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History 4: Christendom

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  1. 1. Orientation
    12 Steps
  2. 2. Eternity in Operation: The Roman Principate and the New Testament Church
    11 Steps
  3. 3. Imperium sine Fine: The Successions of Rome, Judea, and the Apostolic Church
    11 Steps
  4. 4. The World That Died in the Night: Christianity, the Church Fathers, and the Transformation of Culture
    11 Steps
  5. 5. A Creed and Still a Gospel: Constantine, Nicea and Athanasius
    11 Steps
  6. 6. Centripetal & Centrifugal Forces: The Barbarians, the Church and the Fall of Rome
    11 Steps
  7. 7. Only the Lover Sings: Augustine of Hippo
    11 Steps
  8. 8. The Long Defeat: Byzantium
    11 Steps
  9. 9. There is No God But Allah: Islam
    11 Steps
  10. 10. How the Celts Saved Civilization: Christianity in Ireland and Britain
    11 Steps
  11. 11. The Holy Roman Empire: Benedict & Monasticism, Gregory the Great & Worship, Charlemagne & Education
    11 Steps
  12. 12. The Ballad of the White Horse: The Norse and Alfred the Great
    11 Steps
  13. 13. Medieval Covenants: Feudalism and the Norman Conquest
    12 Steps
  14. 14. Deus Vult: The First Crusade
    13 Steps
  15. 15. Outremer: Crusader Kingdoms and Later Crusades
    12 Steps
  16. 16. The Music of the Spheres: Medieval Art, Towns, Cathedrals and Monks
    11 Steps
  17. 17. Wonder & Delight: Medieval Education, the Scholastics and Dante
    12 Steps
  18. 18. Just Rule and a Braveheart: Plantagenets, Common Law and the Scots
    11 Steps
  19. 19. The Fracturing of Christendom I: Invasions, Wars and Plagues
    11 Steps
  20. 20. The Fracturing of Christendom II: The End of the Middle Ages
    12 Steps
  21. 21. Man the Measure I: The Renaissance
    12 Steps
  22. 22. Man the Measure II: The Renaissance
    12 Steps
  23. 23. The Morning Stars of the Reformation: Wycliffe to Erasmus
    11 Steps
  24. 24. Justification by Faith: The Great Reformation
    11 Steps
  25. 25. Towards a Proper End: Reformations and Counter-Reformations
    11 Steps
  26. 26. Lex Rex: The English Civil War and the Scots
    12 Steps
Lesson 1, Step 3
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1.2 – The Meaning of Life (17 min video)

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The following transcript was automatically generated and may contain errors in spelling and/or grammar. It is provided for assistance in note-taking and review.

– Today, I want to start out with a question which you may have already asked yourself, and that is, why do we study history?

It’s helpful to actually ask the question, why we study history, when you’re starting out on a history class. It’s also helpful to ask that same question whenever you’re studying any subject, or really whenever you’re doing anything at all. And so that leads us to another question before we can even answer why study history. We need to ask ourselves the question, why do we take the time for this thing called school? Now the typical answer to that, typical response, is usually something that’s rather pragmatic. The answer usually is, well, you go to school, you go through all of these high school classes, and you do as well in them as you possibly can and well on the SAT or ACT as you possibly can, so that you can gain college admission, go to a good school, you can earn a degree, you can then get a good job and you can make plenty of money.

Now it is true, money is definitely needed. And perhaps you’ll find a different way to actually get there than going through college. But the question we have to ask always is what’s the end of that? What is the goal of that? What is the purpose of life? That’s really what we have to answer if we’re going to actually deal with why we do school or why we study history. Now, before we even get into kind of like the purpose of life, I’d like to back up a little bit and talk about why we actually conclude the way that we as moderns typically do, where we think that the whole purpose of education is simply to get somewhere financially speaking.

And that’s where I find the thinking of C.S. Lewis to be remarkably helpful. In 1919, when Lewis was still a young man, this is at the beginning of really the radical shift into modern culture, ’cause it’s following World War I. Well, it was in that year that a German sociologist by the name of Max Weber publicly argued that the world had become disenchanted. It no longer thought of magic as being something real, but more specifically, it no longer thought of the supernatural, the spiritual, God himself as being real.

And he argued the reason for that was that science had seemingly uncovered the mysteries of the world or would someday uncover all mysteries and answer all questions, revealing all facts.

But then he goes on to note that there’s a problem with this because he understood that science doesn’t give value. It gives us facts, but it doesn’t actually give us truth. It can show us that people may like something according to a certain percentage, but it can’t explain beauty. Science may be able to say that if you go and do a certain deed, it’ll typically have these results, but it can’t explain goodness. In other words, it gives us data, but it doesn’t give us value. It doesn’t give us a reason for living. So Lewis wrestled with this. He wrestled with the loss of enchantment. In fact, he wrote once saying, quote, Nearly all that I loved, I believed to be imaginary. And nearly all that I believed to be real, I thought grim and meaningless. He assumed that the things that he loved, really good stories, say fairy tales, for example, or any kind of stories that involve redemption, that have a happy ending.

He thought of those as being imaginary, as being just fairy tales, as just mere myths. You could put the gospel story in that category. The thing is, is that he’s right. The gospel is a fairy tale. The gospel is a myth. And that argument comes to us from J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis’s friend who was key in his conversion. It was Tolkien who called the gospel story not just a myth, but a true myth. He called it that because the gospel story has all the qualities of a myth. It’s something that has a clear creation, a clear setting, something magnificent and epic it’s trying to solve. But then it also has a quest, really an epic quest. It has divine intervention and it has an astonishing redemption in which suddenly you have what Tolkien called a eucatastrophe. Literally by that word, he meant a good disaster. And of course, he’s referring to the crucifixion followed by the resurrection. That is a eucatastrophe, a good disaster. In other words, he was able to point to Lewis that everything Lewis loved from the stories that he had read that he thought was only imaginary was pointing to one true story.

a true myth that was real, that was historical, that happened at a set time and a set place, which is truly imaginative, not because it’s made up, but because it captivates, it captures our very imagination. And so Lewis could go on. He could write fairy tales like what you see in Narnia. And he could see them not as naive fantasies, hoping in something that will never be, when instead he could see them as analogies of the greatest story ever told.

He could see them as analogies, telling the story of a God who is transcendent, who is above his creation, yet also imminent. He’s actually actively working in his creation, all the way to incarnation, to death, and to resurrection. And that’s why when Lewis gave his famous speech, “The Weight of Glory,” he talks about this idea of enchantment again. Remember, it was Max Weber who said that we as moderns have lost enchantment. We had lost the idea of seeing the world as being something amazing or having the supernatural actually involved in it. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory” said this, he said, “Do you think I’m trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am. But remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness, which has been laid upon us for nearly 100 years.

I can’t remember who said it, but I still remember somebody commenting on this passage years ago saying that for us, It’s as if we’re living in a world that has been disenchanted, has been convinced that there really is nothing beyond the material, and it’s had that done by an evil enchanter. That concept, the fact that we have to wake up from that enchantment that makes us think there is no enchantment, that is what Lewis is getting at.

But he’s not saying there should be no enchantment whatsoever, because the meaning of the word enchantment is key. I want you to note this. It means to be in a song. It means simply to see that there really is a harmony in creation. Yes, we live in a fallen world, but in terms of the order of creation, especially the heavens above, there is a harmony of things working together.

And that’s why both the ancients and the medievals, When they looked at the way the universe works, they didn’t just call it astronomy, they called it the music of the spheres. They actually saw the hand of God in everything. And if you study something like sacred geometry or something like the Fibonacci sequence, for example, you begin seeing it not just in architecture or in mathematics, but you begin seeing it in things like spiral galaxies or spiral seashells or plant life or even human DNA.

It’s as if there really is a plot because there is a plotter who created everything and has left his mark upon everything. This is why Winchesterton, another one of my favorite authors who also influenced Lewis, this is why Winchesterton looked at the entire universe. He saw it as a a great story. He saw it as a true fairy tale and Chushen simply said it was good to be in a fairy tale. And he said the test of all happiness is gratitude. That last word, gratitude, that’s a huge hint at the purpose of life and therefore a huge hint at why we undergo this thing called school. That’s a huge hint because the two questions, why do we learn and what’s the purpose of our life? They’re one in the same question. So let’s deal first of all with that question, what is the purpose of life? And I’ve always found, well, since high school when I first encountered it, I’ve always found the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to be enlightening. It’s the question there that asks, what is the chief end of man? What’s our purpose? Why are we here? And the answer is simple. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. It’s remarkable that our purpose in this life is to worship, to worship God Himself, because that’s what we were made for. And furthermore, it’s how we actually enjoy Him forever. It’s how we find joy itself. Stratford Caldecott, contemplating worship, defines it as, “An idea that begins with the acknowledgement of a transcendent, transcendent God who’s above creation that reveals itself or Himself in the imminent. He actually works in this world. He then goes on to say that the fundamental human act, like our central action, he says, is prayer, which he defines as the remembrance and the invocation of God.

This act is that by which heaven and earth are linked together. In other words, he notes that in prayer we both remember who God is, remembering what he has done and how he has been faithful.

So there’s history for right there, but we also invoke Him. We also call upon Him in our present need. And all of that is a part of worship. Lewis would say of worship and experimenting criticism. He was really writing about literature there, but he said that both in a good story as well as worship, that he transcends himself, that he suddenly recognizes who he actually is meant to be.

It’s in worship where we can recognize, as Paul quotes in Acts, that in him, in God, we live and move and we have our being.

With that kind of understanding, we can take a look at passages like Colossians 1, which tells us that all things were created through God, specifically through Christ, and they were created for Him who has all the fullness of God dwelling within Him, and He at the same time is reconciling all things to Himself.

What this means is that when we look at creation, we are looking at the things that God has made and called good, which yes, have been affected by the fall, but he is reconciling them to himself.

This should mean that we should look at our subjects, the things that we study, that we learn about, we should look at them as things that are truly sacred because they’re made by a sacred God. And this is why, for example, you have somebody like St. Francis, who when he writes his famous Canticle of the Sun, he looks at creation as being like a brotherhood. He calls the sun Brother Sun, or he calls the moon Sister Moon. Not because he thought of them as actual beings, but because he saw them as the marvelous works of the Creator who had also created mankind.

It’s also how the Medievals, like Saint Francis, saw the subjects of what we call school, or what they sometimes called the quadrivium. They looked at mathematics, or arithmetic as they called it, and they saw it not just as how numbers work together as certain functions, they saw it as the theology of number.

When they looked at geometry, it was not simply for practical application and building, rather it was both the theology of numbers, but the numbers in space.

When they looked at music, It was the theology of number in time. And when they looked at astronomy, it was a theology of number in both space and time. We’ll actually unpack the quadrivium in greater detail in the series later on. But the basic point I wanna get back to you is the medievals, when they looked at the heavens, they really saw harmony. They saw what they called the music of the spheres. They looked up above and they saw order and they saw life. That’s why if you read Lewis’s space trilogy, Lewis who taught medieval literature, who actually writes about how the medievals looked at the nighttime sky. When he has his character of Ransom going up into space, Ransom describes the light of the solar system as being life giving, as being nourishing, almost like good food.

It’s also why both Lewis and Tolkien had music as the means by which their worlds, whether it was Narnia or Middle-earth, music was how they were created.

All of these things are pointing to the fact that our chief purpose, our chief end, is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

When we have a view like that, it allows us to see beyond this present moment. It allows us to not just see life as a series of tasks, or more specifically for you, and what my prayer is for you, to not just see school as a series of tasks, of things you have to accomplish to advance to the next stage.

That’s a struggle for a lot of us. When we actually live like that, we become something like say, Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh. When really I want you to have more of the joy and the wonder of Winnie the Pooh himself. In other words, don’t see the things that you do in school, whether it be this class or any class you take, as mere tasks that have to be done.

But instead, live out what 1 Corinthians 10 calls us to do, which is to do everything for the glory of God. So to conclude this little lecture here, which is talking about a rather giant idea, let me quote to you from Alexis de Tocqueville, who summarizes what I’m talking about well. when he says, “In ages of faith, the final end of life is placed beyond life.” The mid of those ages, those ages of faith, he says, “Therefore they naturally and almost involuntarily accustom themselves to fix their gaze for many years on some immovable object toward which they are constantly tending.

And they learn by insensible degrees to repress a multitude of petty passing desires, in order to be the better able to contend that great and lasting desire which possesses them.

” In other words, he says that the men of faith have something otherworldly that they focus upon. And that’s what motivates them to actually pursue so much in this world and accomplish so much in this life. We’re going to see that as we study Christendom.