Among other things lately, I have been reading from Christian letters to a post-Christian world, a selection of essays by Dorothy Sayers, unfortunately out of print now. C. S. Lewis has a broad readership among Christians – and well deserved. But Sayers deserves a far broader readership than she receives. She was much more than just a writer of detective stories. Her insights (not to mention her incredible power with the pen) still speak today.
The opening section of this collection includes essays on what Sayers terms The Shattering Dogmas of the Christian Tradition. In an essay Strong Meat Sayers starts with a quote from Hebrews:
Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5: 13-14)
Sayers goes on to talk about maturity, time, and the church. And she had a way with words:
There is a popular school of thought (or, more strictly, of feeling) which violently resents the operation of Time upon the human spirit. It looks upon age as something between a crime and an insult. Its prophets have banished from their savage vocabulary all such words as “adult,” mature,” ” experienced,” “venerable”; they know only snarling and sneering epithets like “middle-aged,” “elderly,” “stuffy,” “senile,” and “decrepit.” With these they flagellate that which they themselves are, or must shortly become, as though abuse were and incantation to exorcise the inexorable. Theirs is neither the thoughtless courage that “makes mouths at the invisible event,” nor the reasoned courage that forsees the event and endures it; still less is it the ecstatic courage that embraces and subdues the event. It is the vicious and desperate furry of a trapped beast; and it is not a pretty sight.
Such men, finding no value for the world as it is, proclaim very loudly their faith in the future, “which is in the hands of the young.” With this flattery they bind their own burden on the shoulders of the next generation. For their own failures, Time alone is to blame – not Sin, which is expiable, but Time, which is irreparable. From the relentless reality of age they seek escape into a fantasy of youth – their own or other people’s. … Their faith is not really in the future, but in the past. Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward, we must believe in age. (p. 18-19 emphasis added)
Sayers’ point – developed somewhat more completely in the essay (although she is better at the description than the mundane follow through) – is that Christianity is a religion for adult minds, with a depth and power we need to develop, respect, embody, and preach. This is particularly, Sayers thought, important in an increasingly educated (and sneering) post-Christian world. She also thought that the Christian faith – with the beauty of the creeds and the depth of Christian dogma, and the power of scripture, is easily able to stand up to the challenge. The church, however, fails at times.
Sayers concludes the essay:
The story of Passion-Tide and Easter is the story of the winning that freedom and of that victory over the evils of Time. The burden of guilt is accepted (“He was made Sin”), the last agony of alienation from God is passed through (Eloi, lama sabachthani); the temporal Body is broken and remade; and Time and Eternity are reconciled in a Single Person. There is no retreat here to the Paradise of primal ignorance; the new Kingdom of God is built upon the foundations of spiritual experience. Time is not denied; it is fulfilled. “I am the food of the full-grown.” (p. 22)
This essay, along with the others in this section of the book, provide a great deal of food for thought. Rather than comment on the essay from my perspective (as a now “middle-aged” (darn that epithet) academic in a secular University) I would like to open this up for comment.
Is Sayers right? Must we believe in age to look forward?
If so, what does this mean?
Is the intellectual and aesthetic depth of Christian able to provide food for the full-grown?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net