By popular request, we will on occasion reprint select articles from prior issues of The City. This article from the Summer 2008 issue was written by Louis Markos, a professor of English at HBU, and originally published under the title “The Thorny Road to Truth.”
As a Professor of English at a Baptist university, I am one of many Protestant educators who more often than not finds himself looking to Rome for a fuller and more integrated vision of Christian higher education. It is Origen, Aquinas, Erasmus, Newman, and the great architects of the Medieval university, rather than the founders of my own tradition, that have inspired me to believe that Jerusalem and Athens, faith and reason, orthodox theology and humanistic letters can function synergistically to guide the student toward that at once divine and human, transcendent and immanent Truth that must ever be the goal of the Christian university. Too often, my fellow Protestant academics have torn down the Catholic Christian-humanist bridge, preferring either to relegate faith to a private concern that does not impinge or set limits on the pursuit of secular learning (humanism divorced from Christianity), or to cast suspicion on those areas of learning—the arts, pagan literature, the sciences—that seem difficult to square with biblical revelation (Christianity divorced from humanism).
Nevertheless, there is one among the early Protestants whose vigorous embrace of both Christianity and humanism afforded him an intellectual and aesthetic grasp of the unity of Truth that rivals (and complements) that of the Catholic Dante. I speak of John Milton (1608-1674), a radical, even revolutionary Protestant of prodigious faith and learning who devoted six years of his post-graduate life to a systematic reading of all the seminal works available in Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Italian, and English. Like Origen, Aquinas, and Erasmus before him, and Newman after him, Milton understood, in a way more Catholic than Protestant, that all truth is God’s truth. Indeed, so strong was his belief that Christianity could not and must not be divorced from humanism, that, although he pledged his allegiance to the flag of the Puritans (they who closed down the theaters), he was himself one of the earliest and greatest opponents of censorship.
To this day, his logical, eloquent, and deeply felt defense of the freedom of the press, “Areopagitica” (1644), remains one of—if not the—crowning expression of the need for a Christian society to ensure liberty in the humanistic realms of thought. And, as such, it offers as well a timeless meditation on the status of Truth in a fallen world that has direct relevance to any modern university that would designate itself as Christian. As we embark on Christianity’s third millennium, we who claim as one of our goals the study and dissemination of Truth would do well to consider carefully the chief claims and arguments of “Areopagitica.” For, traced along its bold and often esoteric metaphors are the lines of a map that can direct our modern Protestant and Catholic universities on to a royal road toward which the former (sadly) has been reluctant to travel and from which the latter (tragically) has strayed.
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