What’s In A Name?

This past summer, our son was born. We named him Lewis Augustine, after two of the Church’s greatest poet-theologians. It is customary to indulge a proud father in sharing baby news and photos. In that spirit, I beg your indulgence while I tell you something about his names.

In Scripture, names were given for various reasons. The most basic reason was to remember something or someone. The angel of the Lord told Hagar, “You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction” (Genesis 16:11). The boy’s name would help everyone remember how God showed grace to his mother. I would like my son’s names to help us remember two men in whom God’s grace shone with special brightness.

Aurelius Augustine was a son of the lesser nobility in the Roman province of Africa. Born in the second half of the fourth century, he grew up amid the swirling changes of an empire that was rapidly becoming Christian. Augustine was among the last great ancient philosophers and writers, and among the first great medieval Christian theologians. His intellectual talents were improved through an enviable education in classical rhetoric, which in his early adulthood was turned to the service of personal ambitions and lusts, and then a fruitless spiritual quest that involved many of the ancient world’s cults and sects. Then, unexpectedly, Augustine’s passionate heart and giant mind were devoted to Christ. Through his ministry of preaching and pastoring, and especially through the immense legacy of his writings, Augustine has been expanding and delighting the minds and hearts of Christians for centuries.

Clive Staples Lewis was a son of a well-to-do family in Belfast, the main industrial city of Ireland, which was at that time a restless province of the British Empire. Born at the turn of the twentieth century, his life unfolded as that empire was disintegrating, and as the broader Christian civilization was unraveling. He was one of the last to be educated in the old way of British aristocrats, among English public schoolboys preparing for Oxford exams in Greek and Latin. His gigantic mind was at first devoted to the pleasures of literature and the stark deliverances of materialist philosophy, with a healthy dose of sensual indulgence, and then a quest for the spiritual reality that made mythology so compelling to him. To everyone’s surprise—especially himself—this quest ended in his conversion to Christianity. His eminence as a professor of English literature was widely recognized in his own day, and enthusiasm for his popular works is only growing more than sixty years after his death. He was the quintessential apologist for the modern period, much as Augustine had been in the fifth century. Both men were converted after a long training in philosophy and literature, and then used their learning to explain the Christian faith to an uncomprehending world, while enriching the faith of weary believers.

A Life By Any Other Name

In Scripture, names were also given as prophecies of the future. “You shall call his name Isaac,” God said to Abraham. “I will establish my covenant with him.” (Genesis 17:19). My son’s names can hardly be actual prophecies, for I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. Nevertheless, there are certain patterns in the biographies of his two namesakes which one might expect to reappear in the life of a man born in the third decade of the twenty-first century.

Education, Classical and Christian

The first pattern is a combination of Christian nurture and classical education. Augustine and Lewis were two of the best-educated men in history. Both men were deeply familiar with the ancient classics of Greece and Rome. This literary education paired well with an extraordinary sensitivity of mind and soul. In his Confessions Augustine recalled weeping at the death of Dido, Queen of Carthage, a character in Vergil’s Aeneid. Similarly, Lewis had childhood memories of profound emotional experiences, which he simply called “Joy,” evoked by epic tales. Both men were also thoroughly trained in philosophy. Their reading was inevitably somewhat different, but their philosophical conclusions were similar: both were “Christian Platonists” who considered the Gospel the best fulfillment of ancient philosophy’s quest for ultimate reality. Even more importantly, both men were immersed in Scripture. Even before his conversion, Lewis could refer to most of the Bible by memory. That familiarity shines through his work, even though very little of it dealt directly with the text of Scripture. Augustine’s familiarity with Scripture is more obvious. In virtually every paragraph of the five million words he left to posterity, there is some reference to the Bible.

For a boy born in 2023, these are the great and urgent matters for education. In an age that prizes the practicality of “STEM” education, we must not think that the boys of the twenty-first century will be able to go without Scripture, literature, and philosophy.

Sexual Temptation and Spiritual Searching

Boys growing up in the 2020s will likely face a potent combination of sexual temptation and spiritual searching. This combination was powerful in the lives of both Augustine and Lewis. Augustine was a spiritual searcher extraordinaire. He moved from one sect and school to the next, always asking too many questions for his teachers’ comfort, until finally he realized that he needed to keep searching. His third-to-last spiritual stop was the dualistic Persian religion of Manichaeism, which understood good and evil as materials in the universe, rather than spiritual principles. It was Platonist philosophy (his second-last stop) that opened his mind to spiritual and immaterial reality. Throughout his early adulthood, Augustine carried on a long-running pattern of sexual immorality. He had found a worthy spiritual goal, but he was still helpless to contain his lust. He found the help he needed in the Christian gospel of grace, which he encountered in the tearful evangelism of his mother, the faithful preaching of Bishop Ambrose, and finally the words of Scripture, telling him to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

Lewis was also a spiritual searcher. As a child, he had occasional experiences of “Joy,” and he often sought more of these through nature, literature, and music. This quest for spiritual experience was not quenched even by the materialist philosophy he picked up from his teacher, or by the horrors of trench fighting in World War I. The search for spiritual truth was a constant theme in Lewis’s early adulthood, throughout his studies, his friendships, and his writing. At the same time, this was a period of sexual experimentation. Around the time that Lewis arrived at Oxford, he made comments in letters about his sexual interest in “the whip” and “the lash.” Sexual lust was an area of serious moral weakness for him, until his conversion to Christianity.

Sexual immorality is a troubling issue for young men at any time. In recent decades, these troubles have gotten worse, as the Sexual Revolution has lifted traditional constraints, and as digital technology has opened floodgates of opportunity for indulgence. At the same time, there is a marked spiritual hunger in this generation, which is experiencing a time of great cultural and spiritual upheaval. A boy born this year may live to see the disintegration of the American-led international order, just as Lewis and Augustine witnessed the end of the British and Roman Empires. This will be a time for spiritual questing, from one unsatisfactory answer to the next, until souls searching for truth come to rest in the one who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

A Name and a Monument

Sometimes in Scripture, a name is a family heirloom: “And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” (Luke 1:59-61) It turned out that a family name was not the right choice in this case, but otherwise it would have been a perfectly fine way to call attention to God’s covenant faithfulness in bringing a new generation to share in the accumulated blessings of the past.

“Lewis” and “Augustine” are both family names, in a way. Over the last few years, these two men have played an enormous role in my spiritual life, and the life of our family. At Christmas 2019, when our fourth child was a few months old, a friend gave me a copy of Lewis’s Space Trilogy. These books were life-changing. This was partly a matter of sheer timing. In March 2020, as my county issued its first COVID orders, I started the last book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, which is about a democratic society being taken over by a totalitarian public health agency through propaganda-fueled rioting. Even more than the eerily prophetic social commentary, Lewis’s meditations on modern obsessions with cleanliness and sterility pushed me to reconsider my family planning. With a six-seater micro-van, I was set on having only four children. That summer, my wife and I were expecting our fifth, and searching the internet for a seven-seater. We are now thankful that we bought an eight-seater!

After finishing Lewis’s trilogy, I finally got around to reading Augustine’s City of God. This is an enormous book of philosophy, history, and biblical interpretation, impossible to summarize. Among its many powerful insights, I vividly recall how Augustine included the unseen world of angels in his view of human society. In a matter-of-fact way, Augustine included holy and wicked angels in the history of nations, the achievements of the philosophers, and the aims of human politics. “We cannot mingle with [angels] as familiarly as with men,” he pointed out, “which itself is one of the grievances of this life.” That little comment left me regretting human sin more deeply than ever, and longing for Christ’s redemption in a fresh way. I was reading this in the weeks following George Floyd’s death, as riots were sweeping across America, including a large but ultimately harmless group across the street from my apartment. I found in Augustine more penetrating comment than anything on Twitter or cable news:

This alone can be truly called and esteemed the peace of the reasonable creatures, consisting as it does in the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God and of one another in God.

City of God, Book 19

Lewis and Augustine both died childless, but their spiritual children have been many, within their lifetimes and ever since. God has given them “a monument and a name better than sons and daughters” (Isaiah 56:5). My son, bearing their names, is born into a world of lies, strife, and grief, but already the boundary lines are laid down for him in pleasant places. His names recall these great men—or better, these men in whom God’s grace worked so greatly. As he faces the spiritual challenges of the twenty-first century, he will need the grace of the same God that led them to the truth of Christ. He will have one advantage, however, that they could not have themselves: the teaching and example of these spiritual fathers whose lives and writings mark out the steps by which a boy born in the restless realm of earth may arrive one day at heaven’s endless peace.

Calvin Goligher is the pastor of First OPC Sunnyvale in Sunnyvale, California.

*Image Credit: “Mother Roulin with her baby, 1888” by Vincent Van Gogh


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