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An article by William Michael was recently brought to my attention, in which he is dismissively critical of what he calls the “Dorothy Sayers Movement.” Given the nature of his critique, I can’t really have a whole lot to say about it, about which more in a minute, but since I think he is talking about us, I should at least say something.

Michael says that he previously wrote about Sayers in 2009, which provoked a frenzy of responses, which he dismisses as standard epiphenomena from the glazed eye crowd of Sayers fanatics. Not wanting to be relegated that group, I shall be most careful.

To the extent he is responding to anything substantive at all, it must be private conversations and/or brochures for prospective parents gathered from the foyers of classical Christian schools. He doesn’t cite any articles, books or speakers in this movement he is talking about, and so we are left to supply the missing pieces, like we were building up a dinosaur from three teeth, like they do down at the Smithsonian.

This article, “Against the Dorothy Sayers Movement,” has two parts. In the first part he proves that Dorothy Sayers was a sinner, and not a role model for our children (e.g. her illegitimate child). Up to a point, he is quite correct, and I trust that a contemporary clone of Dorothy Sayers, living just as she lived, would hopefully have trouble getting hired in any one of our schools. I don’t recall anybody in our circles canonizing her (as Michael does with Newman).

But then, inspiration having seized him, Michael ascends to even greater heights by saying that she “represented everything false in 20th century Christianity.” Now that’s kind of a tall order. A sinner, sure, aren’t we all? A woman with issues, yeah, that’s right too. But Sayers was a Christian, and a capable thinker and scholar, and was one who contributed a shrewd insight that we have tested  and found valuable. And that central insight is what we are building from. I have written an article on this important distinction for Classis, which he should have cited if he was talking about us. But he didn’t, and so who knows? Perhaps he is talking about another Dorothy Sayers movement that none of us have ever heard of, but which is guilty of all these offenses which he specifies without documenting, and so this would mean he is guilty of sloppiness as opposed to misrepresentation.

But let’s pretend, just for grins, that he is talking about us. If so, he makes sweeping claims that are openly, clearly, and outrageously false.

“She has gained an obsessive army of followers, who depend on her exclusively for their ideas on ‘classical’ education” (underlining his).

“Her followers run at breakneck speed to start schools, create websites and blogs, publish books and organize conferences to promote her ideas as though she is a Doctor of the Church.”

Since Michael is apparently aware of our books, and the breakneck speed with which we publish them, he might have cited one, and given an example or two from them of what the heck he was talking about. But instead he says:

“All that the authors and school leaders offer is ‘Dorothy Sayers said . . .’ and the crowd sits in silence as though the voice of Christian history itself is about to speak. There is no consultation of Aristotle, Cicero, Sacred Scripture, the Church fathers, the great Christian educators of history — only Dorothy Sayers” (underlining his).

Got that? No consultation of Aristotle, Cicero, the Bible, the Fathers, and great Christian educators of history. Only Sayers. This is not serious criticism; this is a guy who got irritated by something and decided to let it show. Since he did not supply anything to document his claim, let me wonder out loud why the students at Logos School don’t read anything by Sayers, but who do read Homer, and Sophocles, and Ovid, and that’s just one class. Let me muse about New St. Andrews history colloquium, which is built around Herodotus and Thucydides, again just one class. Allow me to clear my throat and modestly nod at the Omnibus curriculum, which takes students through six massive volumes of hundreds of ancient, medieval and modern books and plays — Scripture, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Homer, Herodotus, Plutarch, Euclid, Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Thucy . . . oh, never mind . Out of the six volumes, only one of books read is by Sayers (The Nine Tailors), which we perhaps ought not to have done, but we could not contain our unbridled and monomanaical fanaticism for all things Sayers.

In short, for anyone familiar with the topics at ACCS conferences, the footnotes in our books, and the curricula in our schools, Michael appears to be a perpilocutionist.

So what gives? Where is this critique coming from, besides thin air? Referring to John Henry Newman (whom we respect as a scholar and educator, incidentally, as a theologian, not so much), Michael says this:

“He was a leader of the Oxford Movement, which was was [sic] probably the holiest and most excellent activity ever undertaken at the university.”

The Oxford Movement was actually a staging area for cagey Protestants trying to get maneuvering room before they poped,  but we shall let that go for the present. This critique appears to be just sour grapes from someone who doesn’t like the fact that a large number of evangelical Protestants have taken up the task of trying to recover classical Christian education. Didn’t fit the narrative.



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