Why Read the Great Books?

Louise Cowan:

Why is it necessary for everyone to read the classics? Shouldn’t only specialists spend their time on these texts, with other people devoting their efforts to particular interests of their own? Actually, it is precisely because these works are intended for all that they have become classics. They have been tried and tested and deemed valuable for the general culture – the way in which people live their lives. They have been found to enhance and elevate the consciousness of all sorts and conditions of people who study them, to lift their readers out of narrowness or provincialism into a wider vision of humanity. Further, they guard the truths of the human heart from the faddish half-truths of the day by straightening the mind and imagination and enabling their readers to judge for themselves. In a word, they lead those who will follow into a perception of the fullness and complexity of reality.

But why in particular should followers of Christ be interested in the classics? Is Scripture not sufficient in itself for all occasions? What interest do Christians have in the propagation of the masterworks? The answer is as I have indicated at the beginning of this essay: Many of us in the contemporary world have been misled by the secularism of our epoch; we expect proof if we are to believe in the existence of a spiritual order. Our dry, reductionist reason leads us astray, so that we harden our hearts against the presence of the holy. Something apart from family or church must act as mediator, to restore our full humanity, to endow us with the imagination and heart to believe. My serious encounter with Shakespeare and then with all the riches of the classics enabled me to see the splendor of him who is at the center of the gospels. In a time when our current culture is increasingly secular in its aims, one of the most important resources Christians possess is this large treasure trove of works that have already been assimilated by readers and commentators in the nearly two thousand years of Western Christendom.

– “The Importance of the Classics,” Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to the Books You’ve Always Wanted to Read.

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