Saturday, February 17, 2024

CS Lewis: "We all, therefore, need the old books" /// King Josiah, Hilkiah the High Priest, and re-finding the original Book.

World renowned Belfast-born author C.S. Lewis (shown left) was of Scottish County Down Hamilton ancestry on his mother’s side. He described his tutor William Kirkpatrick as an ‘Ulster Scot’. Lewis wrote an article in 1944 entitled ‘On Reading Old Books’: 

“Every age has its own outlook… We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books”.

I used this quote in the article that RTE published recently. Stepping out of our own era enables us to see different, sometimes forgotten, realities.


This is of course what the 16th century theological Reformation was essentially about - a return to the original texts, and a rejection of the traditionalism which had been grafted onto them. 

It is human nature to forget, and to add. An example of the necessity of recovery can be found in the Old Testament, in 2 Kings 22 and also 2 Chronicles 34.

Josiah became King of Judah around 630BC as a boy of just 8 years old. He was the first 'good' King after two very bad ones. Under his reign, he began a country-wide project of removing all sorts of pagan stuff. In the city, the religious life in the temple of Jerusalem trundled along for 18 years pretty much as it had been doing for generations before.

By this stage Josiah was just 26 - even though this scene is often depicted in Bible story books with him looking like an ancient Gandalf type character (see the two examples with this post). People have big ambitions at 26, so he commenced repair work on the temple building, during which Hilkiah, the High Priest, discovered the long-lost original 'Book of the Law' of Moses. It had been lost for an unthinkable 600 years, yet religious practices had continued without being able to refer to it as the benchmark. And so those practices had become distorted. Their Bible was lost for 600 years - lost within their own religious system.

The book was brought to King Josiah, and was read aloud to him. In hearing its words, he realised that their national religiosity and tradition had departed very far away from what it was originally meant to be. 

Josiah then instituted a complete national Reformation, a return to the original, and smashing up every remnant of the things they had invented for themselves.

• Josiah was a direct ancestor of Jesus, as shown in Jesus' genealogy in Matthew chapter 1.


The lesson for us all is that things we assume, having been passed down to us, might be wrong. They might be centuries old, and feel important, but they might be totally wrong.

Seek the old books. Dig up the original sources. Smash what needs to be smashed. Restore what needs to be restored. Reform what you need to reform. Semper Reformanda.


• Here is a summary of the story from the Ligonier website, whose late Dr RC Sproul was of Donegal ancestry. 

Here it is again, from Tabletalk Magazine.

• Engraving below from this website.