Listening In preview: Tony Esolen

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next, an excerpt from Listening In. This week, a conversation with author, translator, and professor: Tony Esolen.

He’s well known for his English translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy and many other classical works.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: In this excerpt of his conversation with Warren Smith, Esolen uses a well-known English story to illustrate how the Christian worldview is often present in classic literature.

WARREN SMITH, REPORTER: Before 19-hundred, virtually the entire English language canon would have been an ally to the Christian worldview. Say more about that.

ANTHONY ESOLEN, GUEST: Take Charles Dickens for example. Dickens, his theology may have been a bit of a muddle, [but] he did call Jesus “our savior” and he did mean it. And in his novels, I don’t think he takes two steps without thinking of the Gospels. 

I’ll give you an example of a story that everybody thinks they know, but perhaps they don’t really know. And that’s A Christmas Carol. I’ve heard people say that, you know, “A Christmas Carol is sort of secular. Scrooge learns to be a decent human being after all.” A Christmas Carol is steeped in scripture. When you read it you find that Scrooge is being led by the spirit of Christmas yet to come. And the spectre leads him into the Cratchit household. And one of the boys, Peter Cratchit, is reading to his two younger siblings. And these are the words he reads: “And he took a little child and set him in their midst.”

All that Dickens needed to do was give you that line. He would have expected that everybody reading that would have known what that situation is. Because they were quarrelling about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God, and Jesus took a little child and set them in their midst and said: “Unless you become as one of these little ones, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.” When Scrooge wakes up the next morning, he doesn’t know what day it is at all. He thinks that three nights have passed. He says: “I don’t know what day it is. I don’t know anything at all. I am quite a baby.” Boom. 

SMITH: A direct echo of that idea earlier. 

ESOLEN: Yes, Scrooge has been born again. Right? He is quite a baby.

(Photo/The Federalist)

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