Literature and it's role of forming the Christian Mind
By Anthony Malleus
In dealing with precisely the importance of secular literature in the life of the Christian St. Basil set out some important guidelines (points) which I would like to us for the basis of this article. These points however can be used in a wider sense for giving us some solid guidance on how to use and appreciate the things of this world so as to attain the end for which we have been created, namely that of heaven.
1. To the Christian the life eternal in heaven is the supreme goal,- and the guide to this life is the Holy Scriptures; (and teachings of the Church) but since young men (untrained minds) cannot appreciate the deep thoughts contained therein, they are to study the profane writings, in which truth appears as in a mirror.
Those who are mature in the faith can understand this point, well. To speak often to the youth of religion for them is boring, - they are childish of heart and so to give them something so solid all the time can sometimes have the opposite effect of leading them away from the faith or atleast giving them a distaste for it, and so St. Basil says that sometimes profane can be used like a mirror that work to enlighten the mind of the such souls even if it just taking the same issue but just from another angle. – For example, charity, - there are many examples, in the bible of charitable and noble men in both OT and NT and so also the same is true in the secular world, or in fiction works, if the same point is achieved, namely of leading the soul to charity, then it is legitimate to read or use such things.
2. Profane learning should ornament the mind, as foliage graces the fruit-bearing tree.
In this sense we must be able to use all that we learn as a means of safeguarding our virtue and defending the faith we have been given. In nature, tree’s and animals alike often have an outer garment or layer of protection. Like the wool of sheep which servers to protect to keep them warm and protect them from easily having their skin damaged. So to we can make use of secular knowledge to protect our virtue and then to use example of things we have learned in the world to defend our faith. – Her for example, how often the church is attack from historical perspective, if only we knew a little bit of secular history how we could easily disprove the enemies of the faith, exposing the harmful lies that are spread in abundance.
3. In studying pagan writings one must discriminate between the helpful and the injurious, accepting the one, but closing one's ears to the siren song of the other.
In the world that surrounds us; there are legitimate things which are beneficial but don’t make that a pretense to think that all is good – Don’t expose your self to things which will eventually prove disastrous for your salvation. The pagans without the faith and grace of God lacked the ability to make the distinctions which we should be able to make because of the solid teachings of the church we have received. – If it becomes clear that the book we are reading or movie we are watching is harmful to virtue then we have stop it.
4. Since the life to come (heaven) is to be attained through virtue, chief attention must be paid to those passages in which virtue is praised.
Heaven is obtained by the daily struggle for virtue, which is the safeguard of faith and the grace of God which is in us. Whatever in the secular world seeks to improve that, should be given due credit, but servers to undermine it should be avoided like a plague. Like the bee, goes around seeing the pollen taking what is need and leaves the rest.
5. In pagan literature virtue is praised in deeds as well as in words, wherefore one should study those acts of noble men which coincide with the teachings of the Scriptures.
‘The Children of darkness are far wiser in their generation that the children of light’ – Learn what is good and noble from all men, regardless of race, religion, age, or gender. Seek to imitate the generosity and zeal for virtue that is set out even by pagans. – In this we often have something to learn; not from doctrine but from the practice. – What Bishop Fulton Sheen said in His day ‘We have the faith, and the communists have the zeal’.
In Scripture we often read how Our Lord would marvel at the pagans who would come to him with absolute confidence and faith as was the case with the Centurion who asked a miracle for his servant – His words to our Lord were ‘Only say the word, and my servant shall be healed’ And yet of the Children of Israel what little faith and confidence they had in Him. – He said the pagan in this regard were a great rebuke to the children of Isreal– Matthew 8. The same can be said of us today.
We should be on guard against the spirit of naturalism which sees only the natural order forgetting that all things here below are there to direct us to buildup our life of grace leading us to our supernatural end, so that without this view, there is no real happiness.
6. Young men must distinguish between helpful and injurious knowledge, keeping clearly in mind the Christian's purpose in life. So, like the athlete or the musician, they must bend every energy to one task, the winning of the heavenly crown.
How many Christians are in hell, or spent centuries in purgatory because they spent their time seeking after pointless and vain knowledge rather then learning from all they gained to better master the spiritual life and seek after the kingdom of heaven with even greater fever . Often people forget if we are given a good mind it is not so we can become successful in this world, nor is it even so we can make discoveries that will make life more comfortable but that we announced the greatness of God and their by share with our fellow men, in some way this profound reality, and in this be a light and guide to them in the path of salvation. In the middle ages most of the great men of science in every field were priests and religious , like St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, etc, who while studying nature and the stars, and the natural elements always sought to bring all things back to God so as to show men how all these things fit in the bigger picture so they may be able both to grow in knowledge and virtue, things which should ordinarily be seen as complimentary. In this way says St. Basil we are then able ‘to scorn riches and fame, and place virtue above all things.’
How few think like this today. Virtue, who cares about that, how much money does that make you? That won’t make you popular ! It’s a wonder why most of our leaders today a perverted and senseless.
7. This ideal will be matured later by the study of the Scriptures, it is at present to be fostered by the study of the pagan writers; from them should be stored up knowledge for the future.
Point is here is that the goal for all of us, is the study of scripture and learning our faith ; having in the back of our minds all that worldly and secular knowledge, so that we may know how to understand the scripture and our Catechism by means of that knowledge all the more profoundly and in this we to see the not only the truths in scripture as a dead letter but as a living reality which moves us on to a greater love of Our Lord Jesus Christ and what he accomplished for us on the cross; for this pagan and blind world only confirms for us how perverted and hopeless things are without Our Lord who alone can saved us from this wicked and perverse generation.
Modern Schizophrenia that we have.
This principles are so we can come to a proper Catholic way of seeing and grasping the entire created universe so that we may set all things as part of one complete master peace of God. Sadly, so many of us don’t have any sense of a Catholic vision of life and world. Why is this? Because we fragment our lives, we superficially compartmentalize everything, - My work, my school, my chocolates-chips, o’h and religion here – Instead of seeing everything in one unified vision of faith; all is mixed up. - like one professor summed it up in rhyme - – Peter, when to Mass every Sunday, Peter died and went to hell for what he did on Monday’ – Sunday and Monday were different – Sunday is God, Monday is work and ‘real world’ – Monday evening, that is dinner, rosary time, then well, whatever, - We often lack the ability to see the whole vision and so we tend easily to fall into mediocrity despite our good intentions.
Pope Benedict XV
Pope Benedict XV to drive home the importance of this point, wrote an entire encyclical on the well known Catholic poet Dante Alighieri and his work the Divine comedy, for he saw that Dante as a Catholic and as a poet was able to show clearly in his work how a mind that is imbued with the Catholic spirit can so well set forth for others a proper Catholic vision of the entire universe and how every action in our lives brings about an eternal consequence, so that many who read his work were moved on to virtue or better yet, as he says were moved on to embrace the faith which they had come to love by means of this marvelous work.
“Dante has the singular merit that while he fascinates the reader with wonderful variety of pictures, with marvellously lifelike colouring, with supreme expression and thought, he draws him also to the love of Christian knowledge, and all know how he said openly that he composed his poem to bring to all "vital nourishment." And we know now too how, through God's grace, even in recent times, many who were far from, though not averse to Jesus Christ, and studied with affection the Divina Commedia, began by admiring the truths of the Catholic Faith and finished by throwing themselves with enthusiasm into the arms of the Church.’
Non Catholics have been led to embraced the faith by means of this literary text because it sets out in such a simple manner a clear vision of the universe as intended by it’s creator, by showing the consequences for mans actions which all have a relation to his final end.