uncle,

From Letter № 27 of The Screwtape Letters so mysteriously obtained by C. S. Lewis.
Tip of the non-biretta to Fr Z, who quoted this in a “PODCAzT” I only just listened to.

Though Lewis’ Screwtape Letters are fictional and rather humorous, there is nothing funny about the bodiless powers’ antagonism to anything good, particularly in relation to humanity, and about their panoply of ways to turn men from God and their only redemption. Rather than depicting such creatures in our imaginations as bumbling and malicious relatives, we must rather understand them as cold, hard, intelligences, unaffected by emotion and bodily drives, but animated by sheer hatred for us. They don’t just want our suffering, they want a dehumanizing humiliation that ends solely in putrefaction, a complete removal of every one us from anything remotely reminiscent of the Image of God. Some of our own kind have been only too willing to cooperate throughout the ages, but it gains them nothing.

Know your enemy.

5 Replies to “On the Historical-Critical Method”

  1. dear friend

    “thinking [διανοια] is intellect [νους], but also something other than intellect, as a natural power [ενεργεια] of intellect” (St. Gregory Palamas), but since we confuse nature and her actualities we become victims of our own (self-rule) thoughts, and that is the core of our lame koinonia with God’s-Word’s word.
    “the phantasy power [φανταστικον] of soul in the rational animal is the boundary between mind [νους] and sense… the intellect, using its phantasy power as a vehicle and communicating through it with the senses, is giving birth to knowledge as a complex.” (ibid). but when the pround man makes the tool (=his phantasy) an idol of truth, then he is deprived of Truth, which is a true person. then even the word of Truth, which is life and light, becomes in his actuality violence (against the nature, the others and himself). (cf., 1Cor.10:14-22)

    my best wishes for peace and joy in His light

  2. Hello Kevin,

    That reminds me of a C.S. Lewis quote I came across a little while ago.

    When you turn from the New Testament to modern scholars, remember that you go among them as a sheep among wolves.

    Miracles, (New York: Macmillan,1960) pg 164


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