From the Editor’s Desk: Ad Fontes Winter 2024

I was recently struck by some lines from the “East Coker” section of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets:

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

Among other things, Eliot is riffing on Socrates–the great philosopher who claimed (or seemed to claim) that all he knew was that he knew nothing. Yet, in his characteristic fashion, this folds in seamlessly with Eliot’s motif of “the way”, a way which wends throughout the Four Quartets. The poem is a pilgrimage, and “Little Gidding” is its hallowed terminus, where we find “the end of all our exploring” in a time and place where “the tongues of flame are in-folded/Into the crowned knot of fire/And the fire and the rose are one.”

The pilgrim way is a time honored Christian image. In Acts, Saul persecutes those belonging to “the Way”–in Greek hodos, the same word for “path” or “road”. This way underpins Augustine’ De Doctrina; it opened up in John Bunyan’s prison cell under the similitude of a dream; it frames the beginning of J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. Eliot crystalizes here something understood by all such writers who reflect on the way: it is a way of lack. We are poor pilgrims–all beggars. The Christian way exposes to us how little we possess, how little we know, how little we are. Before our first step on the way, we may weave all manner of self-delusions to ignore our sense of lack. But we hunger for knowledge, possessions, and being which does not waiver, and we sense this hunger can be sated. But to do so first requires that we confess that our heart and flesh cry out.

The Romantics felt the lack. Very many tried to fill it with nature or by diving deep into the chasms of the self, and thus we rightly see them as charting an unholy detour for us pilgrims, down which many have lately strayed. In the first essay of this issue of Ad Fontes however, Anthony Cirilla makes a compelling case for a Christian retrieval of Wordsworth and Coleridge, two men who plunged the deep romantic chasm and found that it led them back to an orthodox Christian faith. Following this, E.J. Hutchinson offers an original translation–for the first time in English–of Philip Melanchthon’s short work “Is Philosophy A Hindrance to Piety?” Many Christians see philosophy as another way of the wicked, a perennial grasping at the tree of knowledge–and so it often is. Yet rightly understood, and “illuminated by the gospel” as Melanchthon says, philosophy is the Socratic admission of our own ignorance, and a humble reaching out to know the Logos. Matthew Roberts then expounds the pastoral value of the Reformed doctrine of concupiscence–a vital doctrine under much attack today, in large part because it forces a confession of “that which we are not”, of how even our deepest desires and orientations lack the goodness God intended. Ian Huyett then makes an argument–which many Ad Fontes readers will doubtless find provocative–for the benefits of artificial intelligence in filling gaps in the canon of biblical artwork. Faced with the novel challenges of the A.I. revolution, Christians must admit that we stand often in the way of ignorance–few, if any of us, know what wisdom looks like in the days ahead. Yet if we make this admission, we can begin to chart a way forward, which–agree or disagree with here–Ian attempts here with candour and clarity. Finally, Onsi Aaron Kamel outlines W.E.B. Du Bois’ vision for the university, in which education is a pursuit of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, taken in the knowledge that fallen man lacks all three.

In our reviews section, Andrew Koperski delves into the vexed question of the origins of the Christological title of “Son of Man” explored in an important new work by the eminent Richard Bauckham–a task which requires humility before the ambiguities of ancient history and the biblical text. Michael J. Lynch then considers two areas where angels fear to tread in his review of Christology and Metpahysics in the Seventeenth Century. Finally, Brad Littlejohn considers the legacy of Robert P. George and the prudential question of how social conservatism can advance the common good.

As ever, poetry adorns our issue, and Colin Redemer has assembled contributions from Donald T. Williams and yours truly.

Over the past three years, we have been thrilled to see the steady growth of Ad Fontes. It is an invigorating time in the life of The Davenant Institute as we go from strength to strength and, at the outset of 2024, there are exciting plans in store for the work of Ad Fontes in the future

When he spoke of the pilgrim way, Augustine famously distinguished between the signum and the res–the sign and the thing. In the end, the only thing is God–everything else in heaven and earth, seen and unseen, is a sign of him. It is our hope that each issue of Ad Fontes–in a particularly Protestant fashion–signposts him with intelligence, humility, and godliness, and aids your steps along the Way to the New Jerusalem, where all our lack shall at last be filled, world without end.

Rhys Laverty

Senior Editor
February 2024


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