STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 04/09/2015

The Wideness of the Church

I fell in love with Jacques Maritain in the spring of 2011, around the time that the lilacs outside my window at home usually bloom. I was head over heels for his Integral Humanism, for the argument I could hear in my head between him and another favorite of mine, Reinhold Niebuhr. That May, in that stretch of weeks when everything flowers and the Gordon campus is too beautiful to have class inside, I discovered that Maritain and Niebuhr knew each other—that they had even been in conversation in the years when they both lived and wrote in the United States.

The spring before that, it was Flannery O’Connor matched up with Benedict of Nursia. Another semester, it was Rob Bell talking to John Calvin. Martin Luther, Bernard Lonergan, Teresa of Avila, Saint Patrick and the Irish monks who illuminated manuscripts: every year, as the winter settles onto bare branches around Coy Pond and then finally remembers itself towards spring, I have been falling in love with the wideness of the Church.

Being a part of the vibrant life of Gordon revealed to me in each encounter with what we called “the Tradition”—what Flannery O’Connor described as “a vast horde of souls tumbling towards heaven”—the abiding necessity of that Tradition.

I hold fast to this: the liberal arts are good for their own sake. Learning stories, histories, questions, dramas, the rise and fall of empires and mathematical models of the universe and the poetry of Linda Pastan—all this is good, because it is natural and essential for humans to learn. The danger of that easy and beautiful belief is that it ignores the purpose behind learning, which is to be image-bearers. The Church is home to us; how many of us forget to walk around and actually get to know our home, the place from which we are sent out, and to which we return again and again, seeking God, seeking ourselves? Do we assume that what we need to understand will be piped in to us from heaven through our church,or a Bible study, or a specific academic discipline? In a room in the great house of faith, answers and new questions await us; do we bother to knock?

Gordon helped me learn and relearn that to love the Church at all is to treasure its wideness. To love the Church is to ask constantly: Who are these souls tumbling towards heaven, and what can they teach me about this work we do in the world? The monks who illuminated manuscripts teach us about the goodness of preserving culture. Jacques Maritain helps me remember that good philosophy can get things done—like writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Flannery O’Connor changes what I think about the work of grace in the soul; that work is happening in me, so I should try to understand it.

“The Tradition,” with all its mystery, griefs and struggles, teaches me how to see myself, and—infinitely more importantly—how to seek God.

Hilary (Sherratt) Yancey ’12 is pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy at Baylor University, focusing on bioethics and the philosophy of the human person. At Gordon she participated in the Jerusalem and Athens Forum, and as a Pike Scholar she designed her own major in religion, ethics and politics.
She blogs at


Hilary Sherratt