Sometimes life is complicated. And sometimes it isn’t. Part of true wisdom is, surely, learning to know when a situation is one or the other. In an age dominated by tribalism, confirmation bias, and misinformation, those who would be wise are often called upon to step back, refusing to be drawn until they have taken good counsel. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, as Solomon tells us. Yet we also live in a time in which grave evils are excused under the sleight of hand of being “nuanced”, in which we are compelled to postpone judgment indefinitely lest we speak before the voice of some hitherto unheard of supposedly oppressed group (or even just an individual) has a chance to be heard. Those who would be wise are then called upon to call a spade a spade. This is not something Solomon told us, but it is perhaps the kind of thing he might have said.
An essential element of working out when things are or are not actually complicated is to go back to the sources–ad fontes. So often, when one consults the greatest thinkers on some weighty matter, one finds that, to one’s surprise, they are either circumspect where our contemporaries claim to be absolutely certain, or startlingly clear where our contemporaries love to dither. Or, when one actually closely examines historical events, one finds startling complexity where one anticipated uniformity, or remarkable consistency where one expected variety. A thread running through the essays in this Fall 2023 issue of Ad Fontes is that our authors have all gone back to the sources, all looked at the facts, and found such surprises.
Miles Smith, expanding content from his Ad Fontes blog, has written a detailed study of Protestant faith on the American frontier. I wonder what you imagine religion on the frontier to have been like–probably some kind of rough and ready, individualistic cowboy religion across the board. Miles’ study, however, tells us otherwise. Paul Julienne, meanwhile, considers the perennial clash between science and religion–something which many simplistically imagine to be an interminable stalemate between faith and reason. A highly accomplished physicist, Paul leapfrogs the stalemate entirely, and finds in Thomas Aquinas an answer to the question that must precede any debate between science: how can we know anything in the first place? Randall Price then delivers a fine-grained study of the status of the Thirty-Nine Articles in the Church of England up to 1662. The Anglican Communion’s current disarray is no small part related to the fact that many argue for a flexible understanding of how authoritative the Articles have been throughout Anglican history; Randall’s study, however, makes short work of such obfuscation. In our final essay, Stephen Schuler examines the frustrating faith of W.H. Auden–undeniably a Christian poet in some sense, and with a life full of overlooked religious nuances, yet who was ultimately gripped by vices which cannot be paired with Christian orthodoxy.
Our reviews section, meanwhile, pulls together a slew of highly interesting recent books worthy of our readers’ attention. Jane Scharl reviews a fascinating work of historic retrieval: Staging Luther, a new edition of three Reformation plays by the pro-Luther playwright Hans Sachs. As well as reviewing the work itself, Jane (herself now accomplished Reformation-themed playwright with her recently staged production of the Calvin-Ignatius-Rabelais spectacle Sonnez les Matines) meditates on the nature of polemical art in general. Brian J. Auten reviews a curious new entry in the developing cottage industry of “White Christian Nationalism Studies” which purports to expose the relationship between such ideas and J. Edgar Hoover. Finally, Richard Rankin Russell reviews an academic study of James Joyce through the lens of Christian heresy. Joyce is, of course, not everyone’s cup of tea, yet he is a blend with which we should all be familiar, and Richard introduces readers to how one of modernism’s most influential novelists has been increasingly understood as a religious thinker.
Christians know that Lady Wisdom’s voice cries out in the street. Sometimes, it is a stark and simple shout, to snatch you from the clutches of Lady Folly at a moment’s notice. At other times, it is a call to tread slowly and carefully in order to avoid the sly and subtle paths of her house which lead down to destruction. As with knowing when to answer a fool according to his folly and when not to, true wisdom often lies in discerning between the two. Our hope and prayer for Ad Fontes is that all that we publish will enable our readers to hear that call and to tread that path safely in the days of their earthly pilgrimage, until we come at last to Wisdom himself.