Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) was viewed, in the 1960s-1970s, in North America, as a spiritual and literary icon of sorts. He embodied the best of the counter culture in a probing and poignant manner. He was, as Theodore Ziolkowski rightly notes, “Saint Hesse among the Hippies”. There were few in the high noon of the counter culture who had not read Hesse. In fact, knowing Hesse was a rite of passage into the counter culture family. Hesse was the guru that many turned to for wisdom and insight in an age and ethos in which much seemed askew and out of joint. Many of Hesse’s early and more immature works seemed to pander to the “I’m spiritual but not religious” dogma that is so trendy today or he anticipated the Christianity without Religion (CWR) religion that is the cause de jour of many reactionary types (an ideological position more dogmatic than most 16th century confessions).
Hesse won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, and his more mature books, The Journey to the East and The Glass Bead Game are a missive and tome not to missive on the religious journey. There is a decided shift in Hesse’s writing in these two burnished gold beauties and such splendid works of literary art draw the reader into Hesse’s comprehensive fullness. The younger Hesse was a reactionary of sorts (turning his tender back against his German pietistic upbringing) who elevated the notion of the lone individual contra church, state, history and society (all oppressive) in search of meaning and purpose. But, by the time Hesse came to research, write and publish The Journey to the East and The Glass Bead Game, he came to recognize the folly, reductionism and thinning out of the pilgrimage by turning against religion, history, state, society and the vast riches of the institutions that carry civilization forward.. The lone individual isolated from such imperfect historic and communal dimensions tends to shrink and shut off fuller possibilities. The same theme, in English literature, was played out earlier by Bunyan and Milton (liberal individualism in its emerging phase--today a fragmentary viral postmodern reality).
I lift up my eyes to the hills. - Psalm 121:1
There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men - Maurice Herzog, Annapurna
Mountains and hills, snow robed peaks and knife edged turrets have a way of drawing the spirit and soul to the heights. There are rock jocks, of course, that merely turn to the high regions to bag yet another peak, to overcome another challenge. But, there is, at a deeper level, much more to the mountains than merely another ascent feather to place in a climbing cap.
Many of us grew up, as children, with the stirring tales, set in Switzerland, of Heidi and Banner in the Sky. These novels were made into movies, and both tales are more than merely about living in the Swiss Alps or climbing the Matterhorn. It is impossible to read Heidi or Banner in the Sky without being taken by the fact that these stories are about, at a deeper level, inner mountains that need to be climbed to overcome a variety of fears, insecurities, anger and bitterness. Such interior peaks take people to vistas and views that open up all sorts of new possibilities for the journey of life. But, a journey needs to be made to reach such pinnacles, and often many a hard hike.
It is significant to note that the Greek word for mountain, oros, is the root from which we get oracle and oracular. Moses went to the peaks to receive the Decalogue, and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was, indeed, taught high above the hurly burly of valley life. There is something about the mountains that points the way to deeper and higher issues. Those who take the time to travel to such high places, spend hours, days or weeks in the solitude and silence of such ancient sentinels often return different people.
The mystical tradition within Christianity often refers to our pilgrimage as an ascent to insight or a climbing of a ladder from lower to higher desires. It is significant to note that Dante in the Divine Comedy used the analogy of the mountains as a means of charting the journey from darkness to light just as Petrarch’s, ‘The Ascent of Mount Ventoux’, was as much about an inner hike as it was about a demanding physical climb of Ventoux in France. There is no doubting the fact that mountains, hills and highlands are one of the basic archetypes and mythic ways of seeing and being deeper people.
The Victorian Mountaineers (1953) and Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite (1959) are now classics in the genre of literature, mountaineering and spirituality. These are must reads and keepers for keeners on the nuanced relationship between Nature and the Soul, God and our all too human journey. It is significant to note that many of the American Beats (Snyder, Kerouac, Whalen, Jeffers, Everson) turned to the hills for hope and insight just as the English High Romantics (Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey and Ruskin) saw in the peaks sites of wisdom and transformative power.
I have spent days, weeks and months in the last few decades in the high regions. In fact, in my early twenties, in the early 1970s, I lived in Switzerland twice and hiked and climbed many peaks to be near where Banner in the Sky and Heidi were written. I spent time in the Alpine village of Grindelwald in Switzerland in 1972 to be near the chalet of Coolidge, the Boswell of the Alps. I was fortunate to spend six months with Francis Schaeffer in 1973-74, and while I was at L’Abri, I took to the Alpine peaks often.
I have spent a great deal of time in the High Cascades and Coastal Mountains, and I find, in most of my hikes and climbs, most I meet, are interested in the connection between mountains and spirituality. Books in lookout cabins often deal with Eastern spirituality and mountains. Perhaps the time has come when we need to turn to the fullness of the Western Tradition and discern how Christianity, mountaineering and spirituality need to be brought together again. This is a peak worth climbing. May we do it, and do it well.
O the mind, mind has mountains
- Gerard Manley Hopkins
From death in valleys preserve me, O Lord
Robert Macfarlane (p. 9)
Have men and women, throughout the long stretches of human history, taken to the mountains the way we do in our time and ethos? Have white crowned peaks, rock diadems and spear spires always drawn the curious, energetic, skilled and interested? Have mountains always been a place of allure, delight, charm and attraction? Or, is the passion for the mountains and out of doors hiking, climbing and glacier traverses more a product of the last few centuries? If this is the case, why is it? And, deeper yet, what are the reasons (complicated and diverse though they might be) that women and men take to the mountains, challenging rock rims and high perched peaks?
Mountains of the Mind attempts, in a variety of ways, to answer these questions. Such abiding questions, though, are not merely answered from the safe confines of the academic and library chair. Robert Macfarlane, to his credit, attempts to scale the peaks of such answers from a variety of routes. Macfarlane is Scottish, a climber and international in experience and interest. He has taken to many peaks, and his answers to the questions raised above emerge both from within himself and the multiple voices from those who have taken to the peaks in the past. Mountains of the Mind is as much about the internal ascents, hard places, difficult routes, worrisome crevasses, long trails, fears and insecurities that dog one and all as it is about the external and hard realities of real mountains and packed snow places.
With what has been transpiring on the US side of the border, it might be tempting to wag our Canadian fingers. Ron Dart, prodigious writer, mountaineer, poet, political science prof, and one of Canada’s leading intellectuals of the Red Tory tradition, admonishes otherwise. In his recent book, The North American High Tory Tradition, he demonstrates that the two apparently differing ideological camps have a single root. And we in Canada, wish as we might, are not as free of the offending subsequent effects as we may think.
In this text, Ron Dart has managed to accomplish quite an astounding thing: not merely reflect cogently – and with pique – on wide-ranging topics such as (but not limited to), Noam Chomsky, Platonic versus Aristotelian philosophy, contemplative mysticism, Allen Ginsburg, C.S. Lewis, the Beats, Anglicanism, Erasmus, Puritan theology, Charles Taylor, colonialization, and T.S Eliot, but even more impressively, has masterfully strung through all these topics and personalities a thread which, by the conclusion, brings home to the reader an undeniable fact: liberalism is a weed which must be dealt with if we as people – not just Canadians, or Americans or Westerners – are to flourish.
Sound like a rather large undertaking which Dart has attempted? It is; and, he has done it beautifully. Each of the above topics, along with still others, are handily dealt with in a way that aids to a great enlargement on a topic that isn’t much explored these days: the importance of what true conservatism looks like.
Review of Mystical Landscapes: From Vincent van Gogh to Emily Carr. Edited by Katharine Lochman with Roald Nasgaard & Bogomila Welsch-Ovcharov (New York: DelMonico Books, 2016).
Review by Ron Dart
There has been a regrettable tendency to falsely and naively assume the right wing of the Enlightenment project (with its excessive focus on the empirical, rationalistic, scientistic and secular ideology) defines the modern ethos. Such an approach negates the ongoing interest in spirituality, religion and a contemplative way of knowing and being that have played a significant role in the romantic and humanist commitments of the Enlightenment. The sheer beauty and bounty of Mystical Landscapes: From Vincent van Gogh to Emily Carr is the way this visual and literary text amply illustrates how many of the finest artists of the 19th and 20th centuries expressed their spiritual longings on canvass as they drew inspiration and deeper insight from the vast landscape of Nature.
The intricate and delicate interplay in this packed tome between multiple essays and classical paintings drawn, mostly, from the European and North American context make for a comprehensive read and visual tour. The fact that Evelyn Underhill is often cited as a guiding visionary of the mystical grounds Mystical Landscapes in a solid and sustained manner. The equally important fact that the paintings included in the text were housed at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) from late autumn 2016 into the early months of 2017 make this collection an unusual and rare coup of sorts for the AGO.
The wide ranging nature of the topics included in the essays, the depth explored, at both a theoretical and applied level and the constant return to the actual paintings makes Mystical Landscapes an evocative and illuminating read---the sheer synthesis is amply admirable. It might have been valuable, by way of conclusion, to draw in more of the Canadian mountain painters beyond the Group of Seven and Emily Carr (such as Peter/Catherine Whyte---Whyte Museum in Baff) and ponder how Underhill’s journey from her earlier Mysticism (1911) to her more mature Worship (1936) might redefine the relationship between mysticism and landscapes, spirituality and nature but these are minor quibbles.
There can be no doubt that Mystical Landscapes: From Vincent van Gogh to Emily Carr is a pioneering book of the highest quality and, as such, presents, through the eyes and souls of artists and writers, a more nuanced and balanced notion and understanding of the modern enlightenment ethos. Do meditatively read and inwardly digest this beauty---soul, mind and imagination will never be the same.
There has been a dearth of sorts in the English speaking world of a solid book that covers, in thoughtful depth and detail, the letters that Archbishop John Chrysostom sent to one of his dearest friends, Olympia, in his painful exile (404-407 CE) that terminated in his death.
Chrysostom, as most who are acutely aware of the politics of his time, came to the golden city of Constantinople in 398CE from another major city, Antioch, to become the Archbishop. Constantinople was rife with political intrigue and Chrysostom, the golden mouthed, brooked little folly or foolishness from clerics, laity, leading political leaders and the high mucky mucks of the day. This, of course, led him to many a clash and tension with those in the church and state who opposed his vision of the church and a just society where tales of two cities dominated.
Olympia had established herself (coming from a wealthy and aristocratic family) as the leading spiritual director and Amma of sorts of Constantinople when Chrysostom arrived in 398 CE. Olympia had freed her servants, given much of her property and possessions to the poor and needy and established a convent of sorts in Constantinople (that became a home and haven for many women). It was predictable, therefore, that when John arrived in Constantinople, he and Olympia (given their leadership abilities and ascetic life styles) would work closely together to deepen and enrich the meaning of Christianity in a major see of Christendom.
The six years Chrysostom and Olympia worked closely together (398-404 CE) knit them together in a way that is most rare and unique. When John was, as anticipated, sent into exile in 404CE, it was natural that Olympia would feel part of herself had been severed. It was natural that Olympia would feel deserted, alone and opposed (for she identified with John and his followers contra those who supported the emperor and his wife). Olympia often felt discouraged, despondent and abandoned. Many were the women she had to shepherd, much was the opposition she faced and few were those who could, at a deeper level, console her soul.
David Ford has, in this superb missive of sorts, offered the curious reader, a finely wrought overview of the life of Olympia, some of the major themes of the seventeen letters Chrysostom wrote to Olympia and, much to the delight of Chrysostom-Olympia historic keeners, the letters themselves. This is the first time in English the letters from Chrysostom have been brought together in the way they have. Sadly so, the letters from Olympia have not survived, but much can be inferred from the letters by Chrysostom to Olympia.
Ford has brought together many an ample footnote for those who are interested in going further along the historic context and ethos of John and Olympia’s period of history. The larger themes that stand back of the letters such as internal church politics, church and state clashes and tensions are as much with us today as then. I was fortunate, many a decade ago, to do a Master’s degree at Regent College (1979-1981) on John Cassian. Cassian, like Chrysostom, suffered the theological clashes and church politics, and it was Chrysostom who sheltered him in 399CE from the intrigues of Alexandria and Constantinople.
It might be significant to note that many of John’s letters, perhaps, in trying to be pastoral, leaned too far in the direction of the mind as a means of curing despondency and depression rather than the heart. The task, of course, when being pastoral, is discerning how to address heart and head, feelings and mind. I think it can be noted that John leaned too far in one direction and this can be seen as a limitation in his letters to Olympia.
The sheer beauty of Saint John Chrysostom: Letters to Saint Olympia is the way larger issues are played out in the agony of personal relationships and the way leaders of the church attempt, in their imperfect and finite way, to support one another. The letters by John to Olympia are landmark testaments to affinities and friendships that weather the storms of their time. The ending is not, at one level, pleasant. John died in exile, Olympia died a year later. It is the faithfulness of John and Olympia in the midst of demanding struggles and many a disappointment that shines through in these letters and makes this a burnished gold book. Do read and inwardly digest this bounty of a correspondence. The faith journey will have much more integrity as a result of sitting with these two all too human saints of the church. Many thanks, of course, to David Ford, for his yeoman’s labour in bringing forth a much neglected correspondence. The light from the past still shines clear and bright.
There are legions of books on the techniques of church growth, ways and means to be church friendly, selling the church as a commodity of sorts and the church reduced to, in many ways, an entertainment industry. Such a way of approaching the life of the church tends to demean and distort qualitative Christianity and pander to a shallow and cheap grace quantity. The sheer beauty and grace of Hopeful Realism in Urban Ministry is the way Barry Morris (with a fine foreward by Tim Dickau) offers deeper probes into a more authentic Christianity.
Hopeful Realism has eight compact chapters and Appendix A-B. Each of the evocative chapters draws the curious reader into their enticing orbit in a thoughtful and compelling way: 1) Proposal of Hopeful Realism, 2) Urban Ministry and Theology’s Enduring Themes, 3) Urban Ministry’s Dynamics and Triad Intimations, 4) Hope via Moltmann and Urban Ministry Intimations, 5) Justice via Niebuhr and Urban Ministry Intimations, 6) Prayer via Merton and Urban Ministry Intimations, 7) Longhouse Ministry and Networking and 8) Summary Considerations and Conclusions. Appendix A, in a wise and judicious manner, touches on “The Merton and New Monasticism Check and Balance” and Appendix B offers the practical “Networks‘ Viva Voce Testimonies and Inducing Central Story Line”.
The title of this must read missive makes abundantly clear the portal that must be passed through: this is not a book about naïve and untried idealism or a defeatist cynicism that collapse when the hard issues are pressed deeper and further. This book is, indeed, about “hopeful realism” (not despair or a sentimental optimism) in the midst of the urban fray (and some of the more rougher cultures within the urban context). The fact that Barry draws on such luminaries as Moltmann, Niebuhr and Merton speaks libraries about the way many of the ideas in the book have been tested and faithfully tried for decades.
Hopeful Realism is as much about the theory of hopeful realism within an urban context as it is about practical means of living from and into such a situation. This burnished gold of a book has certainly been refined on the anvil of real life and lived dilemmas that ministry must face in the trenches. In short, this is not merely yet another academic book on how to be a successful church in a city context. The obstinate fact that Barry has lived such a life and this book is his literary child and manifesto of sorts does need to be noted. The life of a minister who has been committed to one place for many years does bear witness to a life of integrity----not flitting like a spiritual butterfly (like many today) from place to place, conference to conference, retreat to retreat, guru to guru. The downtown area of Vancouver has been Barry’s vow of stability centre, family and home. Depth does emerge when stability and commitment to place becomes a spiritual discipline and Hopeful Realism amply illustrates how this is the indubitable case.
It was somewhat heartening to note how Barry mined the theological insights of Moltmann, Niebuhr and Merton, but, as a Canadian, I’d have been delighted if Barry had also given Canadian theologians more prominence. The Canadian colonial way does run deep. Barry does mention the Canadian theologian Douglas Hall in passing, but he does not mention Canada’s most important public theologian-philosopher, George Grant (who did much to shape Hall’s theology). Would it have been possible to raise Grant-Hall to the level of Moltmann, Niebuhr and Merton? It certainly would have, but overcoming a colonial tendency in which non-Canadians are valourized for guidance and a north star to the exclusion of Canadians does involve some soul searching.
I have no doubt that Hopeful Realism will not be a bumper crop seller for those who think mega-church and thin church growth notions. But, for those committed to costly grace and faithfulness to a deeper understanding of Christianity, this book should be one of the central on the shelf books.
It was through him (Lewis) that I really discovered the meaning of friendship…. When we last met, a month before his death, he reminded me that we had been friends for nearly forty years. There are not many things more precious to me than that friendship.
Bede Griffiths - “The Adventure of Faith”
A man should keep his friendship in constant repair.
C.S. Lewis was one of the most prominent Medieval and Renaissance scholars at Oxford, initially, then Cambridge, from the 1930s until his death in 1963. Bede Griffiths was, as a young man, a student of Lewis, and, both men came to Christianity together from about 1929-1932. The relationship, as time unfolded, changed from teacher-student to, through many a trying moment, pure gold friends. It is somewhat significant that Bede Griffiths gave Lewis a copy of Aelrid of Rievaulx’s Spiritual Friendship (acknowledged by Lewis in a letter to Griffiths: May 26 1943). Aelrid was the much loved Abbot of Rievaulx and his missive on “spiritual friendship” is a classic in western spirituality. It is quite appropriate that Lewis and Griffiths (both immersed in the mother lode of the classical and western tradition with a generous openness to the East and Orient) would have held high the notion of friendship and Aelrid’s beauty of a text on the subject.
I have, for many a decade and for different reasons, been attracted to both Lewis and Griffiths, and my small book, C.S. Lewis and Bede Griffiths: Chief Companions (2016) highlights the layered friendship between Lewis and Griffiths over many a decade. Griffiths, after the death of Lewis in 1963, often came to the defence of Lewis in The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal. The fact that few Griffiths keeners know much about the many letters by Griffiths to The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal means a significant aspect of both Griffiths’ and Lewis’ friendship is not known about. The more the letters by Griffiths about Lewis to the Journal are read and pondered, the richer becomes our understanding of Lewis and Griffiths (and their friendship). And, as Griffiths noted, “There are not many things more precious to me than that friendship”.
It is somewhat interesting that many a fan of Lewis knows little about the Lewis-Griffiths friendship and, equally so, many who have the highest admiration for Griffiths know little about Griffiths’ close friendship with Lewis. Why is this the case? There are tendencies, of course, to freeze thinkers and activists within certain time frames, then reduce their complexity and nimbleness to simplistic categories. Creative, thoughtful and innovative thinkers can rarely be cabin’d, cribb’d and confin’d in such a way, but often followers and interpreters do this for the purpose of comparing and contrasting, highlighting who best reflects their agendas. Lewis and Griffiths, decidedly so, elude such caging and embalming. Lewis certainly cannot be reduced to an apologist for reformed and evangelical Christianity no more than he can be defined as a conservative/republican in politics—sadly so, this has often been done. Lewis is much more catholic and spacious than his followers and adherents make him out to be. The same can be said about Griffiths. How is Griffiths to be interpreted? Was he, at day’s end, a sophisticated syncretist or a Roman Catholic with an achingly high view of common grace? Was Griffiths merely a post-Vatican II progressive or more of a patristic contemplative theologian that applied Classical Christian meditative thought to comparative religions?
How are we to read and interpret the nuanced and subtle insights and wisdom of Lewis and Griffiths? The danger, as mentioned above, is to simplify their thinking for the purpose of too easy categorization.
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey ...
-- T.S. Eliot
"At your right hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir"
-- Psalm 45:9
We are often informed, in the liturgical year, that Advent (from the Latin) means coming. We then ask ourselves, rightly so, whose coming? The stock answer is that Christ has come (this is what Christmas is about), and Christ will come again. These answers seem to end the conversation and catechism for the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season. But, is there more that might be asked and answered? What does all this mean for us between the Christ who came, and the Christ who will come again?
Advent in the west, at least, takes place at a time of year when the light and sun is lessening. Darkness is ever present, and the night season encroaches on soil and soul. It is not as easy to bask in the long days of summer and the warmth of day star. It is much easier to take to the hills and delight in the human journey when fair weather and the light of the day stretches on much longer.
But, what happens when darkness and hard things come our way? What happens when the days in our lives lack the warmth and brightness of summer and the blue canopy seems cold and icy? How do we live the Divine life when darkness seems to dominate the day and light ever recedes?
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was asked a hard question by the angel Gabriel. Would she be willing to allow the Divine life to grow within her, and would she be willing to give birth to and nourish the young child Jesus? Needless to say, a Yes meant many a hardship and much pain. Mary was not naïve. She knew in the marrow of her bones and the depth of her heart what such a Yes might mean. She knew the pain and tragedy that could follow when a Yes was said. There is no doubt that it would have been much easier to say No.
Mary, to here credit, had the courage to say Yes to such an invitation. She allowed Jesus the Christ to grow within the womb of her body and soul. She felt the kicking, the interior growth, the actual life of Christ in her. She was often slighted and misunderstood, treated indifferently and marginalized for her Yes. She and Joseph were on the run from the Roman empire for many years. Mary was neither sentimental nor weak willed. She knew the hard price for saying Yes.
Mary is to be revered by the church as an icon for welcoming the Divine invitation. There was much letting go and many deaths Mary had to die for Christ to be born, grow in wisdom and mature. Advent, therefore, raises a simple question for us. What does it mean for Christ to be born, nourished and nurtured in the womb of our souls and bodies? What does such a birthing and coming look like in the steps we take each day on our human journey? The answers to such questions are not easy in an age in which many trot out a domesticated, sanitized and tamed faith.
Advent takes place at a time of year when dusk, night and dawn dominate much of the day. How do we say Yes to the birth and coming of Christ in such a season? It is much easier, of course, to have a form of Christianity that ignores hardship, suffering and pain. Such religious triumphalism is foreign to the deeper message of the faith journey and the meaning of Advent.
Mary is the Queen of Heaven for the simple reason that she had the courage to say Yes to God in a dark and hard season when night pressed in on her and her people. The saints and mystics of the church know, in the sinews and ligaments of their souls, that the deepest coming of Christ only takes place through dark nights and clouds of uncertainty and unknowing. Mary knew this, she opened herself to such hard places, and she clarified for us what the coming of Christ truly means for us in this Advent season.
Nada to think, for you are not ready to think.
Nada to imagine, for you are not ready to imagine.
Nada to do, for you are not ready to do.
Enter the Nada and darkness and remain there.
Rest in Nada.
To do will come when the season is right and ripe.
Kairos and Todo---lovers and dancing partners.
“I saw a light above the brightness of the sun”
New Camaldoli Monastery
It is this capacity for giving imaginative body to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity that seems to me one of the most remarkable things about your work. - Evelyn Underhill letter to C.S. Lewis (January 13 1941)
Many with a minimal literary background will have read articles or books by C.S. Lewis. The Lewis of popular consumption is certainly not the more nuanced and layered Lewis. The more popular books by Lewis were, mostly, published in the 1940s-1950s to his death in 1963. There have been many letters, books, articles by Lewis published since his death. But, the C.S. Lewis of the 1930s was still in the budding phase with a few blossoms that hinted further fruit.
The rather abstract and initial autobiography of Lewis’ journey to Christian faith, The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism, left the publishing press in 1933. It is certainly not one of Lewis’ better books, but there are hints in it of finer things to come. The emergence of Lewis, the Oxford don and Medieval literary scholar, was clearly established when The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition left the publishing tarmac in 1936. Who would have guessed by the mid-1930s that Lewis was about to launch as a significant writer of international breadth and depth, and that his first real work of imaginative fiction would appeal to Evelyn Underhill?
The origins of the Anabaptist Tradition is an ongoing and contested one--from a monogenesis of pacifism and peace to a varied and complex polygenesis, the history of 16th century Anabaptist research remains lively and animated, both in the beginnings and contemporary applications of such an interpretation. Then, there is, of course, the haunting demon of the Munster Rebellion of 1534-1535 that lingers and will not disappear.
The appeal of Abraham Friesen’s book, Menno Simons: Dutch Reformer Between Luther, Erasmus and the Holy Spirit, is the way he ably and nimbly navigates the important areas of Menno scholarship. It is impossible, of course, to disconnect Menno Simons from his historic context, hence Part I of the tome (“The Reformation, An Era of Recovery and Conflict: Revolutions, Spiritual and Material”) reveals, on a broad and convincing cavass the reality within which Simons lived, moved and had his being. The more pressing and not to be denied or ignored context is covered in much more depth and detail in Part II (“The Movement: Munster as Background and Context”). Friesen devotes almost 100 pages (about ¼ of the book) to the Munster Rebellion from which Menno Simons articulated and lived forth an alternate faith journey and, in many ways, birthed the Mennonites.
"Posterity may know we have not loosely through silence permitted to pass away as in a dream." RICHARD HOOKER, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, 1593.
When living in a political climate where silence, and indeed a certain banal idiocy, threatens to nullify Hooker's sincerest hope, sometimes the stark voice of lament delivers a wake-up call and a nation's demise is deferred for another generation. So it was with the publication of George P. Grant's Lament for a Nation in Canada in 1965. Canada's unique vision was waning into vassal state status in the shadow of US imperial policy and liberal culture. Grant's jeremiad served as smelling salts and, against heavy odds, Canadians 'came to,' at least in part and for a time.
Through Ron Dart, Grant's Lament was my introduction to the High Tory tradition. Ron and I hiked the trails of the North Cascades over the course of years, through a series of parapatetic lessons on political philosophy and practical theology. The miles covered took us from Plato to Christ, Luther to Leacock, Hooker to Hegel to Heidegger ... and ultimately to my PhD dissertation on George Grant and Simone Weil. Mounting these peaks broadened my own horizons and offered me fresh mental, emotional and theological health. I'm indebted to Ron for that experience. In the end, we co-published a text entitled, "George P. Grant: Canada's Lone Wolf - Essays in Political Philosophy."
Now, Ron Dart, though already profound and prolific in this field, has released his magnum opus on The North American High Tory Tradition (American Anglican Press, 2016). This weighty work of politics, philosophy, literature and theology surely cements Ron's place as the leading High Tory scholar in Canada, if not the world. He has a unique ability to see to the heart of the matter and to transcend the poverty of the left-right spectrum. His critique of American modern liberal thought would be devastating, but Dart nevertheless disappoints extremists (as did Grant before him) by nuancing nearly any debate beyond crass reactivism.
Perhaps Ron's greatest critical faculty is expressed when he compares various thinkers and movements. In this collection of essays, he contrasts Canadian toryism with American conservatism; Noam Chomsky with Robin Mathews; Ginsberg with Grant; Creighton with Forsey; Leacock with Eliot; and even Anglicanism with Orthodoxy. This sort of flint-on-stone approach produces sparks of insight that I've not seen elsewhere. I would regard Dart's work as a richer blend than, for example, Phillip Blond's popular Red Tory analysis on the UK front. This achievement is magnified by Dart's embodied stewardship of the George Grant legacy. It marks this particular work as the decisive text on The North American High Tory Tradition.
Bradley Jersak is the author of From the Cave to the Cross: George Grant and Simone Weil's Theology of the Cross, originally Jersak's PhD thesis completed under Ron Dart's co-supervision.
Ron Dart’s latest book, The North American High Tory Tradition, was published at the end of August this year by American Anglican Press (New York). The book brings together 25 of Dart’s best and most insightful essays on the High Tory Tradition – a subject he is intimately familiar with, having been immersed in it his whole life at personal, academic, political and religious levels. Indeed, when it comes to discussing the High Tory tradition, there is probably nobody better suited to the task than Professor Dart. Since the publication, in 1999, of his The Red Tory Tradition: Ancient Roots, New Routes, nobody has done more than Dart to unearth, unpack and unravel the many nuanced complexities of the High Tory tradition in Canada. He further developed his thesis on High Toryism with the publication of The Canadian High Tory Tradition: Raids on the Unspeakable (2004) and Keepers of the Flame: Canadian Red Toryism (2012). Each of these earlier volumes was a significant and much needed addition and corrective to our current read and understand of political, philosophical, cultural and theological history. In that regard, each successive text helped to further clarify the meaning and importance of High Toryism within our contemporary ethos and allowed Robin Mathews, one of Canada’s finest and most important political poets, to unequivocally state that Ron Dart “has become the most important writer about Red Toryism in Canada.” His latest book, as I’ve said, continues this familiar but important theme in Professor Dart’s work by bringing together, in one handsome volume, some of his best essays on the subject.
The publication in 1960 of Sheldon Wolin’s Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought re-established in many ways, the importance of epic and classical political philosophy contra the reigning tendency towards positivism and behaviorism (a shrinking of thought to the smallest scientistic circle turns). The republication of Politics and Vision in 2004 reminded thoughtful political theorists of a motherlode worth the mining. There can be no doubt that Wolin’s 1969 article, “Political Theory as a Vocation”, inspired a generation of idealists to realize that thinking in a political way could be a vocation and birthed, in some ways, the Berkeley School of Political Theory. The death of Wolin (1922-2015) ended an important era of substantive approaches to political thought, but Wolin’s notion of thinking in large, epic and historic ways lingers on in opposition to those who reduce thinking to micro issues.
Why have I begun and article on Pierre Teilhard De Chardin (1881-1955) by referring to Sheldon Wolin? Both De Chardin and Wolin thought on a large canvass—they were the perennial foxes rather than the burrowing hedgehogs. Both men covered much terrain in their expansive thinking and interpretations. Needless to say, De Chardin was much more concerned and focussed on the relationship of spirituality and science than was Wolin, and it is to this important crossroads I now turn.