Review: History of the Renaissance World by Susan Wise Bauer

In her series of books on the history of the world (of which series this is the third entry) Bauer has taken quite a large task upon herself. To trace out the entire history of the world from the very earliest civilizations through to the present day would be a great challenge for even the most erudite of historians. Unfortunately, the tremendous size of this task shows through too often in the product to make it either interesting or useful. I have read all three volumes thus far and have noticed the same problems in each of them, problems which seem have seemed to intensify as the series continues. Two of these issues are especially important as they do the most to inhibit this series from being as instructive as it might be otherwise.

First, no one, including Bauer, can possibly be an expert in all of the fields of history covered in all of these volumes. Bauer discusses the history of ancient Korea, medieval China, the civilization of the Maya, the beginning of Greek philosophy, etc. These are huge fields in which various experts have spent their entire lives and barely scratched the surface of what could potentially be known about each of them. While Bauer’s own lack of expertise in all of these fields cannot be held against her — again, this is a huge swathe of human knowledge we are talking about here — it often feels as if we are getting such a basic overview that we are being presented with little more than timeline, only with a little bit — a very little bit — more detail.

Even within a single volume, the attempt to include the entire history of the world creates a disjointed feel which pervades the entire book. While it is interesting to see what was happening in various parts of the world simultaneously, the jumping from place to place which occurs at the close of each chapter makes it almost impossible to follow a narrative of events.

This is perhaps the greatest problem with this series. The flow of history, especially the history of ideas, is altogether lost, which means the entire purpose of learning history is ignored altogether. History is not the mere assembly of events in order. It is the search for meaning in that order. As another historian has pointed out, if aliens had watched the entire Battle of Hastings from above and taken copious notes while doing so, they might be able to give a play-by-play of each event within the battle. But a schoolchild who can repeat “William the Conqueror, 1066” ultimately knows more about the battle; he has linked it to a culture, a tradition, a meaning. That is precisely what this book, and the others in this series, fails to do.

The fullness of time

For all that Shakespeare distanced himself from the bombast and tomfoolery of the mystery plays [of the Middle Ages], he inherited a great deal from them, too. His dramaturgy springs from the same conviction, often too deep to be expressed in words, that what happens now is related to what has happened and what will happen, that time curls back upon itself, revisits itself, includes the eternal in the passing hour. He too believed in “the fullness of time.” That was no belief in some contrived happy ending for the universe, as if God could make everything better by pasting a smile upon the end of time. It was rather the belief that the kingdom of God is at hand, among us and within us, the same kingdom that will be revealed in its fullness at the end of time. Judgment and grace and redemption are all in act now, as they were in the beginning when Adam sinned.

Anthony Esolen, Ironies of Faith, p. 115

Review: Dandelion Wine

Dandelion Wine
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dandelion Wine is a wonderful mixture of memoir and science fiction. Bradbury brings these two elements together and creates a wonderful novel from them, one fit to be read slowly and ingested entirely. Through the story of two young boys, brothers, and their Summer of 1928, Bradbury creates a series of reflections on the nature of time and change. The attentive reader will enjoy the food for philosophical reflection scattered throughout and will end with a deeper conviction to enjoy life, however brief and fleeting it may be, to the fullest. I recommend this book for all readers.

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Review: Christ and Apollo: The Dimensions of the Literary Imagination

Christ and Apollo: The Dimensions of the Literary Imagination
Christ and Apollo: The Dimensions of the Literary Imagination by William F. Lynch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Father William F. Lynch here presents his Christological vision of literary criticism. He departs from and critiques the many modern movements in literary criticism that would reduce the reading and analysis of texts to the merely political or social and the writing of these texts to an exercise in gnosticism. Lynch instead sees the Incarnation and the Eucharist as the starting points for any Christian movements in literary theory. For him, the particular is of the utmost importance and ultimately it is through entering deep into the finite that we attain the infinite.

Lynch is often difficult to read and understand, but this is not a point on which he should be criticized. Instead, his style invites the reader to ponder over his words and to reread them again and again, gaining further insight each time, perhaps, in so doing, directly us to precisely the way Lynch believes we should read. The copious quotations from medieval sources near the end of the book are a great plus that offer insight into Lynch’s ideas and their sources.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in literary theory and the place of the Christian in this field. I also recommend this to any Christians of an intellectual bent as its insights can be applied far beyond the field of literary theory.

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Christ and Time

From this (Hellenistic) standpoint, in so far as the need of man for revelation and redemption is to be satisfied, it can take place only in the direction of timeless mysticism, which thinks in spatial concepts.

If today, in the prevailing attitude, the radical contrast between Hellenistic metaphysics and Christian revelation is often completely lost, this is due to the fact that very early the Greek conception of time supplanted the Biblical one, so that down through the history of doctrine to the present day there can be traced a great misunderstanding, upon the basis of which that is claimed as “Christian” which in reality is Greek …

The first apostasy from the Primitive Christian understanding of time … comes … in Gnosticism.

… [I]n all Gnostic systems the following features go hand in hand:

1) Rejection of the Old Testament, both in its explanation of history as the creative action of God and in its claim that the history of Israel constitutes a redemptive history.

2) Docetism, which is not exhaustively presented in the theory that has given the name to this heresy, the theory according to which Jesus possessed only the semblance of a body but had no actual human body; its chief distinguishing mark is rather to be seen in its rejection of the judgment that redemptive history passes on the quite ordinary particular historical event that occurred in the incarnate Christ, and that includes the offensively ordinary fact of the death of the cross. Thus here also we have to do with the denial of the redemptive significance of an event that occurred in time.

3) Rejection of the Primitive Christian eschatological expectation, who characteristic distinction in terms of time between the present and the future age is replaced by the Greek metaphysical distinction between this world and the timeless Beyond.

Oscar Cullman, Christ and Time, 54-56