Sayers at the Lewis Institute

Statue of lewis entering a wardrobe, belfast

Statue of lewis entering a wardrobe, belfast

The C.S. Lewis Institute is a fascinating resource for Christians who want to learn how to better engage their culture. It has articles and audio files on everything from how to grieve well to what would happen if C.S. Lewis met Stephen Colbert. Among its resources is a publication called Knowing and Doing. One of the things I like about this publication is that you can find classical writers alongside modern ones. The Summer 2018 issue, for example, includes a poem from Gerard Manley Hopkins and a short reading from Thomas Aquinas, as well as an article entitled "You Too Can Be An Evangelist Like Billy Graham" by Dr. Joe Woodruff.

I'm happy to say that the Summer 2018 issue also has an article on Dorothy L. Sayers by yours truly. If you liked my piece on the Circe blog and want to learn some more about her life, you'll like "The Remarkable Dorothy L. Sayers."

Statue of Sayers across from her home in Witham, UK

Statue of Sayers across from her home in Witham, UK

Who is Faust?

Faustus: Who made thee?
Mephistopheles: God, as the light makes the shadow.
Faustus: Is God, then, evil?
Mephistopheles: God is only light, and in the heart of the light, no shadow standeth. 
                                                                             -Sayers, The Devil to Pay

I had a fairly decent education in historical literature. I felt conversant in major story lines, such as The Odyssey and Hamlet, but up until the last few months, the names 'Faust' and 'Mephistopheles' conjured only murky, semi-diabolical, and depressing images for me. Nor did I have a clear idea of who wrote about them. Some German guy--Goethe--floated around in my educational soup, but he kept bumping up against Marlowe, the fellow who's not Shakespeare. Only when I realized that my literary hero, Dorothy Sayers, also wrote about the Faust legend, did I decide to get things straight.  For the benefit of the curious at large, here are my findings.

Authors: There are at least three plays* of the Faust legend. Christopher Marlowe wrote Doctor Faustus around 1600. Two hundred years later, in Germany, Goethe (pronounced 'Ger-tuh'), wrote Faust again. Then, in the 1940s, back in England, Dorothy Sayers wrote another version, entitled The Devil to Pay.

Plot: Dr. Faust is a genius who is bored of all regular areas of study. Theology, law, medicine, mathematics: all these mundane fields are for lesser men than he. So he turns to the 'science' of witchcraft and summons the demon, Mephistopheles. In return for Mephistopheles' service of a set amount of time (a service that would give Faust all his earthly desires of wealth, discovery, fame, etc.), Faust promises his soul to Lucifer. The rest of the play follows Faust's luxurious travels, his magic tricks at royal courts across Europe, and his conjuring up of that historical beauty, Helen, down to his last moments of panic as the devil closes in. 

Why read it? This depends on who you are. If you're an arrogant monomaniac who is tired of mundane sciences, this book is a good cautionary tale for you. If you've ever been tempted by the line "Live now, pay later," you should get to know Dr. Faust. If you want sermon material on God's remarkably stubborn desire to help wrong-headed humans, you should read a version of this story.

Which one should I read? Marlowe shows Dr. Faust at his meanest and Mephistopheles at his least interesting. But he's a brilliant writer and the originator, so ad fontes! Goethe portrays a more developed but lewd Mephistopheles, and Dr. Faust, though noble in some respects, leaves some heart-breaking wreckage behind him. Sayers's Mephistopheles is not as vulgar, and he offers some cool metaphysical insights. Since she was writing in the 1940s, it's an enjoyable and easier read for most of us. But of course, hers is an interpretation of Marlowe and Goethe.

All three keep the main characters and the supporting characters, as well as the basic story line. But Dr. Faust meets a different fate at the end of each one. Also, all versions of Faust are highly quotable, but one has to be careful. Several self-help websites proclaim Goethe's statement, "As soon as you trust yourself, you'll know how to live."* But these are the words of Mephistopheles, right after he advises his victim to trust the snake of Eden.

Dominus vobiscum!


*Thomas Mann wrote a novel, Dr. Faustus, in the 1940s, but I'm not familiar with the book, so you'll have to discover that on your own.

*Faust, "First Part of the Tragedy," line 2061-2062. 

Dorothy L. Sayers

Sometimes there comes along a person whom you think is worth getting to know. You may have heard her name occasionally, or encountered his writing once upon a time. But one day, you realize: this person's speaking my language, and she's doing a better job at it than I am.

I'm trying to get the word out about one of my favorite authors, Dorothy L. Sayers. My students are sick of hearing me talk about her, I'm sure, but the woman is so darn quotable. She's like the G.K. Chesterton of women. 

So it's a joy to write about her, and you can find out 10 noteworthy facts I've put together about her over at the Circe Institute.


Easter, the New Year

"Easter, which is the spiritual New Year, should be a time for the understanding of new thoughts and the making of new things."

-G.K. Chesterton, "The Blank State of the Modern Mind," The Illustrated London News (1936)

"Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward we must believe in age...All normal children (however much we discourage them) look forward to growing up. 'Except ye become as little children,' except you can wake on you fiftieth birthday with the same forward-looking excitement and interest in life that you enjoyed when you were five, 'ye cannot enter the kingdom of God.' One must not only die daily, but every day one must be born again."

-Dorothy Sayers, "Strong Meat"


In Praise of Books

Warning: this piece was written in a state of extreme agitation, the author just having gone a second round with some sort of 'encryption loop' on her computer, which is now sitting, rejected and useless, by the baseboards.

Several reasons why to prefer books and/or pen and paper over other, electronic media:

1. Books don't have to reboot or recharge.

2. Books don't need to be updated, a process which may or may not make the book unreadable.

3. Books can survive flood, famine, and power outages. They have a hard time surviving fire, but nothing's perfect.

4. Reading books on a holiday does not require that anyone have to work on that holiday.

5. Books are cheap, unlike certain silver-colored laptops.

6. Books don't require a password in order to read them.

7. Books have no pop-ups, few advertisements, and no chance of videos suddenly playing at high volumes.

8. If my pen dies, I may have a chance of fixing it. If not, I can write with mud or blood.

9. If I run out of paper, I can always use bark or the back of a shovel, like President Lincoln.

10. Books are a portal to one worldview, not to an onslaught of them. 

The one disadvantage I can think of at the moment? The fact that this is a blogpost. 

Of Harvey and St. Antony

Hurricane Harvey is becoming a memory for some (a persistent financial reality for others), but unlike disasters in the past, we who live in the 20th and 21st centuries have photography to remind us of the destruction. Not sure if that's a positive development; nevertheless, it's a development. Here are some of my own shots from the storm and its aftermath:

These pictures of disruption, of traffic jams, of broken or damaged items serve as reminders of how Harvey wrecked Houston's infrastructure after wrecking Rockport's and then wrought the worst devastation on poor Beaumont. But they also remind us of how susceptible we and our possessions are. When nature turns against us, books and SUV's cannot stand. 

So why do we buy them? A non-ascetic myself, I would argue that books and SUVs are good things and appropriate for spiritual persons to purchase. Not everybody has thought so. St. Antony of Egypt let goods and kindred go to such a severe extent that if a flood had struck Antony's home, it would have wrecked nothing but a sheepskin. Nor would it have damaged the home itself, as his residences varied between tombs and caves. He let his kindred go so thoroughly that he placed his sister in a convent, and it's unclear whether he saw her again. He certainly produced no kindred of his own: no wife, no children, and with a sister in a convent, no nieces or nephews. 

Thus stripped of possessions and relationships, Antony was free to pursue the relationship that mattered most: the one with his Creator God. What follows is a heroic story. Antony eschews worldly comforts and faces demonic attacks on a regular basis, even to the point of having an interview with Satan himself, in which the old sinner says that his kingdom is crumbling thanks to the fighting, praying, desert monks. 

If, as a Christian, I were asked to evaluate Antony's life, I would direct my fellow evaluators immediately to Paul's statement in his letter to Colossae: "Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence." According to this, Antony, for all his harsh discipline of the body, gained nothing in the realm of self-control. 

Yet Harvey's destruction reminds me of another truth: moths and rust destroy our possessions, and if they don't, a flood might. A human must be more than what she owns. If any part of our identity is centered around physical items, that identity will be destroyed. Antony knew that, and so he focused all of his emotional energy on things that are above, not on things that are of the earth. 

Antony and Harvey are bothering me. I don't like reminders of transience. I want teacups and fully-stocked shelves. I search for a good mattress and working AC as a shepherd for a lost sheep. I'm having a hard time letting my goods and kindred go, though the goods of my kindred (or friends, at least) have gone every which way. Perhaps I've forgotten that God's truth abideth still, his kingdom is forever. The trouble is that we can't see the forever kingdom; we can only see that which passes. Our vision has become inverted. Antony, for all his extremism, willed himself to see something beyond his immediate sight. It might be a good idea for me to do the same.



Rain, rain go away

Hurrican Isabel, 2003

Hurrican Isabel, 2003

We're praying for our city. May God bless the first responders, the boat-driving and big-truck-owning volunteers, and those in flooded neighborhoods who have opened up their unflooded homes to neighbors. Thank you, God, that the storm is heading back out toward the Gulf, but there's still rain coming and now it looks like east Texas and Louisiana will need some help.


Being bored is not the same as having nothing to do. It's having nothing to do that you want to do.

A pluviophile awaits hurricanes and flooding with mixed feelings. She welcomes the rain and the gray skies but cannot, in good conscience, welcome the power outages, flooded houses, and closed roads. 

Hurricane Harvey has made landfall, and from what I understand, Corpus Christi and Rockport are suffering from the devastation. But here in our Houston neighborhood, all we've encountered is a power outage and excessive amounts of self-doubt: have we done what we could to prepare? Should we eat any non-perishable food or save that for another power outage that might come later? How long will a hard-boiled egg last if left out on the counter? Should we check the news every thirty minutes or stop before we get obsessive? 

In the meantime, the House Sparrows are going crazy on the feeder and the hummingbirds are having a good day. From the predictions, this could be just the calm before the storm. I guess we'll find out soon enough!

To conclude, here's a nice hurricane quote: "Just as not all butterflies produce a hurricane, not all outbreaks of bubonic plague produce a Renaissance." - Eric Weiner, The Geography of Genius. 






The Roman Minute: Jerome and the Lion


Find out how St. Jerome gets a pet--and why he's always wearing red.


Salvete omnes! I'm Lindsey Scholl and welcome again to The Roman Minute, where you can sample a little bit of Rome in around a minute. I recently gave a talk on Christian art and was reminded again how much there is to discover. Today, I want to introduce you to one of my favorite stories: St. Jerome and the Lion. 

Jerome was a scholar who lived in the 400s, and he is most famous for the first polished translation of the Bible into Latin, which we call the Vulgate. He was also an early monk and spent a lot of time contemplating human weakness and God's strength. For this reason and others, the medieval and Renaissance artists loved to paint Jerome--and usually with a lion at his feet. According to legend, he was working in the monastery one day, and a lion limped in. The other monks were frightened and fled. But Jerome stayed calm and noticed that the lion had a thorn in its paw. The lion, who was in great pain, allowed the saint to remove the thorn, and they became fast friends. By the way, if you're wondering why Jerome is wearing red a lot, that's because he's usually dressed as a cardinal, although that church office didn't exist in his day.

So look for a man with a pet lion, and also wearing red, and you'll find Jerome. I'm Dr. Lindsey Scholl, bringing you The Roman Minute and wishing you Pax Christi


The Roman Minute: Why does Moses have horns?


Is it just that ecclesiastical art is weird, or is there a reason Moses looks like a satyr?


Salvete omnes! I'm Lindsey Scholl and welcome again to The Roman Minute, where you can sample a little bit of Rome in around a minute. Today we're answering an important question: why does Moses have horns? If you've looked at medieval or renaissance art, you may have noticed that Moses is sporting not only two stone tablets, but two projections from the top of his head.

Since modern translations of Bible say nothing about a horned Moses, where did these artists get the idea from? To fully answer this question, you have to know some biblical Hebrew, which I don't. The most popular opinion is that the great scholar Jerome, when he was translating the Latin Bible in the 400s, made a small mistake. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, the Hebrew reads "the skin of his face shone." A similar-sounding, but apparently incorrect, reading of the Hebrew words would mean "his face had horns." Jerome wrote "horned", or cornuta, in Latin, and some artists took him seriously.

Certainly before Jerome's translation became popular, Moses was not depicted with horns. You can see him here on the bottom left, from the church Santa Maria Maggiore. But afterwards, it was a popular option, particularly in the West. And what was simply an oddity became a worldwide question when Michelangelo himself adopted this interpretation in his famous Moses statue.

There you have it. I'm Dr. Lindsey Scholl, bringing you the Roman Minute and wishing you Pax Christi.


A Week at Sandy Creek

They say the happiest place on is Disneyland. They're wrong. It's camp.*


Just finishing up a week at Sandy Creek Bible Camp, talking to about a hundred wonderful girls, ages 8-12. Topics covered so far: the fall of Adam and Eve; the corruption of creation; Jesus as the Passover Lamb; Jesus as the Second Adam; Jesus as, well, Jesus. The girls come from a range of backgrounds--some very supportive, some very hard. They will all have their own story, and I'm so glad they're here!

I'll be back to more regular posting soon. Stay tuned for The Roman Minute next Tuesday!






The Roman Minute: Rome Inconsistent (the Persecution of Christians)


You know that Rome persecuted Christians, but did it happen throughout all of Rome? At all times?


Salvete omnes! I'm Lindsey Scholl and welcome again to The Roman Minute, where you can sample a little bit of Rome in around a minute. Today we're talking about an unsavory side of Rome: the persecution of Christians. Roman persecution was a fact. But it is one of the more complicated facts of history. Religious persecution depended on two things: local attitudes and the personality of the emperor. Some emperors barely noticed Christians. Other emperors, such as Nero and Diocletian, are known for violent religious purges. But it was hit or miss.

The Emperor Septimius Severus was so friendly to Christians that he hired one as a nurse for his son, but he ended up banning conversions to Judaism and Christianity. I mentioned that local attitudes were important. Severus' persecution tended to focus in North Africa and Egypt, whereas Nero's persecution many years before began in the city of Rome. This timeline shows the erratic nature of Christian persecution in the Roman Empire. Violent assaults on Christians could certainly be a real threat--giving us the remarkable stories of the martyrs--but not at all times and not in all places.

I'm Dr. Lindsey Scholl, bringing you the Roman Minute and wishing you Pax Christi.


Victor is a Google Doodle

Victor Hugo, 1876

Victor Hugo, 1876

On this day, June 30, in 1862, Victor Hugo finished his manuscript of Les Miserables. Google has designed a doodle in honor of the event. Check it out, and while you're there, follow the links to a short Vox article about Hugo's famous digressions: fifty pages on the Battle of Waterloo, anyone? 

Elizabeth Thompson,  Charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo

Elizabeth Thompson, Charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo


The Roman Minute: The Story of Virgil


Get better acquainted with the man behind one of the world's most famous poems.


Salvete omnes! I'm Lindsey Scholl, and welcome again to The Roman Minute, where you can sample a little bit of Rome in around a minute. Today we're talking about the man behind the poem. This is Virgil, the author of  Rome's great epic story, the Aeneid. The Aeneid is the story of  Aeneas fleeing his homeland of Troy to found another, greater city, that of Rome. Virgil wrote his great poem at the request of Rome's first Emperor, Augustus Caesar. The Aeneid gave Rome a legendary history--because Romans loved Homer's story about the fall of Troy, what better way to give Rome gravitas than to say that she was really descended from the magnificent ancient city? Yet Virgil was unhappy with his work. He requested on his deathbed that it be burned--but Augustus disregarded his wish, thus we have the Aeneid today.

Virgil was popular not only for ancient Romans, but also for medieval readers. One scholar, Dante Alighieri, loved the Aeneid so much that he made Virgil his fictional guide in his own classic, The Divine Comedy. Side note: Virgil gets to lead Dante through Hell and Purgatory, but, not having been a Christian himself, he does not get to lead Dante into Heaven. There's a recap of Virgil's great journey from Augustus' court to the gates of Paradise.

I'm Dr. Lindsey Scholl, bringing you the Roman Minute and wishing you Pax Christi. 

The Church across the River


Porches are great. But the porch of Santa Maria in Trastevere has something to teach us.  


Salvete omnes. I'm Lindsey Scholl and welcome again to "The Roman Minute," where you can sample a little bit of Rome in around a minute. You already know that Rome is a complex reality containing everything from a Republic, an Empire, a Late Empire, the Roman Catholic Church, and so many church buildings. The Christian idea of a church is a body of a believing people, rather than a building, but the buildings inevitably give us an idea of what the people believed.

Today I want to show you a particular church, Santa Maria Trastevere. This church is on the other side of the Tiber from some of the more famous monuments in Rome. Inside, this 13th-century mosaic is a stunning, if troubling, depiction of medieval mariology, with Mary actually sharing the throne with Jesus. But in the porch outside, there's a collection of much older tombstone fragments, some of them from the Roman Christian era. This figure on the left is called an "orans," Latin for "praying man." Before Christians folded our hands, we prayed like this. On the bottom right of this one, you can see the famous Chi Rho, and right in front of that you can see "In Pace," or '"n Peace," a common phrase for Christian burials.

That's just an introduction to the wonders of this church across the Tiber. If you're ever in Rome, have a look. I'm Dr. Lindsey Scholl, bringing you the Roman Minute and wishing you Pax Christi.