Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dorothy Sayers

Yesterday my church calendar commemorated the life of Dorothy Sayers. If you have heard of her, it was probably as a mystery writer. However, she was as clear an apologist of basic Christianity in the Twentieth Century as CS Lewis.

Dorothy is also a model for us because she did not lead a "perfect" Christian life here on earth, as none of us will. However, through these failures and struggles she grew in faith. As a young single woman, she had an affair that ended in a child out of wedlock---a greater scandal in her day than today. Like CS Lewis, she married a divorcee, and was unable to have a regular marriage in the Church of England.

Her theological writing is centered around the heart of the orthodox Christian faith,the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. She had little time for either the liberal approach of negating the reality of sin, or the pietistic approach of reducing Christian life to middle class morality. She coined the phrase "seven deadly virtues" to address the latter. These deadly virtues are Respectability, Childishness, Mental Timidity, Dullness, Sentimentality, Censoriousness, and depression of the Spirits. I think also because of her own struggles, she wrote an essay called "The six other Deadly Sins", as in her lifetime, morality had been reduced to a single thing.

For an agrarian, she also has much to say in her essay "Why Work?"

"A society in Which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded upon waste and trash, and such a society is a house built on sand".

She railed against the waste she saw in England before the second World War, in light of the privations felt by the English People during the war. "Can you remember....the stockings we bought cheap and threw away to save the trouble of mending?...the fresh peas we could not bother to shell and threw aside for something out of a tin?....we have had to learn the bitter lesson that in all the World there are only two sources of wealth, the fruit of the earth and the labor of men, and to estimate work not by the money it brings the producer, but by the worth of the thing that is made". The entire essay is as applicable for 21st Century Americans as her wartime British audience.

Like Martin Luther she also emphasized the value of all good work as Christian work, and refused to allow the church to usurp the inherent value of all honest toil.

"Let the church remember this: that every maker and every worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade-not outside it........ the Official Church wastes time and energy, and moreover, commits sacrilege, in demanding that secular workers should neglect their proper vocation in order to do Christian work-by which she means ecclesiastical work".

Sayers is also responsible for much of the modern revival of classical approaches to learning, particularly education based upon the Trivium of Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic. She is strong minded, and often satirical essayist, but like a true prophet, her criticism are tempered by love of a wayward people. She is among my favorite writers, and I will close with the collect of thanksgiving for her life.

O Almighty God, who didst give to thy servant Dorothy L Sayers special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant, we beseech thee, that by this teaching we may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Danman said...

Wow, that's really cool. It truly warms my heart this morning. I think I've heard of Dorothy before, but not sure. Her words certainly sound like they could be written for today as much as for 70 years ago.

Linda said...

Thank you. I have heard of Dorothy Sayers but I knew little beyond the fact that she was a writer. My brother's mother-in-law has actually written at least one book on Dorothy Sayers and has organized conferences at Grove City College concerning her.

The quotes that you shared are truths that folks today have forgotten as the WWII folks had also forgotten. Our work is what God has called us to do. Our faith cannot be something we "do" on Sunday.

I see I have some reading and learning to do about Dorothy Sayers and her writings.

The Midland Agrarian said...

Thank you! You can buy inexpensive editions of her essays under the titles of "Creed or Chaos", or "Letters to a Diminished Church"

I belong to the same parish as your brother's mother in law. She is a wonderful writer, scholar, and person in her own right. Small World!

Valley Visions said...

I thought you might be interested in the Thursday afternoon panel discussion.

The Midland Agrarian said...

Thank you! Sometimes those of us in the neighborhood are the last to know!