An odd little detail: David Garrick said of Anglican evangelist George Whitefield that he “could make his audience weep or tremble merely by varying his pronunciation of the word ‘Mesopotamia.'”

“Garrick did not say that he had ever seen this feat performed,” noted one biographer. “[H]e surely must have been befooling some too warm admirer of the preacher, to see how much he could believe.”

But Garrick also said, “I would give a hundred guineas if I could only say ‘Oh’ like Mr. Whitefield.”

Cause and Effect

When we are praying about the result, say, of a battle or a medical consultation, the thought will often cross our minds that (if only we knew it) the event is already decided one way or the other. I believe this to be no good reason for ceasing our prayers. The event certainly has been decided — in a sense it was decided ‘before all worlds.’ But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really causes it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering. Thus, shocking as it may sound, I conclude that we can at noon become part causes of an event occurring at ten a.m.

— C.S. Lewis, Miracles, 1947

Lewis adds, “Some scientists would find this easier than popular thought does.” In his 2016 book Time Machine Tales, physicist Paul J. Nahin writes, “It is a view that does find much support in the block universe interpretation of Minkowskian spacetime. Lewis never mentions the block concept by name, but it is clear that he believed in the idea of God being able to see all of reality at once.” See Asking Back.

The Augsburg Book of Miracles


What is this? A mysterious illuminated manuscript seems to have appeared in Augsburg, Germany, around 1550, but no one knows who created it or for whom. The name of Augsburg printmaker Hans Burgkmair appears on one page, so he’s thought to be a contributor, but the manuscript contains no introduction, title page, table of contents, or dedication; instead it launches directly into a catalog of divine wonders and marvels of nature, each illustrated in full color.

“The manuscript is something of a prodigy in itself, it must be said,” wrote Marina Warner in the New York Review of Books in 2014. “[I]ts existence was hitherto unknown, and silence wraps its discovery; apart from the attribution to Augsburg, little is certain about the possible workshop, or the patron for whom such a splendid sequence of pictures might have been created.” Here it is.


When I was young I had an elderly friend who used often to ask me to stay with him in the country. He was a religious man and he read prayers to the assembled household every morning. But he had crossed out in pencil all the passages in the Book of Common Prayer that praised God. He said that there was nothing so vulgar as to praise people to their faces and, himself a gentleman, he could not believe that God was so ungentlemanly as to like it.

— Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up, 1938

Plain Enough

In Jewish Bankers and the Holy See (2012), León Poliakov cites a joke current in 12th-century ghettos to justify usury between Jews.

“It consisted, it is said, of reciting Deuteronomy 23:20 in interrogative tones to make it mean the opposite of its obvious sense:

“‘Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury?'”

Looking On

Some say “If God sees everything before
It happens — and deceived He cannot be —
Then everything must happen, though you swore
The contrary, for He has seen it, He.”
And so I say, if from eternity
God has foreknowledge of our thought and deed,
We’ve no free choice, whatever books we read.

— Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde

Signifying Nothing


If … we were asked to select one monument of human civilization that should survive to some future age … we should probably choose the works of Shakespeare. In them we recognize the truest portrait and best memorial of man. Yet the archæologists of that future age … would misconceive our life in one important respect. They would hardly understand that man had had a religion. …

Shakespeare could be idealistic when he dreamed, as he could be spiritual when he reflected. … It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that we should have to search through all the works of Shakespeare to find half a dozen passages that have so much as a religious sound, and that even these passages, upon examination, should prove not to be the expression of any deep religious conception. If Shakespeare had been without metaphysical capacity, or without moral maturity, we could have explained his strange insensibility to religion; but as it is, we must marvel at his indifference and ask ourselves what can be the causes of it.

— George Santayana, “The Absence of Religion in Shakespeare,” in Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, 1900



Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.

— C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, 1970

Double Duty

Image: Gallica

In 840 the Frankish Benedictine monk Rabanus Maurus composed 28 poems in which each line comprises the same number of letters. That’s impressive enough, but he also added painted images behind each poem that identify subsets of its letters that can be read on their own.

The final poem of the volume shows Rabanus Maurus himself kneeling in prayer at the foot of a cross whose text forms a palindrome: OROTE RAMUS ARAM ARA SUMAR ET ORO (I, Ramus, pray to you at the altar so that at the altar I may be taken up, I also pray). This text appears on both arms of the cross, so it can be read in any of four directions.

The form of the monk’s own body defines a second message: “Rabanum memet clemens rogo Christe tuere o pie judicio” (Christ, o pious and merciful in your judgment, keep me, Rabanus, I pray, safe).

And the letters in both of these painted sections also participate in the larger poem that fills the body of the page.

(From Laurence de Looze, The Letter and the Cosmos, 2016.)