Keepers of the Secret Fire – Reformation, Revival, Renaissance and how they all can prevent the Restoration
"You cannot pass," he said. … "I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass." - Gandalf at Khahazadum bridge
Therefore Ilúvatar gave to their vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was sent to burn at the heart of the World; and it was called Eä.
In the past hundred years, American schools have been secularized, dumbed down, and finally turned into institutions with the very opposite purpose from which they were created. Every Christian wants to fix the education problem; this book is designed to help anyone who can read to do just that. Yet education is not a problem to be fixed, but rather the cure to ignorance. As Dr. Michael Bauman puts it, those who find truth, beauty, and goodness, find more. In a more mundane sense, they “learn how to learn”. Now learning occurs either when someone has an epiphany, or (more usually), when they work by asking themselves questions. It also occurs in the background, at a base level: we “absorb” certain ideas from our environment.
A lot of classical education is meant to make us aware of that background, because without that awareness and perception, we usually think we see or understand, but without actually doing so. This is very easy to see in others. The modern blue-haired, aging, baby-boomer liberal, for instance, is easy to spot. In a very spiritual way, he “grasps” that everyone has a right to practice whatever religion they determine, because democracy is HIS religion, and is outraged by the very suggestion that reality might be otherwise. When confronted with the practice of very twisted and evil religions that impinge on other religions, he ignores the fact that he has generated a contradiction in one of his moral platitudes, and immediately switches to another soapbox: the idea that those who practice evil religions can be re-educated out of it, & that the only reason they are doing these horrible things is that someone else has oppressed or otherwise victimized them. When a contradiction of fact or internal contradiction is generated, he moves on to another supposedly deeper insight: that this group of people is entitled to do as they see fit within certain “agreed upon limits” (eg., no more stoning of homosexuals, for instance), provided they pay lip service to the original idol of democracy. Of course, he never notices that this is a very un-democratic ideal, the idea that one group should be held to a higher standard than another. So that in the course of the wasted hour or so arguing, a gigantic vicious circle (with tiny epicycles of smaller vicious circles) is generated. The person living inside this Ouroboros or Mobius Loop doesn't “get it”: they can't see the problem, or else they think that moving inside the Matrix like this is actually sophisticated and clever, a way of “throwing others off the track”.
So this is what ideology does to people. Since we “absorb” ideology like sponges, it is useful, from time to time, to turn around and look at the train of our thoughts from a neutral perspective. One might call this the “Crazy Ivan” maneuver: Soviet nuclear submarine captains used to make a sudden change of direction in order to “clear their baffles” so that the sonar array could sweep where the wake used to be. If someone was following them, they could suddenly see them on the radar. It was a dangerous maneuver, in that it could lead to collisions, hence the name “crazy”. A lot of people think classical education is crazy. In fact, a lot of people think education all by itself is crazy.
People who notice things, or think, or study things of special interest, or remember well, or can express themselves beautifully and powerfully, are not well liked or trusted in the North American continent. At least, not in “polite circles”. Skill and knowledge and power are respected in wilderness survival circles, athletics, business, and other rareified climates. However, in corporations/politics, schools, churches, and now even in the military (the secular-university-ecclesiastical-military polygon one might call the “Cathedral”), we can see that society hates the idea of distinction. Rather, the new idea that these nurseries will be called to incarnate in those under them will be democratic and egalitarian, and consistently so. This means (simply) that it will be revolutionary.
This instinct, I would argue, has even crept into the Church. It is most obvious in the Social Gospel Churches that succumbed to Rauschenbusch's false Gospel a century ago, the “mainline” Protestant churches, which are nothing more than “finishing schools” for certain sectors of the Anglo-African elite now governing the country. It's quite clear that the idea that “everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others”, is such a powerful cliché in these Churches that virtually no fact or argument can disturb the conviction. A more troubling fact is that this attitude has begun to seep into the country, Bible churches and Reformed communities that I have attended in recent years. This kind of hatred of distinction, or exception (as it is viewed, because it is resented), is quite obvious in a variety of contexts inside the Church itself: the idea that Scriptures are plain and perspicaciously clear to anyone who can read (without subtle teaching to explain it), the idea that one is getting “airs” if they become interested in something abstract or different or foreign, the idea that it is Satanic to point out that Scripture does not interpret itself nor claim to, or that it is “pagan” to suggest that other religions are vehicles for the Truth of the Holy Spirit. In recent years, the Protestant fundamentalism movement has gotten a new leash on life by moving beyond Sola Scriptura and Grace Alone to “No Neutrality”.
This catchphrase has enabled the revitalization of (particularly) Calvinist theology in North America. Like all good ideas, it started with genuine insight into the “contradiction” of the Gospel; men like Van Til and Rushdoony demonstrably proved that there was a worldview war being conducted by secular-humanism at the expense of Biblical soteriology. They surveyed the battlefield, and found the enemy gathering at all points. Benjamin Warfield (for instance) argued that Calvinism was the most consistent expression of supernaturalism, over against the idea of humanism. Others like Wilson and North have attempted to apply this dichotomy to education, with widely disparate results. The idea has become an institution, and (like all ideas), it has inevitably come full circle to its opposite.
At first, this may seem a fantastic claim. How can “God's Law or Chaos” end up promoting Chaos? How can Christian Reconstruction be subverted into a smaller version of humanism? That is what the essays are about, because it has to be seen with the eye of the intellect to be believed. The “intellect” is not a man-centered organ; to claim that it is is actually to give the intellect into the hands of the unbelievers. It is to concede exactly the contested point of contest. The intellect or Nous is actually a higher organ in man which is supernatural. The Scriptures in many places call it the “heart”, and ancient Christian teaching holds that it uses the word “heart” in order to shock or draw attention to the teaching hidden in plain sight, the pearl of great price in the field. St. Paul teaches this in Romans: all men “know the God”. Psalms 19 clearly teach that the heavens sing of God's glory. This is taken, by the fundamentalists, in a metaphorical or poetic way, in order to avoid what they (in their brain) conceive of an unacceptable truth: that God reveals himself in the depths of the human Nous, that God is the “soul of the soul”, and that it is possible to “seek after Him, if happily, they might find Him”. So that in attacking the idea that there is such a thing as “Christian humanism” or “supernatural humanism”, they are actually making the secular-humanistic argument for their enemies, and proving that God has no relevance to the most important part of man, his Intellect or right Reason. If this is so, Christianity tends to become a moralistic religion, focusing on attaining to God through the “right arguments” which will lead the autonomous Brain back to the “fundamentals”. The brain ought to agree with such-and-such phrasing of the Truth and accept a particular rule of faith and practice. There develops a legalism of the Intellect that is out of place with the grace of the Saviour. This places right-wing Christians in the same boat as liberal secular-humanists: they differ (formally but not actually) only on the content of those fundamentals. For the Christian, it is the Word of God revealed in the Bible, which is seen as falling out of the sky, like Athena springing full grown from the brain of Zeus. For the liberal, the fundamentals are things like universal health care, democracy, and tolerant diversity of all groups. In both cases, the reliance is on the wisdom of man. For Catholics, there is a tendency to think that if one agrees with the Pope, then all is well. And so on, and so forth. In America, there is a constant tension and overlap of all these groups, with many holding contradictory opinions from either side, divided or walled off in the brain like so many air-tight rooms. This arrangement in the American landscape is known as the “Cathedral”, and although it has many rooms, all of which are in some degree of warfare or rivalry with each other, it is in the end, a rivalry of mutual contention. Mencius Moldbug defines the ruling Cathedral polity effect as:
Union of church and state can foster stable iatrogenic misgovernment as follows. First, the church fosters and maintains a popular misconception that the problem exists, and the solution solves it. Secondly, the state responds by extruding an arm, agency, or other pseudopod in order to apply the solution. Agency and church are thus cooperating in the creation of unproductive or counterproductive jobs, as "doctors." Presumably they can find a way to split the take.
Phillip Rieff calls this “therapeutic culture” : it is an example of something that has become its precise opposite. The original theurapeutics were monastics living in the deserts of Egypt, who became the regenerating force that saved the Roman Empire and created Europe. The modern therapeutic culture is doing precisely the opposite. How does this happen? Well, let's look at Christian Reconstructionism. Originally, it was designed to be the antidote to secular humanism. As we have seen from the above, the dichotomy of God versus man actually ends up, when it reaches its logical conclusions, of agreeing with the secular humanists: there is no way to bridge the gap, and man is stuck in a plastic world ruled by technology, governed by bureaucrats, and overseen by the “Cathedral”, a self-appointed hierarchy of “super-correct” people who ferret out dissent and anything that inhibits the “machine” from running on schedule. If man's mind has no connection with the Divine, then the “Mind is what the brain does”, and we end up as practical atheists, saying that it isn't possible to actually know God. Some people remain secular humanists, others become religious fundamentalists. From a larger perspective, what's the difference? Both groups think that man's brain is essentially the measure of reality. One group offers democracy and tolerance as a palliative, the other the “Word of God” and a set of legalistic rules that one has to follow to live a moral life. Sometimes, you find those who do both, and maybe this makes the most sense: if you are going to be totally wrong, you can at least be grandiosely consistent. The two propositions only conflict at the existential level: they both follow logically from the idea that there is nothing divine or supernatural in man's Reason.
So what does this look like in the field of Christian education? You have a huge argument between those who think that the Bible is our Constitution, and those who think that we can re-write this Constitution for modern conditions. Both sides see the other as the enemy. There are even sub-camps in each group, with various subtle differences. Douglas Wilson is convinced that reading the Iliad makes you more human, which helps with your walk with God. Gary North thinks exactly the opposite. And both call each other heretic and go home. Now, certainly, Wilson has more reason on his side than North. However, like North, he has the idea that classical education is useful only in that it makes someone a better Christian. This is why New Saint Andrews for instance, requires a confession of faith from its scholars, and subordinates the goal of education to that of raising godly children. Both sides assume a kind of written definition of Christian as “given”. In a practical sense, all well and good: it does seem that people who actually know and read their Bible are, in general, more Christian. And it does seem that those who think that the Bible is actually God's holy Word have a little more urgency to their spiritual walk. However, since the “Spirit blows where it wills”, it's not possible to restrict God's agency and presence to what one's preconceived notions of correctness happen to be, useful as these rules are in daily practice as guideposts. It is interesting, for example, that the Rig-Vedas contains many sayings which are almost identical to those of the Son of God Himself. Coincidence? Well, without studying them, how could you know?
Both actually, in spite of themselves, think that there is a “neutrality” that exists. North sees it as the enemy in disguise; Wilson wants to use that neutrality to Christian advantage. Of the two, I would certainly side with Wilson. However, who wants to pick their way through dichotomies? I would rather say it this way: there is nothing neutral, because all of it belongs to God to begin with. Including the Greek mysteries, the Greek perversions. Why is pederasty (to take an extreme example) so onerous and disgusting? Because it represented a perversion of something good. The Greeks understood that young men needed mentoring and guiding to the Truth. It is unfortunate that they were deluded into believing that erotic impulses could provide and sustain such, but the fundamental insight is not incorrect. English education and high society, down to the recent times, had the same undercurrent and problem, and so does the Catholic Church. Rather than descend into hysterics, wouldn't it be better to take away the whole basis of the practice by co-opting it? What if we admitted that young men, even more than young women, need art and spiritual science (in short, discipling) in order to achieve full manhood? This is precisely what Christian monasticism and early Christian patristics did. They did not deny that the Greeks were wrong to have intuited the existence of the Nous and celebrated the idea of brotherhood. Instead, using revelation, they formulated the proper basis for it in the first place. They could see that they needed the libraries and history and tomes and ideas of Rome, but they took these things captive to Christ.
Sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich may make you feel better (which is what North does), and trying to “tidy it up a bit” makes a little more sense (the Wilson approach), but the only manly, Christian approach is to aim for the target. Thus, we admit that the Greek mysteries and the perverted practices had a point. Like the great general Pyrrhus, the Greeks were content to win costly battles and lose the war. Just so, they had their enlightenments, through disgusting and needlessly useless and perverted methods, because they lacked the fullness of the Logos, which only came with the advent of the Saviour. This is why Paul did not lambast them on Mars Hill, but rather (in Wilson's words) “took them down familiar paths to show them new things”: he proclaimed to them, the very religious, the identity of the unknown God, fully revealed in Christ Jesus, the King.
So what good is studying the Greeks? If they lacked the fullness, can't we dispense with them entirely? Isn't there a better vein to mine for our classicism? Christian Europe, perhaps, even by North's admission, much less pagan? In short, by a higher path, aren't we forced to take the Northian route? We can answer this quite confidently and conclusively: there is, in fact, no absolute need for the classical canon. A Christian student can just as easily find education in the volumes and tomes of “classical Christian Europe” as he can in ancient Greece or Rome. What difference does it make if you read Faust or Imre Madach's The Tragedy of Man? They are the same for the hungry mind. A student who studies Euclid is no better off than one who works his way through Euler's collected writings. There is the added advantage that it appears that studying Job and Faust exposes a student to less weirdness and confusion than reading (for instance) the collected works of Euripides. However, an interesting thing happens in the course of studying Western European culture: there are constant references and deferences to ancient learning. When the Irish monks set out to save Western culture, they copied Greek and Latin works. Hence their learning is sprinkled with the salt and savor of all that was good, true and beautiful from that eternal city, Rome, and her heavenly counterpart, Jerusalem. So that in trying to understand the one, it is useful to spend time on the other, however incidental or desultory.
This is an inconvenient fact: the best minds of Christian Europe were trained on Latin. Latin proverbs, Latin literature, Latin politics (the theories of Polybius, for example) formed the raw grist or fiber of their minds. So that to understand (for example) Dante, one is forced to know rather more than a small amount of ancient philosophy and history, in an intuitive way, if nothing else. Therefore, by an interesting paradox, it becomes unavoidable to “know the Greeks”. John Keats, for example, was a popular poet who used the vernacular, but he constantly hearkens back to the Greek myths, and (like a mirror) sees his own individuality in that mirror. You can't refute Keats without reading his poetry, and loving Greek myth. You can hate him, but you can't deal with him. And if you ignore him, your precocious son may accidentally open his volumes, or worse, become a poet just like Keats. And what will you do then?
For those Christians who will go on to become the heart and soul of the coming order that will arise on the wrack and ruin of modern USA civilization, it will be incumbent to know as much as is possible to know regarding the human condition. For this task, they will turn, not merely to Christian Europe, but to the great “false idol” that civilization erected with the purpose of imitating: all that was best in the Imperium of Rome, the beauty of Greece, and the goodness of Jerusalem. We assert something even more fantastic than Douglas Wilson is capable of admitting: that the story of humanity is the story of Divine action in history. Or, as the Bible puts it, these “things were not done in a corner, but rather, when the fullness of time had come”, the Saviour came. GW Hegel perverts this idea by asserting that the Spirit of God reveals himself in secular history. I trust the reader can see that what we are saying is somewhat markedly different: the Spirit of God works within, permeates, and works to save all of history, which remains (for the time) full of both darkness and shadow. Hegel instantiated History and the State as God: we are saying that God providentially uses in strange circumstances whatever human conditions offer up to point the way to a transcendence of those very perversions.
Christian Europe, in its humility, was content to learn from the ancients, however corrupt and perverted, anything that would serve the purpose of following the Lord. Out of that came a thousand years of Christian culture that made man “Christian in their bones”, and aimed to convert the heart as well. No doubt it was imperfect. History always is. But to quote the Russians, “the perfect can be the enemy of the good”. It is better to be humble, and to learn from our ancestors, than to spend aeons reinventing the wheel. This is not compromise, but the divine humility which redeems the years that the locust has eaten, by digging up and not merely baptizing, but regenerating, ancient forms that missed the mark (hamartia). This is taking all thoughts captive to Christ. Because it was the Logos who walked on the Aeropagus, and bore with the sins of the Greeks, who founded the ancient city of Rome and taught them to prefer Order over chaos.
This is not surrender to neutrality, but the pursuit of neutrality deeper, until the meaning is discerned in the feet of clay. Truly there is no “neutrality”, but all belongs to God. It is the task of the human who seeks God to unravel this Gordian knot, in whatever circumstances he or she finds themselves. If God is a circle without a circumference, whose center is everywhere, then people travel in different directions as they move back to that circle. This is a mystery, but is understood as one travels “the Way”. Because God calls even the sinful and the Greco-Romans back to the center.
People like Gary North misunderstand the idea that there is “no neutrality”. They think this neutrality or non-neutrality exists as the end result of a dialectic of discursive reasoning. For them, the truth is ideological, and not mystical, intuitive, and super-Rational. Thus, they see “dichotomy” everywhere except in their own point of view. The result is that rather than support a classical education (which acknowledges that “we are not God” in our brains), they want their students to read the King James Bible, Shakespeare, and learn basic mathematics and sciences. He goes on to assault the idea of classical education in general, accusing it of being rooted in pederasty and orgies and idol-worship galore. North is useful because he does such a massively flamboyant chop-job assassinating “classical education”. Reading him, you would think that all we need are Bibles and our multiplication tables, along with an unexplainedly exempt copy of the Bard's complete works, in which witchcraft, prostitution, revenge, idol worship, and other cleaned up versions of “classical education” would survive as a little added color. It's not surprising that a middle class American Protestant outlook would gravitate toward the idea of educating the child merely to take their modest place in the bowels of the gigantic military-industrial complex that sprawls over North America. After all, as long as we can keep Raytheon and Tyson going, what else do we need, other than faithful church-goers each Sunday? This “God, Gold, & Guns” school of theology is a peculiar sect of late 20th century America which seems to think that the Bible is more like a lawnmower manual than the revealed Word of God, or (worse) that the Word of God IS a lawnmower manual. It is not. The Word of God is primarily the second person of the Trinity; the Bible is His reflection, not His face.
These are of course, deep waters. We are not saying that the Bible isn't holy, or not a written and inspired record of Jesus, or that (in one sense), it is not indispensable to the full knowledge of the Logos. What we are saying, and surely, is that it is not a schematic manual in the same sense a manual for repairing a 1990 Ford Ranger is definitive and perspicacious. For that matter, even a lawnmower manual or auto manual is not the “full story”. As the Bible itself proclaims, if all was written of this Logos, “not all the books in the world would contain it”. But this is one of those unquoted Scriptures that is always overlooked. If the Bible, in short, commands us to meditate beyond its clear teachings, then “supplementing the Bible” is the only course of obedience for the faithful Christian. If Jesus commends the Law and the Prophets, but says that “you search them, for in them you think you have eternal Life”, but I am He that testifies of its truth, then Fundamentalism has a problem. If God's Word tells you that His Word is everywhere, the solution is not to pretend that He didn't say that.
Of course, it always surprises these eminent gentleman scholars of leisure when the stifled curiosity and imagination of the child gets exercised, one fine day, on the pages of the Holy Scriptures. If bright children do actually read their Bibles, and discover more than a moral code book and record of purely ethereal “spiritual” happenings, they quickly find out that there is a lot of demonism, witchcraft, and “paganism” in the Holy Writ. Nothing is more “classical” than Ahab's answer to the pagan king: “let not him who puts on his armor boast as him who takes it off”! If they continue to absorb the culture around them, they quickly discern “errors” in the Bible (eg., the value of Pi, for instance, in I Kings), as well as gaps or discrepancies in supposedly literal writ. A child with active intellect is particularly cursed: no matter how good a Christian he or she is, they will continue to note oddities in Scriptures which (unfortunately) do not explain themselves, and are not explained (typically) to them. Even the Bible warns us: there are “many and deep things, which the ignorant twist to their own destruction” (specifically in the epistles of Paul, but I believe, in all of the Holy Writ).
The Wilson theory of education is much more subtle and sound; he understands that we are trying to do more than just “outfit” someone for life in the missile factory or as an independent plumber. I am not disparaging honest labor with hands: everyone especially those with classical educations, need to learn to work with their hands. But to say that God, work, and independence are all that exists (and in the most basic form we can wrangle up), seems to be a bit draconian, even by Northian standards.
Here he is at his finest satire (satire is almost the only thing he does really well):
We teach classical education here -- not the G-rated censored version that our competitors palm off as classical education. They are pandering to the little old Christian women of both sexes. We don't pander here. We provide the real deal. We say that when you teach that classical culture is the basis of art, liberty, and higher values, you should teach what the classical masters did and said. Our competitoTrs, with their G-rated version, refuse to do this.
We don't sugar coat classical culture in order to fool parents who have never studied classical Greece and Rome, and who have heard about how great a classical Christian curriculum is. They want to baptize an expurgated version of classical culture. They say that classical culture was consistent: religion, sexual mores, slavery, politics, and war. We agree. It was. But that culture had nothing to do with the G-rated, expurgated version that is taught in the Christian schools that advertise a classical Christian education. They want to fuse the Bible and classical culture. That is because they are unfamiliar with classical culture. In our school, we teach unadulterated schizophrenia. Send your children here. We know you want your children to be taught the truth. That's what we teach here.
There is, of course, a marketing problem.
Even blind squirrels find a nut now & then, and North is no exception. He is right about the sordid details of Greco-Roman civilization. But then, how would he know this? Presumably he's done some reading on the sordid subject. But don't trust yourself on the subject, trust the man who's waded through the slime, and turn away in horror and disgust from neo-classical education! Those who have argued with North (like Douglas Wilson, the founder as it were of the movement) aren't (of course) saying that we should expose our children to such garbage: North constructs a straw man and has a lot of fun batting it around. However, it is fair to say that Wilson and others do try to “clean things up” in a certain sense. There is nothing wrong with this in one sense: why not “spoil the Egyptians”, as Augustine argued when he made the case for Christians preserving classical learning? Wilson wants to enrich the Christian world with the ornaments of antiquity: why not use the rhetoric of Cicero, the beauty of Phidias, and the truth of Zeno on behalf of Scriptural revelation? But Wilson doesn't go far enough.
The truth is that Wilson (and the classical movement in general) does have a problem – the early Church, when they took the truth, beauty, and goodness of paganism, most certainly did not intend merely to ornament the insides of their Romanesque cathedrals, adorn the sides of their Gospel pages, and embellish their political theories with quotations from Plato. There is a kind of “generic” feel to a lot of the classical Christian school movement, a kind of whitewash that has its place, but doesn't get down to the grittiness of pagan reality in the classical world. I think this is the white whale that North is hunting, however confusedly, in his periodic diatribes against the ACCS.
When Justin Martyr “baptized” Plato, he wasn't recognizing that Plato was graceful, witty, insightful, and even profound. He was claiming that Plato and the Greeks actually understood the Gospel in a formal sense, even if there was some doubt as to whether and to what extent this knowledge was salvifically actualized. They were Christians before Christ, in that they discerned and followed the Logos, the pattern of God. Augustine claims that the Christian religion was nothing else other than the “true religion” which had always existed, just in its fullest and most perfect form. Keep in mind that, of all people, the early Christians were aware of just how corrupt and degraded the Greco-Roman world was – they inhabited it. Despite this intimate and first hand knowledge, the best minds and hearts of the Christian world (with notable exceptions like Tertullian), openly taught that Athens and Jerusalem were the same city, a union that was effected in the sacred and eternal city of Rome: Rome became both Athens and Jerusalem to the new Christian Europe that rose, a phoenix from ashes, out of the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
What does this mean? It all comes back to St. Paul at Aeropagus, on Mars Hill. Did the apostle go out and cry “rubbish” through the forum and agora, indicting them with a litany of their abuses and heinous sins? Was Jesus a revolutionary, who saw no need of the Law and the Prophets? Was Augustine an innovator, who hated the “wisdom of man” in the ancient Greeks? Or did these men in fact see deeper into the pattern of the Logos in a way that allowed them to discern that pattern at work in even the darkest corners of human history? Which view builds more confidence and Christian power? A view that some things are irredeemably bad and ought to be buried alive forever, or a view that seeks to understand that “nothing human is alien to me”, or to God?
I can tell you which one will create Christian young people who can take dominion, and which one will continue to foster a retreat into a subculture that thinks it can once again become the dominant culture by Reconstructing a 1950s world in which Protestant work ethic, church-going, and neo-Calvinism will save us all. I can tell you which view will be able to withstand the all out assault on Christian truth and purity in the brave new world dominated by racial conflict, cybernetics, gigantic corporations and governments, and God knows what else, and which one will be hiding in the hills or bowling allies of a decaying and collapsing American Empire. I want the faith that sustained early Christians through the collapse of their entire way of life and world, in the face of invasion, plague, famine and war. How about you?