By Dr. Paul M. Gould

Reading books help me see reality through another’s eyes. As C. S. Lewis aptly put it, “in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see.” [1]  In my last post, I shared three books from the Ancient World that have helped me understand the contemporary world. In this post, I want to share three more, from the Medieval World, that help too. I recommend them to you as resources full of wonder and delight.

Augustine’s Confessions. This book is the first spiritual autobiography of the Western World. The book begins with the famous words, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Augustine’s story is one of wander and return. He believed this was the story of the world too: wander from God and return to God. Again, in reading this book, one is amazed at how current it is. As a young teen, Augustine struggles with sexual promiscuity and vanity. He was also a gifted student (except in Greek, he hated Greek). At eighteen years old, he comes across Cicero’s Hortensius (now lost to history). In reading this work of philosophy, he is awakened to his hunger for truth. He sets out on a quest, that culminates decades later, in finding Christ as the source of all truth.

Anselm’s Proslogion. In this work, you’ll find Anselm’s famous statement of the Ontological Argument. Summarizing and paraphrasing: God is the greatest conceivable being. It is greater to exist in reality than just in the mind. Therefore, God exists in reality. What I find so interesting about this work is his posture. The book is a prayer to God. He begins, in chapter one, asking God for guidance as he begins: “I beseech you, Lord: in my hunger, I began to seek you; let me not depart from you empty. . . . For I do not seek to understand in order to believe; I believe in order to understand.” I’m reminded, as I read Anselm, that my study, writing, and research is best done in communion with God.

Aquinas, Summa Theologiae. This unfinished work, written by the thirteen-century theologian, was originally intended for theology students. The Summa is massive—millions of words spanning thousands of pages. It is structured according to the familiar theme of wander and return to God. While it might not be practical to read all of it (that would take hours), I recommend at least reading Part 1, Questions 1-13 on the existence and nature of God. In Part 1, Question 2, Article 3, you will find Aquinas’s famous “Five Ways” or proofs for the existence of God. While some of these proofs seem odd to modern ears (especially is first proof from motion), they have been widely discussed, argued over, and built upon in the ensuing debates over the question of God.

To this list, we could add works by Athanasius, Boethius, Calvin, Luther, Pascal, Descartes, Edwards, Kuyper, C. S. Lewis, and so many more. The important thing is to begin somewhere. You will learn something. And you might be surprised how relevant these older works are to life, faith, and even your research.

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[1] C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 141.