St. Justin Martyr

Incoming Light

Friends and students had asked me to indicate the authors who have had the greatest influence on my life and thinking. I restricted the list to authors of recent times. Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas (among a select few other classics) are obviously on any intelligent person’s top list of philosophical influences. The rest of the so-called Great Books – in drama, history, novel, epic and poetry – will also be presupposed, and not included in the following list. 

  1. G.K. Chesterton, in particular his non-fiction. Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man I have read multiple times, and each time I am freshly overwhelmed. Their effect on the mind is nothing less than tonic.
  2. St. John Henry Newman, whose Grammar of AssentEssay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, and Idea of a University, with their novel but rooted takes on faith, history and education, respectively, bear all the permanent relevance of the writings of a modern Father of the Church.
  3. Hans Urs von Balthasar – supplemented by Augustine and Aquinas – for my money, the greatest theologian of modern times.
  4. C.S. Lewis, probably the most sophisticated Christian apologist of the 20th century, as well as a superb guide to pre-modern literature. For beginners, one might start with The Weight of GloryThe Abolition of ManThe Problem of Pain, and Discarded Image. Two worthy successors of Lewis are the American Peter Kreeft and the recently deceased Brit Stratford Caldecott.
  5. Max Picard: The World of SilenceMan and Language, and anything else you can find in translation (he wrote in German). An unsung contemplative genius, singularly fascinated by the endless universes of the human face. His detailed studies of the face are only in German. However, his Flight from God should be available in several languages.
  6. Cornelio Fabro, the only Thomist I’ve found who managed to get truly inside of Aquinas’ mind and then to think his way valiantly through to the 20th century. Not for the faint-hearted. (His main works are finally being translated into English.)
  7. Mid-century Blackfriars in England and comparable Thomists in the USA: Thomas Gilby, Victor White (U.K.), Vincent Smith, James Collins (USA); also contemporaries E.L. Mascall, E.I. Watkin, Henry Babcock Veatch. These guys never let you down.
  8. R.C. Zaehner, one of the best surveyors of world religions I know of, who – though a convinced Catholic convert – refuses to “bear false witness” regarding other approaches to transcendence. His deep faith generates robust and adventurous thought. I should also include Raimon Panikkar, Wilhelm Halbfass, Huston Smith, and Troy Wilson Organ.
  9. Historians: Friedrich Heer, Eric Voegelin, William McNeil, Christopher Dawson, all of whom realize that – like it or not – the pursuit or neglect of transcendence sets the stage for history-making human choice. All else is secondary and tertiary.
  10. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy has probably the deepest insight into history of them all, insisting we understand the “grammatical” nature of our engagement with reality in both time and space. I will be reading and pondering Rosenstock for years to come.
  11. A.K. Coomaraswamy: in my view, the most consistently learned and insightful representative of the Asian Indian tradition in English, with encyclopedic scholarship and astute exposition regarding art, philosophy and religion in all their forms. Heavy on erudition and excessively foot-noted, but the insights are deep, bracing and unrelenting.
  12. Joseph Pieper: the best and most accessible popular interpreter of Western wisdom in the Platonic-Aristotelian-Thomist tradition, especially in moral questions.
  13. Norris Clarke and Richard de Smet: only two of many who are now narrowing in on the Western, Semitic notion of person as the final linchpin in grasping the essential issues of not only Western, but also Eastern – and even non-literate – wisdom traditions.
  14. John Deely: he passed away in early 2017, but left us a large pile of texts. Start with his Basics of Semiotics, or even better: Semiotic Animal.
  15. René Girard,  beginning with his most recent works, after 1977, such as Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. .
  16. Rémi Brague, especially, Eccentric Culture.
  17. Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary, and, more recently, the 2-volume opus The Matter with Things. McGilchrist does not have a good formation in pre-modern philosophy, but his love and knowledge of literature and his training in neuroscience and psychiatry give him privileged access to a whole range of insights even philosophers trained in the scholastic tradition can easily miss.



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