November 30, 2020

Open Mic at the iMonk Cafe: The Portable Christian

9780306816086I’ve been reading a used copy of a book edited by Christopher Hitchens called The Portable Atheist. Hitchens has selected, edited and introduced 47 various selections from atheist authors, philosophers, writers, journalists and so on. They bring forward a diverse variety of discussions of unbelief in a variety of formats: essays, novels, interviews, book excerpts, etc.

I’m impressed when a worldview can marshal its best representative material from a variety of sources into one volume that someone can make a reading or reference project. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the same sort of book, with all the diverse material in the footnotes taking you into the scriptures, Catholic dogmatics and the Church Fathers. An it’s well written and well organized as well.

So IM audience, it’s time for us to edit The Portable Christian. Whom will you submit to be one of the 50 chapters in our book?

Here are the rules:

Your nomination cannot be author or book. It must be author(s), book and chapter at the least.
If possible, characterize the excerpt you have in mind. Example: C.S. Lewis’s discussion of how Christians recognize one another from Book IV/Chapter 11 of Mere Christianity, “The New Men.”
Your excerpt should, as much as possible, speak for Christianity, not for your denomination or tradition only. I realize that isn’t completely possible, but let’s work toward it.
That doesn’t mean the distinctive voices of a tradition can’t be heard, but they should be articulating Christianity and not simply polemics toward other Christians. Luther’s anti-papal polemics may turn your crank, but his explanation of grace in Galatians is more acceptable for this project.
Your excerpt should be less than 12 pages in length. (I don’t have your book. Just use that as a rule of thumb. Be moderate.)
Contemporary authors must really hit it out of the park. Let’s not be fanboys here. Show some perspective on time-tested, helpful material.


  1. This excerpt from ‘The Body Broken’ by Jean Vanier

    “The Call to Wholeness in the Body of Christ

    He came to transform fear into trust,
    so that the walls separating people into enemies
    would disappear,
    and we could join together in a covenant of love,

    ‘So shall we fully grow up into Christ,
    who is the head,
    and by whom the whole body
    is bonded and knit together,

    every joint adding its own strength
    for each individual part to work according to its
    so the whole body grows until it has built itself up in love.’

    Yes, this is the vision of Jesus for our world
    announced by St Paul:

    one body –
    with the poorest and weakest among us at the heart,
    those that we judge the most despicable, honoured;
    where each person is important
    because all are necessary.

    His body, to which we all belong
    joined in love,
    filled with the Spirit.

    This is the kingdom.”

    Page 67f.

  2. “Saints’ Everlasting Rest”, Chapter 2, by Richard Baxter (a 17th century Puritan)

  3. I would submit ‘Theology and Philosophy’ by Austin Farrer. It’s an abridged version of his ‘A Midwinter Dream’, that opens: “I had a dream. There were Theology and Philosophy, clothed in both the moral and academic dignity of female professors…”
    As it goes on there’s an exchange between these two and two other characters about the nature of philosophy, theology, and revelation, as well as the relationships between them. It’s short, and–especially for Farrer!–very accessible. It’s also just well-written and full of beautiful imagery. Here’s a snippet:

    [Theology speaking] ‘We should all be agnostics if our knowledge of God were our exploration of him; as though God sat there impassive as a rock-cut Buddha, and we tortoises vainly tried to scales his knees. We cannot aspire to talk about God in (as it were) divine language, but he can stoop, if he chooses, to talk to us in our language and to deal humanly with mankind. When, for example, for us men and for our salvation. . .’
    On hearing these dogmatic words, Philosophy muttered, ‘We will hear thee another time on this matter,’ and faded away to tea, followed by the Stoics and Epicureans…

    It can be found in a volume of Farrer’s shorter writings, ‘Reflective Faith’, pages 1-4.

  4. Irenaeus of Lyons, “On the Apostolic Preaching”, tr. John Behr. 60 small pages. It’s not “how the apostles preached”; but rather it’s the content of what they preached- the whole history of salvation and what it means, as understood by the “next generation” of Christians.

    Athanasius, “On the Incarnation”, tr. a Religious of CMSV (nun friend of C.S. Lewis), sections 6-25, “The Divine Dilemma and its Solution in the Incarnation” through “The Death of Christ”. 30 small pages.

    N.T. Wright, “The Resurrection of the Son of God”, Ch. 19 (final), “The Risen Jesus as the Son of God”. 20 pages.

    Dallas Willard, “The Divine Conspiracy”, ch. 10 “The Restoration of All Things”. 25 pages.

    C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”, essay. (The fiction suggestions above would be mine, too)

    Something appropriate from Tolkein, “Lord of the Rings”.


  5. For Tolkien, I’d be tempted to suggest, the short story “Leaf by Niggle.” Or perhaps his short poem on sub-creation:

    Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
    through whom is splintered from a single White
    to many hues, and endlessly combined
    in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
    Though all the crannies of the world we filled
    with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
    Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
    and sowed the seed of dragons, ’twas our right
    (used or misused). The right has not decayed.
    We make still by the law in which we’re made.

  6. Oh, if it’s a Tolkien quote, then I nominate from Book X of The History of Middle Earth, “Morgoth’s Ring”, the ‘Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth’, or The Debate of Finrod and Andreth. The debate is between Finrod, the brother of Galadriel, and the mortal woman Andreth of the House of Beor, and I love the whole darn thing.

    This excerpt is on the definition of what “hope” is (and the difference between human hope and the theological virtue of Hope):

    “‘Have ye then no hope?’ said Finrod.

    ‘What is hope?’ she said. ‘An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none.’

    ‘That is one thing that Men call “hope”,’ said Finrod. ‘Amdir we call it, “looking up”. But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is “trust”. It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children’s joy. Amdir you have not, you say. Does no Estel at all abide?’

    ‘Maybe,’ she said . . . ‘It is believed that healing may yet be found, or that there is some way of escape. But is this indeed Estel? Is it not Amdir rather; but without reason: mere flight in a dream from what waking they know: that there is no escape from darkness and death?’

    ‘Mere flight in a dream you say,’ answered Finrod. ‘In dream many desires are revealed; and desire may be the last flicker of Estel. But you do not mean dream, Andreth. You confound dream and waking with hope and belief, to make the one more doubtful and the other more sure.”

  7. I’m out of town so I can’t verify references but “On the Love of God” by Bernard of Clairveaux. I believe chapter 4 is what I have in mind. It’s a short book .
    Rough quote: In the creation he gave us ourself, in the re-creation he gave us himself, a two fold debt we can never repay (a grace).
    Contemporary- “Divine Conspiracy” Chapter 9 “A Curriculum for Christlikeness” by Dallas Willard.
    Probably longer than 15 pages but I don’t have it with me so I’ll claim ignorance.
    BTW, This is a great idea!

  8. Or the whole of the “Ainulindalë”, from the “Silmarillion”. Though I think I’m now wandering from the purpose of this post, which is “Your excerpt should, as much as possible, speak for Christianity”, and not “Quote chunks of your favourite authors” 😉

  9. Oh boy, I would have so much to read if I read all you folks have recommended and I surely would love to read them all.

    Back in 2008, Michael recommended this sermon by Capuchin priest, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household since 1980:

    It’s titled, “Called by God to Communicate With his Son Jesus Christ.” I think that would be a good entry. Actually, many of Cantalamessa’s sermons would be good. Anyone interested can read more of his sermons and other things he has done at:

    I don’t have Brennan Manning’s book Ragamuffin Gospel here because I loaned it out years ago and never got it back! But, if I DID have it, I think I would find a chapter that must be included.

  10. Poetry! As previous comments have pointed out, poetry is necessary too!

    From “The Wild Knight and Other Poems”, G.K. Chesterton (1900)

    The Holy Of Holies

    ‘Elder father, though thine eyes
    Shine with hoary mysteries,
    Canst thou tell what in the heart
    Of a cowslip blossom lies?

    ‘Smaller than all lives that be,
    Secret as the deepest sea,
    Stands a little house of seeds,
    Like an elfin’s granary,

    ‘Speller of the stones and weeds,
    Skilled in Nature’s crafts and creeds,
    Tell me what is in the heart
    Of the smallest of the seeds.’

    ‘God Almighty, and with Him
    Cherubim and Seraphim,
    Filling all eternity—
    Adonai Elohim.’

    The “Anima Christi” from the 14th century (previously erroneously attributed to St. Ignatius Loyola; author Anonymous) which many? of you may know as the hymn “Soul of My Saviour”:

    Anima Christi, sanctifica me.
    Corpus Christi, salva me.
    Sanguis Christi, inebria me.
    Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.
    Passio Christi, conforta me.
    O bone Jesu, exaudi me.
    Intra tua vulnera absconde me.
    Ne permittas me separari a te.
    Ab hoste maligno defende me.
    In hora mortis meae voca me.
    Et iube me venire ad te,
    Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te.
    In saecula saeculorum.

    Soul of Christ, sanctify me
    Body of Christ, save me
    Blood of Christ, inebriate me
    Water from the side of Christ, wash me
    Passion of Christ, strengthen me
    O good Jesus, hear me
    Within Thy wounds hide me
    Separated from Thee let me never be
    From the malicious enemy defend me
    In the hour of my death call me
    And bid me come unto Thee
    That I may praise Thee with Thy saints
    and with Thy angels
    Forever and ever

    Probably this last is a bit too denominational, but I love this hymn (the ‘Tantum Ergo’) in the Latin:

    Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote the Eucharistic hymn “Pange lingua gloriosi” for the new feast of Corpus Christi created in 1264 by Pope Urban IV. The last two verses of this hymn are the familiar “Tantum ergo sacramentum”:

    Tantum ergo Sacramentum
    Veneremur cernui:
    Et antiquum documentum
    Novo cedat ritui:
    Praestet fides supplementum
    Sensuum defectui.

    Genitori, Genitoque
    Laus et jubilatio,
    Salus, honor, virtus quoque
    Sit et benedictio:
    Procedenti ab utroque
    Compar sit laudatio.

    (English translation of 1940):

    Therefore we, before Him bending,
    this great Sacrament revere;
    Types and shadows have their ending,
    for the newer rite is here;
    Faith our outward sense befriending,
    makes our inward vision clear.

    Glory let us give and blessing
    to the Father and the Son,
    Honor, thanks, and praise addressing
    while eternal ages run;
    Ever too his love confessing,
    who from both with both is One. Amen.

    And to finish up, another poem by George Herbert from “The Temple” (1633):

    The Collar.

    I Struck the board, and cry’d, No more.
    I will abroad.
    What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
    My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
    Loose as the winde, as large as store.
    Shall I be still in suit?
    Have I no harvest but a thorn
    To let me bloud, and not restore
    What I have lost with cordiall fruit?

    Sure there was wine
    Before my sighs did drie it: there was corn
    Before my tears did drown it.
    Is the yeare onely lost to me?
    Have I no bayes to crown it?
    No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
    All wasted?
    Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
    And thou hast hands.

    Recover all thy sigh-blown age
    On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
    Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,
    Thy rope of sands,
    Which pettie thoughts have made, and made to thee
    Good cable, to enforce and draw,
    And be thy law,
    While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
    Away; take heed:

    I will abroad.
    Call in thy deaths head there: tie up thy fears.
    He that forbears
    To suit and serve his need,
    Deserves his load.
    But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
    At every word,
    Me thoughts I heard one calling, Childe:
    And I reply’d, My Lord.

  11. Please consider a chapter from Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.

  12. Remember all: Not fave writing by Christians. Read the post for a reminder of what we want in these comments.

  13. I’m not sure if somebody already put this one, but book VIII of the confessions of St. Augustine would probably be a good fit. And at least something from Andrew Murray.
    And of course, the introduction to “Purpose Driven Life”…. ok just kidding.

  14. Ah, it’s the poets who go to my heart. I have been convinced in my intellect for the need of repentance by sermons and theology, but I’ve only been affected emotionally to quite literally weep over my sins by lines such as these from Canto XII of Dante’s “Purgatorio”:

    “95 O race of man, born to fly on high,
    96 why does a puff of wind cause you to fall?”

    However, there is this extract from the Foreword by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kun, Bishop of Hong Kong, to his Meditations for the ‘new’ Stations of the Cross in 2008 during the traditional Via Crucis on Good Friday at the Colosseum :

    “When we think of persecution, let us also remember the persecutors. As I was drafting the text of these meditations, it frightened me to realize how unchristian I am. I had to make a great effort to purify myself of uncharitable sentiments towards those who caused Jesus to suffer and those who are causing our brothers and sisters to suffer in the world today. Only when I confronted my sins and my own lack of faithfulness, did I succeed in seeing myself among the persecutors, and then I was moved to repentance and gratitude for the forgiveness of our merciful Master.

    So let us now begin our meditation, let us sing and pray to Jesus and with Jesus for those who suffer on account of his Name, for those who cause him and his brothers and sisters to suffer, and for ourselves, who are sinners and at times also his persecutors.”

    It’s easy for us to let ourselves off the hook, to point to others as sinners and persecutors, and to ignore or not even be aware of the sinfulness and hardness of our own hearts.

  15. Well, I gave a Tolkien quote for the virtue of Hope, so for the virtue of Charity I’d like to nominate from the 2009 encylical of Pope Benedict XVI, “Caritas in Veritate”, paragraphs 3 and 6 about the relationship of truth and justice, respectively, to charity and how charity is more than warm-fuzzy do-gooding:

    “3. Through this close link with truth, charity can be recognized as an authentic expression of humanity and as an element of fundamental importance in human relations, including those of a public nature. Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space. In the truth, charity reflects the personal yet public dimension of faith in the God of the Bible, who is both Agápe and Lógos: Charity and Truth, Love and Word.

    6. “Caritas in veritate” is the principle around which the Church’s social doctrine turns, a principle that takes on practical form in the criteria that govern moral action. I would like to consider two of these in particular, of special relevance to the commitment to development in an increasingly globalized society: justice and the common good.

    First of all, justice. Ubi societas, ibi ius: every society draws up its own system of justice. Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it. Justice is the primary way of charity or, in Paul VI’s words, “the minimum measure” of it, an integral part of the love “in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18), to which Saint John exhorts us. On the one hand, charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples. It strives to build the earthly city according to law and justice. On the other hand, charity transcends justice and completes it in the logic of giving and forgiving[3]. The earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion. Charity always manifests God’s love in human relationships as well, it gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world.”

    And now I will stop spamming 🙂

  16. Chapter one, “The Call”, from “Hammer of God”, by Bo Giertz.

  17. Dumb Ox beat me to it on recommending the Hammer of God, except that my recommendation from that book would be the chapter “Transfiguration Day”. You then hit two birds with one stone: Giertz himself, and the Henrik Schartau sermon he’s quoting in that chapter (“Jesus Only”).

    The Journey of the Magi, by T.S. Eliot.

    For Luther, how about something from “On The Freedom of a Christian”?

    The order for Evening Prayer from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

    The hymn “Salvation Unto Us Has Come”.

  18. Something from Freeman Dyson on Physics and the very exact physical constants needed to keep things going. Sorry, no book or chapter. I had an article, probably could find it still.

  19. L. Winthrop says

    Selections from chapter one (possibly others as well) of the Ladder of Divine Ascent (incl. definition of a Christian, and advice to laymen)

    Sayings of the Fathers, thematic collection, 1.11 (many ways to live); 2.9 (“your cell will teach you everything”); 4.15 (forgiveness); 6.5 (obeying the gospel by selling the gospel); 7.1 (story of Anthony); 7.19 (sentence about Sarah, an anchorite); 8.10 (story of Moses the Ethiopian); 9.9-10 (non-judgment); 10.3 (God helps those…); 10.69 (no work no eat); 10.97 (“you have filled the air with words”); 10.100 (“don’t water the vegetables”); 12.8-10 (pray without ceasing); 13.2,4,7 (hospitality); 14.3 (tree of obedience); 15.68 (humility); 16.6 (Macarius helps a burglar); 17.16, 18 (charity, helping the sick); 18.19 (story of unknown female saint).

    Justin Martyr’s description of a 2nd century church service

    Almost any chapter from St. Symeon the New Theologian

    The account of Seraphim of Sarov (a few pages)

    Selections from Thos. Browne’s Religio Medici (hard to pick–his style and approach is more important than any particular content)

    A few pages from Albert Schweitzer’s autobiography, including the famous concluding lines.

    Could somebody recommend Quaker readings?

  20. L. Winthrop says

    Oh yes–the Prayer of St. Francis, along with some short description of his life

  21. “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson HAS to make the cut.

  22. This all makes me a bit uncomfortable. Yes, there have been myriad gifted Christian writers over the years. Yes, I love reading them, and learning from their experiences and their gift for conveying that experience.

    Am I just being a party pooper by saying the book already exists, it has 66 (or 73, or 78 depending on your persuasion) “chapters” and therein lie all essential readings for the Christian? Maybe so…

    • Scripture contains the most essential writings, certainly. But does that mean no other writings are compelling or helpful?

      Far from diminishing the importance of Scripture, an anthology of post-Biblical writing highlights the fact that “God’s word does not come back void.”

  23. 1. The Grand Inquisistor’s Tale

    2. Tolstoy’s “The Kingdom of God is Within You”–first chapter (describes peace churches in Russia and the Caucasus, argues for nonviolence)

    3. Something from the French Arthurian epic by Chretain de Troyes, featuring Lancelot, Galahad, the Fisher King, and the Holy Grail

    4. John of the Ladder, Step 28 (on prayer)

    5. Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health” ch. 1. (on prayer). Or would the first chapter of “A Course in Miracles” be a better choice?

    5. Jack Chick, “The Last Generation.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says


    • Moira,

      I like selections 1-4, especially Tolstoy! I have to disagree on Jack Chick, however. Nearly everything he has produced is vitriolic and highly sectarian. I find his sensationalism to embody some of the worst aspects of American Protestant fundamentalism, and anti-Catholic tracts are just plain offensive. (Witness “The Death Cookie,” about the Catholic Eucharist.)

      • Louis Winthrop says

        Surely some nod should be given to end-times speculation, whether rational or otherwise…? We can’t fit in John Nelson Darby, so what does that leave us? A chapter from “Left Behind”? Something from the Adventist movement, or the furor surrounding the year 1000? Actually, one writer commented that Chick may be the most important theologian of our times!

        Does everything in the collection have to be broadly agreeable?

        • “Actually, one writer commented that Chick may be the most important theologian of our times!”

          With the whopping great caveat that this only applies if you’re American, since the rest of the English-speaking world hasnever heard of him. And even within America, are there places that don’t know of him?

          • Louis Winthrop says

            His tracts are available in numerous languages, including less-studied ones like Nepali and Tibetan. I’ve been handed them on the street in some really far-flung places.

    • Moira,

      Nice thought to add Tolstoy’s ‘“The Kingdom of God is Within You” – first chapter. The very powerful declaration he makes about having to choose between the Sermon on the Mount or the symbol of the faith, and that you cannot believe in both.

      Mary Baker Eddy though…..she thinks sin is an illusion, and if we truly believe that it is, it can’t hurt us.

      • Louis Winthrop says

        She’s one of a handful of female founders of denominations (along with Mother Ann Lee of the Shakers, and Mrs. Fillmore of the Unity School of Christianity), and the theology which she expresses impacted not only Christian Science, but also New Thought, faith healing, and the Prosperity Gospel. Also, her answer to the Problem of Evil (there ain’t none and can’t be none–it contradicts the divine attributes) is philosophically interesting as a contrast to other thinkers.

        If we’re going to represent New Age Christianity, we could have selections from “The Life of Saint Issa: Best of the Sons of Men” by Nicholas Notovitch, or “The Aquarian Gospel” by Levi H. Dowling. Both involve Jesus going to India as a youth. The latter is frequently read in Spiritualist churches.

        • Ah, Louis, come on: if we’re going to have the “Jesus went to India/Tibet/Glastonbury” stuff, why not go to the source and quote Madame Blavatsky?

          No point beating around the bush!

          • Louis Winthrop says

            Is that even in Blavatsky? Maybe a stray paragraph somewhere, but we want an appealing story. These two give us the chance to show Jesus meditating, or cursing the caste system. The Issla ms. introduces a love interest–Jesus ran off to India to escape an arranged marriage at 13! On the other hand, the Aquarian Gospel has him being initiated in secret tunnels under the Great Pyramid, which is kind of cool.

            For the Jesus-went-to-England variation, I think that comes from the Urantia gospel. (Or is it the Oahspe Gospel? I always get those two confused!)

            OM Shanti shanti shanti…

          • Well, I hold out for Helena and the Ascended Masters 🙂

            She may be a fraud, but she had buckets of chutzpah and I like her style. And all the watered-down New Agey/Age of Aquarius stuff is small beer with the originals. Even Aleister Crowley, who was as big a chancer as anyone could hope to avoid (because I really think you’d be better off not meeting him) put the hard work in when learning his art; contrast his Book of Thoth with some of his latter-day disciples or followers in the ‘tradition’; you go from Hermeticism and a degree of scholarship to insipid platitudes and pap along the lines of “we’re all stardust”.

            I like my heretics with at least the courage of their convictions 🙂

            John Shelby Spong, on the other hand… *rolls eyes* He seems to think that if only Christ had had his (Spong’s) advantages, He would have made a better job of things. Still, never mind: twenty centuries have brought forth the bright light of Spong to tell us where we’re all getting it wrong!

  24. Louis Winthrop says

    A basic question such a project would have to decide is, do the editors aspire to represent the diversity that exists within Christianity (Origen, Haitian Voodoo, Mormonism, New Age Christianity, John Spong), or is the aim to produce more of a “lowest common denominator” type of collection, along the lines of the “Chicken Soup” books? I suspect that we are looking at what amounts to a mainline Protestant conception of Christianity–one which embraces certain elements of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, but not anything too outre.

    Assuming 50 entries, I suppose we should aim at perhaps 15 from the church fathers, another 15 representing key medieval and Reformation figures, and 15 more the modern period. I agree with the nomination of the Didache as the first selection. There would absolutely have to be selections representing Augustine, Aquinas, Gregory Nazianzus, Gregory Palamas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis, the Spanish mystics, and Quakerism (but I have no idea what those might be). I would like to see a few selected passages from Albert Schweitzer’s autobiography, and perhaps some key anti-slavery manifesto by Wilberforce. Literary selections like Dostoevsky, the Arthurian stuff (Tolkien would surely prefer that to his own writings!), Dante, or Pilgrim’s Progress would make a nice change of pace and are obviously great, though there already exist compilations like this.

    I agree with the nomination of John of the Ladder, and would especially like to see a couple of paragraphs from chapter one (the description of Christianity, and the advice to laymen). The 15th and 16th discourse of Symeon the New Theologian (on the divine light) would be a possibility, depending on how much space is left for “Orthodox” figures. (Evagrius and John Cassian have had more influence on the West.) I also have a particular fondness for the conversation of Motovilov with Saint Seraphim of Sarov, which is short enough to be included.

    But my number one nomination would be for selections from the Sayings of the Fathers. Using the thematic collection as a guide, I would include the following verses: 1.11, 2.9, 6.5, 7.1, 7.19, 7.38, 9.4, 9.10, 10.69, 10.97, 10.100, 10.114, 10.117, 11.38, 12.8, 12.9, 13.7, 14.3, 14.9, 16.6, 16.7, 17.16, 17.22, 18.19.

  25. Louis Winthrop says

    Whoops–forgot one more nomination: Thomas Browne, the Anglican theologian. You could pretty much pick any five or ten pages at random, for approximately the same effect–the main thing is his style and personality.

  26. Louis Winthrop says

    And one more: Pascal’s memorial.

  27. The Didache, entirity (Its very short)

    First Apology of Justin the Martyr, Chapters 10-12), Justin Martyr (1 chapter = 1 paragraph)

    Catechetical Lecture 22 (On the Body and Blood of Christ.), Cyril of Jerusalem

    The Confession of Saint Patrick

  28. MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”. ’nuff said

  29. Don Woodward says

    A beautiful song, with beautiful lyrics.
    “Lord Of The Starfields”, by Bruce Cockburn.

    Lord of the starfields
    Ancient of Days
    Universe Maker
    Here’s a song in your praise

    Wings of the storm cloud
    Beginning and end
    You make my heart leap
    Like a banner in the wind

    O love that fires the sun
    Keep me burning.
    Lord of the starfields
    Sower of life,
    Heaven and earth are
    Full of your light

    Voice of the nova
    Smile of the dew
    All of our yearning
    Only comes home to you

    O love that fires the sun
    keep me burning

  30. God’s Patience by Stephen Charnock from The Existence and Attributes of God Volume II. It’s a wonderful sermon turned essay explaining the greatness of God’s patience with sinners.

    I know Puritans get a bad rap, and sometimes they earn it, but this is a wonderful essay full of God’s grace calling for it’s readers to repent.

  31. I read a comment that stated “Assuming 50 entries, I suppose we should aim at perhaps 15 from the church fathers, another 15 representing key medieval and Reformation figures, and 15 more the modern period.”

    I like that idea but thought I would come back to iMonk’s comparision of what he is looking for – Catechism of the Catholic Church. With that in mind I would think the topics (Salvation, Scriptures, Trinity, etc) would need to be laid out and then the best representative writings from various time periods on that topic could be included.

    An excerpt from Augustine’s – On the Trinity (would have to go back to find best chapter) would be an excellent early document on that topic. Then maybe one of Luther’s sermons on the Trinity might be a good one from the Reformation.

    Just some thoughts but like the idea and have a lot of new reading ideas.


  32. What about Pascal’s Pensees? Specifically #449 under the Two Essential Truths of Christianity and #418-#433 (The Wager and Against Indifference). (pp 121-142 in the Penguin Classics edition)

    This may not fit for this project specifically but Augustine’s On the Catechising of the Uninstructed provides a good model for how to deal with those interested in Christianity. (
    While we are on Augustine, his Treatise On the Creed would be useful as well.(

    I concur to Dostoyevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor but include the section before it – Ivan’s objections to Christianity and Alyosha’s response:
    “No, I can’t admit it,” said Alyosha suddenly, with flashing eyes. “But, Ivan, you asked just now, is there a person in the whole world who has the right to forgive and can forgive? But there is a Being and He can forgive everything, all and for all, because He gave his innocent blood for all and everything. You have forgotten Him, and on Him is built the edifice, and it is to Him they cry aloud: ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed!’ (p 278 in the Signet Classics Edition)

    Other sections from the Brothers Karamazov that should be included are Father Paissy’s comments to Alyosha: “Remember always, young man…that science which has become a great power in the last century, has analyzed everything divine handed down to us in the holy books. After this cruel analysis the learned of this world have nothing left of all that was sacred. But they have only analyzed the parts and overlooked the whole, and indeed their blindness is marvelous. Yet the whole still stands steadfast before their eyes, and the gates of hall shall not prevail against it. Has it not lasted nineteen centuries? Is it not still a living, a moving power in the individual soul and in the masses of people? It is still strong and living even in the souls of atheists, who have destroyed everything! For even those who have renounced Christianity and attack it still follow the Christian ideal. And neither their subtlety nor the ardor of their hearts has been able to create a higher ideal of man and of virtue than the ideal given by Christ of old. When it has been attempted, the result has been only grotesque.” (p 193)

    Also part of Dimitri’s comments to Alyosha: “Enough poetry. I want to tell you now about the insects to whom God gave ‘sensual lust.’ To insects – sensual lust. I am that insect, Alyosha, and it is said of me especially. All we Karamazovs are such insects. And angel as you are, that insect lives in you, too, and will stir up a tempest in your blood. Tempests, because sensual lust is a tempest – worse than a tempest! Beauty! I can’t bear the thought that a man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of the Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What’s still more awful is that a man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart may be on fire with that ideal, genuinely on fire, just as in his days of youth and innocence. Yes, man is broad, too broad. I’d have him narrower. The devil only knows what to make of it! What to the mind is shameful is beauty and nothing else to the heart. Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, that for the immense mass of mankind beauty is found in Sodom. Did you know that secret? The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” (p. 120-121)

  33. From a more mystical tradition, I would submit excerpts from Philip K. Dick’s “Exegesis” like:

    “God manifested himself to me as the infinite void; but it was not the abyss; it was the vault of heaven, with blue sky and wisps of white clouds. He was not some foreign God but the God of my fathers. He was loving and kind and he had personality. He said, ‘You suffer a little now in life, it is little compared with the great joys, the bliss that awaits you. Do you think I in my theodicy would allow you to suffer greatly in proportion to your reward?’ He made me aware, then, of the bliss that would come; it was infinite and sweet. He said, ‘I am the infinite. I will show you. Where I am, infinity is; where infinity is, there I am. Construct lines of reasoning by which to understand your experience in 1974. I will enter the field against their shifting nature. You think they are logical but they are not; they are infinitely creative… I thought a thought and then an infinite regression of theses and countertheses came into being. God said, ‘Here I am, here is infinity.’ I thought another explanation; again an infinite series of thoughts split off in a dialectical antithetical interaction. God said, ‘Here is infinity; here I am.’ I thought, then, an infinite number of explanations, in succession, that explained 2-3-74; each single one of them yielded up an infinite progression of flipflops, of thesis and antithesis, forever. Each time, God said ‘Here is infinity. Here, then, I am.’ I tried for an infinite number of times; each time and infinite regress was set off and each time God said, ‘Infinity. Hence I am here.’ Then he said, ‘Every thought leads to infinity, does it not? Find one that doesn’t.’ I tried forever. All led to an infinitude of regress, of the dialectic, of thesis, antithesis and new synthesis. Each time, God said ‘Here is infinity; here am I. Try again.’ I tried forever. Always it ended with God saying, ‘Infinity and myself, I am here.’… The architect of our world, to help us, came here as our servant, disguised, to toil for us. We have seen him many times but no [one] recognized him; maybe he is ugly in appearance, but with a good heart… One can see from this that that which we kick off to one side of the road, out of the way, which feels the toe of our boot—-that may well be our God, albeit unprotesting, only showing pain in his eyes, that old, old pain which he knows so well. I notice, though, that although we kick him off to one side in pain, we do let him toil for us; we accept that. We accept his work, his offerings, his help; but him we kick away. He could reveal himself, but he would then spoil our illusion of a beautiful god… Ugly like this, despised and teased and tormented and finally put to death, he returned shining and transfigured; our Savior, Jesus Christ… When He returned we saw Him as he really is—-that is, not by surface appearance. His radiance, his essence, like Light. The God of Light wears a humble and plain shell here (like a metamorphosis of some humble toiling beetle).”

    I’d also recommend Shane Clairborne’s ‘The Irresistible Revolution’ and definitely chapters from Ted Dekker’s ‘The Slumber of Christianity’ concerning our desire for Heaven.