Philosophy

Apologists and the History of Apologetics

This line of thinking treads on dangerous ground, reviving an old argument which debates whether or not there can be absolute or universal truths outside the revelation of the Christian scriptures. The point of Augustine’s whole treatise De Doctrina Christiana, for example, was to remind Christians that the knowledge and eloquence of the classical poets and philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome may have been appropriate for them, but that they rest on a morally neutral basis of rhetoric. One needs only to think of the Socratic dialogues to realize that these thinkers could deliberately lead young minds to believe whatever proposition was put to them, so long as it could be persuasively communicated. The orthodoxy of Augustine maintains that Christian doctrine, on the other hand, comes in simple, ordinary language and does not need the flamboyant style and finely wrought arguments that the ancient scholars used as a matter of course. Theologically, then, Kreeft is somewhat adrift of what C.S. Lewis himself believed but the connection with myth and storytelling is important for a different reason. The value of these texts is in their role as textbooks and primers in the field of education. In the first Christian schools and monasteries, young learners had access to extracts from pagan writers only in the presence of a guiding schoolmaster. Learning to read and write is the first step to learning how to approach God’s revelation, and this is the message that Lewis brings via his stories for children. From this pedagogic perspective, the hidden allegorical meanings and the power of symbolism are literary devices which underpin the way that God communicates with mankind. Kreeft correctly identifies one of C.S. Lewis’ major achievements, which was to take modern thinkers back to a time before the huge edifice of the medieval church had constructed its labyrinthine doctrines. There is a sense in which C.S. Lewis could think in the way that the ancients thought: in terms of classical philosophy worked out through dialectic method, and in terms of ancient myths that had deep moral resonance.

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