alien righteousness

Lewis on the Reading of Old Books

HT: Peter Chen

“Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books.  But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. … It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook.  It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes.  We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. … None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already.  Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill.  The only palliative [relieving the problem] is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.

Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.  They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us.”

C. S. Lewis from the introduction to Athanasius On the Incarnation

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