Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

“The Year of Our Lord 1943” (1)

I’m reading Alan Jacobs’ recent book The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis. I’m more persuaded by some aspects of it, less so by others, and stimulated by all. I likely will not have time to write up a full review, which would in any case probably be longer than the book (and therefore a bad review), and so instead I’m just going to post some thoughts as I have them. There may be follow-ups (“follows-up”?) to this post; there may not. This first is just sort of a “point of information.”

On p. 79, writing of W.H. Auden in the early days of his reversion to Christianity, Jacobs writes:

The book that most thoroughly shaped Auden’s thoughts on these matters [i.e. the relation between religious faith and worldly politics–ed.] is Charles Norris Cochrane’s Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine, which was published in 1940. Auden probably read it in the second half of that year, soon after completing “New Year Letter.” By 1944, when he somehow convinced the New Republic to allow him to write a review of it, he claimed to have read it “many times.” (emph. mine)

Jacobs is of course correct on the substantive points above (viz. Cochrane’s influence on Auden). All I wish to comment on is a point that may leave the reader confused: Jacobs’ implication that Auden’s review is around four years late (he “somehow convinced” his editors to allow the review of a book that was already four years old). The reason that this would not have been surprising is that, while the first edition of Christianity and Classical Culture was published in 1940, a second, revised edition was published in 1944, the year of Auden’s review. The existence of another edition is indicated in Auden’s opening sentence, partially quoted above (“Since the appearance of the first edition in 1940, I have read this book many times”).

Incidentally, I read Christianity and Classical Culture with a group of undergraduates this past summer. It is a dense and ambitious book, one that continues to repay close attention–both for the ways in which it is right and for the ways in which it is not. A high-quality and inexpensive reprint of the 1944 edition is available from Liberty Fund.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.