more than 95 theses


A journal, commonplace book, and Wunderkammer by Alan Jacobs.

My blog on technologies of reading, writing, and knowledge is called Text Patterns; I am an occasional contributor to the Technology channel of The Atlantic; I'm a Contributing Editor for The New Atlantis. Also, I tweet.

My biography of the Book of Common Prayer has now been published by Princeton University Press, and I’ve created an associated tumblelog.

My critical edition of W. H. Auden’s long poem For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio is now available.

My next book will be about Christian humanism in a time of total war.

I invite you to a meditative encounter with my online project The Gospel of the Trees.

Please consider supporting this tumblelog by buying some of my books. I will thank you, my family will thank you, and the internet — surely — will thank you.

”Reverting to Type: a Reader’s Story”

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The Age of Anxiety, by W. H. Auden — a critical edition. A PDF of my Introduction to the poem is available online.

Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant

Original Sin: a Cultural History

Looking Before and After: Testimony and the Christian Life

The Narnian: the Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis

Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling

A Theology of Reading: the Hermeneutics of Love

A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age

What Became of Wystan: Change and Continuity in Auden’s Poetry

  • April 16, 2014 8:01 am

    "In my view, a genuine pro-life political position takes its commitment to human life seriously, and is therefore willing to commit to supporting the lives of mothers and children rather than simply their births. I do not believe harsh punishment is the way to address the challenges facing mothers and infants that tragically conclude, at times, in abortion. Yet penalty seems to be the one way those operating under the “pro-life” banner feel comfortable expressing their commitment to life, which is why I find the usual rightwing anti-abortion approach underwhelming and incomplete. Compassion isn’t cheap, and it’s defined by its longevity: If we are to take seriously a cultural commitment to life, which I believe we should, then we’ll conduct ourselves with mercy and sensitivity to the difficulties that bring women to choose abortion, and will commit ourselves to concrete political change aimed at reducing those struggles."

    Elizabeth Stoker

  • April 16, 2014 7:14 am


    Bible. Gospels. Selections. Latin. Gospel readings for Holy Week : manuscript, [ca. 1510-ca. 1515].

    MS Typ 252

    Houghton Library, Harvard University

  • April 15, 2014 8:23 pm

Note the detail of who is behind the accident.  From Monographien Zur Deutschen Kulturgeschichte by Georg Steinhausen, 1899.
View high resolution


    Note the detail of who is behind the accident.  From Monographien Zur Deutschen Kulturgeschichte by Georg Steinhausen, 1899.

  • April 15, 2014 12:40 pm
  • April 15, 2014 9:47 am

    "Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit by taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left."

    — Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media (1964), quoted by Nick Carr here

  • April 15, 2014 9:32 am


    Polot︠s︡kiĭ, Semen. Potop / S. Polot︠s︡kiĭ ; risunki D. Bulanova. Leningrad : Raduga, [1927?] Typ 958.27.706. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

  • April 14, 2014 6:43 pm

    "I suspect that people thrown into open plans might even miss their cubicles. And there are features of cubicles—such as the need to partition wide spaces—that I suspect will continue to be useful and never go away; these needs precede the invention of the cubicle itself. If people weren’t meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens, maybe they weren’t meant to have new open plans foisted on them in the guise of their encouraging “serendipitous encounters,” or whatever new buzzword justifies these often poorly thought-out designs."

    Our Cubicles, Ourselves: How the Modern Office Shapes American Life

  • April 14, 2014 10:24 am


    Parents are now the primary mode of transportation for teenagers, who are far less likely to walk to school or take the bus than any previous generation. And because most parents work, teens’ mobility and ability to get together casually with friends has been severely limited. Even sneaking out is futile, because there’s nowhere to go. Curfew, trespassing and loitering laws have restricted teens’ presence in public spaces. And even if one teen has been allowed out independently and has the means to do something fun, it’s unlikely her friends will be able to join her.

    Given the array of restrictions teens face, it’s not surprising that they have embraced technology with such enthusiasm. The need to hang out, socialize, gossip and flirt hasn’t diminished, even if kids’ ability to get together has….

    The irony of our increasing cultural desire to protect kids is that our efforts may be harming them. In an effort to limit the dangers they encounter, we’re not allowing them to develop skills to navigate risk. In our attempts to protect them from harmful people, we’re not allowing them to learn to understand, let alone negotiate, public life. It is not possible to produce an informed citizenry if we do not first let people engage in public.


    danah boyd | apophenia » Whether it’s bikes or bytes, teens are teens

  • April 13, 2014 3:34 pm

    That They All May Be One

    PEG asks,

    I’m curious: what are some practical steps that you think we could take to move forward in what you see as the right direction?

    Well — since you ask — I’d say that the first necessary step is to meditate regularly on John 17:20-23:

    I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

    I know of no better commentary on this passage that John Paul II’s encyclical Ut Unum Sint, which I mentioned in a previous post. The whole thing is very deep and wise, but I’d want to call particular attention to the following passages:

    • Christ calls all his disciples to unity. My earnest desire is to renew this call today, to propose it once more with determination, repeating what I said at the Roman Colosseum on Good Friday 1994, at the end of the meditation on the Via Crucis prepared by my Venerable Brother Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. There I stated that believers in Christ, united in following in the footsteps of the martyrs, cannot remain divided. If they wish truly and effectively to oppose the world’s tendency to reduce to powerlessness the Mystery of Redemption, they must profess together the same truth about the Cross. The Cross! An anti-Christian outlook seeks to minimize the Cross, to empty it of its meaning, and to deny that in it man has the source of his new life.

    • "Each one therefore ought to be more radically converted to the Gospel and, without ever losing sight of God’s plan, change his or her way of looking at things. Thanks to ecumenism, our contemplation of ‘the mighty works of God’ (mirabilia Dei) has been enriched by new horizons, for which the Triune God calls us to give thanks: the knowledge that the Spirit is at work in other Christian Communities, the discovery of examples of holiness, the experience of the immense riches present in the communion of saints, and contact with unexpected dimensions of Christian commitment. In a corresponding way, there is an increased sense of the need for repentance: an awareness of certain exclusions which seriously harm fraternal charity, of certain refusals to forgive, of a certain pride, of an unevangelical insistence on condemning the ‘other side’, of a disdain born of an unhealthy presumption. Thus, the entire life of Christians is marked by a concern for ecumenism; and they are called to let themselves be shaped, as it were, by that concern.”

    • "This love finds its most complete expression in common prayer. When brothers and sisters who are not in perfect communion with one another come together to pray, the Second Vatican Council defines their prayer as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement. This prayer is ‘a very effective means of petitioning for the grace of unity’, ‘a genuine expression of the ties which even now bind Catholics to their separated brethren’. Even when prayer is not specifically offered for Christian unity, but for other intentions such as peace, it actually becomes an expression and confirmation of unity. The common prayer of Christians is an invitation to Christ himself to visit the community of those who call upon him: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Mt 18:20).”

    • "I am reminded of the words of Saint Cyprian’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of every Christian: ‘God does not accept the sacrifice of a sower of disunion, but commands that he depart from the altar so that he may first be reconciled with his brother. For God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace. To God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord and a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. At the dawn of the new millennium, how can we not implore from the Lord, with renewed enthusiasm and a deeper awareness, the grace to prepare ourselves, together, to offer this sacrifice of unity?”

    It is from commitment to these principles that unity will come, and with that unity, renewal of our hearts and minds, strengthening of our common purpose, and — in relation to my own calling especially — increasing intellectual coherence and power. I can’t imagine a better meditation as Holy Week comes once more to us.

    P.S. I will write another post with more recommendations — of the kind that the world calls “practical” — but probably not until after the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord.

  • April 13, 2014 2:55 pm


    Thus the ‘decline of religion’ becomes a very ambiguous phenomenon. One way of putting the truth would be that the religion which has declined was not Christianity. It was a vague Theism with a strong and virile ethical code, which, far from standing over against the ‘World’, was absorbed into the whole fabric of English institutions and sentiment and therefore demanded church-going as (at best) a part of loyalty and good manners or (at worst) a proof of respectability. Hence a social pressure, like the withdrawal of the compulsion, did not create a new situation. The new freedom first allowed accurate observations to be made. When no man goes to church except because he seeks Christ the number of actual believers can at last be discovered. It should be added that this new freedom was partly caused by the very conditions which it revealed. If the various anti-clerical and anti-theistic forces at work in the nineteenth century had had to attack a solid phalanx of radical Christians the story might have been different. But mere ‘religion’ — ‘morality tinged with emotion’, ‘what a man does with his solitude’, ‘the religion of all good men’ — has little power of resistance. It is not good at saying No.

    The decline of ‘religion’, thus understood, seems to me in some ways a blessing. At the very worst it makes the issue clear. To the modern undergraduate Christianity is, at least, one of the intellectual options. It is, so to speak, on the agenda: it can be discussed, and a conversion may follow. I can remember times when this was much more difficult. ‘Religion’ (as distinct from Christianity) was too vague to be discussed (‘too sacred to be lightly mentioned’) and so mixed up with sentiment and good form as to be one of the embarrassing subjects. If it had to be spoken of, it was spoken of in a hushed, medical voice. Something of the shame of the Cross is, and ought to be, irremovable. But the merely social and sentimental embarrassment is gone. The fog of ‘religion’ has lifted.


    — C. S. Lewis, “The Decline of Religion” (in God in the Dock)

  • April 13, 2014 9:59 am

Photo of the Day: Leopard
Photography by Paolo Pescia (Sala Capriasca, Switzerland); Namibia View high resolution


    Photo of the Day: Leopard

    Photography by Paolo Pescia (Sala Capriasca, Switzerland); Namibia

  • April 13, 2014 8:55 am


    This past Sunday — Palm Sunday — the assembly was invited to put down their missalettes. The priest celebrant was escorted from the sanctuary and into a pew, and members of the liturgy committee entered with bare feet and grave expressions to “act out” for us the Gospel “message” which dispensed with Luke’s narrative for a kind of scripted amalgam of all four Gospels.

    It struck me as odd that the same people who say they wish to “build up the community of the People of God,” and who often decry what they see as “limitations” to the role of the laity, completely omitted any interaction between themselves and the people in the pews. The Gospel reading for Palm Sunday is the only one inviting lay participation, yet none was permitted. That seems a terrible mistake and a loss.

    Without our collective calls for Barabbas, for the Crucifixion of Christ, and for Jesus to save himself, we lost an opportunity to be appalled by ourselves. We were denied a chance to once more glean some sound theological, spiritual, and personal insights into how often we choose what is worst, rather than best, for us; the assist that we give to the destruction of the Body of Christ when we advance the brokenness of the world; the lazy service we give to our cynicism.

    Yes, I know, we’re all supposed to feel very good about ourselves as beloved children of God, but it seems to me that on this Sunday entering into Holy Week, we ought to be allowed to acknowledge what miserable bastards we all can be, and feel a little lousy about it, at least for the length of a liturgy.


    Elizabeth Scalia, via @pegobry on Twitter.

  • April 12, 2014 5:42 pm

St. Luke
The Book of Deer (Evangelia) is a Gospel Book written in a hand that was current in the period c. 850-1000 and generally dated to the first half of the tenth century.

View high resolution


    St. Luke

    The Book of Deer (Evangelia) is a Gospel Book written in a hand that was current in the period c. 850-1000 and generally dated to the first half of the tenth century.


  • April 12, 2014 3:19 pm


    I am (or try to be) a partisan of pluralism, which requires respecting Mozilla’s right to have a C.E.O. whose politics fit the climate of Silicon Valley, and Brandeis’s right to rescind degrees as it sees fit, and Harvard’s freedom to be essentially a two-worldview community, with a campus shared uneasily by progressives and corporate neoliberals, and a small corner reserved for token reactionary cranks.

    But this respect is difficult to maintain when these institutions will not admit that this is what is going on. Instead, we have the pretense of universality — the insistence that the post-Eich Mozilla is open to all ideas, the invocations of the “spirit of free expression” from a school that’s kicking a controversial speaker off the stage.

    And with the pretense, increasingly, comes a dismissive attitude toward those institutions — mostly religious — that do acknowledge their own dogmas and commitments, and ask for the freedom to embody them and live them out.

    It would be a far, far better thing if Harvard and Brandeis and Mozilla would simply say, explicitly, that they are as ideologically progressive as Notre Dame is Catholic or B. Y.U. is Mormon or Chick-fil-A is evangelical, and that they intend to run their institution according to those lights.

    I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic.


    Ross Douthat. NO. KIDDING. I have never in my life co-signed anything more fervently than I co-sign this.

  • April 12, 2014 9:55 am

    1. Neither the President nor any official in her government denied Madonna any attention or courtesy during her recent visit to Malawi because as far as the administration is concerned there is no defined attention and courtesy that must be followed in respect of her.

    2. In any case, even if the defined parameters of attention and courtesy existed in respect of Madonna, the liberties of discretion to give or not to give that attention or courtesy would ordinarily and naturally remain the preserve of the host. Attention or courtesy is never demanded.

    3. Granted, Madonna has adopted two children from Malawi. According to the record, this gesture was humanitarian and of her accord. It, therefore, comes across as strange and depressing that for a humanitarian act, prompted only by her, Madonna wants Malawi to be forever chained to the obligation of gratitude. Kindness, as far as its ordinary meaning is concerned, is free and anonymous. If it can’t be free and silent, it is not kindness; it is something else. Blackmail is the closest it becomes.


    — Read the full statement from the government of Malawi here.