23 July 2002

I'll get back to nominalism one of these days. In the meantime, I'll take up an earlier question: what five books do I think everyone really should read (other than the Bible, of course)?

There's no one right answer to this question, I suppose. I even doubt there are five books that everyone should read since different people have different inclinations, interests, callings, and gifts. Still, I assume there are some books that are more deserving of wide attention than others. Though I'd probably say something different next week, here are my five suggestions:

[1] Aurelius Augustine, City of God (with Confessions a close second). Not only do you get a comprehensive Christian philosophy and theology, you also get a philosophy of history that does for cultural psychology what the Confessions did for Augustine's personal psychology, summarizing and critiquing the ancients along the way. It's "History of World, part one" from the standpoint of Christian faith.

[2] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae. The pinnacle of medieval philosophy and theology, a great synthesis of the church Fathers, Scripture, philosophy, and theological reflection by the greatest theologian of the middle ages. Towards the end of his life Thomas said, "all I have written now appears to be of little value," but the acheivement is, nonetheless, remarkable.

[3] René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (or possibly Discourse on Method). At our present stage in history it is still important to understand the shape of the "modern" that has so profoundly affected us, from the Enlightenment onwards. Descartes' Meditations provide a brief synopsis of the modernist ethos and contain all its subsequent problems in seed form.

[4] The Book of Common Prayer, 1662 edition. Though I prefer many of the more modern revisions of the prayerbook, the 1662 edition sets a high standard and provides a sound basis for devotion, liturgy, and spirituality. It is Protestant and Reformational and provides a way through the modern, beyond Descartes, carrying us through on prayer rooted in ancient patterns.

[5] Georges Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest. This is my favorite novel and, many respects, I think, gives us the ultimate response to modernism in the form of a narrative that breathes and transmits what has always been central to the Christian faith and tradition. The narrative form, moreover, provides a way in which that faith can be appropriated within a post-modern world.