Ruskin's Reading of the Church Fathers

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

Ruskin, who had read Origen, Aquinas, and Augustine as well as other figures important in medieval theology, alarmed his wife and his mother by his interest in the writings of the Church Fathers. In July 1852 Effie wrote to her mother:

Manning is out of town and goes shortly to Rome. I do not believe that John will have further personal intercourse with them -- but what I dislike about him is his wish to understand the Bible throughout -- which nobody in this world will ever do and unless they receive it as a little child it will not be made profitable to them. He wishes to satisfy his intellect and his vanity in reading the Scriptures and does not pray that his mind and heart may be softened and improved by them. He chuses to study Hebrew and read the Fathers instead of asking God to give him Light. His whole desire for knowledge appears to me to originate in Pride and as long as this remains and his great feeling of Security and doing every thing to please himself he is ready for any temptation and will be permitted to fall into it. I do what I can but I require to be very careful what I say: for he has no respect for what his Mother says and vet it worries him intensely feeling that she thinks so differently" (Millais and the Ruskins, 17).

Professor M. H. Abrams has kindly pointed out to me that Ruskin may also have known Keble's Tract 89 or his translations of the second-century theologian St. Irenaeus, either of which would have informed him about not only traditional attitudes toward scriptural language but also polysemous interpretations of the Bible.

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Last modified 2000