Another Library

Princeton is not a bad place in which to study. One of the things Machen was sorry to lose when he split was the library. Today, I can use the library, as can any Westminster student who wants to drive out. And it is worth doing.

Here’s another ironic reflection: the only people not around are the indifferentists. Just me and the Barthians, and who knows what else, but probably no indifferentists. The indifferentists, in case you were not aware, were the orthodox believers at Princeton who played tone police when Machen made his warnings. They did not believe anybody should judge another Christian or hold those who claimed to be Christian to historic Christianity as expressed in the creeds and confessions of the church. There are plenty of indifferentists out there, but keeping Princeton is not something they did.

Princeton has kept the money. You come here and you know you are in one of the less ostentatious but nevertheless real nodes of American influence and power. From the bathrooms to the compact shelving, everything is state of the art; there are more books than you can possibly acknowledge, and the furnishings are good to a degree that is lavish without being luxurious. Luxury, of course, would be a failure of taste, and there is nothing wrong at any level with Princeton’s tone. It is kind of like being back at Central Seminary, compared to seedy Westminster, except that Central Seminary would fit in the janitor’s closet, there’s more technology involved here, and a little more in the way of art and landscaping. They even have the janitor vacuuming while the library is open because that’s just the kind of vacuum they use. While he does that I read Alcibiades’ speech at the end of the Symposium and think, as I have learned to think, that nothing ever changes.

Getting plugged back into Plato has been good for me. I’ve read Plato in a desultory way, and got to him through all the good guys of Church History. You can’t just read Plato, of course, you have to study him, reread him, deal with the history and the whole. But he, like Latin, is part of the deep structure of Western Civilization. When you reconnect in any way with it, his presence, his seriousness is there. So you read and you see how many things that have not changed he deals with. Just think of his definition of rhetoric as a knack for giving pleasure without a concern for the truth, or his rebuke of homosexuality. Or this: “He who does not think himself in need does not desire what he does not think he lacks.” (Symposium 204A)

 

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