Commentary Michael Coren
True wisdom begins with the fear and love of God. True knowledge, however, requires reading. And if we do not read, we are rejecting the great communication given us by our Creator to appreciate, understand and enjoy. Literature is a force for light and good, too often abandoned to those who dance in very different places.
There are legions of great authors and books, but if truth be told, many of them are out of print and not to be found in major high-street bookstores. Which is where the internet is so helpful. Search around, use reliable links and find dealers and stores that stock used and old volumes. What used to take years of searching by foot and hand can now take moments in front of a screen.
But there is a great resistance movement amongst contemporary writers and publishers, a glorious fight back. Ignatius Press is arguably the most vibrant and essential publisher in the English-speaking world at the moment. Based in the United States, but selling books internationally, the house publishes books by Pope Benedict as well as an entire range of leading theologians and scholars. It is also home to authors such a Thomas Howard, Peter Kreeft, Michael O’Brien and Joseph Pearce.
Kreeft is an extraordinarily prolific and gifted writer. Whether he is writing on C.S. Lewis or Pascal, on moral theology or the errors of modernism, he is incisive and superbly logical, essential reading to anyone who wants to take the pro-life argument into the public square. Howard is a Lewis scholar, but also at the centre of the Christian literary renaissance.
Joseph Pearce, about whom I wrote recently in these pages, is a young British teacher and author who has written a series of biographies of Christian and sometimes non-Christian authors. His work on Hilaire Belloc, J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton is particularly impressive. Those three men, of course, are vital to any library worth the name. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has a message for the struggle we all face in the 21st century and Belloc and Chesterton’s journalism is so bitingly relevant as to be appear to be written last week, rather than last century.
As for C.S. Lewis, we must be careful not to ignore people simply because they are popular or even fashionable. Lewis is quite simply the finest communicator of the Christian message in modern times. There should be no avoiding the man. He was greatly influenced by Chesterton, but also by the lesser known George MacDonald. He is a more difficult writer than Lewis, but equally compelling. Begin with Lillith or Phantastes.
Michael O’Brien is a contemporary novelist who is not only a pure and startling Christian voice, but also a Canadian. Not that his books will win many Canadian literary prizes, which are increasingly reserved for the banal and those who splash around in the dirty and regularly swamp waters of sexual perversion, social dysfunction and family caricature. O’Brien’s books are a refreshing change.
Another Canadian author who has changed the religious framework is Father Jonathan Robinson, superior of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Toronto and rector of St. Philip’s Seminary. His Spiritual Combat Revisited and The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backwards cannot be recommended highly enough.
Warren H. Carroll is a retired professor who has written four volumes of a proposed six-volume History of Christendom. Published by Christendom Press, they are best found via the internet, but are well worth the effort. Exhaustive and well-paced, they explain the history of Christianity, Christian culture and the historical context in which Christendom became a reality. Carroll openly admits his point of view, but this never obscures his academic honesty and ability to tell a complex tale.
Roger Scruton is a British philosopher and columnist whose books are highly valuable and Paul Johnson is still one of the best and most original historians we have. His histories of Judaism, Christianity, the modern world, the United States and so many others have transformed popular understanding of the great traditions, themes and conflicts. His is profoundly good on the inherent evil and danger of Marxism and atheism.
Regarding Evelyn Waugh’s novels and biographies, anything by the man is worthwhile. One of the finest literary stylists. Graham Greene’s fiction – Greene was a troubled man but a gifted writer. The massive biography of him by Norman Sherry is a masterpiece of the genre. Ronald Knox’s essays and translations are always valuable. Knox was a Roman Catholic priest and at the centre of Catholic renewal in mid-20th century Britain.
Alfred Duggan is a writer of historical fiction who is little read today, but deserves more attention. Robert Speaight was a biographer and journalist who, though sometimes difficult to find, is a charming and witty writer.
And so on and so on. If the adventure has already started, good luck. If it is yet to begin, I envy you.