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The Golden Cord: A Short Book on the Secular and the Sacred
University of Notre Dame Press, 2012
184 pp., $30.00
Stephen N. Williams
A Way Through the Labyrinth
Amongst the educated, fewer than ever in the English-speaking world are familiar with the world of Greek myth, and so the exploits of worthy Theseus go unsung. On Crete, he tracked down the Minotaur, hybrid of bull and man, and used a golden cord, supplied by Ariadne, to guide his way through the labyrinth where the Minotaur dwelt. It would be cruel to keep in suspense any reader of BOOKS & CULTURE who has happened to miss this particular episode, so let it be relieved by announcing that Theseus got his half-man in the end. Since then, the golden cord has been extended to become an image or metaphor, and Charles Taliaferro uses it to explore the possibility of finding our way through the secular world to sacred reality.
Will the 17th-century Cambridge Platonists prove to be a kind of Ariadne? Taliaferro thinks so. C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Dorothy Sayers, whose spirituality has some affinities with the Cambridge Platonists, are known to us, but Taliaferro aspires to make the latter company lively on the contemporary scene: "The main thesis—or question—that this book addresses is whether there are signs all around us that we live in a created order and are made for something other than absolute death."
The stakes are high—the context of our interest in the Cambridge Platonists is our enquiry into goods and values in our everyday world—so this book is not a purely academic exercise in the retrieval of a relatively neglected strand in intellectual history. As an academic exercise at all, the volume is consciously self-limited: "My book is more of an exploration or extended essay than a work of systematic apologetics." Taliaferro's essay goes as follows. To find our way out into the open air of God's eternal love, we must reckon with the rigors of philosophical discussion of naturalism, but only as much as is needed in a short guide that follows the course of the cord. Once we are assured that naturalism need not trap us in its cave, ...