Letters to the Editor: December 1983
After reading Thomas O. Kay’s “Evangelicalism’s Debt to the Medieval Church” (Oct.), I must observe that the article’s title was misleading. It could more appropriately have been entitled “What Evangelicals Should Know About the Medieval Church.” Evangelicalism’s “debt” to the medieval Church is a rather different matter from Kay’s observations.
I should like to note two examples which are particularly problematic. First, Kay stresses the medieval theology of the Eucharist. Regular Eucharistic observance, he says, went a long way toward keeping people mindful of God and of God’s gift to them. An honest investigation of theology in practice during the medieval period, however, would reveal that medieval European peoples would have observed the Eucharist, but would rarely participate — and even then, would have received in one kind only.
According to this theology in practice, the priest was understood to be doing something for the people while they observed, and the priest, unlike the people, was considered to be of great holiness and thus able to receive. Perhaps this is why John Calvin was not able to institute monthly Eucharist in Geneva in 1541. Political reasons aside, the good fathers of Geneva thought quarterly observance of the Eucharist sufficient, as this frequently had been the tradition there for centuries.
Here is evangelicalism’s true “debt” to the medieval church: a sad lack of observance of the central act of Christian worship. Eucharistic observance had taken on the air of private piety, which is so clear in evangelical churches today, where one must examine one’s worthiness to receive rather than accept with joy God’s free gift of grace to us.
The second problematic area in Kay’s article concerns the integration of faith and reason in medieval thought. Thomas Aquinas may in the end have surrendered his thought to the mystical apprehension of the divine, but at every step of the way, rationality prevailed. The problem lay not so much with Aquinas but with those who popularized him and who “deduced” all that there was to know about life and God. Roger Bacon’s arguments for the primacy of the scientific method paved the way for the triumph of the rational in the 18th century, not to mention the very rational thinkers of the Italian renaissance. Evangelicalism — actually fundamentalism — owes a great debt to the medieval church for the notion that one can be quite rational about life and the divine under the guise of the integration of faith and learning.
Kay would do a far more valuable service to the evangelical movement in recalling its Catholic heritage and real debt to the historical Church if he were to have his readers learn the great Fathers of the Church. Only then would the abuses of the medieval church, to which evangelicalism owes so much, be corrected.
The Rev. John R. Throop
Episcopal Church of the Mediator
In Prison & Lonely
I’m presently incarcerated in the Nevada State Prison. I must ask a favor, for I have no way of paying for what I’m about to request.
My request is for correspondence with the outside world. I am a very lonely inmate with no family or friends, and I would like to correspond with people who would help me break through my loneliness. I would be forever grateful.
Robert L. Toston
Carson City, Nevada
I am desperate for outside communication. I am incarcerated in the Nevada State Prison. For the past six-and-a-half years, I haven’t received any visits or any mail at all. My loneliness is at an unbearable state. Perhaps some of your readers, who understand my feelings of loneliness, will correspond with me. I will write everyone who is kind enough to respond.
Terry Lee Smith
Carson City, Nevada
In his column on Dorothy L. Sayers (Oct.), James J. Thompson Jr. expresses his belief that Miss Sayers ought to take her place among Belloc, Chesterton, and Lewis: “20th-century Christianity’s extraordinary trio of Englishmen.” I don’t disagree with him at all on that, but I do find surprising his not including the most witty, and at the same time most sensitive, of this century’s English Christian apologists: Msgr. Ronald A. Knox.
Ithaca, New York
Dorothy L. Sayers once remarked that a reliable account of Christian dogma could perfectly well be given by a well-informed Zoroastrian. So why should having a Roman Catholic editor transform the New Oxford Review into a “Roman Catholic periodical” (see Oct. editorial)?
Prof. Rosamond Kent Sprague
Department of Philosophy, University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
The Essential Truths
How nice it is to have the New Oxford Review in the Roman Catholic Church at last. Welcome home! Of course, your magazine has been more Catholic than many segments of the Church for a long time.
But what I love most about the NOR is its marvelous way with orthodoxy. In the manner of Dorothy L. Sayers and C.S. Lewis, you have grasped the essential truths of Christianity and stripped them of the faded garb under which they have often been hidden. And you have done it in such a manner that all true believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be comfortable in your pages. Thank you.
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