Sunday, February 19, 2006

Wanted: Mature and Saintly Disputants

Alan Jacobs was tearing it up on CSPAN Book TV today regarding The Narnian. My favorite part was Jacobs' exegesis of a great Lewis quote on the Reformation, and its relevance to religious disputation today. Said Lewis,
"The process whereby 'faith and works' become a stock gag in the commercial theatre is characteristic of that whole tragic farce which we call the history of the Reformation. The theological questions really at issue have no significance except on a certain level, a high level, of the spiritual life; they could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure. Under those conditions formulae might possibly have been found which did justice to the Protestant - I had almost said the Pauline - assertions without compromising other elements of the Christian faith. In fact, however, these questions were raised at a moment when they immediately became embittered and entangled with a whole complex of matters theologically irrelevant, and therefore attracted the fatal attention both of government and the mob. When once this had happened, Europe's chance to come through unscathed was lost. It was as if men were set to conduct a metaphysical argument at a fair, in competition or (worse still) forced collaboration with the cheapjacks and the round-abouts, under the eyes of an armed and vigilant police force who frequently changed sides. Each party increasingly misunderstood the other and triumphed in refuting positions which their opponents did not hold: Protestants misrepresenting Romans as Pelagians or Romans misrepresenting Protestants as Antinomians."
Kind of makes me think of CNN's take on religious dialogue.

UPDATE: Thanks to a reader email I have been moved to discover that the quote is from Lewis' English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (p. 37).