From the Editor’s Desk: Ad Fontes Spring 2024

“Nothing is so beautiful as Spring”—so wrote Gerad Manley Hopkins. I must confess that, for many years, I felt rather differently about the season. In a 2021 piece in this journal, my colleague Eric Hutchinson captured my feelings:

When I was younger, fall was my favorite season, in part because of its apparently Romantic-emo aesthetics, as the time when, in Shakespeare’s phrase, the trees are “bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.” “Isn’t it,” I thought, “like, poetic—the death and decay? A symbol of, like, life?”

But something has changed for me—as indeed it did for Eric. Now, in the winters, I long for spring. It might be my getting older. By that, I don’t mean some sense of my mortality brought on by the relentless turning wheel of the seasons. It’s quite the opposite—a sense of my own vitality. And by that, I don’t mean being impressed by my own energy levels. I am past thirty now, and a father of three—already past the peak age of most athletes, and being outfoxed regularly by small, wakeful children.

No, I mean the sheer sense of the fact that there is life here. It was a wet and cold Spring in England this year, but when those warmer, greener days broke through, bits of poetry from “the three Thomases” came to mind, as they do every year: Dylan Thomas’s “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower” and “And death shall have no dominion”; Edward Thomas, who rued the cat in Spring who “ate blackbirds, thrushes, nightingales” and who mourned over “The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood” during the Great War; R.S. Thomas who told us to “stay green./Never mind the machine” and who turned aside in a sunny field, like Moses, “to the miracle/of the lit bush.” These lines are meet and right for an Englishman as he sits in his deck chair in late Spring, trousers rolled, having just planted beans under the trellis (although admittedly two of these poets are Welshmen, but we’ll forgive them that).

Almost all the poems I allude to here, however, feel the chill of the valley of the shadow at their edges. The Augustinian falling away from life into death is inescapable; entropy will out. Yet another writer who always comes to mind as soon as I spy the sun and smell the dirt of a warm English day, J.R.R Tolkien, knew that the valley is always, in the end, passed through. It is remarkable how often Tolkien returns to an insubstantial passing shadow as his image for evil. Most famous, perhaps, is this moment:

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

Light and high beauty; life and bright greenery—these are the things. The shadow, however hard it presses, has (per Augustine once again) no substance. It is a no-thing.

My chief hope is that Ad Fontes, by planting readers’ feet in the great historic texts of the Protestant tradition, serves to plant their feet on a rock and establish their goings such that light and high beauty come within closer reach. This issue’s essays, I think, all achieve this. John Walnut explores the faith of Agatha Christie, and the surprising presence of death-defying Christian hope in one of her lesser-known works. Nathan Tarr then gives a thorough survey of the interpretation of Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”—a call to light and high beauty through the shadows if ever there was one. Hamish Stirling offers a political theological meditation on the Book of Jonah (something I have been hoping someone who write for me for a long time!), considering the real possibility of national repentance in the postliberal age. And Daniel Goodman brings us an essay exploring the oft-misunderstood Kierkegaard, and how he can lead us to a clearer understanding of repentance and, through it, a firmer grasp of our selves.

Elsewhere, in our reviews section, Brad Littlejohn weighs up an important new study of the eminent Richard Hooker. We are then honored to have the renowned C. Stephen Evans reviewing a landmark new translation of Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death (and I make no apologies for a double dose of Kierkegaard in these pages). Finally, William Collen assesses a welcome new study on the vision of Dostoevsky—perhaps bringing us round again to the theme of finding light and life within the shadow of death. We are also glad, as ever, to publish original poetry, this time from Sarah Reardon and D.A. Cooper.

This Spring 2024 print issue of Ad Fontes is late coming to you—indeed, it will be summer when it is available. This was caused by some production delays, for which we apologize. We anticipate being back on track with our Summer issue coming to you in early September.

Rhys Laverty

Senior Editor

July 2024


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