One of the greatest writers not only in Russia but in the world, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote books which reflect a deep appreciation of human psychology, a profound interest in philosophy, and a devout Christian faith. His plots at times seem rambling to the point of chaotic, and his cast of characters extensive, but the reader is never left in any doubt that the author has a point and intends to make it.
Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow on 11th November 1821, to Mikhail Dostoyevsky, a doctor estranged from his family, who had expected him to become a priest, and Maria Nechayeva, who came from a family of merchants. He was raised in the family home in the grounds of the Mariinsky Home for the Poor, where his father worked, an upbringing which was steeped from an early age in the Christian faith and the literature of Russia and Europe: Pushkin, Goethe, Cervantes, Walter Scott, and Homer all joined the Bible in expected family reading. He had a ‘delicate constitution’ but a determined attitude which would see him in good stead in later life. Continue reading “Author Profile: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)”→
I first came across this poem as a Christmas carol adaptation by one of my favourite contemporary Christian bands, Casting Crowns (you can listen to their version here). Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote the original in 1863, in response to the American Civil War (1861-1865). It was an intensely personal poem: Longfellow’s eldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, had joined the War in the Union cause without his father’s blessing, and had later been seriously wounded in Virginia.
Although it has subsequently been adapted several times, with the more specific references to the War altered or omitted, the original runs as follows:
As the Roman Empire fell into decline and collapse another unifying cultural force began to spread through Europe, this time not by a process of conquest and empire-building, but through the gentler methods of persuasion and spiritual transformation. Legalised by Emperor Constantine I in 313 C.E. and declared the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius I in 380 C.E., the rising influence of Christianity and the waning power of Rome had a huge influence on art throughout Europe.
Christianity had inherited from its Jewish roots strong taboos against idolatry and nudity. Moreover, the new religion emphasised the pursuit of spiritual over physical perfection. Where once the athlete’s sculptured muscles and the maiden’s curvaceous beauty had epitomised all that was most desirable in humanity, now the focus was on gaining spiritual enlightenment and eternal life in the hereafter. Continue reading “A Very Short History of Art: The Early Christian to the Gothic”→
When King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England he faced a slew of problems, from war with Spain and Ireland which had led to a national debt of £400,000, to periodic outbreaks of plague and a growing fear of witchcraft. Religiously England and, to a lesser extent, Scotland were split between the mainstream Protestant Churches of the two countries, the Catholics who continued to look to Rome, and the Puritans who were agitating for radical Protestant reform.
James was a man of literary leaning (he authored several books over the course of his reign), and in 1604 he convened the Hampton Court Conference with representatives of the Church of England, including leading Puritans, to discuss a solution. As well as addressing such topics as baptism by laypeople, and excommunication, the Conference agreed to authorise a new English translation of the Bible. Thus was the Authorised Version, the King James Version, conceived. Continue reading “On Whose Authority? The King James Bible Part 2: The Birth of a Legend”→
One Crucifixion is recorded—only—
How many be
Is not affirmed of Mathematics—
One Calvary—exhibited to Stranger—
As many be
As persons—or Peninsulas—
Is but a Province—in the Being’s Centre—
For Journey—or Crusade’s Achieving—
Our Lord—indeed—made Compound Witness—
There’s newer—nearer Crucifixion
A year or so ago I had some friends over for dinner and my dear and devoutly-Catholic friend Mary shared the poem above. “What does it mean?” she asked, drawing all of us into a protracted conversation not only of the themes and meanings of this particular poem but of the work of Emily Dickinson, and poetry in general (dinner conversation at my house is not to everyone’s taste). Continue reading “Poet Profile: Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)”→
If you’ve read my list of Six Christian Classics it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’m quite a fan of the work of Clive Staples (‘Jack’) Lewis, who is regarded by many Christians as the pre-eminent apologist of the twentieth century.
This great ‘man of letters’, who taught at both Oxford and Cambridge, was born in Belfast and raised in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, but a series of events, which included the death of his mother from cancer in 1908, the influence of early twentieth century intellectualism, and his experiences as a Second Lieutenant in the trenches in World War One (beginning on his nineteenth birthday), led him to reject the faith of his childhood. Continue reading “Author Profile: C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)”→
At the very end of John’s gospel, the author adds this postscript:
‘Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.’ – John 21:25, NIV
There may be a certain amount of hyperbole involved in that statement, but a vast number of Christians have spent the last two thousand years endeavouring to remedy the lack. This list is somewhat biased, being based on books which I actually have on my shelves, but it is at least brief. It includes three fictional works, and three non-fiction. Showing still further bias one author, C. S. Lewis, appears twice. Here, then, is my list of six Christian classics, each of which I would heartily recommend.