Shakespeare and sexual morality

The notable scholar and Catholic commentator Anthony Esolen–whom I have had the privilege of hanging out with at a classical education conference at Our Savior’s in Houston–has written a fine essay on Shakespeare’s consistent theme of chastity, not just for women, but (rare in his day) for men.

There is an abundance of evidence to show that Shakespeare was a profoundly Christian playwright—and far more thoroughly concerned with the theology of grace, repentance, and redemption than any of his contemporaries. Here I should like to note one characteristic of his view of the world that seems to spring from his Christian faith—for it certainly does not spring from any recrudescence of paganism in the Renaissance, nor from the worldly laxity that sets in with the fading of western man’s assurance of Christian dogma and morals. For Shakespeare, chastity is as near to an absolute value as it is possible for a virtue to be.

via Desires Run Not Before Honor | First Things.

Esolen then makes his case by examining play after play, noble character after noble character.  Shakespeare does not ignore sex.  Far from it.  But his heroes, however ardent in their love, reject having sex before marriage.

HT: David Mills

Bo Giertz’s new novel

Bo Giertz (1905-1998) was a confessional, orthodox Lutheran bishop in the Church of Sweden. He was also a notable novelist. Many of you have doubtless read  Hammer of God, about three generations of pastors, each facing the various challenges to the Gospel of each era.   That novel has been a life-changer for many readers.

Now, at long last, another Giertz novel has been translated into English, The Knights of Rhodes.

It’s a historical novel about the Knights Hospitaller and the siege of Rhodes.  The Hospitallers started as a hospital order–which remained a part of their ministry–but they became a military order during the Crusades.  Think monks–complete with vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience, as well as performing the daily liturgies–plus swords and cannons.  This novel is set in the 16th century, with the knights in their formidable citadel on the island of Rhodes having to face the Turkish empire under the young sultan Suleiman, beginning his plan to conquer Europe.

The characters come alive and stay in the mind.   The battle sequences are thrilling.  The spiritual complexities are fascinating.

The Knights of Rhodes is not as pre-occupied with theological issues as Hammer of God, at least not on the surface.  And yet, even this story of Roman Catholic monastic knights is full of what Luther was preaching about the same time as the Turkish invasion.  The characters have piety of various kinds, but in a climate of sin, violence, betrayals, and the competition of a triumphant Islam, they need to discover Jesus and the Theology of the Cross.

Not only all of this, but the translator is our own Bror Erickson, frequent commenter on this blog.  Let’s give it the Amazon bomb treatment, buying it up and advancing its sales ranking  (currently in the 800,000s) to attract other people’s attention to it.

I do have one complaint:  Doesn’t Wipf & Stock have any copyeditors or proofreaders?  There are typos and other mistakes on every page. (Bror, insist on a new edition!  If you need someone to do the copyediting, I’ll do it.  The book deserves that.)

Anyway, you can buy it by clicking the links.

A book that changed your life

Booklover raised the ante on yesterday’s post about books that have influenced your political beliefs, asking if a book CHANGED your views, or just confirmed what you already believed. Let’s ramp it up even more: Has there been a book that changed your life in some way? Let’s not limit it to politics or ideology. Has a book changed your faith or your theology? Your approach to your family, your work, your everyday life? Not counting the Bible.

I’ll go first. C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity,” which I read as a high schooler, made me realize that maybe there is something to this Christianity. Having grown up in mainline liberal Protestantism, I had never even heard that Jesus was God in the flesh. Nor did I know of any other historic Christian doctrines. That book started me on a long road.

Books of influence

An interesting article on how most of our presidents have been big readers, and how the books they read have influenced their policies:  For Obama and past presidents, the books they read shape policies and perceptions.  Truman’s reading about ancient history led to his support of the founding of Israel.  Kennedy and Johnson read books on the poor in American that led to the “war on poverty.”  Nixon pored over histories in working through his foreign policies.  Jimmy Carter got his sense of national “malaise” from “The Culture of Narcissism.”   Reagan read Milton Friedman, which led to his free-market reforms.  Bush, contrary to stereotype, read extensively, and his reading of Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky’s books on democracy inspired him to attempt to spread democracy throughout the world.

What books have influenced YOUR political beliefs?

Men at Work stories

One of my students is doing an internship with William Bennet and has asked for my help. I thought I’d tap into you readers of this blog, who always manage to come up with some really good ideas on just about every subject. I’ll let the student explain what he needs:

I am working on a research project for Mr. William Bennett on Manliness and I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction.

The book is divided into various sections of manliness, such as Men at War, Men at Play, etc.

We are currently looking for excerpts from literature, history, biographical, and essays, from all of human history (I know, a rather modest goal) that deal with Men at Work. These excerpts should ideally depict good men with an exceptional work ethic. But they can also show the negative as an example of what NOT to do.

Are there any quotes, essays, stories, or great men from history that have inspired you to work hard and that depict good, hard working men? I know your specialty is English Literature. Are there maybe one or two examples from your field that exemplify hard work?

Any help at all would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

So we are looking for writings about men acting in vocation, specifically, the workplace. I thought of Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea.” What else

UPDATE:  My student and Mr. Bennett won’t be able to anthologize whole books, so are there episodes in specific novels that would be good to use?  (For example, I cited the scene in Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” in which Ivan builds a brick wall and how that honest, satisfying, constructive labor gave him a sense of meaning even in the indignities of the Soviet prison camp.)  He could also use examples from non-fiction (Studs Terkel’s “Working,” as has been mentioned), as well as quotations, etc.

“An infinite price has been paid”

Johann Gerhard, a 17th century pastor and theologian, has written some of the most profound meditations that I have found.  This is from his Sacred Meditations VII. , “Concerning the fruit of the Lord’s passion”:

He has been judged in order to free us from the judgment of God. He has been prosecuted as a criminal so that we criminals may be pardoned. He has been scourged by godless hands to take away from us the scourge of the devil. He called out in pain in order to save us from eternal wailing. He poured out tears so that he could wipe away our tears. He has died for us to live. He felt the pains of hell through and through, so that we might never feel them. He was humiliated in order to bring forth the medicine for our pride; was crowned with thorns, in order to obtain for us the heavenly crown.42 He has suffered at the hands of all so that he might furnish salvation for all. He was darkened in death so that we would live in the light of heavenly glory. He heard disgust and contempt so that we might hear the angelic jubilation in heaven.

Do not despair then, O faithful soul. You have offended the infinite Good with your sins, but an infinite price has been paid. You ought to be judged for your sins, but the Son of God has already been judged for the sins of the whole world, which He received in Himself. Your sins ought to be punished, but God already punished them in His Son. The wounds from your sins are great, but more precious is the balm of the blood of Christ. Moses pronounces a curse against you (Deuteronomy 27:26), because you have not kept everything that has been written in the book of the law, but Christ has been made a curse for you (Galatians 3:13). The handwriting has been written against you in the court of heaven, but Christ’s blood has deleted that (Colossians 2:14).

Therefore, your passion, O loving Christ, is my ultimate refuge.


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